As we head into another school year, there is no better time to take a breath and listen to Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford, make the case that it’s time for adults to stop defining children by their grades and test scores. Ironically, a lot of top colleges these days agree; yet, that’s not a reason alone to listen to her advice, because, as she points out, the goal of one’s life should not be getting into a small handful of colleges that reject nearly every student who applies. If anything, the adults who should most take this TED Talk to heart are those are moderately selective to highly selective state universities, who often make admissions decisions based primarily on students’ high school grades and test scores. Regardless of what college admissions officers do, parents are Lythcott-Haims’ primary audience, as they should be, because stopping the culture of provisional self-esteem in its tracks and instead promoting self-efficacy must start with parents.
He was on his way home from just having dropped all his classes at the local community college. Having graduated from high school sixteen months ago, every one of his postsecondary plans had failed to come to fruition, and the drive home from campus gave him time to ponder what would come next.
As it turns out, he didn’t have to ponder long. He came across a home construction site on the route home, and had always had an interest working with his hands. He swung his car up to the site, got out, and asked the first hard-hatted worker just what it might take to get a job like this. The worker turned out to be the contractor, who said that anyone who had the guts to pull up and ask was worth taking a chance on. Find yourself a good pair of boots, he was told, and come back tomorrow.
That was the beginning of a postsecondary plan that stuck. At age nineteen, he took on a job that paid $42,000, less than the median household income for his state, but far more than he would have earned working at the local sandwich shop. His brief stint at community college left him little debt to be concerned with, and while his short-term plans doubtlessly included continued residency with his parents, it wouldn’t be long before he could afford an apartment of his own—and after that, his own home.
This is a remarkable story for several reasons, but what’s most noteworthy is the response this story receives from the school counselors and college admissions officers who hear it. To nearly a person, they are convinced this young man has thrown away his future. Citing countless personal and professional histories, they speak with clear certainty that he will regret his choice by the time he’s twenty-eight, only to find himself saddled with a mortgage or the well-being of a young family, unable to go back to college on a full-time basis, and therefore destined to be trapped in a job that appeared to pay well in his youth, but will limit his opportunities later in life.
This story comes to mind as we are weeks away from headlines that decry a different kind of postsecondary story: the headlines of another round of record applicants to a handful of the most selective colleges in America, where statistics suggest admission is less likely than being struck by lightning. Every seat in these colleges will be filled this fall by a promising, eager student, but the headlines turn their attention to the vast majority of exceptionally bright students who also had the potential to do great things at these colleges—except the college ran out of room before they ran out of quality applicants.
The way most stories tell it, these hapless applicants are victims of the postsecondary wheel of fortune, destined to try and make do at a college that likely is still highly regarded, but not quite as highly regarded, forced to devote part of their lives to perpetually looking back, and wondering what would have been if they had been one of the fortunate few whose cell phone had played the school’s fight song when they opened their emailed admissions decision.
Much has been written about the need for reform in America’s higher education system, and while there is ample agreement that the current system has need of correction, there is no clear consensus what that correction should look like. Not surprisingly, testing companies insist the answer is more testing at an earlier age, while advocates of test-less admissions policies are convinced their approach is the only one that will open the gates of higher learning to a wider audience. Others advocate for stackable college credentials that measure a semester’s worth of work as the only way to make college affordable, while developmental purists fret this approach would reduce the developmental benefits young people receive in the delayed gratification that is part of the four-year college experience.
These arguments make for interesting intellectual exercises, but they do little to help the students who had to “settle” for studying at the honors college of a four-year public university, or the students whose knowledge of geometry put college out of reach, but made them experts at framing walls and cutting pipe. Our current system of higher education has many challenges, but the biggest one lies in changing the perception that there can only be a handful of winners once high school is over. Different talents and different needs require different plans, and honoring those differences doesn’t require us to sacrifice the quality of the unum, simply because we honor the talents of the pluribus.
Our country is supposed to be a tent of opportunity. Let’s advance that idea by seeing all our high school graduates as residents of the big top.
2018 National School Counseling WeekTM, “School Counselors: Helping Students Reach for the Stars,” which is sponsored by the American School Counselor Association, will be celebrated February 5 through 9, 2018, to focus public attention on the unique contribution of school counselors within U.S. school systems. 2018 National School Counseling WeekTM highlights the tremendous impact school counselors can have in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career.
