Monday, April 20, 2009

Don't wait until Fall to think about College Admissions!

Though the college admissions game might feel like a "fall sport," there's plenty of training you can do in the "pre-season" to get ready to hit the ground running.

Here are just a few key tasks that high school juniors should start working on right now to keep from falling behind and facing an overwhelming first half of senior year.

You should be...
  • Researching schools that are a “good fit” with your academic record, interests & goals
  • Attending local & national college fairs
  • Visiting campuses of interest & meeting with admissions officers
  • Developing relationships with high school teachers who can later be asked to write letters of recommendation
  • Thinking about your essays. Although the "official" essay questions will not be released until the applications become available in August or September, many essays for many colleges assume one of just a few formats. Begin brainstorming and drafting ideas for responding to prompts in the general realm of...
    • Your most meaningful activity or experience
    • How you overcame a difficult problem or challenge
    • Why you are the "best match" for a particular university (with lots of juicy specifics like course titles, program names, professors you want to work with, orgs you plan to join, etc.)
I can teach you tools and strategies for meeting all of these important objectives and more. Plus, summer is a great time to work on these tasks because your commitments and schedule are probably lighter during the summer than during the school year.

For help with the college admissions process, please visit my website:

Note: Suggestions for summer essay prep are excerpted from p. 164-165 of Elizabeth Wissner-Gross's awesome book, What Colleges Don't Tell You.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

National College Fair in Los Angeles!

The 2009 Greater Los Angeles National College Fair will be held at the Pasadena Convention Center on Monday, April 20th and Tuesday, April 21st.

A National College Fair presents a wonderful opportunity to learn about many schools at once. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of attending:
  • Before the fair, check out the list of schools that will be participating. Decide which booths you want to be sure to visit.
  • Print out adhesive labels with your name, contact information, and graduation year to stick on information cards and mailing lists at the fair.
  • Bring your questions, plus a pen and small notebook to jot down the answers you obtain.
  • At the fair, when you visit a school of interest, be sure to put yourself on the mailing list. Introduce yourself to the college rep at the booth, ask questions, and politely request a business card.
  • Save some time at the end to browse other booths. You may discover a wonderful school you had not previously considered!
  • Look for RED CURTAINS to find the COUNSELING CENTER. Here, you'll find local high school counselors who can talk with you about the college search process and make suggestions about which schools to visit, based on your interests and intended major.
  • Look for YELLOW CURTAINS to find the RESOURCE CENTER. Here, you'll find financial aid representatives who can talk with you about scholarships and financial aid.

For more details about the 2009 Greater Los Angeles National College Fair, visit:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Before you write, WRITE!

One of the most important steps in the writing process is also one of the most overlooked. I'm talking about PREWRITING, people.

Before committing yourself to sentences and paragraphs, get into the habit of simply playing with ideas for approaching your assignment. Prewriting allows you to generate content, develop ways to assert authorship (the expression of your own unique intellectual contributions!), and think about your assignment at a global, "big-picture" level.

A few ways to play:

Create an unstructured list of ideas that come to mind as you think about your assignment. Just brainstorm. Let one idea lead to another. Jot down all your ideas, even those that seem half-baked or disorganized.

Sometimes just chatting is a great way to get your ideas flowing. Talk about your assignment with someone who is willing to listen attentively, ask questions, and be encouraging. Talk to colleagues, friends, advisors, professors, etc., to get comfortable with the practice of thinking through your ideas out loud. After a good conversation, be sure to take a few minutes to write down the great ideas it yielded!

Flip through key texts to get ideas for approaching your assignment. Do these texts contain problems, controversies, or unsolved puzzles that would be interesting to address? Closely review a portion of the text that you found particularly compelling, confusing, or complex. Consider the arguments in the text: how are they supported? Do you find the evidence convincing? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments? What counter arguments can you pose?

For five or ten minutes, simply write anything and everything you can think of in connection with an assignment. Anything goes. Just keep writing! After you’ve written for the allotted amount of time, go back through your writing with a highlighter or color pen/pencil and underline the best and/or most interesting ideas you generated.

Also known as webbing or mapping, clustering can help you move from a general idea to a nascent structure for your paper. Put the main idea in the middle of a piece of paper. Draw lines out from the center to possible subheadings. Draw lines out from those subheading notes out to subheadings at the next possible level.

Adapted from Hendengren, Beth Finch. 2004. A TA's Guide to Teaching Writing in All Disciplines. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's. pp. 29-32.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How to Appeal a Rejection

It’s a bummer to get rejected from a college you were excited to attend, but it happens to even the best candidates. Really. So don’t be too hard on yourself.

