Month: December 2015

12 Tips for Getting into the College You Want

College admission officers carefully assess your high school grades, courses, test scores, essays, activities, recommendations, and interviews, if required. You will increase your chances of getting into the colleges of your choice by following these twelve tips:


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  1. Get the best possible grades you can during ALL four years of high school. Grades are extremely important.
  2. Take academically rigorous classes ALL four years. You should carry as many challenging courses as you can handle—college prep, Advanced Placement (AP), honors, and International Baccalaureate (IB).
  3. Practice taking the SAT or ACT. Become familiar with the types of material covered and the test directions. Take the PSAT during your sophomore year. Determine what knowledge and skills you lack and master them for the actual tests. Take advantage of free online SAT or ACT materials, study guides, practice tests, tutors, and prep courses before or during your junior year.
  4. Try taking both the SAT and ACT. Colleges will accept either test. You may do better on one test than the other. This will boost your chances for admission. Take the SAT or ACT more than once if you are not satisfied with your scores.
  5. Take SAT Subject Tests and AP Tests. Competitive colleges may require you to take some of these exams and they take note of exam results. Only AP scores of five (5) are accepted by top colleges.
  6. Spend sufficient time developing your college essays. Think and reflect before you write. Write, edit, rewrite. This is your opportunity to sell yourself. Convey who you are in your writing: energetic, exciting, passionate, and intellectually curious. How can you make the real “you” stand out from the rest of the crowd? Get feedback on the essays from your teachers and/or other school personnel.
  7. Become involved in your school and/or community during ALL four years and summer vacations. You need to keep track of your involvement in extracurricular and co-curricular activities, sports, and/or volunteer activities in your community. Move up to leadership positions. Demonstrate growth. Develop a deep interest or talent in one or more areas.
  8. Ask your school counselor and teachers who know you well for recommendations. At least a month in advance of college deadlines for recommendations, jog their memories by providing them with a “personal data” or “brag sheet” highlighting your academic accomplishments, athletics, activities, and community service and leadership positions. Also, highlight anything special you did during the summer (for example, foreign travel to improve language skills, volunteer work, projects).
  9. Prepare for on-campus interviews, if required by colleges. Re-read your essays and any information you have acquired on specific colleges. Be friendly and articulate. Dress professionally, not casually. After the interviews, send thank you notes or e-mails expressing your continued interest in their institution.
  10. Decrease your stress by starting your search for colleges early—no later than the start of your junior year. This gives you adequate for researching colleges, completing applications, writing essays, and taking necessary exams.
  11. Get organized and stay focused. Make a file folder for each college that interests you and put relevant information inside of it (for example, a copy of your application and essay, any materials downloaded from the Internet). Keep focused on your ultimate goal: Getting into the college of your choice. Use these checklists to plan the tasks you should take to get into the college of your choice:
  12. Get on-going assistance from your school counselor and teachers. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions no matter how simple your questions may seem.

This article, 12 Tips for Getting into the College You Want, was originally posted here.


Common mistakes and misconceptions of College Application & Admissions

College Apps

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The college application process notoriously strikes fear into the hearts of high school students and their parents each fall, but does it have to? Sara Harberson, college admissions counselor at The Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, says no — and one key to keeping your sanity might be finding a way to wade through the process without falling prey to bad advice.

“There are a lot of people giving bad advice to families, and it’s painful to hear what they’re saying,” says Harberson.

Harberson — who worked in admissions at the University of Pennsylvania and was the youngest college dean of admissions in the country when she took that role at Franklin & Marshall College at the age of 32 —weighed in on 7 of the most prevalent examples of bad college admissions advice, which make the whole experience harder than it should be:

1. “Colleges are looking for well-rounded students. Join every club and activity you can!”

Colleges are looking for well-rounded classes, not individual students. They are looking for students who specialize in one or two pursuits — not 12 — that allow them to make an “impact,” as Harberson terms it, whether it is a sport, a club, an art or some other form of activity.

“You need to make a difference with whatever it is you choose,” Harberson says. “It can even be a part-time job. Making an impact by bringing in income to help your family is just as important as winning a national art award. It can look very different for different students.”

2. “You can’t afford that college.”

