Thomas Broderick

Stay Productive This Thanksgiving Break

By Thomas Broderick

Thanksgiving break is soon upon us. Depending on your school or district’s policies, you may receive two days, three days, or a whole week off of school. Between stuffing your face and watching football, the week doesn’t lend itself to productivity.

When I was a teacher, district policy forbade teachers from assigning homework over Thanksgiving break. As such shackles no longer bind me, I’m going to assign you just a bit of homework for you to accomplish over break.

In this article, we’ll look at different things high school freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors can accomplish during their time off school. And because I want to make sure you have a chance to relax this Thanksgiving, none of my assignments should take more than two hours to complete.

If You’re a Freshman

As a high school freshman, you don’t have to worry about high-stakes standardized tests and applying to college just yet. Instead of research or test prep, I want you to spend your two hours performing some self-reflection that should help you with the big decisions you’ll face in the next few years.

For each of the following bullet points, I want you to journal a one-page reply:

  • Which subject is your favorite? What about it do you like the most?
  • In which class do you have the most trouble? Do you need extra help to succeed?
  • Do you work better by yourself or with others?
  • What careers (even if they’re pie-in-the-sky) do you think are interesting or would be worth pursuing one day?

What I want you to do is tuck these answers away. During Thanksgiving break for the next two years – when you’re a sophomore and junior — revisit these questions to identify how your preferences have changed. By the time you start seriously researching potential colleges during your junior year, you’ll be better prepared to select those that best match your interests and goals.

If You’re a Sophomore

Sophomore year is the time when you dip your toe into the college application pond. It can seem a bit overwhelming (that’s natural), but you can accomplish something this Thanksgiving break that’ll both reduce your stress and start your college journey off on the right foot.

For your two hours of homework, I want you to research potential colleges and select 2-3 to tour between now and the end of summer break before your junior year. Discuss options with your family, as they’ll likely come with you on these tours and play a significant role in your college decision-making process. 

If You’re a Junior

As a junior, this is the last full year of grades colleges will see when you apply next year. That makes your performance on mid-terms, which are only a few weeks away, more important than those you took in your freshman and sophomore years.

During the break, I want you to set aside two hours to study your most challenging subject. It doesn’t matter what it is. You need not only the practice but also the chance to identify the topics giving you the most trouble. Once you identify them, you can master them over the next few weeks with your teachers’ help and other resources (e.g., Khan Academy) they recommend.

If You’re a Senior

Your college application deadlines are coming up fast. For any remaining applications, here’s what I want you to do:

  • Reread all application requirements and make a checklist for each school.
  • Check off what you have completed.
    • Maintain these lists until you send off your last application.
  • Read all of your essays at least once. Make appropriate revisions.
    • If you’re going to visit relatives this Thanksgiving, it never hurts to ask an aunt or uncle to critique one of your essays.

Final Thoughts

I have one last piece of homework for everyone reading this to accomplish between now and the end of Thanksgiving break: find some quality time to relax. The three weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break are full to the brim with studying, tests, and anxiety. Recharge your batteries now so you can face these challenges successfully.

Demonstrated Interest: A Primer

By Thomas Broderick

Believe it or not, getting into your dream college has a lot in common with getting your future dream job. Yes, both have the word ‘dream’ in the title, but the similarities go deeper than that. You see, the people who get into their dream college/get their dream job show demonstrated interest. In other words, they do more than the bare minimum – applying.

In this article, we’ll take a look at demonstrated interested: what it is and how to use it to your advantage during next year’s college admission season.

So, What Is Demonstrated Interest?

As the name suggests, demonstrated interest is when you go the extra mile to show a college that it’s your first choice. The trick, however, is doing so without becoming annoying and making the college admission counselor think less of you. We’ll discuss how to not be annoying in a bit.

And you don’t want that happening, do you?

Your goal, on the other hand, is to leave a positive impression on the admission department before (or during) the time when they consider your application portfolio. How do you do that? Let’s find out.

What Does Demonstrated Interest Look Like?

Let’s start with an easy one.

Take the Tour 

Taking the tour is one of the easiest things you can do to show demonstrated interest. No, you likely won’t come into contact with any higher-ups in the admission department, but the experience can benefit you in a few ways.

  • Your Personal Essay: The personal essay is a great way to bring up the fact you took the tour and “just fell in love” with the campus and what the student tour guide told you about the academic and social experience.
  • Write a Thank You Note: When you get back home from your tour, consider writing a brief thank you note to the head of the admission department. Talk about “how helpful” the guide was and that “your school is now one of my top picks.” In other words, it never hurts to butter them up.

If you can’t take the tour for whatever reason, it always pays to send a note to one of the admissions counselors. Ask a question or two and tell them a bit about yourself. Like any good cover letter, don’t let it go over 250 words.

Interview 

Not many colleges perform interviews these days, especially for undergraduates. If they do, that is an opportunity you need to jump on (if you can). If the school is hundreds or thousands of miles away, it doesn’t make sense to commit time and money to make the trip, especially if you’re on a budget. But if it’s a day trip in the car, don’t miss this critical opportunity. Here’s some specific advice, much of it applicable to the jobs interviews a few years in your future:

  • Dress for the school you want: When you go to your interview, it pays to dress up. How dressed up? Without going into too much detail, Google ‘business casual.’ That seems to be the sweet spot.
  • Have some questions ready: In all interviews, there always comes a point when the interviewer turns the tables and asks, “do you have any questions for me?” To leave an impression, you need to have a question or two up your sleeve. Fortunately for you, you can think up questions in advance, and if one should come to mind during the interview, that’s even better. Your questions show demonstrated interest and leave an impression in your interviewer’s mind. And who knows, your interviewer may be the person who has the final say over your application.

How to Not Be Annoying

This is going to be a relatively short section despite the topic’s importance. Again, let’s take a page out of the “how to get a job” playbook:

  • Be yourself: A truism if there ever was one, but be yourself is still the best advice there is. However, a better way to put it would be ‘be genuine.’ Sounds nicer, doesn’t it? In other words, the effort it takes to try to be someone else is exhausting, and if you mess it up, the person on the other end loses trust in you.
  • Don’t lie: Applying to college isn’t applying for a security clearance; plenty of people have fibbed about their accomplishments, like how long they participated in an extracurricular activity and gotten away with it. HOWEVER, lying is annoying and demonstrates an immaturity that no college admission counselor wants to see.
  • Avoid the Temptation to Pester: First off, there’s a big difference between pestering and asking relevant questions. For example, if a college says they will let you know when all of your application materials arrive and then you hear nothing, by all means, write them emails until you get a reply. But beyond that, avoid contacting admission counselors, especially if you think of something that would ‘enhance’ your application.
    • Your application is your one and only opportunity to shine. Sorry. That’s the way it is.

Final Thoughts

Demonstrated interest shows initiative and if done right, proves to a school that you’re committed. As long as you’re not annoying, whatever you do is sure to have a positive effect.

What Causes School Anxiety? (And What You Can Do)

By Thomas Broderick

Anxiety plagues just about every high school student. I could easily create an 800-item list of anxiety triggers you and your peers experience every day, but that would be TOO easy. You know, as I think about the innumerable anxiety culprits wandering your high school and the space between your ears (your brain), a few trends emerge. In this article, we’ll look at the big anxiety categories that plague high school students and what you can do to keep your anxiety at a low simmer.

Deadlines

The first thing that came to mind when I started brainstorming this article was deadlines. Just two feet away from my computer is a dry erase whiteboard calendar jam-packed full of them. Just looking at them gives me the jitters.

But unlike you, I have more than a decade of experience juggling multiple deadlines. Experience alone tells me that everything’s going to work out just fine. But alas, you lack such valuable experience. However, just like everything we’ll discuss in this article, there is something you can do TODAY to make deadline anxiety a thing of the past.

What You Can Do

Imagine a guy who pays $50 for a premium all-you-can-eat buffet. Everything looks great, but he only has so much stomach real estate. He decides to eat large portions of just 1-2 items that attract him. Yes, he has a great meal, but he goes home feeling anxious. Did he get his money’s worth? Maybe, just maybe, he should have sampled a little bit of everything.

Believe it or not, beating deadline anxiety has a lot to do with our gourmand.

As an ambitious high school student, you have a ‘buffet’ of deadlines in your future. When you have the option to either work on one assignment for two to three hours or three assignments for one hour each, always choose the latter. That way, you’ll make progress on every single thing. Yes, in both scenarios you’d do the same amount of work, but by ‘sampling’ everything you’ll actually feel that you accomplished more than if you left something untouched.

Assessments of All Shapes and Sizes

High school is full of assessments: ACT/SAT, AP, IB, pop quizzes, exit slips, unit tests, midterms, end-of-year tests, state tests, etc. That’s a lot of assessments to worry about.

Like with deadlines, you consciously know that you’ll do your best, but anxiety still has its talons in you. What to do? 

What You Can Do

Defeating texting anxiety has more to do with mindset rather than any particular action on your part. In a nutshell, you simply need to remember that for the majority of important high school tests, there are second chances, either retakes or the ability to learn from your mistakes and apply your new knowledge toward the next test. Keep this in mind before taking the ACT/SAT and just about every test you take in class.

