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3 Ways To Stay Motivated During Your Senior Year

Senioritis. Nearly every high school student has heard of this term and almost all high school graduates have suffered from this at one point or another. In case this term is new to you, senioritis is the term used to describe how seniors feel about school before graduation. They have worked hard for several years, chosen what college or trade school they are attending and begin to lack motivation when it comes to school, classwork, homework, or studying.

It is important to note that feeling this way does not mean you are lazy. It is natural to want to take a break after a stretch of difficult or time-consuming activities. The college application and selection processes are long and difficult. Once you decide on that next step, you will feel inclined to reward yourself on a job well done. Yes, in some ways, you do deserve a slight pat on the back for getting into college. However, this is hardly the time to take the foot off the gas pedal. This is the time to keep moving forward and working towards your goals. To help with this, I have listed 3 things to remember in order to stay motivated during your senior year.

#1 – Colleges still care about your grades

The majority of college acceptances are based on successful completion of your senior year classes. Remember, colleges are looking to accept the best and the brightest. If they are going to let you come to their school, they want to make sure you are going to be a hardworking student and represent the school well.

Imagine putting in all that hard work and telling everyone what college you will be attending just to have it taken away due to poor grades. If you used getting into college as motivation before, there is no reason to stop now. As you sit in class, think about your future. Think about the college you will be attending and the things that made you choose that school. That should supply you with the motivation to keep working hard towards your goals and not slack off as your time in high school comes to an end.

#2 – It is only going to get tougher from here

Your senior year may feel like the end of an era. However, it is just the beginning of the rest of your life. Each step from here on out will be tougher. As you get older, more and more will be expected of you. College classes are longer than high school classes which means there is more you need to learn each time. The class sizes are larger which means less personalized attention. The professors move faster which means they expect you to already know how to pay attention and take notes.

The point is that you need to use your senior year as a time to build up important skills such as note-taking and studying. This is the time to learn how to focus on and increase your attention span.

Pretend you are already in a college lecture hall. Instead of going straight to your teacher with a question, try to answer it on your own. Try your best to take exceptional notes and absorb as much information as you can, regardless of what class it is. Use your senior year as a practice to prepare for the tougher courses and experiences that are coming next.

#3 – What are you working towards?

When I coach my students, we always begin with the same question. I ask them what type of person they want to become. We talk about the type of life they want to work towards. What are they passionate about? What are they good at? We figure out what type of impact they want to have on the world and then we create a plan to achieve that goal.

Figuring out your purpose is key to staying motivated. You don’t have to have it all figured out right now, but you should begin to think about where you are going. Think about why you are going to college and what type of career you are looking to achieve. Any type of life you want is going to require hard work and determination. It’s going to require you to become the type of person who always works hard and is trying their best. That type of person does not slack off in their senior year, or ever for that matter.

Conclusion

Senior year is not the end of the road. It is simply a stop on a much longer path to your future. You must continue building towards becoming the type of person that you will be proud of. Skills like problem-solving and independent thinking only become more valuable as you get older. It is up to you to continue to work at building these skills and preparing yourself to enter college and eventually the real world.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several students focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org. 

 

A Different Approach To Your College Application Essay

Colleges will receive thousands of applications every year and each application requires you to write an essay. This is the chance for colleges to get to know you better as a person. Are you the type of student that will thrive at their school and end up being a successful alumnus? Naturally, colleges only want the best students, and try their best to avoid accepting those who may not have the maturity, drive or character to represent the school in the best way possible.

There are a lot of pieces of content out there that speak about how to write your college application essay. However, that advice is only going to take you so far. You are a unique individual with a unique past and set of skills. You must look inside yourself and write an essay that tells your story. If you want your essay to stand out, you must take the right approach when writing your college application essay.

Describe What Type Of Person You Want To Become

The odds are pretty good that at some point in your life you have been asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. The issue with this question is that it tends to hold you to one answer. You become stuck on one path, working towards one type of job and career. Furthermore, you are most likely picking that job because it’s one of the few careers you are aware of. Most of the graduates I have surveyed over the years never took the time to research all the different career paths that were open to them.

Before you start your college application process, take some time to ask yourself “What type of person do I want to become?’. When you ask yourself this question, you are no longer beholden to one job or one career path. Instead, you are opened up to a field of opportunities around the type of person you want to become and the impact you want to have on the people around you. Think about what you enjoy, what you are good at, and what you believe you want to spend the rest of your life working towards.

Then, talk about it in your essay. This will accomplish two important things. First, you will stand out. The person reading your essay is most likely in the middle of reading hundreds of essays in the coming weeks and months. Most of those essays will be very similar and talk about why they want to study a specific major. Your essay will cover a broad theme and give the reader an insight into why you are applying to college and what type of student you will be.

Second, this topic will showcase you as an intelligent thinker who is passionate and serious about their future. Remember, schools are using this essay as a way to get insight into you as a person. Anyone reading your essay will see that you have taken significant time out to map your future. You will begin to position yourself as someone who will be an excellent student that the school can be proud of.

Explain How That School Is Going To Help You Become That Person

This is where we get specific. Many students tend to write one essay and send it out to all of their college choices. While this is common practice, it also means that your essay will read like every other one that has been sent in. Your goal now, and always, is to stand out in a way that shows your value and tells your story.

Once you have determined your person, spend time researching the school. Make a list of the possible majors you could take that align with your desired path. See if there are certain faculty you will be working with. Learn about the career center, campus events, and any other opportunities that are going to help you along the way. Begin to tell the story of someone who is driven to become the best version of themselves, and has specifically chosen this school to do that.

Again, this technique helps to accomplish two key goals. First, it gives you a chance to do even more research about the school and confirm it is the right fit. Second, you are showing the reader how dedicated you are to your future. Instead of writing a generic essay, you took the time out to write a letter specifically for that one school. This allows you to show your passion and dedication which proves that you will become a valuable asset to the school if accepted.

Make The Reader Envision You Succeeding At That School

This is where we bring it all together. The individual reading your essay has been tasked with determining if you are the right fit for that school. They have been told to find the best students possible. Students who will come to campus, get good grades, participate in the community, and become successful alumni and proud representatives of the school.

The story you are telling them must be helping them envision you at the school. You want them to envision you going to class, walking around campus, and attending events. You are telling the story of a hardworking, driven student with a clear vision for success. You are showing them how their school, and all these wonderful resources, are going to help you become a valuable student and graduate.

Conclusion

By the time the reader is done with your essay, they should feel as if they need you at there school. That you are the type of student who will play an active role on campus and ultimately become a graduate that they can be proud of. Do not be afraid to be different and go against some of the advice you may read on the internet. Your essay is about telling your story and proving to that college that you are exactly what they are looking for in a student.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several students focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org

 

5 Questions To Ask A College Alumni

Selecting a college is an important choice with long term implications for your future. Wherever you choose to go, you are dedicating four years and thousands of dollars to that college and in return, you expect a positive and worthwhile experience. Even more important, the college you end up at needs to give you the best chance to succeed. It must offer you multiple opportunities to prepare you for your chosen career and the real world that awaits you. It also must provide the type of environment that will help you to learn and grow as a student and as a person.

So, how do you know if the college you are looking at is going to deliver these things? Yes, you should research the college ahead of time. One of the most important steps in your college selection process is taking campus tours and asking questions. We covered what questions to ask your campus tour guide in an earlier blog post. While you are visiting the school, you may meet alumni who went to that school. It is fine to ask them questions – but remember that they were chosen to be at that tour or open house for a reason. The school knows they are going to speak about them in a positive light.

To ensure you are getting the whole story, make sure to reach out to at least 3 alumni via social media or mutual connections. This is where you will get the full truth, the good and the bad, about the school you are looking at. Once you find these graduates, you should  ask them specific questions in order to get the information you need and not waste anyone’s time since many will be working professionals. Here are 5 questions to ask and what types of answers to look for.

What was your major and are you working in that field today?

This question is important because a student experience can vary depending on what their major was. Out of the three alumni, you speak to, ensure at least once studied the same subject(s) you plan on pursuing. This gives you an idea of what your time will be like. If certain classes are difficult, you can plan ahead by ensuring you take that class at a time where you function at a high level.

The second part of this question is just as important. This will give you insight into how well the school prepared their graduates for the real world. If the graduate responds by telling you that he is not working in his major you may want to dig deeper. This may lead to an important discovery such as finding out the school has a lackluster career center or has no process in setting their graduates up with companies after graduation.

On the other hand, you may discover that the school in question does a great job in assisting students in their transition into the workforce. These types of positives should be documented and will come in handy when you are comparing schools. Again, it is important to understand every aspect of this school before making this crucial decision.

What was the biggest transitional issue you faced when you started at the college?

 Even if you do all your research and choose the ideal college for your needs and goals, the transition can still be difficult. If you are going away to school, then you are starting a new routine, with new people, in a new environment. If you are not careful then this massive change can overwhelm you and your grades may suffer.

 By asking this question you are getting advice from someone who has already been there. Not only can they tell you what to expect, but they may also bring up something you never even thought of before. This lets you prepare ahead of time and ensure that whatever is coming will not distract from your schoolwork and knock you off course.

 You may also learn something interesting specifically about the school. For example, several students I have spoken to were not prepared to follow a bus schedule to get to class. Many of them missed at least one class due to this issue. Students also talk about the weather at their school and how different it is from where they grew up. It’s up to you and your needs as to whether or not these are disqualifying factors. For some, learning a bus schedule is no big deal. For others, they may prefer to be able to walk to and from class and have complete control over their schedule. The important thing is that you know these issues exist ahead of time and can plan for them.

Did you feel the college prepared you for the workforce and the real world?

Almost any school can teach you the basics of any course of study. However, you want to be sure you attend a college that goes above and beyond that. Not only are you going to college to learn, but you are also going to prepare for the next steps in life and start to build a career and life you will enjoy. This question lets you know if the college offers the opportunity you need to do just that.

This is also where you will most likely get the most passionate answer from the alumnus. Did the college provided them with a great education, valuable internships, and help in finding a job? 

This is where you want to look for trends in the answers you are getting. If you are hearing the same positive or negative things it can help you paint a picture of what it will be like to attend that school. Be sure to document these answers so you can refer to them later. The biggest thing to look out for is whether or not the school is going to help you reach your goals and start your career off in the right direction.