Financial aid is more available and more abundant than a lot of families realize. Many of the country’s most elite — and most expensive — colleges are extremely generous with need-based financial aid, and there is scholarship money, both merit and need-based, waiting for students and families willing to seek it out and apply for it. Students might be surprised at what they can afford.

Harberson points out the Net Price Calculators that are now federally required to be available on every college website. “If you input your financial information into the Net Price Calculator, you can get a sense of what a financial aid package might look like for you based on that information,” says Harberson. “It’s a great tool that just went into effect a couple of years ago, and it can even give a family a sense of whether a merit scholarship might be available at that institution based on a student’s unweighted GPA and test scores.”

3. “Take the SAT or ACT ‘for practice’ and as many times as you can until you get the score you want.”

The moment you take an official test, it becomes part of your testing history, warns Harberson. “Take the PSAT in fall of junior year; that is the true practice test for the SAT. Try a practice ACT at home under testing conditions. Then you can determine from those two scores which test you should stick with and begin prepping specifically for that test.”

Test prep can vary in method as well as cost. Students may work with private tutors, take a class, or just buy or borrow the books put out by test prep companies or the College Board or ACT, Inc. themselves and take practice tests in a testing environment at home — a quiet room, timed, and paced like the real deal. Khan Academy offers free online test prep, which may be especially helpful for students taking the new SAT rolling out in March.

Harberson suggests taking one or two official tests in the spring of junior year but leaving one last chance for the fall of a student’s senior year. “If you have done your due diligence and prepared, that is usually going to be your best test date out of the three,” she says. She does not advise taking either the SAT or the ACT more than three times.

4. “You’re a legacy, so you’re a shoo-in.”

Not so fast: At both state and private universities, legacy status — which can mean different things depending on the institution, including students whose grandparents, parents, and/or siblings attended the school for either undergrad or graduate school — or other alumni connections in no way guarantee admission, and students and their parents should set their expectations according to how qualified the student is for the school on their own, not how many family members attended there or how much money they give to the school each year. Schools have too many students with connections to the university to accept them all.

“Being a legacy doesn’t have the power that it used to have,” notes Harberson.

5. “You should write your college essay about the mission trip to Haiti that your parents sent you on last spring.”

Colleges do value charitable and volunteer work; however, many students do such mission trips and write about them, so an essay about one trip will not necessarily set a student apart. Also, colleges are more impressed by long-term commitments to volunteerism or causes than by a one-off trip that a student’s parents paid for, which looks more like a resumé builder than a demonstrated, long-term commitment to a cause.

“These colleges are getting very similar essays again and again,” says Harberson, “and they are so curious about who you are. When I was reading hundreds of college application essays, I wanted to read about something that wasn’t coming up anywhere else in the application or something that really did need explaining. The best essays are often about topics that are much less obvious and do not always fit into a perfect little box, but they truly define who that student is.”

6. “You should take AP Statistics instead of AP Calculus AB. It’s easier.”

If a student is qualified to take either course, it is never better to take an “easier” class. Colleges want to see students who challenge themselves and then rise to that challenge. By taking an easier course load, a student might be able to have a higher GPA, but college admissions officers will be able to tell if a student worked below their ability.

“Rightly or wrongly, calculus is generally preferred by admissions offices versus statistics,” notes private admissions counselor Caroline Brokaw Tucker of Dunbar Educational Consultants in Greenwich, CT.

Harberson agrees: “It starts with the quality of the transcript. That’s the priority for every institution in the country,” she says.

7. “Applying to college sucks for everyone involved.”

If parents can keep perspective and help their children do the same, the whole process can be an opportunity for them to spend time together and learn more about each other, and in the end, the hope is that there will be a happy ending of some sort. Said one parent going through the process for the second time, “It’s amazing to see [my daughter] tackle all this and grow in confidence.”

So where can parents find good advice on college admissions? Harberson suggests parents seek out a college’s Common Data Set, a collection of hard facts about a certain college, including admissions information, in any given year organized by a collaboration between colleges and the educational publishing industry. Many colleges publish the results right on their websites, so Googling “common data set” plus the university name will yield the results for that college, including exact numbers about applications, waitlists, admissions criteria, and standardized test scores straight from the college itself. (For example, here are the CDS sites for Dartmouth and the University of Florida.)

