Thursday, December 16, 2010

Playlist for Completing College Applications

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Plugging into some music can help drain away stress while putting those final touches on college applications. The routine of filling out forms online can be made tolerable with some good tunes. I have asked a few students what music they like for focus and de-stressing. Those ideas helped me form the playlist below which is certainly open to additions.

The list is pretty eclectic because some people focus better with high energy music while others like a calm mood. I should mention that a few students said they like white noise either from a machine or a fan.



Bare Naked Ladies: Who Needs Sleep?
Eric Clapton: Layla (long version)
Led Zeppelin: Heartbreaker
M.I.A.: Galang
Green Day: Holiday
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Snow
ZZ Top: Sharp Dressed Man


Enya: The Celts
Loreena McKennitt: Mummer's Dance
Kamal: Song of the Deep (whale song)
Sim Redmond Band: Life is Water
Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells
Chopin: Nocturne in E flat Major

For songs of encouragement you could play Dar Williams' "Better Things" or Frank Sinatra's "High Hopes".

The song "Scream" By Zac Efron just may sum up the whole application madness. What do you listen to?

Monday, December 13, 2010


This time of year, many families find themselves eagerly anticipating having their college freshman return home for the holidays. Having everyone under one roof again is exciting; however, like many things associated with this festive season, their homecoming often results in a whole new set of challenges. Teens that have become used to being independent and making their own decisions while at college may chafe at what they view as unreasonable parental rules and restrictions and scoff at family traditions that their parents and younger siblings still cherish. Here are some tips that can help make your reunion more enjoyable and less stressful:

Expect change
Be forewarned, having your son or daughter at home won’t automatically return your family to its “pre-college” dynamic. Family members have all had several months to realign themselves and take on new roles. Your college student is now a young adult and should be treated as such instead of like a wayward teen or a guest in your house. Failing to recognize and acknowledge that key fact is bound to result in a very unpleasant winter break for all of you.

Be consistent with rules
It’s helpful if parents can sit down together before their freshman arrives and develop a list of rules that will be nonnegotiable while your teen is home. Making your expectations clear right from the start of the December break will alleviate any confusion or uncertainty about what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t. You can also use this time to talk about how you’ll handle things like borrowing the car, requests for money, and unexpected outings or impulsive road trips with friends you’ve never met.

Don’t compromise family values for the sake of peace
College students often find it surprisingly easy to forget basic family courtesies like picking up after themselves, using appropriate language and good manners, and helping out with daily chores like emptying the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, and caring for family pets.

Of course the returning college student shouldn’t be required to do extra work to make up for all the chores they’ve missed while they’ve been away (as my son’s brothers suggested!) but they should be expected to do their fair share.

Offer “quality” time together

Most returning teenagers will be excited to reconnect with old high school friends, teachers, or neighbors but that doesn’t mean that they won’t welcome some uninterrupted quality time with you.

Phone calls, emails, or texts can’t take the place of good, old-fashioned “face time”. Put the holiday chaos on hold for a few hours, sit back, and really listen to what your son or daughter is saying; you’ll learn a lot!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Crunch Time in College Admissions

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AAURGH! The primal scream (outdoors of course) is sometimes a good stress release for seniors in the final stages of applying to college. Aaron (a senior I know) runs up and down the stairs as fast as he can to try and relax. Why is it so bad? For one thing students now apply on average to 7 colleges which complicates the process. Heavy competition also translates into stress with over 1 million more applicants than a decade ago. So how to release stress? Squeezing a funky shaped stress ball (like my penguin) can help with typing fatigue. Many students de-stress by exercising prior to returning to their applications. Rocking out to music also helps get the kinks out.

Parents need to be supportive at this crunch time. What does that mean? In this case, it means offering to help the student as needed (except in writing essays). Offering is the key word. Forcing unwanted help on the student can result in blow-ups. Reminding students of things they need to do without nagging is an art and a necessary art for parents at this stage of the admissions process. Using a mode of communication that is least annoying for the student is best whether this is post-it notes or text messages. Comfort food can also help. Favorite foods like warm chocolate chip cookies can definitely improve the whole mood around the application activity. Contacting guidance about missing pieces of the application can also relieve some of the pressure on students.

College applications are due when they are due. This is a shock to many high school students who have easily received extensions on high school work. The consequences of a late or incomplete application are quite harsh. Most college admissions offices are too swamped to let students know personally that their application is incomplete. Generally, when other students are getting acceptance letters, those who have missed deadlines or failed to check on their applications will just receive a rejection letter from the colleges stating either that the application was too late to be processed or that parts of the application were missing.

