college admissions

Should You Take Easier Classes to Earn Better Grades?

By Thomas Broderick

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

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

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

Let me explain.

Let’s Break Down the Numbers and Letters

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

They probably won’t care.

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

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

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

Gotta Love Grit

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

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

Being Bored Stinks

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

I think I’ve made my point.

Final Thoughts

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

Good luck in the coming year!

Are Summer Programs Important for College Admissions?

By Kendell Shaffer

My son’s college advisor told the sophomore class that what they do this summer will be looked at seriously by college admissions directors. Admissions directors see summer as a continuation of your student’s learning and expect them to take advantage of this time. So no lazy summers!

Colleges want to see that your student is either taking a summer course, doing an internship or has a summer job. I am happy to see three choices because summer courses can be expensive and not available to everyone. Most colleges and universities offer courses to high school students and allow them to stay in the dorms. NYU, for example, has a great selection of very appealing courses for high schoolers but they range from $3,000-$7,000 per student plus airfare and expenses. Sometimes junior colleges offer classes to high school students. The local JC in our area offer these classes for free.

Internships are a wonderful way for students to gain job experience as well as work in a field they are interested in. My daughter did an internship the summer before her senior year and her supervisor wound up writing a letter of recommendation for her college application. My daughter also found that on college interviews discussing her internships was a comfortable way to talk about herself and interests.

One thing I keep hearing from college counselors is that colleges want to see consistency. If your child goes the summer job route, then perhaps going back to that same place of employment each summer and maybe advancing in responsibilities or hours will show rigor and commitment.

If none of these options work for your child, if it’s too late to sign up for a course or maybe you are spending the summer with family out of state, then perhaps your student could write about their summer experience. Maybe they could blog about their experiences and their new environment. Or offer to write an article for the local newspaper. Even create a photography portfolio. Just see that they follow up the following summer, so when it comes time to apply to college, they will have a body of work to show.

Teenagers have lots of energy and when used wisely, they can produce a lot of great content. Sure they need to study for SAT’s but summer doesn’t have to be all about test prep, nor should it be. And a lazy afternoon once in awhile is probably a good idea too.

How to Help Your Parents Help You with College Admissions

By Thomas Broderick

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

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

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

Why Bother?

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

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

What to Bring Up

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

Acceptance Rates Have Plummeted

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

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

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

Tuition Has Skyrocketed

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

(Just About) Everything’s Done Online

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

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

Standardized Test Scores Ain’t What They Used to Be

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

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

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

Benefits

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

4 Steps With myKlovr That Will Help You Write a Compelling College Application Essay

By myKlovr

The changing landscape of college admissions

Technology has facilitated many aspects of our lives including college applications. With The Common Application platform, it has become easier than ever to apply to many colleges at the same time. In 2015, According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 36 percent of first-time freshmen applied to seven or more colleges, while 10 years earlier, this number was only 17 percent. What are the consequences of this increase in applications? College applicants can ‘cast their net wider’ and increase their odds of admission. On the other hand, college admissions officers have to review this ever-growing number of applications. The average number to be reviewed is as high as 850 applications per admissions counselor.

These changes pose new challenges for the high school seniors preparing their college applications. Transcripts, grades, and test scores remain very important, and nothing can compensate for poor academic performance. But when there are hundreds of applicants with similar academic results like your own, how can you increase the chances that an admissions officer chooses your application among many? A college application essay may be the answer.

The importance of the application essay

According to the research that we conducted in 2017, an application essay plays an important role in the candidate assessment process. In general, there are three types of essay topics:

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • Tell us why you have chosen to apply to our college.
  • Write a creative essay.

Colleges ask for essays to evaluate students’ writing skills and his or her ability to formulate a logical argument, as well as to learn more about them. This task helps to assess the student’s overall fit with the college, along with understanding how a student can contribute to the college’s community and culture. Last but not least, colleges want to see how well a candidate can complete a major piece of work that assignments like writing an essay constitute.