What was your favorite and least favorite thing about the school?

Again you are looking for two things in the answers you get here. Emotion and trends. This is where you can tell if a student feels passionately one way or another about the school. It also helps continue to paint that picture we started in the last question. Either way, these answers should help you understand if the school you are looking at is worth your time and money.

Pay attention to how much time they spend answering both parts of this question. If they go on and on about all their favorite things and cannot name anything negative, then that is a great sign. On the other hand, if the conversation once again turns negative, that is a red flag that needs to be explored. Again, you should not disqualify a school because someone has something negative to say about it. 

Lastly, examine the quality of these answers. If the best part of the school is the parties or the ice cream, that is not a good enough reason to go there. Just like if the worst part of the school is that the football team is in last place or you have to walk up several hills, that is not a good reason to cross it off your list. You want to look for answers such as quality of the lecture halls, campus life, access to resources, and other things that are rooted in education, academics, and the impact on your ability to grow and succeed.

If you could go back in time, would you attend the school again?

If you are in a situation where you feel like you can only ask one or two of these questions, be sure to ask this one. You will get an honest answer and most likely get the reasoning behind it. Notice the emotion and passion when they answer this question. If they say they would attend again – they will speak highly of the school and you will be able to tell that they enjoyed their time there. If they would not attend again – you will learn why and it could be the main reason you decide not to go to that school.

Conclusion

Speaking to alumni is just one part of the college selection process. At the end of it, you will need to choose a college that fits your specific needs and goals. Talking to people who went to that school is an ideal way to learn about what to expect. The most important thing is to look for trends among the answers you get. If you are lucky enough to speak to alumni in person be sure to notice the emotion they use when talking about the school. By asking these questions you will have important data points that will help you when it comes time to picking a school.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several students focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org. 

 

5 Questions To Ask When Considering A Student Loan

Student loans. That is by far the most common answer I hear when I ask college graduates what they regret about their past choices. To be clear, they do not regret taking out loans. They regret not researching their options. Most of the college grads I talk to claim they had no idea what they were signing up for.

Most graduates apply for and accept student loans without understanding how they work. The result is that most grads are surprised about how much they have to pay back every month after college. An unexpected large monthly payment can have a serious impact on your future plans. Before applying to any student loan, be sure to ask these 5 questions.

What Is The Total Amount Of Money I Am Borrowing?

First, it is crucial to understand how a loan works. A loan is an agreement between you and a bank. They will give the money you need but it will cost you. This cost is called an interest rate. Simply put, they will grant you $1,000 at 10% interest to spend on college but they are going to expect you to pay back $1,100 after your graduate.

If you know the amount you think you will need to borrow, be sure to review all the documents and understand how much money you will be expected to pay back. If you borrow $10,000 you will end up paying back closer to $13,000 when it is all said and done. That is how a loan works and it is important to know that when you are determining how much you want to owe after graduation.

What Is The Interest Rate Of This Loan?

We have established what an interest rate is and how it works. You should always know what the interest rate of your student loan is going to be. You should also be actively researching loans from various sources and comparing your options. Do not assume that the option you are looking at is giving you the best offer. 

It is important to research your options when it comes to your interest rate because of the impact it has on your life as an adult. The longer it takes to pay back your loans, the more you have to pay back because of your interest rate. The lower the interest rate means the less you will have to pay back over time. That is why it is worth it to take your time and compare all of your options to ensure you are getting the best deal.

When Do I Have To Start Paying This Loan Back?

Not all loans have the same terms and conditions. Do not assume that every loan is the same and that you do not have options. Pay close attention to these terms when you are considering applying for a loan. Make the choice that makes the most sense for your situation and future.

You should know exactly when you will have to start paying back the money you are borrowing. Some loans require you to begin your monthly payments the month after you graduate college. This could become a serious issue if you cannot guarantee you will already be in your first post-college full-time job immediately after graduation. The last thing you want to do is miss a payment and hurt your credit score as a result.

Look for loan options that give you some breathing room after graduation. Loans that do not require first payment until 3-6 months after graduation will give you time to secure and settle into your first full-time job and begin saving some money. Regardless of what you choose, you should know what your payment schedule is going to be like and how you plan to make those payments on time every month.

What is the Minimum Amount I Have To Pay Back Each Month?

The biggest shock to college graduates is the amount of money they have to pay back each month. It is a shock because they did not bother to research this before signing their loan applications. Graduates have personally told me their stories where they graduated from college, bought a car, got ready to move out and then were blindsided by their first loan payment bill.

In addition, to shock, most graduates feel serious regret once they realize how much of their paycheck is going towards paying off their loans. If they had known this was going to happen, they would have researched more options and perhaps even chose a more cost-effective college to attend.

Figure out the exact amount you will be required to pay back every month. If your minimum payment is going to be over $500, what does that mean for your future? Will you be able to buy a new car and move out of your parent’s house? How much does an entry-level job in your field of interest pay after taxes? These are the numbers you need to be looking at while making this important decision. 

Would The Minimum Amount Be Less If I Went To Another School?

Let me be clear, you should not choose a college strictly based on cost. There are several factors to weigh in making this choice. I cover them all in my online course ‘How To Select The Right College For You’ where we talk about what makes college worth the money. If you are going to spend all that time and money in a college, you want to make sure it is worth it.

Once you determine how much your minimum payment is for College A, run the numbers again against the other colleges on your list. If your minimum payment drops by $100 a more per month, that is something worth taking note of. If those colleges are offering the same courses and opportunities, it would benefit you in the long run to borrow less. You do not have to choose the most expensive college to get the best education.

Conclusion

Student loans are not necessarily a bad thing. They can be a useful tool that allows you to attend the college of your choice and build the career and future you want. However, they are not be entered into lightly. They deserve a significant amount of time and research. You should completely understand what you are signing up for and what will be expected of you after graduation.

 

We cover this topic in even more detail, as well as the other parts of the college selection process in my on-line, on-demand course entitled “How To Select The Right College For You”. I invite you to check out all of the topics we cover and watch the first lesson for free.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org

 

5 Ways To Make This School Year The Best One Yet

Like it or not, the new school year is almost upon us and in some parts of the country, it is already here. As a student, I remember having a hard time being excited for the new school year because it meant the end of summer vacation. I had developed a mindset that each school year was the same. I treated it as a nuisance that I had to trudge through.

What myself, and many of my fellow graduates who I have spoken to over the years, failed to realize was that each school year was a unique opportunity to build towards our future. The beginning of each year was a chance to start fresh, set goals, and build towards the type of person we want to become and the life we want to live. If you are thinking that this upcoming year will be just like last year, here are the 5 ways to make it not only better but your best one yet.

#1 – Determine What You Are Working Towards

What is the one thing you want or need to accomplish this school year? Is it developing better study habits? Narrowing down your college list by visiting campuses? Has your GPA suffered due to lack of motivation or concentration? Figure out what you need to accomplish this school year. This will give you the motivation to pay attention in class, try harder on your tests, and give you a reason to start each school day with excitement instead of dread.

Let’s put it another way. What is one thing you want to be able to say about yourself in June? Is it that you know where you want to go to college? Perhaps, there is a class that you have always struggled in and it is hurting your GPA. If you have an interest in a specific career, take this time to research it and figure out what you can do this year to move towards that career. Pick something you want to accomplish and use that as your driving force when school feels boring, routine, or overwhelming.

#2 – Learn a brand new skill

The more skills you have when you enter the real world, the better off you will be. Do not just spend your free time watching TV and playing video games. Pick something you have always wanted to learn and carve out time each week to learn it. Ask your family members what was one skill they wish they knew before going off to college or entering the workforce.

First, this will give you a leg up on your fellow students when they are applying to college. You will have something unique to talk about during your college essay or interview. Second, it keeps your creative juices flowing. When it is time to take a break from school work you can turn to something that will be fun yet challenging. Lastly, on those days where school feels like a drag, you can power through knowing you will be doing something fun later on that day.

#3 – Identify and Break One Bad Habit

We all have bad habits. However, there is a difference between the annoying small ones and the life-altering big ones that prevent us from reaching our full potential. For me, it was not staying organized with my class notes. I was constantly shoving my worksheets and other important pieces of paper into my backpack and often losing them completely. I thought they were worthless once class was over. However, my lack of organization came back to haunt me when it came time to study for tests. My grades suffered significantly as a result.

Think about last school year and about any habits that prevented you from doing your best, growing as a person, or reaching your goals. Then, write down when this habit pops up the most and how it hurts you the most. Once you understand where this habit is doing the most damage, write out your step by step plan to fix it. For example, if you always wait until the last minute to finish a project, create a process for yourself. Start by listing out the different things you need to do for that project. Then assign a daily or weekly due date to each part. Take a minute to register how good it feels when you complete each part, knowing that you will have less work to do moving forward.

#4 – Begin Building Your Network

The idea of a network might be a bit foreign to you. In simple terms, a network is a group of working professionals that you have developed a relationship with. You can call on people in this network for advice when it comes to applying to college, internships, and your first job. Your network is also invaluable when you are researching possible careers and majors. These are the people who have come before you and have the advice you need to make the right choices.

To ensure you are building the right network, you first have to start thinking about what types of jobs and careers you are interested in. This list may change, but to start, think about what you are passionate about and what interests you. Then, make a list of jobs that align with those interests. When you are ready, seek out working professionals who are currently working those jobs. You will be amazed and what you will learn about their jobs, what they went to school for, and what your life might be like if you pursue that career.

#5 – Develop A Growth Mindset

All of the ways I just mentioned play into the idea of developing a growth mindset. That term can mean many things. For you, as a high school student, it means keeping your mind open to new ways of becoming a better and smarter person. Actively seek out opportunities where you can develop a new skill, meet new people, and learn about your future opportunities.

Every morning when you wake up for school, make the decision that you are going to take a positive approach to the day. Get yourself excited about your classes by remembering what you are working towards. Approach the upcoming day knowing that you will learn new skills, lookout for opportunities to grow, and be working towards building the future you want for yourself.