Buckling down and finishing the applications can be hard for some procrastinators. Mary is an self-acknowledged procrastintor and she deals with it by giving herself a small reward for every section of the common application that she completes. I say whatever it takes, students need to get those applications complete at least a week before the deadlines. Josh (and others) waited until the night before the applications were do to send them out. AAURGH! An inside primal scream this time. "The server is down due to unsccheduled maintenance." Avoid the indoor primal scream. Submit early!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Colleges with Short Terms Encourage Study Abroad

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I recently visited Earlham College in Richmond, IN and was taken with how many students there study abroad (more than 60%). This is certainly higher than average. I believe that one reason for the high participation is the college calendar. Earlham college follows a 4-4-1 calendar. This means that students study for two semesters and then have a short, optional May term for study abroad, an internship, or an intensive course. The flexibility of this calendar allows students to study abroad who might not be able to otherwise due to the many course requirements of a double major, an education major, or a demanding science major. Biology majors in particular benefit from taking courses in the natural environment that they are studying whether it be desert or rainforest.

The Open Doors Report of the International Education Exchange states that the number of students studying abroad last year decreased for the first time in 25 years. This could be due to a number of factors including the economy. However, the same report indicates that the number of students studying abroad more than doubled over the last ten years but that many students were staying for shorter periods than previously. These statistics bear out my thought that having a shorter time available for international study will encourage more students to take advantage of the opportunity. Students who I spoke with at Earlham were quite enthusiastic about the international opportunities. One girl had plans to study in Japan as part of her Asian Studies major. Others planned trips to China and the UK. A freshman from Chicago that I spoke with said that she hoped to study in more than one country. Our interconnected world will benefit from students such as those at Earlham who gain international experience and a better understanding of cultural differences.

Friday, November 12, 2010


As the mom of a college freshman and a high school student who is just beginning the college search process, I can’t say enough about personally visiting schools your student is seriously considering.

Though college websites can give you a lot of facts beforehand, it is nearly impossible for them to convey the mood, impressions, or information that you get from exploring a campus in person.
Here’s an example. Last month my son and I attended an Open House where the formal tours and admissions meetings were very helpful and informative. But, it was the questions that we got to ask “real” students afterwards that told my son whether this college would be his number one choice or be placed further down the list.

One of the things he’s always been fascinated by is experimentation and he’s spent the majority of his relatively short life coming up with all sorts of unusual explorations and inquiries to test out. When he was little these tended to involve all sorts of strange potions and as he got older they focused more on things that he could build and take apart like trebuchets, forts, or engines. Though we never knew what he’d come up with next, the process he followed was pretty much the same each time. He’d think of an idea, make a drawing or some notes, find the materials that he needed (or convince us to buy them!), and then physically create whatever he had visualized in his mind. No matter what the project was, it was always completely his from start to finish.

At the school one of their selling points was that there were lots of research opportunities. However, when we dug a little deeper, asking enrolled students what types of research they were involved in, it turned out that the school’s process was very different than that of some of the other universities we’d looked at. What seemed to happen at this school was that professors would have a hypothesis or idea and enlist a graduate student or two to assist them. In turn, the grad students would find some undergraduates to work for them. The outcome of this was increased “drudge work” and extremely limited opportunities for discovery for the person at the bottom of the pyramid.

It was clear to both of us that this type of system would be incongruent with my teen's personal style as well as completely the opposite of what he was looking for. Instead of thriving in this type of environment, he would quickly become frustrated at all of the restrictions.

The visit also revealed to my son and me that having a self-initiating research environment is something that's really important to him when choosing where he wants to spend his next four years. This is a much better thing to discover as a high school student than as a college freshman or sophomore!

Friday, October 29, 2010

VIP applications: Faster than a running cheetah

What is a VIP college application? This is a short application sent directly to students by colleges which is much shorter allowing for a fast "turn-around" with an an admissions decision. Colleges who have this application type often send out an application when a student has indicated special interest by visiting or requesting more information. Other terms for the VIP app. are short app. or fast app.

I remember receiving one of these applications via e-mail after I visited the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. During my tour and visit, I made it quite clear that I was an independent counselor, yet I continued to get e-mails encouraging me to apply for at least a month.

What colleges send out these fast applications? It changes from year to year but some of the ones that have done this in the past include Baylor, Case Western, Drexel,Ohio Wesleyan, RIT, RPI, Stonehill, Tulane, University of Minnesota, University of the Pacific, University of Vermont, and Ursinus.

Parents ask me if these applications are favorable for the student and I say yes because they can get back a quick response providing the HS guidance folks submit their information early. In addition, most of these applications do not include an essay which is favorable for students who struggle with writing.

