Tag Archives: College Board

April is the craziest month

T.S. Eliot may have called April the cruelest month, but for high school seniors that label might go to March. After the long autumn months of writing college applications and the cold winter months of awaiting a response (and hoping for the best), March delivers the stark reality of college admission decisions: yes, no, or would you like to wait for a possible yes later (at very low odds)?

The red bud in crazy bloom

The red bud, blooming like crazy, in April

Which brings us to the craziness of April and the decisions seniors and their families face. Even when the student is accepted into his or her favorite school, most families will want to look closely at each of the colleges offering admission.

Closely, and quickly: the May 1 deadline for the student’s decision fast approaches.

Here’s what many senior households may wish to do this month:

Visit the campus

If you haven’t yet visited the campus, now’s the time to take a look, before anyone writes a deposit check. Virtual visits may be great, but they cannot convey the smell of the freshman dorm, the path from one end of campus to another, or the typical style of students at the school.

Or visit again

I am an enthusiastic fan of admitted student programs. There’s a huge change from visiting as a prospective student to visiting as an admitted student, for a few reasons.

  1. The college takes this opportunity to make its best pitch. Now that the school has offered admittance, it would really like the student to accept.
  2. High school students make amazing strides in maturity through their senior year, in no small part due to the self-examination the admissions process requires. The student visiting in April of senior year is quite different from the one making the rounds junior year.
  3. Also, having that admittance offer in her hip pocket, the student is more able to imagine herself walking those same paths in just a few months.

Consider your family’s net cost

Many families will want to compare net costs; that comparison requires careful attention to the financial aid letters from each college, including determining the source and amount of aid from grants, loans (subsidized or not), work-study, and self-help. Most colleges develop their own financial aid criteria, so offers can vary widely. As Richard Pérez-Peña wrote in What You Don’t Know About Financial Aid (but Should), for the New York Times:

“…most consumers do not realize that colleges are free to come up with their own ways of defining a family’s ability to pay.

Most colleges stick largely to the FAFSA formula. But hundreds of private colleges require another form, the CSS/Financial Aid Profile, and use a related formula created by the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement tests. Many colleges blend the federal and College Board methods, tweaking them as they see fit, or simply add their own factors to the mix. The result is that comparable colleges can reach very different conclusions, and they do not make those formulas public.”

Study the colleges’ academic requirements

Dig deeply into the colleges’ websites to examine and compare academic requirements from each college, including

  • distribution requirements (the need to take courses in each of a number of defined subject areas),
  • possible major requirements,
  • graduation requirements, and
  • credit earned from AP or IB courses.

The amount of credit earned through AP, IB or dual enrollment can potentially affect the student in at least a couple of ways. Some colleges require a declaration of major once a specific number of credit hours have been earned; this can pop up earlier than the student is ready for it. Some colleges accept very few credits; that could cost the family an extra semester or two of tuition.

Chill

Oh, surely this is a universal need for other high school seniors and their families, not just our own. Let’s get this done and move on to thinking about roommates and color schemes and summer jobs and internships and walking the dog and gardening and catching an episode or two of “House of Cards” and, well, anything other than college admissions, shall we?

This post appeared in slightly different form on True Admissions, the blog of College Admission: From Application To Acceptance.

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The SAT: more of the same prep, same anxiety?

Illustration: Zohar Lazar, from The New Yorker

Illustration: Zohar Lazar, from The New Yorker

First, if you haven’t already read it, see There’ll be some changes made, with the news report and a reaction or two on the announced changes coming to the SAT in 2016.

Since we have a couple of years until those changes come along, here’s some more test-prep reading…

1.  Elizabeth Kolbert, writing for the New Yorker, offers, “Big Score:  When Mom takes the SATs.” Kolbert relates her own experience, as well as that of Debbie Stier, author of The Perfect Score Project:  Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT, retaking the SAT as an adult, and covers a good bit of the test’s history as well.

