Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mistakes to Avoid in the College Planning Process

Mistakes to Avoid in the College Planning Process

As we head into the summer months a new batch of college applicants is gearing up for their “admission marathon.” Despite great expectations, happy outcomes will be largely dependent on the student’s ability to stay focused academically while avoiding some of the common mistakes that doom otherwise very promising candidates. The reality is students need to make good choices, build relationships with colleges and manage expectations.

Make Good Choices
The mistake: Many students assume they don’t have to worry about the admission process until they formally become applicants.
The reality: Students become college applicants the day they become high school freshmen. Everything counts. In fact, every day presents opportunities for decision-making that will have a bearing on how you live the next day—and beyond.
Key areas of choice involve academic preparedness, extracurricular engagement and the application process itself. While it is not healthy—or practical—to obsess on any of these, students need to understand their accountability for good decision-making. Choosing well at every turn strengthens the student’s credential and reduces the potential for discriminating admission committees to say “no.”

Build Relationships with Colleges
The mistake: Students don’t take advantage of opportunities to get on the “radar screens” of college admission officers before they submit their applications.
The reality: Admission officers are looking for evidence of engaged interest. In fact, they are keeping track of a student’s interest from his/her first contact through the end of the admission process.
The solution is to demonstrate interest. As you get to know colleges, make sure you get credit for the things you do. Get credit for attending information sessions and visiting campuses by filling out information cards/forms. More importantly, take advantage of opportunities to demonstrate your understanding of the “fit” that exists between yourself and the institution.
A key person in this equation is the admission officer responsible for recruiting in your area. Turn to this person with important questions that are bound to emerge as you learn about the institution and begin to prepare your application. Ask thoughtful questions. Be respectful and judicious as you extend yourself. While you don’t want to come to be regarded as a pest, the last thing you want is for admission officers to question the depth or sincerity of your interest.

Manage Expectations
The mistake: Students assume that the more “reach” schools to which they apply, the better are the chances of getting into at least one.
The reality: It rarely works that way—especially if financial aid is needed. Not only is applying, somewhat arbitrarily, to a long list of schools likely to be an exercise in futility, it distracts students from giving quality attention to the applications they submit to colleges that represent the best fits for them.

It is important to avoid confusing admissibility with competitiveness at a given college. The odds are that you will be admissible—you can do the work in the classroom—at most of the colleges that materialize on your long list. Will you be competitive, however? Do you possess credentials that make you among the most highly valued candidates?

The key is to manage expectations. Target places that make sense for you—colleges where your credentials put you in the top half—if not the top quartile—of the admitted student profile from past entering classes. This will be an indicator that you are squarely on the “competitive playing field” at that school and you are more likely to be valued for what you have to offer academically.

In the final analysis, there can be no outcome guarantees in college planning—and it is neither healthy nor constructive to regard the process as a matter of acquiring a prize or a particular “destination.” You can, however, be careful to avoid some of the common missteps that plague potential applicants each year and, in the process, remain diligent in searching out places that represent good fits for you. I will dedicate this space to a further discussion of “fit” in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Is a Community College Right for You?

There are some cases in which four-year residential colleges aren't the best choice for everyone. Here are some reasons why community college is sometimes the better option. Before making a final decision, make sure that you are aware of the possible hidden costs of community college.

Community college costs just a fraction of the total price tag for public or private four-year residential colleges. If you’re short on cash and don’t have the test scores to receive a merit scholarship, community college can save you thousands of dollars. But don’t make your decision based entirely on money, many four-year colleges offer excellent financial aid for those with serious need. If is best to see financial aid exists before writing the possibility of a four-year college completely.

Weak Grades or Test Scores
If you don’t have the GPA or test scores to get into a decent four-year college don’t stress. Community colleges are open-admissions and you can use community college grades to build your academic skills and prove that you can be a serious student. If you then transfer to a four-year school, the transfer admissions office will consider your college grades much more than your high school record.

Work or Family Obligations
Most community colleges have flexibility and offer weekend and evening courses so you can take classes while juggling other obligations in your life. Four-year colleges rarely offer this type of flexibility--classes meet throughout the day and college needs to be your full-time employment and commitment.

Your Career Choice Doesn’t Require a Bachelor’s Degree
Community colleges offer many certification and associate degree programs that you won’t find at four-year schools. Many technology and service careers do not require a four-year degree and the type of specialized training you need is available to you only at a community college.