Colleges benefit from this process as well because they get on the student's radar screen early before it is too crowded. First love, first car, and first college acceptance are all pretty special.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Canadian Colleges: Advantages and Disadvantages for American Students

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I just returned from visiting Concordia University and McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Montreal is a fascinating city with mixtures of old and new architecture, French and English culture. Students at both Concordia and McGill have easy access to the arts in Montreal including professional theater, dance, visual arts, and film. In fact you can't avoid public art in Montreal, particularly sculpture. Decorated Moose stand at attention up and down Sherbrooke St. An avant garde film festival was ongoing during my stay. There are also resources for science students including the Insectarium, the Biosphere, and the large Montreal Science Museum. For American students who really like the city vibe of an NYU or an Emerson College, McGill or Concordia Universities could be good choices.

Here are some of the issues to take into account when considering schools in Montreal, CA.
The advantages:

1) Learning French by almost constant exposure. Also, Americans pay cheap tuition for French classes.

2) Low cost. Even with international tuition, Canadian colleges are cheaper than many private colleges in the US

3) Proximity to northern US states such as New York and New England.

4) Broadening understanding of culture through a unique Quebecois, Canadian experience.

The disadvantages:

1)Requires a certain level of maturity in a college student. Independent living is the rule after freshman year.

2) Customs. At certain times of the year, the border crossings can require long waits.

3) Rate of exchange. If the dollar continues to weaken, it will make Canadian colleges more expensive.

4) Eating too much poutine. You will have to hit the gym if you eat too much poutine, a mass of fried potatoes, gravy, and cheese curds.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

GUEST POST: Enjoying Parent's Weekend with Your Freshman

Parent’s Weekend at your son or daughter’s new college is something many parents and new freshmen really look forward to. For the adults, it’s a chance to see where and how your teen is living day to day. For the freshmen, it’s a chance to show their parents how they’re managing their independent lifestyle.

Here are a few tips that helped make my first Parent’s Weekend a successful one:

  • Ask your teen give you a personal tour of the campus. What they choose to show and tell you will most likely be what’s been most important to them about their college experience so far.

  • Use their guest passes to eat a few meals in the dining hall (preferably lunch of dinner). This is guaranteed to give you unlimited access to many of their new friends and it’s much easier to get to know the other students when you’re chatting over a meal than by just saying hello in passing. You can also offer to take your teen and a friend or two out to dinner at a local restaurant that they haven’t discovered yet. A free meal is always appreciated and, if it’s a good experience, has the added bonus of letting you start a new tradition of eating at the same favorite place together every time you visit.

  • Resist the urge to criticize. Bite your tongue whenever you feel the need to question dress, eating, or study habits, the choice of room d├ęcor, or your freshman’s sleep schedule. They’re trying to develop decision-making, organizational, and limit-setting skills and your new role is to listen and let them know you’ll always be there for them.

  • Last but not least, have fun enjoying each other’s company as you enter this exciting new phase of your relationship!

Sue Henninger recently returned from her first Parent's Weekend in Dallas, Texas with her son, a freshman at Southern Methodist University. Visit her website at

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Care Packages for College Students

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Students love care packages from home. Lena, a college freshman, was thrilled to get her favorite chocolate chip muffins in a recent care package from her mom. Care packages are always welcome but they are particularly appreciated around exam time when every student needs a little encouragement. Many universities including Harvard and Cornell have sprouted businesses that specialize in assembling and sending care packages for that special student. Although the thought is the same, using your credit card to buy a gift package is not quite the same level of care as something with a more personal home-made touch.

So what kinds of care packages could you assemble for your student?

1) The bakery package- Home made cookies, brownies, muffins, biscotti etc.

2) The chocolaholic package -M & Ms, small chocolate pizza, cocoa mix, chocolate covered pretzels, home-made fudge etc.

3) The Halloween package- Scary mask, can of plastic string, face paint, gummy worms, gummy bats, and gummy spiders, chocolate pumpkins, popcorn balls, apples

3)The movie night package-Italian sodas, Gourmet popcorn, pistachio nuts, pretzels, gummy bears, Hershey's kisses etc

4) The comfort package- Dry packaged chicken noodle soup, Celestial Seasonings variety of tea, ginger ale, shearling flip flops, microwaveable neck pad, special interest magazines

5) The Asian food lovers pkg.- Wasabi peas, rice crackers, sesame candy, variety of green teas

6) The sleep tight package- Ear plugs, sleep mask, mellow music mix on a CD,lavender oil

7) The exam package- Protein bars, Tazo tea variety pack, trail mix, ramen noodles, chocolate covered espresso beans

It is great to include a personal note with the package. They can be humorous or serious depending upon the occasion. Expressions of encouragement are especially helpful when the student is not feeling well or is facing exams.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Should Undergraduate Research be Considered in College Selection?

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This week I attended an information session at the University of Scranton. The admissions official spoke proudly of the opportunities for science research at the university. The research focus made sense at Scranton because of the many students interested in health careers. This got me to thinking about the importance and timing of research for undergrads. Students can't usually participate meaningfully in research until after they have completed some basic coursework in their freshman year. Undergraduate research is particularly important for those interested in the physical sciences, engineering or medicine. In some engineering programs(such as WPI pictured above), student research is incorporated seamlessly into class projects. In other disciplines such as history or anthropology, research can certainly be a plus on your resume but it is not as critical.

