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Author Archives: Sandy
By Sandy Austin
Taking the test – Your grandma’s advice of getting a good night’s sleep and having a healthy breakfast the morning of the test is good advice to follow. Set your alarm clock so you will get up early enough so you won’t need to rush out the door. Also set a back-up alarm just in case a battery runs out or you have a power outage, etc. The night before the test, set out the things you need for the test – picture ID, an approved calculator, two number 2 pencils, etc.
During the test, plan out your time. Know the end time for each section and pace yourself. For your questions on strategies for taking the tests, look at the ACT (www.act.org) and SAT (www.collegeboard.com) websites for strategies for the test. For the ACT you are not penalized for wrong answers, but you are for the SAT.
For test sections where you need to answer questions about a passage you read, there are different strategies. Some recommend to first read the questions and then read the passage and some say the other way around. Do what works best for you. Look at these and other websites for more strategies.
I recommend for my students to take both the ACT and SAT tests if they can afford it because they test a little differently. Some students will do better on one than the other. Then the test you score better on, take that test again to see the highest score you can get. Some colleges prefer one over the other. Check with the colleges you are applying to and see if they have a preference.
Find out if the major you are interested in pursuing in college requires you to take SAT II tests. These are also administered by the College Board and are usually for extremely competitive majors and used as another tool in admissions’ office decisions. They are single subject tests of which three are typically required – depending on the college major. Check with the colleges to which you are applying to see if your college major requires you to take the SAT II tests. Then go to www.collegeboard.com for more information or talk to your school counselor.
Studying for the test – Do a search online for ACT/SAT test preparation and you will find books, websites, computer software, and classes you can take for preparing for the tests. Pursue what fits your budget and time constraints. Again, ask your school counselor for resources in your area.
Some schools or other entities offer test prep classes that can range from about $50- $1,500. Sometimes they help and sometimes they don’t. The absolute best preparation for these types of tests is doing well in your classes throughout the school year. Also ask your teachers at school for help in the subject areas you are weakest. They know many strategies that can help you too and what subject matter the tests cover.
Also if you took the PLAN (practice ACT) or PSAT (practice SAT) tests, you can use that information to help prepare for the ACT and SAT tests respectively. Lots of information can be gleaned from those results regarding the areas you may need to brush up on in preparation for the ACT/SAT tests. If you have misplaced that information, your school should have a copy of those test results.
Cost/deadline for registration – Plan ahead and register in plenty of time before the deadline. Go to www.act.org (ACT test) or www.collegeboard.org (SAT test) to get all the details about the deadlines. If you would like to apply for a fee waiver, check with your school counselors. They have access to the forms you need to fill out to apply for the waiver.
If you have a disability or condition that qualifies you for extra time or other help on standardized tests, ask you school counselor about that so accommodations can be applied for before the deadline – these must be applied for three to six months ahead of the test. Some students decide to take the test the first time without the accommodations to see how they do, and then apply for accommodations if the test was a struggle. Others apply for accommodations automatically for every test they take. Talk with your parents and school counselors about all this.
At my school, we recommend students take their first ACT/SAT test around April of their junior year because a lot of what is on the tests isn’t covered in school subjects until then. Then if they want to retake it, they can do so for the June test of that same year. Tests won’t be given again until the fall, so if you need to retake it again you can study more during the summer.
College visits can be exciting and scary at the same time. Carefully plan out your visits so you can get the most out of your time on campus and get the majority of your questions answered. Some students choose their college without even stepping onto the college grounds and that can present many problems. A couple years ago I was met in early August with a student frantically saying she needed a high school transcript because she was switching colleges after the first day of her present college choice. She was initially interested in a different college but chose the current college because it was closer to home and most of her friends would be attending that school.
She had visited other college campuses of interest during her junior year. It was a last-minute decision in May to attend this final choice and she didn’t visit the campus. After the first day of classes, her reason for wanting to switch was something she would have known right away had she visited the campus. She explained, “I knew it was in the big city, but I didn’t realize that I had to park so far away from the buildings and in the downtown area. I had a night class yesterday, and I was deathly afraid each step of the way to my car last night. I can’t do that another day!” If she had walked the campus prior to her decision, she would have known that before this point. Simply put — make college visits a priority.
Most high schools allow for excused absences while visiting college campuses on a regular school day. If you are looking at out-of-state schools, ask your parents if you can plan your family vacation around college visits. If that’s not possible, you need to step up your research of the college. Contact current students (you can typically find them through the campus websites or other media outlets, or find former students from your high school attending that college through social media outlets and ask them their thoughts on the school. Also, make a detailed list of things you want to include in your decision-making process. Don’t just go by the school’s reputation or how many of your friends plan to go there. This is one of the most important research projects of your life!