Student-Teacher Relationships

I didn’t get along with all my teachers in high school, and when I became a teacher, I didn’t get along with all of my students. Let’s say you have a teacher that, for whatever reason, rubs you the wrong way. Going into his or her class feels like a nightmare. Maybe you’ve lost some sleep over it.

What You Can Do 

As there are so many things that can sour a student-teacher relationship, I’m going to shy away from giving specific advice. However, in just about every case, finding a solution begins with asking yourself “Is it me or my teacher who’s at fault?” Be honest and own up to any mistakes that you might have made. In my experience on both sides of the teacher’s desk, you likely did SOMETHING at SOME POINT to widen the rift even if it wasn’t the original cause.

Once you look at things objectively, it’s time to talk to your teacher, preferably before or after school. That may sound scary, but look at it this way: in just about every kind of relationship, better communication leads to a better relationship. It’s as simple as that.

 Your Peers

Bullies, friends who drift away, mean girls, peer pressure…being around other teenagers 7-8 hours a day can sure raise your anxiety. Of course, if you’re anxious because you or someone you know is experiencing physical or psychological harm due to other students, it’s time to let a teacher know. But if your anxiety is more of the general variety, you can still nip peer anxiety in the bud

What You Can Do 

Like with test anxiety, the answer (mostly) involves perspective. First of all, if you’re worried what people other than your closest friends think of you, don’t. That statement should also apply to your friends, but since you’re at a self-conscious age, you might as well be self-conscious only in regards to people you can trust.

In other words, the opinions held by 99.99% of the people you see every day aren’t worth the powder to blow them to heck.

Final Thoughts

Anxiety is a monster, yes. It can’t ever be truly defeated, but if you take some proactive measures, it’ll spend most of its existence trapped in a cage of your own design. If you have a fall break coming up, use that time to evaluate your anxiety triggers and devise a customized plan.

Finally, nothing beats anxiety more than enjoying the fall weather. Happy Halloween!

Works Well with Others: Why Group Projects Matter

By Thomas Broderick

It happens every time: your teacher assigns a group project and puts you with someone who contributes little to nothing. “Oh yeah, just put my name on it.” Lazybones gets full credit for doing zilch. The experience makes you think that group projects should have no part of the modern high school experience.

Yes, group projects as we know them need some tweaks. (There are lots of things teachers can do to ensure that everyone participates, but that’s an article just for them.) At their core, though, group projects matter and can play a valuable role in the learning experience.

If you’ve had a few lousy group projects, don’t stop reading just yet. Let me show you how group project success can have some happy side effects for your present and future selves. 

Group Projects Prepare You for Real Life

No matter what you do for a living, your professional success rides on working well with other people. Even I, working from home, always interact with my clients through email and phone calls. Just like at an office, everyone’s success depends on, you guessed it, everyone being on the same page and working together.

Your career might be 8+ years down the road, so here are a few ways that participating in group projects can help you TODAY:

  • “Works well with others” is an excellent line that college admission counselors want to see in a recommendation letter. That’s why I put it in the title!
  • Group work plays a significant role in extracurricular activities and volunteering.
  • Working in groups exposes you to different viewpoints and personality types.

To expand a bit more on that last point, different personality types means that you’ll regularly come across people whose personality types don’t match yours. Though this difference can cause conflict, it’s also a valuable opportunity to build your interpersonal skills.

Group Projects Build Your Interpersonal Skills

Let’s get back to the group member who does nothing. How would you react to this situation? Would you tattle on him, ignore him, try to engage him, or something else entirely? Your first reaction plays a significant role in how that person approaches the rest of the project. Now, don’t blame yourself if that person won’t budge no matter what, but here are some things to do to show your group project meddle and encourage everyone to do their part:

  • Ask everyone what part of the project matches their strengths or interests.
  • Ask for everyone’s input/advice on how the group should accomplish its goal(s).
  • Split into smaller groups. For example, if your group has four people, pair up to divide the project’s responsibilities. That way, no one can ‘fall through the cracks.’

If someone still won’t participate, don’t escalate the situation, but document what each group member contributed (or didn’t) to the final product.

If you’re not a leader, that fine. As long as you’re a team player, you’ve done your part. After all, you still have plenty of time to hone your leadership skills throughout the rest of high school and college.

Before wrapping up, let’s discuss one final piece of the group project puzzle that should help you long after high school graduation. 

Organization

Group projects require more advanced organizational skills than you might need if you tackled the same project on your own. Although you may consider yourself a master organizer, finding yourself having to track others’ progress and keep up with your own work can challenge even the best students.

There’s an easy way to solve this problem, something that works just as well in the classroom as it will in your future work environment. Imagine your group has a project and that you have three class periods to complete it. At the beginning of the project, have everyone set a goal. Someone in the group writes down each goal. At the end of the period, everyone reports back. Just like before, someone writes down every person’s progress. Some people might have worked ahead, others right on target, and others behind. As you repeat this process for days two and three, you can refer back to these notes to suggest quick and effective solutions:

  • Have someone who worked ahead assist someone who’s behind at the beginning of the next class.
  • Ask the people who are behind to finish up their daily goal as homework.

More importantly, by keeping track of everyone’s progress, it’s impossible to be blindsided by someone not pulling their weight.

Final Thoughts

Group projects aren’t perfect, but they teach you plenty of valuable life skills that can both raise your chances of college admission success and prepare you for just about any work environment.

How Important Are Extracurricular Activities to College Admissions?

By Thomas Broderick

I’ve been around this great big world, and it seems that of all the cultures I’ve come across, the good ole’ U.S. of A. puts the most emphasis on high school students participating in extracurricular activities. Oh sure, high school students in other countries play sports and participate in clubs, but doing so doesn’t have much of an effect on college admissions.

For you see, in the rest of the world a high school student’s chances of getting into a good college rest entirely on grades and test scores, especially the latter. Seriously, being a high school student in some countries is just like that ham-fisted YouTube movie The Thinning, except without the threat of euthanasia because you scored lower than the mean.

So before we dive into the world of extracurricular activities, let us take a moment to appreciate the fact that your academic future isn’t 100% riding on standardized test scores.

*Moment of Appreciation*

That was nice. Now let’s talk extracurriculars, and how you can use any one of them to work for YOU during college admission season.

So which one should I do?

Simple Answer: Something that interests you.

Complex Answer: No matter which extracurricular or two that you pick, doing two things will help set you apart from the bulk of the competition. First, stick with an extracurricular for at least two years. Second, take on a leadership role where you get to show off your responsible/organized side. Consistency and leadership experience under your belt, you’re already a step ahead of the majority of college applicants.

Just the majority? How do I stand out from high achievers like me?

Simple Answer: Apply a personal touch, even if it means creating your own activity.

Complex Answer: If you’re aiming for a top tier school, you’re right to assume that most applicants will have both consistent track records with extracurriculars and hold leadership positions within them. Here’s how you can go a step above:

  • Create a new club, preferably one that does some good for the community. (College admission counselors love applicants who create volunteer organizations.)
  • Take a creative hobby to the next level.
    • Submit a short story for publication. (And get it published somewhere)
    • Submit your photography or artwork to contests.
    • Start your own company. (Think Shark Tank)
    • Take your band on tour over the summer. (But don’t skip school if you should become famous 😉 )

In other words, apply yourself to your passion, whatever it is. Even if you don’t succeed before college application time rolls around, your journey can make for an excellent personal essay.

Okay, my extracurriculars are great. What difference will they make?

Short Answer: They’re a tiebreaker.

Long Answer: Everyone loves a good story, and for college admissions counselors, an engaging story about an extracurricular activity can act as the tiebreaker between two highly qualified applicants. So, at the end of the day, you need extracurriculars just in case. Doesn’t matter if it’s the French club or your second studio album.

What you’re telling me is that extracurriculars are like an insurance policy?

Short Answer: Yep.

Long Answer: With college admissions getting more competitive seemingly by the minute, there’s a good chance that your extracurriculars will come in handy when the admissions counselor at Your Dream School reviews your application. You’ll never know if they were the deciding factor, but you wouldn’t want to be without them.

Final Thoughts

In summary, it matters less what extracurricular activity you choose than how you approach it. Like most things in life, the more you put into it, the more it’ll give back. You’ll make some friends, have fun, and hopefully do a little good in the process.

Let me leave you with some sage advice in the vein of homemaking guru Martha Stewart. “An extracurricular activity: it’s a good thing.”

 

 

Professions of the Future

By Thomas Broderick

When I was a teenager, the career I have now did not exist. Sure, there were freelancers back in the early 2000s, but the idea of any one of them solely using the Internet to find and complete work was but a mere pipe dream. Today, millions of digital nomads around the world make their livings working remotely for one or more companies.

I’m telling you all of this to make an important point: as a teenager, it’s impossible to know what new careers will exist in the future. However, there are some trends that, if they continue, will significantly impact the future of work. In this article, we’ll examine the shape of things to come.