Many colleges talk about their lively undergraduate research programs. However, there is an intense level of competition to get into these programs at large universities. Many professors take on no undergrads at large research universities and some only take them if they can remain for the summer. Smaller liberal arts colleges make an effort to involve more of their interested students. Davidson, Middlebury, and Lawrence University are all colleges that I have visited recently with impressive numbers of students involved in undergraduate research. Students or parents should ask about the numbers of professors offering opportunities in undergraduate research when on college visits. The ratio of involved profesors to either number of undergrads or undergrad science majors will give you some sense of the competition required to participate.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pharmacy Schools and Chemistry

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"Better living through chemistry" was a promotional slogan formerly used by the American Chemical Society that was later adopted "tongue-in-cheek" by recreational drug users. This dual slogan use does point out an important fact. The study of chemistry and pharmacy are closely related. In talking recently with Erin (a high school junior), I was surprised to learn that she was interested in becoming a pharmacist. She said "I enjoy working with people and I could make a good salary". I responded, "Science wasn't your favorite subject though, especially chemistry." Erin thought she could just "get through" the chemistry classes as her cousin did in a nursing program.

Generally, students need to enjoy at least some of their courses to be successful and pharmacy is 75% chemistry, whereas nursing only requires a few courses. Sometimes, students look at the jobs that are in demand and just try to train for those jobs. Chasing jobs is a dangerous career strategy because needs often change quickly, leaving students who pursued those jobs for the money with few good options.

I recently visited the Albany College of Pharmacy,
in Albany, NY. The admissions officer there said that they looked carefully at the science GPA when admitting students, especially their chemistry grades. The campus has the advantage of being right on top of the Albany Medical College with cross-registration available. It also has the advantage of being a small college of 1600 students with access to major up to date facilities. Many colleges of pharmacy are part of large universities such as the University of Connecticut or the University of Rhode Island. St. John Fisher is another small private college in upstate (Rochester) New York of about 2700 students with a brand new Wegmans College of Pharmacy. These smaller pre-professional programs give students the individual attention and small labs they often need as undergraduates.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dealing with Homesickness

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The "millenials" as this generation is sometimes referred to tend to be closer to their families than past generations. They are in constant contact via cell phone and Facebook. Starting a new life in college away from family can sometimes seem overwhelming despite the e-contact. Watching mom and dad drive away can be a scary moment especially for students who have never been away from home for travel or camp.

Many students have found the following ideas helpful when dealing with feelings of homesickness.

1) Help someone else in any way you can. This can range from computer help to help with laundry. The community may also be looking for student volunteers.

2) Get involved in campus activities. If you are not sure what you want to join yet, tag along with people in your dorm. Try new things that you may never have done before like Ultimate Frisbee or rock-climbing.

3) Try to find work either on or near campus to help you feel connected.

4) Invite a new acquaintance to do something even if it is as simple as going for coffee to talk.

5) Make food for new found friends on your floor. It could be as simple as brownies! yum

There are also some things that should be avoided so as not to increase homesickness.

1) Frequent trips home if you live nearby. This only puts off the adjustment.

2) Phone calls home at times that force you to opt out of campus activities.

3) Listening exclusively to nostalgic music that makes you sad and reminds you of HS days.

4) Inviting HS friends to visit every weekend. In effect you stall your new friendships.

If none of these ideas help you should definitely make an appointment with a professional counselor on staff at your college.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Financial Stability of Colleges

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Mom and Dad are usually not worried about the college their child attends going out of business. It is rare but it does happen. When I toured Ohio Wesleyan last year, I met several students who had formerly attended Antioch college which closed a few years ago. It was sad for those students to leave the bonds they had made and start over again.

The Department of Education just released their list of colleges that fell below their criteria for financial stability. This is a top 100 list that colleges DON'T want to be on. Unfortunately, the list really doesn't reveal the methodology which makes the results hard to evaluate. Honestly, I think that the government should have given colleges a break this year and not released the list since many college endowments were hit hard by the stock market slump last year. What is worth paying attention to are the colleges that have been identified over multiple years.

As a consultant, I don't want to suggest any colleges to my students that are not financially viable. So, I pay attention to things like the size of the endowment, staff layoffs, and the status of the buildings and grounds. If the campus looks run down overall, I am concerned because it may be a sign of financial instability. It really surprised me that Guilford College was on the list this year since I visited recently and found the campus well maintained with many updated facilities. Because Guilford has some special qualities such as a laid back southern atmosphere with Quaker values and strong support of LD students, I will continue to recommend it to the students that fit and hope that the poor rating is just a blip in their history. Unfortunately, the physical plant and the stated endowment do not tell the whole story so it is important to pay attention to college finances in the news.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sending off your college freshman: Nostalgia or Celebration

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In just a few weeks, families will be traveling to colleges and universities for the freshman move-in. For many moms and dads, this moment is very suddenly upon them. Many parents feel sad while their kids are elated. I had one dad tell me that his son Brian was his best friend and they did lots of things together. How could he possibly fill this hole?