Whatever is at the center of the SAT—call it aptitude or assessment or assiduousness or ambition—the exam at this point represents an accident. It was conceived for one purpose, adapted for another, and somewhere along the line it acquired a hold on American life that nobody ever intended. It’s not just high-school seniors who are in its thrall; colleges are, too. How do you know how good a school is? Well, by the SAT scores of the students it accepts. (A couple of years ago, the dean of admissions at Claremont McKenna College was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had inflated students’ scores to boost the school’s ranking.) As befits an exam named for itself, the SAT measures those skills—and really only those skills—necessary for the SATs.

I may be interested in reading about the SAT, but there is a less than zero probability of my registering to take the test, old or new. Just offering my real-world application of math.

2.  Walt Hickey, writing for FiveThirtyEight, offers advice in “How to Take the New SAT.” I’m likely to pay attention to his recommendations since FiveThirtyEight is the new data journalism organization headed by Nate Silver, statistician, baseball and politics forecaster, and author of The Signal and the Noise. Hickey examines the announced change that the SAT will no longer penalize test-takers for incorrect answers. Currently each wrong answer costs the test-take a quarter of a point.

Since the exam’s inception, students were advised to only guess on a question if they could eliminate at least one of the answers. This put expected value on their side, and they could hope to come out ahead in the long run.

Starting in 2016, with the death of the quarter-point penalty on wrong answers, there’s absolutely no reason anyone should ever leave a question blank on the SAT. According to College Board statistics, in 2012, every five points added to a test-taker’s raw score meant an additional 30 to 80 points on her curved final score.

So guessing isn’t just advisable, it’s about to become strategically crucial for people seeking to maximize their performance. Granted, everybody guessing is probably going to increase the average raw score, but that just means the College Board will adjust its grading curve commensurately.

If you choose not to guess, you risk falling behind the pack.

3.  Writing for The Atlantic, James S. Murphy says, “The SAT Prep Industry Isn’t Going Anywhere,” even though the  College Board president described their partnership with Khan Academy for free test prep, a “bad day” for test prep companies. Murphy has been an SAT teacher and tutor for the Princeton Review.

The truth is that there are no tricks to the SAT, or at least none that will make a significant change to a student’s score. Test prep raises scores by reviewing only the content students need to know for the exam, teaching them techniques they have not learned in school, and assigning students hundreds if not thousands of practice questions. It is this work, and not tricks, that overcome test anxiety. As Ed Carroll, a former colleague of mine, puts it,  “Competence breeds confidence.”

. . .

The main reason test prep isn’t going anywhere is that, as long as a superficial, high stakes test remains an important aspect of competitive college admissions, there will be no shortage of people looking for some advantage.  Admissions anxiety is not fomented by test prep companies. They do not need to make students and parent anxious.  The SAT has taken care of that for them.

4.  And finally, my favorite read on the SAT this past week:  Cora Frazier’s “New SAT Practice Questions” in the New Yorker. An example:

7. Student-produced-response math. You have one remaining pair of clean underwear, besides the pair you are currently wearing. You have an additional pair of underwear that doesn’t cover your entire butt and says “Thursday.” How many days can you go without doing laundry?

Now there’s a question with real-world applications.

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On the SAT: there’ll be some changes made

The College Board announced the details of its long-awaited revisions to the SAT this week. You’ve probably seen reports on these big changes:

Data, College Board Illustration, NYTimes

Data, College Board
Illustration, NYTimes

  1. The essay section will be optional and scored separately, changing the scale back to 1600 from 2400 (implemented in 2005).
  2. The test will no longer penalize students for wrong answers (now, each wrong answer takes 0.25 points off the score).
  3. Vocabulary words will be those students are more likely to see in college than the current, more obscure list.
  4. The test will be offered on computers.
  5. The College Board also tried to address the income-bias of the SAT by making fee waivers more easily available and by partnering with the Khan Academy for test prep.

Want to know more?