Mobility on the Rise

My dad and granddad both spent their entire careers in offices. Even in the early 1980s, when my dad’s office received its first desktop computers, no one had any idea what this technology would mean for the future of work or the new careers it would create.

Today, millions of workers (including yours truly) don’t ‘go to work’ in the traditional sense. As companies reexamine their needs over the coming years, they may decide to continue shrinking their physical offices and replace them with digital ones. For you, that means less time commuting, more flexibility, and perhaps a better work/life balance.

But everything has a trade-off.

More Workers ‘On Their Own’

 Let’s say that in the next 10 years, millions of more workers become mobile, and you, a recent college graduate, want to take this career route. Unless things change, you will discover that you are responsible for many things that your parents and grandparents did not have to worry about, even if you work as a full-time employee for a single company. In other words, you, the worker, will have to plan your retirement and obtain your health insurance. When it comes to retirement, you can start a retirement account as young as 18. Most IRAs (Roth and Regular) require a minimum $1,000 initial deposit, but then you can add as much or as little you want each year up to the $5,500/year cap.

Considering how much the health insurance field has changed in the last 10 years, I’m not going to make any predictions for the next 10. However, since we’re on the topic of health…

Healthcare Jobs Are on the Rise

 When it comes to the ‘professions of the future that currently exist’ category of careers, look no further than the healthcare industry. Now, I’m not saying that everyone reading this article should earn their M.D.s. However, as America ages, demand for the following jobs should skyrocket in the coming years:

  • Occupational Therapist
  • Registered Nurse
  • Pharmaceutical Researcher
  • Pharmacist

So, if you like the sciences, helping others, and the prospect of a stable, long-term career, look no further than healthcare.

What About Tech?

Nowhere is the nature of work changing more than technology careers. It seems that every day you hear a story where someone makes (or loses) a considerable fortune on the latest Silicon Valley idea. As I’m a relative outsider in the tech world, let’s consult an expert in the field.

*Opens up childhood toy box.*

“Let’s see. Pogs…furbies…gak…here it is! Magic 8-Ball, will the technology industry be as lucrative in 10 years as it is today?”

*shake shake shake*

Don’t count on it.

 *shake shake shake*

 My reply is no

That’s not good. Hmmm…

First of all, I don’t think that the Magic 8-Ball is saying that you shouldn’t go into a technology-related career. If that’s your passion, go for it. However, let me relate a story that might put the Magic 8-Ball’s replies in perspective.

While listening to the radio last week, I heard a story about a Palestinian entrepreneur who had created an IT company to give jobs to Palestinian programmers. Here was the gist of his message: “My programmers are more talented than those in the U.S. or India. U.S. programmers cost $50-$100/hour. Indian programmers cost $25/hour. My programmers cost $15/hour.”

Let’s say that his company succeeds, and in its wake, a thousand more pop up in economically depressed countries. If that happens, salaries for many American IT professionals could plummet in the next 10-15 years.

In other words, technology careers may not be the pot of gold you’ve been led to believe. The same statement may apply to the work environment, too.  😉

But that’s just my educated guess, and you know what, technological advances create new, in-demand careers all the time. But always do your research before committing to an IT career path. (Honestly, this is good advice for any student no matter their academic interests.)

Final Thoughts

“Magic 8-Ball, is it possible that the professions of the future are completely different than what we’ve looked at in this article?”

*shake shake shake*

Yes – definitely.

“So, when today’s high school students enter college, should they develop a flexible skill set to be prepared for the changing nature of work and new job opportunities?”

*shake shake shake*

Without a doubt.

The Magic 8-Ball has spoken. See you later.

10 Tips for Starting the School Year on the Right Foot

By Thomas Broderick

Although it’s still blazing hot in most places around the nation, another summer break is coming to an end. For you upcoming freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, that means another year of high school is right around the corner. No matter your grade or course schedule, there are many things you can do to get the year off on the right foot.

In this article, we’ll explore 10 tips to help you make this year a good one. And since I love all my tips equally, please consider the final tip as valuable as the first. 😉

 

1. Join a Club or Sport

Extracurricular activities are a crucial part of your college application portfolio, but they can also be a lot of fun. The key is to find something you enjoy doing. You’ll meet like-minded people and probably make new friends, too.

Upcoming freshman should pay particular attention to this tip for two reasons. The first is that making new friends can significantly lessen the stress associated with transitioning from middle to high school. Second, if the activity you choose isn’t your cup of tea, you can always pick something else next semester or next year.

 

2. Get a Tutor

Was math (or any subject) difficult last year? If so, it’s not going to be any easier this year. If you have the means, enlist a tutor’s help as soon as possible, even before you take your first test.

If tutors are a bit pricey, consider online resources such as Khan Academy to receive some valuable and free help.

 

3. Use a Planner

It’s rare when a college-bound high school student doesn’t have a busy schedule. You may have a lot to do every day, but you don’t need to be disorganized. That’s why you should use a planner.

The key to using a planner is starting one as soon as the school year begins, well before deadlines start piling up. It will be a lifesaver.

 

4. Get to School Early

If you drive to school, consider arriving at least 20 minutes early every day. Despite having to get up earlier (we’ll get to sleep in just a bit), arriving early has many benefits, some of which I can attest to from personal experience.

  • You can receive one-on-one help from a teacher.
    • Always ask in advance. Most teachers are preparing for class up until the last minute.
  • You don’t feel rushed.
  • You get another opportunity to socialize with friends.
  • You have a quiet environment to finish homework or other projects.
  • If all else fails, you can take a nap in your first-period classroom. 🙂

 

5. Get to Sleep Early

I’ll cut to the chase: you high schoolers don’t get enough sleep, and despite all the science, it’s darn near impossible for a teenager to get up early and feel refreshed. How do we fix this? Here’s some no-nonsense advice.

It’s the end of the day, and you’ve just finished up with your homework/chores/whatever. To get to sleep as early as possible…don’t try to fall asleep right away. Take 30 minutes to do something away from a screen. Then, and only then, get into bed. Your mind will be relaxed and ready to sleep. Of course, the sooner you do this every night, the better you’ll feel the next day.

 

6. Take Stock of Your Interests

When you start a new school year, it pays to examine how your interests have changed over the summer. Maybe you found a new passion or realized that an old one no longer interests you. Self-reflection gives you the power to adjust your plans for the future. And if you ‘check in’ with yourself often, adjusting your plans won’t feel like big changes. It’ll be like a natural evolution. In the end, you’ll understand yourself well enough to curate an excellent list of potential colleges.

 

7. Set One (Reasonable) Goal for the Year

Around New Year’s, adults make resolutions: lose weight, get a new job, etc. However, most adults don’t succeed and go back to their old habits or mindsets. If adults can’t accomplish their goals, why should you try to do the same at the beginning of a new school year?

To set a goal and see it through, you have to choose a reasonable goal. Let’s see what sets apart unreasonable and reasonable goals.

Unreasonable Goal

Reasonable Goal

Make straight As all year. Make As and Bs.
Become the captain of the football team. Get on the football team.
Earn $30,000 in college scholarships this year. Earn $15,000 in college scholarships this semester.

To put it another way, you have to give yourself some wiggle room. The more difficult the goal, the easier you are to become discouraged and give up. Let’s look at the final example about scholarships. You may need $30,000 in scholarships to attend college, but if you frame it as a ‘reasonable goal,’ you’ve turned a massive task into a manageable chunk. Also, you may earn more than $15,000 – a morale boost. If you earn less than $15,000, you still have the following semester to make up the difference by sending out more scholarship applications.

 

8. When Doing Homework, Go from Easy to Hard

You just got home. It’s probably late, or it just feels that way after a long, stressful day. The last thing you want to do is homework. But no matter how much you want to ignore it, it’s not going to disappear.

Here’s what you do. Of all the tasks you have to complete, start with whatever’s easiest. By completing it, you will feel motivated to move onto the next hardest thing.

It’s as simple as that.

 

9. Take a Study Hall (If You Need It)

Since we’re on the topic of homework, I want to discuss study halls briefly. Simply put, they can be a lifesaver if you have a course schedule full of AP/IB/honors courses. Writing from experience, that extra 55 minutes to complete homework during the school day can work wonders for your grades, stress level, and general outlook on life.

 

10. Have Some Fun

I was initially going to title this section ‘Plan to Have Some Fun,’ but I realized that would make me sound like more of a square than I am. And as a square, I must reiterate that you should avoid all ‘fun’ that could result in short or long-term repercussions, many of which involve standing in front of a stern-faced adult wearing a black robe.

That concludes my duties as a square. Let’s talk about fun.

Let’s say you’re who l was in high school – schedule full of honors/AP/IB courses, 1-2 extracurricular activities, and lots of other stuff stealing your time. If this describes you, I bet it’s easy to feel that there’s no time for fun ever. Speaking from my experience on both sides of the teacher’s desk, it’s a mindset that’s easy to fall into.

So how do you have fun as a busy, sleep-deprived, stressed-out high school student? You make time for it.