On the other hand, one mom I talked to couldn't wait to have more mental and physical space in her home now that her daughter Morgan was leaving. That's because there were constant disagreements over boyfriends and house rules.

From the students point of view, it may be best to go easy on the nostalgia. It doesn't make it any easier for the student, if mom bursts into tears when you look at family pictures for instance. This is a time to celebrate an important step of independence. So it is not helpful to label a fun event, " the last movie" or "the last picinic" or the last trip to Six Flags. You may very well feel that way but try to deal with your sadness by talking to a religious counselor, family therapist, or even a close friend. There is no point in making the child feel guilty about going to college when this has been a goal for a long time. Appreciate them, enjoy them, and then let them go.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Why the College Calendar Matters

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The college calendar can affect the student experience more than you think. The majority of colleges now use the semester system consisting of 2 semesters of about 15 weeks each. Students find that they can take a variety of classes (usually about5) where the pace is more moderate than that of the quarter system. However, when exams roll around it can be highly stressful to study so many subjects simultaneously while completing projects and papers as well.

There are still a fair number of colleges who use the quarter system including the University of Chicago, the University of Denver, Santa Clara University, and most of the University of California system. Quarters last about 10 weeks each and students tend to take 3 courses per quarter and study 3 quarters per year. College classes in the quarter system deliver material at warp speed so if you are the type of student who procrastinates, this intense study may not work well for you. Some students find that final exams and papers are much more manageable in the quarter system where you have 3 courses to worry about rather than 5 semester courses.

For an even deeper more intense educational experience you can go to the block plan where you study one course very intensely for about 3.5 weeks. One advantage of this arrangement is that you can easily take field trips or do all-consuming projects. So when the course is good... all is very, very good but when the course is bad, it can be horrid. Colorado College is known for this unique calendar.

There are also colleges that have semesters with a short January term in between. These are known as 4-1-4 calendars. The January term is for unique course offerings some even involving foreign travel. Middlebury College, Williams College, and Hartwick College all have this type of calendar.

A final factor that students may want to consider regarding the college calendar is how it relates to summer work. The colleges on the semester system usually start in late August and end in early May. This enables their students to start a summer job early which can be an advantage in the job market. On the other hand, students at colleges that begin after Labor Day may have an easier time getting jobs at summer resorts where it is important to have staffing through Labor Day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Are Online Courses for You?

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The whole educational world of the internet has opened up opportunities for would-be students that never existed before. I know a student named Hallie who lives on Block Island and enriched her life with classes on Italian culture and language. However, distance learning is not suitable for every need. Some types of people find it difficult to learn this way and lab courses are impractical.

Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself in order to determine if these courses will work for you.

1. Are you a real extrovert who enjoys interraction with people?
If you are sitting in front of a computer for long periods may be quite
frustrating for you. The online interractions just may not be enough.

2. Are you driven to reach your goals? In other words, are you motivated to finish
projects that you start? Because the professor and students are remote there is
not as much pressure to complete the work. If you are easily distracted from
finishing work or reading, the online courses may not work well for you.

3. Are you using the online course(s) to meet academic requirements at a
traditional college? You might want to check with the college you want to
import the credits to in order to make sure that they will be accepted.

4. Are you taking a science class online? Keep in mind that labs are integrated
with many science classes and if you take a class without the lab it may not
transfer readily. Taking the lab separately can be difficult because labs are
designed demonstrate concepts in the text, lectures, and discussion groups
of the related course.

Answering these questions honestly can help you decide if online courses are for you.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Shopping for College Freshman

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This is not your typical packing list. This is supposed to be a list of useful but often forgotten items. Bringing some of these items may save you from standing in a gargantuan line at Target with other students waiting to pay for dorm items.

Most freshman have never shared a room so they don't think about the need for extension cords to hook up all the electronics from a few outlets. A white noise machine may never be used but if you need one it's critical and you won't find out until the middle of the night when you roommate is snoring or talking in their sleep.

Top Ten Items Freshman Wish they had brought to College

1) Extension Cords

2) Fan

3) Extra Hangars

4) Odor Eaters for Gym Bag

5) White Noise Machine

6) Sleep Mask

7) Stacking storage bins

8) Beanbag or Folding Chair

9) Rug

10) Digital Photo Frame

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Changing Schools Your Senior Year

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Moving has been identified as a very stressful activity right up there with a death in the family. Changing schools in the senior year adds to the stress of the college admissions process. This is because you have to develop relationships with your new teachers and a new guidance counselor in a hurry. If you know about the move at the end of your junior year, you should attempt to get college recommendations from a favorite teacher in sealed, signed envelopes to take with you to your new school.

