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If You Have Time for Just Three Things...

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Are minutes in the day shrinking or is the calendar just moving faster?  Sometimes it feels like both are happening.  Seniors in the midst of finalizing early applications know this better than anyone -- while high school junior, sophomore and freshman parents are astonished at the fact that their students are moving up the high school ranks en route to their college futures.


In reality, the college process has sped up in many regards, with all students in my practice completing at least one early application.  For juniors, early fall is a great time to gain a head start on pieces of the college process and optimal for seeing schools when the weather is still good and academic obligations have yet to pile up.


Most seniors are done with application tasks by now -- but not all.  Some students are still making campus visits and re-visits as well as making one final attempt to boost SAT/ACT scores. For juniors ready to step into their college process, it's worth taking time during the next couple of months for the following:


1.  Register and prep for standardized testing
Chances are a student will be required to take either the SAT or the ACT as a condition of application to at least one intended college.  Some students align with and focus exclusively on one of these tests, while others try out both to see which one best fits their testing style.  At the very least, it's smart to visit the SAT or ACT websites to sample the style and types of questions one may encounter on these exams.  Most students will begin testing during the winter of junior year, if not earlier, espeically if their winter and spring schedules are full with extracurriculars.

2.  Schedule campus visits

It takes more than a little planning to organize student and parent calendars in order to make campus visits a priority.  With busy weekends full of homework, projects, athletic and family obligations, campus visits may easily slide onto the back burner.  Before you can say "summer’s here,” senior year has arrived with its own set of priorities that may tighten up schedules even more. Besides, it’s best to visit schools during the normal ebb and flow of the academic year rather than during summer break when there are typically few students in attendance. Prospective applicants need to view campus life in action, in part, to determine a good college fit.

3.  Don't ask teachers yet for college recommendations…

... but start to consider the fact that most schools require at least one academic teacher's evaluation.  Students should begin to think about connecting in some way with teachers and how to get to know them better in or out of the classroom -- or both.


The college process is made up of many more steps than mentioned here, but with these three items underway students and parents are off to a good start! ________________________________________________________________

Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admission process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC.  Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com  


Um...Mr. Morgan?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Requesting Teacher Recommendations

As junior year chugs along, Recommendation Request Season draws near. This is the time of year when teachers, not typically accustomed to students seeking them out between classes, find many stopping by with growing frequency and a shy “ask” in their eye. The sought-after payoff: “Yes, I would be delighted to write a college recommendation for you.”

For students who feel confident in their classroom performance and hold rapport with their teacher, requesting a recommendation may feel natural. For those students who have not yet made a strong connection with a teacher, there is still an opportunity to consider what they have gained from their classes and how it connects to their interests, whether present or future.


How Many Recs Are Needed?

Colleges vary in the number of recommendations they welcome. There is a surprising range of policies around this aspect of the college application, spanning as few as one optional recommendation from a school counselor to schools that will allow five or more from a variety of sources. Within the scope of recommendations, schools commonly request 1- 2 recommendations from teachers in academic “solid” classes rather than electives or arts classes. Additional outside recommendations may come from employers; coaches; volunteer coordinators — anyone who has known the student in a context that allows comments based on personal qualities such as leadership; maturity; impact; character; and more.


When to Ask

Asking early, before the end of junior year or early senior year, rather than up against last-minute deadlines demonstrates maturity as well as proper appreciation of the writer’s time and effort. May or June is a great time to approach teachers, when junior year progress is fresh in the teacher’s mind and the student still has time to boost engagement in the classroom.


What A Good Rec Sounds Like

It may be surprising to learn that a solid recommendation does not necessarily need to stem from the student’s highest performing class. Qualities in evidence may include engagement; work ethic, contribution to the class’s learning; attitude and drive. Student’s do not necessarily have to earn an A+ to demonstrate these strengths!


How to Ask

Whenever possible, requesting teacher recommendations is best done in person.

While it seems obvious, students should make a point to thank the teacher who has agreed to write on their behalf.  Students may follow up or thank a recommender in person, via email or — another personal gesture — through a handwritten note.

