10th and 11th Graders: College Planning Starts Now!

10th and 11th Graders: College Planning Starts Now!

By 10th and 11th-grade college talk should be fairly consistent—especially if you are, or have a student who is—aiming to attend a selective college or university. The majority of our work with students, which includes summer planning, narrative development (your “story” for college), compiling school lists, and completing the personal statement, app data, and a comprehensive resume—starts in 10th and early in 11th grade. If this is you (or your student!) there is no better time to start the process than right now.

Sophomores should consider the following:

  • Starting to prep for standardized exams early. Don’t wait until spring of your junior year to begin prep. We have a small list of tutors that we can highly recommend; don’t leave who you work with up to chance.
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. S/he will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and the letter will be much more personal if you know each other.
  • Now is the time to build your story for college! Have you heavily involved with any of your extracurricular activities (other than sports)? Look for leadership opportunities in school and consider activities outside of school as well. Does your resume point toward a major? It should start to at this time, and if it does not, that should be a goal for your summer plans.

And juniors, it’s not too late to:

  • Prep for and take the ACT or SAT. Yes, schools are going to be test-optional this year, but high test scores always help!
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. S/he will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and the letter will be much more personal if you know each other. Talk about your goal schools and your high school’s track record at those schools. Get their take on schools that are going to be a fit, and hash out a preliminary application plan.
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in, explore the admissions and academics pages, attend ALL of the virtual offerings offered, and sign up for a peer guide with us to really go above and beyond in your research. Now is the time to kick your college research into high gear.
  • Start your Common App essay brainstorming. Ask us how!
  • Plan your summer wisely. You’ll want to use this summer to round out your resume and make sure it’s pointed toward your intended major, and you’ll also want to finish most of your applications. Make a plan now because you don’t want to be playing catch-up in the fall.

Email us or fill out the contact form to schedule a consult and find out how we can support you in your college planning and application process!

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Move Over Testing

Move Over Testing

Testing has been on the way out for some time now, and 2021 just might be the year that we see test blind—even beyond SAT subject tests—become more prevalent. 

So with testing on its way out, what’s in?

  • Being interesting, bold, different, eclectic in your interests and pursuits outside of “school”
  • Excellence in something (or a few things), but real excellence, like wow excellence
  • A deep interest in something (or a few things), but real depth, like wow depth
  • Forging your own path…

But this isn’t anything new.

In the past, the most successful applicants we have gotten to know were those who had competitive grades, competitive scores (maybe even a laundry list of them), and on top of that—for the most selective schools—had an interesting resume that told a clear and compelling story. Some activities were even a bit out-of-the-box, rare/unique, or at best a bit surprising; surprising is wonderful in college admissions because so many applications are just the same. If an applicant took an interest to a depth uncommon for someone in high school, even better. 

At the most selective schools, everyone has awesome grades and test scores. One of the main reasons so many applications don’t stand out has nothing to do with testing or grades, but a student’s resume and activities—their life outside of coursework. Many students feel like they are doing something wrong if they are not doing what everyone around them is, like play multiple sports, joining Science Olympiad or Debate, NHS, Interact/Key Club, and minimally taking part in a bunch of other clubs or “service” opportunities they don’t really care about. They do this instead of pursuing a few activities deeply, especially if those activities are not what their peers are doing. 

If we keep moving toward a test-less or less test-heavy college admissions model, students will hopefully have more time to focus on their interests outside of school. What these interests are, and the depth in which they are genuinely pursued, might become more important than ever before as we see the bar on that front rise. 

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Lab Internships for High School Students

Lab Internships for High School Students

Re-sharing a post from Josh Rabinovich of Warp Drive Tutors (check them out for all of your STEM tutoring needs!) on how to approach summer internships while in high school. Although we don’t really know what summer 2021 will look like yet, now is the time for sophomores, juniors, and even graduating seniors to start planning. Many students seek to gain lab experience. Thank you for these insights, Josh!

First, if you have not started looking and the end of the school year is rapidly approaching, you needn’t fear that all of the potentially good internships are taken by now. They are not. In fact, you will find a plethora of availability providing you know where to look and you have something tangible to offer the lab you approach. But to begin, you need to have an understanding of what will be expected of you and what you should expect from an internship.

Of course, the first question is, will you get paid? And the answer is no, not if you want to get something valuable from your experience. Labs are usually run on shoestring budgets, determined by grant funding, and it is tough out there in grant land. So any money that goes out will only go out to that which proves immediately valuable to the lab, and as you have no understanding of DNA ligation and cloning methodologies (though you will by the time your summer is up) you have, sorry to put it this way, no immediate value to the lab. If you do wind up getting paid, it is because they assign you something nobody else wants to do, like cleaning up and organizing the cold room. Do you want to spend your summer cleaning up the cold room? Bleh.