School districts have different graduation requirements especially if you are moving between states. A student I know named Matt, transferred his senior year without any language classes at all. That was a real problem because the colleges he liked had language requirments of at least one year. Fortunately, he was able to demonstrate progress toward the goal of one year of language by fitting in an online course and he was accepted by the college of his choice. This type of problem is fairly common for transfers. I recommend meeting with a guidance counselor at your new school as soon as possible to make sure your course selection together with your transcripts will meet all the graduation requirements. There are a number of colleges that will not accept you if you are short a course or two and end up getting a GED rather than a high school diploma.

Another pitfall related to moving is that you won't be plugged into the information network. This means you will have to be extra alert to find out about college admissions workshops in the community, any special SAT or ACT classes, and opportunities to apply for awards and honore.

Coming into a new school is not all bad though. You have an opportuniy to meet lots of new people who have no pre-conceptions about you. The novelty of the new school environment can also help to stave off senioritis that strikes so many students who have been in the same district since elementary school. The adjustment to college may also come easier because you just had to adjust to a new environment, so you are better at it!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

College Roommates

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Most freshman-to-be have already completed surveys about their living habits in order to facilitate a roommate match up. If you used this survey as though it were a submission to Saturday Night Live, you should worry. John Q. a student at Harvard U decided to take the contrarian approach and fill in the opposite of his tastes and interests. No surprise, he had a really tough time with his freshman roommate. He tried to switch roommates right away but was unable to until well into the semester. The lesson here is to fill out the survey honestly and don't let your mom fill it out for you!

Colleges match roommates in a variety of ways. Some colleges such as Champlain College and the College of Wooster use the MBTI personality assesment in addition to student surveys to aid them in making good matches. Other colleges such as MIT have pre-frosh events where many people choose their roommates in person. Most colleges use a student survey to assist them and then assign the roommates in the summer.

Most college freshmen have never shared a bedroom prior to college. This can create some tensions. Contacting your roommate in the summmer before college can help to smooth the transition. You can share likes and dislikes online through Facebook. Sharing music or videos online can be a great ice-breaker. It also helps to deal with some of the practicalities, like who is bringing a refrigerator or a couch etc. Talking about if and how you plan to decorate the room can also be helpful. Shared living space can seem a little scary but most college students report that they made some of their closest friendships in the dorm freshman year.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer Reading

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Believe it or not summer reading can give a boost to chances of college admission. Of course it depends on what you read. Think of reading at least one book that interests you that you could talk about in an admissions interview. Remember that colleges are looking for students who are intellectually curious, which means that the latest best selling James Patterson thriller or the latest Danielle Steele romance will probably not give you any extra points with admissions. That still leaves a lot of choices in literature, history ,biography, current events and even business.

Some personal favorites in each of these categories are "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd, "Citizens of London" by Lynne Olson, "John Adams" by David McCullough, "Ghost of War-The True Story of a 19 year old GI", and "Make it Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath.

You can develop your own list of favorites and if you're stuck, you can ask friends, family or even a librarian what they would recommend for summer reading. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Colleges like Hogwarts?

The Harry Potter series has inspired a generation so it is not surprising that high school juniors and seniors think about Hogwarts as the ideal college setting. After all, many of the themes in the books relate to college or boarding school experiences including taking tough exams, making friends, finding love, breaking the rules, playing sports, fending off bullies, dealing with professor's favoritism etc.

After spring break travels to visit colleges Molly said to me. "I wish those colleges looked more like Hogwarts." Another said, "if they have a big dining hall with beams like Hogwarts, I feel happy."

So, what colleges DO look like Hogwarts? In my travels, obviously the university that looks most like Hogwarts is the one that inspired it, which is Oxford University in the UK. Glimpses of architecture that remind me of Harry Potter's school are also to be found in the US. Annenberg freshman dining hall at Harvard University is one place that seems both historical and magical. I could almost picture running into Hermione at one of the libraries at Lafayette College pictured above. "The Castle" at Arcadia University also reminds me of living in a novel. In fact students can enjoy castle living in gigantic rooms. Willard Straght Hall at Cornell University has beams in the main hall that are carved to resemble actual professors but in some cases they look more like wizards. There are also gargoyles in some of the walkways at Oberlin college that seem fanciful enough for Harry Potter fans.

