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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Distinguish Yourself to Your Dream College

Okay, high school juniors, listen up: college admissions season begins in just a few short months. Now is the time to start thinking about how to stand out from the other applicants competing with you for a seat at your dream college.

“But,” you protest, “colleges haven’t even made up their minds about this year’s incoming freshman class. Why worry about next year?”

Well, your buddy (INSERT NAME HERE) just got back from a humanitarian trip to (INSERT COUNTY HERE) where (HE/SHE) helped build a (SCHOOL/HOSPITAL/HOUSE). And you know what, (HE/SHE) wants to go to (YOUR DREAM COLLEGE), too. What have you done lately to better humanity?

Fortunately, distinguishing yourself is a lot easier than flying halfway around the world to do a good deed. In this article, we’ll explore a few ways to make your best qualities and accomplishments shine.

First Things First

What are your best qualities and accomplishments? Get out some paper and brainstorm. Here are some possible categories to get you started:

  • Academics
  • Extracurricular
  • Volunteering
  • Other Community Involvement

Be sure to include ongoing and planned events, not just things you’ve completed in the past. For example, if you’ve signed up to take four APs your senior year, write that down. Colleges love students who excel in APs.

After making your list, I bet you feel a bit better about what you’ve accomplished in high school so far. Also, before we go any further, let me emphasize that despite my joke at the beginning of this article, stop comparing yourself to other applicants. After all, many of those so-called ‘humanitarian trips’ cost their volunteers thousands of dollars and might do more harm than good. Check out Habitat for Humanity if you want to build something for the needy.

Examining Your Strengths

So you have your list of best qualities and accomplishments. Here are some questions to consider at this stage:

  • What is my best strength and accomplishment?
  • How do I brag about myself without sounding arrogant?
  • How do I bring up these strengths in my essay?
    • How do I bring up these strengths if my dream college has a specific essay question?

The answer to the first question is completely up to you. Let me help with the others.

How do I brag about myself without sounding arrogant? How do I bring up these strengths in my essay? 

Arrogance is a deal breaker for college admissions counselors. Bragging or even ‘humble bragging’ can’t seem explicit. The solution to this problem is all about framing your accomplishment or strength within a larger story, or in other words, bury the lead.

For example, let’s say you organized a local blood drive. You wouldn’t want to start your essay with ‘I organized a local blood drive.’ You would begin by discussing an event, such as a natural disaster, that caused a blood shortage. You would then transition to feeling compelled to do something. Finally, you would discuss the steps you took to organize the blood drive and the positive results it had, such as a how many pints of blood were donated that day.

How do I bring up these strengths if my dream college has a specific essay question?

At first glance, an assigned essay question or prompt may not seem like a vehicle for your positive qualities to shine. However, just like any piece of personal writing, there are always ways to insert yourself into the story. Let’s look at two examples:

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?

At face value, it doesn’t seem like you could talk up your accomplishments. But let’s say that you’re a history nerd, and you’re taking honors or AP U.S. history this year. Use this prompt as a way to bring up a paper/test/presentation/project/etc. where you excelled.

Are we alone?

Again, another ambiguous question that inspires thoughts of slimy extraterrestrials rather than your accomplishments. For the science geeks reading this question, this one is for you. Discuss your best biology/chemistry/physics class experiments and projects that lend towards your discussion of the possibility of life beyond Earth.

In summary, the key to answering these and other odd prompts is to gradually make the answer about you. You won’t be great at this right away; that’s why you need to have an adult, hopefully one of your teachers, critique your essay’s first draft.

Did You Overcome Adversity?

I know that adversity can be a private and sensitive subject. If you went through something traumatic or painful in the last few years, you might not want to discuss it with someone you’ve never met. However, explaining these life experiences in your essay puts your accomplishments (or lack thereof) in a whole new light. They complete a picture that college admissions counselors need to see before they make a final decision about your application.

Another reason that you might include adversity as part of your essay involves a single word: perseverance, a trait that all colleges and universities want to see in their applicants. So if you have that kind of story to tell, make sure that you tell it in your essay.

How myKlovr Can Help

If you need extra assistance listing and categorizing your accomplishments, consider downloading the myKlovr app. The app’s digital portfolio can help you keep track of this and other important information which will make the college admissions process less stressful.

Final Thoughts

In an applicant pool where just about everyone has good standardized test scores and a boatload of honors/AP courses, your college essays are THE WAY the distinguish yourself from the pack. And though you may not yet know your essay prompts, reviewing your accomplishments now will make your essays shine just a bit brighter than those of your competition.

So shine on, college applicants, shine on.

What Is a Virtual College Counselor?

Every year, applying to college becomes a more frustrating and challenging process. Also, cut-throat competition to attend the nation’s best colleges and universities have made acceptance rates plummet, even at colleges that were considered safety schools just a few short years ago.

All college applicants should have a trusted advisor to guide them through the process. For some students, that person is the college counselor at their school. For others, it is a private college counselor paid for by parents.

But what if your school’s college counselor is always busy? What if your family can’t afford the fees charged by private college counselors?

To help students like you, myKlovr created the world’s first virtual college counselor.

Virtual College Counseling: The Basics

A virtual counselor performs many of the same functions as a high school college counselor:

  • Goal setting
  • Advising
  • Progress tracking
  • College research and recommendations

What myKlovr has done is taken these functions and put them into a platform. Using the answers you provide to our academic and personal questions, the platform creates a series of goals for you to accomplish throughout high school. All of these goals are designed to help you increase your college admissions chances, even if you don’t yet know where you want to go to college.

Once you receive your goals, you have the option to further custom tailor them. You can choose to replace specific goals with others that better fit your needs. After that, it’s time to start working towards your short and long-term goals. 

How myKlovr Helps You

MyKlovr is so much more than a computer algorithm in a shiny package. It’s a network of trusted advisors that help set academic and personal goals and see them through to completion. That way, you are not just interacting with a computer; you’re communicating with your parents, teachers, high school counselors, and other adults whose advice you need to navigate the college application process successfully. As you accomplish your academic and personal goals, they confirm your progress and receive relevant updates.

Advantages Over Solely Using Your School’s College Counselors

The primary benefit of myKlovr is that you can access the services of a virtual college counselor anytime, anywhere. When you have a question, we’ll answer it. When you need personalized advice, we can help. When you can’t wait to see your school’s college counselor, we’ll be there. Gone are the days of making appointments or waiting in line.

Advantages Over Other Private College Counseling Services

One word: money. The best private college counselors’ hourly fee compares to that charged by top lawyers. Over two years, those fees can add up to the price of a good used car.

myKlovr’s base price of $19.99/month provides the same benefits of private college counseling at a fraction of the cost. Also, you gain a digital college application portfolio that will help you tremendously when it comes time to apply to college. Think about it: if you use myKlovr throughout high school, you’ll have curated and organized all the materials you need to write stellar personal essays.

Future you will thank present you.

Final Thoughts

If you’re a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior, I encourage you to sign up for myKlovr and give it a try. The basic features are free, which means you can see if it’s a good fit before you or your parents invest a single penny.

I am sure that once you get to know myKlovr, it will become an invaluable tool for your college application journey.

Juniors: Use Midwinter Recess to Make an SAT/ACT Prep Plan!

Despite having the illustrious title of ‘academic advisor’ at myKlovr, I don’t know everything. For example, five minutes ago I had no idea that public school students in New York City had a midwinter recess, or what a midwinter recess even was. I grew up in Tennessee, and we only got spring break!

As this article is slated for publication on midwinter recess eve, please take a moment to enjoy the fact that you have a week off of school.

*Momentary Pause for Enjoyment*

Now that you’ve had enough time to enjoy your break, let’s get down to business. Juniors, if you haven’t already taken the SAT/ACT, the time is fast approaching! The next ACT is on April 14th, and the SAT follows right behind it on May 5th. Simply put, you have between eight and ten weeks to prepare for your first date with a standardized test.

Let’s use part of this week to create an SAT/ACT prep plan!

Selecting Your Test: 2 Days

A quick Googling informs me that in New York City, the SAT is a much more popular test than the ACT. But popularity doesn’t mean everything. If you know the colleges you want to apply to, research their admissions data to determine which test the majority of applicants take before applying. If your dream colleges have no preference, or you don’t yet know where you want to apply, it’s time to take a full-length, timed practice SAT and ACT.

Yes, you will need two days, one for each test. Don’t try to take them both on the same day; your results will be as useful as pulling a random score out of a bag. Take the tests in the morning, just like you will on test day. Once you have your scores, compare them against the SAT and ACT percentile rankings. On whichever practice test you earned a higher percentile, that’s the one for which you will prepare.

Note: To give your brain a break, skip a day between each practice test. That way test fatigue won’t affect the results of your second practice test.

Figuring Out Your Weaknesses: 1 Day

It’s time to dive into the test results to discover your weaknesses. You can do this in one of two ways:

  1. By Question Topic: For each section of the test, arrange all missed questions into categories based on their question topic. For example, if you missed a comma question on the ACT English test, that question would go under ‘commas.’ When you are finished, you will understand which topics are giving you the most trouble.
  2. By The Reason You Missed the Question: Did you miss the question because of a simple mistake, because you misunderstood part of the question, or because you had no clue how to solve the question? By categorizing your missed questions this way, you can identify the ‘low hanging fruit,’ question types you can master with the least amount of effort.

Either way, you organize your missed questions, you will discover your weaknesses on the SAT or ACT. The next step is to create a study schedule. 

Scheduling Time Between Now and Test Day: 1 Day

Sit down with a calendar and mark everything coming up between now and test day that has nothing to do with the test itself. Examples include family activities, working at a part-time job, extracurricular activities, etc. All of these commitments come before studying for the ACT/SAT, so you need to know just how much time you can dedicate to studying.