Conclusion

Too many graduates, myself included, floated their way through high school. Each day, month and year were treated the same because they never took the time to think about what was coming next. I challenge you to challenge yourself this upcoming school year. Decide that this is the year you make significant changes in your lifestyle and attitude. Ten years from now, when you are living a life of purpose and satisfaction, you can look back on this year knowing it was the year that started it all.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org.

5 Questions To Ask When On A College Campus Tour

College campus tours are a rite of passage. Ideally, you pick a beautiful fall afternoon and drive to the campus of the college you are considering attending. An upbeat tour guide takes you to the nicest buildings, gives you impressive stats, talks about the latest events on campus and paints the school in a bright, positive light. It can be a lovely experience. However, if you don’t ask your own questions, and understand what you are looking for in a college, the entire experience can be pretty useless.

When I speak to college grads about their college experience, they often talk about how they did not spend enough time researching colleges and determining if they are the right fit for themselves. I am a firm believer that a student needs to determine what they are looking for in a college and what type of environment works best for them. It is crucial that you are asking the right questions and seeking the information you need. Here are five questions you should be asking on every campus tour.

What Is The Average Size Class?

In my online course, How To Select The Right College For You we spend the entire first lesson talking about determining the type of environment you need to be successful. Certain colleges have class sizes that are similar to the ones you experienced in high school. However, larger colleges can have class sizes of 50, 75, or even 100 students.

Larger class sizes mean less face to face time with your professor. It also means you may not be able to ask as many questions and will have to figure it out on your own. Take time to think about how important this is to you. If you are an independent learner, you may not care about how many students are in your class. If you are someone who enjoys asking questions and often needs specialized attention to understand concepts, then a smaller class size should be a top priority.

When Do I Have to Declare A Major?

Before you choose a college, you should have an idea of what type of industry you are interested in. In the course mentioned above, I encourage students to discover what type of person they want to become. This allows them to understand what they are interested in pursuing as a career, without having to commit right away. If you have an idea of what you are interested in but want to keep your options open, the deadline for declaring a major is crucial.

Some colleges require a declaration by the end of your freshman year. Others allow you to wait until the end of your sophomore year. If you enter college undecided, it will enable you to continue to explore your options. You can use this time to talk to other students, faculty, alumni, and the career center about the various career options that will be open to you. It is crucial to have a plan and understand when you have to make important choices, such as choosing the right major for you.

What Type of Internships Do You Offer?

When you graduate college, you enter the workforce with hundreds of other graduates who, on paper, will look exactly like you. You will have similar degrees and come from similar types of colleges. Internship experience is what is going to help you stand out. Internships will allow you to showcase your skills and prove you can be a reliable, valuable employee.

    Internships are also a great way to understand what your chosen career is going to be like. You can learn the day to day responsibilities of your career and ensure that it is something you will enjoy doing on a daily basis. Lastly, this is an opportunity to connect with working professionals and learn from them. You can pick up valuable pieces of information about how to apply to jobs, workplace professionalism, and much more. If you create a secure connection with a particular contact, you can ask them for a letter of recommendation. This is a letter that tells future employers how valuable an addition you will be to their team.

    Ask your tour guide or admissions counselor to provide details about the internships the school offers. Do they have partnerships with companies in the area? Do they have an active alumni network that is actively looking for interns for their companies? If you do not get the answers you are looking for, contact the career center. Stop by after a tour or ask for staff members email address. Make sure that you are going to be able to apply to and serve in several high-value internships during your years at that school.

How Do Students Get To Class?

This is an important question that often gets overlooked. It ties back into my earlier point about finding a college situation that works for you. Smaller colleges have all their buildings on one campus. A students class is never more than a 10-minute walk away from their dorm building. This makes getting from one class or activity to another very easy. Larger colleges often have several campuses. Students are required to take a bus to each class, and that bus will not wait for you if you are late.

    You should not disqualify a school if it has several campuses or requires mass transit to attend class. You should determine if that is important to you. You should also know that this is something you will be required to do and plan for it accordingly. Several grads I have spoken to over the years had no idea what attending one class entailed. They were thrown completely off guard, and their grades suffered as a result.

What Percentage of the Student Body Commutes to Class?

Again, this is important if you are planning to live on campus. If you choose to dorm, then you are committing to spending a significant amount of time in a new place. If you go several hours away, then you will be spending most of your weekend there as well. You want to make sure there is stuff to do. That the school is committed to planning events for students who stay on campus. If the majority of the student body commutes from home, the school may not invest a lot in keeping the small number of dorm students entertained.

    Now, a high percentage of commuters does not necessarily mean you will be bored to death on the weekends. If it appears as if the school you are looking at is considered a “commuter school,” there are a few follow up actions you can take. First, ask about campus events. Is there something every weekend or are they only highlighting the big, yearly events? The second thing you can do is take a look at the flyers around campus. What types of events are they promoting? Look for events where you can hang out with friends, meet new people, and experience new things.

While you are looking, see what types of networking events they provide. Do they have guest speakers or opportunities to meet working professionals? This will tell you how invested the school is in preparing you for the workforce. Knowing that you can keep busy meeting new people and learning new things could be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing a college.

Conclusion

A college should earn your money and your time. They should be offering you a wide variety of opportunities that are going to help you build the career you want and become the type of person you want to become. You should also have a clear picture of what life is going to be like at that school. You need to know you will feel comfortable in order to be set up for future success. It is up to you to take control of this process, ask the right questions, and choose the college that is right for you.

About How To Select The Right College For You

This online, on-demand course is designed to help students navigate through the college selection process. We help the student identify what type of environment they need to succeed and coach them through asking the right questions to get the information they need to make the best choice for themselves and their future

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student-focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org

3 Things To Do Before Starting Any School Year

Summer vacation is a time for relaxation. It is time to take a mental break from the previous school year and allow yourself to enjoy the company of family and friends. However, like it or not, the next school year is right around the corner. I am not trying to be a bummer. I am trying to help you avoid the mistakes that past students have made.

Many of my college-age coaching clients often speak about how they wasted their time in high school and never thought about preparing for college or the real world. A lot of my friends and co-workers say the same thing. It is very easy to float through school and do just enough to get by. The key is to plan and ensure that each year has a purpose and is helping you build towards the future you want.

Today, we are going to talk about three things to do before starting any school year. The great thing about this list is that it can be used over and over again. Regardless of where you are in your educational journey, these three tasks can be completed each year to ensure you remain on track and prepared for the next steps in life. These are valuable habits that you can start now and will reap long term benefits for years to come.

Determine What You Are Working Towards

When I was in high school, I had one goal. Survive. Looking back, this was a pretty stupid mindset to have because it did not motivate me to do anything. All I tried to do each day was pass my classes with the least amount of effort possible. I treated each school year like they were identical, and like a chore, I had to complete. My result was a rude wake-up call in college when I lacked the studying habits and discipline to succeed in my classes.

Take a look at the upcoming year and discover it’s purpose. If you are a high school freshman, this year is dedicated to building a strong GPA, solid study habits, and exploring new friendships and opportunities. If you are a sophomore or junior, you are working through the college application and selection process. If you are a senior, you are choosing a college and preparing for what’s to come once you get there.

What are you working towards this year? What is the purpose of you being in class? What skills do you need to develop to reach your goals? Take the time to understand what specific goals you are working towards. This allows you to put together a clear path to success and supplies you with motivation throughout the year. This purpose and motivation are critical when you are sitting in a class you do not like or feel like slacking off halfway through the year.

Perform An Educational Audit

Before you enter the new year, there is always something of value to learn from the one that just passed. In my book, To The Next Step, I require the reader to perform this type of audit before the beginning of each new year. The purpose is to look back on your classes, grades, and habits to see what worked and what needs work.

The most important aspect of this audit is to understand what classes you did well in. This will help clarify what you are interested in and what you enjoy learning about. These findings can prove useful when you are starting to research possible majors and colleges. You also need to understand what classes you did not do well in. The reason for this is twofold. One, it allows you to pinpoint where the biggest threat to your GPA is going to be and how to plan to fix it. Two, it gives you insight about what you do not enjoy in school and what you will most likely not enjoy studying in college or working out in the real world.

Calculate your yearly and overall GPA. Understand exactly where you are, and set a goal for where you want to be next year. Again, this will motivate you to push past the temptation of being lazy and develop a mindset that allows you to reach these goals. Also, as you research colleges, you will begin to see what type of GPA they are requiring. You are much less likely to get caught off guard if you have been monitoring your grades and working towards improving them each year.

Take Over Two Tasks Your Parents Currently Do For You

This last one has nothing to do with academics and everything to do with preparing for the real world. A major downfall of college students who go away to school is their inability to perform basic life tasks once they are on their own. Even college graduates who move out are often overwhelmed with stress regarding making doctors appointments, going grocery shopping, budgeting their money, and other adult tasks that come with growing up.

If you are a current student, as soon as you are done with this blog post, I would like you to make a list of every single task your parents currently do for you. Then, at the start of each school year, take two responsibilities from that list and commit to owning them. For example, when the new year starts, commit to making your own lunch and scheduling your own doctor’s appointments. These are two simple skills that if learned now, will make life a lot easier for you down the road.

The tasks you choose are entirely up to you. My advice would be as a high school student choose tasks that you know you will have to do in college. As a college student, select tasks that are waiting for you in the real world. It is much easier to transition into becoming a responsible adult over several years then to attempt to do it all at once.

Conclusion

It is never too early to plan for the future. The easiest thing in life to do is not to care or care just enough to get by. That might work now but trust me you will come to regret it later. My advice, based on the regrets and missteps of past graduates, would be to attend school with purpose and passion. Outline your goals before each school year and develop the mindset and work ethic you need to achieve them.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student-focused services including one-on-one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org. 

3 Ways To Use Your Summer Vacation To Prepare For The College Selection Process

Summer vacation is in full swing as thousands of high school students are entering into the freest and unchained part of their year. For many, this is a time to go to the beach, hang out with friends, and watch an unhealthy amount of Netflix. While breaks are essential to restore and replenish your mental health and well being, it is crucial that this time not be lost entirely. For most high school students, some part of the college research and selection process is right around the corner.

Ahead of the Pack

Almost all American High School Students enjoy 10-12 weeks of summer vacation. The majority of these students will do very little of anything school related. Meaning, those who take the time out to plan for the upcoming school year will be miles ahead of those who do not. Being ahead of the competition is never more critical than when it comes to applying for colleges.

