Receiving Merit Aid from Colleges

Many colleges offer “free” merit aid money to students they want to attract to their college. This money is not based on your family’s financial wherewithal. It is a scholarship meant to entice you to accept their offer of admission, which works because everyone likes to feel as though they are getting a special deal. Most offers are four-year scholarships, and almost all are dependent on the student keeping up a high GPA throughout those four years.

What makes a student attractive to a college?

Colleges want students that enhance their school’s profile by having high grades, test scores, strong athletic, musical, or other talents, unique and meaningful extra-curricular activities, and strong interview skills where required. Students that are engaged in meaningful extra-curricular activities usually have higher graduation rates and make the school more vibrant and exciting. Students who actually start an organization, a fund raiser, or have a leadership qualities are very attractive because this shows strong initiative, while students who do not get involved in college activities tend to have a higher attrition rate. I work with students to find unique projects to spearhead within their area of interest and to help implement them. Some examples are a student who started a peer mentoring group at her high school, another who made posters about going to college which were hung in every public high school in his county and translated into Spanish, and a student that started and ran a dance camp for children.

What do you need to do to receive this merit aid?

The beauty of this scholarship money is that at most colleges you do not need to do anything more than have an excellent application, activities list, teacher recommendations, and essay. Your competently completed application will automatically determine whether or not the school considers you a candidate worthy of merit aid. No extra essays or forms are usually requested.

Which schools offer merit aid to a significant number of students?

Colleges and Universities Offering Generous Merit Aid 

*Source for data is College Kickstart.

School % Undergrads w/ Merit Aid Avg. Merit Amount
Furman University 44 $ 20,472
Oberlin College 41 $ 14,434
Creighton University – Business 39 $ 15,136
Creighton University – Arts and Sciences 39 $ 15,136
Creighton University – Nursing 39 $ 15,136
Millsaps College 38 $ 20,354
Tulane University 36 $ 25,779
University of Dayton – Business 36 $ 15,516
University of Dayton – Arts and Sciences 36 $ 15,516
University of Dayton – Education and Health Sciences 36 $ 15,516
University of Dayton – Engineering 36 $ 15,516
Butler University 33 $ 13,570
Goucher College 30 $ 17,200
Berry College 29 $ 12,728
Whitman College 29 $ 10,314
Fairfield University – Nursing 28 $ 14,445
Fairfield University – Engineering 28 $ 14,445
Fairfield University – Business 28 $ 14,445
Fairfield University – Arts & Sciences 28 $ 14,445
Santa Clara University – Engineering 26 $ 14,378
Santa Clara University – Business 26 $ 14,378
Santa Clara University – Arts and Sciences 26 $ 14,378
Clemson University – Education 26 $ 5,216
Clemson University – Engineering, Computing and Applied Science 26 $ 5,216
Clemson University – Science 26 $ 5,216
Clemson University – Business 26 $ 5,216
Clemson University – Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences 26 $ 5,216
Clemson University – Architecture, Arts and Humanities 26 $ 5,216
Clemson University – Behavioral, Social and Health Science 26 $ 5,216
Quinnipiac University 25 $ 15,389
University of Arizona (Resident) 21 $ 8,164
University of Arizona (Non-Resident) 21 $ 8,164
Arizona State University (Resident) 21 $ 7,968
Arizona State University (Non-Resident) 21 $ 7,968

Here is another list from a US News & World Report:

School Percent of students receiving non-need based aid

Memphis, TN

58%

Needham, MA

55%

Boston, MA

52%

Siloam Springs, AR

50%

Tacoma, WA

50%

Bismarck, ND

49%

Birmingham, AL

48%

San Antonio, TX

48%

New York, NY

47%

Granville, OH

46%

Hillsdale, MI

46%

Greenville, SC

44%

Spokane, WA

44%

Birmingham, AL

43%

Tulsa, OK

43%

Odessa, TX

42%

Danville, KY

41%

Oberlin, OH

41%

San Francisco, CA

41%

Savannah, GA

41%

Please be aware that only a percentage of students are given this offer. Just applying without making a strong case for what you can bring to a college will make you far less likely to receive merit aid. Also this table shows the average amount of money, which means many students will receive more or less than these amounts. To be a candidate to receive this money every part of your application should be done well.