So now that we have discussed what they will expect from you, let’s look at what you should expect from your internship. If all goes well, you will emerge with two very valuable assets, and these are a) actual lab experience, which will help if you want to work in a lab in college, not to mention help you decide if you want to pursue science, and b) a letter of recommendation. When I say actual lab experience, understand that after a very short amount of time you will be given your own project, which you will be expected to work on independently and keep detailed notes about. What you will not do is “shadow” someone, at least not for very long. Shadowing someone is not helping them, it is just being a pain! So you will be shown some basics, and then given some legit work the lab needs to have done. And if you are working in a molecular lab, you should expect that your work will include handling DNA, and using recombinant DNA protocols. In fact, you might want to make sure these are things you will do in advance.

None of this, of course, is meant to scare you off, just to tell you what you are looking at. So how do you get an internship? Look at the university’s website for the graduate department in whatever discipline interests you, ie cell biology, laser physics, etc and then look at the different labs and see which might appeal to you. Email the director of that lab and say you are a high school student and would like to volunteer over the summer (you may have to send this more than once). Also, you will need to have taken an AP course in the general field that the lab is involved in, so if you want to get some cloning in, you will want to have taken AP Biology. You may also want to consider that some labs will expect you to put in some pretty hefty hours. Not all, but some definitely will.

Lastly, when do you ask for the letter of recommendation? The answer is, as soon as you have left the lab. Remember, the most important thing a letter reader wants to see in a letter of rec is how well the letter writer knows the person about whom he/she is writing. So if you wait until 3 months later, the person writing the letter will have forgotten almost everything about you and your letter will read “Jane worked in the lab and everyone liked her. She accomplished a lot”. This won’t help you. Try and get the letter as soon as possible after you leave, when the person you worked with will have a clear memory of what you did, and what your success and failures were.

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Resume/Activity Sheets: Where Less Is Always More

Resume/Activity Sheets: Where Less Is Always More

The resumes we see tend to take two forms: the students who does it all, but nothing very deeply or well, and the students who does very little (to varying degrees of depth and rigor). 

You don’t need to do it all, but you do need to do something, or a few things, really well or to an extent that goes beyond that of your peers. And if you can’t help but spread yourself a bit thin, you can still craft a narrow application (ask us how!). 

Colleges look for students with something unique, a specific talent, skill, or interest to add to their next class. Students who drill down on an interest or two early on in high school will be better positioned to tell a clear, focused story in their applications. By doing so, they hand the reader of their file exactly what they are looking for—they make it easy to see the value you will add on campus.

This might mean doing a lot of exploration early in high school and this is okay. However, don’t be afraid to find something you like, drill down on it, and not do too much else extracurricularly. You don’t want a resume that reads like a laundry list anyway.

Here’s what a few top colleges have to say on the subject via Niche:

  • “You [should] demonstrate a deep commitment to and genuine appreciation for what you spend your time doing. The joy you take in the pursuits that really matter to you – rather than a resume padded with a long list of activities – will strengthen your candidacy.” –Yale’s advice on Activities
  • “When we evaluate an applicant’s activity list, we’re not looking for a specific number of involvements or even specific types.  We are much more interested in seeing an applicant follow their passions and show dedication over time to a few specific involvements rather than spreading themselves too thin.” –USC Admissions Blog
  • “We are looking for students who will contribute their talents, interests, perspectives, and distinct voices to our community… We are more interested in your focus on a few activities over time (such as work, care for parents and siblings, service, or athletics), rather than membership in a long list of clubs—although we understand that some students can balance an assortment of activities.” –Swarthmore College, “What We Look for in a Swattie”
  • “You’re joining a team. And because we’re recruiting a team of people who will work together, we want a variety of strengths and talents that, together, will form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. So, not every talented student needs to be talented in the same way.” – UNC-Chapel Hill, “Who We Want”

The question I ask a lot when thinking about activities: How much can you meaningfully contribute to more than a few activities? Narrowing down your interests and corresponding activities can provide the time and space needed to engage more meaningfully and at a higher level in the one or two things you love the most. It’s a bonus if these activities relate to your potential college major, or support it in some way!

Remember, colleges seek to build a well-rounded class comprised of students with unique talents and skills, not a class full of generalists.

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December Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

December Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors

• If you have been admitted to your top choice school and the process of applying has come to a close, congrats! Remember to maintain your GPA as schools don’t like to see your grade dip 🙂

• Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to periodically check your school-specific portals. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.

• Do the schools on your list require midterm grade reports? Check requirements online and talk to your school counselor about having them sent to colleges as needed. Also, re-share your RD list and make sure they know to send docs accordingly and far in advance of deadlines.

• It is difficult to write essays and complete applications between December 15 through January 1 because of the holidays, and…

• It’s always a good idea to submit apps ahead of deadlines. Aim to complete all RD/ED II apps by 12/15 so you are not in a time-crunch over the holidays and beat the RD app submission rush! Don’t forget to send official test scores, as required, to RD schools.