Remember, you don’t need to study every day. When planning and executing a successful study schedule, the key word is ‘consistency.’ If you make a plan to study four times a week, see it through. If you resolve to commit one hour to each study session, see it through. Just like exercising, studying will become more natural if you make it part of your routine.

Start Your Study Plan: 1 Day

There’s no time like the present to get into the studying habit. Near the end of your midwinter recess, take an hour to hit the ground running. As it’s your first study session, start with something easy, one of the ‘low hanging fruit’ topics we discussed earlier. Mastering a simple topic will give you a sense of accomplishment and encourage you later on. Also, another reason I’d recommend starting with an easy topic is that you probably won’t need outside help. Save the harder topics for when you’re back in school and can call on the help of teachers and peers.

Final Thoughts

Hey, would you look at that: midwinter recess lasts a total of nine days, and you’ll only need five of them to help you create an ACT/SAT prep plan. That means there’s still plenty of time to relax, and maybe even play tourist in your hometown.

Happy studying!

I Was Wait-Listed! Now What?

Throughout the fall semester of senior year, college-bound students and their families are caught up in the stresses of the college admission season. Then, once the last application goes in the mail around January 1st, comes the waiting game: four months of nervous anticipation.

April 1st represents the light at the end of the tunnel. On that day, you will receive ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ envelopes from the colleges to which you applied. Then, like Christmas morning, the envelopes arrive! And………

You were wait-listed.

Getting wait-listed, especially from your dream college, can feel like a punch to the gut, even worse than outright rejection.

If this should happen to you, don’t feel bad about feeling bad. I’m not gonna lie: your situation isn’t an ideal one. Take a moment (or a day) to feel frustrated. Know that many people besides you don’t have kind words when speaking about college waitlists.  After that, continue reading to see how you can make the most of the next few weeks.

Cover Your Bases

Feel better now? Get some sleep? Good. Let’s talk about the next four weeks when college admissions counselors make their final decisions about which wait-listed applicants will make the final cut.

As you might already know, their final decision depends on how many accepted students will decide to attend. If a college receives enough new students from the group of accepted students, no one on the waitlist gets in. This happens more often than you think. If fewer than expected students agree to attend, then the college selects applicants off the waitlist. So how do they choose which wait-listed students to accept? That brings us to my first point:

Call the Admissions Office 

Every college is different when it comes to their waitlists. When some colleges decide to accept another wait-listed student, they choose one at random. Other colleges rank their wait-listed students and take them in order of preference. If the latter is the case, they will likely tell you your ranking. If you’re near the bottom, you need to make some difficult decisions (see the next section).

If you’re near the top, or your dream college doesn’t rank its wait-listed applicants, you have some work to do.

Show the College that You’re Still a Competitive Applicant

Some colleges ask their wait-listed students to send up-to-date transcripts. After all, your original application likely didn’t have any grades from your senior year. Solid academic performance can help your application rise to the top of the pile.

Moral of the story: it always pays to stay on top of your senior year grades.

Along with transcripts, you can also include other items, such as a short letter, that updates admissions counselors on your academic and personal accomplishments that happened since you applied. Every little bit helps, so you might as well brag about yourself.

Prepare for Some Difficult Decisions

Up until now, we’ve haven’t touched on your OTHER college admission letters you received on or around April 1st. I’m sure there were a few rejections, along with (hopefully) a few acceptances. Let’s focus on the latter. Take a moment to feel proud that you did, in fact, receive a few fat envelopes.

Now comes the hard part. Do you continue waiting for a possible yes from your dream college, or choose to attend one of the colleges that accepted you? How do you make such an important decision in such a short amount of time?

A Bird in the Hand…

I’m going to strongly recommend that unless your name is at or near the top of your dream college’s waitlist, you should attend one of the colleges that accepted you, especially if that college’s tuition is less or you have a scholarship.

Why make such a blunt recommendation? Here are my reasons:

  • You’ll finally have closure.
  • You can start planning for the transition to college sooner rather than later.
  • If the college you select costs less than your dream school, you’ll be saving you and your family from a possible financial burden that could last years if not decades after you graduate.

It can be incredibly difficult to give up on your dream school, but trust me when I say the potential benefits outweigh any risks.

Final Thoughts

Being wait-listed may be a bummer and stressor, but it’s also an opportunity. Use April to decide what you REALLY want out of college. Step back from the importance you put on your dream college, and reevaluate the best option for your future. Then, and only then, make your decision.

When Should a Student Select Their Professional Path?

If you had asked 17-year-old me what I hoped to study in college, I would have told you that I was going to study medicine and become a doctor. Everyone I knew assumed that by the time I turned 26, I’d be Thomas Broderick, M.D.

So that didn’t happen.

My story mirrors that of many of my high school and college peers. My best friend, once an aspiring computer engineer, became a Japanese/English translator. Another friend earned a degree in chemical engineering but now works at a TOP SECRET government facility which may or may not have something to do with chemicals. Most surprising of all, my high school’s theater star went on to invent the Nest Thermostat.

Long story short: a person’s professional path isn’t a straight line.

In this article, we’ll examine why American high school and college students rarely have a grasp on their professional future. We’ll also explore the steps you can take right now to ensure that your career path starts off on the right foot.

American College Students vs. International College Students

If you lived 100 years ago (or today in a developing nation), chances are that you wouldn’t have much choice concerning your career. The economic needs of your family, coupled with limited access to higher education, would lock you into one of only a handful of career paths.

After the Second World War, millions of Americans gained access to higher education. With higher education came the opportunity for young men and women to pursue careers beyond those performed by their parents or those living in their community. That was great!

But…

Choice is a blessing and a curse. Too many options can be just as bad as too few. Our college culture, focused on exploring your interests, does little to help students who are undecided about their futures. On graduation day, too many people still have no idea what job will provide them both personal satisfaction and a fair salary.

How about young adults in foreign countries? Do they have this problem? Well, it depends. For example, higher education doesn’t mean the same thing in every country. In Germany, many high school graduates further their educations through apprenticeships. Though apprentices learn only one skill set, the economic advantages of completing an apprenticeship convince young Germans to choose their career paths at a young age.

In other developed countries, such as Japan, young people choose their career path early due to societal expectations rather than economic incentives. In Japanese culture, one’s decisions and actions reflect on one’s family as well as oneself. Combined with the belief in the wellbeing of the group over the wellbeing of the individual, many young Japanese choose a career path in high school.

Do young German and Japanese students always stick to the career paths they make in high school? Of course not! This revelation brings us to my main point:

Preferences Change (And That’s Okay!)

As a high school student, I bet you’ve seen or been a part of at least one nasty breakup. Two people who once said that they’d ‘be together forever’ can’t stand the sight of one another. It’s a natural part of the high school experience; people change, and so their preferences.

The same thing is accurate when it comes to your future career. Today you may want to become a doctor. Tomorrow it’s engineering. At your age, switching back and forth or between a dozen different things is okay!

Don’t believe me? Let’s examine the data. myKlovr recently performed a survey of 106 adults who were asked when they decided on their current career path. The numbers speak for themselves.


The vast majority of those surveyed decided upon their professional path while in college or later in life. Only 21% chose their career as a high school-aged student or younger. What this means is that if you’re still on the fence about your future, don’t sweat it. Most of your peers are in the same boat.

What You Can Do Now

If you’re still in high school, it’s time to start thinking about your future. When I say you should think, I do mean more than just sitting around like The Thinker. Here are a few proactive steps you can take to explore future careers before you enter college:

  • Complete a summer internship in a field that interests you.
    • Besides opening your eyes to different career paths, internships look great in your college application portfolio!
  • Take a few career interest tests to discover potential career paths that you may have never considered in the past.
  • Research the academic and professional requirements related to your current dream job(s).

It never hurts to get a part-time job, either. If nothing else, it’ll help you develop a professional work ethic that’ll impress future employers.

When You Get to College

By all means, take a semester or a year to explore different subjects. After that, it’s time to make some tough decisions, especially if you’re attending a private university with a hefty price tag. Choose a professional path and complementary academic major.

If you’re still not sure about your career path when it comes times to select a major, include a minor or second major that addresses your other interests. Though a double major or minor means that your college experience will be more academically rigorous, your options will remain open. Hopefully, as you get closer to graduation, your career preferences will solidify.

Final Thoughts

I hope that by having read this article, you feel a bit better about what the future might hold for you. Yes, you have a lot of work to do, both the soul-searching and academic varieties. Even so, the sooner you start working towards the future you want, the likelier it is that you can turn your dreams into reality.

Alternatives to College: Five Possibilities for Personal Growth and Financial Stability

We’ve been conditioned to think that graduating seniors need to be college bound in order to have a financially secure and successful life. But what if your child wants to learn and grow, just not in college? There are many valid reasons not to attend college, and maybe your child has already presented you with a few. Maybe they just want some time away from the structure and stress of academia, or maybe they have no intention of going, ever. Should you despair and resign yourself to years of floating them money to help them cover their bills?

Maybe not. The below options are less conventional, and may provide students with bigger challenges than they’d face taking the oft-traveled route to college, but each is a viable option for a student who wants to work hard and have a productive, fulfilled life.

1. Get a full-time job. You might be tempted to say, “You’ll never get a good job if you don’t go to college,” in an attempt to sway your child towards college. And while college graduates do typically out earn high school graduates, there are professions which offer good pay with only a high school diploma needed. Some of these fields do require some kind of training, but new entrants can finish and begin earning money relatively quickly. Here’s a list of twenty jobs which require a high school diploma.

If your child elects to go directly into the workforce, it’s important to look at projected job growth for professions of interest. For example, the retail sector is under strain, and while the industry will not disappear, its growth will be flat.

