Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Making a Splash This Summer: Student Edition

What are your expectations for the summer? Maybe you want to hang with friends, go to the beach or lake, or have guiltless, late night iChats. Perhaps you are exhausted from school and want to do absolutely nothing.
True, everyone needs a break. But after a while, doing nothing gets old. Here’s what you can get done this summer . . .

Application Materials and Supporting Information. You may have some friends who intend to get their applications done before Labor Day; you might even be one of them. That is a very commendable objective, but be sure to note the following change: the Common Application site won’t go live until August 1, 2010. Nevertheless, there are very manageable activities that will go a long way toward beating deadlines. For starters, take a look at the Common Application preview page. You’ll quickly get an idea of what information is required, and you can start charting your hours, activities and achievements. You can read the questions under Personal Essay and brainstorm what you’ll write about. Go to a favorite summer spot and get creative! You’ll also need a carefully constructed resume (often referred to as the “brag sheet”) which allows counselors, admissions officers and recruiters to quickly see what you’re all about. (You may need a separate one for athletics.) Get yours drafted and formatted now to save time in the fall! There may be a template on your website. If you can’t find one, use the Common App chart as your guide.

College Visits. If you’re a rising junior or senior, summer is a good time to walk the campus, although it may lack the complete look and feel of a regular semester. Nevertheless it’s a good time to take a tour and attend an information session to get a sense of whether or not the school might be a place you could call home. In the information sessions, you’ll also hear firsthand how admissions officers assess applicants. Make sure you or a parent takes notes. While the visit is still fresh in your mind, prepare a chart matching your strengths with the characteristics of a target school.

If time permits, try to find an attraction in or near the area of your visit. It can be a water park, scenic overlook, factory tour or quaint downtown. This is a sure-fire way to involve siblings and take the focus away from college for a while.

. Attention! Your fall semester counts every bit as much as your junior year. For your fall classes, there is liable to be some reading. Keep a graphic organizer for any assigned novels, charting key characters, tone and theme, quotes and important page numbers. It might save you in September! What if you’re signed up for some challenging courses? Invest in a quality review book and reading though it. REA publishes some of the best prep books around. They will introduce important issues and serve as an invaluable reference source during the school year.

Other Ideas. Still worried about being bored? Not sure what schools are right for you? Here are some additional ideas:
• Take a personality test and see how your strengths align with an array of career choices. Start with the free typology test on Human Metrics. Alternatively, use the Myers-Briggs site to find career path associated with their respective types. To select a matching major, check with the College Board. Next, use the site to find matching colleges.
• Try an online course to supplement your schoolwork or enrich your background. Maximize those hours in front of the screen.
• Start a blog on the subject of your choice (provided it’s appropriate for all audiences). Blogging is a phenomenal way to structure your thoughts and practice those writing skills. Some people use blogging to turn a hobby into cash – a highly sought commodity among teens and college students.
• Volunteer at a camp, summer school program or community group.
• Do the (dreaded) standardized test practice if you need to.
• Use the Internet productively. Try looking at Unigo to get a student's perspective on colleges and universities.

True, the Summer of 2010 may not be the most exciting summer you’ve had. But considering your schedule for the fall, a summer well spent may prevent fall burnout. You will be pleased with yourself, and your parents, siblings and counselor will thank you!

Making a Splash This Summer: Parent Edition

Many of us associate summer with a carefree childhood. Others think back fondly on summer positions such as camp counselor or cashier. If your son or daughter is a rising junior or senior, you know that summers aren’t as easy as they used to be. You’re likely asking yourself some important questions about the summer of 2010: Is it too late to enroll my son or daughter in a summer program? Should I restrict privileges so he works on his college essay? Will it “look bad” if she works at a minimum-wage job? How much of a tyrant do I need to be to make sure my child focuses on college? Here are some reflections and suggestions . . .

Enrolling in Summer Programs. Many colleges and universities offer summer programs, but are they worth it? Summer programs taught on-site at so many colleges and universities can be quite costly. They play to students’ emotions with comments like, “Can you make it in the Ivy League?”
College admissions officers tell us that students should not have an unfair advantage because their families can afford a fancy summer program, especially one at an elite university. Moreover, it’s nearly June. We’re still in a recession. So don’t try to force-fit a program. If you can’t find the right one, you’re better off filing away the idea for next summer or for a sibling and instead have your student focus on other activities. If your child wants to supplement his or her learning, however, don’t overlook online programs from a credible institutions. Sometimes lower cost options are the best.
(That didn’t deter me from planning four busy summers for my own son, each one more demanding than the previous. I really think my son learned more about taking responsibility, such as commuting, than he did about product design and architecture.)