It’s simple advice, but even for adults, very difficult to follow. No matter how much work you have to do or how guilty you might feel about taking time off, you’re worth 30 minutes to one hour a day to do whatever you want to do, either by yourself or with friends/family. The teenagers who have too much ‘fun’ are those who can’t find a balance between work and play. And to be honest, it’s not entirely their fault. Teenage brains aren’t 100% developed.

To sum up, practice taking time for yourself. That’s fun.

 

Final Thoughts

Top 10 lists are a dime a dozen, so it’s understandably difficult to know if any article’s advice is right for you. That being said, try a few of my tips that you think would help you this year. Ultimately, as long as you do your best, you should have the best year possible.

See you in September!

Should You Take Easier Classes to Earn Better Grades?

By Thomas Broderick

This time of year, as the clock on summer runs down, you might have the opportunity to review and adjust your class schedule for the upcoming school year. If yours has been a relaxing summer, it’s easy to see words like ‘honors’ and ‘AP’ on your schedule and feel a tinge of nervous anticipation. Man, that’ll be a ton of work. Wouldn’t it be easier if I made my AP courses honors courses and my honors courses regular courses? That way I can make straight As next year. Yeah…

If you have one or more APs on your schedule, you probably already know where this article is going: you should take the more difficult classes. But unlike other articles that offer this advice, I’m going to avoid the ‘You must apply a Puritanical work ethic in high school so you can crush your enemies, also known as your peers, when it comes time to apply to college’ manta other articles espouse. So why should you take more difficult classes? The answer’s easy:

As long as you pass, you have nothing to lose.

Let me explain.

Let’s Break Down the Numbers and Letters

So you’re taking a course load full of honors and APs. That’s great. But oh no! You’ve made a B in an honors class and a C in an AP class one quarter. What will the colleges you apply to think?

They probably won’t care.

Follow my reasoning. First of all, if you get a B or C one quarter, you still have time to fix it in the next quarter and improve your overall semester grade. More importantly, not all letters are created equal. Earning a B in an honors class might as well be an A in a regular class. You can say the same thing about a C in an AP class. The fact that you’re 16/17 years old and passing a college-level class says a ton of positive things about you as a prospective college student.

Let’s take this reasoning one step further. If you make As in honors classes and Bs in AP classes, you’re ahead of the game in more ways than one. In the eyes of college admission counselors, you are a more attractive candidate than every student who made straight As in regular courses.

To put it another way, by taking honors/APs, you get to make some mistakes and get ahead; if you take regular classes and make straight As, others will still surpass you no matter what. Students who take regular level classes to make straight As always lose the college admission game….unless their school doesn’t offer honors or AP courses, which believe it or not, is still the case in some parts of the country.

Gotta Love Grit

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: college admission counselors love grit. Grit says more about a college applicant than GPA, AP scores, or extracurricular activities.

If you take a look at the link in the previous paragraph, you’ll see that teachers around the nation are trying to teach their students grit. As a former teacher, I’m not too sure if you can teach grit like you can teach an academic subject. But it is possible to encourage someone to improve their grit, which is what I’m going to do right now. If you want to up your grit game, do so with something that has nothing to do with school. My suggestion: buy a moderately hard puzzle toy and stick with it until you solve it. Oh, it’ll frustrate and confuse you, but that’s the point. You have to strengthen your grit muscles if you want to excel in your classes next year.

Being Bored Stinks

Just think about it: being stuck in 6-7 courses that are way too easy, the clock ticking away at an agonizingly slow rate…

I think I’ve made my point.

Final Thoughts

Instead of the standard wrap up, I want to end this article by discussing a BIG EXCEPTION to the advice I’ve given in this article. Over the last decade, more and more high schools have started to offer 1-2 APs to incoming freshmen. This situation doesn’t sit right with me. Except in the very rarest of circumstances, high-achieving students still need a year to adjust to high school before they can tackle APs. By all means, take as many honors courses as you want to your freshman year. Strengthen those grit muscles and grow up a bit before jumping into APs as a sophomore.

Good luck in the coming year!

College Fun Facts

By Thomas Broderick

Good day, loyal myKlovr readers. As we’re in the dog days of summer, the standard advice column doesn’t seem right. Instead, let’s beat the heat with some college fun facts!

Don’t Waste Your Plague Break

When you think of unexpected breaks from school, images of snow, flooding, or other inclement weather might come to mind. However, disease can have the same effect. Every year, flu season shuts down school districts across the nation.

But did you know that back in the day, college students got out of school for bubonic plague? It’s true, and the story of what one student did with his plague break changed the world forever.

The year was 1665, and Jolly Olde England was suffering from the plague. Cambridge University had to shut its doors for a year. At the time, Isaac Newton had just started his graduate education. Like the other students, Isaac was forced to return to his family home. But did he spend the next year just sitting around playing Fortnite? Well…of course not. Fortnite didn’t exist back then. Electricity didn’t exist back then. Duh.

So what did Isaac Newton do with his time? Oh, not much. He just invented a little thing called Calculus and worked on his theory of gravity. So the next time you want to thank a falling apple for Newton’s grand revelation, thank the plague instead. And whenever you get another unexpected day off from school, make Isaac proud by getting out there and curing cancer. 😉

The Ivy League Exists Because of Football

If you attend an Ivy League school, there’s a good chance that you’ll see some actual ivy. However, the Ivy League did not get its name due to the reputation of its schools or the large amount of ivy that grows on the members’ campuses.

It was all about football.

You see, a long, long time ago (the 1930s), the eight schools that make up the Ivy League got together to form an athletic league. Even back then, each Ivy League school was already well known for its academics. So thank football, and not the mystical powers of ivy to imbue students with knowledge, for the Ivy League.

You Thought American Colleges Were Big

America sure has some big colleges. The University of Central Florida comes out at just over 55,000 undergraduates. Phew. That’s more people than the town where I grew up! But UCF doesn’t hold a candle to the biggest university in the world: Indira Gandhi National Open University. How much bigger than UCF are we talking about? Twice as big? Ten times as big? Twenty times as big?

Try 72 times as big. That’s over 4,000,000 students. Thankfully, students take courses online or through the mail. Can you imagine the commute to that campus?

Movies About College Are Sweet, Sweet Lies

When I was a kid, I watched a bunch of Saved by the Bell. Even then, I wondered how the characters could spend so much time talking in the halls. Didn’t they have classes to go to? When I got to high school, I found out that Saved by the Bell and other TV shows about high school were lies. I only had minutes to run between classes among hundreds of other loud, pushy teenagers.

Unfortunately, college movies are just the same: sweet, sweet lies. Sorry, readers, but in real life, the same fate would befall Van Wilder, Frank the Tank, and every member of Delta House:

They would all be rotting in a federal penitentiary.  🙁

The Birth of the Hot Pocket – Sort Of

When you earn your bachelor’s degree, the graduation garb is fairly straightforward: jet black muumuu and a cardboard hat. On the other end of the spectrum, graduates earning their doctorates wear fancy robes with stripes and all sorts of colors that scream ‘Look at me! I spent so much money on this degree!’

The outfit for graduates earning their master’s degrees is somewhere in between. However, the sleeves contain small pockets that extend past the cuffs. Why are they there?

Potato storage.

The story goes that back in the day master’s graduates were so poor that they had no other way to transport food but in their clothes. Thus potato pockets were born. So when you get your master’s degree, don’t feel bad if you get weird looks when you whip out a loaded baked potato during the graduation ceremony.

Hey, it’s a long ceremony. Why should you go hungry?

Final Thoughts

Well, myKlovr readers, I hope this article has enlightened you a bit about the stranger side of the college experience. That being said, get some rest during these final days of summer. If your high school schedule for the coming year includes a lot of honors, AP, or IB courses, you’ll need your rest.

What Are College Tiers?

By Thomas Broderick

It’s summer, which means that up-and-coming high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors like you are going on college tours and performing other important work that will increase your chances of college admission success.

As you’re performing research into different schools, I bet you’ve come across the term ‘college tier,’ such as “You should apply to a few second-tier schools in addition to your top choices,” or “Going to a third-tier school is a waste of money.”

In a nutshell, college tiers resemble the tiers in the cereal aisle. On the top shelf are the name-brand cereals, and with that name brand comes a high price. On the middle shelf are the lesser-known cereals and the generic, store-brand varieties. Finally, on the bottom shelf are low-priced bulk cereals. You know the ones – they come in big plastic bags.

In this article, we’ll take a trip down the “college aisle” to examine the different tiers. While there we’ll discuss why a college ends up in a particular tier and if tiers say anything about the quality of education students receive.

The Tiers: A Breakdown

First off, there are four college tiers. Let’s learn a little about each one:

  • Tier 1: Private schools that invest as much (or more) in research than educating undergraduates
    • Cost to Attend: $40,000-$50,000/year
  • Tier 2: Private liberal arts colleges that do not focus on research
    • Cost to Attend: $30,000-$40,000/year
  • Tier 3: Major public research universities
    • Cost to Attend: $10,000-$30,000/year
  • Tier 4: Every other college including each state’s community college system
    • Cost to Attend: $0-$30,000/year

Something interesting to note is that before the mid-1980s, the concept of college tiers didn’t exist. What was just a term used by statisticians became a successful marketing ploy that big-name colleges use to build their brands.