You might consider appealing the rejection. Appeals are rarely successful, but if you feel strongly that a school should give you a second look, here are the steps to take.
  • Contact the school’s Admissions Office. You, the student, should be the one to place this call. Do not have parents, teachers, or advisors call on your behalf. The school will want to hear from you personally. Your initiative demonstrates your continued interest in the school.
  • Contact the school as soon as you receive the rejection notification, as some schools have deadlines for appeals as early as April 15th.
  • When you call the Admissions Office, calmly and politely express your continued interest in the school without whining, complaining, or being overly emotional about the rejection.
  • Verify that the school received all of your materials—make sure you weren’t rejected due to administrative errors or missing information! Say something like: “Was there anything missing in my folder? Did you receive all the information I sent?” Then list the materials you sent.
  • Request detailed instructions for the school’s appeals process. Follow those instructions exactly. The process typically includes some paperwork and follow-up phone calls, a letter from you, up to three letters of support (e.g., from teachers), and any additional information that would help your cause.
Your appeal will have the best chance of success if you can bring compelling new information to light about why you should be accepted. In your appeal, describe…
  • New achievements (perhaps you took the SAT again and earned a higher score, maybe you just won a major competition)
  • Any personal hardships or extenuating circumstances of which the school was not previously aware
  • Connections you have made with faculty; more concrete information about how that school’s programs and resources are a good fit for your academic strengths and goals.
Even if your repeal is unsuccessful, take the following good advice from The College Board’s website to heart: Consider the upside of a rejection letter. Sometimes it is easier to make a decision if your choices are narrowed down. If you had been accepted all of your wish-list schools, you would be facing a difficult decision. Secondly, if you were accepted to all of your schools, perhaps you would always wonder, “Should I have aimed higher?”

There are many schools out there that can meet your needs and make you happy. Though it might feel pretty crummy right now, a rejection is not the end of the world.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Wish colleges could see only your best SAT scores? That wish just came true…

The College Board has recently decided to allow students to choose which SAT scores to send to colleges. This option, called Score Choice, became available in March 2009. Under the old rules, if a student reported SAT scores to a given college, all of his or her scores went. For better or for worse, this has recently changed.

As of March 2009...

…Students may choose which scores to report by test date for the SAT and by individual test for the SAT II Subject Tests.

...Students cannot pick and choose which sections to send. For instance, you can’t send your May Critical Reading score and your January Writing and Mathematics scores.

…It is free to use Score Choice.

…It is optional to use Score Choice. If a student does not enroll, then all scores from all test dates are automatically sent to the student’s colleges (as under the current system).

…Students must opt into Score Choice prior to their test date—upon registering for the SAT. Score Choice will be available online through the College Board website and by phone through the toll-free customer service line.

The rationale for this policy change was to make taking the SAT less stressful for students, while maintaining the test's integrity. Kids can fight anxiety by taking a “real practice” test to get comfortable. This has obvious benefits for teens’ emotional wellbeing. The change is, understandably, very popular with students.

However, critics of Score Choice argue that it obscures the context in which a score is earned. A test-taker can hide an uncharacteristically low score or the fact that it took five sittings to earn a high one. The kid who gets a 760 Math on his first try would look just like the one who got that same score on his fifth. If the context for earning scores is not transparent—revealed uniformly for comparison to all other test-takers—is the result really a “standardized” score at all?

Just as Score Choice is optional for teens, it is also optional for colleges. If a particular college decides to require students to submit all scores, then applicants will need to comply—rendering Score Choice effectively moot for that school. This creates even more variability: University A might see only a teen’s top score, while University B receives all of the scores.

Opponents of the change also fear that it will further disadvantage youths from underserved populations who can only afford to take the SAT once or twice. In contrast, a more affluent kid could take it repeatedly until he gets his desired scores, and colleges would no longer necessarily see that. A similar concern involves the “default setting”: unless otherwise specified, all scores are sent to all schools. This default may hurt underserved teens as they are the least likely to have access to efficient pipelines for receiving information about SAT policy changes or strategic coaching about how to take advantage of options such as Score Choice. Information about Score Choice must reach the ears of all students in order for SAT scores to remain meaningful.

Though concerns remain about keeping the playing field level, a recent College Board survey of over 3,600 respondents found that students of “all income and ethnic segments” express “strong interest in having more control over their scores.”

So what’s a teen to do? Ideally, students should enroll in Score Choice online when they register to take the SAT. You should sit for the test two to four times, taking comfort in the knowledge that a fluke low score can be suppressed. Next, read college applications carefully, as different schools may have different score-reporting requirements. If a college permits Score Choice, then you should report scores from the test date on which you performed best.