tips

How to Obtain the Best College Recommendation Letters

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

Your teachers’ recommendation letters.

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

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

Why Recommendation Letters Matter

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

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

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

Step #1: Choose Your Teachers Wisely

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

Here’s some all-around good advice:

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

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

Step #2: Include an Information Packet

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

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

Step #2.5: Give Them Plenty of Time

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

Step #3: Be Grateful

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

What Questions Should I Ask During A College Visit?

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

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

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

Do Prep Work in Advance

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

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

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

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

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

During the Tour

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

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

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

 It’s Okay to Email Questions After Your Tour

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

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

Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

4 Tips to Help You Choose Your Major

Choosing a major in college can be a daunting task that many think will determine the rest of their life and their future career path. Colleges often require students to state what their intended major is before even attending causing huge amounts of pressure on High School students to know what they want to major in before they even attend their first class is immense.

How can someone choose to major in something they’ve never experienced, never even taken as a class before? It’s not surprising that many of my college friends told me they realized the major they thought they wanted to pursue was something that they did not end up even majoring or minoring in!

I have been fortunate to be supported by a variety of people in choosing my major, and I have four tips on how to best take advantage of the resources around you to minimize stress and maximize satisfaction in making this decision. As a rising Sophomore in college, I am able to relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed by this daunting task, but through my tips I was able to feel more secure with my choice.

 

1. Take a variety of classes

In college, you have the opportunity to take a variety of courses, both in your interests and outside of them. This allows you to explore your current interests and discover new ones as well. My freshman year I took a psychology class and fell in love with the topics we covered. Now, I want to double major in psychology and anthropology a new interest and an existing one. Also, don’t wait until your senior year to try new courses. I have talked with seniors who regretted waiting until the last minute to step out of their comfort zones, because they found they were really good at and enjoyed the new subject.

 

2. Use your summer

For some, summer is a much needed break from the busy school year where one can relax. However, summer should also be seen time that can be taken advantage of. The few months are the perfect opportunity to find internships, take classes online, or even take classes at another college or university. Finding a job will grant you experience in the workplace and also add a boost to your resume, and you may realize working is actually a lot different than you imagined. It can help you begin forming an idea of what type of jobs suit you. Taking classes can grant you the opportunity to find new interests in different subject matter.

 

3. Take advantage of your friends and family

Because choosing a major can be so stressful, we often face this decision alone when we don’t have to. In fact, family and friends may be the key to making the right decision for you. You may realize that someone close to you struggled with the same decision, or majored in something you are considering. They may also have advice of their own which can help lead you in the right direction.

 

4. Use your College’s Career Office

Once you’re on campus, there are so many resources all around you that are there to help you! I know as a freshman I was intimidated by the career counseling office because I thought I was too young and inexperienced to use it. However, setting up a meeting with the faculty there, was one of the best decisions I had made. You should also look for support in your professors and advisors, as they are there to help you learn and develop your skills and interests.

 

In the end, as important as choosing a major can be, it is not going to trap you on a path to one particular career. I know lawyers who studied art history, and businessmen that studied linguistics. Though your major should be a decision you put thought into, your life will also not be determined by exactly what major or minor you choose. So have fun exploring your interests!

5 Must-Read Back to School Tips for Parents

Though it may seem like the kids just got out of school, it is never too early to start prepping for the back to school season. With school starting next month for some, it is smart to get ahead of the game, but where do you start?

 

1. First things first, start with their basic backpack needs

The best place to start when it comes to back to school shopping is the traditional school supplies. Think about what your child is going to need in the classroom, or at school on a daily basis. Always stock up on extra paper, pencils, folders, binders, and notebooks. Even if they don’t end up using the supplies this time around, you will have them ready for next year.

One basic item that always comes up as a surprise expense is a graphing calculator. If your kid is in middle or high school, they will most likely need one of these for their math courses. It is important to invest in one that will last several years to prevent having to purchase a new one every year. You can’t go wrong with ordering one online to avoid scrambling once classes are back in session.

Outside of the backpack, a locker is a student’s safe space meant to store whatever they need with easy access. The best way to keep everything in the locker in order is purchasing some locker organization kits, with magnet organizers, shelves and supply drawers. These tools allow for optimized storage space and an eased state-of-mind.

With the unexpected accidents that we all periodically encounter, it can’t hurt to leave the locker stocked with some precautionary items such as a spare change of clothes, deodorant, mouthwash, extra pencils, and a few dollars in the event they forgot to pack a lunch.

 

2. When it comes to lunches and snacks, don’t make things too difficult for yourself

It’s always been best to eat natural and stay healthy, but nowadays, it’s also trendy. From Kombucha Drinks to acai bowls, kids these days love posting pictures on Instagram of their healthy, colorful foods. Keep it simple and always have fruit and vegetables ready to serve. Hummus and peanut butter go well with different crackers or some vegetables. For example, you can always pack the traditional “ants on a log” (celery and peanut butter with raisins). Don’t go crazy trying to prepare anything too fancy or exotic, unless you have the time, in which case, go for it.

