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!