When working on your essay, you have to make sure that it is well structured and written, factually true, and meets all the formal criteria that a college expects to be met. But an essay is also an opportunity to tell your personal story, engage your reader: the admissions officer. It helps to make you stand out in a crowd of applicants. Just imagine how many essays an admissions counselor has to read. Do not fall into the ‘dull’ category.

At myKlovr, we propose that you take four steps to be better prepared to tell your own story.

1. Discover what makes you special

College admissions officers are not looking for personal essays that are biographies or full of dates and places. They are in search of young people who will be successful in college and will make great contributions to the school.

We believe that everyone is special, but not everyone has discovered what it is that makes them special.

The research that we conducted among college counselors and admissions officers revealed 12 personal qualities that are associated with college success. Six of them, which we call interpersonal, are related to how we interact with other people (e.g. collaboration, empathy, leadership), and the other six, intrapersonal, describe traits in themselves (e.g. enthusiasm, critical thinking, perseverance). In the Personal part of the myKlovr Student Portfolio, you will find a short assessment where we invite you to reflect on which of these character features define you as a person. It is a great idea to ask others for their feedback. Remember that your parents, friends, and teachers may see you differently than what you think.

The objective of the assessment is to help you identify what makes you special and which personal qualities can constitute the main thread of your own story. Do not expect to max out on every personal quality. This is unrealistic and perhaps not very helpful when you want to tell a unique and compelling personal story.

2. Don’t tell, prove it

Admissions officers are skeptical by nature. They need to be great listeners but equally, they need to read between the lines and to separate ‘the wheat from the chaff’. They will expect you not only to tell them how great of a candidate you are, but to prove it and convince them of this.

How do you do that? With facts. Your myKlovr Student Portfolio has a few sections where you can capture your experiences, roles, achievements and recognition that you were awarded. These parts are there so that when you are writing your essay, you can look there for evidence that endorses your story. Claiming that you have great leadership skills is one thing, but explaining how you organized a group of fellow students to clean up your neighborhood’s  animal shelter after it was flooded is quite something else.

Sometimes, it is hard to remember these events when you need them. Details may be difficult to recall. This is why we encourage you to include all these events in your Student Portfolio. You will not need to use them all, but a well selected, relevant story can give your essay a lot of credibility and make it a more memorably engaging read for an admissions officer.

3. Engage through storytelling

Everybody has heard about the power of storytelling. Human beings pay more attention and better remember stories than data. In fact, our ancestors accumulated and passed knowledge on from generation to generation via stories; think only of the ancient Greek mythology or the Bible.

Once you have chosen what personal qualities will provide the backbone for your own story, and selected the facts and events to substantiate them, it is time to articulate your story. The ‘About Me’ part of your myKlovr Student Portfolio is there specifically to help you put together, practice, and elaborate your story. Start writing it early and come back to change and improve it as often as you want. Invite other people to read it and offer you their advice. If you do that early enough, you will be less nervous in your senior year.

We also encourage you to produce a personal video. All it takes is a script that you can write yourself, a smartphone (plus a tripod if you want to be really fancy), and a free YouTube account. Why would you produce a video? Just think about an admissions officer who is reading through a pile of essays. Wouldn’t it be a welcome change for them to check out an applicant’s video and see a real human face? Your video (must be under 2 minutes or otherwise few people will watch it) gives you an opportunity to connect with an admissions counselor, tell your story, convey your emotions, and ultimately be remembered.

4. Share your vision

Colleges look into their applicants’ pasts, but also assess their future students’ and graduates’ chances. Once a college admits you, they really want you to do well and graduate successfully. They care because a graduation rate. It is an important indicator that affects a school’s reputation.

Admissions officers would like to know what your vision of your future is so that they can assess if their college is the right place for you to achieve your goals. If you love animals and want to become a veterinarian, and they do not offer a relevant major, there would be high likelihood that you’d not be happy at their college and transfer to another one – something that colleges do not like.

In your myKlovr Student Portfolio, we have included a section entitled ‘Statement of Purpose’. We invite you to write about your future here. What do you want to achieve in life? How do you want to get there? What is a college of your dreams? What majors are you excited about? These reflections are important for two reasons. First, they will help you formulate your expectations, and secondly, you will be much better prepared to choose a college that is right for you. Moreover, you will be able to convincingly explain to an admissions officer why you are applying to their college and how you expect it to help you achieve your life’s destination.