Eric Hoover, reporting for the Chronicle of Higher Ed, in Plans for New SAT Spark Mixed Reviews, outlines the changes and provides reactions from a number of college and college-prep professionals:

Ms. Leopold [executive director of CollegeTracks, a Maryland group that works with low-income and first-generation students] was skeptical of other changes in the SAT. “They do not address the underlying access problem,” she wrote, “that the College Board’s member colleges rely on a test that has been demonstrated to systematically understate the abilities of low-income and underserved minority students.”

. . .

Jeff Rickey, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at St. Lawrence University, in New York, praised several of the coming changes in the SAT. “I applaud the College Board for tying the test better to what’s needed in college, the way they will provide readings across the curriculum other than just math and English, and also ask for analysis,” he said.

. . .

Mr. Roberts [dean of admissions at the University of Virginia] and his colleagues don’t even look at the SAT essays applicants write—just their scores on the writing portion of the exam. When the essay is no longer part of the SAT, he wondered how many colleges would require or recommend that students write one.

“Colleges will require it if they think it’s a useful tool,” he said. “But the College Board’s going to have to convince folks that this is something that will help us evaluate students and predict success.”

The Story Behind the SAT Overhaul, by Todd Balf, published in the New York Times magazine, provides extensive details about how and why the changes were made, as well as how David Coleman, president of College Board, worked with critics of the SAT to develop the revised version. Coleman was integral to the development of the Common Core, now implemented in more than forty states.

By the time he took over in October 2012, Coleman was well versed not just in Perelman’s critiques but also in a much wider array of complaints coming from all of the College Board’s constituencies: Teachers, students, parents, university presidents, college-admissions officers, high-school counselors. They all were unhappy with the test, and they all had valid reasons.

. . .

In redesigning the test, the College Board shifted its emphasis. It prioritized content, measuring each question against a set of specifications that reflect the kind of reading and math that students would encounter in college and their work lives.

Finally, Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president of enrollment management for policy and planning at DePaul University, writing on the SAT revisions in The College Board and the Catholic Church, first provides his feelings on college admission tests:

–Any test created by someone who never taught the material to the students tested is inherently lacking
–SAT and ACT do explain freshman performance, but since the tests and High School GPA covary so strongly, it simply duplicates the effect of GPA, but does not do it better.  As an incremental measure over and above High School GPA, the benefit is negligible at best.
–GPA–even compressed GPAs from 35,000 different high schools–explains more about freshman performance than the SAT or ACT (no one from either organization disputes this, by the way).
–Both tests do, in fact, measure a certain type of intelligence: Picking the “right” answer from four given. And the fact that the tests might get it right 40% of the time seems good enough for many. However, this is not necessarily the way students “do” college.  In life as well as in many classes, sometimes you don’t even get the question; when you do, oftentimes the answer fails to be described in a few words.
–The tests have a very high “false negative” and a very low “false positive” for whatever it is (and we can’t always even define what it is) they purport to measure.
–Insecure people who have high standardized test scores are often the ones touting the value of standardized tests
–Super-selective institutions like the tests, even though they know it doesn’t predict much of anything academic, because: a) high numbers equate with “smart” and equate with “high quality” and b) they don’t need to, nor do they want to, take any risk on students, and c) they one thing they do measure really well–wealth–is important to many of them colleges.  It also gives them a convenient excuse to enroll fewer poor students.

Head over to the post to see what he thinks about the changes. Spoiler alert:  It includes the Who playing “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

We have two children who won’t have to take the SAT again, old or new. Our third child, Mod Squad Linc, will be taking the PSAT in the fall of 2014 and 2015, then taking the SAT for the first time in the spring of 2016… just in time to try out the new test.

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College Application Deadlines: It’s the parents’ turn.

Hello, second semester, senior year. After the last few months discussing college applications, the focus now shifts to financial aid applications. financial aid

Parents often ask whether these applications are worth the time and trouble. My short answer:  Yes. These applications offer the possibility of funding a college education — grants, loans, and scholarships. (A number of colleges use the FAFSA and CSS College Profile along with the student’s file to determine merit awards or scholarships.)