Besides attending one of the college visit days planned by the school when lots of high school students are roaming the campus, schedule a personal visit for you and your parents with the Admissions Office. Most schools can offer you a personal tour highlighting the areas of campus you are especially interested in. Also request an appointment with the dean of the college department of your field of interest. Create a list of areas you want to check about before that day that you can rank the school on and then compare it to the other colleges/universities you’re interested in.
Rank the schools on the following areas:
• The name/reputation of the school – for example an Ivy League school will have more weight in your decision than a community college.
• City, State – if you are looking at a rural school versus an urban school, which would you prefer?
• Enrollment – would you prefer to have a closer working relationship with your professors or do you just want to go to class and leave without much interaction?
• Miles from home – Do you want to live close to home or further away?
• Weather – weather in Florida is quite different than Wisconsin.
• The college’s rating in your degree area
• Student-faculty ratio
• Will you be taught by grad students or professors?
• Tuition and fees
• Housing facilities – are they new and updated or in need of renovation?
• Do you have to live in a dorm the first year? Is that OK with you?
• Feel of the campus – does it have an academic feel, friendly or impersonal, what conveniences are offered, the overall impression.
• Compare the library, technology on campus, student center, arts opportunities, recreation facilities, student organizations, financial aid support
• Travel around campus between classes – do you need to use your car can you get from one class to another by foot or by bicycle because of the distance between buildings?
• Other – anything else specifically of interest to you.
Once you take all these things into consideration, you will be able to see which school would be best suited for you. If you go through this much of a process, you should not face the situation the girl did in having to switch after the first day of school. Keep in touch with your school counselor and seek all the help you need from him or her. Good luck and happy school shopping!
By Sandy Austin
Often high school students think that school breaks mean sitting back and taking it easy. It is important to have some time to refuel during those much anticipated vacations, but you need to remember that time is of the essence during winter break. Many students across the country will take it easy but if you want to beat out the other two million students who will be graduating in the spring for scholarships, college admission, etc. you need to take advantage of this time.
You’ll have plenty of time to take it easy in the summer. Take this opportunity to recharge, expand your knowledge of your career choice, and target your energy for the final push of the school year. First, it is important to recharge your battery.
It has been a long haul since August with your classes, studies and college application process. Take some time to reflect over the semester – what went well and what you can improve upon. You want to finish strong, so take some time for yourself during this break to do some fun things to reward yourself for your hard work. Think of what energizes you and do that.
Try to do some recreational reading. If you are looking for a good, motivational, feel-good book, read the New York Times bestseller The Noticer by Andy Andrews. I read it recently and have shared it with others, who have shared it with others, and so on. Our principal is buying it for staff members and has ordered a classroom set for teachers to make available to students.
Try setting a schedule during your break to make sure you can fit in some time for fun and relaxation every day if possible. That will help you get ready to push yourself during the spring semester so you can finish strong with no regrets. Colleges will look closely at your spring semester, so plan ahead so you can make the most of it.
If at all possible during break, do more research into your career choice(s). Read a biography about a successful person in that field. If you can shadow with one or two people in your chosen profession, that will help you make the right college decisions. When you shadow, ask the person which colleges have the most reputable programs and are producing the best people in that field. Or just as an extra opportunity to expand your job knowledge, you can even use the time to interview someone you respect who is a success – in your career field or another. Ask what they have learned to help them be such a success. Success strategies work in every field.
If you are still deciding on a college, do some more research. If you can visit the college campus that would be helpful, but it is not optimal to visit during their vacation times because you can’t get a true feel of the campus without the students present. But if that is the only time you can go, it will still help in your decision. Once you receive your college acceptance letters and make your final decision on a college, turn in your deposit as soon as possible so you get your priority choice in living arrangements, etc.
Continue your scholarship search and application process. Whatever you can do about this during break will help alleviate the pressure on you when you start back to school in January. During the holidays there are many volunteer opportunities available, so take advantage of any that your schedule permits. Try to get some experience in an area related to your career interests. Volunteering opportunities continue to help you develop your career passion and understandings.
The final strategy during break is to establish your focus and priorities for the spring semester because graduation will be here before you know it. Renew your commitment to giving your best and making the most of every opportunity possible. Next you need to set goals for how you want to finish this year. Remember, “Senioritis” often sets in and seniors lose their focus around March. Plan ahead for that and find people who will hold you accountable to continue working hard until the end.
Plan ahead for completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Remind your parents that the sooner they can complete their income tax filings (for those states this applies to) the easier it will be on all of you. Go online to www.fafsa.ed.gov to see what it’s all about. Don’t forget that you can use the “Income Estimator” if you want to file your FAFSA before your parents have filed their taxes.