2. Attend a trade school. These institutions offer a range of advantages over four-year colleges, and could provide the best compromise between college and going directly into the workforce. Trade school tuition is a fraction of four-year schools, which means your child will probably be able to finish without the typical load of student loan debt. The salary gap between a trade school graduate and a college graduate is relatively small as well. It’s not uncommon for trade schools to have strong connections with employers, allowing them to offer job placement assistance. Skills learned in trade school also can’t be easily outsourced or automated (not yet, anyway).

According to this article, which features data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are a wide range of fields which demand the skills of trade school graduates. Finally, because trade school programs are more intensive and practical, a student can finish more quickly and begin earning a salary.

3. Do volunteer work. Since most of us are not independently wealthy, this probably seems like an odd suggestion. But if it’s financially feasible, it may provide a range of unexpected benefits. Volunteers learn useful real-world skills and make connections with others.

It’s possible to participate in a program which is considered volunteer, but offers a living allowance. AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), founded in 1965, places volunteers with nonprofit organizations that work to end poverty and improve communities. Anyone over eighteen can apply for this full-time commitment, and those who successfully complete a year can earn an educational grant for higher education or an additional cash stipend.

Catholic Volunteer Network operates an extensive volunteer program, with both domestic and international placements. While most long-term programs require volunteers to be 21, some programs are open to those 18 and up. Catholic Volunteer Network provides basic room and board and a small stipend, and does not require volunteers to be Catholic, though the work is entirely faith-based.

4. Start a business. If this seems way too ambitious for a recent high school graduate, it’s not. Entrepreneurship is a viable option for anyone who’s ambitious and wants to make a mark on the business world as soon as possible, and they don’t have to found a multi-national conglomerate to do it. Thanks to technology, it’s possible to launch a business with only a little money. Etsy, eBay, and Shopify are just a few of the sites which have eased the process of starting an online business. Anyone can buy a web domain, install WordPress, and have a basic site up and running quickly, especially today’s tech-savvy teens. SCORE, a nonprofit with 300 local chapters, offers a wealth of free advice, templates, guides, and other resources to small business creators.

If you’re still (understandably) skeptical, reading these bios of successful young entrepreneurs might help you see what’s possible with hard work and ingenuity.

5. Enlist in the armed forces. Joining the military and serving our country is a noble decision. It provides an opportunity to do something important, while skills which can be used upon re-entry to the civilian world. Service to the nation is something we all take pride in, but there are additional advantages to military service. Food and housing allowances, medical care, salary, and vacation leave are the primary benefits. Members who elect to stay in for the long term can look forward to retirement benefits, including pensions.

Like the aforementioned volunteer organizations, the U.S. military also helps address how to pay for college by offering multiple options to support members in their academic pursuits. Overall, the U.S. military is a great place with potential for a long and distinguished career.

Finally

Every option facing a graduating senior has pros and cons. If you’re a parent, the idea of your child putting off or forgoing college altogether may cause a significant amount of stress. It takes a shift in thinking to realize that all students don’t need to go to college, but they all definitely need to have a plan.

College will always be available as an option, so if your child elects to forgo higher education in favor of something else worthy, they can reverse course easily should they change their mind. It’s even possible to find a college with flexible start dates, so that they don’t have to wait for September or January should their plans not go as hoped.

Young adulthood is a great life stage to test unconventional ideas, as many of them don’t have to fixate on paying a mortgage and raising a family, making it easy to try opening a different door to professional success if needed. College admissions officers appreciate a well-rounded student profile, and trying any of the above can create or enhance one.

The Importance of High School Transcripts

Picture your dream home. Maybe it’s a chateau in France or beachside in Malibu. Maybe you have a pool or personal movie theater. No matter your tastes or desires, though, your dream home has something in common with that of every other reader’s. Can you guess what it is? Okay, time’s up.

Everyone’s dream home has a solid foundation underneath it.

You can’t see the foundation from the outside, but it’s the most important part of any house. A good foundation can hold up a house for a century or more, while a bad one can cause the structure to lean or crumble. So what does an article about getting in college have to do with proper home construction?

Your academic transcript is the foundation of your college application portfolio.

In this article, we’ll examine how your transcript tells a story more complicated than just course names and grades. We’ll even explore how it might affect you after you know where you’re going to college.

The Importance of a Solid Foundation

Continuing with our dream home metaphor, the house you see and everything in represents your extracurricular activities, awards, SAT scores, volunteer work, letters of recommendation, and extraordinary accomplishments that make you unique. However, the transcript foundation makes it all possible. Let’s see what this looks like in real life.

Ned is a college admissions counselors. He opens up your application to find lots of paperwork (or attachments if you applied online). He flips to the transcript. If it’s within or exceeds the ballpark of what his college wants in its next crop of freshman, he continues to review the rest of your application before making a decision. If the transcript is borderline good/bad, he might review one or two more items before continuing or stopping. And if the transcript is weak, he ignores the rest before putting your application in the ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ pile.

There Are Exceptions

Every college is different, and some specifically require their college admissions counselors to take a holistic approach: reviewing everything in an applicant’s portfolio before making a decision. However, with so many high school seniors applying to the nation’s top colleges and universities, college admissions counselors use tricks like the one in the previous section to weed out applicants they believe may not succeed academically. After all, nothing looks worse for a college than a high drop out rate.

So how college admissions counselors interpret transcripts beyond ‘Many A/B Grades=Good’ or ‘Many C/D Grades=Bad’? Lucky for you, one word sums up something just as important they hope to see when they review your transcript:

Consistency

Some students make straight As without effort while others struggle to make Cs. No matter a student’s academic potential, consistent grades paint a clear picture: an applicant will likely perform the same in college. An applicant whose grades are all over the place brings up many questions and concerns in the eyes of college admissions counselors. Maybe the applicant would excel if accepted. Maybe not. For the average college admissions counselor, the safe bet is to assume ‘maybe not’ and send the application to the reject pile.

Like before, there are exceptions. Students who struggle their freshman year and then improve academically throughout high school is a positive example of an inconsistent transcript. College admissions counselors are people, too; they understand that the transition to high school is not an easy one for some students.

Another important exception involves the courses themselves. A C grade in a World History is a lot easier to achieve than a C grade in AP World History. If you took many honors or AP courses in high school, consistency might not play as big of a role in college admissions counselors’ decision making.

What if you’re a senior? It’s January; your college applications are done and over. As Julius Caesar would say, “The die has been cast.” Before we wrap up, let’s address one question I bet that’s on your mind:

Do I still need to care about my high school transcript?

Short Answer

Oh yeah.

Long Answer

Your high school transcript doesn’t lose its importance when you apply to college or even when you receive an acceptance from your dream school. Depending on your situation, it may continue to influence your academic future for the next year or more. You may discover further scholarship opportunities which require you to submit a full academic transcript. A significant dip in your grades would not look good.

The other impact your transcript can have post-graduation is college course placement. Many colleges use a combination of transcripts, SAT scores, and placement tests to put incoming students into math and English courses. If you excelled throughout your senior year, your college might let you skip a course or two, the benefits of which include saving money and possibly graduating early.

So please take the advice of your parents, teachers, and me: don’t slack off the spring semester of your senior year. Future you will thank present you for your diligence and hard work.

Final Thoughts

For college-bound students, maintaining a consistent academic transcript pays off during college admission season and beyond. As you plan for the future, don’t forget the exceptions we’ve discussed. Polish every part of your application portfolio and double check that you have everything you need to apply.

Beyond that, good luck!

Fun Facts About Top 10 U.S. Colleges

Choosing the right college is one of the most important and hardest decisions to make for most college-bound high school students. Here are the top 10 colleges in the U.S. and some fun facts that you may not know about.

1) Princeton University (NJ)

princeton-97827_1280Most Popular Major: Economics

Median Starting Salary of Alumni: $66,700

Cost & Financial Aid: Tuition and fees at Princeton are $47,140, but 60% of undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid. Average need-based grants are $47,497.

Sports Team: Princeton has one of the largest athletic programs in the NCAA Division, with 37 varsity men’s and women’s teams. The college mascot is the tiger, and 18 percent of undergraduates participate in varsity sports.

Fun Fact: In 1969, Princeton alum Charles Conrad became the third person to walk on the moon and planted a Princeton flag there.

2) Harvard University (MA)

harvard-205539_1280.jpg

Most Popular Major: Economics

Median Starting Salary of Alumni: $63,100

Cost & Financial Aid: Tuition and fees at Harvard are $48,949, but 55% of undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid. Average need-based grants are $50,562.

Sports Team: The Harvard Crimson are the athletic teams of Harvard University. There are 42 varsity sports teams for women and men at Harvard, and all are part of NCAA Division I.

Fun Fact: Harvard was founded in 1636, which is before Calculus was invented.

3) University of Chicago (IL)

university_of_chicago_main_quadrangles.jpg

Most Popular Major: Economics

Median Starting Salary of Alumni: $54,400

Cost & Financial Aid: Tuition and fees at UChicago are $54,825, but 43% of undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid. Average need-based grants are $43,792.

Sports Team: UChicago sponsors 20 varsity sports that have competed in NCAA Division III since it was established in 1973. Maroon and Maroons are the University of Chicago’s official color and nicknames, while a school mascot is the Phoenix.

Fun Fact: The first atomic fission occurred on UChicago‘s campus.

4) Yale University (CT)

Sterling_Law_Building,_Yale.jpgMost Popular Major: Political Science

Median Starting Salary of Alumni: $60,200

Cost & Financial Aid: Tuition and fees at Yale are $51,400, but 50% of undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid. Average need-based grants are $50,565.

Sports Team: Yale Bulldogs are the athletic teams of Yale University and part of NCAA I. There are 35 varsity men’s and women’s sports teams, and over 40 club sports.