As Michelle Obama recently said to northern Virginia high school students and their parents, “Don’t leave money on the table.”

The applications
FAFSA—Every college, from a local community college to a very selective private college, requires the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA determines a student’s eligibility for any federal aid, whether grants, subsidized loans, or work-study funds. The application is free; the 2014-15 school year version became available January 1, 2014.

CSS Profile—Most private colleges, which award their own funds in addition to federal aid, also require a completed CSS Profile, from the College Board. (These schools often have the strongest needs-based financial aid,) The Profile is not free; it costs $25 to send to one college, and $16 for each additional submission. (According to the College Board, “Students who are from low-income families with limited assets will automatically receive fee waivers.”) The 2014-15 school year form became available in October 2013.

Others—Certain circumstances, such as business or farm ownership, may require additional forms. Some colleges have created their own forms to be completed in place of, or in addition to, the FAFSA and the CSS Profile.

The documents
Financial aid applications are not so different from recipes, when it saves time to gather all the ingredients before you begin to cook. Start with these documents:

  • Most recent signed, completed tax returns
  • Social Security number
  • Driver’s license
  • Current statements from banks, retirement accounts, investment accounts, and any other assets
  • Current income and expense information, such as W-2s, 1099s, 1098s, etc.
  • Any untaxed income records, such as child support, workers’ compensation, etc.
  • Any other documents related to assets or income

The frustrations
The timing—This all sounds straightforward enough, but the timing involved makes it complicated and, yes, a bit frustrating. The FAFSA, CSS Profile, and other financial aid applications request specific information from our tax returns—and often these applications must be submitted—before the returns can be completed.

Providing estimates—The FAFSA and the CSS Profile offer the opportunity to enter estimates for the previous year’s Adjusted Gross Income, itemized deductions, taxes to be paid, etc., then changes can be made after the tax return has been completed. Changes will have to be made because colleges also require the completed tax returns or an online link to verify the application.

Yet, providing estimates presents a bit of a nightmare for households with incomes that vary, such as small business owners, consultants, realtors, farmers, or salespeople. Also, some items may sound simple enough, like a tuition credit, but are not because of frequent changes in the rules.

Early returns—Estimates will only go so far. Some colleges require signed, completed tax returns by February 15.

The quantity—College application year is the most complicated since students are applying for financial aidwith a variety of due dates and submission procedures from the full list of high school senior’s colleges.

So I get frustrated. I complain. I procrastinate. I write blog posts instead of completing the forms. Frustrating though it may be, it is doable, and it’s important to do for a number of reasons.

The why
Many college advisors recommend that every family should complete the FAFSA, at least.

  1. While some families may assume they make too much money to qualify for aid, there is only one way to find out. You have to apply.
  2. Meanwhile, American colleges currently operate within a system of very high Costs of Attendance, which can be whittled down to lower net costs through aid, merit awards, and scholarships. Very expensive private colleges, especially those with healthy endowments, may offer a much lower net cost, indeed one that could be comparable to that of a public university. There’s only one way to discover a family’s net cost for each college.
  3. Many colleges, especially private colleges, use the FAFSA and CSS Profile as a part of their merit awards and scholarships qualifications. One form I just saw included this permission request: “I hereby grant permission for Student Financial Services to release my academic transcript and information about my financial aid to your prospective scholarship donors.”
  4. Even families with high income and asset levels may wish to access unsubsidized Stafford loans, with favorable interest rates and repayment beginning after the student leaves college.
  5. Finally, families who may not quality for aid with one child in college are likely to see a change with two or more in college at the same time.

Now it’s time for me to stop procrastinating and follow my own advice.

This post appeared in slightly different form on True Admissions, the blog of College Admission: From Application To Acceptance.

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What Happens When? The College Admissions Calendar, expanded.

I published a College Admissions Calendar in early May and asked for suggestions of any missed items. Here’s the calendar, updated with suggestions [credited below]. I’ve added a couple of notes at the end for recommended parent-student discussions. Those are always fun.