As far as packing these healthy lunches goes, consider investing in an insulated lunch box to ensure a fresh meal. Some schools don’t serve lunch until four or five hours after the students arrive, so you want to make sure their food isn’t too warm, soggy, or stale.

 

3. A good sense of style goes a long way

Your student’s daily cuisine isn’t the only thing you’ll want to keep fresh this back to school season. A good sense of style goes a long way in school. The first week of school is crucial when it comes to showcasing your fashion sense and making excellent first impressions, but you may not know what’s in and trending. It never hurts to take a look at Teen Vogue every once in a while.

If you haven’t noticed, comfortable and athletic wear is what’s trending, which is perfect for long school days. You can’t go wrong with buying a comfortable pair of shoes and some track pants for the school day.

While athletic wear is currently in style, it is important to note that dressing for success does, in fact, help increase productivity. According to Brain Fodder, when a person wears a suit or formal wear, there is a psychological response that makes them feel more powerful than usual. Perhaps once a week, your child can have a day where they dress nicer to boost their self-esteem and improve the quality of their work.

Shopping for clothes can also be very expensive, which is why shopping smart and being aware of the deals around you is key to a successful back to school season. During the summer and early fall, winter clothes are marked down and on sale. They are the same quality as what’s sold in the fall and winter, but with the demand on them being lower, retailers are forced to lower the sale price. For parents shopping, it would be beneficial to take advantage of these deals and shop in advance for the coming winter months.

 

4. Start planning for your child’s post-secondary future

Planning for the future, whether it is shopping for clothes or setting up a savings account, is the best way to build security for yourself and your family. That is why this back to school season you should consider planning for your child’s post-secondary future. While most public schools have an on-site counselor, on average there are 482 students per college counselor, which results in a lack of guidance for the majority of students. Not everyone has the means or resources to hire a private college counselor, which can end up costing parents thousands of dollars.

This is why myKlovr, the world’s first digital college counselor, is an investment you should be willing to make. The platform is powered by artificial intelligence and has several features that will prove to be useful in helping you achieve their academic goals including an extremely customizable college finder, a GPA calculator for every grading scale, a personalized student dashboard and a linked parent account to help hold the child accountable and provide mentorship.

Outside of myKlovr, there are several other tech products in the realm of back to school shopping that any student must have. While laptops and tablets are often not required in school, they do help students to stay organized and keep track of their assignments with ease. If you do end up buying one of these, they can be pretty expensive and you want to make sure they last.

Getting a protective case for your phone and laptop is a wise choice and will provide some insurance of your electronic devices’ safety. With these new devices, you can’t go wrong with purchasing a good pair of headphones. Listening to music is very popular amongst youth and is also important when it comes to helping to relieve stress with the day-to-day challenges kids face in school.

 

5. Invest in products and services that help alleviate their stress

Let’s face it, school isn’t as easy as it once was. With the technology emerging at a rapid pace, excessive news coverage of political topics and national tragedies, the ongoing pressure of maintaining a social presence on the internet, constant contact with their social network, and many other factors, being an adolescent has never entailed so much baggage.

That’s why investing in products and services that help alleviate stress is vital for this back to school season. Listening to music is one way to eliminate some stress, but there are other items you can buy to help reduce the amount of stress your child endures. Organizational tools like a planner or purposed storage always help to declutter. Lotions, candles and bath products with scents like lavender and vanilla are also found to be beneficial in relaxing many people. Don’t hesitate to provide your kid with tools allowing them to relax because it can prove to make them more productive in the rest of their lives.

Encourage your child to exercise more often by buying a gym membership or a pair of running shoes. We all know that exercising is good for your physical health, but according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), it also can help to greatly reduce stress levels. Acknowledging your child’s stress and anxiety and taking preventative action is important for the well-being of your child.

The most important part of the back to school process is to allow yourself time to make your list and get all of the shopping done. It is never a good idea to leave it all for the last minute. So start talking with your child now and get a head start on your back to school shopping.

10 Tips for Starting the School Year on the Right Foot

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

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

 

1. Join a Club or Sport

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

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

 

2. Get a Tutor

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

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

 

3. Use a Planner

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

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

 

4. Get to School Early

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

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

 

5. Get to Sleep Early

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

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

 

6. Take Stock of Your Interests

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

 

7. Set One (Reasonable) Goal for the Year

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

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

Unreasonable Goal

Reasonable Goal

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

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

 

8. When Doing Homework, Go from Easy to Hard

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

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

It’s as simple as that.

 

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

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

 

10. Have Some Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Thoughts

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

See you in September!

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