Get To Know Your College Representative

College reps are typically assigned “territories” to manage. They are your direct contact with their college and admissions office. Here are four ways to elevate your standing in their eyes:

Meet the Representatives When They Come to your School for an Informational Visit and attend their session. You will see these visit through your school’s Naviance account. Afterwards shake their hand, get their business card, ask a pre-rehearsed question, and send them a follow-up e-mail. If you can’t attend the meeting, send them an e-mail and see if they are available to meet at another time. Many reps meet interested students at coffee shops to talk. Even when you can’t make that meeting, you are letting them know that you are interested in the college.

Tip: Find the name and contact info of your local admissions rep in the admission section of the school’s website or by getting in touch with the Office of Admission there.

Attend A College Fair – When college fairs are held in your region or at your high school, you should attend them. Your rep will likely be manning the college’s table, or, if they’re an alumni they may be able to connect you with their office’s rep.

Here is how to make a strong impression at the fair:

  • Make an effort to dress professionally, or at the very least, not excessively casual. Think “business casual”, not “I just got done at the gym” in terms of dress.
  • Arrive early and avoid the rush! If there is a line, you may want to return later in the fair. The counselor may usher the line closer to the table so they’re not repeating themselves. Be patient.
  • Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself to the counselor. Make eye contact and offer a handshake. Tell the counselor your name and that you’re excited to find out more information about their institution.
  • Develop a few strong, specific questions. Do they offer the program you’re interested in? Are there any marquee majors or programs?  What about the student experience?  What’s the range of athletic opportunities? Housing? Career services?
  • General questions often lead to general answers. Be specific. “How is your business program?” could be better phrased as “Tell me about your business program and your emphasis in entrepreneurship. What career resources are there?”
  • Ask for the rep’s contact info or business card. Better yet, make sure they have YOUR contact info. Counselors aren’t just there to say hello, they want to make sure they are able to get in touch with you about important deadline and application info.
  • Every interaction doesn’t warrant a thank you note, but if you have a great conversation, go home and write one. You will be noticed and remembered.

If offered, schedule an interview. There may be several different kinds of on- and off-campus interviews:

  • Required: Self-explanatory, but know the format. In-person? Over Skype? Alumni?
  • Evaluative: If interviews aren’t required, but recommended, you may be able to interview and the impressions of the interviewer may be included as part of the application review process.
  • Non-evaluative or informational: These are not part of the application process. They give the school an opportunity to start a dialogue with you. These interviews may be conducted by current students and alumni.

Tip: You may not be able to speak with your counselor during your interview if they aren’t available or are busy interviewing other students. Don’t worry! Your interviewer will share his or her notes with your local rep and those notes will end up in your file.

Reach Out to Your Rep. If you have specific, hard-to-answer questions throughout the application process, he or she may be able to help, or at the very least point you in the right direction. No questions? Send your rep a brief email saying hello and that you’re excited about the possibility of attending. Don’t send them questions to which you can easily find the answer. If you can google it, you probably don’t need to ask. College reps aren’t mean – their job is to advise and provide assistance through all parts of the application process – but don’t be surprised or offended if their response is brief. They got LOTS of emails. 

 

ZeeMee

ZeeMee is relatively new on the college admission scene, and is worth evaluating to enhance your applications. ZeeMee has more than 250 college partners, and anticipates it will have around 300 in the 2017-2018 admissions cycle. It is a video-story platform paid for by these colleges and free for you.

Students make short videos to enhance their applications. You choose a question from their list and answer it using your cell phone to video yourself. This gets uploaded to your application, or if the college does not use ZeeMee, it can be sent to them via a link. At this point, it is optional for most colleges that are using it. But, it does differentiate you and gives you a chance to make a good impression.