For college admissions May 1st marks the New Year — the end of one college admissions year and the beginning of the next. This is a great time to look at what happens throughout the year for anyone on a path toward college.

College teeMay

  • May 1 is the deadline for students to accept an offer from, and pay a deposit to, the college of their choice. Most, but not all colleges, that is. Here’s why (and no, it’s not for the benefit of the students): Random thoughts on May 1.
  • First two full weeks of May:  AP exams. All HS students taking AP courses take the exams at the same time.
  • First three weeks of May:  IB exams. All HS students taking IB courses take the exams at the same time. More information via the International Baccalaureate website, here.
  • SAT & SAT Subject tests (aka SAT IIs) offered. Typically SATs are offered every month except April, July, August, and September. SAT Subject tests are offered every time SATs are offered except March, but not all subjects are offered each time. Specific details on APs, SATS, and SAT Subject tests can be found at the College Board’s website, Big Future.
  • Parents and college counselors urge HS juniors to request recommendation letters from teachers before school lets out. (Note: typically teachers write the letters in the fall and upload them to the Common App interface after the student has specified his or her colleges. However, many teachers appreciate the advance notice and the opportunity to prep for the letters during the summer.)
  • Also, before school lets out, rising seniors should find out how to get a transcript sent from the school during the summer. Some colleges will offer targeted students incentives, such as recommendation waivers, application fee waivers or even small scholarship offers, if they get the completed application to the college in early September.

June

  • ACT tests are offered in June, September, October, December, February, and April. Specific details can be found at the ACT website.
  • Orientation for new college students begins, this usually includes help with registration. Parents are usually invited and are offered their own orientation track.
  • Parents of HS students may want to visit campuses while on summer road-trips.

July

  • The summer before senior year brings opening day for coach/athlete communications. This NCAA pdf provides a calendar for 2012-13.  Athletic recruitment adds an algorithmic level of complexity.
  • AP scores are sent to exam-takers; exams are scored on a scale of 1 [low] to 5; 3 is considered a passing score. The more selective the college, the higher score required for credit. Some colleges do not provide credit, but may use the scores for placement. See college websites for each college’s AP credit policy. Here’s what UVa accepts in the College of Arts & Sciences.
  • Parents and college counselors urge rising seniors to start drafting essays. Some students do. Read: How to Write a College Essay (in 10 Steps).
  • Another summer task for rising seniors:  investigate scholarship opportunities since many have fall or early winter deadlines. From a HS counselor, “This should start even in middle school. … It is NEVER too early to start searching for scholarships.”

August

  • The Common App goes live for the new application season. Some students actually apply in August. (Nobody I know.) Bookmark this site:  Common Questions for the Common App.
  • For new college students:  first tuition payment is required!

September

  • Many HS guidance counselors provide detailed information to seniors, including how much time is required for transcript requests, recommendation letters, etc.
  • Many HS guidance counselors will also provide guidelines on scholarship applications.
  • Freshmen, sophomores and juniors may want to start thinking about community service opportunities, if they haven’t already. Many honor societies and scholarships require service time.
  • Seniors should consider college visits. Many colleges have autumn visit days and may offer overnight stays.

October

  • Earliest Early Admission and Early Decision deadlines occur. (Note: the 2012-13 Common App listed October 30 as the earliest application deadline. However, many college counselors will advise students to submit at least two weeks prior to the published deadline.)
  • Many high schools offer PSAT/NMSQTs to sophomores (mostly for practice) and juniors (for National Merit Scholarship qualification).
  • The October SAT date is typically the latest that will get scores reported to colleges for Early deadlines.
  • Parents need to check financial aid requirements for early applications. Some will require an application in the fall. The CSS Financial Aid Profile, via College Board and required by most private universities, goes live October 1 for the following school year.

November

  • Early application reading season for admissions, extends into January.
  • Early applicants should prepare for the possibility of college interviews, either with admission officers or local alumni.
  • Parents and college counselors may urge seniors to finish essays over Thanksgiving break. Some students do.