•If you still can, you should interview where possible…and consider which schools on your list you will send an interest/update letter to (no more than a month or so after you apply).

• If you were deferred, check back for a post on that soon (or look back to this time last year on the blog). If you need help creating your deferral letter and strategy, reach out to us.

Juniors

• Keep going on tours and attending info sessions (virtually of course!).

• Beyond academics, colleges look to admit students who take part in meaningful extracurricular activities, and summer is a great time to do something fun and meaningful that possibly explores what you might study in college. You might want to consider going beyond a pre-packaged program to something more self-initiated, like an independent study (will share more on this later in the month) or a purpose project.

• Start to think more about your major (or majors!) of interest and how your activities support this interest. Don’t forget: you should be exploring your interests outside of the classroom/school. But what if I do not know what my interests are?!?! Interests are not necessarily inherent, waiting to be found—they need to be cultivated. You have to get out into the world and work to determine them, and this can take time. We believe this is why it is important to start exploring early in high school. Explore through after-school programs, clubs at your school, a summer job, free classes online, by reading books, academic journals, or even watching Ted Talks. What we are getting at is, to really determine your interests, which might someday turn into your focus of study in college—or who knows, maybe even your passions later in life—you have to put some thought into it and do the work!

Sophomores & Freshmen

• An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. How are your classes going? Review interim grade reports, and take stock of where you have room to improve.

• Beyond academics, colleges look to admit students who take part in meaningful extracurricular activities, and summer is a great time to do something fun and meaningful that possibly explores what you might study in college. You might want to consider a purpose project. 

• As we excitedly approach the holiday season, think about how you might be able to help out those in need. The holidays can be a tough time for many families, and high schools and community centers often have food drives, toy drives, coat drives, etc. where you could give some of your time (or food or coats or toys!). Get involved, give back!

 

Enjoy the holidays and winter break! Take some time to relax.

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Remote Volunteer Opportunities!

Remote Volunteer Opportunities!

We shared a bunch of these back in the early days of COVID. However, we found a few others recently that looked interesting. Check them out below!

Robotics for All: Robotics for All strives to provide equitable educational opportunities to students of all backgrounds, particularly low income and under-represented students, with an emphasis on teaching the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The goal is to reduce the opportunity gap, allowing students to gain beneficial skills for the rest of their academic and professional careers. We believe that it is important for students to have access to a quality STEM education, regardless of socio-economic status.

As an online volunteer teacher, you will be responsible for running an eight week long online class. This includes leading the two weekly synchronous classes (either on Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday), evaluating student homework (assigned between each synchronous class) and managing teacher’s assistants. It will be your responsibility to ensure that the class runs smoothly and take care of any issues, whether related to student behavior or errors in code. You must possess strong leadership skills and a high level of independence. Our current curricula for online classes are the Code.org Curriculum (for K-3rd graders), Scratch Curriculum (for 4th-6th graders), Python Curriculum (for 6th-8th graders), CAD Curriculum (for 6th-8th graders), and Fusion Curriculum (for 7th-8th graders). You are expected to have mastered the curriculum they teach. Learn more here.

The Empowerment Factory (TEF): a non-profit dedicated to giving youth the skills they need to lead happier, healthier more empowered lives. We focus on three areas of development: creativity, self esteem, and civic pride. Our Creative Squad programs blend hands-on activities with social emotional learning (SEL) and environmental education. Our vision is for every child to develop the confidence and ability to express themselves and become successful in school and life. Every child should feel that they matter and can make a difference in the world around them.

The Empowerment Factory is partnering with The United Way to bring you a fun and safe volunteer opportunity folding paper Peace Cranes! The purpose of this initiative is to share positivity and hopeful aspirations for our community. The Peace Cranes will be used to create a public art installation in January that aspires to exemplify the goal of this tradition. Learn more here.

Girl Scouts: Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. We seek to accomplish this by providing girls opportunities to develop their potential and have fun with their peers in a supportive, all-girl setting.

Do you have a passion for a particular topic or life skill? Do you want to create a fun event that shares your enthusiasm with girls? You could design an event that helps girls earn a Girl Scout badge related to your specialty or help teach girls a skill they need to grow into the leaders of tomorrow! If you have a love for STEM, outdoors, or the arts – there are ways you can use your skills and resources to provide an experience that helps girls explore something new. There are dozens of new badges that will inspire you to think of creative ways to bring the projects to life for a group of girls, including things like “Inside Government”, “Eco Advocate” or “Philanthropist” badges! You can decide how many girls you’d like to participate, select what age girls you’d like to involve, and pick a date and time, and an online meeting platform that you’re comfortable with! You can also use materials we provide to host a meeting rather than making your own program. Learn more here.

Head to Volunteer Match to search for other remote roles!

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