Perspective and Paying It Forward

While students sometimes agonize over whom to ask and what that teacher may say in his rec, keep in mind that colleges review applications in their entirety and recommendations are one corner of the multi-piece puzzle. Students: Be sure to thank Mr. Morgan for his time now — and check back in later during senior year to let him know where you’ll be headed next fall. This way, you’ll come back full circle, letting your recommenders know that their hard work has paid off, setting the stage for the next group of juniors behind you.

________________________________________________________________
Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC.  Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com


Second Semester Juniors: What’s the Game Plan?

Saturday, January 06, 2018

With nearly half of the school year in the rear view mirror, many juniors are thinking about what’s to come in the remaining months. If you’re blessed with a “glass half-full” perspective, high school juniors have a whole 5 - 6 months in front of them to make good progress on their college plans. Many students kick off 2018 with several excellent opportunities at their disposal, most of which require good planning and smart use of our most precious and fleeting resource: time. 

What to Focus On Now

With mid-year exams on the horizon, one of the best plans of action now is to gain an early start in prepping for these exams.  In my practice, I note that a large number of students find that the precious ground they’ve gained in a semester of classroom success is later dampened by a lesser midterm exam grade. Too many students pay too little attention to a significant exam that could push their semester grade up or down several quality points, potentially affecting the GPA.  Hindsight can’t override a C+ on a midterm exam that brings down a student's A- work somewhere into the B or B+ range.

KEY: Begin to gradually prepare for mid year exams. Don’t cram!


Standardized Testing

Spring can be the ideal time for students to sit for the SAT or the ACT. The 2018 testing calendar starts off with a Feb 10 ACT and a March 10 SAT.  Starting test prep now will allow approximately 5 weeks of prep for the ACT; 4 weeks beyond that for the SAT.

KEY: Prep for standardized testing doesn’t happen overnight. At the very least, students need time to understand the tests and how to approach them. Don’t go in cold!


Planning for Campus Visits

Winter/Spring breaks present an excellent opportunity to check out campuses for size; location; vibe; facilities; connecting with athletic coaches; student support services, as appropriate. Planning well now for these upcoming months will bring a huge return when it comes to narrowing lists later on, thereby reducing the last-minute crush of to-do’s at the beginning of senior year.

KEY: Visit campuses when students are present. 


And the Rest...

Then there’s more to the story for students to plan ahead and make the most of their summers through work; camp; internships; research opportunities; service; etc.  Early winter (now!) is a great time to set plans in motion for summer.   In the midst of winter, thoughts of June-July-August feel close to a dream, but before we know it the boots and gloves will slip off and our juniors transform into rising seniors.
________________________________________________________________
Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Coming to YOUR High School This Fall

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Starring regional admissions representatives from your favorite colleges!

Aside from reading applications, one of the front-and-center responsibilities for admissions representatives is visiting high schools in their assigned regions. These folks ride the open roads and fly the friendly skies to promote their colleges across their respective territories -- and to gain a flavor of the high schools their applicants come from.   Commonly, the most likely point of contact between students and college representatives is at junior and senior small group presentations at the local high school.  

By attending a college presentation, students have the chance to directly ask college-related questions as well as learn more about new programs; what the school may require in the application process; scholarship or merit opportunities; and more.  

Some high schools publish a broad schedule of representative visits well ahead of time, while others do so week by week. It's a student's responsibility to keep an eye on visit schedules, usually posted through the Guidance department, lest they miss a visiting rep and a potentially valuable opportunity to introduce themselves and learn more about the college.  It is worth noting that at some high schools, students must adhere to a policy of requesting advance permission to leave class to attend a rep's info session and, realistically speaking, teachers may be unlikely to grant permission if there is in-class testing that day.

What if the student can only attend a portion of the session?  Even if the student can only manage a five-minute "drive by," he can still demonstrate interest by introducing himself to the representative and requesting a business card.  Not all colleges visit every high school of course, so a prospective applicant can always reach out to schools independently and initiate contact through a pertinent question or two.  

