Author Archives: Brian

What Colleges Want

College application season is well underway. Juniors are starting to put together lists and seniors are filling out the common app, getting letters of recommendation, and writing essays. Often it seems that all students do during the first half of senior year is think about what colleges want and how to give them what they want. However, by senior year it’s often too late to really change much.  They should have started thinking about it Freshman year! So here are some of the main things that colleges are looking for. Keep in mind that every college is different but in general here are the top three things that colleges consider in making admissions decisions.

  1. High GPA
    Yes, colleges like to see a high GPA. In fact, it’s the number one thing most colleges look at. What students often don’t realize though is that colleges want to see good grades in challenging classes. What does this mean? It means that a 4.0 without a single honors or AP course isn’t going to mean the same as a 3.8 on a loaded schedule. Start challenging yourself a little each year so that by senior year you have courses that college like to see! After all, they don’t want people who take the easy way out! If you go to a school that doesn’t offer many challenging courses don’t panic. I grew up in a tiny town in a school that offered no honors courses and only three AP classes. Colleges get this information about your school along with your application. They will take into account the fact that you may not have had the same resources that other students had! You may also be able to take college classes online or through a local community college during high school! Such programs also show initiative and prove to colleges that you aren’t scared of hard work.
  2. Standardized test scores
    Who isn’t worried about standardized tests (besides the kids who got perfect scores)? Standardized test scores don’t mean as much as you think they do. They are a solid second priority to most colleges. In fact, there are almost 1000 colleges in the U.S. that don’t require students to send in scores at all! (Check out fairtest.org).  Keep in mind though that if you choose not to send in your scores everything else becomes more important! If you are sending in scores remember that the national average on the ACT was just 20.8 in 2016. That probably seems terribly low. Remember that only people who get really good scores brag about their scores. There are way more 20s out there than 30s! Look at the averages for the schools you want to go to. You might be surprised! Also, keep in mind that 50 percent of students are below the average ACT at any given college. The averages are not set cut off points.
  3. Everything else
    Extra-curricular activities, letters of recommendation, and essays all fall into this category. Different colleges weigh them differently. This is where you get to show the schools who you really are. The key here is not to be a Jack of all trades but rather to actually care and commit to a few things throughout your high school career. Having 50 activities that you attend once a month is not impressive. Having 5 activities that you truly dedicate yourself to and have leadership positions in is much more attractive. Remember, colleges are looking for students who will bring dedication to campus! In the same way, letters of recommendation should come from people who can show your best traits. Ten generic letters from people who barely know you would not be as impressive as one genuine letter from a teacher who has been actively engaged in your education and knows you as a person!

Most of all don’t wait until your senior year to start thinking about college! Whatever grade you’re in in high school set forth a deliberate plan to put yourself into a good position when you find yourself filling out those applications.
I hope you’ve found this information helpful! Please feel free to share!

College Counseling with BWS

As many of you may have noticed, our blog has been a bit quiet lately. That’s because we have been gearing up to make big changes. We are happy to announce that BWS Education Consulting will now be offering college counseling! College counseling is a service that helps guide students through the process of applying for colleges. From creating a list to making a final decision, a college counselor is there to help. You may be wondering why you would want a counselor besides your school counselor: we can give you more support. Your school counselor is a wonderful resource but quite often you are simply not a priority because he or she has a couple hundred other students. With our private counselor you’ll be one of only a dozen students so you can know that you’ll get the help you need when you need it. Check back soon for the first blog from our new college counselor Michal; she’ll talk about what colleges want to see on your application!

Extra Curricular Activities: Quality Over Quantity

“Wake Up To Politics is on hiatus while the Editor is at summer camp. The newsletter will return in August!” reads the header on a popular news blog. However, the Editor isn’t a summer camp counselor, nor is he away at one of the ever more popular adult summer getaway camps. The editor of Wake Up to Politics- a blog that has an ever increasing fan base- just finished 8th grade. That’s right, an 8th grader is writing a daily newsletter. The newsletter is sent out every week day morning before Gabe Fleisher, the sole editor, heads out to school. It’s been in publication since 2011 and, if you do the math, that means Gabe has been writing it since he was about eight years old. Granted, his only subscriber at first was his mom but still, it’s quite impressive.

Gabe writes Wake Up to Politics because following the news is something he genuinely enjoys. However, he will definitely be reaping the rewards of his hard work in just a few years when he is applying to colleges. Gabe’s extracurricular passion is something that will shine on his resume. Gone are the days where dabbling in every activity offered guaranteed college acceptance. Colleges no longer want well-rounded students: they want a well-rounded class.