Fun Fact: Yale gets its name from Elihu Yale, the governor of the East India Company. This is the same company that is tied to the Tea Act, which led to the Boston Tea Party.

5) Columbia University (NY)

columbia-university-1017925_960_720-e1513794912408.jpgMost Popular Major: Political Science & Economics

Median Starting Salary of Alumni: $62,200

Cost & Financial Aid: Tuition and fees at Columbia are $62,200, but 49% of undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid. Average need-based grants are $50,744.

Sports Team: Columbia offers 31 NCAA Division I varsity sports, and over 45 club and over 40 intramural sports. It has won 15 Ivy League Championships since 2007. Many Olympians are also alumni of Columbia University.

Fun Fact: Columbia’s Lion mascot inspired the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Lion. The creator of the logo, Howard Dietz, was an alumnus of Columbia.

6) Stanford University (CA)

Stanford_University_from_Hoover_Tower_May_2011_001.jpgMost Popular Major: Computer Science

Median Starting Salary of Alumni: $70,300

Cost & Financial Aid: Tuition and fees at Stanford are $49,617, but 47% of undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid. Average need-based grants are $48,100.

Sports Team: Stanford has the most successful program in NCAA Division I, with 36 varsity sports and 32 club sport. Stanford also offers about 300 athletic scholarships each year.

Fun Fact: Want to be a future Olympian? Well, Stanford might be the place for you. At least one Stanford student has won a medal in the Olympics every year since 1908.

7) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MA)

mit_building_10_and_the_great_dome_cambridge_ma-e1513795152748.jpgMost Popular Major: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Median Starting Salary of Alumni: $76,900

Cost & Financial Aid: Tuition and fees at MIT are $49,892, but 60% of undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid. Average need-based grants are $45,147.

Sports Team: MIT’s sports teams—the Engineers—compete in NCAA Division III. There are 33 varsity men’s and women’s sports teams. Almost 20% of undergraduates join a team at MIT.

Fun Fact: The first architecture program in the U.S. was started at MIT.

8) Duke University (NC)

BostockLibraryMost Popular Major: Biology/Biological Sciences

Median Starting Salary of Alumni: $62,700

Cost & Financial Aid: Tuition and fees at Duke are $53,744, but 43% of undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid. Average need-based grants are $47,133.

Sports Team: Duke Blue Devils have 26 varsity teams, and is part of NCAA Division I.

Fun Fact: Duke’s iconic chapel is a wedding venue for many couples who met at Duke. Due to the popularity, weddings need to be booked one year in advance of the wedding month.

9) University of Pennsylvania (PA)

Huntsman_Hall_at_the_University_of_Pennsylvania.jpgMost Popular Major: Finance

Median Starting Salary of Alumni: $65,000

Cost & Financial Aid: Tuition and fees at UPenn are $53,534, but 48% of undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid. Average need-based grants are $43,899.

Sports Team: The Penn Quakers have more than 25 NCAA Division I sports. It is well known for its basketball and lacrosse teams.

Fun Fact: ENIAC—the earliest electronic general-purpose computer—was made in 1946 at the UPenn’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering.

10) Johns Hopkins University (MD)

johns-hopkins-university-1590925_960_720.jpgMost Popular Major: Public Health

Median Starting Salary of Alumni: $61,600

Cost & Financial Aid: Tuition and fees at Johns Hopkins are $52,170, but 48% of undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid. Average need-based grants are $38,238.

Sports Team: Johns Hopkins Blue Jays are affiliated with NCAA Division III, and NCAA Division I. Its has 24 varsity sports teams. It’s men’s lacrosse team is one of the best athletics programs in all of the college sports.

Fun Fact: Johns Hopkins is the first research university in the U.S.

A Guide to Early Decision

It’s mid-December, which means that while some students are finishing up their college applications for regular decision, others have already received their early decision results. For the fortunate, the news is the best holiday gift ever. For the less than fortunate, it’s a big lump of coal.

If you rolled the dice on early decision, the results will leave you with many questions. Or you may be a high school junior wondering if you should apply early decision next year. In this article, we’ll examine the early decision basics before diving into what you should do if you were accepted, rejected, or deferred.

Early Decision: The Basics

What’s the deal with early decision? It’s no big mystery. Colleges, especially ultra-selective ones, want to cultivate a stellar crop of freshman students. Early decision is a tool for them to get a head start on filling seats for the next year. After selecting part of the student body in November/December, they can fine-tune the remainder of the freshman class between January and March.

For a college-bound student like you, early decision has two benefits. First and foremost, applying early decision signifies to a college that it’s your first choice. If given a chance, you’d forego all other offers to attend that school. The second benefit comes if the school to which you apply early decision accepts you. With an acceptance in hand, you don’t have to worry about other college applications and the subsequent camping by the mailbox in April.

Finally, there is the issue of colleges having higher acceptance rates during early decision vs. regular decision. You may think that getting into your dream college is easier if you apply early decision. Not so. In fact, getting into your dream college may be more difficult applying early decision rather than regular decision.

I Was Accepted! Now What?

Congratulations for getting into your dream college! After coming down from Cloud Nine (and by all means, take as long as you want up there), it’s time to let the school know you’re on your way. Your acceptance packet should include information on how to do this.

So I can relax now, right?

Sort of. Yes, you don’t have to put one more ounce of effort into applying to college. That should come as a big relief! However, you still need to keep your grades up; they may play a role in pending scholarship decisions.

One more thing: don’t get into any trouble (legal or otherwise) between now and graduation. Your college has many people with whom it can replace you. That may sound a bit harsh, but it happens more often than you’d think.

So keep out of trouble and maintain those grades!

What if I change my mind?

Hopefully, by applying early decision, you made a sound choice as to where you want to attend college. For some students, though, after the joy of acceptance wears off, the doubts come flooding in. This isn’t uncommon. Many students have cold feet about committing to a particular school. Also, maybe in the time since applying, you realized that another college better matches your interests and career plans. Finally, your acceptance may come with little to no financial aid, putting your dream school out of reach.

First off, applying early decision isn’t a legally binding contract. You can turn down an acceptance and not suffer any negative life-changing consequences. However, before making any big decisions, please ask the advice of an adult you trust.

I Was Rejected! Now What?

I know from personal experience that being rejected early decision can be THE WORST! Not only is it a bummer, but rejection can also put a cloud over you as you try to juggle midterms, your regular decision applications, and the holiday season. To get you out of this funk, it’s important to keep two things in mind:

  • Other Colleges Won’t Know or Care. It’s easy to think that because you didn’t get into College A, Colleges B-E will reject you, too. That’s a fallacy. Different colleges have different admissions counselors, different expectations, and different cultures. Your perfect fit is still out there somewhere.
  • Focus on Your Regular Decision Applications. I don’t recommend mulling over why a college rejected you (you’ll never know), but it pays to consider if something was lacking in your early decision application. For example, did you edit your essays or have someone else read them? If you think your application was lacking, make sure to correct any mistakes before sending in your regular decision applications.

In other words, focus on what’s in front of you rather than on what’s behind you.

I Was Deferred! Now What?

For less than 5% of applicants, the answer isn’t a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ A deferral means that your dream college has postponed its decision, and will look at your application again from January to March. Depending on the school, you may need to submit additional materials such as an updated transcript. In possession of a complete student profile, admission counselors can make a more informed decision than before.

If this happens to you, don’t fret. You get another chance, a rarity in the college application game. Just like if you were rejected, polish those regular decision applications and settle in for a long wait.

Final Thoughts

As American lyricist Marshall Bruce Mathers III once said, “Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted…would you capture it, or just let it slip?” I don’t think Mr. Mathers was singing about early decision, but it applies to your situation, nonetheless. Out of all your potential colleges, you can apply early decision to only one. Take time to consider which school (if any) has earned your early decision application.

And good luck. 🙂

Paying for College: A Parents’ Guide

It’s no secret that college tuition increases every year. For example, the cost to attend my alma mater, Vanderbilt University, rose 50% (from $40,000/year to $60,000/year) since I graduated in 2008. At America’s elite private universities, the $60,000/year figure is a common one. Even at public colleges, rising costs have locked out many students whose parents benefited from the same system as young adults. Also, since 2008, the amount of student debt held by Americans has more than doubled to approximately $1.5 trillion. To put that figure in perspective, American student loan debt equals the amount of money necessary to buy everything the United States produces in a single month.

If these trends continue, it is possible that by the end of the 2020s, the United States might have at least one college that charges more than $100,000/year to attend. Even accounting for inflation, the rising costs of college will invalidate many savings plans parents have traditionally used to pay for their children’s college education.

In this article, we’ll discover why paying for college became so expensive before diving into how to best respond depending on your children’s ages. Along the way, we’ll explore how changes in education may dramatically alter your children’s college experience (and save everyone some money in the process).

Up, Up, and Away!

If there’s a story that mirrors the rising cost of a college education, it’s healthcare. Since the 1960s, the federal government began subsidizing health care through programs such as Medicare. More people, especially older Americans, gained access to healthcare, which is great. However, the government does not set rules regarding how much healthcare providers can charge, even though the government is paying. Knowing they’ll get their money no matter what, healthcare providers can increase costs as much as they want.

Now let’s switch out a few words in our story.

Since the 1950s, the federal government began subsidizing college education through authorizing federally backed student loans. Many young Americans, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, gained access to a college education, which is great. However, the government does not set rules regarding how much colleges and universities can charge, even though the government is paying. Knowing they’ll get their money no matter what, colleges and universities can increase costs as much as they want.

Greed certainly has a lot to do with the rising cost of college. Before you start looking for your torches and pitchforks, however, consider two other reasons that college tuition has skyrocketed over the last half-century.