ZeeMee says that colleges report higher acceptance rates for students who are using this. Is that because it differentiates the student, or is it because the students who used it had good advisors? We don’t know, but it can be very helpful for students who are not as strong on paper.

While I do want you to have a plan of what you are going to say during these videos, they should not look scripted. It will allow colleges to actually see you and it allows you to make a good impression in this short video. Make sure to send me what you plan to say beforehand for my approval.

Students receive questions and prompts via the app. You are only given 26 seconds for your answer. Colleges can ask school-specific questions, and can contact you directly if you allow it. If students have put their videos on ZeeMee it will stay there until the video is deleted. Privacy settings can be public vs. private. Your URL is your ZeeMee link. If you make it private you have a key which you can share with whomever you want.

You can re-record as often as you like, so make sure that the version you use is authentic and good. Colleges like to see self-reflection and have insight into your character. Be real, articulate, smile, but not over-produced. If the college that you are applying to does not use ZeeMee, you can put the URL in your common app or put the link on your resume.

They also have a photo album section with a character limit of 1000 characters. If you use it, be careful not to make it long.

Here is the link https://www.zeemee.com/sign-up, and here are the institutions that are officially partnered with them https://www.zeemee.com/partners.

Impacting the World Around You

New research shows that 47 percent of high school seniors graduated last year with an “A” average — up from about 39 percent in 1998. But average SAT scores fell 24 points in that same period.

The authors of the study — Michael Hurwitz of The College Board and Jason Lee of the University of Georgia — said the trend signals grade inflation over the past two decades. With signs of grade inflation, students are more often earning the same exact GPA, making the job of college admissions officers more complicated. “The variation in GPAs have actually decreased by 10 percent”. So, what can you do?

College admissions officers are talking more and more about how applicants impact their communities.  According to Sara Harberson, in her article about the Five Biggest Trends in College Admissions we see Impact Over Leadership. She writes,When I first started out in college admissions, “getting in” was all about leadership titles. Students had to gather the highest level of leadership in each club activity to feel like they could stand out in a highly competitive applicant pool. Nowadays, making an “impact” on a cause, movement, hobby, or commitment is much more respected.

This new paradigm allows a student to pursue something meaningful to them which may or may not fit into a traditional activity like student government, athletics, or community service. The student who creates something on their own, moves a cause forward, or independently pursues a transformative project shows initiative, influence, and ingenuity. This has effectively reset the way colleges view and evaluate extracurricular activities.”

When reviewing applications, colleges are ultimately putting together a class. They want to fill that class with individuals who can contribute positively to the campus’s community and have a meaningful impact. When new students are living and learning together, they’re constantly interacting and are having an impact on one another’s learning environment. That’s why colleges spend so much time thinking about the impact you’ll have on campus culture and community. They want every impact you make on campus – whether it’s in the classroom, dorms, or even in the cafeteria – to be a positive one!

Here is what the University of California Admissions and other colleges are looking for. “Special talents, achievements and awards in a particular field, such as visual and performing arts, communication or athletic endeavors; special skills, such as demonstrated written and oral proficiency in other languages; special interests, such as intensive study and exploration of other cultures; experiences that demonstrate unusual promise for leadership, such as significant community service or significant participation in student government; or other significant experiences or achievements that demonstrate the student’s promise for contributing to the intellectual vitality of a campus.”

So, with the new school year, start thinking about how you can make a positive impact in your community. You can start small. Look for others who need help in the classroom. Can you offer assistance? Soon you’ll see that you can easily identify whether or not others need help, and before it’s asked of you.

How can you make a positive impact in an extracurricular setting? Is there a way you can invest yourself in student government, athletics or clubs? You can also think about your immediate community – your family? Are there ways to help out by doing volunteer work in your community? Try finding an afterschool program or community organization to help. Colleges want to see this so highlighting meaningful examples in your activities list and essays enhance your application. There are plenty of ways you can have an impact so strive to make a difference!