Harberson also suggests Naviance, which is software designed to show students how they fare compared to other students at the same school who applied to the colleges they are considering. “Naviance is a great resource if the high school offers it and the data is up to date,” Harberson says. “It can give students a reality check.”

But it has its limits, she notes. “The challenge with Naviance is that it’s objective, and so much of the college admissions process is subjective and very personal. The data on Naviance can’t help when it comes to determining how good a student’s personal essay is or the quality of their extracurricular activities.”

Harberson says that students have more college admissions resources than they might realize. “Go to someone trusted at the high school. It can be a guidance counselor or even an AP English or AP Calculus teacher who has been advising students in a non-traditional way throughout their careers,” she suggests. In addition, many private admissions counselors, including Harberson herself atAdmissions Revolution, her private counseling company, write free blog posts with advice for students and their families.

Lisa Heffernan, a parent who has been through the process three times and co-authors the blog Grown and Flown, points out that “many of the colleges have great admissions blogs, and it is helpful to read the ones for the schools to which a kid is thinking of applying. Also, if you email an admissions officer with a question or call the office general number, they will happily answer your questions.”

This article was originally posted here.

The Top 10 Colleges With Free Tuition in 2015

College Just ahead

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The prospect of attending college can be both exciting and daunting, particularly given the cost of tuition these days regardless of where you plan to attend school – Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada,Missouri – doesn’t matter. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree can easily cost much more than $100,000, putting higher education out of reach for many. However, there are some colleges and universities that offer free tuition and we’ve put together a list of the top 10 institutions of higher education that will be easy on your checkbook in 2015. Admission to these schools can be very competitive with most accepting a small number of students each year.

10. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY — New York City, New York

Macaulay Honors College is unique in that its students enroll at one of eight colleges within the City University of New York network and receive guidance through the college’s advising program to develop a comprehensive, individualized academic program. Macaulay’s own campus is located a few blocks from verdant Central Park on the upper west side of Manhattan.

9. U.S. Air Force Academy — Colorado Springs, Colorado

As a dedicated military academy focused on preparing its students to serve as officers in the Air Force, the Air Force Academy offers bachelor’s degrees in more than 30 major areas of study. With an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, each student can get individual attention from instructors.

Admission to the Academy is highly competitive and applicants must be nominated for admission by a member of Congress or the Vice President of the United States. All accepted students receive a scholarship valued at over $400,000 that covers tuition and room and board for all four years at the Academy. Each cadet is expected to complete a service commitment by serving several years on active duty and reserves after graduation.

8. U.S. Merchant Marine Academy — Kings Point, New York

One of the United States Military Academies, the Merchant Marine Academy prepares students for careers in the maritime industry and armed forces. Around 1,000 students enjoy its 82-acre campus on the north shore of Long Island to earn degrees in marine engineering, naval science, marine transportation, and other fields. Unlike other United States Military Academies where graduates are required to fulfill a service obligation through enlistment in a branch of the U.S. armed forces, graduates of the Merchant Marine Academy have the option to fulfill their service obligation through private employment in the maritime or transportation industry.

Students are not charged for tuition but are responsible for other fees and expenses, including a laptop computer. Need-based financial aid is available to students to assist in covering these other expenses.

7. Webb Institute — Glen Cove, New York

Founded in 1889, Webb Institute is a highly-specialized college that offers a single undergraduate degree option in naval architecture and marine engineering. Located on the Long Island Sound on a 26-acre campus with its own private beach, the Institute’s 80 students benefit from a student-to-faculty ratio of 7:1. Graduates of Webb Institute also enjoy success in the job market with a 100% job placement rate.

All students receive a full-tuition scholarship and are responsible only for other costs including room and board, books, and other items.

6. Barclay College — Haviland, Kansas

Founded by Quaker settlers in 1917, Barclay is a Bible college that offers degree programs in Youth Ministry, Pastoral Ministry, Christian Elementary Education and other fields. Located in the small town of Haviland, Kansas with a population of under 1,000, Barclay has a 13-acre campus and offers an environment free of the distractions present at many other colleges.

With an enrollment of around 250 students and a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1, students are part of a close-knit community and receive individual attention from professors. To be eligible for full-tuition scholarships, students must stay in on-campus housing. Students who live off campus are eligible for tuition scholarships covering about one-third of the total tuition cost.