  • Advertising Costs. Once going to college was no longer just for the wealthy, colleges had to learn how to cultivate ‘the best’ student body. In 2016, private colleges paid, on average, $2,232 to attract each member of its incoming class of freshmen. These costs include, but are not limited to sending school ambassadors to events around the nation, and in some cases around the world, to sell their college to high school students. Other costs include traditional advertising techniques such as mailers and a social media presence.
  • Colleges have evolved. The very nature of college has changed since the mid 20th College campuses are not only larger to accommodate more students, but colleges’ financial priorities have shifted from education to research, especially scientific or engineering research that might one day benefit the college’s bottom line.
    • Colleges focusing on research is not necessarily a bad thing. At many colleges and universities, undergraduates can gain valuable research experience, working side by side with professors and graduate students.

Paying for College: The Basics

Important Note: As of the publication of this article, the Congress is considering a tax bill that could dramatically change how parents should save for college. As you continue to read, keep in mind the changes that may soon affect your family’s future.

  • 529s: A 529 plan is a specialized, tax-free college savings plan offered by the IRS. Since 1996, it has been the preferred method for new parents setting up their children’s college fund.
  • Scholarships/Grants: Besides savings, your children may be eligible for a wide range of scholarship and grant opportunities based on their academics, extracurricular activities, and community involvement.
  • Loans: The average debt for college graduates in the United States is $16,900. For some, the figure is much higher. For your family, taking out loans may be necessary. You, as a parent, may need to cosign these loans. No matter what, loans have a dramatic impact on people’s lives. That being the case, process with caution and consider loans as a last resort.

Now that we’ve covered the bases, let’s look at what you can do to help your children, no matter their age, financially prepare for college.

If You have High School-Aged Children

If your children are high school aged, college is only a few years away. Even if you created a college savings account the moment your children were born, you might still worry if there is enough money. Let’s explore a few ways to close the financial gap.

  • Community college is an option. Your children may have the skills and aspirations to attend an Ivy League, but your family cannot afford the costs. Discuss with your children the possibility of attending community college for the first year or two. This way, they will have to pay little to nothing for their education, save money, and still be able to transfer to a four-year institution at a later date.
  • Have your children start saving, too. The benefits of a summer job extend much further than having pocket change. Summer jobs are just as a valuable tool for saving for college.
    • When your children receive their first paychecks, encourage them to put their money in a certificate of deposit (CD). CDs make a bit more interest than traditional savings accounts. Also, your children will not be able to withdraw their money, making it less of a temptation.
  • Research relevant scholarships. As early as your children’s freshman year of high school, your family can begin exploring scholarship opportunities. The more scholarships your children earn will reduce the financial pressure on you and open up more possibilities to them.

Lastly, you may be tempted to tell your children not to consider colleges outside your family’s price range. I don’t recommend this. An effect might be your children adopting a defeatist attitude. (“I’m only going to community college, so why should I take APs or try to get As?”) To avoid this reaction, be honest with your children about what your family can afford, but also stress the importance of scholarships and community college as a stepping stone.

If You Have Younger Children

If your children are middle school-aged or younger, it’s impossible to say what the educational landscape will look like when they graduate high school. Until Congress makes up its mind, the tips in the previous section still apply. However, two trends may make college more affordable for everyone.

  • MOOCs: Over the past decade, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have opened up a world-class education to anyone with an internet connection. Many MOOCs are completely free. Notable academic institutions such as Stanford University and Harvard University offer MOOCs through different online platforms.
  • Online Degree Programs: Having your children attend college online confers many cost-saving benefits when compared to a traditional college education. Also, as the technology advances over the next few years, the educational experience should improve. However, there is much to keep in mind when considering online education as an option for your children’s college education.

Final Thoughts

Figuring out how to pay for college is a stressful experience for parents and children alike. However, the earlier you start working with your children to find solutions, the better the outcome will be.

Q&A: How Students Benefit from Their Parents’ Involvement

We spoke with Kristin Sherlock, a dedicated teacher at the Academy of American Studies who teaches algebra and geometry to 9th and 10th graders, to discuss parents’ role in their children’s learning and development, as well as their relationship with school.

Q: Experts agree that parents’ involvement positively impacts their children’s learning and development. From your experience, how can a high school student benefit from their parents’ engagement?

A: There are so many different ways that a parent’s involvement can help their student. First of all, it’s just been my experience that whenever a parent shows a genuine interest in the student’s involvement—whether it’s academics, sports or you would hope both—the kids just drive to do better. When I was a student athlete, my parents cared about my grades. I didn’t want to get a phone call home for anything bad. I always wanted to get the awards on the sports team. So it wasn’t even a show off for myself at that age but it was really a show off for my parents.

When a student is also held accountable to their parents, I think scores are just that much higher. For instance, we have an online grade book at my school, and I know Mike (Kristin’s husband who’s an Assistant Principal at an elementary school) has the same experience. Parents and students both have different portals of access. The second a grade is updated, whether it’s good or bad or even indifferent if a child’s score isn’t changed, I’d hear from the parents via email or phone, “oh I was wondering why he didn’t do his homework”,  “can he make the homework up”, or “are you going to offer extra credit since his test score wasn’t as high”. It also gives parents the ability on the grade book to interact with teachers because they can email us straight from the grade book.

Again, I think it goes back to the accountable piece. I think if students are accountable not just to themselves but to somebody else like their parents—especially in high school—their achievement is going to be so much higher. Teachers have very high expectations. But if a student is surrounded by chaos in their life and they don’t have an adult figure in their life, I think it’s too much actually of us to ask him to just focus on school, when they can’t even sort out XY and Z at home.

Q: How should parents support their children on their education path while still allowing their child to remain fully accountable?

A: I think it’s really important that kids never get the “get out of jail free” card from their parents, like an excuse note that says “please excuse them from the test because they are not feeling good.” I mean that’s not life. Anytime that they’re given a “get out of jail free” card, and they don’t have to face a life situation of being held accountable, you’re not setting them up for being successful. Being a parent, I realize that. Being a teacher, I see that unfortunately happen. Sometimes there are ways that you can go back and explain to the parents. And most of the time, parents are pretty understanding. As soon as they see a zero for their child’s grade, they want to know why it’s there. Well, you wrote the note and said that they weren’t going to take the test today. They didn’t get what they needed to get done. And all of the sudden, their grade is failing now. So they ask what can we do to make this grade go higher. You always have to, even as the parent, the teacher, put it back on the kids. You can give them options and opportunities, but if they don’t follow through, they don’t get that extra reward and they don’t get the grade they wanted. Mike, would you agree with that? Anything you can think of to add to that?

[Mike:] The school that I’m working at has the gifted and talented, or the better students for the lack of a better word. The parent’s—if their kids are not getting the grade they want to see—first instinct is to question the school, the grading policy, the teachers themselves and so on. If a kid is maybe not doing as well as you would like, instead of just going immediately blame the school or the teacher, which is very very common now, ask what did you do. Did you speak to the teacher? Did you seek out some extra assistance? Or basically—it’s how the real world works—try to equip the student with the ability to overcome the challenges and have the success that they want.

[Kristin] Another thing to add on to what you just said is the fact that it’s a very weird position to be put in. As a teacher, when a parent asks you a question in front of the student about why something is, our first instinct as teachers is to look back at the student and say, “do you want to answer that or would you like me to?” We need to put it back on the kids because we know why that grade is the way it is. I guess we try to make sure it’s the student’s job to be accountable and to have their own voice.

Q: Should parents allow their children to make mistakes for instance when choosing a college or a career?

A: Should the parents be able to tell somebody where to go to college? I don’t know if I believe in that. I always get excited when my students say that they’re taking a weekend to go away with their family because they’re going to go visit a college. That’s always exciting to me because that student has a voice and option. If a student is making the decision to apply to and go to college and following through, then it’s OK if the student makes a mistake in a sense of maybe choosing the wrong environment, as long as college is not taken off the table.

We have had students in the past whose parents have said to them, “if you don’t go here, I’m not paying for this school”. Sometimes because of that threat the students would go to that school that’s not their first choice. The parents might not see it on their end, but as the teachers, you see these kids get so nervous when their acceptance letters and sometimes the denial letters start coming in mail. If they don’t get into the school they wanted to, and they’re forced to go to the one that mom or dad wanted them to go to, that’s not always the best situation. Yes, it’s great that they’re going to go to school and it’s great that college opportunities exist and it’s there for them. But ultimately, I think they need to be given the right tools to make those decisions themselves. We still have a lot of parents who have never been to college. In their head, sometimes it seems more glamorous. I think sometimes they’re afraid of the kids making the same mistakes they made. So mistakes are fine if they are learned from. But I don’t know if I think a mistake would be going to the wrong school, if it was the child figuring that out for themselves.

Q: What do schools expect from parents? How does this change when children go to college?

A: I think you’d get a different answer from what schools expect from parents if you asked a teacher versus if you asked an administrator. I think they’d kind of blend and go together. I think schools expect parents to be involved and there’s nothing more uncomfortable then when you make a phone call home and the parents say, “well, what do you want me to do about that” or “yes, you know so-and-so is out of control, I can’t really reign them back in.” That’s very unfortunate call to make because the parent doesn’t give you insight. It would be possible to loop their child back into being interested in your class. But you as a teacher know that the parent isn’t supportive and have to find a different way in to get to the kids.