Your Checklist for Senior Year

Staying on top of the college process is key to your success. Here is a month by month listing of what you need to do. Please stay current and communicate with me.

AUGUST

❑ Start to fill out your Common App, Coalition App, or Specific College Apps. Make sure that I see your essays before they are added.

❑ Continue working on your activties list and essays.

❑ Can you include an arts/athletic supplement or resume with your application? Work on this.

❑ Finish summer assignments.

❑ If you haven’t done so already, choose which teachers you will ask to write recommendations.

❑ Look at the fall calendar — plan final campus visits/interviews.

❑ Prepare to retake the SAT or ACT if needed.

❑ Take a look at your social media and clean it up!

SEPTEMBER

❑ Check Naviance and sign up for college visits at your school.

❑ Decide if you will apply Early Decision or Early Action to your top choice school;

❑ Tell your counselor and recommenders when you need letters written by. They need at least three weeks’ notice.

❑ Request interviews at colleges that you are interested in, where available.

OCTOBER

❑ Attend local college fairs and college visits at your high school. Connect with the people who will be reading your application.

❑ Check Naviance to follow up with recommenders to make sure that they have written their letters.

❑ Fill out the FAFSA and CSS Profile if you qualify to receive financial aid. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is now available as is the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE (required by many private schools and a few flagship state universities).

❑ ED and EA candidates prepare to submit applications by the deadline, Nov. 1st or 15th!

❑ Take advantage of priority deadlines — get your application considered sooner and increase eligibility for merit aid.

❑ Use my tracking form to stay on top of what’s due when. Plan to submit applications before the due dates, preferably before winter vacation!

❑ Confirm that counselor and teacher recommendation letters have been uploaded into the Common Application and request transcripts be sent to the schools you’re applying to (there may be a small fee for each transcript).

❑ Decide which test scores (SAT, ACT) to send and order score reports.

❑ Follow up with colleges to make sure all application materials were received.

NOVEMBER

❑ Continue to “demonstrate interest” in schools — open emails from colleges, call the admission office to request an alumni interview, etc.

❑ Make sure all essays are approved by me before they are sent to colleges.

❑ Finalize your college list and finish all essays.

❑ Follow up with colleges to make sure all application materials were received.

DECEMBER

❑ Note financial aid application deadlines, which may differ from admission application deadlines.

❑ Proof any remaining applications one final time and “submit”!

❑ Let me know about any acceptance you receive.

JANUARY

❑ Make sure mid-year grade reports are sent to all schools you’ve applied to.

FEBRUARY

❑ Beware of Senioritis…stay on track academically!

❑ Begin planning for summer (work, travel, volunteering, etc.).

MARCH

❑ Decisions arrive in the mail and/or online by the end of the month, so get ready to handle and share “the news.”

❑ Celebrate!

APRIL

❑ Attend “admitted student” events on campus and compare/contrast other aspects of the schools where you were accepted (including financial aid awards).

❑ If you were wait listed, express interest to the school.

❑ Send a deposit by May 1st to accept a spot at the college of your choice!

❑ Continue to do your work in class so grades don’t “droop” too much.

❑ Start planning the graduation party!

MAY

❑ Thank teachers, counselors, and coaches who helped you apply to college.

❑ Open and respond promptly to communications from the college — information about housing, orientation, course registration, etc.

❑ Study for finals and AP exams — end the year strong.

❑ Solidify summer plans (work? travel? study? volunteer?).

❑ Connect with future classmates (and perhaps find a roommate) through the college’s official social media sites.

❑ Enjoy time with your friends and family and bask in the glow of your accomplishments at graduation!

Essential Skills Parents Should Teach Their College-Bound Kids

When students go off to college, near or far, they venture into a whole new world of challenges and questions. Most are fortunate to have cell phones with Skype or FaceTime that will bridge the gap between panic and the calm instructions and guidance from mom, dad, or a trusted adult.