Nobody can write your college application essay for you better than you will because an authentic and emotionally engaging essay has to come from a true source.

Juniors! Use Summer Break to Starting Writing Your College Essays

By Thomas Broderick

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

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

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

Why Not Wait?

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

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

Distractions Are at a Minimum

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

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

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

Review Your myKlovr Student Portfolio

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

Begin the Editing Process

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Reflecting On My Daughter’s Senior Year

By Kendell Shaffer

I wish the last two years with my daughter at home hadn’t been so hard. I wish she’d had more fun. In junior year, we were on her to get top grades. We knew it was an important year and didn’t want her to blow it. By senior year, she knew the routine and was hard on herself. Plus she had the added load of SATs, college applications and college essays. Although we spent a lot of time together through this process and touring schools, the majority of the time and talk was about college.

Now that she has been admitted and accepted, was this all worth it? Of course it was in a certain respect, but could it have been handled differently? I wonder how rigorous school work has to be. I just saw an article about Ivy League schools not being the only ticket to success. Does it really matter what school they go to in the end? Shouldn’t we be raising healthy well-balanced kids and not over-achievers? My children went to a Waldorf school for elementary and middle school. The philosophy there was to keep the children in childhood as long as possible. I always believed that philosophy and their motto: One Childhood, Live It Well.

Another thing I learned this year was not to trust the Net Price Calculators. This may be a situation in our family that is not reflective of everyone, however what happened with regarding financial aid was disappointing. Based on the FAFSA and our income, our estimated family contribution (EFC) was a manageable amount. And the same amount was reflected in the Net Price Calculators at most schools we applied to. However after the CSS profile was filtered in, the financial aid offered was not the same as anticipated from the Net Price Calculator.

When I look back on our year with what happened, my daughter working so hard, giving up many things to get into a top college and then us not being able to afford it, all those grownup factors coming into play, I wish I had been able to keep her in childhood just a little bit longer.

She has a younger brother and we are starting to think about some things differently. But even though he witnessed first hand his sister’s journey, he has already signed up for a rigorous course load next year and is taking on an additional special project as well as planning to be in the musical and play and on a sports team. Inherently these kids push themselves, I know that. I am proud that he wants to do so much. He still wants to tour some top colleges knowing we might not be able to afford them. But it’s his journey and all I can do is help guide him and support him.

So at the end of a very hard year I keep reflecting on the saying: One Childhood, Live It Well, and hope I can give my daughter one last summer of childhood before going off to college and hope she lives it well.

Start Planning Summer College Tours Now

By Thomas Broderick

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

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

If You’re a Freshman

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

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

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

  • Majors offered
  • Tuition
  • Housing

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

On Your Tour

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

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

If You’re a Sophomore

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

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

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

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

On the Tours 

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

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

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

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

If You’re a Junior

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

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

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

On the Tours

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

After a Tour

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

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

In short, become an active observer.

Final Thoughts

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

See you on campus!

SPOTLIGHT: Mary Beth Shares Her Daughter’s Journey Applying to Art School

By Kendell Shaffer

Mary Beth’s daughter Edie is a neighbor and classmate of my daughter.  I’ve watched Edie win countless awards and show her talents on stage as a performer, costumer, graphic designer and visual artist. 

Hi Marybeth, wondering at what point did Edie decide to apply to art school?

In tenth grade Edie was exposed to a lot of arts education outside of school and had access to admissions officers from various art schools. From there she kind of fell into the art school decision.

How many art schools did she apply to and how many of those did she tour? Did she consider being an art major at a liberal arts college or university?

She applied to four art schools and toured five. She had already done summer classes at CalArts and Otis College of Design. She applied to about a third art schools, a third universities and a third liberal arts colleges.

What’s the portfolio process like for art school?