Whether a student is just beginning to college shop or is just about ready to finalize her research, an intimate high school-centered presentation can bring helpful perspective to which college -- and why!

________________________________________________________________
Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Summer = Downtime + Productivity

Thursday, July 06, 2017

It’s a scientific fact (well, not really — but yet I think you’ll still agree): Summer is the most fleeting season of the year.  That’s because even though summer has the same number of calendar days as its three fellow sun-cycles, we define this time of the year by its long-awaited respite and big dose of freedom from the everyday demands of school life.  For rising juniors and seniors, these months are well-earned and precious. 

When students comment, “I’m so busy this summer — I have no time to…” I take that as code for:  I need my downtime.  Absolutely.  You need downtime to refresh and recreate so you can get back in the saddle when school starts up again in the fall.   But remember that no matter how full summer days are with a job or team practice, they will not be as busy or structured as when senior or junior year start up in full form.

Depending where you are in the college process, whether a rising college explorer or soon-to-be-applicant, there are several things you need to be doing —and accomplishing — during summer break:

+  Work on college essays. Steadily.

+  Prep for SAT or ACT  — or at least take some diagnostic sample tests.

+  If expecting to test or re-test for subject tests in August, begin studying right away.

see prior blog post --  It’s Here:  The August SAT 

+  Accomplish AP summer prep work, as is necessary.

+  Begin to prepare your Common App — (and/or Coalition App; U of CA; or Apply Texas apps).

+  Get a good start on organizing a portfolio if applying to arts programs.

+  Be in touch with athletics coaches or admissions reps.

And there is one more to-do on the list:  Get out into the sunshine and fresh air  — or into the studio, lab, or workplace; plane; train or car.  Play, work, socialize, day dream and enjoy summer in whatever ways you crave to refresh and rejuvenate before the calendar flips to September!

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Parent of a Junior? That Is, Rising Senior!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

by Marla Platt, AchieveCoach College Consulting


Parents of high school juniors: Congratulations! In a few short weeks you will attain official status as a parent of a rising high school senior.

While our juniors are currently focused on final projects, papers and exams, (and the joy of handing in the last of the bunch!) they also have an eye on the next important stage in their education: preparing to engage fully in the college process.  


In preparation for moving smoothly through stages of getting ready to apply to college, by now your student should:

  1. have at least one result from the SAT or ACT
  2. be familiar with his or her transcript 
  3. be aware of courses still required for high school graduation 
  4. have already toured at least one college campus
  5. have several schools in mind to actually apply to 
  6. possess an understanding of what target; reach; good bet admission possibility means for them
  7. engage in an honest discussion with parents about college affordability
Summer break sits brightly on the horizon with fall of senior year following directly behind. Look forward to some carefree summer days and the special delight that comes with a well-deserved rest from the hectic pace of the school year.  Then be ready for fall when the calendar turns again!

Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com




Should My Student Take SAT Subject Tests?

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Come spring, standardized testing begins to take on even bigger proportions than usual.  Junior year is wrapping up, and some students are considering re-testing for the SAT or ACT for a second — or even third time.  AP exams are popping up everywhere on the student calendar, and there there are those SAT Subject Tests (until recently known as SAT IIs) to consider.   Of the all these college-related exams, which take precedence?  Since there is no “one-size-fits-all” standard in college admissions, it all depends…

What Are SAT Subject Tests?

Parents may recall that “back in the day,” strong students typically sat for academically-focused Achievement Tests designed to assess a student’s command of academic knowledge.  The College Board, owner and publisher of the SAT, years back retired the Achievement Tests and re-introduced these knowledge-based exams that are known today as SAT Subject Tests.

Similar to the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests are one-hour, multiple choice exams that are designed to test student knowledge and analytical skill in a variety of academic areas, including math, science, literature, history and foreign language.