Starting College Applications. If you had intended to force your senior to work on his Common App, be warned that the site won’t go live until August 1, 2010 – one month later than last year. That doesn’t mean your son or daughter is off the hook, however. The Common App has posted a preview of the 2010-2011 application on its website. Encourage your rising senior to read this preview and brainstorm ideas for the Personal Essay. Consider a reward (iTunes gift card? A free pass on household chores?) for drafting the essay before school starts. If your child’s high school counselor has posted models for athletic and academic resumes (also known as “brag sheets”), ask your son or daughter to complete them and offer to proofread.

Remember, application process is not yours. Don’t make the mistake of writing your senior’s essay. Last summer, I gave my son a deadline: Labor Day. He submitted his last few applications on December 30, but when he did they were his essays in his voice (based on some guidance from Mom).

Taking Stress-free College Trips. Not all campuses are in full swing during the summer months. However, the summer might be the only time you have to visit colleges. Of course, you’re bound to have less stress associated with this activity if your son or daughter is a rising sophomore or junior rather than a senior, since you’re still primarily shopping around and eliminating choices.
Consider integrating some summer fun along with the trip. Stop and see a local attraction, explore a downtown, or see a historic site. One summer, my son followed a visit to a school in Vermont with a trip to the Ben & Jerry’s factory! Depending on family dynamics, you’ll know which to schedule first: the college or the area attraction.**

For those who absolutely cannot get away, check out CampusTours, Inc.,, which showcases the power of the Internet by bringing select campuses to your laptop. Look for CampusTours to make its mark in the not-so-distant future!

**Warning: Everyone who has gone through the college process can tell you: there is guaranteed to be one time the student will not get out of the car! During the spring of 2009, my son and I spent a delightful day at my alma mater in New England. While we were on our way home, I signaled and took a right off the Interstate. My son figured I had to make a rest stop. Then it dawned on him: I was driving toward another school – a school that wasn’t one of his choices! We got there and drove through the campus. He wouldn’t get out.

Using the Time Productively. If your household is like many others, there may be school year restrictions on Internet or television that are lifted during the summer. That doesn’t mean you should stop keeping watch over your child’s activities. If your son or daughter isn’t successful at finding a job in the tough economy, perhaps he or she can learn website design or polish other software skills. A blog is another possibility. There are bound to be volunteer activities in the community. Students can be very enterprising when motivated.

Enjoy the summer. The fall semester isn't far away!

Monday, May 3, 2010

May I Have Your Attention?

Who doesn’t want your attention this month? Prospective colleges, parents, teachers, classmates, teammates, study partners, girlfriends and boyfriends all seem to want you at your best. Yes, it is a lot of pressure. But as I often tell my students, you will survive! In fact, you can thrive. Here’s how:

If you’re a sophomore . . . You want to build momentum to soar in your junior year! Don’t hesitate to meet with your teachers to be sure you’re on track for a strong finish. During your study time, try to anticipate the questions on your finals. Be diligent about any research papers. Go for the big score! Also, consider taking SAT Subject Tests such as Math Level 1 or the science in which you are currently enrolled: biology, chemistry or physics. The best results on these tests come while the course material is fresh in your mind, and that’s now rather than your junior year. (Be sure to check in with the appropriate teacher first to make sure the curriculum he or she teaches is consistent with the material on the College Board Subject Test.)

If you’re a junior . . . This is the time to perform in the clutch. If you have AP tests, be prepared. Look on the College Board site for some excellent practice questions; they have all subjects! Get quality review books. REA is a wonderful publishing company with titles such as AP US History: Are You Serious About Getting a 5? and AP U.S. Government and Politics Crash Course. AP students report that REA publications are indeed worthwhile investments. Remember this: colleges will examine not only your grades but also your AP scores. Go for that 4 or 5 to eclipse any disappointing report card grades. A score of 4 or more is usually good for placement credit.

Plan to take SAT Subject Tests in June. Many colleges are looking increasingly at your performance on these tests rather than traditional “aptitude tests” like the SAT. NYU, for example, has just announced changes to its standardized test requirements. Whereas past applicants had to submit the SAT or ACT along with Subject Tests, in 2010-2011, they can opt to submit three SAT Subject Tests or three AP Tests instead of the SAT or ACT. For more details, check NYU’s admission site.

If you’re a senior . . . The party isn’t necessarily over! Finish your courses on an up note. Go for 4s and 5s on your APs. If you’re taking finals, end with As and Bs. Remember, colleges have every right to see your grades through the end of the year. Moreover, you may be on a wait list now or you may decide to transfer at some point. That means you want to have a transcript that shows no signs of slacking off. Also, remember to show exemplary behavior and keep your Facebook page respectable!

June will be here soon!


Question of the Day

A parent asks you to stop by the bookstore and pick up a book on college admissions. There are so many on the shelves. How do you decide which to buy? What aspects of college do you feel a good book should cover? Send your feedback to and become eligible for a complimentary consult on the essay of your choice.