In freshman year the art teacher at her high school told parents to hold on to all of our student’s art to start building the portfolio. Though colleges want to see recent work (second semester Junior year and more recent) it is informative to have past work to see progress as well as draw on past concepts, techniques and interests. 

Were the portfolio requirements the same for each school or did they vary?

Each college does have different portfolio requirements and seem to be indicative of the type of school they are. We attended a College Day offered through Ryman Arts when she was a sophomore. College reps held sessions about their schools. This program was very informative and helped us start to plan what schools would be a good fit for Edie and where we might want to visit. National Portfolio Day is an essential event to attend in junior year if you are considering art school. It is a big event where many art colleges send representatives to look at student portfolios. It isn’t really possible to see to more than a few school reps so going sophomore and junior year helps to get an understanding and make a plan for Spring of junior year or senior year. Some reps at the event may even be able to offer admission based on the quality of the portfolio. Others will critique the work and offer insights to strengthen work and presentation. For example one school was very structured and wanted more technical work – figure drawings and still lives, another school was less structured and was more interested in self guided projects and personal artistic endeavors.

How involved were you and your husband involved in the portfolio process?

My husband and I have art, photography and design backgrounds so we were able to support Edie. We gave her a little feedback on the work she included in her portfolio but she mostly did what she wanted according the advice that admissions officers gave her. We were able to help her with the photography of the work and creating the digital portfolio.

Did you consult an art school advisor? Or did you wish you had?

We did not consult an advisor, we talked directly with the schools at portfolio days, and shared the portfolio with school art teachers and friends who attended the schools she applied to. She had some friends using art school consultants and absorbed a lot of tips they received. Some of the college reps she met at National Portfolio Day stayed in touch and also offered feedback about her work. One college placed a lot of emphasis on presentation and flow of the portfolio. Her high school art teachers were very helpful in making the final choices for that portfolio.

If a student doesn’t have a lot of exposure to art or have opportunity to practice speaking about their art an advisor would be a good route. Also, portfolios are more than just the work! Students have to write about the work-describe their motivations, inspirations, techniques and more.   

How early did Edie start putting together a portfolio?

Most of the work she did for her final portfolio was done independently in late junior and early senior year. A lot of colleges she talked to wanted to see her most recent work and they asked that she didn’t include anything made before junior year. One college even remarked that they could tell class assignments from independent work and stressed how important work outside of class was for a student to show their thinking and individual style.

Has Edie made her final decision yet?

She ended up committing to a university with an film and arts program because she has so many interests in addition to art.

So it sounds like she didn’t want to be limited to art school in the end. Can you take other classes when at art school?

A lot of the art schools that she applied to had cross enrollment programs, for example students at the Maryland Institute College of Art have the option to take courses at Johns Hopkins, and Rhode Island School of a Design students could take classes at Brown but it can be a challenge to go to two different schools. Art schools have very distinct schedules that make it hard for students to cross enroll; RISD classes are six hours long and once a week whereas Brown classes are two hours long and three times a week. It’s difficult to make it all work so Edie decided that it would be better to go to one school with a good art program and similar course schedule than juggling two school’s schedules.

Any parting words?

Edie submitted work to competitions and art programs beginning freshman year. Attending the weekend classes at Ryman Arts and the summer program at CA State Summer School for the Arts gave her much more uninterrupted time to develop her skills. A few hours a week in the high school art class really aren’t enough time to explore media and develop the skills needed to produce a thoughtful body of work. Through these programs she also met a wide variety of professional artists and took trips to studios, museums and offices. All of this helps to develop the eye and builds an understanding for career options.

Competitions such as Scholastic Arts and Writing and YoungArts were good ways to see what work had traction. She didn’t win YoungArts the first year she applied but she gained a lot of skills and knowledge the next year and applied again and won. Awards from these organizations can provide opportunities for financial support and a future network of support.

I’d encourage people to pay attention to the curriculum and personality of each art school. There is a wide variety of approaches and emphases.

Thanks so much this was very helpful! And good luck to Edie!

What Does It Mean To Be Waitlisted?