So if tiers are mostly about marketing, will they impact your life during and after college?

What Tiers Mean for You

If you have plans to earn a master’s or doctoral degree, then college tiers matter when you’re applying to graduate school. In a nutshell, graduate programs at tier 1 and 2 schools want applicants who earned their bachelor’s degrees from tier 1 and 2 schools. The reasons for this are two-fold. First of all, when reviewing applicants that graduated from tier 1 and 2 schools, admission counselors know that the quality of education these applicants received was on par with or exceeded that of the programs at their university. Secondly, it looks better for them if they accept more candidates from these schools. But if you’re not planning to go beyond your bachelor’s, then it doesn’t matter where you receive your degree.

No matter your final level of education, where you earned your degree quickly falls in significance compared to your on-the-job performance after graduation. Apply this line of thinking to the colleges and universities on your short list by considering the questions below:

Tiers 1 & 2 

  • Will attending mean that I go into debt?
    • If the answer is ‘yes,’ you may want to reconsider.
  • Despite the school’s big name and reputation, does it offer academic programs that interest me?
    • This is also a vital tier 3 and 4 question.

Tiers 3 & 4 

  • Does this program provide a good education?
    • Research what former students are saying about their experiences. Although the college landscape has improved in the last few years, there are still many ‘colleges’ that do a poor job educating students or rip them off.
  • Am I interested in starting my degree at one of these schools before transferring to a tier 1 or 2 school?
    • Many undergraduates choose this route to save money on their educations.

Final Thoughts

If you aspire to a career in academia, then yes, college tiers matter a lot. If other career paths interest you, college tiers take a backseat to other factors such as your ability to pay. So don’t let advertising alone reel you in. Do your research, and apply to the colleges and universities where you can get the best bang for your buck.

The Importance of Summer Vacation

By Thomas Broderick

Summer vacation is a fantastic time: 10 weeks when just about anything is possible every single day. For some of you, retaking a standardized test, going on college tours, or even beginning to write your college essays will use up some of your time. I want to use this article to challenge you to do something beyond the standard list of summer activities:

Have a transformational experience.

You see, admission counselors like applicants who are not only open to new experiences but also recognize that even the smallest experience can change one’s life forever. This may seem like small potatoes compared to the importance put on standardized test scores and grades, but think of it another way. For most young people, going to college is the most significant transformational experience of their lives up until that point. Admission counselors want students who will embrace change and leave a positive impact on their college community.

So where do you find transformational experiences during the summer?

Short answer: just about everywhere.

Long answer: in this article, we’ll explore two ways you can find an experience that will leave its mark on you forever. You’ll also learn how to discuss this experience in your college essays.

Travel

Out of all the transformational experiences out there, travel ranks at or near the top. Going to a new continent, country, state, or even town can tweak your worldview and overall look on life. To put it another way, you don’t need to walk on the Great Wall of China or stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower for you to have an epiphany about life, the world, and everything.

Here’s What You Do

I bet you have at least one trip planned for this summer. Let’s use it as our example. From the moment you leave home, PAY ATTENTION TO EVERYTHING. Even if your memory is an iron trap, bring along a journal and chronicle your days on the road, air, or sea. Not only will journaling help you better appreciate your experience, but it’ll also come in handy when it comes time to write your college essays.

So what do you do besides writing down observations? Easy: get out of your comfort zone. If you’re going to a new city, take a walking tour with no route in mind, or get off the subway at a random stop and see what’s near the station. It’s through this kind of exploration that people stumble upon great restaurants, amazing sights, and unexpected adventures. And since I mentioned food, try a local dish. Who knows, you may love it.

“But I’m not going on any trips!”

If you don’t have anything planned, or money is an issue, consider applying to one of the many travel programs that help high school students travel the nation and the world. Your school may have a partnership with one of these programs. If not, here are two organizations that award travel scholarships to students with financial need.

  • Global Navigator Scholarship: CIEE is one of the most respected programs that help American high school and college students study abroad. CIEE offers more than a dozen summer travel opportunities that last 3-4 weeks. The Global Navigator scholarship covers 20-50% of the total cost. (I wholly recommend CIEE, as they coordinated my study-abroad program when I was in college.)
  • School Tours of America: School Tours of America provides funding to students that go towards a School Tours of America tour within the United States. In addition to these scholarships, the website includes links to scholarship boards exclusive to students who want to travel during the summer.

So yes, there are options for you to travel no matter your family’s financial situation.

Volunteering & Internships

So maybe travel isn’t your thing. That’s fine. In this section, let’s discuss how volunteering and internships can help you have a transformational experience.

Finding Somewhere to Volunteer or Intern 

Right off the bat, college admission counselors love applicants with volunteer or internship experience. Just as important, though, is where an application chooses to volunteer or intern. What this means for you is that you should aim for something that fits your interests. Want to help the needy? Volunteer at a food bank. Want to enact change at the local or state level? Volunteer with a political organization. Aspire to specific career after college? Intern with a local company in that field.

Once You Start Work 

It’s impossible to journal when you work, so write journal entries at the end of each day you volunteer or intern. You might realize that you like the work more (or less) than you initially thought. That’s the kind of realization that makes for a transformational experience.

Finally, when the internship or volunteer experience ends, it never hurts to ask your manager or supervisor if they would write you a letter of recommendation for your college application portfolio. 🙂

Writing Your College Essays

Just about every college essay has a prompt. However, all of them boil down to one fundamental question: Could you tell us about yourself? Invest some time to brainstorm how to link your experience with the prompt. In most cases, the experience will come up as an example to prove a more significant point. Here’s an example using a typical college essay topic:

What do you want your future roommate to know about you?

“I would like my roommate to know I am open to new experiences. For example, last summer I [insert transformational experience story here.]”

Wasn’t that easy?

Final Thoughts

As someone with a few transformational experiences his belt, I encourage you to get out there this summer and discover what the world has to offer. Don’t worry; I promise that there will still be plenty of time to lounge on the couch, go swimming, and eat a few hot dogs on the 4th of July.

How to Help Your Parents Help You with College Admissions

By Thomas Broderick

The early 1990s were an exciting time. America had won the Cold War. Trappers Keepers were the bane of elementary school teachers around the country. (Teachers hated them because of the noisy velcro.) And on the news, reporters were talking about a newfangled technology called the Internet.

Why am I waxing on about part of a decade that I was too young to remember? It’s to get across the fact that a lot has changed since the days when airports and hotels were full of payphones. And your parents, who probably went to college in the early 90s, aren’t up to speed on how the college application process has evolved since then.

In this article, we’ll examine how you can help your parents help you. That phrase may seem a bit contradictory (or just confusing), but let me convince that if you invest a little time educating your parents about how applying to college works in 2018, they will become fully prepared to help you gain admission to your dream college.

Why Bother?

You ever know someone who had good intentions but made things worse because they didn’t know what they were doing? If you don’t educate your parents about modern college admissions, you and they may fall into the same trap. Also, since they’re family, your relationships might become strained as a result.

There’s a lot of risks involved keeping your parents in the dark. Let’s change that. The sooner you get started, the sooner your parents will be able to bring their skills to the table knowledgeably and productively.

What to Bring Up

The path to college has changed a lot in the last 25 years. Going over everything with your parents would take forever, so at a minimum, hit the following high notes when you talk to them.

Acceptance Rates Have Plummeted

When your parents applied to college, there were plenty of colleges and universities that were difficult to get into. Back then the Ivy League was closed off to all but the super smart or well connected.

In 2018, getting into any one of the top 75 colleges/universities is just as tricky as it was to get into the Ivy League 25 years ago. And with more high school seniors reaching for those top colleges every year, the odds of getting in are ever dwindling. When I graduated Vanderbilt in 2008, it was a running joke that no one in the class of 2008 would have been accepted for the class of 2012.

How do you get this point across to your parents? Show them the admissions data from their colleges since they graduated. Even if they attended a public college or university, you would still discover the trend I described in the previous paragraph.

Tuition Has Skyrocketed

If your parents went to a private college, they should know from experience that college can be pricey. Even so, tuition just about everywhere has gone through the roof. Like with acceptance rates, convey this information to your parents through a few relevant examples. If you haven’t already, now would be a great time to discuss just how much financial support your parents are willing to give you when you go to college.

(Just About) Everything’s Done Online

When I applied to college in the fall of 2003, about 50% of everything I submitted was done online. Today it’s approaching 100%. Don’t be surprised if some colleges ask for digital copies of your transcripts.

Once you have finished your college list, tell your parents how the application process works for each school. This way they will better understand and be able to help you throughout the process. Making them members of your myKlovr support team doesn’t hurt either. 😉

Standardized Test Scores Ain’t What They Used to Be

Your parents took the SAT/ACT when they were high school students. Yes, the tests have changed in the last 25 years, but not so much that your parents couldn’t recognize the modern versions. Also, your parents may even be able to help you prepare for the Reading or English sections. I wouldn’t count on Math, though. Everybody forgets high school Math.