5. Curtis Institute of Music — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

For those looking to make a professional career in the musical performing arts, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia offers merit-based full tuition scholarships to students regardless of financial need. Admission is highly competitive with a total enrollment of only 165 students.

An in-person audition is required for all areas of study except vocal studies, for which a recording will be accepted through an online portal. In the lively city of Philadelphia, students at Curtis participate in a robust schedule of public performances throughout the school year to “learn by doing.” True to its mission to educate and train gifted musicians, the Institute does not specify a minimum or maximum age to audition.

4. Alice Lloyd College — Pippa Passes, Kentucky

On its 175-acre campus surrounding Caney Creek in Pippa Passes, Kentucky, Alice Lloyd College offers a tuition-free education to applicants from 108 counties in the Appalachian region. All students participate in the college’s Student Work Program, working a minimum of 160 hours per semester on a job on campus or in the local community. Founded by Alice Spencer Geddes Lloyd and Jane Buchanan in 1923, the college offers 13 degree programs and several pre-professional programs to prepare students for advanced studies in law, medicine and more.

3. Cooper Union — New York City, New York

Founded in 1859 by Peter Cooper, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art has offered a full-tuition scholarship to every student since its inception. Located in bustling Manhattan, Cooper Union offers degree programs in architecture, fine arts, and several engineering disciplines with an impressive student-to-faculty ratio of 8.5:1.

Cooper Union has 1,000 full-time undergraduate students and accepts 7% of applicants based on merit alone regardless of financial need. Its campus features the new technologically-advanced 41 Cooper Square building that incorporates multiple environmentally-friendly features and state-of-the-art labs and classrooms.

2. Berea College — Berea, Kentucky

Berea College was founded in 1855 and was the first interracial and co-ed college in the American South. Its substantial endowment allows the college to offer enough financial assistance, along with federal and state grants, to all students with financial need to cover tuition in full as well as a laptop computer that each student can keep after graduation.

Situated in scenic Berea, Kentucky, the college boasts a 10:1 student-to-teacher ratio and students can earn a degree in one of 28 fields of study. Each student participates in the college’s Work Program, earning enough to help pay for room and board and other expenses during the school year.

1. College of the Ozarks — Point Lookout, Missouri

Dubbed “Hard Work U,” College of the Ozarks promises that students don’t pay tuition, work for their education, graduate without debt and develop character. The college offers degrees in 34 academic areas on a 1,000-acre campus overlooking picturesque Lake Taneycomo in southwestern Missouri.

College of the Ozarks accept students from the Ozarks region with demonstrated financial need. Students work 15 hours each week during the school year and two 40-hour weeks when school is not in session in exchange for free tuition. The college believes that the work program is so important that each student’s work performance is recorded on their academic records along with their grades. The college’s 1,500 students enjoy a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1.

This post, If there’s a will, there’s a way, was originally posted here.

Cast a Wider Net.

A long time financial aid adviser answers a question that baffles many families. 


Q. My student is brilliant. So why didn’t we get any scholarships? A long time financial aid adviser answers a question that baffles many families.

A. This is a common question when I meet with the families of outstanding students.

Many of them are unaware that there are two different types of scholarships—need-based and merit—and that not all colleges offer both.

Need-based aid is calculated using the information you supply about your income and assets on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the CSS Profile, a more comprehensive financial aid form used by about 300 colleges.

The top 65 or so private colleges in the nation provide generous need-based aid to students who qualify for it. But they almost never award merit aid—no matter how meritorious your student may be.

So even if your student has a 4.0, an ACT score of 36, SATs of 2400, and cured cancer, if you don’t qualify for need-based aid, and the college doesn’t give out merit awards, you won’t be receiving any free money.

Naturally, many families find this disappointing. They feel that their students deserve to attend one of those highly ranked selective college as a result of their hard work and accomplishments in high school. Worse, they hear of other students receiving big merit awards (and in rare cases, full rides) from their schools. But most likely, those colleges are not in the most selective group.

The good news is that if students are accomplished, there are thousands of other colleges that would love to have them and that also offer generous merit scholarships. For example, the honors programs at public and private colleges often attract students with grades and test scores similar to the highly selective schools, and they are a very viable option for students who couldn’t afford to attend an elite college without financial assistance.