By Kendell Shaffer

“If you are waiting on a waitlist decision, please make sure you accept to at least one school by May first.” These were the wise words given by an admissions director to a group of parents at an admitted students tour I attended last week. “I’d hate to see your student not have a school to go to in the Fall.” He’s worried that students count on getting off the waitlist when the odds are very slim that they will.

Is there a way to rise to the top of the wait list? Some parents say a letter to the admissions director or department head will show fresh demonstrated interest. Some schools might ask students to update their letter of intent. I’ve heard that some students on wait lists have been asked by the college to write additional essays. If your student has not received any of these assignments, don’t panic. Just call the admissions office and they will explain their process.

I called the admissions office to the school my daughter was waitlisted to and waited about six minutes on hold then spoke to an admissions director. He told me the waitlist would open up on May 1 after all the other students had accepted. He said they’d start pulling students off the waitlist based on their major. If the History department had three openings, three history students would get those spots. He also told me we’d find out by May 15. That was a relief to know we wouldn’t have to wait all summer. I understand some schools will hold waitlists as late as July.

Waitlists can give a student hope but the realities of getting off the waitlist are daunting. Sometimes a waitlist reply can be a badge of honor. My husband likes to tell that he was waitlisted at Harvard. Our kids are both impressed and empathetic. How different would his life had been if he’d gone to Harvard? Who knows. But it’s a fun conversation around the dinner table, especially right now. So think of the waitlist as a badge of honor and make sure your student enrolls someplace by May 1.

Is There a Silver Bullet to College Admissions?

By Thomas Broderick

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

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

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

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

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

Diversity Matters

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

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

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

Preserving Through Hardship

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

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

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

Above All, What Makes You Unique?

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

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

What can cause such a reaction?

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

Who is this applicant?

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

 

Admitted Student Tours – Do You Attend These and How Many Can You Squeeze Into One Week?

By Kendell Shaffer

I just came back from two Admitted Student Tours with my daughter and plan on going to a third next weekend. I have to admit while attending Prospective Student Tours on the East Coast last year, I never imagined we’d be spending this Spring break touring schools on the opposite coast.

Admitted Student Tours differ from Prospective Student Tours in that the admitted students are greeted with congratulations, SWAG, food and balloons. Many students have had multiple offers from colleges and universities and now it’s the time to decide on one. The schools use these tours to sell their school to the student and parents. It’s time to close the deal.

The tours are a good chance for students to meet peers who have been accepted and it’s a good time for parents to ask detailed questions, like a big one for both the schools we just saw: Is housing guaranteed for all four years? No in both cases. Only one year for one school and two for the others. A big reality if the student is far from home.

It’s a chance to ask specific questions about majors and even meet with professors. It’s a time to see the dorms and sample the cafeteria food. And it’s  time to really understand how far away home is.

When I think back to the ten schools in twelve days in four states I visited with my daughter on the East coast last Spring break, I realize of those ten she only wound up applying to two. And of all the schools she was accepted into, she had only visited one of them. The others she had learned about from brochures or meeting with campus reps who visited her high school.

In the end, my daughter may end up in a school in a state we’ve never been to. This is the school who offered her the biggest scholarship and who have the most interesting opportunities for her major. A year ago I never would have predicted she’d end up there. Nor could she. She had her heart set on a big city school in NY. But in the end, she wound up not even applying there. Instead she may be at the opposite side of the country at a small school in the mountains.

There truly is no road map for this journey. But I have enjoyed it none the less. It’s been amazing spending so much time with my daughter. And I am grateful to her for taking me along on this adventure with her.

Negotiating for Financial Aid. Does it Work to Call the FA Office?

By Kendell Shaffer

I woke up this morning in a cold sweat. I’d just had a nightmare about calling the financial aid office of my daughter’s top school. In reality, I have not made the call yet. But I plan to and I am strategizing just how to do that.

In talking to other parents who have gone through this before me, I’ve learned the following tips: When dealing with financial aid officers, etiquette applies. Always be polite.  Always express your excitement that your student was accepted to their school. Always thank the school for the aid they have already offered.