The overall trend in recent years has seen many colleges shifting away from requiring the SAT Subject Tests.  Instead, colleges are focusing their application reviews on admissions factors that they consider to be more strongly indicative of student potential for college success, primarily high school course rigorgrades earned in these classes; and SAT and/or ACT scores.  As result, only about 35 colleges require or recommend SAT Subject Tests, while a number of others consider the results. Keep in mind, however, that even if a college’s overall policy is to not require Subject Tests, certain programs within the college, especially in STEM fields, may.


Why Should My Student Consider Taking SAT Subject Tests?

If few schools require these tests, why still plan to take them? For the student who wants to showcase a particular academic strength, preparing for and taking a Subject Test may provide an opportunity to highlight his application relative to others in the pool of applicants.  This approach is even more applicable if the student is unenrolled in AP level courses but still wishes to demonstrate depth of knowledge.

Homeschooled students often elect to take Subject Tests in order to demonstrate the strength of their chosen curriculum as well as provide additional data points to Admissions. One very academically-focused homeschooler I worked with years back had his eye on several highly selective colleges.  As he worked through his challenging, home-based course work, Subject Tests were never far in the background.

For students planning college work in a technical field, such as engineering or biomedical science for example, even if the college does not specifically require submission of Subject Tests, a strong Math II or science score may potentially help set the applicant apart from others coming in with similarly strong high school math and science curriculum and grades.


When Should My Student Take a Subject Test?

Once a student has completed the highest level subject area coursework she is likely to pursue in high school, then it is time to consider sitting for Subject Tests while the material is still feels fresh.  In contrast, if the student will be later learning essential material through a higher sequence course, then it is best to wait until the student has more fully acquired the material before approaching the exam.  Since high school class content is unlikely to fully encompass all that is covered in the Subject Test, students should take the time to review gaps in their knowledge and fill in accordingly.

TIP! The College Board offers FREE review material posted online.

For the sake of sanity, remember to keep the focus and make a great testing plan.  In other words, students cannot take SAT Subject Tests on the same day as the SAT (truly, that would require an inhumane number of hours in a testing center!)  There are only so many hours in high schooler’s day: Should time constraints come down to one testing choice or the other, it would probably be more important to focus on posting a solid SAT or ACT score rather than hyper-focusing on Subject Tests.


Scores

Note that the Subject Tests are scaled and “curved” by individual subject, meaning that score percentiles for Spanish vs. Math II vs. even the SAT itself are very different.  In the case of a disappointing score, a student may have the option to hold back scores through the College Board’s Score Choice option and not release them to colleges. Students, however, need to verify individual college's policies around use of Score Choice.


To Test or Not to Test

Deciding whether or not to prepare for Subject Tests should be based on several factors.   Students should consider their interest in the topic; command of the material as evidenced through class grades as well as a sample SAT Subject Test; and the time and motivation to study the material that may fall into the gap between what the high school class provides and what the test requires.

At many colleges, the ACT may (but not always) stand in as a single substitute for the SAT plus two Subject Tests - but it is essential to consult each college’s specific testing requirements.

Even if a student prefers to take the ACT instead of the SAT, he may still desire to showcase his subject knowledge by scoring high on a Subject Test.

A Final Word

I advise my students to have a go with Subject Test(s) if they have:

* a strong command of material in an academic area and 

* the time and energy necessary to shore up any missing subject knowledge such that prepping will not siphon away time from other important student commitments. 

Throughout the college process, when you have something worthwhile to share then don't hold back.  While it’s great to shoot for high Subject Test scores, these won’t trump doing one's best by posting strong SAT or ACT results and achieving good grades in solid courses.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

High School Junior Applying to College? Start the Ball Rolling Here

Thursday, March 02, 2017

All things come to those who wait, but when they come they’re out of date.” ~ Anonymous

Midyear grades have only just appeared. Super Bowl has only just faded to the rear view; Cupid has barely made his mid-winter mark; and March Madness is still weeks away.

High school juniors: No matter how you frame your winter calendar, now is the time to set your wheels in motion around several key components of the college application process.

Even if it feels like there is a lot of road left to travel during junior year, it’s not at all too early for students to work up a personal plan and:

Get out in front of and be realistic about college affordability.