This is a list of activities and experiences one may want to review before the kiddo flies from the nest. But that may be daunting. Sometimes they will have to learn by trial and error. Most of the items listed apply to all students; some will not be experienced until they live off campus on their own. The list is broken into six sections so it can be tackled in smaller bites.

Financial Matters:

  1. Write a check
  2. Cash a check
  3. Know your debit card balance
  4. Know how to transfer funds (via phone app is even better!)
  5. Pay a bill (check or online)
  6. Advise debit/credit card companies of card use when travelling
  7. Withdraw cash from an ATM
  8. Pay rent & utilities (split with roommates)
  9. Use campus “points” with meal plans
  10. Calculate a tip
  11. Pay for dinner
  12. Cancel a membership
  13. Figure out the cost of postage and shipping

Travel Matters:

  1. Make travel arrangements – air, bus, train
  2. Navigate an airport, train or bus station
  3. Deal with a cancelled flight
  4. Take a taxi
  5. Pack a suitcase
  6. Follow TSA rules
  7. Catch the local train/subway
  8. Check tire pressure
  9. Change a tire
  10. Check the oil

Wellness Matters:

  1. Make an appointment (hair, dentist, doctor)
  2. Self-prescribe over-the-counter meds
  3. Know basic first aid
  4. Locate the campus health center
  5. Know when to call a doctor or go to a doc-in-the-box
  6. Carry a medical insurance card and know when to use it

Meals and Laundry Matters:

  1. DSC_1771Cook a meal
  2. Go food shopping
  3. Load a dishwasher
  4. Put out a kitchen fire
  5. Buy clothes
  6. Return a purchase
  7. Do the laundry
  8. Remove a stain
  9. Iron a shirt
  10. Sew a button
  11. Importance of good nutrition and vitamins
  12. How to store leftovers
  13. When to toss old food

Household Matters:

  1. Hook up cable
  2. Change a name on utility bills
  3. Unclog a toilet/sink
  4. Check the smoke alarm/CO2 alarm
  5. Renew car license plates & insurance
  6. How to vote absentee

And last, but not least, most important matters:

  1. Negotiate a deal
  2. Write (not email) a thank you note
  3. Enjoy a drink responsibly
  4. Say “no” with confidence


BONUS:
When hurting and in doubt, call home

I’m sure there are many more you could add to the list. Perhaps many of these items have already been mastered before high school graduation. The notion that we send our kids into the next exciting chapter of their life fully equipped is not realistic. So maybe the list will help get us that much closer.

There are some life lessons that we cannot predict nor protect them from: broken hearts, failing a test, making friends, losing friends, or saying they are sorry. Those life lessons will come from the rest of their encounters outside the nest.

Senior Checklist of Important Tasks

Start now and teach your teen how to schedule their own appointments and take responsibility for their health. Adulthood is about learning to manage one’s own life, starting now is a great step towards the independence of college.

❏ Set up a dentist appointment before you leave
❏ Get a sports physical, they need to be scheduled now
❏ Update any shots/immunizations. Check with your physican, most want students to have:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine. Young adults in dormitory-like living conditions are at higher risk for meningococcal disease, including meningitis.
  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis) vaccine.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. HPV vaccine protects against the viruses that cause cervical cancer, anal cancers, and genital warts. It is licensed for use in both males and females. A complete series consists of 3 doses: The second dose is administered 1-2 months after the first dose, and the third dose is given 6 months after the first dose.

❏ Update eyeglass or contact prescriptions
❏ Find a pharmacy near the college and transfer any prescriptions
❏ Discuss fitness and healthy eating
❑ Check in about health insurance

  • Should your student remain on your insurance, or is the university plan better?
  • What information/proof of insurance does your student need to opt out of the university plan? When is the deadline?
  • If you choose the university insurance, will that cover her during the summer or when she’s home for breaks?
  • Are the services at the university health center covered by a student fee or your insurance, when will your student have to pay out of pocket?
  • Make sure that your student takes their insurance cardto college.