You’re Unsure About Going to College
A lot of high school students have a sense that they should go to college, but they aren’t sure why and aren’t really interested in attending school. If this describes you, community college can be a good alternative option. You can try out some college-level courses without committing years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars to see if it is the right path for you.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Test Taking Strategies

Examinations are a fact of life in college. When you take a test, you are demonstrating your ability to understand course material. Here are some tips to help you develop great test taking skills.

Take a Note from the Past. Always try to analyze how you did on a similar type of test in the past, i.e. multiple choice, and as well try to review previous tests and sample tests provided by your teacher. Each test that you take can help you to prepare for the next one!

Be Prepared. Always try to arrive early for tests—this will give you time to do a last minute review of your notes, and to take a deep breath and relax before you have to write the test. Make a list and prepare what you need, i.e. pens, pencils, calculator, beforehand to avoid last minute panic.

Be comfortable but alert. Choose a comfortable location with enough space for your needs—if you require additional space, try choosing a seat at the back or on the end of a row as opposed to right in the middle of the class or area. Try not to slouch; maintain good posture and stay relaxed and confident.

Relax. Keep a good attitude and remind yourself that you are going to do your best. If you find yourself panicking, take a few deep breaths. Try not to talk to other students right before writing--stress can be contagious!

Avoid Careless Errors. Read the directions carefully, and if there is time, quickly look through the test for an overview. Previewing the test allows you to see how much time you need to allot for each section--if the test is all multiple choice questions, it is good to know that immediately. When answering essay questions, try to make an outline in the margin before you begin writing. Organization, clear thinking, and good writing is important, but so is neatness, so be sure to make your writing legible. Answer questions in a strategic order--easy questions first to build confidence, then those with the most point value. Allow yourself extra time for the more difficult parts, like essay questions if this is your area of weakness.

Review! If you have time, review your answers and ensure that you haven’t missed any questions. Resist the urge to leave when you complete the exam—a second review gives you a chance to change answers to questions if you made an error or misread the question.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

How to Study Mathematics

Buy used textbooks. Sometimes we don't understand a concept because the explanation is just plain bad or it's not written in a way that we can understand. It's good to have a text that gives alternate explanations and additional sample problems to work out. Many used book stores will have inexpensive texts. Just double check to make sure that the explanations and answers from the previous owner are correct!

Study actively. Don't just work out a problem, draw pictures and diagrams of a process and make up stories to go along with them. If you are an auditory learner, you may want to make brief recordings of yourself defining some terms or processes.

Read actively. Use sticky notes or flags to mark important things in your chapter or things you need to ask about in class. If you have a sample problem that you've worked out and you'd like to have similar problems for additional practice, mark it with a flag and ask the teacher next time you are in class.

Use college prep study guides. If you can't find an old textbook to use in addition to your class text, try using an SAT, ACT, or CLEP study guides. They often provide great explanations and sample problems. You can also find free online study guides for these tests.

Take breaks. If you come across a problem that you don't understand, read it over a few times and give it a try—but then walk away from it and make a sandwich or do something else. Your brain will continue to work on the problem subconsciously.

Review old tests. Old tests are the best clues to future tests. They are good for establishing a strong foundation for the newer information, but they also provide insight as to how the teacher thinks.

Practice neatness. How unfortunate would it be to miss a test question out of sloppiness? It's important to make sure you can line up problems neatly so you don't confuse yourself, and also to make sure you can tell your sevens from your ones.

Find a study partner. A study partner can test you and help you understand things you can't get on your own.

Understand the process. You sometimes hear that it doesn't matter how you come up with the right answer, just as long as you get there. But, this is not always true. You should always strive to understand an equation or a process.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Balancing Social Life with School Work

Sometimes, if we are only focused on getting great grades, we forget our friends and our family and that there is a real world out there to have fun and discover. On the other hand, some of us don't care about our grades in high school or college because we think our social lives are more important. If you want to succeed in life, you need to find a balance between your academics and your social life. Here are some steps to help you to find that balance.

Be organized. Organize your study time and the time that you spend with people. Have an agenda, and write down what you will study one day, how much time you will spend studying, and at what time.

Get involved in social activities. If some of your classmates are having a party and you're invited, don´t think twice, just go and have a great time. That way you will be sharing time with them, and letting your mind and body relax.

Stay in touch with friends. Nowadays, we have the advantage of online social networking technology like Facebook, MSN Messenger, Skype and Twitter that you can use in order to keep in contact with your friends. Your cell phone is also with you at all times, so feel free to call to your friends whenever you want to also.