Fanciful architecture is not the only rembrance of Harry Potter at U.S. colleges of course. Several colleges have established Quidditch teams (without the flying brooms and snitch of course). Some of the more established teams include Boston Univerity, Emerson College, Harvard University, Lafayette College, Middlebury College, MIT, University of Vermont, and Vassar College. I would love to see one of these Muggle Quidditch matches ... Maybe on my next college tour.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Keeping College Visits Straight

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NBC's Ann Curry confused Wheaton College in Massachussetts, where she gave the commencement address, with Wheaton College in Illinois. How embarrassing! However, the consequences are worse when the confusion happens on a college application. Believe it or not it is easy to confuse colleges, since there are many with similar names. For example, there is a Wesleyan University in CT, a Roberts Wesleyan College in NY, and an Ohio Wesleyan University in OH. There is a Cornell College in IA and a Cornell University in NY. There is a Washington College in MD and a Washington University in MO. You see what I mean.

Students sometimes get universities mixed up when they visit several in a row. After a few visits, the universities all blend together especially their similar features such as blue light security stations. It is important to remember the unique programs and facilities of each college for later applications. I visit over 30 colleges per year and I need to keep their features straight in order to help my students. Here are some of the strategies I use.

I take notes. I take pictures. I may even sketch a unique feature. I also find that talking to students helps especially when they share funny stories. At the end of the day, I review my notes and put them into a spread sheet. Different strategies work for different people. You may think you can remember it all but you would be amazed how the details blur and even vanish with time.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Summer College Visits: Value or Waste?

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The value of summer college visits is less than during the school year because the students are not there. Many universities have summer programs but the student culture is dramatically different than during the school year. Some families only have time to get away in the summer. A summer visit is better than no visit.

On a summer visit you can usually evaluate:

1) The campus layout and location
2) The surrounding neighborhood
3) The athletic facilities
4) The library
5) The facilities for LD support and the director.
6) The food (not of small colleges)
7) Transportation options to campus
NOTE: Small colleges may not have many of their facilities open.

In summer you can't evaluate:

1) The student culture
2) School spirit
3) The weather during the school year
4) The learning environment (visiting a class etc.)
5) Weekend activities

Visiting in the summer, you don't get an accurate view of the small colleges. They may look sleepy or even empty. I have had students come back and tell me that XYZ College was boring and dull or overrun with little kids in sports camps. Universities often have summer classes so they look more vital and active by comparison.

If your college visits do take place in the summer, make sure to make a second visit to colleges that you are seriously considering.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Should I take an AP, Honors, or Regular Class?

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Students and Parents often ask me, " Is it better to get an A in a regular class versus a lower grade in an Honors or AP class for college admissions?"

The standard answer to this from various admissions offices that I have talked to is not satisfying. The standard response is, "It is best to get an A in the most difficult course possible". This really states the obvious.

Clearly, you do need to show colleges that you are challenging yourself. My rule of thumb is; take the AP or honors class if you think that you can achieve at least a B in the course. If you are likely to get a C or lower because you have always struggled in the subject (science for example) it is better to take the less challenging course and keep up your GPA.

Keep in mind that the ultra-competitive colleges (such as Middlebury, Pomona, Columbia, Cornell etc.) like to see plenty of AP classes, IB courses or college classes on the transcript especially if they are offered by your school.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Can Seniors Relax?

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It's spring and for high school seniors their mind is on anything and everything except school. This coming week there will be AP exams and that is the final push for most students. Colleges have already sent out their acceptances for the most part. Is it safe to coast to graduation?

The answer is "It depends." What do you mean by coasting? If you mean getting "B"s instead of "A"s, it is probably OK. If it means skipping school, playing pranks, and getting "C"s or lower, it is not OK.

The colleges have developed an array of consequences for students who don't work at all at the end of HS. I have listed some of their possible actions below.

1) They can rescind the admission offer.
This is rare but it does happen, most often at highly selective colleges.

2) They can require you to take a remedial course.
Do you really want to substitute a remedial course for something you are interested in?

3) They can require you to take summer school.

4) It can affect your ability to get into special programs offered by the college.

In short, you have spent years of work getting to this moment in your education. Why risk it!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Great Books Colleges

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I just returned from my first visit to a "Great Books" college ie. St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. "Johnnies" follow quite a demanding curriculum that includes studying Greek and translating original texts. They study many great authors of the Western tradition both at the Annapolis Campus and at the Santa Fe campus. The students seemed very engaged in their study and none of those that I spoke to wanted to go to college anywhere else. There is not enough room in the curriculum to study any non-western traditions but you can follow a "great books" non-western curriculum as a graduate program on the Santa Fe campus. All classes involve discussion and discovery. The tutors or faculty are more facilitators than lecturers. This distinctive curriculum was developed by Scott Buchanon in the 1930's as a way to distinguish the college and boost enrollment.

This new curriculum was also related to the Hutchins Plan developed at the University of Chicago and currently followed by Shimer College in Waukegan, IL. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA also offers a four year "great books" education.