So I think ultimately, as a teacher, you want parents to be engaged, and you want them to ask questions. My classroom door is always open for instance. So if parents ever want to come in and interact with their kids during the school day, they are more than welcome to. I want them to go see their kids play sports. I want them to ask their kids questions. I want them to check up and make sure they’re doing their homework. I want them to look at the grade book and ask their children questions.  If they don’t get the answers they want, I want them to feel comfortable to come to me as their teacher and say: “I asked my child this question, this is the answer they gave me. I need more details about it.” I want to have an ongoing dialogue. I want them to be open and affirming to who their kids are and accepting of what they’re doing, even when it’s difficult. I don’t want them to ever lower their expectations because I as their teacher will never do that. So if they’re at home and their expectations are continually lowered, it’s going to be a battle that I’m going to continuously fight. I want them to always be engaged in every aspect of their child’s life. And I’d want them to ask questions when the questions are most difficult to ask.

Q: What is your advice as regards parents interacting with school? When should parents get involved and when should they not? What are the best ways of their involvement?

A: I think if a parent is truly going to be in support of their child, they’re paying attention to every aspect of their academic life. I don’t think you just get involved when it’s a bad situation. I think you have to applaud the successes as well. Involvement doesn’t mean you’re hands-free until it’s a do or die time and your child is sinking.

I don’t know if there’s a time I would ever say a parent shouldn’t be involved. Schools should have an open door policy to parents. I think parents need to ask their children questions. I think they need to ask the school questions. I think PTAs or PTOs, are great places for parents to be involved. Unfortunately, those have also become very political at many schools. So it’s not always as easy to be involved in those. I’m having a very difficult time being involved in my daughters PTA or PTO because of when they hold meetings and the things that they’re doing. But it doesn’t mean it’s impossible and that I’ll stop trying. If there’s an invitation to an open school night, every parent should make themselves available to go. If you can’t, send them an email so that you’re corresponding with your child’s teachers.

Make sure you know the principal and the assistant principal by name because you’re modeling that for your child as well. So the more comfortable as a parent you are at your child’s school, you’re just setting your child up for more success. Definitely don’t get involved if you’re going to have a combative relationship. You don’t want your child to be in an environment where they’re always fighting against their teachers, their peers or the administration. But I think if you can foster healthy relationships, that’s just another relationship, another model to set for your kids that will pay off in spades.

When they get to college, they’ll see the way that they have been able to interact with their teachers in high school and they can take that responsibility and set appointments with office hours with their college instructors. That was one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do in my English lit class from my freshman year of college. But I knew what was expected of me because I knew that failure wasn’t an option for me. But I knew that because those were the expectations communicated to me all the way through school. So if I was going to get a not-good grade, I needed to make sure I could explain why in high school and in college. So I made those office hour appointments and I guess I still felt accountable to my parents as well when I was in college. I was doing that for myself but also for my family.

Q: What are the most common pitfalls of parent involvement? What are the watch-outs?

A: As a teacher, I would say one of the most common pitfalls is a parent who’s not actively involved in their student’s life. One of the saddest and most difficult things is to try to work with kids in high school, whose parents are not involved in their life. They are either too busy or they have things going on and they’re not willing to come in for a meeting with you.

We as teachers, my husband and I, when we worked with a team of people, have sat in meetings with the children whose parents don’t show up. That’s a very hard situation and that’s when you become not so much a teacher anymore, but more like a parent figure to that child because you’re consoling them and you’re helping them understand. Often times they get angry or they get sad and you become that person they come to.

Another pitfall? Probably when parents are too involved. It goes back to the part of parents not holding their children accountable. Parents holding the teachers first accountable as opposed to asking their kids “what should you have done?”. By all means ask the teacher too if they don’t get an acceptable answer. If you are even the least bit organized of an educator, when a parent asks a question about their child, you’re going to be able to give them an answer. Maybe it’s not what they want to hear, but often times they could’ve already gotten an answer from their child. So I think those are that the unfortunate ways I could say that parents can be involved or not involved in the right ways.

Q: What is your advice for parents who don’t have college education with regard to supporting their children on their way to college?

A: Like I mentioned earlier, we’re still teaching a large group of children whose parents have never been to college, and some have never even graduated high school. As the kids matriculated credits and passed regents exams and got closer to graduation of high school, college became more of a reality for their parents. And the genuine excitement that they had, the involvement and the weekend trips visit schools paid off because we had so many of the kids go to college.

We had a student whose parents immigrated to the United States. His brother before him had gone to college and he was going to be the second person in this family to graduate high school and then go to college. His parents worked so hard so that he’d be able to go to a private school in Massachusetts. One of the things that I remember, that really got Frankie so excited about the whole process was it wasn’t just a school thing for him. His parents asked questions and his parents filled out the paperwork. His parents met the deadlines that needed to be met. His parents were interested in all of the FAFSA information. They came to all the college meetings with the students at the school. And that’s another thing that schools can do. Schools can hold college meetings. The more information that you can put in a child and a parent’s fingertips, the more exciting the process is.

You know, prior to myKlovr, you really only had collegeboard.org to go on and research colleges. It would kind of tell you from PSAT scores, and what colleges they think you might do well at. It’s not that it wasn’t personalized, but it wasn’t personalized enough. Anytime that you can personalize something for children, even when they’re still in high school and make it feel like a genuine, true, new, exciting experience, it’s just an amazing. All of the kids at my school are going to have all of their college applications in around December 1st of this year. That’s a week from Friday. And some of them are applying for rolling admissions and they might find out around Christmas or New Year if they get into some of the schools. And then some of them won’t get the letters they’ve been waiting for until maybe March.

But what an exciting time and I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through that process alone without your parents by your side. There are kids that go through that regularly, without their parents support. I just remember watching the kid in the Bronx whose parents would get more excited on every little level. When they get their financial letters, or their SAT scores, even for the third time in the mail, they celebrated it. Celebrations go far, college is something to be celebrated.

You can’t do much in life without a college degree anymore. You can’t even get a job at McDonald’s that’s worthwhile if you don’t have your high school diploma now. I think we as parents and as educators always want our kids and our students to do better than we did. I think of that when I look at my math classes everyday. I’m trying to give these kids knowledge that they can take and apply in a real world. Some of the knowledge that I have to be in part on them is not applicable. Some of them will never use it again except to take and pass a test at the end of the year. But my job is to make it exciting and get them engaged, even if it is something as trivial as a translation. They have to be able to just take an object and move it. But if I seem excited about it, about math, and it works with the kids. If a parent got excited about their school, and if a parent got excited about the college application process, and even got excited about taking them to school, imagine the future that they’ll have.

You know, I look at my girls and I think about it all the time. The hardest thing ever will be dropping them off to college. The best thing ever will be dropping them off to college.

Supporting A Family Member During College Admission Season

Thanksgiving is a time of family, togetherness, and food…lots of food. For adults, it’s one of the most laid-back holidays of the year (unless you’re the one cooking). For high school seniors caught up in completing college applications, however, deadlines, stress about the future, and upcoming midterms can put a damper on their holiday.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s examine how a family can support one of its own during this busy, frustrating, and worrisome time. In this article, we’ll look at things both parents and siblings can do to support their family member’s journey to college. If everyone chips in, your whole family should have a great Thanksgiving and holiday season.

Why All the Stress? 

NBC News reports that “30 percent of teens reported feeling sad or depressed because of stress and 31 percent felt overwhelmed. Another 36 percent said that stress makes them tired and 23 percent said they’ve skipped meals because of it.” Below are some of the top reasons why your family member is ‘feeling the squeeze’ this week.

  • The Early Decision Jitters: For starters, many students apply early decision to their dream college or university. Though these deadlines are usually November 1st, the ‘what ifs’ going through a teen’s mind can cause a lot of stress. Think about it: in a few days he or she may receive a life-changing email.
  • The Regular Decision Race to the Finish: In addition to early decision, there are the fast-approaching regular admission deadlines, which range from December 1st to January 1st. This means that December, just days away, is going to be a busy month as your family member puts the final touches on his or her college applications.
  • The Midterm Blues: Finally, December is full of another common stressor: midterms. Even though college admissions counselors do not see applicants’ senior year grades when making their decisions, some colleges have rescinded acceptance letters when an applicant slacked off academically or got into trouble during senior year.

How You Can Help

Whether you’re a parent or sibling, there are lots of little things you can do to help your family member succeed. Let’s consider a few easy options:

  • Hire a Tutor. Investing in a tutor is an investment in your child’s future. Even in their senior year, college-bound students still need help with difficult subjects, especially AP courses. Having a tutor work with your child for the few months leading up to final exams will make sure that he or she is well-prepared for college’s academic challenges.
    • If you’re an older sibling home from college during Thanksgiving week, offer to provide the same tutoring assistance for free.
  • Do Some Extra Chores. If you’re a sibling, help your brother or sister out by doing a few of their chores. Call it an early holiday gift! Even if you can pick up the slack just a little, you’ll allow your sibling more time to focus on the task of applying to college.
  • Be a Shoulder to Lean On. Stress causes many college-bound high school seniors to feel isolated. Talk with your child or sibling about their frustrations, worries, hopes, and dreams. Not only will you learn more about what they’re going through, but the conversation should help them realize that people they love have their back.
  • Get His or Her Mind off the Stress. Most students have the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off from school. Use this day to help your family member get his or her mind off everything on their plate (And I’m not talking about their Thanksgiving meal. ;). For example, have him or her help with Thanksgiving preparations. For some people, cooking is a great stress reliever. There will still be work to do later, but a mental break will help them reenergize for that final push in December.
  • Plan a Fun Event for When the Applications Are Complete. Successfully submitting college applications is a reason to celebrate. Let your child or sibling plan a fun activity to commemorate his or her achievement. Planning this activity in advance will help keep them focused and motivated throughout the coming weeks.

Final Thoughts

Even with family support, a high school senior must still complete the bulk of the work involved in applying to college. Over the next few weeks, that’s their full-time job. So if you have the chance, lend them a helping hand. I encourage you to go above and beyond the suggestions in this article. Every family is different, after all. I’m sure that whatever you try will have a positive impact.