What this means for students like Gabe and you is that focusing deeply on two or three extracurricular events (sports, hobbies, and volunteer opportunities) is better than briefly working on a dozen. In short quality reigns over quantity. After all, who cares if you spent a day or two working on a Habitat for Humanity project if you never did any other volunteer work? That day or two doesn’t really say much about who you are as a person. Maybe your parents dragged you there; maybe you volunteered because you had a crush on someone and wanted to impress them; maybe you really do care but you don’t have the drive to follow up.  Those two days don’t reveal a sterling character because it’s impossible to know why you were there. True commitment and character shines when you commit whole heartedly to something. For Gabe, that something is his newsletter. For you it could be anything: just show that you care by diving deep and colleges will be impressed.

If you want to check out Gabe’s newsletter follow the link below!

http://www.wakeuptopolitics.com/

Harvard Acceptance Revoked After Offensive Posts: The Internet is Never Private

For many students, receiving college admission letters means the end of a long process. They have toured, interviewed, written, called, begged, tested, and just generally stressed for so long that being accepted into a prestigious college seems like admission to heaven itself. What many students don’t realize, however, is that this is not the end of the road. Guidance counselors have long warned seniors not to let their second semester grades plummet: colleges do take notice and may reconsider! However, a more recent issue that students have to be careful to avoid after acceptance is having a negative online presence.

As can be seen at the link below a good handful of students are seriously regretting their online postings. Several recent high school graduates who had been accepted to Harvard had their acceptances rescinded due to their online posts. These posts were made to a Facebook group for upcoming Harvard freshman. The students, who were told they would not be reporting to Harvard in the fall, reportedly posted memes that were racist and sexist; they also joked around about child abuse. These students, who probably never thought anyone at Harvard would see their memes, are now living a nightmare.
So what happens when it’s already June and you don’t have a college to go to? Most of these students probably had great backup schools. However, with commitment day long past those other top notch schools are most likely full. If one does have space for someone kicked out of Harvard it is doubtful that there will be any federal financial aid dollars left for that school to give out. In short, these students are looking at a local school that has open admission or (at least) a semester off.

This should serve as a serious warning to both students and adults alike. The internet is public and forever. Even in a private chat your conversation is only one screen shot away from the whole world. The person you portray on the internet should be the person you would show to your recruiter, admissions officer, or boss.  Don’t let a foolish decision today chance your life forever.

http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/national-international/Harvard-Rescinds-Acceptance-for-Offensive-Memes–426393131.html

Good Practice Improves Scores on SAT

After years of denial the SAT finally admitted what we’ve known for a long time: preparation for the SAT improves scores. The SAT found that using the online Khan Academy official practice tests for six to eight hours results in an average 90 point increase and using it for 20 hours can result in a 115 point increase! Clearly practice is important! Make sure that your practice is worthwhile by using only high quality material.

The quality of SAT test preparation books is much higher than that of ACT test preparation books.  The reason behind this is that the SAT is much more popular in areas – large cities on the East and West Coast of the United States –   where parents can afford to invest significantly more money in test preparation for their students.  As a result, the market for creating high quality SAT test prep questions is far more competitive than it is for ACT test prep questions.  With more competition comes higher quality.  So, if you are looking for test prep materials for the SAT, you will find a lot out there, not all of which is good solid material.

I have worked with a number of books over the years for the SAT:  Princeton Review, Barron’s, Kaplan, Gruber’s and others.  Overall, these are all of pretty good quality to use for practice for the SAT and PSAT.  However, the very best book to use is “The Official SAT Study Guide” from the College Board.  You can find it here:

https://www.amazon.com/Official-SAT-Study-Guide-2016/dp/1457304309/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

Why is this?  Because it has 4 previously used SAT tests.  Even though it has very little in terms of strategy, it does have a decent content review for the Math and Writing sections.  Most importantly, it will give you the best idea of what you will find on the actual SAT because it comes right from the makers of the test.

Don’t Try Too Hard to Justify your Answers on Standardized Tests

When we take major tests like the SAT and ACT, we often expect WAY too much of ourselves by thinking that we should be able to clearly explain why we picked the answer we did. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Being able to explain why you picked the answer is a great thing.  The problem is when you feel you must spend too much time on a question because you cannot give a detailed justification to yourself as to why you picked what it is.