Why Should You Care?

If you are currently a student on vacation, you are probably asking why you should be thinking about applying for colleges when it is seemingly months away. Yes, technically, you could wait until the fall to begin and continue your college selection process. However, that is what everyone else is doing. Take this time off to stand up and stand out. Why? College admissions standards are rising due to the increased amount of applicants. The competition for state colleges has increased dramatically due to the rising costs of private colleges and universities. Summer vacation is the perfect time to devote your time and energy to researching and finding the best college for you.

#1 – Conduct Self Discovery

All of your tests and finals are officially done. You no longer have to cram for exams or spend time writing papers. This means you have more time to focus on yourself. Use this time to answer a few key questions before you begin making one of the most significant decisions of your life up to this point.

First, why are you going to college? Have you ever thought about that question before? Most students plan to go to college because they believe they are supposed to or their parents want them to go. These are not sufficient reasons to dedicate a significant amount of your time, energy, and resources to something. Think about why you have chosen college as the next step in your life and what are you looking to get out of it.

Second, how are you going to pay for it? I have surveyed over 100 college graduates regarding their time in high school and college. The biggest regret they have is not learning more about the loans they are signing up for. In my online course, How To Select The Right College For You, we dedicate an entire lesson to understanding student loans and another to determining if a college is worth the money. For now, start by talking to your parents about what you can afford and determine a rough estimate of how much money you may need to take out. Then make a list of all the questions you have about student loans and seek out help from a financial professional.

Lastly, what type of future are you trying to build? I challenge all my coaching clients to determine the kind of person they want to become to plan for the kind of future they are working towards. Use this time off to think about what you enjoy doing and what brings you the most satisfaction. Begin to envision the type of life and career you are looking to create for yourself. This will give you clarity when you are learning about schools and the programs they offer.

#2 – Plan 3 College Visits

Most colleges conduct their official, group tours in the fall and spring. That does not mean you cannot conduct your own tour this summer. By touring a campus in the summer, you will be able to enjoy the visit stress-free. If you miss something, you can always come back during the year.

If you already have one of several colleges on your list, reach out to the admissions office and express your interest in taking a tour. Chances are high someone in the office can arrange to meet you on campus for an afternoon. A private tour is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the school and ask all the questions you want without the craziness of a large group. It also allows you to get used to touring campuses and learn what to look out for.

Aim to complete three college visits. If you do not have that long of list or it is not logistically possible then visit your local campuses. Even if you cannot schedule an official tour, download a campus map and give yourself a tour. Once you have your tours set, make sure you create a full list of questions. These questions are designed to learn about the culture of the school; their plan to prepare you for the workforce and their dedication to your progress and development.

#3 – Talk To Those Who Have Come Before You

This time in your life is a complicated one. You undoubtedly have a lot of questions about colleges, universities, majors, student loans, dorming, and more. Luckily for you, this entire process has been done before, by people you know. The answers you seek usually lie with those you have come before you.

Instead of waiting until the fall and the return of tests and projects, use your downtime to compile a list of questions you have. What about college is stressing you out? What about going away to school are you nervous about? What about financial aid confuses you? Now is the time to organize your thoughts and figure out who to talk to.

Begin to look into your inner circle of family and friends for recent college graduates. They will be to provide insights into the process, what to do, and what to avoid. Use this time off to set up lunch and coffee appointments. Be sure to bring your list of specific questions and record their answers.

Lastly, create a LinkedIn profile this summer and connect with alumni of the colleges you are looking at. Again, these former students can give you insights and truths you will not find on the school website or on an official campus tour. Be sure to respect their time by providing a short list of detailed questions. Thank them for their time and inquire if you may keep in touch throughout the process. These types of connections will prove invaluable as you move forward in your college search.

Conclusion

Summer is a time to prepare for the next step in your life. Yes, you should still go to the beach, see friends, and watch Netflix. However, be sure to use some of this free time to get clear on your goals and vision. Determine what you are looking to get out of college and what type of future you are working towards. Your future self will thank you for it.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student-focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org.

With So Many College Majors Available, How Do I Choose The Right One for Me?

School is almost over and it’s time to decide which college major or career path you are going to choose. Well, this is probably one of the first hardest decisions you’ll have to make as it is going to impact your future. Here are 5 steps that you can follow to make sure you are making the right decision.

1. Come up with a list of things you like or interested in

Start to figure out what things you enjoy doing the most. Writing a list of 5 to 10 things you enjoy spending your leisure time in or you are interested in learning more about will help you find out which career fits your personality. You want to study something that makes you feel happy and curious about.

2. Know your strengths and weaknesses

Finding out what your strengths and weaknesses are might help you discover the pros and cons of different majors. An easier way to find out these qualities is to make an introspection of what school subjects you liked and good at in school and what subjects you struggled the most.

3. Project yourself in the future

Try to see yourself in the role that you chose. How would you feel? On the other hand, it’s also important to think about the financial aspect. It’s known that money is not all in life but let’s be honest, everyone wants to make money. Is the career that you are pursuing going to give you financial stability in the future?

4. Try to find someone to guide you

Sometimes you may think you have everything under control, let me tell you it’s never a bad idea to have some extra help. It’s important to find someone you can count on, older people have more experience and can guide you and help you have a clear vision. There are a lot of people that would be happy to help you and give you good pieces of advice. It does not matter if they are family members, teachers or even both, being open and listening to their opinions might help you make better choices.

5. Research as much as possible about your different options

There are different ways in which you can find out more about the different career options. The first approach is the basic and popular one, just google it! Do your own research and see different information. On the other hand, the most “sophisticated” way to do it is by doing interviews, yes! Interviewing people that are working in the field you are interested in.

Final Thoughts

It is important to take the time to make the best decision. Even though this is a hard and important decision you should know that your major is not going to define you. In the end, everything comes down to you as you can achieve whatever you want in life.

How to Make the Most of Summer to Prep for College Admissions

It’s late May, which means summer vacation is right around the corner for millions of high school students like you. As both a former student and teacher, I remember those days fondly. It was like the light at the end of the tunnel. Just hang on a little longer and I’d be rewarded with nine glorious weeks off.

Yes, I expect you to use this upcoming summer break to get a little R&R. However, if you’re a rising high school sophomore, junior, or senior, I encourage you to spend a little time over the following weeks to prepare for college admissions.

That said, let’s dive into what you can do to make the most of this summer while still leaving you plenty of time to relax.   

If You’re a Rising Sophomore

Now that you’ve completed freshman year, you should have a decent understanding of your academic strengths and weaknesses. You also (hopefully) found at least one extracurricular activity that you enjoy. Let’s turn this new knowledge into an action plan.

What You Should Do

  • If struggled with English or math your freshman year, spend 2-3 hours a week reviewing lessons on Khan Academy. Using Khan Academy or a similar service will both improve your English/math skills and prevent you from forgetting what you learned.
    • If your parents can afford a tutor, that works, too. 🙂
  • Spend about 7-10 hours over the summer researching colleges online. Here are some potential Google searches:
    • Colleges that have strong [Insert the name of your favorite subject here] programs.
    • Community colleges in [your state].
    • Best public colleges in [your state].
    • Colleges that award scholarship for [your extracurricular activity/high GPAs/good test scores].
  • As you research potential schools, you’ll notice that a lot of them come with big price tags. Talk to your families about what the can/will contribute to your college education.

What You Could Do 

  • As you’ll take either the PLAN or PSAT test during your sophomore year, you need to decide whether you are going to prepare for either test. Many students take these tests ‘cold’ so they can understand their natural strengths and weaknesses. This is fine, but if you are aiming for a National Merit Scholarship, you’ll need to put in some PSAT prep.

If You’re a Rising Junior

Becoming a junior is a big deal. You’re an upperclassman now, and college is just two years away. This summer you’ll need to take a more active role in preparing for your future. 

What You Should Do

  • Go on at least two college tours.
    • By researching colleges online, you should know already have a few that interest you. It’s time to hit the road with the family and see these colleges up close.
  • Decide whether to prepare for the ACT or SAT.
    • You’ll likely take both of these tests during your college admissions journey. However, as many students discover that perform slightly better on one test over the other.
  • Curate scholarship opportunities.
    • Continue your research from last summer and select 5-10 scholarships that you can apply to now or when you become a senior.
          • Although application deadlines might not be for another year, researching now means that you still have time to improve your grades/increase your volunteer hours/etc.
  • Sign up for challenging classes.
    • No, I don’t mean ‘take all AP courses.’ Yes, for some students, that’s challenging. For others, it’s a recipe for burnout/failure/etc. You need to choose a curriculum that’s challenging for you.
    • In other words, if you made an A in a non-honors course, consider taking the honors course in that same subject area as a junior.
      • The same advice applies if you did well in honors courses as a sophomore. Maybe it’s time to take 1-2 APs your junior year. 

What You Could Do

  • Take an ACT or SAT prep course.
    • Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT are a milestone for high school juniors. By preparing for these tests now, you might earn a good enough score that you do not have to retake them later.
  • Intern or volunteer.
    • There are plenty of internship or volunteer opportunities in your local community. Find one that represents a cause or issue you believe in and spend 5-10 hours each week interning or volunteering. 

If You’re a Rising Senior

College admissions season is coming up fast, which means that this summer you’ll decide which colleges you’ll apply to in the fall. The following advice should help you make up your mind and put the final touches on your application packets.

What You Should Do

  • Take additional college tours.
  • Prepare to retake the ACT or SAT.
    • You took one or both of these tests during the spring. Now that you have the results, you can create a study plan that involves tutors or free Khan Academy resources.
    • I’d recommend spending 1-2 hours a week on test prep. This way, you can retake the ACT or SAT in late August or early September. These test windows are excellent as you’ll have your results in hand before college applications are due. 

What You Could Do 

  • Start application essays.
    • It’s never too early to start your application essays. See my article on the topic for more information.
  • Keep interning or volunteering.
    • If you interned of volunteered last summer, keep up the good work by trying a new experience this summer.

Final Thoughts

Summer is a great time to relax. By all means, stay up late, sleep in, and have a good time with your friends. But remember that time is a resource like any other. This summer, invest some time in your future by preparing for life after high school. Future you will thank present you.