Devote time and energy to educate themselves about colleges.

Acknowledge their learning and social needs and search out appropriate educational environments.

Take the time to reflect on a potential college major (with the understanding that one's choice may change).

Put thought into an appropriate standardized testing plan.

Think about reaching out to influencers who will further support their applications, including teacher, counselor or employer recommenders.

Bottom line: There are plenty of pieces to organize along the way as students aim to assemble solid college applications that connect their strengths, goals, needs and resources.

If students are looking for a starting line, now is the time to pull out the calendar and jump on these action steps:

  1. Register for standardized testing.
    Chances are that the student will be required to take either the SAT or the ACT as a condition of application to at least one of their intended colleges. Some students align with and focus exclusively on one of these exams, while others try out both to see which one best fits their testing style. At the very least, the SAT and ACT websites offer sampling of the style and variety of questions students may encounter on either test.

    Prepping in some way for the SAT or ACT is a smart decision that will depend on student motivation, time and other resources. Test prep assistance ranges broadly from free, web-based supports such as Khan Academy or Number2 to fee-based private services that offer individualized tutoring.

    Most students will aim to begin testing during the winter of junior year, if not sooner.

  2. Order the official test scores you want your colleges to receive.
    Although students have the option of including their standardized test scores on their applications, many colleges still require official score reports to be sent from the appropriate testing agency. Scores are not automatically sent to colleges unless the student requests their submission — and pays the required fee.

    Note, however, that students have the option to request free score reports for up to four colleges at the time of test registration. (Visit SAT or ACT websites for details.) A potential downside is that students who choose to submit scores in advance forego the option to review their results prior to submission.

    If students intend to submit official score reports to colleges, they need to order these well before application deadlines since forwarding of scores from the testing companies is not instantaneous.

  3. Schedule campus visits.
    It takes more than a little planning to organize family calendars in order to make campus visits a priority. With busy weekends full of homework, projects, athletic and family obligations, campus visits may easily slide onto the back burner. Before you can say "summer’s here,” senior year has already arrived with its own set of priorities that may tighten up student schedules even more. Besides, it’s best to visit schools during the normal ebb and flow of the academic year rather than during summer break when there are typically few students in attendance.

    Prospective applicants need to view campus life in action, in part, to determine a good college fit.

  4. Ask teachers for college recommendations... 
    ...and thank them! Writing a thoughtful college rec requires precious time and focus to reflect on and express who you are as a student as well as a member of your school community. Asking early, before the end of junior year rather than up against a last-minute deadline, demonstrates maturity as well as a proper appreciation of the writer’s time and effort. It is courteous to make recommendation requests in person, whenever possible. One may follow up or thank a recommender in person, via email or — as an even more personal gesture — through a handwritten note.

  5. Start making summer plans.
    Work, play, travel, research, write, think, volunteer, create, study, learn, experiment. The list can go on and on, but it's your summer so plan on making it a good one.

  6. Consider fin aid options and...
    Apply for financial aid well before deadlines.

    Exploring the net price calculators published by individual colleges can give families a head start in estimating need-based aid at those institutions. NPCs vary by college, but exploring these can provide insight on financing estimates for incoming freshmen.

    Financial aid timelines — and deadlines — have been recently pushed to earlier in the admissions cycle. Families can now submit completed tax returns according to what is known as the Prior-Prior Year schedule, pointing to the family financial scenario two years prior to the student’s year of college matriculation. Still, there is more to consider in this earlier timeframe: Students applying for financial aid via the FAFSA and possibly the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE will note that these applications are now available for completion beginning October of the senior year.

    The primary intention behind establishing earlier timelines is to allow colleges to better expedite financial aid application reviews and award decisions, thereby allowing students and parents more time to evaluate and respond to aid offers. In reality, aid funds are finite therefore remember to monitor deadlines so you can be the early bird — and much more likely to catch the worm.

    Juniors and soon-to-be rising seniors: Embrace the fundamental steps of the college process. Becoming organized now avoids a longer to-do list later on!

Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com




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