Introduce comparative offers. Ask if the school could consider matching the offers. If there are no other offers to compare to, then ask if they can offer more aid which might entail explaining your financial situation.

Other advise I have received is to have your child write and call the financial aid office first. If the desire for more aid comes from the student, the school sees the student’s commitment. The parent should also call and email the financial aid office too because most likely the financial aid is based on the parents income and tax return which might need explanation.

Sometimes it’s necessary to have your child’s college counselor email or call on your child’s behalf. You might need as many advocates as possible if a lot of need is required.

The biggest tip I’ve learned is being to leverage offers. In other words, if your child received $5,000 in aid from their first choice school and $25,000 aid from their second choice school, the idea is to call the first choice school and tell them that your child very much wants to attend their college, that it’s the first choice, but they have received a better offer from another school. Then ask if the first school can match that offer. In some cases they may ask you to forward the other offer to them. They may match the offer or up their offer or just leave their offer untouched.

It’s hard enough to get through the application process and the emotion of offers coming in or being denied, but throwing the financial aid into the mix for me is the hardest part.

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

By Thomas Broderick

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Important Are My SAT/ACT Scores?

By Thomas Broderick

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

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

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

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

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

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

So How Important Are We Talking About?

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

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

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

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

What if They’re Optional?

Submit them anyway. Everything helps. 🙂

What if My Dream College Doesn’t Require Them?

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

  • Course placement
  • Scholarships

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Spring Has Arrived and So Have SAT Scores

By Kendell Shaffer

Traditionally the PSAT is taken in the Fall of tenth grade. Some students begin studying for it the summer before. Methods of study can be in the form of a PSAT practice book, online course, private tutor or an in person course.

Merit scholarships are offered for students scoring in the top one percent of the PSAT. The PSAT is a good indicator of how your child will do on the SAT. Some statistics say that SAT scores will rise at average 139 points from PSAT scores.

More and more colleges are putting less weight on SAT scores. SAT’s are not always the best indicator of the student’s ability and more and more colleges are becoming test optional. On the other hand, larger universities might rule out students with lower SAT scores. Each college or university will tell you what the average SAT score is for the students they accept. Lewis and Clark College has a Test Optional component where you send in additional writing samples and letters of recommendation instead of test scores if you are not a good test taker

If your child is leaning towards SATs it’s probably best to have them take the SAT at least twice. The first time they might have been nervous and just getting used to the test taking environment. Do you press them to take the test a third time? There are different approaches to this. One parent I talked to told me their child needed ten more points on his SAT in order to qualify for his dream school in Scotland, so that student has a huge motivation to retake the SAT for a third time.

My son is not a great test taker but he is a great student. He’s planning to take mostly honors classes next year as a junior and we have just had the conversation about SAT prep. As a family we decided that he would be better off not spending lots of time on SAT prep, instead spend that time on getting his GPA as high as he can. He will then focus on applying to test optional colleges.

Studying for the SAT is almost like taking on an additional class that requires daily homework and most importantly self motivation. There is only so much time in the day for eleventh graders. I’d say, pick and choose what is going to show you off the best. Can you add the rigor of SAT prep and not give up the school musical or sports team? If you can, then great, if it’s too much, then something has to give.

Sophomore year is a great time to research colleges and see how much weight they put on SAT’s. And then guide your child in the direction that suits them the best. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in this country and not all require high SAT scores.

SAT or ACT? Which One Should I Take?

By Thomas Broderick

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s the difference?

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

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

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

Let’s get to the more important question:

Which one should I take?

In short, it all depends on your preference.  

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

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

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

End of story.

Do I Need to Take Both?

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

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

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

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

How to Distinguish Yourself to Your Dream College

By Thomas Broderick

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.

There’s a Cowboy College? Rope Me In!

By Kendell Shaffer

Vanity Fair recently wrote a piece about Deep Springs College, but I had heard about this school years ago. Deep Springs is a small two-year college that takes only thirteen boys a year and guides them through an intellectual and physical journey. It’s tuition free and the students pay for their room and board by working on a cattle ranch. They are taught by professors from Yale and Berkely and most often transfer to an Ivy League university for their junior and senior years. And only the students who score within the top one percent on the SAT’s will get in.