 

How to Obtain the Best College Recommendation Letters

Throughout four years of high school, you put in a tremendous amount of work to create an excellent college application portfolio. You take – and retake – standardized tests. You write – and rewrite – college admission essays. In other words, dedicated students like you fine tune their applications to match their dream colleges’ expectations. However, there is one part of your application portfolio that’s mostly, but not entirely out of your control:

Your teachers’ recommendation letters.

Yes, these sealed envelopes or confidential online forms contain information that can go a long way in convincing college admissions counselors that you’re a perfect fit. And although you’ll never have the chance to edit, review, or even see what these letters contain, there’s a lot you can do to ensure that your teachers write glowing endorsements of your academic potential and all-around goodness as a human being.

Having been on both sides of the teacher’s desk, let me share my recommendation letter expertise with you.

Why Recommendation Letters Matter

As you know, a lot goes into a college application portfolio. The essential pieces are your grades and standardized test scores. After that, your essays and extracurricular activities allow admissions counselors to see you as a person rather than a set of scores and letter grades.

Last, but certainly not least, come the recommendation letters. They provide a different, fresh, and just as relevant, personal perspective. And since they come from adults who are trained educators, they carry a lot of weight.

And that’s why recommendation letters matter…a lot.

Step #1: Choose Your Teachers Wisely

If you’re an academically gifted student, it’s likely you excelled in the majority of your classes. First of all, good for you. However, having a lot of options raises an issue: which teachers do you pick?

Here’s some all-around good advice:

  • At least one letter should come from a teacher you had during your junior year.
    • Junior year’s the toughest one of all – at least for most students – and a letter from a teacher who had you then can say a lot about how you work under pressure.
  • If you’ve taken AP/IB courses, try to get a letter from one of those teachers, too.
    • Let’s say you excelled in your first AP course and earned a high score on the AP exam, too. Discussing this accomplishment in your personal essay and including a recommendation letter from that teacher would be the perfect combination.

If you struggled in some courses, still consider whether those teachers could write you a good letter. Did you come in for extra help and improve your grades along the way? College admissions counselors love applicants with grit, those who buckled down and invested the time and effort to raise their grades. A turnaround story is just as compelling as a ‘he/she was an academically gifted student’ story.

Step #2: Include an Information Packet

Even if a teacher just had you last year, they may be a bit fuzzy on your personal and academic details. That tends to happen when teachers see 150+ students a day. That’s why when they agree to write you a letter, give them a small info packet detailing your academic and extracurricular accomplishments along with any other information they may need (e.g., a sample of your work from their class) to jog their memories.

Pro Tip: In this packet, include a personal note that discusses what you got out of their class. It never hurts to butter up – compliment – your teacher, too. Just don’t go too overboard.

Step #2.5: Give Them Plenty of Time

Teachers are extremely, significantly, tremendously busy people. They put in a ton of effort, most of which you don’t see. That’s said, please give teachers at least two weeks – preferably three – to write you a recommendation letter.

Step #3: Be Grateful

So, the letters are done and in the physical or electronic mail. As you take that sigh of relief that your college applications are finished, don’t forget about your teachers. It’s time to get them a thank you gift.

Why a gift? Well, besides being the right thing to do, your teachers just did you a HUGE favor. It’s time to show a little gratitude with a gift card or something small that’s in the $10-$20 range. If you’re a bit shy, give it to them just before winter break – that’s when good students like you give gifts to their teachers anyway — and include a personal note thanking them for helping you out.

And when the day comes you get into your dream college or university, please let the teachers who wrote you letters know. It’ll make their day. 🙂

Final Thoughts

Good test scores and excellent grades are a dime a dozen in the college admissions world. Genuine recommendation letters are much rarer and can nudge an application from the ‘waitlist’ to ‘accepted’ pile. Will the letters teachers write for you do this? You’ll never know, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the time and effort to obtain the best letters possible.

So, if you’re a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior, make sure to let your best teachers know they did an excellent job before the school year wraps up. Your teachers will likely remember your kind words…and be more inclined to write you a recommendation letter when you need it. 😉

Everything You Wanted to Know About the PSAT

Considering all the standardized tests that you take in high school, it’s easy to overlook the PSAT. After all, it’s a practice test. On the one hand, the pressure’s off. On the other hand, you may feel that you don’t need to try your best on test day.

But you should try your best. A great score can help you tremendously when it comes to getting into your dream college.

In this article, we’ll examine the test’s format, difficulty, and relationship to the National Merit Scholarship Program. Let’s jump in!

What’s the Format?

 Let’s compare the PSAT and SAT’s format and time requirements.

PSATSAT
Evidence-Based Reading & Writing:

Reading: 60 Min., 47 Questions

Writing: 35 Min., 44 Questions

Evidence-Based Reading & Writing:

Reading: 65 Min., 52 Questions

Writing: 35 Min., 44 Questions

Mathematics

No Calculator: 25 Min., 17 Questions

Calculator: 45 Min., 31 Questions

Mathematics

No Calculator: 25 Min, 17 Questions

Calculator: 55 Min., 45 Questions

Total Time: 2 Hours, 45 MinTotal Time: 3 Hours

Quick Notes:

  • The SAT also includes a 50-minute optional essay. More on that in another article. 😉
  • You do get short breaks between sections on the PSAT.

In the smallest of nutshells, the PSAT closely mirrors the SAT in format and time. Think about it: it would have to as the results are meant to predict how you’ll perform on the SAT. Now that we know a little bit about the test, let’s cover a few key facts about each section.

Reading

  • Five passages
    • Literature (1)
    • Social science (1)
    • Science (2)
    • U.S. founding document or an international text inspired by U.S. founding documents (1)

Big Takeaway: The reading test is 80% non-fiction, meaning that to improve your reading comprehension skills (and score), it’s better to read the newspaper than your favorite novel.

Writing and Language

I have three words for you: grammar and usage. On this test, you’ll face passages with underlined portions and the dreaded NO CHANGE option. Believe it or not, NO CHANGE can trip up a lot of test takers by making them second-guess themselves.

Big Takeaway: As there are a TON of grammar and usage rules out there, I’ll keep it simple. Buy a used copy of Strunk & White and learn to love it.

Mathematics

The first thing you need to know about the mathematics section on the PSAT is that the first 17 questions (the no calculator ones) are grid-in questions, meaning that you provide the answer rather than selecting from a handful of options. That’s part of the reason why you have 25 minutes – you need to write in the grid and bubble in the answer so that a machine can score it.

Here’s what the mathematics portion covers:

  • Everything you learned through middle school
  • Algebra I
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry

There’s a lot of math in those four bullet points, but I bet it’s the last one that has you the most worried.

Big Takeaway: Jump down to the next section to learn more about the most significant difference between the PSAT and SAT.

Is it Easier Than the SAT?

Short Answer: Yes, but only a little.

Long Answer: The good folks at the College Board designed the PSAT for a slightly younger crowd, meaning that on the PSAT, you won’t find more than two questions that deal with an introduction to trigonometry. Expect a lot of algebra and geometry questions, though. The Reading/Writing and Language questions are about as difficult as their SAT equivalents. 

What’s the NMSQT?

Short Answer: PSAT = National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, and the test takers who earn the highest scores receive a scholarship and/or recognition for their accomplishment.

Long Answer: Test takers with excellent PSAT scores can receive one of four distinctions:

  • Commended Student
    • Test takers who score above the College Board’s super-secret selection index score
  • Semifinalists
    • The top 0.5% of test takers in each state
  • Finalist
  • Scholarship
    • Typically 1% of all finalists receive a scholarship
    • $2,500

In other words, it’s more challenging to earn a National Merit Scholarship than it is to get into Harvard.

Even if You Don’t Receive a Scholarship

Were you a finalist, semi-finalist, or a commended student? If so, you may not have an extra $2,500 to spend on college, but you have something else just as valuable: bragging rights. Although I don’t recommend that you actually brag on your college applications, definitely bring up your finalist/semi-finalist/commended student status in your personal statement or application. As these distinctions are rare, they’re going to earn you a TON of points with college admission counselors.

Should I Prepare for the PSAT?

A lot of high school students take the PSAT ‘cold,’ meaning they’re using the test to determine their baseline score. Going in cold can be a valuable strategy, as having authentic PSAT results can act as the foundation for an SAT study plan. However, many students want to shoot for the stars and become National Merit Scholars. If this describes you, let’s talk prep work.

Creating a Study Plan

Here’s a valuable ‘plan of attack’ to use when preparing for the PSAT.

Note: For maximum impact, start this plan about five weeks before the real PSAT

  • Take a practice test under timed conditions.
    • Saturday morning would probably be the best time to do it.
  • Score it.
  • Analyze the results to determine your weakest areas.
  • Start with the ‘easy fixes’: topics that take you the least amount of time to improve.
  • Slowly work your way up to harder subjects.
    • An excellent study plan means commitment. Try to spend 30 minutes to one hour a day preparing for the PSAT.
  • A few days before the real PSAT, take a second practice test.
    • Not only will this test better acclimate you to the test’s format, but you’ll also see how far your score has come.
      • If you earn a higher score on the PSAT, that’s great! If you earn a lower score, you may need to research and practice test anxiety remedies.

What Happens After I Take the PSAT?

Analyze (and Learn From) Your Scores

Whether or not you prepared for the PSAT, you can learn much from your score. If you went into the test cold, consider the experience as steps #1 and #2 in the previous section’s study plan. Also, think back to how you felt on test day. If you had any test anxiety symptoms, it might be time to consult some resources to make sure when you take the SAT, you don’t have to worry about high heart rate, sweating, and feelings of hopelessness.

Expect a Lot of Mail

Even if you did ‘just okay’ on the PSAT, expect a lot of physical and digital mail to show up soon after you receive your results. The College Board – along with the ACT – make a lot of money selling your info to colleges and universities across the country. The benefit for you is that when a college sees that you’re an okay to strong test taker, they’ll reach out to you with a letter or packet that describes their schools and what they can offer you as a potential college student.

Reading through the material will teach you much about colleges and how they operate. Like advertisements, they’re trying to catch your attention. Not all schools will interest you; that’s fine. For the ones that seem promising, contact them to learn more and start discussing college tours with your family. 