The biggest change your parents should recognize is that the way college admissions counselors view these tests has changed significantly over the past 25 years. Back then, an impressive SAT/ACT score was a golden ticket to admissions success. Since then, the growing number of applicants along with the ballooning test-prep industry has made the value of a perfect or near-perfect score fall faster than a meteor falling to Earth.

What does this mean for you and your parents? The main point you need to get across to them is that yes, SAT/ACT scores still matter, but their importance has shrunk A LOT in the past quarter-century. Stress that college admissions counselors, especially those at the most competitive schools, want to see well-rounded candidates who excel in the academic, extracurricular, and community realms.

Benefits

So you’ve caught your parents up to speed, and they’re still willing to help out. That’s great! Here are a few crucial ways they can assist you throughout the process:

  • Buying organizational materials such as folders or organizational apps for your phone/computer.
  • Proofreading college essays or investing in Grammarly (or a similar app).
  • Hiring a standardized test or subject-specific tutor.
  • Researching scholarship opportunities.
  • Teaching you financial planning tips to budget for college expenses.

Final Thoughts

A little knowledge goes a long way. For you, imparting a little knowledge to your parents about the modern college admissions experience can go a long way to help you get into your dream college. Along with your parents, be sure to invite other trusted adults to your myKlovr support team. Over the following months (or years if you’re still a high school underclassman), use these adults as valuable resources.

Last, but certainly not least, happy beginning of summer break! 🙂

Juniors! Use Summer Break to Starting Writing Your College Essays

By Thomas Broderick

It’s May, which means the school year is winding down like a neglected grandfather clock. The days are warmer, the seconds seem to tick by slower, and the only reason high school students like you endure it at all is that summer break is just a few short days away.

For you juniors reading this article, the next few months will be your last summer break as a high school student. By all means, indulge in some rest and relaxation. However, if applying to college is on your radar, you need to set aside some time for activities that will increase your chances of college admission success. For some students, these proactive steps include college tours and retaking the SAT or ACT. These activities may also apply to you, too, but I want to discuss something else entirely: getting a head start on your college admissions essays.

Though I understand your distaste at the prospect of writing one or more essays over the summer, let me use this article to convince you that summer break is the perfect time to write the first draft.

Why Not Wait?

To be honest, I didn’t start writing my college admissions essays until the fall of my senior year. And as a result, they weren’t that great. To this day I still believe that the University of Chicago rejected my application due to my poor, hastily written essays. Also, admissions essays were just one of the dozens of things I was juggling that fall: AP/IB courses, ACT/SAT retakes, keeping everything organized, etc.

Learn from my mistake: start early. The more time you can commit to college application essays during the summer will translate into both better essays and a less stressful fall semester.

Distractions Are at a Minimum

Initially, I was going to write “There Are No Distractions,” but then I remembered that the summer break before senior year isn’t totally free: studying for ACT/SAT retakes, summer jobs, family vacations, etc. For some up-and-coming seniors, summer can feel just as busy as the school year.

Overall, you should have fewer distractions during the summer months. With less on your plate, you can dedicate not only time but also energy (and hopefully some passion, too) into writing the best first draft you can.

Just like with writing an academic essay, select a time and place that fits your writing style. If your room is too distracting, go to the library. If writing on the computer means that you’re tempted to go online or play games, use a paper and pencil for your first draft.

Review Your myKlovr Student Portfolio

The summer before your senior year is a great time to review your myKlovr student portfolio. Reading through your academic, extracurricular, and personal progress will help you brainstorm anecdotes that will eventually appear in your essay.

Begin the Editing Process

Let’s say you finish the first draft over the summer. First of all, that’s great! You’re already ahead of the game. Though I wouldn’t begrudge you if you decided to take the rest of the summer off, you may want to begin the editing process.

Here’s one thing you can try: email one or more of your teachers over the summer and see if they will critique your draft. As long as you’re polite, it never hurts to ask. Many teachers don’t check their email over the summer, which means you may not hear back. Please don’t feel offended if this happens to you.

Let’s say you get lucky and your teacher agrees. You’ve just won the lottery. Why? Just like you, your teachers aren’t as busy over summer break. They will be able to read your essay without a thousand other things vying for their attention. As a result, their feedback will likely be better than if you had asked for it after the school year begins.

Final Thoughts

Depending on the colleges where you will apply this fall, your essay ranks second or third in importance in your college application portfolio. Your words give college admissions counselors a personal view of you as an individual. By starting the writing process in the summer, you guarantee that your best self shines on the page.

How Your Parents Can Help You Prepare for College

By Thomas Broderick

As a college-bound high school student, you certainly have plenty of work to do to get ready for the transition to college. There are essays to write, recommendation letters to ask for, and test scores to improve. However, you’re not alone in this. Besides your peers who are going through the same thing, your teachers are there to help, along with your guidance counselor. Most importantly, you have your parents.

Every family is different when it comes to the help they can or want to give their child during this time. In my case, my parents were glad to help. However, my mom was as ignorant about the process as I was, as she never went to college. My dad did go to college, but the application process had become so much more complicated since his college days. All three of us felt stumped. However, they did help out a lot, which means that even parents inexperienced with the process can help you apply.

In this article, we’ll look at some practical ways your parents can become involved in your college application journey.

Ask About Finances

At the very minimum, you need to discuss with your parents what they are willing to pay to finance your college education. Every family is different, so I don’t want you assuming anything. This is a conversation you need to have as soon as possible, as their answer will dramatically change the makeup of your list of potential colleges.

Now, that’s not to say that you have to write off colleges that cost too much to attend completely. Scholarships may close the financial gap. One thing you do not want to do under any circumstances is put yourself in a situation where you need to take out student loans. Yes, you’ll be 18 then, a legal adult who can take out a loan. But trust me, the VAST MAJORITY of 18-year-olds who take out student loans do not comprehend their long-term impact.

Tutors

Are you struggling with a subject or standardized test prep? You may need a tutor. If that’s the case, it never hurts to ask your parents for financial help paying for a tutor. After all, you can always spin it this way: “Every dollar invested now will result in $100 of scholarships when I improve my grades!”

Choosing Colleges

Besides money, your parents can help you in the college-selection process. Maybe one of your parents wants you to attend their alma mater. Even if you don’t care for the college, play nice and go on a tour to make your mom or dad happy. It’s the least you can do to show gratefulness for raising you.

Besides that, your parents can help a lot when it comes to the piles of colleges letters you’ll likely receive during your sophomore year of high school. These letters, though quite official looking, are nothing more than flashy advertisements. Your parents can help you sort through them, selecting those that best align with your interests. After all, your parents know you better than anyone else (hopefully).

Finally, parents come in handy during college tours. Besides giving you a ride or buying a plane ticket, here are some other ways they can help you during a tour:

  • Thinking up questions to ask the tour guide
  • After the tour, they’re a good sounding board for your first impressions about the college

Applications

So it’s finally time to apply to college. First and foremost, your parents can teach you essential organizational skills. From essays to letters of recommendation, there is a lot of material to keep organized. Just as important as materials is time. Everything has a different deadline, so ask your parents to buy you a calendar – a real one where you can look up and see what’s coming up over the next few weeks.

College essays, as an essential component of any college application, need to be at their best if they’re going to wow college admissions counselors. That’s why you need an editor. Hopefully, one of your parents may be able to fill that role. Remember that they shouldn’t write the essay for you, but provide feedback on each of your drafts.

Deciding Which College to Attend

If you’ve done everything in this article, this last part shouldn’t be TOO difficult. However, you may be blessed with a pile of acceptance letters and scholarships come April, and you’ll have to make the difficult decision of where to spend the next four years of your life.

Ultimately, it’s your decision where to attend college, and that can cause a lot of stress, anxiety, and plenty of other emotions that your not yet fully developed brain can handle. So that’s where your parents can help. Have a heart-to-heart: share your worries with him and listen to what they have to say.

Even after making your decision, you’ll still have feelings of ‘what if,’ doubts, and even some regret about not choosing a particular college. That’s a big part of growing up – making big decisions that involve trade offs.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to getting ready for college, just about everything falls on you, the future college student. But that doesn’t mean that your parents can’t still lend a helping hand. If they’re willing to act as your mentor on this journey, don’t turn it down. Everything helps.

Start Planning Summer College Tours Now

By Thomas Broderick

Are you a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior? If so, I bet you’re already looking forward to summer break. Do you have a summer job or internship lined up? Or maybe you’re going to be lounging by the pool or ocean. Either way, summer break is the perfect time for a few college tours with the family. And you know what, it never hurts to start planning for them in advance.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to plan your summer college tours depending on what grade you’re wrapping up this spring.

If You’re a Freshman

If you’re a freshman, you have a simple task: go on a single college tour.

Yep, that’s it. After all, as a freshman, college is still a long way off. At this point, it’s okay to have NO IDEA about where you want to go to college or what you want to study once you get there. So to simplify the process, choose a college within driving distance that you and your family can visit over summer break.