“And finally,”…(takes a bite of a massive turkey leg)…”Apy Hanksgibing!”

The Pros and Cons of Taking Above-Grade-Level-Courses

As a high school teacher, I came across many students placed in above-grade-level courses. In some cases, students were gifted and needed a challenge. (My school did not offer honors or AP courses.) In other cases, students were put into a class because there was no other option. (My school was small, so this happened a lot.)

Starting from my personal experience as a student and teacher, I want to use this article to discuss the pros and cons of taking above grade-level courses. Though I am writing this article with you, the student, in mind, pass this article along to your parents and teachers. There are a few things they can learn from it, too.

The Pros of Taking Above Grade-Level Courses

I want to tell you about one of my first students. Let’s call her D. I first had D her freshman year, which was odd since my school usually didn’t accept freshmen. But D was a special case. Quiet and bright, she excelled in my sophomore English class. Due to my school’s student scheduling mishaps, she also took U.S. government, a senior-level course. D took these challenges in stride. Four years later, she graduated class valedictorian.

What’s D’s story teaches us is that some students can perform exceptionally well in above-grade-level courses. How did she do it? She had a few essential advantages going for her:

  • Academically gifted
  • Self starter
  • Motivated
  • Grit

Believe it or not, the top bullet is the least important. In my career as a teacher, I had many academically talented students who lacked the social skills, motivation, and resilience necessary to work to their real potential. In my opinion, grit is key to success. As reported by The Atlantic, grit is “shaped by several specific environmental forces, both in the classroom and in the home, sometimes in subtle and intricate ways.” More than anything else, D’s grit helped her succeed.

Sum Up: If you possess these traits, especially grit, an above-grade-level course may be right for you.

The Cons of Taking Above Grade-Level Courses in High School

As a teacher, I never had a student who could not handle the responsibilities of an above-grade-level course. When I was in middle school, however, I was that unprepared student. The Powers That Be decided that I was ready to take 7th-grade math in the 6th grade. I was not prepared academically, emotionally, or socially. I quickly found myself back in 6th-grade math. What does my story teach us? Just because a student is labeled ‘gifted’ does not mean that he or she can learn in an above-grade-level course.

Let’s break down some of the issues that students in this situation face:

  • Feeling alienated from grade-level peers
  • Feeling like ‘the odd one out’ in a class of older students
  • Lack of organizational skills (e.g., not using a calendar to organize assignments and due dates)
  • Lack of coping skills (e.g., reaction to performing poorly on an exam)

This isn’t the entire list of concerns you may feel. If you have the option of taking an above-grade-level course next semester or next year, write down your concerns and share them with your parents and teachers.

Sum Up: There are many potential stumbling blocks when taking an above-grade-level course. Choosing to take one requires much consideration.

If You’re Taking an Above Grade-Level Course

After my brief experience with 7th-grade math, I didn’t get another chance to take an above-grade-level course until 10th grade. Long story short, I and a handful of other 10th graders enrolled in honors chemistry, a course that up until then had been off limits to underclassmen.

Did I struggle? Oh yeah. But how I succeeded in that environment can teach you how to excel in your course. Let’s review some valuable pointers:

  • Ask for help. In honors Chemistry, I needed A LOT of tutoring from my teacher. To get it, I had to ask for it. There’s no shame in it, and asking for help is the first step toward a better grade and better outlook.
  • Enlist the aid of an older sibling. If you have an older brother or sister who’s still in high school, pick their brain about the best ways to succeed in the course. Even if they never had the teacher or course, they can still provide some valuable tidbits about organization and planning.
  • Roll with the punches. Even if the course is your favorite subject, you’re likely to struggle academically, especially at the beginning. If you fail your first test, it’s not the end of the world. All it means is that it’s time to follow the advice in the previous two bullets.
  • Join an extracurricular activity. To lower any feelings of alienation from your grade-level friends, join an extracurricular activity where you can interact with them. Even if it’s only one day a week, you’ll get more time in an environment of familiar faces.

Sum Up: If you’re taking an above-grade-level course, know how to reach out for help and stay connected with your grade-level peers.

If You’re a Parent or Teacher

As a parent, it’s natural to feel a swell of pride when a teacher suggests that your child could take an above-grade-level course. Go ahead and feel proud. But before doing anything else, consider the pros and cons covered in this article. Though bright, your child may not be ready for such a big academic and social leap.

If you’re teaching a student in an above-grade-level course, the best advice is to treat the student like every other during class. However, keep in mind that the student may need additional supports to succeed, such as scaffolding. Using these scaffolds for the whole class will not single out the student. Also, expect the student to need individualized guidance, especially during the beginning of the year.

Sum Up: Your child or student will likely need extra help when taking an above-grade-level course.

Final Thoughts

Taking an above-grade-level course requires a particular kind of student. Is that student you? It depends. If you’re unsure whether you can handle the jump, consider honors or AP courses as an alternative. They’re extremely rigorous and provide an excellent academic challenge. Also, excelling in these courses looks just as favorable in the eyes of college admissions counselors as above grade-level courses.

Finally, before making any big decisions, talk to your parents, teachers, or other adults you trust. They will provide you sound advice.

No matter your choice, good luck in the coming year!

Overcoming College Admissions Terrors

Boo!

Didn’t mean to scare you, but I couldn’t help myself. Halloween is a day of scares, frights, terrors, and most importantly, candy. For high school upperclassmen, Halloween is scary, too, but for different reasons. Instead of ghouls or zombies, this holiday brings another horror: the kickoff of college admissions season.

Boo?

Yes, college admissions can be terrifying, especially in the final weeks leading up to application deadlines. Though you may feel fine now, the pressure will mount as the days count down. Even if you are a high school junior, this time of year includes added stress, as upcoming midterms will have a significant effect on your all-important junior year GPA.

In this article, I want to take a little bit of the terror out of the holiday, giving you the chance to enjoy that sweet, sweet leftover candy.

College Admissions Stressors: A Review

College admissions come with a lot of stressors. Before we get to the solutions, let’s review the problems:

  • Tight Deadlines: There are many of deadlines and important dates related to the college admissions process. To add insult to injury, rarely are two important dates on the same day. This deadline jumble can lead to feeling stress over an extended amount of time, which causes the same mental exhaustion as having many big deadlines on the same day.
  • Family Expectations: Halloween, and the holidays that follow, will put you into contact with members of your extended family. If you are a high school upperclassman, they will barrage you with questions about your plans. These questions, though innocent, can make your stress levels skyrocket.
  • Grades: If you’re a high school junior, you don’t have to worry about applying to college just yet. Even so, midterms are fast approaching, the results of which will significantly influence your junior year GPA. College admissions counselors closely examine applicants’ junior year performance when making their decisions.

Now that we’ve covered the terrors, let’s talk solutions!

Beating the College Admissions Terror

Though your first response may be to calm yourself with copious amounts of candy, I’d recommend against it. Besides causing stomachaches, candy does not help solve your stress’ underlying causes. Let’s look at a few ways that do:

  1. Organize and Track Your Deadlines: Whether on an app or an old-fashioned calendar, write down all of your upcoming deadlines between now and your final application deadline. Not only will seeing the deadlines give you a sense of perspective, but you will also feel great each time you mark one off the list.
  2. Create a Midterm Study Plan: Even if you are a high school senior, it’s still important to study for (and do well on) midterms. Though rare, some colleges do rescind acceptances if a student’s senior year grades falter. Once you know your deadlines, find time in the two weeks leading up to midterms to study for these crucial tests. It may be a tight squeeze, but the sooner you start planning, the more time you will find.
  3. Stay Physically Active: A lot of eating happens this time of year, and though food may bring some temporary comfort, a lot of sugar and fat can make you feel unwell. You need to be at your best, so make sure to exercise at least three times a week. You’ll keep off some of the holiday pounds, sleep better, and feel healthier overall.
  4. Set Aside Some ‘You’ Time: It’s easy to lose yourself in tests, applications, grades, and everything else going on this time of year. That’s why it’s important to take some time just for you. Do something you enjoy!

Final Thoughts

Halloween should be a time of scares rather than worry. By applying my tips and tricks, you should feel better about the weeks ahead, leaving you some breathing room to enjoy the holidays.

Now please pass the bag of individually wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

The Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing

For Americans 60 and younger, standardized testing is part of our shared experience. The ACT and SAT are as much a rite of passage as they are tools for colleges to determine whom to admit. Some states even require high school students to take the ACT or SAT to graduate. These two tests are an ingrained part of the fabric of American life.

On the other hand, many colleges and universities no longer require applicants to submit standardized test scores. Their reasoning: standardized test scores are just a number, and cannot reflect an applicant’s true to potential to succeed in college. Also, education groups have pointed to the SAT / ACT as the cause of teenagers’ unhealthy stress levels.

So what are you, a 21st-century high school student, to think? In this article, we’ll explore both sides of the issue. Finally, I’ll leave you with a little advice on how to excel both academically and mentally during standardized test season.

The Pros

If there is a case to be made in favor of the SAT / ACT, it’s that preparing for these tests teaches you many life skills that you will need later in life. What do I mean? Let me break it down for you:

  • Planning: Preparing for a standardized test requires a lot of planning. Do I need a tutor? Which test-prep book should I buy? How long each day should I study? These are only a few of the questions that you must consider when building a successful study plan.
  • Routine / Discipline: Preparing for a standardized test requires you to create a study plan, along with the discipline to see it through. This is a life skill that people need no matter what life throws at them.
  • Coping: Your first attempt at the SAT / ACT may not go the way you expect. If this happens, it’s okay to feel disappointed, especially if you created and followed through on a study plan. After sadness should come the resolve to improve on your weaknesses. Your test results will tell you where you need to improve, giving you a valuable study tool.