Remember the habits you finish with in high school will typically follow you into college. So plan ahead with your studying, and don’t procrastinate. This is your chance to develop good habits if you have been lacking in some areas – before you finish high school – so they will carry into college. You will be considered an “adult” soon, so this is the time to prepare yourself for that transition in life.
You’ve worked hard to get to this point! Use the upcoming vacation time to prepare yourself to finish strong with no regrets. Relax and do something fun everyday during break if possible. Learn some extra things about your career choice. Make a plan so you can stay on track in the next few months when you will be tempted to ease up. You are in the “home stretch,” the “last leg of your race.” For three and a half years you’ve been preparing for this. Savor the moments ahead. You’ve earned it!
Finals, they can make or break your semester grades! Too often students haven’t been taught how to approach finals, let alone the most effective ways to prepare. As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Knowledge is power and it’s not just knowing the material from your classes, but also knowing how to study that’s important. Two key factors for success with your finals are (1) soliciting help from your teachers and (2) getting assistance from your friends. Before you spend any time studying, talk to your teachers because they can help prevent you from wasting time on needless efforts.
First, look closely at the syllabus from each of your classes to see what your teachers have shared about their finals. Look for information on whether the final will cover material from the entire semester or something less. Then approach your teachers with several questions. Initially you want to ask them about your notes from class. Some students write in bullet format, some write out sentences, while others do something else. Show your teachers your notes from their class (actually you should do this for each class at the beginning of the semester so you can make adjustments then for more effective note-taking). Ask if your notes are written in such a way as to convey the material you are responsible to know about the subject. One of my students, in asking her teacher this question, was told that her history notes centered around the dates, but the final would focus more on the key person related to that date and event. So she adjusted her studying and she blew easily through the final. There are unique ways to study for your different classes. You don’t study the same way for English that you would for math.
An English class example made a big difference for another student. When asking his English teacher how to study for an exam on an assigned novel, he found out key information that transformed his grades and study strategy for books. His teacher asked to see the novel he had been reading. As the teacher flipped through the pages, she noticed nothing was written in the margins. She asked the student why not. He said, “My mom told me to never write in a book.” Knowing the importance in being able to do that, the teacher called his mom. The mom said she told that to him when he was a toddler because he would scribble in her books to the point where she couldn’t read the words. She was shocked to know that comment was so ingrained in his mind that he thought is still applied to him. Once that issue was cleared up, the teacher met with the student again. She explained how to outline a book and make notes about characters and key points/events in the margins. He was so relieved to find out that in his review of the book he wouldn’t have to re-read the entire book – which he always thought he had to do. This piece of information revolutionized his note-taking and his grades improved dramatically. So, talking with your teachers can help save you time and energy in studying the right material for your finals. Your friends can also be a great help.
Friends can challenge you with material you may be weak on and encourage you to take advantage of opportunities available to help you prepare for the exams. If any of your teachers offer study groups, take advantage of them. Reviewing material with your friends can help solidify your knowledge of the material by using different methods – quizzing each other, challenging each other to make up questions that may be covered on the test, creating flashcards, etc. Your teachers may offer study sessions outside class time, and your friends can help you be accountable by pushing you to attend even though that may be the last thing you want to do. Looking over each others’ notes can help you see if there is any crucial information you may have missed. You can help each other plan a strategy and schedule for studying – when and how you are going to study and what. This will prevent you from procrastinating and saving everything for the last minute by cramming and doing all-nighters. The key to success in your classes is hard work and it is the same for your finals. You need to be diligent in studying even when your others try to entice you to do otherwise. Keep your goals in mind and remember after your finals you will have plenty of time to catch up on the fun.
Final exams can drastically change your grades if they are not taken seriously. Knowledge is power and taking advantage of all opportunities open to you will help you control your destiny. There are key resources available to you to ensure your success – access your teachers and seek help from your friends. Set your priorities to finish the semester strong because it will pay off in the long run. Also, what you learned in studying for this semester’s finals, make sure you take into account for next semester and it will save you even more time and energy. Remember if you start now, you’ll be able to take some breaks in the midst of studying in a few weeks instead of having to cram at the last minute. You control your destiny! Good luck!
Applying to college can seem like a daunting task! Many procrastinate because they just don’t know where to start. Some questions you want to think through are: Which are the right colleges for me to consider; how do I narrow down my choices; and what do colleges require as a part of their application process. Picking the right colleges to apply to is the first step.
Hopefully you have checked out which schools have received the highest rankings in the career or careers you’re considering. You can find that out through talking to people in those career fields, talking with your school counselor, looking at how the colleges rank in various ranking resources. A general recommendation among school counselors is to narrow your choices down to three categories – dream schools, stretch schools and “sure-bet” schools.