Researching which colleges to tour will also introduce you to many facets of the college experience. Here’s all the information you can learn from just a few minutes reading a college’s website:

  • Majors offered
  • Tuition
  • Housing

Learning about these (and more) topics for the first time will lead to more questions, but that’s okay. By familiarizing yourself now with the ins and outs of the college experience, you’ll be better prepared as the transition to college approaches.

On Your Tour

So it’s summer, and you and your family have arrived on campus. As an up-and-coming sophomore, all you should be doing is listening/taking mental notes. The other students on the tour will be older and might have very specific questions about the college. Pay attention to their questions and the answers they receive.

Since this is your first college tour, you may quickly realize that this particular college isn’t for you. That’s okay, too! The experience is still extremely valuable, however, as the tour will expose you to much about the college experience that is identical no matter where you eventually end up going.

If You’re a Sophomore

In the sophomore year, you take either the PLAN or PSAT to gauge your readiness for the ACT or SAT. The companies who make these tests sell your information to colleges across the nation. Depending on your scores, you may have received dozens of letters from colleges vying for your attention. With such a large stack of letters, it can be intimidating to sort through them all. Your job between now and summer break is to choose three colleges which you would like to tour.

Now that you’re halfway done with high school, you should have a firm grasp on which subjects you enjoy. While rifling through potential colleges, ask yourself some fundamental questions:

  • Which colleges have strong programs that align with my interests?
  • Do I want to be close to home or far away?
  • What can my family afford?

These questions should help you turn a long list of potential colleges into a manageable few. You are now ready to go on some tours.

On the Tours 

This summer, I want you asking questions (lots of them) on your college tours. If you’ve done your research, there is a good chance that one of the schools you visit this summer will be where you go to college. Here are some potential questions to get you started:

  • Can I sit in on a summer class?
  • What work opportunities exist on campus?
  • How does Greek life play a part in campus culture?

Also, while on the tour, imagine yourself spending four years on campus. In many ways, touring a college is like looking for a new home. Choosing a school that matches your personality will go a long way to encouraging your academic success.

If your family cannot afford to visit colleges that are far away, don’t worry. That’s why college websites exist. Also, if you have questions, call the admissions department. They will be happy to answer all of your questions.

If You’re a Junior

If you’re a junior, this is your last high school summer break. Before classes are back in session, you need to finalize your college list. Doing this may require an additional college visit or two. Why not more? Well, the summer break before senior year is one of your final chances to set yourself apart as a future applicant. Here are some examples:

  • Taking the ACT or SAT for the second time
  • Performing an internship (Or working at a job where you learn a vital skill)
  • Completing a volunteer project

There’s already a lot to do this summer, so I don’t want to overload you. One or two final college tours is more than enough.

On the Tours

As an up-and-coming senior, the purpose of your college tours should focus on answering vital questions you have about the school’s academic programs and how they can prepare you for your future. It’s alright if you don’t have a major picked out (remember that plenty of college students change their majors, too) but make sure the college has strong programs in two or more of your primary academic interests.

After a Tour

Before wrapping up, let’s discuss what to do at the end of a college tour. If you received permission to sit in on summer classes, that should be #1 on your list. After that, here are some ideas that will help you better get to know your potential home for the next four years:

  • Eat in the cafeteria with your family
  • Explore the library and lecture halls
  • Read the student newspaper
  • Take to some current students

In short, become an active observer.

Final Thoughts

Even with the internet and email, college tours are still an essential stepping stone between you and receiving a letter of acceptance from your dream school. Also, they are the rare occasion when colleges try to impress potential students (and not the other way around). So this summer, invest a little of your vacation time into planning for the future.

See you on campus!

Is There a Silver Bullet to College Admissions?

By Thomas Broderick

When the monster hunter needed to defeat the werewolf, he bought a box of silver bullets for his revolver. You see, silver bullets were the only thing that could kill the werewolf. All the silver bullets in the box looked the same, and the monster hunter was confident that shooting any one of them would save his town from the werewolf menace.

It’s easy to think that there are ‘silver bullets’ for other aspects of our life. “This pill is a silver bullet for weight loss!” “This DVD is a silver bullet for helping your toddler learn!” The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, all this silver bullet advertising can lead you to believe that there is a one-size-fits-all silver bullet that all students can use to get into their dream college.

Silver bullets in college admissions don’t exist…at least for most people. Families with millions of dollars can write a fat check to a college to accept their child. Other colleges clamor to attract children of celebrities and politicians. Colleges around the country seek out the next generation of sports stars. Those are guaranteed-to-work silver bullets.

But if you’re reading this article, I doubt you’re a sports star, or your family has a famous name/piles of spare cash ready to be used as a legal bribe.

So instead of prescribing silver bullets, let’s look at how you can dramatically increase your chances of acceptance to your dream college by reframing your application. And as a bonus, none of the points in this article have anything to do with your grades or extracurricular activities.

Diversity Matters

Since 1973, colleges and universities have been barred from setting racial quotas when they admit a new batch of students. Even without quotas, many universities actively recruit students who are part of minority groups. In recent years, this practice has extended to students of all races who are from more impoverished families. Of course, these students must meet the same academic qualifications as other students to gain acceptance.

So why do colleges and universities spend millions of dollars every year when they don’t have to. Simple: diversity improves a college’s brand. This was the case when I went to Vanderbilt University in the mid-2000s. Though a fantastic school, Vanderbilt was still trying to figure out how to shake off a legacy of segregation and continued racial tension. Besides a top-notch recruiting department, they sponsored summer programs for students from minority backgrounds.

Being part of a minority group or coming from a family without a lot of money can have many drawbacks, but when it comes time to apply to college, it’s an advantage. Again, it’s no silver bullet, especially in the last few years as more and more high school seniors apply to the best schools. However, if you come from one of these groups, make sure the college admissions counselor reading your application knows it.

Preserving Through Hardship

So let’s say you’re like me – white and from an upper-middle class family. What options do you have? Well, I hate to ask such a personal question, but did anything awful happen to you in the last four years? Preserving through extreme hardship (breakup of the family, serious illness, death of a parent/sibling, etc.) can work to your advantage in multiple ways.

The first way is obvious: sympathy points. College admission counselors are human, after all, and they will connect to the story of a teenager going through hard times. The second part of the puzzle is much more important. If you kept up your grades during this difficult time (it’s okay if there was a small downward blip), that fact alone shows you can preserve through anything school or life can throw at you. Universities and colleges WANT students like that. Those are the students that not only excel in the classroom but also become leaders and leave their mark on both the school but the wider world.

So if you have that story to tell, tell it in your personal essay.

Above All, What Makes You Unique?

Again, let’s say you’re like me – white, from an upper-middle-class family, and thankful that nothing horrible has happened to you or a family member in the last few years. Is there anything left that remotely comes close to resembling a silver bullet?

Fortunately, the answer is yes. Imagine your average college admission counselors. It’s February, meaning that she has a HUGE stack of applications to read. They’re all the same: good grades, good extracurriculars, etc. They start to blur together…until she sees something that makes her do a double take.

What can cause such a reaction?

Answer: Coming across an applicant who set herself apart from the pack

Who is this applicant?

Answer: Someone who relentlessly pursues a personal passion in their spare time

Think about it: there are things you love to do that have little to no relation to your academics or extracurriculars. Maybe you’re in a band, like to paint, or write short stories. For most people, these and other activities are just hobbies. Wouldn’t it be nice to take these passions to the next level? Even if you never book a show, sell a painting, or see your name in print, putting your creativity and passion out into the wider world shows a level of commitment, passion, and responsibility that most college applicants, even brilliant ones, sorely lack.

This kind of story, if told just the right way in your personal essay, will make any college admissions counselor do a double take.

Final Thoughts

Silver bullets in the college admissions world do exist, but most of us can’t get our hands on them. Instead of searching for silver bullets, emphasize what makes you unique when writing your personal essay. That way, college admissions counselors will get to know the real you, and just as important, what you can bring to their school.

 

Does your high SAT / ACT score guarantee that you will be admitted to college?

By Thomas Broderick

The average SAT score for high school seniors admitted to college is approximately 1060/1600. The ACT score for the same group is around 20/36. However, averages can be misleading. For selective colleges that accept less than 25% of applicants, the test scores of their freshmen class are 30-35% higher than the national averages. However, we have found only four colleges with an average SAT score above 1500 and fewer than ten colleges with an average ACT score of 34 or higher. If your total SAT / ACT score is only 10-15% higher than the national average, you are likely a part of the top 25% of test takers. Yet this score may not be enough to make you a competitive applicant in the eyes of the top 25% of colleges and universities.

There is a definite correlation between standardized test scores and college admission success. You need to understand where your test scores place you against other applicants at a specific college. You should work on your SAT / ACT scores to maximize your chances of getting into the best possible college. That is why both the College Board and ACT offer tests designed for 8th-grade students: students can familiarize themselves with the testing process and improve their score over time.

Do high SAT / ACT scores guarantee that your dream college will accept you? Well, not really. College admissions officers are not robots focused solely on number, and this works to your advantage. They look for well-rounded candidates, not only great test takers.