December

  • The December SAT date is typically the latest that will get scores reported for regular deadlines.
  • Early decisions start to be received in December. Some HS students face rejection for the first time. (Deal with it and move on.)
  • Important:  many college decisions will be provided via the college’s SIS, requiring the student to log-in. Keep a file of the log-in IDs used for different colleges.
  • Important:  now is when HS seniors need to check email regularly. See Calling All Texters: Read Your Email!
  • December 31 is the deadline for the majority of regular admission applications.

January

  • The new FAFSA goes live January 1st. Some families actually submit that day. (Nobody I know.) Read: Catch-22: How and When to Complete the FAFSA and Your Tax Returns.
  • Regular application reading season for admissions officers, extends through March.
  • Regular season applicants should prepare for the possibility of college interviews, either with admission officers or local alumni.
  • Sophomores and juniors receive PSAT scores. Approximately three hours later they start to receive emails and marketing mailers from colleges.
  • HS course registration may begin for the next school year.
  • Summer enrichment opportunities often require applications by January or February. See a very long list our local school division provides here.

February

  • Many colleges require the FAFSA submission by the end of February. Parents need to prepare preliminary, or draft, tax returns in order to submit the FAFSA. Bookmark this site: FAFSA FAQs.

March

  • Regular admission decisions should be received by the end of March.
  • Once parents file finished tax returns, they must update the FAFSA and/or link it to the return via the FAFSA/IRS interface.

April

  • HS juniors may want to spend their spring break visiting campuses. Setting up appointments with professors can help them learn more about each school. Read: Sending emails to strangers. At colleges. Asking for appointments.
  • HS seniors may want to attend admitted day programs for specific questions, to help aid their final decisions. Read: Who should attend an admitted student event?
  • Many communities hold college fairs, bringing a large number of campus reps to one location.
  • Financial aid letters, in all their confusing glory, may be received through the month of April.
  • HS juniors who have qualified for National Merit recognition are notified.
  • Last two weeks of April:  many HS students put life on hold to prep for AP exams in early May. Except for Prom, spring sports, part-time jobs, and, like, hanging out with friends.
  • Last two weeks of April:  many HS senior families square up to the college decision.

Important discussions for families about the college list: 

  1. Finances. Each family will make their own decisions on this. My recommendation: have a frank and open discussion early on–at least by spring of junior year–about how finances may impact college decisions, so the student and the parents are on the same track. Families with substantial resources for college may still balk at paying a quarter of a million dollars for an undergraduate degree. Other families may be adamant about limiting student debt. Still, others may happily pay full freight (and the colleges would like to know who you are!). Does your child know what you are willing to pay? Have both parents discussed this yet? Opinions may vary widely, especially if the parents had very different experiences paying for their own college costs.
  2. Career Services. How good is each college at providing career services and providing them early on? As Patricia Krahnke, President of Global College Search suggested, “One thing that might be interesting to add is analyzing and comparing degree program curricula and career services/academic advising for each college choice. … We find that this is an area families avoid, often because they haven’t a clue about how to do it. But it can go a very long way towards making the application process, essay writing, and interview prep process less confusing and the college choices more confident and realistic.”

Additions made with thanks to Patricia L. Krahnke, Bob Gilvey, Whitney Castillo, Christel Milak-Parker, Anne Lepesant, J B Jones, Shayne Swift, and Chuck Self.

What did I miss? Write in comments below. Thanks!

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How to deal with college application deadlines, part three: 7 Tools

In February I wrote, How do you handle deadlines?, outlining our household strategies, and asked for other suggestions. A number of people responded, leading to this series of three posts:

  1. How to deal with college application deadlines, part one:  9 Tips.
  2. How to deal with college application deadlines, part two:  Professional Advice.
  3. And now, tools to try for yourself.

I don’t believe one system will work for everyone — my methods of tracking work flow and deadlines might drive someone else nuts.