Adapted from an Article by University Parent

11th Grade College Planning Timeline

Eleventh grade is very important in the college planning process, with standardized testing, defining your college list, connecting with teachers for strong letter of recommendation, and keeping your grades high. 

This Fall – This year the college search process really gets going.

Take practice SAT & ACT to determine your best test
We will compare your scores on the SAT & ACT practice test to determine which test is the best for you. Please take a Practice Test for both the SAT and ACT by clicking on the link. You can also do it through other test companies or directly their sites. Look at these Test Prep Options. Here is a Conversion Table to see the different scores.

Do some early research
Look at these articles Finding a College that you Love and Researching a College to see what is important. Then use Scoir to look at colleges that might be of interest. The website provides good college entrance information, as well as information about what schools offer. Summer is a great time for you to check out some of the websites and pick colleges that you are interested in exploring. Reach out to the admissions office and ask them to send you information. Most colleges track all contact that you have with them to determine how interested you are in the school.

Focus on getting the best grades that you can, and getting help where needed
Monitor your grades throughout the year and find ways to keep them high. Talk to teaches when you don’t understand a concept, and ask for extra work at the end of a semester when you grade is a on the edge of a higher one. Showing an interest and communicating with your teacher can make a difference in your grade.

Organize your college information
Set up a filing system on your computer or use file folders for each college’s correspondence and printed materials. This will make it easier to locate the specific information you’re looking for.

Try to find time to visit colleges on your days off
Seeing colleges in session is more useful than during the summer. It gives you a chance to see the students and the vibe of the campus. There may be Options for College Visits so check on them. Take a tour and attend the information session. You may also be able to talk to students or sit in on a class which interests you.

Be an active participant
Go to college fairs at your school or other venues, speak with college representatives who visit your high school, like colleges’ Facebook pages after you have enhanced yours, see Colleges Look at your Social Media. Be open-minded as many students change their criteria significantly during this process.

Be prepared by practicing
We will determine which tests you will take (ACT, SAT, SAT subjects tests) and the dates for them, please register for them and mark those dates on your calendar. You will need to prepare by taking practice tests and getting comfortable with the material.

This Winter – Stay involved, organize college lists, and prepare for standardized tests

Make a difference with your extracurricular activities
Colleges look for consistency and depth in the activities you pursue. Taking on leadership roles or starting a new venture and making a commitment is significantly more important than just being a member of an activity. I will be sending out an article on this shortly.

Discuss colleges with family and friends
Have discussions about the colleges you’re interested in and learn more about them. Talk to students about what college life is like, especially if they attend a school you’re interested in. Although it’s important to hear what the admissions staff has to say about a school, it’s also important to get the students’ perspective. Your family and friends can learn about what you want to pursue and you can hear any concerns or suggestions they might have. Also feel free to e-mail me with any questions or information that you need.

Use your summer wisely, plan ahead

Summer employment and internships in fields you’re interested in is ideal and powerful on a college application or resume, but there are many other options, Summer Activities that Give you and Edge, and Summer Activities part 2. Be involved in something that interests you. One needs to start looking into this in the winter as some programs and opportunities have early deadlines.

Next Spring – Take the standardized test at least twice and keep your grades high
Continue to prepare for standardized tests.
Practice makes testing easier, less stressful, and you more successful. Take either the SAT or the ACT at least twice in junior year. If you need SAT subject tests schedule them for June. Know that you can take the ACT or SAT again in the fall of your senior year if you’re unhappy with your scores.

Pick classes for senior year.
Touch base with me before you pick your classes, don’t load up on easy electives. Colleges do review your senior year courses and grades, so challenge yourself and take classes that are in your areas of interest. See this article for more information, How Many AP’s to Take.

Some high schools want you to ask teachers for letters of recommendation before the summer
Teachers and guidance counselors are often asked to write recommendations for lots of students. Consider whom you want to ask now and let them know so they’ll have time to prepare before the fall. Ask teachers who know you well and who will have positive things to say. Please read this article to get the best letter possible, How to get a Great Recommendation.  If you have a coach, activity leader, or a boss who knows you well outside of school and can speak to your accomplishments and character that is also valuable.