If you are teaching a class on test preparation, then you should definitely be able to explain and justify why a particular answer is correct.  I know that if I attempted to explain a question by simply telling a student, “well that’s just the obvious answer!”, they would ask for a refund.  If, on the other hand, you are simply taking the test, then you only need to have a good sense of what is correct.  This is a significant issue for test takers in the following situations:

  • On vocabulary questions where they hesitate to trust their intuition and instincts as to what a word might mean.
  • On math questions where they might be afraid to use unconventional methods, like plugging numbers in, because they are not what they have been taught as a “proper” method in school.
  • On grammar questions, they will know that something is incorrect, but because they can’t think of exactly what would replace it, they just leave it as is.
  • On science questions, they think they need to recall in-depth facts from school when what they actually need is just a bit of common-sense problem solving.

The SAT, ACT, and other major standardized tests are not long short answer and essay tests:  they are predominantly multiple choice.  You will not need to give extended explanations as to why an answer is correct – you simply must know that it is correct.  Do your best on these tests by letting your instincts and intuition guide you when it is called for.

Pros and cons of doing a gap year before college

This year’s Junior are soon going to get very tired of the question “where are you going to go to college?” As soon as Junior year is over and Senior year begins that will be the question on everyone’s lips. However, there is no rule saying that you have to go to college immediately after high school.  We often do things simply because they are “the next thing” to do.  You may want to think about doing a Gap Year – take a year off between high school graduation and college to do a whole host of things.  Here are several reasons to do a gap year.

  1. You want to see what different careers are like.  The best way to see what a career actually entails is to do some job shadowing.  If you are coming out of high school and you feel torn among several career options, taking the time to do some internships or apprenticeships may be a great way to spend a year.
  2. You want to build work skills. With as competitive as it has become to find jobs after college graduation, having a year of real world work experience may set you apart from other applicants.  If you are in a financial position to be able to do unpaid internships, you’ll have no trouble finding opportunities to build great work skills.  If you must work part time, try to fit in at least one day a week of job shadowing in areas about which you are more passionate.
  3. You know that you need to build your independence and self-discipline. Freshman year is a time when many students “go nuts” since they are out from under the watchful eyes of their parents.  If you know that you are not prepared to handle yourself in a totally free environment, take a bit of time to get yourself together before having a terrible freshman year experience.
  4. You want to travel.  The year before college is a fantastic time to see the world.  Even if you have little spending money, you could find a job teaching English in another country, being a tour guide, or house sitting for a wealthy family.  Travel may help you clarify your thoughts about what you want to do with your life before you invest tens of thousands of dollars in your education.
  5. You want to improve your college applications. Perhaps you’ve already been accepted to a school, but you would really like to go to a more selective institution.  You can potentially use a gap year to improve your college application.  You can focus on improving your AP, ACT and SAT test scores, and more importantly, having some in-depth extracurricular involvement that will distinguish you from other applicants.
  6. You are already in, but you need a break before starting.  Many colleges will allow you to defer admission for a year if you would like to spend some time working or travelling prior to matriculation.

Now, here are some reasons not to do a gap year.

  1. You don’t want to lose academic skills.  It is said that the first two months of school after summer break are spent reviewing material from the previous year.  If you know that you are going to have a difficult time getting back in the academic groove, you may as well go to college right after high school.
  2. You feel ready and eager for the independence of college.  Many students, more frequently female ones in my observation, find that they are ready to move on from the confines of high school and living with their parents. If you are ready to spread your wings, taking a gap year and living at home may be an absolute nightmare!  If you are particularly ready to move on to the next level, you may consider graduating a year early!  I know many students who have done this.
  3. You are planning on lots of education after college. If you are planning on becoming a doctor, earning a Ph.D. or doing post-doctoral research, you probably don’t want to add another year to when you will be able to begin your career.   (Then again, if you want to avoid burn-out and the fear of regretting that you have only been in school you entire life, taking a gap year may in fact be a good idea!)

Thanks for reading.  If you found this helpful, I would invite you to share it with your friends.  –Brian Stewart

 

Should I Clear the Calculator Memory Before the ACT

While many students get away with putting math formulas into their calculators, and many businesses market programs that enable students to download the math formulas that students need for the test, storing information on your calculator is prohibited on the ACT.  

With the test cheating scandals in recent years, the ACT is really cracking down on security procedures.  This test will lose its credibility if cheating is widespread, so the ACT is doing everything they can to stop it.  Instead of looking around for a way to put formulas into your calculator, have no worries by spending a few minutes memorizing what you need for test day.

Always Guess C?