The Cons

There are two sides to every coin, and the SAT / ACT has just as many cons as pros. Let’s look at the big ones:

  • Stress on You: Do you get knots in your stomach when you think about the SAT / ACT? That’s not uncommon; I felt it, too. Also, as a teacher, I knew a few students who broke down in tears during these tests…even the practice tests.
  • Stress on Your Teachers: Believe it or not, testing season has the same effect on teachers as it does on students. Think about it: they have to rearrange their schedules, teach test-prep strategies (boring!), and try to explain the importance of doing well on the SAT / ACT. Also, principals put pressure immense on teachers during standardized test season; many schools’ reputation rests on raising or maintaining their standardized test scores. In summary, nobody is having a lot of fun this time of year.
  • You Aren’t a Number: As a former high school student and teacher, I have plenty of experience to prove that a test score is small potatoes compared to the everything else that makes up your college application portfolio. So even if your scores aren’t where you want them to be, feel confident in the other parts of your application that make you a shining star.

Staying Centered

So it’s standardized test season. Besides creating and following through on a study plan, there are many things you can do to minimize the ‘cons’ this season brings with it. Here are two simple strategies:

  • Cut everyone (and yourself) some slack: Students and teachers are testy this time of year, and it’s not uncommon for everyone to feel stressed out. Realizing that others feel the same way as you will help you work with your teachers and peers.
  • Take some time for you: Study plans are great but combined with your school work, extracurricular activities, and family life, you can feel that you don’t have a moment for yourself. Yes, there will be many busy days, but don’t forget to build in personal time. If you have to put aside your work for an hour, the benefits will outweigh the negatives.

Final Thoughts

Standardized testing isn’t going away anytime soon. That being the case, I’m glad you took the time to learn about both sides of the issue. A little perspective goes a long way. Now that you have some essential knowledge, use it to help start your study plan. I wish you the best of luck on test day!

Charting Your Educational Path

Today is Columbus Day, and if you have the day off from school, good for you. A lot of high school students don’t, so enjoy your free day. But since you have some time on your hands, let’s talk Columbus, or more specifically, his first journey 525 years ago. Columbus, despite all his promises to the Spanish monarchy, had little to no idea what was he was doing when he set sail. In fact, if the winds hadn’t been favorable, he and the crews of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria would never have made it back home.

Columbus was unsure about a lot of things.

I bet you’re unsure about what this year of high school will bring. Thoughts of college convey the same sense of trepidation, only magnified. Like Columbus, will you make it there? And even when you ‘arrive,’ will your destination be the one you intended? So on this Columbus Day, let’s examine your educational path. Our goal will be to help you create the outline of a map charting your journey to college.

After all, I bet Columbus sure wished he had a map in 1492.

Step One: Determine Where You Are

You can’t figure out where you’re going unless you know where you are. That means sitting down to evaluate everything that makes you, well, you. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What are my interests and passions?
  • What is one thing that makes me unique?
  • If I could change one thing about myself, what would it be?
  • If I could not take one subject in school, what would it be?
  • How have I performed academically in high school so far?
  • Am I enjoying my extracurricular activities?
  • Am I taking an active role in my community?

The answers to these questions will help you create a small, personalized student profile. You’ll have to face a few hard truths, but there will undoubtedly be reasons to pat yourself on the back, as well. No matter what you discover about yourself, you will have taken the first step of your educational path.

Step Two: Decide Where You Want to Go

Deciding to go to college is a big step, but after that, you have to find your dream school. With literally thousands of options, the choices can feel overwhelming. If you’re going to ‘set sail’ for college, you must pick a direction.

By completing step one, you already have a powerful tool at your disposal. For example, by identifying your likes and dislikes, you can write off many colleges due to their course offerings or campus culture. Your academic performance plays another significant role. If you’re a junior who has struggled academically, it’s doubtful that an Ivy League or ultra-competitive school will accept you.

The point is that you’re looking for a college that works not for your parents, not for your peers, but for you. And since applying to college is competitive just about everywhere, you need to choose 4-6 possible colleges where you would be perfectly happy. Make sure your list has the following:

  • One reach school (<20% chance of admittance)
  • Two to three maybe schools (40-70% chance of admittance)
  • One safety school (>90% chance of admittance)

In short, cover your bases. To get you started, here are some key self-reflection questions:

  • Which colleges offer majors in the subjects in which I’m interested?
    • Are these programs well-respected? What are current and former students saying? Where do graduates end up working or go on to graduate school?
  • Do I want to stay close to home or explore a new part of the country?
    • This may seem like a trivial question, but your future school’s location will have a large impact on your life outside the classroom.
  • Why do I like ‘College A’ over all the others?
    • Self-reflection can help you identify other colleges similar to the one you prefer the most.

Step Three: Chart a Course

So you know where you’re going. That’s great! Don’t know how to get there? That’s okay! We’ll figure it out together.

Get out your list of potential colleges and universities. For the moment, ignore the ‘maybe’ and ‘safety’ schools. To chart your educational path, we’re aiming for the top of the list. Everything you do from here on out will make you attractive candidate to that one school.

Why shoot for the moon? Easy. Even if you don’t make it into your top-choice school, you will make yourself the best applicant you can be to all the schools to which you will apply.

Let’s dive into our final set of questions to help you chart your course:

  • Are my standardized test scores comparable to what this college expects of its applicants?
    • If not, how can I improve my scores?
  • Are my classes challenging me?
    • Colleges love applicants who take rigorous courses. (I cannot overstate this enough.)
  • How can I set myself apart from thousands of other applicants?
    • For example, if your dream college promotes community service, you can set yourself apart in your application by promoting the community service you performed in high school. (e.g., Make it the topic of your personal essay. Write about how you went above and beyond!)

Final Thoughts

Well, loyal readers, I hope I’ve given you some tools to help you start your academic journey to college. There’s a lot to do, so don’t be shy about going to your parents, teachers, and college counselors for advice or help. Yes, adults are very busy, but the one’s who offer their help will have the best advice.

Finally, may calm seas and good winds bless your journey.

Technology in the Classroom: What Teachers Need to Know

In the last two decades, technology has drastically changed the educational experience. From computers to smartphones, teachers and students have access to some of the most powerful teaching tools on the planet.

However, using these tools the ‘right’ way is a complicated and somewhat controversial subject. Some teachers are virulently anti-technology, as they see devices as distractions. And it is not just older teachers who hold this view. At the beginning of my teaching career, I saw technology as a hindrance rather than a benefit. Looking back, much of that belief stemmed from my teacher education. The former teachers educating me never had a student with a smartphone or laptop.

So how should teachers adapt? Let Google teach students? Ban cell phones? The answer, as you might expect, is in the middle. Though there is no ‘right’ way to use technology in the classroom, there is a fine line that teachers must walk if students are going to gain the maximum benefit from using technology as an educational tool.

Students Have the Tools, but Not the Skills

As a new teacher, I tried to keep my classroom cellphone-free. Students texting caused me endless frustration. Taking up phones always caused large rifts between me and students. I provided them no guidance other than negative reinforcement.

Looking back, the problem was that I did not recognize that students lack the skills to responsibly use their technology. Since I did not grow up with smartphones or texting, I could not use life experience to help students use their technology responsibility. Fortunately, there came a moment when I realized the new role modern teachers must adopt: technology Sherpa.

Guiding Your Students

Even if you, like me, did not grow up with a smartphone or laptop computer, you can still model how to appropriately and productively use technology in the classroom. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Start with Google. In other words, start with what students already know. Maybe it’s having them look up a picture for history class, a short story for English, or examples of Renaissance frescos for art class. Verbally praise students who stay on task.
  • Redefine Your Classes’ Relationship with Technology. This advice works particularly well for teachers who are known for taking up students’ phones. When a student finds something of value (e.g. a picture) with his or her phone, ask permission to (temporarily) take up their phone and show the image to the class before returning the phone to the student. This action shows that you both recognize their work and respect their property.

Going Deeper

  • Integrate the Use of Technology into Lessons: Even when going deeper with technology, it always pays to start small. If you are planning to do a station activity, for example, have one station ask students to use a smartphone (or a provided computer) to research certain information.
  • Use Educational Apps: Educational apps aren’t just for elementary school-aged students. For example, there are many apps that can help high school students improve their SAT scores.
  • If Possible, Make Technology a Key Component of Students’ Classroom Experience: If your school is lucky enough to have one-to-one technology, consider using technology as an integral part of your lessons. For example, an Algebra II teacher could have students use Khan Academy during each lesson. Students would review topics and perform practice problems on their computers before tackling the teacher’s formative or summative assessment.
    • When it comes to assessments, there’s no need to break out the pencils. Google Apps/Docs has many tools teachers can adopt to create a paper-free classroom.

Mentoring New (and Experienced) Teachers

If you successfully redefine your classes’ relationship with technology, you can still do much to help other teachers. Teacher education programs, even the best ones, tend to neglect the role of technology in the classroom. And even if they taught these skills, the evolution of technology would still outpace their advice. Here are some things you can do to help all teachers navigate technology in the classroom:

  • Have New Teachers Observe Your Class: Invite a new teacher to observe how your class uses technology. Not only will they pick up some new skills, this experience will also help you form a stronger professional relationship.
  • Present Your Best Practices to the Entire Faculty: Another idea is to address the entire faculty during a staff meeting or professional development day. This way you will be able to distill your classes’ positive relationship with technology into a presentation from which all teachers can learn.

Final Thoughts

Technology has the potential to radically transform education, that is, if you let it. Finding a balance between technology and traditional teaching methods will require time, hard work, and a few mistakes along the way. But the results are worth it. Your students will have learned a set of skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

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