Here are a number of options for students and families to consider, including various checklists, spreadsheets, calendar suggestions, and apps. Maybe one of these will work well for you.

College Admission worksheet.

College Admission worksheet.

1. Application Deadline Organizer. Robin Mamlet and Christine Vandevelde, authors of College Admission: From application to acceptance, step by step, provide a number of spreadsheets in their book and, downloadable versions, on their website. Before building your own spreadsheet to track college application deadlines, take a look at this.

2.  Five Organizational Apps.  DIY College Prep provided 5 Free Organization & Planning Tools for Students. I’ve listed them below, see DIY College Prep for the links.

Is disorganization your downfall? Has an assignment deadline ever slipped your mind due to messy personal files? If so, you probably realize that you’ll save yourself unnecessary time and grief by figuring out how to get those files in order. Fortunately, some nifty free tools on the web can help you become a better-organized student.

  • Time and Date
  • Soshiku
  • Ta-Da Lists
  • Toodledo
  • Remember the Milk

3.  College Application Checklist. DIY College Rankings offers a spreadsheet and checklist in 5 Ways to Get Smart About Filling Out College Applications

Applying to college is all about organization. Colleges will have different deadlines, use different forms, and require different essays and you need to be able to keep track of it all. The College Application Checklist is a comprehensive check list for all the steps involved in the college application process. Use it as the basis for organizing the process. (Sign up for the DIY update in the box on the left and get a spreadsheet to help track your college applications.)

4.  College App Wizard. Lynell Engelmyer and Kelly Herrington built an app to manage the requirements from each college:

Because we know how much teens and parents struggle with college applications, all of the pieces that must be in place and the multitude of deadlines, we created a web-based software tool that allows students to enter the colleges to which they’ll apply, answer a few short questions, and then receive a list of all of the requirements for that college. The list is sortable and comes with text message and/or email reminders and the ability for parents/mentors to view the students progress.
Custom tasks, like scholarship deadlines and more can be added. We welcome any feedback you may have.

CollegeBoard application checklist.

CollegeBoard application checklist.

5.  CollegeBoard Checklist for each College. The College Board website, Big Future, offers a checklist to print and use for each college application.

6.  Build in a calendar buffer. Cal Newport, via Study Hacks, suggests, Controlling your schedule with deadline buffers.

Any serious deadline should not exist on your calendar just as a note on a single day. It should instead be an event that spans the entire week preceding the actual deadline. (In Google Calendar, I do this by making it an “all day” event that lasts the full duration; e.g., as in the screenshot at the top of this post.)

The motivation behind this hack is to eliminate the possibility for pile-ups to happen without your knowledge. If you buffer each deadline with a week-long event, any overlap will become immediately apparent.

7.  College Essay Organizer. Daniel Stern and Scott Farber created an essay manager to help the student track down all his or her required essays and to coordinate the number of essays a student has to write. The essay questions are free, an Essay Road Map with a personalized writing plan costs $24.

We all know that writing your college essays is incredibly challenging. But what most people don’t realize, until it’s too late, is that simply finding and organizing your questions is often just as difficult — and equally important.

Essay QuickFinder organizes all your School App and Common App supplement questions in one place. It doesn’t replace the Common App … but it finally makes sense of it.

Let me know, in comments, if any of these work for you — or if there are others you would recommend.

Even the best tools still require a highly motivated student to use them. And/or strong nudges.

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The debates on AP courses. Yes, No, Maybe, and How Many?

Every year the Higher Ed newsfeed fills with debates about AP courses, and this year is no different.

AP US History, decade notes.

AP US History, decade notes.

It’s up to each family to understand the issues involved and figure out the appropriate number for each student to take (if any). For background:

  • Last year the College Board administered more than 3.2 million AP exams. See College Board’s Who We Serve. This year the AP exam costs $89 per. (College Board is a non-profit organization, but more than half of their revenue comes from AP exam fees.) Factor that exam cost against the cost of taking a three or four credit hour course at a college.
  • Thanks to APs, many students now begin their first year of college with a semester or two of credits already earned. Yet, some colleges require a major to be declared when a certain number of credits have been achieved, sometimes leading to a first year student needing to declare prior to his or her second year.