Final Thoughts

The PSAT can be scary, especially if it’s your first standardized test. For that reason, even if you don’t create a study plan, I’d still recommend that you take one timed practice test. That way, at least you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into.

My other final thought is that no matter how much you study, please remember the PSAT is just the start of a standardized test journey that lasts until you take – and likely retake – the SAT. So, if your results aren’t what you expect, cut yourself some slack. As a 21st-century high school student trying to do his or her best, you deserve it.

What Questions Should I Ask During A College Visit?

Touring a college is in many ways like visiting a car dealership. Admission counselors and tour guides have a ‘product’ to sell you, and that product costs a lot of money. They’re going to highlight their product’s best qualities and carefully sweep any negative aspects (e.g., high tuition) under the rug. In other words, they’re trying to charm you into buying what they’re selling.

And in both cases, you need to be an informed consumer. Asking questions during a college tour is one of the best tools you have to determine which schools go on your short list.

So, let’s answer your questions…about questions.

Do Prep Work in Advance

College tours may require you to drive or fly long distances. As a result, you may not be at your mental best during the tour. That’s why you need to prepare a few questions in advance. The best way to do this is in the weeks leading up to a tour, commit a few hours to research the college and jotting down questions as they come to you.

Through internet sleuthing, you should be able to find out what each college’s standard tour entails and find answers to the most common questions. If any information looks fishy, bring it up during the tour and receive clarification. Your goal is that for each school you visit, you should have 3-5 questions ready.

Also, remember that everyone – and their questions – are unique. Here are some common question categories to get you started:

  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Living On/Off-Campus
  • Dorm Life
  • Research Opportunities for Undergraduates
  • Honors Program
  • Scholarships and Grants

The list goes on. Again, I am not you, so I do not know what YOU are looking for in a college experience. Start with your needs/wants/desires/etc.

During the Tour

During the tour, expect your guide to be a current student or someone who has no influence on which applicants the school admits. I mention this because it means that you do not need to feel nervous asking questions.

During a standard college tour, expect there to be a few points where your guide will ask if anyone has any questions. Use this fact to your advantage. If you have a dorm question, ask it while your tour group is inside a dorm. Your guide may be able to show you an answer rather than tell you about it. That way, you gain a clearer understanding.

Finally, remember your guide’s name. Keep reading to learn why.

 It’s Okay to Email Questions After Your Tour

It’s perfectly fine if you think up questions after your tour. Most high school students do once they have the chance to explore campus, sit in or a class, or have a meal in the dining hall. Just like during your pre-tour research, keep that paper and pen handy to write down extra questions.

Once you get back home, get out your questions and write an email to the college’s admissions department:

Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening,

My name is [Your Name Here]. On [Date You Took the Tour], I visited campus and went on a tour led by [Tour Guide’s Name Here]. He/she was very informative, and I learned much about the school. As I am seriously considering applying to [University’s Name Here], I was hoping that you could answer a few follow-up questions I have about your school.

After that, ask questions by tying them to your tour experience:

As we were walking through [Name of Dorm Here], I noticed some students who were staying on campus for the summer term. Does your school provide a summer enrichment program in [Academic Subject You Are Interested In.]?

Although you’ll likely have more than three questions, I wouldn’t recommend asking more than three for each email you send the admissions department. You can always write more emails or answer questions yourself through extra research.

Before moving on, here’s one last tip when it comes to contacting the admissions department. Keep their reply so you can reference it in your application essay:

After I took the tour, [Name of Admissions Counselor] quickly responded to my follow-up questions about [Topic]. His/her reply convinced me that applying to [School] was the right decision for my academic future.

This reference accomplishes more than you may realize. The people reading application essays are attracted to thoughtful and organized young men and women who take a vested interested in the application process. And who knows, the person reading your essay may be the same person who answered your questions months ago.

Final Thoughts

With tons of information online, you may think that asking questions during a college tour is a thing of the past. But as you already (hopefully) know, you can’t trust everything you read online. A college visit gives you the chance to get information ‘straight from the horse’s mouth.’

Finally, don’t forget to have some fun during your visit. It’s like the college admission process in reverse: they’re the ones trying to impress you. Enjoy it. 🙂

The Common App: What You Need to Know

Here’s an interesting, but not ironic fact: getting into college is harder than ever, but applying is easier than ever. And no, the latter has nothing to do with the former. Societal expectations and good marketing are to blame for admission rates plummeting across the board.

But applying to college sure is a lot easier than it was 10, 15, or 20 years ago. Thanks to the trusty internet, high school students and their families can learn about colleges, take virtual tours, and apply online.

Another critical component of college application readiness is The Common Application (Common App). For over 40 years, the Common App and the organization behind it have encouraged member colleges and universities to simplify the application process. After all, it can be daunting keeping up with different application requirements and materials. Why not make it easier for applicants?

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Common App and examine what you should know before submitting it.

What Is the Common App?

To answer this question, we have to go back to 1975, when a non-profit called, you guessed it, The Common Application released the first version of what we call The Common App. You see, as the Baby Boomer generation flooded into America’s colleges, some people realized that there had to be a better way to apply. Today, more than 800 colleges around the world accept the Common App. 

What Do I Need to Know?

Doing research for this article, I learned just how much the Common App has changed since I used it to apply to colleges 15 years ago. Back then, the Common App was just a form. You filled it out once and sent copies – along with other application materials – to colleges. It made applying somewhat easier, but it wasn’t groundbreaking.

The Common App in 2019 is so much more than a piece of paper. On The Common Application website, you can create an account, research potential colleges and universities, review application requirements, and most importantly, and apply to schools. The Common Application even features a mobile app wherein high school students on the go can access and update their accounts at any time.

This system’s most significant advantage for you is organization. By using the website or app, it becomes nearly impossible for you to forget about a test score, recommendation letter, or essay requirement. Speaking of essays, be sure to write yours in a .doc before copy/pasting it into the application. The program tends to delete the essays of applicants who type their essay in the provided text box.

At the colleges and universities that you apply to, admissions counselors use a similar interface to access and review your materials. And before you ask, no, an admissions counselor CANNOT see the other schools where you sent applications.

One thing the Common App DOESN’T do is lower the cost of applying to college. For each application you submit, you still need to pay that school’s application fee.

Other ‘Common Apps’

In your college search, you may come across competitors to the Common App. These alternative ‘common apps’ – Universal College Application, Coalition for College, and the Common Black College Application – offer many of the same services as the Common App, but fewer colleges accept them. Although these organizations offer legitimate services, I would caution against them as you’d be juggling these apps, the Common App, and likely other applications for schools that use neither.

In other words, when it comes to the Common App, accept no substitutions.

Final Thoughts

I wish I had the 2019 Common App to help me navigate college admissions in the fall of 2003. What was once just a form has become a valuable college application resource that can help you research colleges, stay organized, and submit applications. These tools, combined with those in myKlovr, can help you dramatically increase your chances of college admission success.

So, if you haven’t already, get on the Common App website and create an account.

What’s the Difference Between For-Profit and Non-Profit Colleges?

When I hear the phrase ‘non-profit organization,’ I immediately think of those ASPCA commercials that play Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” while displaying pictures of neglected puppies and kittens. 

Disclaimer: If you’ve never seen the commercial I’m talking about, don’t look it up. It’ll wreck your day. 

The ASPCA is one of many non-profit organizations in the United States. In the smallest of nutshells, a non-profit is an organization that puts back any surplus income into its mission. There are no shareholders to please or pay off. As a result, non-profits do not pay taxes on the money they take in. That way, people who give to the ASPCA know that 100% of their donation is going to the organization’s mission. 

Everything else is a for-profit enterprise. When you buy the latest iPhone, a little bit of that money goes to people who own Apple’s stock and the board of directors. Another way to put it is that a for-profit organization’s mission is to make lots (and lots) of money. Unlike non-profits, these organizations pay taxes on the money they bring in.              

Now that we’ve learned a bit about the difference between for- and non-profit organizations, let’s see how this distinction applies to the college you attend. What’s the difference in the educational experience and academic rigor? We’ll explore answers to this question and much more. 

Public colleges are always non-profit schools…

Public colleges and universities are as much a part of their states’ educational systems as public elementary, middle, and high schools. They receive funding from the state and put students’ tuition dollars back into their programs. Also, as institutions designed to benefit in-state residents, they often charge higher tuition to out-of-state students and set quotas on how many out-of-state students they accept each year. That’s why, for example, a student from New York who attends the University of California – Berkeley pays more than double the in-state tuition rate.

…but private colleges aren’t always for-profit schools.

When I went to Vanderbilt University, I could almost see the money bleeding from the walls. In my junior and senior years, the university was spending truckloads of cash constructing new dorms and science centers. You would imagine that just by looking around, Vanderbilt was a for-profit institution. But that’s not the case.

Vanderbilt, along with many other private colleges and universities, is a non-profit school, as well. They invest their tuition dollars into endowments, research, and new construction. In other words, the amount of money a school has doesn’t make the difference between for-profit and non-profit.

So what does?

There’s a lot of tax law and legalities involved, but like the example at the beginning of the article, a for-profit school is managed by a corporation. Here’s an easy-to-remember scenario that explains the difference between the two.

Non-profit college: “We need to provide a broad range of majors and minors to our students. We do not consider how profitable a major is when making funding decisions.”

For-profit college: “Enrollment in East Asian studies major dropped 20% since last year. We’re eliminating it.”

At for-profit colleges, majors and academic departments are like products. If one’s not selling well enough, they cut it to save money. 

Now that we know a little bit about how for-profit and non-profit schools operate, let’s examine the question you really came here to answer.

What’s the Difference for Students?

In terms of the student experience, the most significant difference concerns each type of school’s academic offerings. Like in the example in the previous section, for-profit schools tend to offer a more limited selection of majors, those that are in line with what the economy needs. At for-profit colleges, you’re likely to find more STEM majors and fewer humanities majors.