Plan campus visits during Spring break

You should plan ahead and sign up for the tours when visiting colleges. Spring break can be a very busy time for colleges, so make sure there is room. You can sign up on-line or call the admissions office. There may be Options for College Visits so check on them.

The Summer

Make this time productive
Students should be participating in constructive activities during the summer, colleges care. Summer study, jobs, and volunteer work always rate high with admission officials. If your child has a career goal in mind, see if you can help arrange a day where he or she can “shadow” someone who works in that field.

 Visit some colleges
Although summer is not the ideal time to see a campus, it is still useful to learn about what colleges offer and to have a broader frame of reference. If your vacation plans take you near colleges of interest, build a tour into your agenda. See my article Visiting Colleges.

Research colleges
Continue to add schools which you learn about and may be of interest. Use Scoir to help define your college list to include schools that meet your most important criteria (academic majors, size, location, cost, or activities). Build a list of about 10 colleges which really excite you.

Freshman Success Strategies

College is a major life transition. While it’s nice not to have anyone reminding you when to go to bed, eat, or study, the tradeoff is that you are totally responsible for yourself. You will need to handle problems with roommates, administration, and professors. The good news is that you will gain confidence and expertise in your ability to advocate for yourself and manage your life.

Be confident in your abilities! You will meet a lot of smart, accomplished students and you may feel intimidated. Remember that admissions officers don’t admit students who can’t do the work. In fact, they have turned down thousands of well-qualified students so, if you’ve been admitted, you have what it takes. 

Give yourself a fun class in the first semester by signing up for at least one course that sounds interesting and pleasurable. If you aren’t sure about a major, take courses in a variety of subjects and try to choose classes based on the professor’s reputation (use www.ratemyprofessors.com/). A great teacher makes any subject fascinating. If a class you really want is full, talk to the professor. Faculty love enthusiastic students and you may very well convince them to let you in. 

 Give yourself time to adjust to college life. Enjoy making new friends as there will be many opportunities. In freshmen residence halls, the first few weeks are non-stop socializing. Students leave their doors open so go in and introduce yourself. Resident advisors will host parties to help for you socialize with your hallmates.

 You may not be best friends with your roommate, but chances are you’ll get along. Discuss what is important to each of you and see in you can set some ground rules. If something upsets you talk to your roommate so that issues don’t escalate. The next step is to talk to your RA and to see if they can help you work out your differences. If you can’t resolve the problems with your roommate ask the housing office to make a change.

Everyone goes through a period of frustration, so minimize the stress. Trivial things such as keeping your room clean, can impact your mood. Eat healthy food, get enough sleep, and exercise to help you stay mentally as well as physically healthy. Working out will get those endorphins going and relieve stress.

Creating a schedule that maps out time to study, have fun, and sleep is another way of taking care of yourself. You’ll probably have no more than 15 – 18 hours of class in a week. That leaves plenty of time and, if you treat college like a 9-5 job, you can get your studying done during the day and have evenings for fun activities.

It is very important to go to class. Sit up front and you’re less likely to doze off. After each class, read your notes and clarify anything you didn’t understand. Good notes are very helpful at exam time. If you’re struggling in a class, ask for help, that’s what professors and teaching assistants are there for. Professors have office hours, and most of them are delighted when students show an interest in their subject. Even if you don’t have a question about the class, stop by and introduce yourself. Knowing and being known by your professors will help you feel part of the community. Also use college resources as most schools have tutors and writing centers which are set up to help students transition to college work. When it comes to getting good grades, it’s much easier to keep up than to catch up. 

Studies show that students who participate in campus life are more successful and happier in college. Whether you love film, environmental issues, vegetarian cooking, hiking or improvisational comedy, you’ll find people who share your passion. Most colleges have activity fairs at the start of the school year at which you can learn about all the clubs on campus. Joining a club is a wonderful way to create a feeling of community, especially at a big university.