Elite cowboy training. So what’s the point?

Founder, Lucien Lucius Nunn in 1923 said, “The desert has a deep personality; it has a voice. Great leaders in all ages have sought the desert and heard its voice. You can hear it if you listen, but you cannot hear it while in the midst of uproar and strife for material things.”

Deep Springs trains leaders and thinkers. According to Vanity Fair, some include, “ambassador to the United Nations William J. vanden Heuvel; famed CBS newsman Charles Collingwood; Virginia congressman Jim Olin; top internet entrepreneurs and edgy novelists William Vollmann and Peter Rock.”

The combination of nature and academics rings true to some of the values of a Waldorf education. My kids went to Waldorf schools, so Deep Springs resonated with me. With so much technology in these kids’ lives, working with their hands on the land seems more important than ever. Teens being constantly plugged in, the days of day dreaming are over.

To spend two years in the dessert unplugged with blue horizons to read and think and wonder could be the best thing for our kids. So how come there aren’t more schools like Deep Springs out there?

With some digging I found College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. A small college of 350 students with an emphasis on human-ecology which is, “the investigation of the relations between humans and their environments.”

Here’s a list of the Best Outdoor Schools in America. Although none of them except, College of the Atlantic, come close to Deep Creek.

I know Deep Springs will not be on my son’s college list, but it does make me think that perhaps he should look elsewhere besides a city school. I’m wondering if there might be summer programs that can supply him with a similar experience. If nothing else, it has inspired me to take my kids on a long hike in the hills this afternoon. We’ll unplug for awhile and talk about ideas. And maybe I’ll hint at a college not surrounded by skyscrapers.

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

By Thomas Broderick

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!

Applying to an Arts College? Start Prepping Your Portfolio and Resume Now

By Kendell Shaffer


On top of SAT’s, Common App essays, FAFSA reports — get ready for portfolio submissions and auditions if you plan on applying to an arts college or university program.

For performance based colleges you’ll send in a resume and audition recording with your application.  Your recording and resume are scrutinized and then you are either accepted, rejected or invited to attend an in-person audition. The performing arts colleges and universities all work together at this point and, starting early February, will set up auditions in several major cities in the US for scheduled auditions. Just this week, a friend from London is flying to Chicago where she will audition in-person for five of the top musical theater schools. She could have auditioned in Los Angeles or NYC, but Chicago worked out better for her schedule. So on top of the application fee, she needs to factor in costs for travel, hotels and taking time off school.

So how do you prepare for something like this? My tenth grade son is interested in applying to acting programs so he’s paying attention. He already understands that he’ll need to take Drama all four years of high school, perform in the fall play and spring musical each year and start applying for summer acting programs. So we have been researching those. Most of the summer programs require that you send in a monologue audition. Even if he doesn’t wind up going to one of these summer programs, practicing and recording the monologue seems important so that by the time he applies to college, he will have had experience .

My daughter’s friends who are applying to visual arts programs don’t have it any easier. Since ninth grade they have applied to summer arts programs and visual arts competitions. There are so many competitions out there, these kids seem to be collecting awards like crazy. I’ve also seen them apply for arts based internships which are highly selective and competitive. They work hard on their portfolios, often doing special projects outside of school. Some have even hired portfolio consultants to guide them through the portfolio process. The arts schools are just as competitive as the Ivy Leagues and sometimes professional consultants are useful.

One organization has come to my attention recently, YoungArts, which has a highly selective audition process finding the most talented high school students ages 15-18 in visual and performing arts. Starting in ninth grade your student can apply and if selected has a chance to work with remarkable mentors like, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Plácido Domingo. YoungArts offers college scholarship money as well as awarding Presidential Scholars each year. I was fortunate to meet one of these scholars who, at 18, sang, At Last, at the Kennedy Center in front of President Obama.

If your student is interested in this path, even slightly interested, take it seriously and prepare for the work. My son is already rehearsing his monologue for several summer programs. And the deadlines for those programs are at the end of this month.

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