Plot out your weekly schedule on a grid. Decide for yourself at the start of the term that you won't let school work sweep you away. Chances are, you'll have small gaps between classes during the week, and longer stretches of free time on the weekends. Be sure to set aside at least one large chunk of time each week for free time - maybe all of Saturday, for instance.

Use time wisely. If you find yourself in one of those between-class gaps, use the time efficiently: read a few pages, run some quick errands or spell-check your paper.
Lastly, encourage your friends to follow a similar plan, so you can coordinate your free time with theirs.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Getting Through the Exam Time Blues

It’s that time of year again—and no, we’re not referring to winter or the holidays, but that time when everyone starts to camp out in the library, sleep deprived and totally immersed in textbooks and note-taking. But exam time doesn’t need to be the few weeks out of your year when you are exhausted, frazzled and stressed out. There are plenty of things that you can do to maximize your study time while still taking good care of yourself and de-stressing.

Devise a studying timetable and stick to it! Allocating slots of 40 minutes to each topic with 10 minute breaks has been scientifically proven to help students gather and assess information in a more efficient manner. Don’t read the information straight out a book or off of the internet, make sure you copy and rewrite it in your own words. Also, color-code and star certain aspects of your notes to bring the make sense of the information and help you to remember it in the long run. You should also try and study the most difficult areas first thing in the morning because you’re more likely to retain tedious information first thing, as opposed to doing it last thing at night when you’re tired and in a rush to get it done with.

Eat healthy. Make sure that you’re eating properly--3 meals a day with a healthy breakfast, your main meal at lunch, and a lighter meal in the evening. Some foods, such as fish, nuts and dried fruit, have also been known to help student memory. You could also try making some fruit and veggie smoothies to make sure that you get your 5 a day on the go!

Sleep. Students should ‘shut down’—that means no notes, study sessions or textbooks-- at least an hour before going to bed. You should also aim for at least 8 hours sleep per night so that you’ll wake up well rested the next morning. Try and steer clear of any sleep medication, including herbal remedies, and instead try running a warm bath before going to bed to help you relax.

Drink plenty. We are of course talking about water and other non-alcoholic fluids. Research has shown that keeping your body hydrated helps you ingest information and keep you more alert. Though your morning routine may call for that first cup of joe, try and resist - coffee makes you nervous and can actually dehydrate you! If you aren’t ready to give it up completely, at least cut back to one or two cups per day.

Be positive. Stress loves negative energy. Believe in yourself and don’t forget to treat yourself to something you enjoy, i.e. music, food, or shopping, every now and again to keep you motivated and willing to learn.

Friday, December 7, 2012

When Does A College Transfer Make Sense?

It is estimated that about 30% of college students will decide to transfer to a different school at some point in their college careers. Too often students switch schools for the wrong reasons and find that the grass is not always greener after the move. Here are a few situations in which a college transfer makes sense.

Financial Necessity
Some students simply feel that they can’t afford to stay at their current college. If you're feeling money pressures, be sure to talk to a financial aid officer or your family before deciding on making a transfer. The long-term rewards of a quality degree might outweigh short-term financial inconvenience. Also, realize that a transfer to a less expensive school may not actually save you money in the long run.

Up for the Challenge
If you are not feeling challenged enough at your current school, or you have you earned such high grades that you think you can win admission to a significantly better school, than transfer might be a good idea. A more prestigious college may be able to offer better educational and career opportunities. Remember, however, that being the star of the class at lower-ranked school can also have its own rewards.

Specialized Major
If you discover in your first few years of college that you want to be a zoologist, you might want to transfer to a school that specializes in animals. Similarly, if nothing will suit you but a career as an astrologist, you should transfer to one of the few schools in the country that offers such specialized training.

Family Obligations
In some cases, family has to take priority over school. If you need to be close to home because of a sick family member, transferring to a different school closer to home might make sense. Try to talk to your Dean first--a leave of absence is sometimes a much better solution.

Social Situation
Sometimes the culture at a college turns out to be the opposite of what you wanted. Maybe the seven-day-a-week party scene isn’t for you, or perhaps the opposite is true and you’d like a more active social life. College isn’t just about the academics, so in some cases like these, a transfer might make sense. Don’t jump too quickly though--make sure that the social group that you’re looking for doesn’t exist at your current school and try a change of friends first before a change of school.