Most students get homesick at some point. With the stress of midterms and sleep deprivation it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The counseling center can be a great resource. They see many students who are having trouble adjusting to college and talking to someone can be very helpful.

College is a fresh start. Nobody knows if you were the most popular student in your high school or the class nerd. This is your chance to become the person you want to be. Sure, it can be scary, but the payoff is life changing!

How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation

Based on a College Board Article

Colleges often ask for two or three recommendation letters from people who know you well. These letters should be written by someone who can describe your skills, accomplishments and personality.

Colleges value recommendations because they:

  • Reveal things about you that grades and test scores can’t
  • Provide personal opinions of your character
  • Show who is willing to speak on your behalf

Letters of recommendation work for you when they present you in the best possible light, showcasing your skills and abilities.

When to Ask for Recommendations

Make sure to give your references at least one month before your earliest deadline to complete and send your letters. The earlier you ask, the better. Many teachers like to write recommendations during the summer. If you apply under early decision or early action plans, you’ll definitely need to ask for recommendations by the start of your senior year or before.

Remember that some teachers will be writing whole stacks of letters, which takes time. Your teachers will do a better job on your letter if they don’t have to rush.

Whom to Ask

It’s your job to find two teachers and possibly another person who can write meaningful letters of recommendation for you, such as an employer, a coach or an adviser from an activity outside of school. Follow these steps to start the process:

  • Schools ask for letters of recommendation from an academic teacher — sometimes in a specific subject — and a school counselor. Pick two from your core classes, a STEM discipline and one from English or History.
  • Ask a me, teachers, and your family who they think would make good references.
  • Choose both of your teachers from junior year, or a current teacher who has known you for a while. Colleges want a current perspective on you, so a teacher from several years ago isn’t the best choice.
  • Consider asking a teacher who teaches a core subject and also knows you outside the classroom. For example, a teacher who directed you in a play or advised your debate club can make a great reference.
  • Consider other adults — such as an employer, a coach or an adviser from an activity outside of school — who have a good understanding of you and your strengths.
  • Perhaps most important, pick someone who writes well and will be enthusiastic about writing the letter for you.
  • If you’re unsure about asking someone in particular, politely ask if he or she feels comfortable recommending you. That’s a good way to avoid weak letters.

Your teachers will do a better job on your letter if they don’t have to rush.

How to Get the Best College Recommendations

Some teachers write many recommendation letters each year. Even if they know you well, it’s a good idea to give them supplemental information, which we will prepare, and you will send them this summer. We will make it easy for them to give positive, detailed information about your achievements and your potential by refreshing their memory.

This summer you will need to send them an e-mail:

  • Reminding them about your class participation.
  • Mentioning specific work or projects you’re proud of.
  • Telling them what you learned in class.
  • Mentioning any challenges you overcame.
  • Giving them the information they need to provide specific examples of your work.

I will also have you meet with your guidance counselor over the summer if possible. Later in the summer you will need to:

  • Make an appointment ahead of time.
  • Talk about your accomplishments, hobbies and plans for college and the future.
  • If you need to discuss part of your transcript — low grades during your sophomore year, for example — do so. Explain why you had difficulty and discuss how you’ve changed and improved since then.

We will also send teachers, and another reference, your resume that briefly outlines your activities, both in and outside the classroom, and your goals.

Final Tips for College Recommendations

The following advice is easy to follow and can really pay off:

  • Waive your right to view recommendation letters on your application forms. Admission officers will trust them more if you haven’t seen them.
  • If your school does not use Naviance, give your references addressed and stamped envelopes for each college that requested a recommendation. If they do then it will all be done electronically.
  • Make sure your references know the deadlines for the early colleges that you apply to so they make the deadlines.
  • Follow up with your references a week or so before recommendations are due to make sure your letters have been entered into Naviance or sent.
  • Once you’ve decided which college to attend, write thank-you notes. Tell your references where you’re going and let them know how much you appreciate their support.