Another thing you may have heard concerns for-profit schools and scandals. Yes, for-profit colleges have gotten in hot water in recent years for breaking the law and other dubious practices. Thankfully, many of these schools have gone out of business, and remaining for-profit schools are under the microscope. What this means is that if you’re considering for-profit colleges, you need to do your due diligence. When researching a for-profit college, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this school possess regional accreditation?
    • If the answer is ‘no,’ move on.
  • Does the program I’m interested in possess national or subject-specific accreditation?
    • If the answer is ‘no,’ it’s not a deal breaker, but keep looking just in case.
  • Are there any news reports that portray this school in a negative light?
    • If the answer is ‘yes,’ move on.
  • What are alumni saying about their educational experience? 
    • Like restaurant reviews, people with negative experiences are more likely to share their stories online than people who had a good or neutral experience. Even so, take all claims seriously and continue researching.

In fact, it’s a good idea to ask yourself these same questions about non-profit colleges, too. 

Final Thoughts

Non-profit and for-profit colleges have the same basic mission: educate students. And as many for-profit schools have cleaned up their acts in recent years, you can feel safer about them as an option for your college degree. However, no matter what kind of college you want to attend, pick a reputable school that aligns with your interests and goals.

So, set aside time to research schools, call admissions offices, and ask yourself – sometimes difficult – questions about what you really want out of your education. This way, you can pick the best school for you.

Good luck. ☺️

On Academic Honesty

When news of the college admissions scandal broke the other day, I was both surprised and not. For decades, wealthy parents have paid huge sums to buy their children’s way into elite universities. But instead of the normal quid pro quo (e.g., “You buy us a building, and we’ll let your kid into our school.”), this latest scandal was pure fraud that involved bribes and dishonesty among hundreds of people. From parents to test proctors to psychiatrists to coaches, it seems that no one’s hands are clean.

After researching the scandal inside and out, I wondered: If this news broke when I was a high school upperclassman, what would I think? How would I react to the fact that an entire scheme had been concocted to undermine a system that already overwhelmingly favors the wealthy and well connected?

To say the least, I wouldn’t have a positive reaction. For that reason, I want to reach out to current high school upperclassmen, the people applying to the schools caught up in this scandal (I have no doubt that more complicit schools and individuals will come to light in the coming days. That’s what happens with scandals – they just get bigger.)

What Honesty Is

Today I am going to give you two examinations, one in trigonometry and one in honesty. I hope you will pass them both, but if you must fail one, let it be trigonometry, for there are many good [people] in this world today who cannot pass an examination in trigonometry, but there are no good [people] in the world who cannot pass an examination in honesty.

– Madison Sarratt (1891-1978), dean, Vanderbilt University

 

As a Vanderbilt undergraduate, I passed this quote just about every day. It’s posted outside the Sarratt Student Center in the middle of campus. If you walked through the doors next to it, you’d be greeted by four massive framed documents: the signatures of every undergraduate student, a contract to abide by the university’s rules regarding academic honesty.

Honesty is a lesson most of us learn as children, and it’s a shame that some college students do not know it. It’s a greater shame that in this most recent scandal, it was the parents at fault. Did their children, many of whom took spots from more deserving applicants, know what was going on? We might never find out. Should they be asked to leave? That’s not my call, and I’m not sure what my decision would be if I were a dean.

Takeaways 

One thing I don’t want you to take away from this scandal is that since the rich and influential were trying to buy their children’s way into elite schools, you should only pursue elite schools during the college admissions process. To the people who broke the law, these schools are nothing more than status symbols. “Hey, my kid got into USC. Isn’t she so smart? Aren’t I a great parent?”

We at myKlovr believe that every student who aspires to attend college should apply to schools where they can best excel regardless of their parents’ wealth, fame, or political influence. Families from all socioeconomic backgrounds can afford our services, none of which go against Madison Sarratt’s century-old message about honesty. Finally, unlike the scandal’s ringleader, we cannot guarantee that you will attend your top-choice school. We utilize artificial intelligence and data science to provide personalized college counseling and the very best tools and resources to help students maximize their chances of college admissions. However, if you do not attend a college within your projected college tier, we will refund your subscription fee. That’s our guarantee, one we stand by with pride.

Final Thoughts

To the college-bound young men and women reading this, let me reiterate a very important fact: college is still worth it. Others’ lying, bribing, and cheating does not devalue the pride you feel after getting into a top school, earning a good grade on a test, or working your hardest to achieve the life you want.

Increasing Your Scholarship Chances

When I was a kid, I loved watching game shows. I don’t remember the particular show, but once in a while, a contestant would enter a phone booth-sized box with transparent plastic walls. The host would turn on a fan attached to the booth and money would start flying around. The contestant would have 30 seconds to catch as much as she could before the fan stopped and the remaining bills fell back to the floor. 

College scholarships work pretty much the same way. As a high school upperclassman, you have a set amount of time to research and apply to college scholarships. The money may not be flying in front of your eyes, but trust me, millions of dollars are out there for the taking. You just need to reach out and grab it.  

How do you get this money before the timer buzzes? It’s simple. You have to have a plan going in. 

1. Start Early

In other words, the moment you start your junior year (or sooner depending on how ambitious you are), you should start researching scholarship opportunities that match your interests, background, etc. There are plenty of scholarships that are a perfect fit for you, but there are also plenty of others where you have no chance or are ineligible.  

The sooner you start creating ‘yes,’ ‘maybe,’ and ‘nope’ scholarship piles, the sooner you can start preparing your application portfolios. 

2. Keep Up Those Grades and Test Scores

As scholarships are a merit-based form of financial aid (Grants are need based.), the first thing scholarship committees look at are your grades and test scores. In fact, many scholarships will not consider your application if you do not meet their GPA or test score cutoffs. In other words, good grades and scores are your ‘foot in the door’; receiving the scholarship is far from guaranteed, but the scholarship committee will take your application seriously. The same statement is true for every college to which you apply. 

Last, but certainly not least, good grades and scores may lead to automatic scholarships (e.g., lottery scholarships) if you attend school in-state.  

3. Choose an Extracurricular Activity and Stick With It

If you have the grades and scores, you can further improve your scholarships chances by showing your commitment to extracurricular activities. In other words, competitive scholarship applicants participate in 1-2 extracurriculars for a least three years of high school. Long-term extracurriculars show your dedication. Also, if you spend enough time in one activity, you can take on a leadership role. 

Scholarship committees love awarding money to leaders. 

4. Volunteer

There are plenty of scholarships exclusive to high school students who volunteer in their communities. No matter what kind of volunteering you perform, keep in mind my tips for extracurricular activities. The longer you do it, the better odds you have of receiving a scholarship. The same is true for leadership positions or times when you took charge (e.g., You create a new volunteering club.). 

5. Get Feedback on Essays and Other Application Materials

Just about every scholarship asks for an essay. What this means is that no matter how excellent your academic or extracurricular accomplishments, submitting a poorly written essay will dramatically reduce your scholarship odds. 

It’s time to reach out to trusted adults, people who can provide honest feedback on your first draft(s). Take their input and run with it. Even if you’re lightyears ahead of your peers in terms of your writing ability, everyone needs feedback. The same advice goes if you’re submitting supplementary materials (e.g., an art portfolio). And when scholarship dollars are on the line, you should do everything possible to stand above the crowd of applicants. 

6. Partner with Financial Advisers

It’s your job to research and apply to scholarships, but there is much you can’t do alone. For example, you have to have an honest discussion with your family about how much they can or are willing to contribute to your college education. 

After that, you, with your family’s help, should research professionals that can advise you about the best way to cover college expenses after scholarships. Financial advisers can be a boon, but they’re usually pricy…but not for myKlovr subscribers.

myKlovr is proud to announce its partnership with Financial Fitness Group (FFG). myKlovr subscribers and their families receive “a dedicated library of content on topics such as education and employment, saving and paying for college, tuition plans, managing student loans and more.” The moment you sign up for myKlovr, review FFG’s advice right away to learn more about the best ways to ensure that you leave college debt free.

Final Thoughts

Like the truth, the money is out there. It’ll be a lot of work on your end, but I hope that with your parents, teachers, and FFG’s help, you can apply to the scholarships where you have the best shot. 

Good luck!

Dealing with Rejection

Valentine’s Day was earlier this month, and for a lot of teenagers, it was a hard lesson in how rejection stinks. Rejection is a gut punch followed by a lingering sadness that sometimes feels like it’ll last forever and a day.

Romantic rejection isn’t the only kind. In a few weeks, hundreds of thousands of high school seniors across the country will receive the ‘thin envelope’ from their top choice college or university. “We regret to inform you that…” That’s about as far as the rejected applicant gets before the letter slips from their hands or they tear it up.

If you’re a high school senior waiting to hear back from your dream college, it’s okay to keep your hopes up in these weeks before April 1st. If you submitted a strong application portfolio, you have a good chance. By all means, fantasize of receiving an admission packet and attending the school of your dreams.

However…

Now is the time to prepare for how you’ll react in case the ‘thin envelope’ should arrive in your physical or digital mailbox. Over the next few paragraphs, we’ll discuss how planning in advance can lessen the blow and get you back on track as soon as possible.

Accept Your Feelings

In the first 24 hours after you receive a college rejection, you may feel angry, sad, frustrated, or numb. It’s normal to feel all of these things at once.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Anyway, it’s perfectly okay to feel this way, and there’s no shame in reacting however your mind is programmed to do so. If you want to show a brave face to family or friends, okay. But when you’re by yourself, just let it out. Scream, cry, rage…just don’t hurt yourself or others. 

Don’t Overanalyze It

You’ll never know why a school rejected you. You already know this fact, but if rejection should come, you’ll likely spend days wondering why it happened. Was my ACT score too low? Were my extracurriculars not impressive enough? Was….And the cycle goes around and around.

If you’re a competitive applicant, here’s the simple truth about why you didn’t get into your dream school: there just wasn’t enough room for you. It’s simple math. Too many applicants. Not enough seats.

Never forget that you were worthy. Unfortunately, so were thousands upon thousands of other applicants.

Concentrate on the Acceptances You’ve Received (or Outstanding Applications)

If your dream college should reject you, try focusing on the bigger picture. Have you received acceptances from other colleges or are waiting to receive a decision? If the answer is ‘yes’ to either part of this question, that’s what you should focus on. Either you already have a ‘bird in the hand,’ or there’s still hope. Both are positives.  