One way to determine how much scholarship aid you can expect from a particular college is to use its net price calculator—a tool that all colleges receiving federal aid are required to have on their websites. The calculators ask for financial data for your family, and colleges that give merit awards will also ask for your student’s GPA and test scores.

So if your student is applying primarily to elite colleges, make sure he or she casts a wider net and also includes some schools that are known to provide merit aid.

Paula Bishop is a certified public accountant and an adviser on financial aid for college. She holds a BS in economics with a major in finance from the Wharton School and an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley. She is a member of the National College Advocacy Group, whose mission is to provide education and resources for college planning professionals, students, and families. Her website is

This article, Cast a Wider Net, was originally posted here.

Teach them to be leaders.

Girl leadership

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Images of famous female leaders are pulled out to decorate walls; special assemblies are held; picture books are read; girl power is acknowledged and celebrated. This is all good, but there are some next steps that educators (both men and women) need to take if we’re going to truly empower girls and set them up for leadership roles. We need to offer expanded definitions of leadership, take on the “Lean In” vs. “Recline” debate, and walk the talk.

#1 Explore Definitions of Leadership

It wasn’t until I read Susan Cain’s masterpiece about introverts, Quiet, that I truly recognized and embraced myself as a leader. I’d been schooled on a traditional definition of leadership: a skilled and charismatic orator who immerses himself with the people. Cain’s book propelled me into deep reflections about what it means to be a leader, about how introverts exert leadership, and of the different terrains and domains in which we exercise leadership.

Leadership is not about the role you’re in — it’s about the stance you take and the way you feel and the actions you take in any number of moments. It’s not only about being able to speak to thousands and lead them somewhere. In fact, leadership may be about the opposite, about guiding others to find their own paths, discover their own power, and speak their own truths.

When we limit our definitions of leadership, we limit possibilities. Ask a twelve-year-old girl to name a leader she admires. I bet she’ll name a known figure, if she names anyone at all. If we don’t learn to recognize the leadership that surrounds us, that exists within our own families and communities, we lose credibility when we tell girls that they can be leaders because the number of female leaders that they know will be few.

And so this month, whether with the girls in your class or in your families, explore these ideas together:

  • What does it mean to be a leader?
  • Why is leadership important?
  • What qualities must a leader have?
  • What kinds of leadership qualities do you admire, respect, and want to emulate?
  • In what ways do you take leadership everyday?
  • How can you take leadership?

#2 To “Lean In” or “Recline”?

Any discussion of women and leadership needs to explore the debate between Sheryl Sandberg’s injunction that women need to Lead In and Rosa Brooks’ recently published response urging women to “Recline: Why ‘Leaning In’ Is Killing Us”. (Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” was an earlier challenge to Sandberg and is worth reading.) Brooks’ article struck a chord in me and reminded me of my commitment to slow down, as I described in this blog.

At the core of these arguments is a discussion about what it means to be a woman and how we chose to show up in the world. These are discussion that have been going on for a millennia and that deserve to be taken up with our young girls and boys.

#3 Walk the Talk

The messages we send to girls are confusing. We tell them, “You can be anything you want!” but then what do we show them? What do they see? This leads me to my third next step if we want to develop leadership in girls.

Women (and men, too) are going to have to do some hard thinking and talking and decision-making if we’re going to develop our daughters and female students into leaders. Once we decide whether we’re going to lean in or recline, (or do a little of both), once we’re clear on our values and options, then we need to walk the talk. That means women might need to lean in to some places and men might need to step down and make space. In classrooms, schools, central offices, and so on, in traditional seats of power, men still hold far more positions. At home, who does the majority of the cooking and cleaning? We can start to make dents in structures when at the very least we discuss what’s happening and why things are the way they are. We can start to remove the notion that this is just “natural.” And perhaps we can start to make little changes here and there.

March offers an opportunity for us to expand definitions and challenge traditional concepts about leadership, explore what it means to be a woman and the various roles and ways in which we express that identity, and finally, to do something different. In order for girls to feel empowered to explore the domain of leadership, they’ll need to engage in many of these conversations and explorations. And as we guide our girls in these, we demonstrate our leadership.

This article, Teach Them to be Leaders, is originally from here.