Much of the recent debate includes discussion of a recent report from the Stanford University Education Grad School program, Challenge Success. Start with that fifteen page report, The Advanced Placement Program: Living Up To Its Promise? The authors set up a few claims and tackle a lot of issues as they pull them apart. Don’t miss the recommendations for students on page ten.

Here’s the thing: every student will have reasons to take — or not take — APs. Do not take them because everyone else is.

  • Do take them if your are interested in the subject and willing and able to put in the extra time and effort.
  • Do not compete to take the most APs of everyone you know.
  • Do focus on learning how to take an AP. Many high schools use the AP Euro class, typically taken by sophomores, as an intro to taking APs, spending time on the prccess as well as the content.
  • Consider starting slow and building through high school. Starting with one sophomore year, two junior, and three senior year shows increased effort and rigor and makes a lot more sense for most students than jumping in with two or three sophomore year.
ChallengeSuccess.org

ChallengeSuccess.org

More to read on APs:

Two perspectives from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

NO:  Stop Letting High-School Courses Count for College Credit, by Michael Mendillo.

The end result is that in many introductory college courses, the top students are simply not in the classrooms. For them, faculty-student interactions are not possible and the overall value of a university education is diminished. All of these aspects of educational disservice are due to the existence of the AP system.

The solution is simple: All the things a student accomplishes in high school—grades, extracurricular activities, sports, volunteering—are application credentials for college. There should be no carry-over of high-school accomplishments into the collegiate transcript.

YES:  Give AP credit where credit is due, by Mark Bauerlein.

We may ask, though, about the impact of refusing to give AP credit upon enrollments and test scores in high-school AP courses­—or other advanced offerings­. What’s the incentive for 16-year-olds to take a course with a stiffer workload, competitive fellow students, and the chance of a lower grade?

College credit means savings in time and money once they matriculate. Take it away, and students may wonder about the advantages. Yes, AP courses accustom them to college-level labor, and admissions offices favor AP as a sign that an applicant seeks a school’s best resources (this is Dartmouth’s policy). But those are somewhat fuzzy promises to a high-school junior.

NO:  AP classes are a scam, by John Tierney, writing in The Atlantic.

Many critics lay the blame on the College Board itself, a huge “non-profit” organization that operates like a big business. The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from its Advanced Placement program — more than all its other revenue streams (SATs, SAT subject tests, PSATs) combined. The College Board’s profits for 2009, the most recent year for which records were available, were 8.6 percent of revenue, which would be respectable even for a for-profit corporation. “When a non-profit company is earning those profits, something is wrong,” says Americans for Educational Testing Reform. (The AETR’s “report card” on the College Board awards a grade of D and cites numerous “areas of misconduct” by the College Board.)

Finally, here’s one high school teacher’s response to the Stanford report.

YES:  The Oft Understated Truth of AP Coursework, by John Blase, on his blog, Striving for Better.

Having taught an AP course for several years in the classroom (AP English Language & Composition, to be exact) I find that most of the arguments in this article and others purporting to say that AP coursework isn’t worth its weight miss one key important piece: Many students who are enrolled in AP courses are bored out of their skulls in regular classes.

. . .

As department lead, I made many observations of the teachers and students in their English coursework.  Every spring, I would ask the seniors in AP English Literature and Composition (the senior level AP English course at our school) one question:

“Now that you have taken the test, what could we, as an English department, have done better from day one of your freshman year to better prepare you for this course?”

The answers always came back the same: more of the stuff that made AP English what it is.  These students weren’t concerned with the college credit or the scores on the AP test.  They were concerned with not being bored out of their minds in their other classes.

Finding the delicate balance between enough challenge and too much, providing an overload of stress, is where an excellent guidance counselor or independent college counselor can truly help families. And the mix of courses, including how many APs, to reach that balance will be different for every student.

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