Final Thoughts

I still remember the day that my first-choice college (University of Chicago) rejected me. It was a Thursday afternoon, and I discovered the thin envelope in the mailbox. I was sad, my parents were sad for me, and I spent Friday moping around school. On Saturday I was still sad…until I opened the mailbox again and found a fat First Class envelope addressed to me, an acceptance packet from Vanderbilt University. I was ecstatic, and my mom cried with joy.

As I think back on that emotional whirlwind of a weekend, the Vanderbilt acceptance still makes me happy, but the University of Chicago rejection no longer makes me sad.

Don’t fear rejection, dear readers. Sadness fades, and wherever you attend college, I’m sure you’ll do great things. 

Are Liberal Arts Educations Worth It Anymore?

I love playing pool, and whenever I see an empty table, I rack em’ up and start shooting. The last time this happened was during a sunny October weekend in Los Angeles. As I sank shots, my two friends – we were having a mini college reunion — stood a few feet away admiring an impressive selection of video game consoles: everything from Atari 2600 to PS4, all of them attached to a massive flat-panel TV. The ‘game room’ was full of other fun distractions: guitars, a drum set, and even a large collection of board games.

I felt a little bewildered. The whole building was full of similar amenities: coolers stuffed with complimentary snacks and drinks, a gourmet dining hall, and comfortable seating areas where people could socialize. Heck, even the bathrooms were stocked peppermints and mouth wash.

Being Los Angeles, you’d think my friends and I had made it into some exclusive club, the kind where bouncers make you wait for hours before getting inside. But no, to figure out where we were, all you would have to do is read what was printed on the pool table’s green felt:

Google L.A. 

Yep, one of my college buddies was giving me and another friend a tour of where he had worked since we graduated college in 2008. 

After seeing all those perks first hand, I must admit that for a moment I doubted whether earning a bachelor’s in East Asian Studies and a master’s in Teaching had been the right decision for my college education. Are liberal arts educations worth it anymore when it seems that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) careers offer the highest salaries and perks?

After thinking it over, I came to the realization that a liberal arts education is still worth it. Allow me to convince you why. 

STEM Isn’t for Everyone

Think back to when you were in elementary school. What were your favorite subjects? Are the same subjects your favorites now? Probably not.

Children and adolescents’ interests change over time. And as our interests and passions are such personal things, forcing STEM upon students doesn’t work. When I was a teacher, we tried to have the school take part in the Hour of Code. Long story short: it backfired. A lot of students just weren’t into it. 

If you also fall into the ‘just weren’t into it’ category, too, that STEM isn’t your cup of tea, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t force yourself to commit to a college major or career path that, even though you may be smart enough to succeed at it, you’d be miserable doing it for the rest of your life.

When it comes to selecting a college major and career, you shouldn’t ask yourself “What are my talents?” You should ask yourself “Which of my talents am I committed to improving?” You may not know right away, and that’s fine. It took me years to realize that I no matter what I studied or what job I did, I performed my best when work involved improving my skills as a writer.

If your passion and drive point towards liberal arts, then go for it. 

What You Gain From Liberal Arts Isn’t What You Learn in Class

Full disclosure: I’ve forgotten most of the actual content I learned in my college liberal arts classes. Gone are the Chinese dynasties, the antebellum South, etc. But sitting here now, typing these words, I am using my education in a way most 18-22-year-olds don’t recognize.

A liberal arts education provides you an extremely flexible skillset, one that employers still value highly in applicants. Yes, you need specific knowledge and skills to succeed in any career, but these same careers will also demand that you ‘upgrade’ your knowledge and skills over time. A liberal arts education prepares you to do just that.

There is one quote that perfectly explains just why a broad, liberal arts education is still so important. It was coined by an American who wore many hats throughout his career: naval officer, philosopher, inventor, engineer, and science fiction author.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

-Robert A. Heinlein

Final Thoughts

Back to Google L.A. The three of us were the employee lounge, sitting in soft swivel chairs that looked right out of the bridge of the starship Enterprise. My friend was describing common interview questions Google asks applicants. I tried answering one but promptly shut my mouth after realizing that I had no idea what I was talking about. As my other friend took a shot at the same question, I studied the art on the walls and the nearby conference rooms; each room bore the name of a famous film set in L.A. I realized that even at Google, home of the world’s STEM titans, they still admire and respect the work performed by those who pursued liberal arts and other creative endeavors.

So, if Google believes that liberal arts are still worth it, maybe we all should believe that, too.

A Comprehensive Guide to Financial Aid

College sure is expensive. How expensive is it, you ask? Well, the four-year tuition at America’s priciest schools exceeds the nation’s median home price. Yep, some college degrees cost more than houses. Fear not; most colleges are nowhere as expensive, especially public schools where you qualify for in-state tuition. Even so, rising prices mean that in 2019, even ‘cheap’ schools put a financial strain on students and their families.

That’s why you need to spend a LONG TIME researching which school can give you the best bang for your tuition buck. But that’s another article.

Today, I want to talk with you about financial aid and paying for school. Your financial aid journey begins the moment you start researching colleges. Use the following steps to ensure that you can attend the best school at the lowest out-of-pocket price.

Talk to Your Family

Your first step involves determining what, if anything, your family will contribute to your college education. Money can be an awkward topic, but you need to have an honest conversation. The earlier you do this, the sooner you know how much money you need to raise through grants, scholarships, and/or loans.

Fill Out the FAFSA

No matter the amount of money your family has set aside for college, your first stop for financial aid begins with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA, a financial questionnaire, determines your eligibility for federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. You can learn more about each of these financial aid opportunities in later sections.

Take a minute to review some essential FAFSA information:

  • Application Deadlines: You can submit the FAFSA for the 2020-2021 academic year between October 1st, 2019 and June 30th, 2020. Of, course, the sooner you file the FAFSA, the sooner you receive your results.
  • Requirements: To apply, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • File as Independent?: Certain applicants under the age of 24 can file as an independent, meaning that the FAFSA does not consider their parents’ finances when making its determination.
  • Materials: When you apply, you need you and/or your families tax returns for the previous year. You may need other records if your family has other investments such as stocks, a business, etc.
  • Determination: The FAFSA doesn’t say whether you do or do not qualify for financial aid. It merely reports how much you or your family can contribute to your education in the coming year. FAFSA calls this amount your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
    • What this means is that at some cheaper schools you may not qualify for aid, but at more expensive schools, you do.
  • Reapply: To qualify for aid under the FAFSA, you must reapply each year using a special FSA ID you receive when you first register. (Don’t lose this ID!)

Now that you know some FAFSA basics, let’s explore different types of financial aid. Each section begins with the kind of aid directly related to the FAFSA.

Research Scholarships & Grants

Federal Grants

If your EFC qualifies you for aid at your college, you may receive a Pell Grant, approximately $6,000. A Pell Grant can go towards any education expenses if there is money left over after you pay tuition, fees, and housing. You can receive a Pell Grant for up to six years if you remain FAFSA eligible.

State Scholarships & Grants

Does your state have a lottery? If so, it might use some of that money to sponsor a lottery scholarship or grant program that pays a portion of your college tuition as long as you attend college within the state. To qualify, you may need to earn a specific GPA or standardized test score. Also, after you start college, maintain good grades to ensure that your scholarship renews.

Even if your state does not have such a program, other financial incentives at the state level may qualify you for special aid. Check with your school’s guidance counselor to learn about opportunities.

College-Specific Scholarships & Grants

As you research colleges, pay close attention to the financial aid they provide eligible students. Schools with large endowments often award generous financial aid packages to students with financial need or those with excellent academic records.

Private Scholarships & Grants

Finally, we arrive at what may be your most significant scholarship and grant opportunity. Navigating scholarships may seem like a daunting task, but like your college search, the effort will have positive results.

If you need some help getting started, focus on subject-specific scholarships and grants, especially if you plan to major in a STEM-related field. Subject-specific scholarships limit the application pool, increasing your chances. They also give you the opportunity to highlight your passions and academic achievements.

When it comes to scholarships and grants, you may come across many scholarship/grant hybrids. These awards have both academic and financial requirements. Some scholarships in this category take applications only from members of a specific minority group.

Consider Work-Study Programs

Federal Work-Study

The FAFSA’s work-study program connects eligible students with part-time employment either on or off campus. This program caps the number of hours students work and imposes different rules for undergraduate and graduate students.

School Work-Study

Many schools offer similar work-study programs to help students pay for college. In these cases, students work part-time for their schools. Some schools reserve work-study programs for students with financial need, while others allow all interested students to participate. In some cases, reimbursement may come in the form of tuition reduction or a meal plan. In these cases, students do not receive a traditional paycheck.

Be Wary of (Most) Loans

Federally Backed Loans

First off, there are two types of loans you may qualify for under the FAFSA:

  • Subsidized Loans: These loans do not incur interest during your time in school.
  • Unsubsidized Loans: These loans do incur interest during your time in school.

Subsidized loans are your best bet, as interest can add thousands of dollars to your loan and lengthen the time you need to pay it back. However, all federal loans typically offer better interest rates than private loans. The FAFSA also caps the amount of subsidized and unsubsidized loans you can take out each year. 

Private Loans

Finally, we arrive at private loans. There are hundreds of lending institutions out there willing to loan you tens of thousands of dollars. “Just sign here,” they say, no doubt like the Devil bargaining for your immortal soul.

Okay, not all private lenders are the Devil, but private loans are – without a doubt – the riskiest form of financial aid that a college student can use. First off, student loans, even the FAFSA ones, never go away, even if students declare bankruptcy later in life. Also, private lenders typically loan much larger sums than federally-backed loans, meaning that young students can rack up massive amounts of debt in a short amount of time.

My advice: be wary of private loans and use them as a last resort.

Learn More About Military Service

Are you thinking about joining the military after high school? If you serve, you qualify for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. In a nutshell, military personnel and veterans with at least 30 days of active duty service receive some tuition benefits. These benefits max out after three years of service. Other benefits include housing allowances and tuition discounts for spouses and children. The law is complex, and many stipulations apply.

Joining the military is not a light decision. Weigh your options carefully and discuss them with adults you trust.

Final Thoughts

You are incredibly fortunate: you have thousands of financial aid opportunities at your fingertips! By starting work now, you can attend your dream college without incurring debt, setting you up for financial, professional, and personal success later in life.

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