Dream schools are those which are prestigious and could really be a challenge for you to get in according to your GPA, test scores, qualifications, financial resources, etc. Stretch schools are schools which could be a little difficult to get into because of the above qualifying factors. And finally “sure bet” schools are those to which you know you won’t have any problems being accepted. Pick at least one in each of these categories. You need to do your homework in really checking out these schools and make sure you visit the campuses if at all possible. The cost of applying to colleges you don’t end up going to can cost a year’s worth of books so you need to really think through these decisions.
Next find out if the schools take the Common Application. This is a uniform application that many colleges use so it can save time by having one type of application to complete. You can fill it out once and then submit a copy of it to multiple schools. The Common Application “Secondary School Report” needs to be filled out by your counselor. There is also letter of recommendation form that is required and needs to be filled out by those from which you are seeking letters of recommendation. You want to select letter of recommendation writers who know you well and can write about your different character traits, abilities, and aspects of who you are. They need to include specific examples/anecdotes that back up their points. They DO NOT just want to repeat what is on your résumé. You need to make your request to these people at least two weeks in advance of the deadline.
For many schools you need to write at least one essay. Most schools will give you a topic to address in your essay. In the essay include an example, related to the question, that shows your passion for something and aspects that make you stand out among your peers. Don’t be shy or modest. Like your English teacher has probably said, you want to “show, not tell.” Make sure you edit and rewrite it as much as needed to make it a sample of your best writing.
Your application packet will also typically require a transcript, a school profile, test scores, etc. Plan ahead to make sure you are meeting all your high school’s deadlines for requesting all these pieces. Also, look closely to see if the college requires your tests scores to be sent directly from ACT or College Board (SAT and AP) or if they are fine with having them come from the high school.
You may want to create a résumé. It can save time and put forth a more professional appearance to those who are reading your application. Some colleges include a Scholarship application in their application packet. If not, ask the Admissions Office how you can apply for scholarships and financial aid on their campus.
The college application process is equivalent to another class on your schedule with the amount of work it requires. Plan ahead and keep in touch with your school counselor. Apply early so you will have first choice of your housing preferences. This whole process takes lots of time and energy. You want to show the best of who you are. This is one area in which you don’t want to take shortcuts. It can determine the rest of your life, so give it your best shot!
By Sandy Austin
New beginnings often inspire a renewed sense of commitment and hope. With the beginning of a new school year, it’s good to think about how the decisions you make everyday will influence how the end of the year will present itself to you. Three areas of key decisions you are making right now, as you start the year, revolve around time, friends and resources? Be intentional in thinking through the decisions you face each day to answer the dilemma – will this take me closer to my goal or lead me further away from it. The first thing to consider is how you spend your time.
One area that will increase your chances for success in the future is time management. High school is the time to learn these skills. Learn how to keep track of your responsibilities and commitments in a planner, on your cell phone calendar or some other time management system. Be intentional about planning out your assignments in classes and stick to that schedule. Enlist the help of a friend who will learn these skills with you and who can help hold you accountable. When you are not motivated to do your homework, your friend can challenge you to get back to the books. If you both struggle with procrastination, set a schedule with intermittent goals and check up on each other in your progress toward the goals. Friends can be a crucial influence on your success.
Surround yourself with positive people, people with similar goals as yours. Find friends who will encourage you and will push you to strive to give your best instead of taking the easy way out. Healthy competition is good – seeing who can get better grades or who can make a more creative PowerPoint presentation. A true test of friendship is when your friends ask you to go and hang out with them, but you have a major project due the next day that you need to finish. True friends won’t try to convince you or pressure you to go with them. Instead they may even offer to come over to your place and use it as a study time for their own homework, or if you prefer to study alone they will honor that. Another key decision is to make the most of the resources available to you.
Resources can be both people and materials. Advocate (ask for help) for yourself with your teachers. Begin by approaching your teachers with higher level thinking questions related to the content in class. Get as much out of your teachers as possible. They love their material and would enjoy engaging with you in conversation about it. Ask to sit by people in class who are serious learners and who focus on the task at hand instead of distracting others. Look for experts in your chosen career field and read about them, interview them, job shadow with them. Talk to your school counselors; they have lots of materials to help you. Get in touch with your tibrary technologists and learn from them the best ways for researching topics covered in your classes. You will be surprised to see how many new things have sprung up in the last six months. Make the most of the resources at your disposal.
Think back over the decisions you made today. Did those decisions bring you one step closer to your goals or further away? Your decisions about your time, friends, and resources will play key roles in the spring when you look back and see if you’ve met your goals for this year. Make the most of everyday and use this time in school to learn the life skills you will need to be a success in the future. By reading this blog you are one decision closer to success. What you decide to do with this material will determine your next step. Go for it!