Archive | September, 2013

Organize college paperwork

29 Sep

Businessman Carrying Pile of Files

As you are amassing stacks of brochures, applications, and other paperwork relating to your college search and financial aid process, you will quickly find you’ve got a giant mess!

The following office supplies can help you create a simple system:

  • File box (with hanging files) or large accordian file
  • Box of file folders

Then organize your materials like this:

College info:

  • Create a separate file folder for each different college.
  • Write passwords and other important access info on the inside of the file folder.
  • On the COVER of the file folder, write the due date of the application along with a checklist for every item you need to complete the application.
  • When  you have completed the application, print out a copy and keep it in the file.

Scholarship info:

  • Create a separate file folder for each scholarship.
  • On the COVER of the file folder, write the due date of the scholarship along with a checklist for every item you need to complete the application.
  • Keep a hard copy of all scholarship applications and responses.

Financial aid info:

  • Create separate file folders for any financial aid paperwork: FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and state grant info, as appropriate.
  • Write login info and passwords on the inside of the file folder.
  • Keep hard copies of all paperwork.

Order the files in the box, according to due date. The nearest due date should be in the front, followed by the next due item and so forth.

Then, check your file system on a daily basis, so that you stay on top of what needs to be done. You can also calendar these deadlines in your planner or on a calendar on your phone.

It’s not rocket science, senior — but this simple system will keep you on track!

How to Rock the SAT

16 Sep

Reach for success by studying hard for the SAT and/or ACT.

Reach for success by studying hard for the SAT and/or ACT.

As budgets grow tighter and as students amp up the rigor of their high school schedules, SAT (and ACT) scores may become even more important to admissions officers. As a high school teacher and academic advisor, I am often dismayed when I hear that my students didn’t even look at test prep questions until the night before they took the exam.

Whenever they come see me for counsel about these tests, I show them the test prep books I have available for them to use. In fact, as part of my AP English summer reading requirements, they have to do two complete SAT exams. This year another teacher and I have been offering an SAT workshop on September Saturdays.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be well prepared for these tests. Even if a college doesn’t put much emphasis on the results for ADMISSION, they are critical for initial course placement in math and English and for consideration for scholarships. Students literally can make money by doing well on these tests.

When our small high school had a National Merit Scholar a couple years back (the only one in our northeast corner of the state, by the way), I asked Emily how she did so well on the PSAT (which qualifies juniors for that honor). This was her sole piece of advice:

Do the SAT Question of the Day, which she did every day for several years.

That was all what she did, she said. Admittedly, Emily is brilliant and learns quickly. But practicing those questions gave her a sense for the various kinds of questions that will be asked. Nothing was a surprise for her. Yes, the math numbers change . . . but the basic problems will be same, as will the critical reading questions and essay prompts. You can get those daily questions to you by going to

Here’s some more advice for the rest of us who are less brilliant:

  • Take full tests in a timed setting. (Emily had forgotten that her AP English teacher made her do this two summers in a row!) It’s important to get a sense of the pacing of the exam, so students have time to finish the exam. You can buy prep books via the same College Board webpage . . . or buy your own at a local bookstore or Amazon. I recommend the book published by the CB. Makes sense, right, since those folks create the test?
  • If you’re not a senior, take the PSAT every year — and even start in junior high. High schools are doing signups right now for the Oct. 17 (or Oct. 20) test. The cost is minimal. See your school counselor to sign up. Plus, you’ll get the actual test back . . . as well as invaluable feedback about your performance.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Figure out why the correct answer is the correct answer.
  • Get tutoring. I got some tutoring help for my oldest child after her first SAT test. She improved more than 100 points in the math section alone, which helped get additional scholarship money. We paid an adult engineering student for two hours of tutoring. Our daughter had forgotten some geometry skills, so the tutoring helped immensely.
  • If your school does not have an SAT prep course, look into one on your own. One is available from College Board; others are available, too.
  • Buy SAT words flashcards and use them. Build your vocabulary.
  • Practice many of those SAT essays. Get feedback from your English teacher on your writing. Some college admissions departments feel that the writing portion of the SAT is most indicative of a student’s potential. I would agree: writing requires synthesis, an important skill for success in college.

Remember to take your calculator, many sharpened pencils, and picture I.D. (now also required when you REGISTER online). Be early at your test site, and wear warm, comfortable clothes.

My last piece of advice is that set times be scheduled for SAT practice of the full exams, such as Saturday mornings. Do the daily questions during the week, then take the full tests on Saturdays in a timed setting. Go over your wrong answers, and get help if you do not understand any.

Seniors typically must take the SAT (or ACT) by December of their senior year. You can still late register for the November exam, and now is the window of opportunity to sign up for the December tests. (The ACT web address is



What do colleges want of future freshmen?

13 Sep


A four-year university may consider many criteria in the admissions application, including the following: school achievement (GPA), test scores (SAT or ACT), letters of recommendation, personal essay(s), personal (or telephone) interview, and activities, including leadership, athletics, and community service. Some colleges, though, may simply use GPA and scores (and some may only require that the SAT be taken).

It is important to carefully review a college’s admissions considerations, so the student can make decisions about where to apply. It is NOT a good idea to apply only to one or two colleges, because that doesn’t leave much wiggle room if the response is negative. Here’s a traditional guideline:

  • Apply to a couple “safe” schools — those to which you (or your student) will certainly be accepted.
  • Apply to a couple “challenge” schools — ones with good reputations that probably will accept you.
  • Apply to one or more “reach” schools — ones that are more selective.
  • Think about a mix of both public and private universities. Public universities usually are more affordable, while private universities can usually offer more free financial assistance, as well as graduation within four years.

The College Board began tracking admissions considerations in the early 1980s and has consistently found that the most important considerations for acceptance are the student’s grade point average and the rigor of courses taken (College Counseling Sourcebook, 4th edition, 2007). Colleges have found that students who challenge themselves in high school and achieve in difficult classes will also succeed at the college level. So, if you have not performed all that well in high school and are counting on the fact that you are student body president this year . . . you may be disappointed.

What I have learned is that I cannot always predict whether or not a student will get into a certain college. My oldest got into all five colleges to which she applied. The next two kids got into most of the schools to which they applied. The last one got into three of the six even though she had the strongest profile of our four kids — and the school she is now attending was the most selective of those six. So, who knows?

What I do know is that for selective schools a student must have stellar grades and scores . . . and a unique leadership quality that has been demonstrated consistently over the entire high school career. Leadership is demonstrated in a couple ways: holding a presidency or vice presidency in a school, class, club, or other organization or organizing (as a committee chairman or event chairman). Generally, only serving as a member or other kind of officer doesn’t demonstrate “leadership.” So, an ASB president title slapped on during the senior year when no other leadership was demonstrated in earlier years may not be enough for some admissions folks looking for something to tip the scale in the student’s favor.

Community service is fantastic on a student’s profile, but the volunteer work should be focused and cumulative over many years, rather than spotty endeavors in this cancer walk or that food drive for the shelter. Additionally, the college applicant should be able to show that she ORGANIZED the various events, not merely attended or participated. Again, colleges want leaders, not followers.

So, this week’s assignment:

  • Make a list of what schools to apply to.
  • Write the deadlines in your planner.

And understand this: The early bird generally gets the acceptance AND the best financial aid offer. So, make your weekend “job” college applications this fall .  .  . and get them done!

To what schools do you plan to apply?