“Always Guess C!”  I learned the hard way the reality of offering such advice. Some years ago, I was tutoring a young lady for the ACT.  I advised her to guess on quite a few questions because she had difficulty with time management.  On her math practice test, she guessed “C” on the last 20 questions.  Much to my surprise, she only got one of them correct!

After discovering this, I looked at every publicly available ACT test to see if there was a pattern on the last few questions of the Math test.  On every single one, I found that “C” or “H” (the middle choice of the 5 since the ACT alternates between ABCDE and FGHJK on the Math Questions) was used less frequently than the other choices.

I thought about it, and it made sense to me why this would be true.  1.  Most students don’t finish the ACT Math section.  2.  Most students guess “C” when they run out of time.

So, I figured that ACT realized that people guessing “C” quite a bit at the end must be blindly guessing rather than actually knowing the material.  I guessed that they were trying to punish these guessers by turning conventional wisdom on its head and penalizing those who followed the “Guess C!” rule of thumb.

I thought I was on to something – I advised my students prior to the next ACT to not guess C on the last 10-20 math questions.  I was really excited that I had discovered a hidden strategy that I hadn’t found stated elsewhere.

Then, I took the ACT in December and ordered the question/answer service so I could review my answers.  And guess what:  THEY USED “C” A LOT ON THE LAST FEW QUESTIONS OF THE MATH!  I had given my students terrible advice for that test date.  Fortunately, the rest of my advice was much more sound.

Lesson learned – one letter is as good as any other on major tests like the ACT or SAT.  If it were as easy as picking a particular letter, why on earth would colleges put any stock in these tests?

State Sponsored ACT in Ohio: Pros and Cons

Starting this year, the state of Ohio is paying for every Junior in high school to take the ACT. Most schools are requiring every eligible student to take the test during the school day sometime in the next month.  The ACT is now one of the simplest ways to complete testing requirements for graduation; one path to graduation involves receiving a 22 on the math, 21 on the reading, and 18 on the English. Free testing makes things very easy for the schools.  There is no longer any excuse for students not to have an ACT score for graduation or college applications! This is great for low income students who previously might not have been able to take the test due to cost! It is also great for students who have anxiety and want to take the test in a familiar environment. However, the way the state has set up the testing, along with the choices several districts have made, may actually have negative consequences on several different groups of students.

My biggest concern is that the state has chosen not to pay for students to take the writing portion of the test.  For students who cannot afford to pay for the ACT (the students who this is supposed to be helping) this is their only chance at this test. Many universities  require the writing portion, so these students will be cut off from applying! In addition, highly exclusive schools want to see a writing score for every test that their applicants take; students from Ohio may look bad to these schools because they were required to sit for an ACT without the writing portion.

Similarly, students who are very high achieving will most likely be applying to schools that require ALL test results be submitted. These schools generally don’t want to see students taking the test more than three or four times as it can begin to look desperate. These students will have to “waste” a test sitting on the in school test on which they may not do as well.

There are two main reasons that students may not do as well on the in-school tests as on regular Saturday tests.  First, students have been trained not to prepare for in-school standardized tests. Their teachers make them do small practice tests, but generally students do not study outside the classroom. Not many students took time out of their days to study for the old OGT or the more recent PARCC tests. The preparation given by the school was really all they did. However, students can benefit greatly by preparing for the ACT outside of school, they just may not think to do so if they see it as just the next in a long line of standardized tests they  have to take for graduation.

The secondary reason students may not do as well on the in-school tests is that many schools are only offering on screen ACTs.  Tests on computers have several setbacks. It is difficult to flip through the test, to go back and answer questions you chose to leave for the end.  It is impossible to write on the test; students will not be able to circle key words in questions or underline important parts of the reading comprehension test. In addition, computers have a myriad of problems associated with them, they can get unplugged, run out of battery, go offline, or crash. Finally, students will have to stare at a screen for four hours, straining their eyes and making them even more tired than they normally would be during this test. Schools choosing the computer option aren’t doing their students any favors.

While this in-school test may be a wonderful opportunity for many students, if it’s not good for you make sure you do something about it! If you think you may be adversely affected by these tests then talk to your guidance counselor! Explain your concerns and ask if you can be exempted from the test. If you have already taken the ACT they may be willing to allow it, especially if you have legitimate concerns which you explain respectfully. If your guidance counselor tells you that he or she “can’t make that call,” ask who can make the call and get in touch with them. Remember, you are the best advocate for yourself. Stand up for your rights and for what is best for you.

 

I hope you have found this blog informational! If you enjoyed it please consider sharing it with your colleagues or friends!

Michal Strawn