As you can imagine, there are few transfers in or out of this program because it is so unusual. The fact that students are following a common curriculum has a positive effect on course discussion because everyone has taken the same sequence. This approach seems to foster more philosophical discussions over dinner than I have heard at other colleges

Friday, April 16, 2010

Evaluating Financial Aid Offers

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These last few days, I have been receiving calls from families to help them compare aid offers. You have to get out your calculator and do the math. The offers are not always easy to compare because colleges sometimes use different terms for types of aid and they don't publish the college's cost of attendance (COA) on the letter. So, you must go back to the literature or to the college website to find that cost of attendance figure. COA is a key number to keep in mind.

Here are the things that families need to think about when comparing offers.

1. Is this college a good academic and social fit?
If it is a poor fit then it is a poor deal no matter how good the financial aid package.

2. Does the offer apply to all four years?
Some colleges sweeten the pot for the first year only.

3. What amount remains for the family to pay in cash and in loans? This amount is the cost of attendance (tuition + fees + room/board) - (sum of all grants).

3. Will outside awards apply to the family contribution or only the student's?

4. How much work study is offered?

5. How much will it cost to travel to and from the college?
This can be significant when you add in holiday and summer breaks

Don't accept a college's aid offer with the expectation of re-negotiating next year.
Remember, that colleges allocate a certain amount of aid per incoming class. This means that it is very difficult to get more aid for a sophomore unless you have had a dramatic misfortune such as a job loss or a death in the family.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

College Visits in Albany, NY

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Seniors are out making those final visits before deciding where to go to college next year and I was out visiting with them. It was sunny and over 80 degrees when I visited Siena College, Students were out on the lawn sunbathing and playing frisbee. It could have been a magazine shoot. I saw several of the Franciscan friars who live on campus interacting with students. I was very impressed with the business and the pre-med programs at Siena.

On Friday the weather was cloudy and blustery as I made my way to SUNY Albany, for a tour. The SUNY schools have become increasingly hard to get into. According to the admissions counselor, they accepted less than 45% this year. The new nanotechnology program is drawing a lot of funding and students. The Albany campus has a consistent architectural imprint based on designs of Edward Stone. One parent said, "I bet there is as much concrete here as in the Pentagon". I don't know if that's the case but there is a lot. Great for the skateboarders I saw though.

Friday afternoon I made my way to the College of St. Rose
which is within biking distance of SUNY Albany. This campus has eclectic architecture with modern brick buildings interspersed with Victorian buildings painted in the signature white and yellow motif of the Golden Knights of St. Rose. The students were especially friendly and laid back here. The campus is filled with gorgeous art that reflects its terrific art program. My guide was a music industry major which is not common to a lot of colleges. I was quite impressed with the new facilities available for those working in digital music, TV etc. The Education Dept. is also strong here with an on campus nursery school available for student teaching and learning.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

College Acceptance-Rejection Week

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This is the end of about 10 days of cheers and tears as the most selective colleges sent out their decisions.

No matter how well worded the rejection letters are they still sting and in many cases they sound very impersonal. If you are admitted to one of the ultra selective, be kind to your less fortunate classmates. If you didn't get in, the best strategy is not to take it too personally (this is hard)and check out your other options. The Ivy League, Duke, Stanford, Northwestern etc. could fill their classes many times over with talented, wonderful students. Each college has its own institutional needs and these are not public so any consultants or counselors who "guarantee" admission to the ultra-selective colleges are making promises they can't keep.

It is now so easy to apply to multiple colleges through the common application that the average number of applications submitted by students is 7. So, in the next few weeks some students will be rejecting multiple colleges to choose 1. This has a trickle down effect as spots open up at the rejected colleges and students are admitted off of their waiting lists. This uncertainty creates college openings beyond waitlists in May for students who are dissatisfied with their choices, but it is hard to know which colleges will have these openings because it changes from year to year. Super selective colleges like Cornell, Harvard, and Princeton do not have openings beyond the waitlist. In some years, they don't even admit off of their waiting lists.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A New Beginning.......

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It seems very fitting to begin blogging in spring when everything is fresh and new. Spring is on fast forward since it was 83 degrees today in Ithaca, NY.

It is also the beginning of a new admissions season as well, since most (but not all) admissions deadlines have passed. I am very excited to share ideas, news and my travels in order clarify the college and graduate admissions process.

This week is a school break in many areas and it's a great chance for students who just can't decide to make that last visit to campus. Colleges are not on break and so it's a great time to evaluate how comfortable you feel in the college environs of your final choices. I say, spend some serious time in the dining hall, at the student center, and at the fitness center to strike up a casual conversation or just do some people watching. I would check out the college surroundings as well for favorite hangouts like restaurants, coffee shops, malls etc.
Happy trails!

Book of interest to art students

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Sarah Thornton's book, Seven Days in the Art World gives a glimpse of different art experiences to potential art students. Those who think that being an artist is "easy" might change their mind after reading this.