High SAT / ACT scores equal a better chance of admission. If your scores are not quite where you would like them to be, you can still improve your admissions chances with the other parts of your application. Colleges begin by reviewing your high school transcript. Also, many colleges value AP courses and often prefer candidates with high AP scores. Your personal qualities play a role, too. For example, candidates who demonstrate a strong work ethic are more likely to graduate college; this is a trait that colleges want in every applicant they accept. Your extracurricular activities, passions, and interests can also make up for relatively lower test scores if you can tell a compelling story of who you are and how you can contribute to a college’s community.

At myKlovr, we compare your standardized test scores to your list of potential colleges, as well as help you identify specific areas, academic and non-academic, that you should focus on to become a more desirable college candidate. Finally, myKlovr helps you develop your personal story and gives you the tools to tell it distinctively and engagingly in your college application essays.

We believe that the earlier you begin thinking about your path to college, the more successful you will be when you apply. As a freshman or sophomore, you may think it is too soon to worry about college. But if you procrastinate, you may be surprised to learn that you are not ready to apply when you are a senior. Start with myKlovr today, and discover how to become the best college applicant you can be.

How Important Are My SAT/ACT Scores?

By Thomas Broderick

You sit in an auditorium packed to the gills with thousands of high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors from all around the nation. On the vast stage is a single podium, behind it a massive projector screen displaying the myKlovr logo and a single sentence in ten-foot high letters – the title of this article.

I walk on the stage wearing a myKlovr t-shirt and jeans, causing the audience to erupt in rapturous applause. I am, after all, myKlovr’s academic guru. I stand behind the podium and begin to speak:

“SAT and ACT scores are very important. That is all. Now please leave – Apple has reserved this space for their next product launch announcement.”

Without another word, I walk offstage, leaving the audience in stunned, frustrated silence.

I wake up from my dream and sigh. Becoming the Steve Jobs of the education world will have to wait for another day. However, my answer was pretty much on the money: SAT/ACT scores are a crucial component of college admissions success.

In this article, we’ll examine some reasons why your SAT/ACT scores are important no matter where you hope to attend college.

So How Important Are We Talking About?

You’re not just a number in the eyes of college admissions counselors. You’re a collection of numbers and letters. 😉

Yep, for a large percentage of applicants, ten seconds is all it takes for a college admissions counselor to make up her mind, even if she continues reading your application for a few additional minutes. This usually happens to applicants whose grades are in the C-F range, and their standardized tests are lower than the college’s Middle 50% scores for accepted students. This way, many applications go into the ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ pile as fast as if they were rolling off an assembly line.

In other words, good SAT/ACT scores prevent you from receiving an automatic rejection. This situation is stark a contrast to past decades when a good score was all that it took to gain acceptance to a top college or university. Not any more – at America’s top colleges, most applicants have respectable scores and top grades. Today, a high score keeps your foot in the door, making sure that the admissions counselor takes the time to read your essays and recommendation letters.

Not every college admissions counselor has the ‘automatic rejection’ mindset. If a college can afford a large admissions staff, for example, they may read everything in your application before making a decision. But admissions counselors are only human. When no one’s looking, and an admissions counselor has a large stack next to her (not to mention that it’s 6:00 PM and she promised her little girl she’d try to be home early once this week), what do you think might happen?

What if They’re Optional?

Submit them anyway. Everything helps. 🙂

What if My Dream College Doesn’t Require Them?

Yes, many colleges (and not just community colleges) no longer require standardized test scores to apply. Personally, I think that’s a step in the right direction. However, good scores are still important for two facets of the college experience:

  • Course placement
  • Scholarships

Good scores may let you skip introductory-level courses (saving you money) and help you earn scholarships (saving you even more money). You don’t even have to apply for some of these scholarships; you gain some automatically if you live in a state with a lottery scholarship or attend a college with a guaranteed merit scholarship.

So if you like saving money, aim for a high SAT/ACT score.

Final Thoughts

There’s no way around it: good SAT/ACT scores may not earn you an automatic acceptance to your dream college, but they are still rank just under your grades in order of importance. And no matter what, make sure that every part of your application is as polished as it can be.

And since summer break is fast approaching, start researching college tours. The more the merrier!

SAT or ACT? Which One Should I Take?

By Thomas Broderick

As a teenager, people are always telling you what to do. Clean your room. Mow the lawn. Don’t drive too fast. Don’t get into trouble. Take a standardized test to get into college.

But at least you get a choice of which test to take. Yay…?

All right: I know that having a choice of which test to take doesn’t come as much comfort. Both the SAT and ACT are difficult tests that require dozens of hours of study time to achieve a respectable score goal.

One thing that shouldn’t take up a lot of your time is deciding which test to take.

In this article, we’ll explore some fundamental questions: what are the differences between these two tests, which one should you take, and do you need to take both? By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll have a plan to determine which test works best for you.

So what’s the difference?

You ever hear the phrase “like apples and oranges?” Well, the differences between the SAT and ACT boil down to “like apples and apples.” Just like the Galas and Honeycrisps in the produce section of your local grocery store, very little separates these two tests other than a few small cosmetic differences:

  • The ACT has a Science Test, which is just a camouflaged, more difficult version of the ACT Reading Test.
  • The SAT and ACT Math Tests have slightly different background knowledge requirements.
  • The SAT has some grid-in questions on its Math Test.

There are a few more differences, but again, it’s not worth your time to know all of them.

Let’s get to the more important question:

Which one should I take?

In short, it all depends on your preference.  

That’s right: just like your apple choices at the grocery store, your personal preference plays an important role. Just about every high school student naturally performs better on one test over the other. That means before you do a single second of test prep, you need to discover which test best matches your natural abilities.

Here’s how you select your test: take a practice SAT and ACT. Choose two Saturdays a week apart and take a different practice test on each one. Simulate test-day conditions by using a quiet place in your home or a local library.

Whichever score is stronger (Compare your practice test scores to the latest percentile rankings for the SAT and ACT), that’s the test you will study for and eventually take.

End of story.

Do I Need to Take Both?

Should you take a practice test of both to determine which one better matches your natural skills? Yes. Do you need to study for both tests and report scores from both to your dream college when you apply? No. That would be a tremendous waste of the time and energy, both of which you need to polish other parts of your application and continue to perform well in your classes.

Before you protest, let me say that I get it: leaving the SAT or ACT score section blank on your application may make you feel like your application is incomplete. However, remember that when a college says they’ll take the SAT or ACT, that’s exactly what they mean. Having that one small blank space will not upset them one bit.

What if my school makes me take the SAT or ACT?

Some public schools require students to take the ACT or SAT in their junior year, usually during the school day. This is what it was like in the district where I taught for four years. If this should describe your situation, let’s look at some of the pros and cons.

Pros

  • It’s (likely) free.
  • It’s good practice.
  • Your school may offer a (again, likely free) test prep program leading up to test day.

Cons

  • You may not have enough time to prepare.
  • The test may not be the one at which you’re naturally more capable.
  • A low score may discourage you.

Consider a school-sponsored standardized test as a gift rather than a burden. In my experience working with students like you, the three pros significantly outweigh the three cons (and any others you may think up after finishing this article).

Final Thoughts

The standardized test-industrial complex wants you to believe that colleges view the SAT and ACT differently, or that there are significant differences between the tests. Insidious untruths, I say! Invest some time and energy in selecting a test. Then, and only then, create and follow through on a study plan.

Your myKlovr Student Portfolio – How to Stand Out During the College Application Process

By Thomas Broderick

Your myKlovr Student Portfolio is a repository of all the information that you need to prepare for college admissions, assess your odds of admission at your selected colleges, and finally submit your applications. At the beginning of your senior year, you should have a portfolio of your strengths and accomplishments. You can start building this portfolio as early as your freshman year, which gives you plenty of time to curate examples of you at your academic and social best. Consider this: when you sit down to apply to college you will have all the information you need to create a strong application.

We know that college admissions counselors want candidates who not only meet their school’s academic requirements but who can also make a positive contribution to the larger college community. Also, they prefer candidates who have a vision of their future profession; applicants with a vision are more likely to achieve success after college. If these expectations sound a bit intimidating to you, don’t fret or panic. Most college candidates feel the same way.

The myKlovr Student Portfolio has been designed to help you craft your academic and personal story through asking questions that are relevant to your college aspirations. Our goal is to help you find solutions to the hurdles you face. That is why the Student Portfolio includes academic, personal, and professional components, all of which are easy to set up using myKlovr on your computer. It also has an ‘About me’ section, which is like a college application cover letter, a place where you bring your story to life with text and video. Our ambition is to not only assist you in preparing your application portfolio but help you discover and explain what makes you unique, as well.

Everybody knows that GPA, standardized test scores, and recommendation letters are crucial to college admissions success. But don’t forget that there is a wealth of value in your extracurricular activities, passions, interests, and life experiences, all of which you can use to stand out in a crowd of college applicants. This is where myKlovr can help – highlighting these and other accomplishments to increase your chances of college admission success.

From 9th grade academic awards to recommendation letters written by community service supervisors, myKlovr helps you stay on top of your game throughout high school and guides you to make positive decisions from the first day of freshman year until graduation.

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