National School Counseling Week is always celebrated the first full week in February, which is nice because many high school-based counselors who help students with post-secondary guidance would not have time to celebrate if this celebratory week occurred any time between August and January, as college application season sort of dominates the lives of many high school-based counselors who help their student with post-secondary planning. Yet, there really isn’t ever a slow period for high school-based counselors at American public schools, as these counselors are often asked to provide social emotional counseling and college counseling to students in their caseloads and each of these unique and important roles are full time jobs in their own right.
As our focus here at Admissions Intel is on the undergraduate college admissions process, we would like to celebrate all high school-based counselors – whether they work at U.S. public schools, private schools, or international schools. The best gift, however, that we could give high school counselors who support students during the college admissions and post-secondary planning process, would be a commitment on the part of school systems and school leaders to reduce student to counselor ratios in order to ensure students get the personalized post-secondary counseling support that they need and deserve throughout their high school experiences in order to help students navigate their journey into adulthood.
Many private school counselors feel overwhelmed by 50 to 1 high school senior to counselor ratios; yet, counselors in public schools often have 300 or 500 to 1 high school senior to counselor ratios! Having helped students transition from high school to the world beyond for thirteen years, I believe that all of these ratios are completely out of whack. To truly personalize the post-secondary counseling process for high school students, high schools that have their post-secondary counselors work with students over all four years of students’ high school careers should have counselor to student ratios of 33 to 1 per grade, totaling 132 students (split evenly between freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors) to 1 counselor overall – or 33 students to 1 counselor per grade/class.
Such a ratio would allow all high school counselors who are tasked with supporting students transition from high school to the post-secondary world develop strong four-year relationships with their students over students’ high school careers. It would also permit counselors to devote the time and attention necessary to help students transition most successfully from high school into their best-fit post-secondary environments.
Would it cost schools and school districts a lot of money they are not currently devoting to post-secondary counseling? Yes; yet, it’s an investment worth making if the school or school district is serious about providing post-secondary counseling that is personalized and best positioned to help students fully weigh their options and meet their post-secondary potential.
Summer is a good time for high school students to explore their interests. A little research and planning can uncover ways to investigate an idea, acquire a new skill, or demonstrate a specialty with independent research or projects. In the fields of STEM, especially, there are many options available, including residential summer camps.
The problem for current high school freshmen (rising sophomores), however, is that many of these camps restrict attendance to their older classmates: rising juniors and seniors.
The reason, says Jill Tipograph, founder and director of the independent summer educational consultancy Everything Summer & Beyond, is many of these programs are offering college-level coursework that requires students to have foundational academic experience to be successful. “With higher level quantitative and science exposure as prerequisites, (younger) high school students will not have had the opportunity to complete them…”
This does not mean high school freshman should wait to begin finding ways to learn more about the fields that interest them.
“There is great value,” says Ms. Tipograph, “to younger students taking these summer opportunities… to identify and pursue passions. They can gain exposure and then build on their interest in a deeper capacity the following summer.”
You’ll have to be a little more flexible and dig a little deeper to find available summer STEM camps if you are currently a freshman. But if you are fortunate enough to have the available time and financial resources (camps can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars), here are 30 options nationwide during the summer of 2018 for high school freshmen interested in STEM camps.
Boston Leadership Institute Longwood Medical Center, Boston, MA
Canada/USA MathCamp Colorado School of the Mines, Golden, CO
Careers in Engineering University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
COSMOS University of California, San Diego, CA
Discovering Biology: The Building Blocks of Life Boston University, Boston, MA
Engineering Camp Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA
Engineering High School Camp University of Kansas , Lawrence, KS
Engineering Innovation Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD (more locations)
Engineering Summer Academy University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Explore Engineering for HS Girls Sweet Briar College, Sweet Briar, VA
High School Engineering Institute Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Intensive STEM Academy Duke University, Durham, NC
Mathematics Academy University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
MathILy Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
Mathworks Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
Michigan Math and Science Scholars University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Pre-Engineering Institute Washington University in St Louis, St Louis, MO
Prove It! Math Academy Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
Ross Mathematics Program Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
STEM II Brown University, Providence, RI
Summer Accelerator North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, NC
Summer Bridge STEM Program for Girls Radford University, Radford, VA
Summer Engineering Exploration University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Summer Immersion George Washington University, DC
Summer Scholars Clemson University, Clemson, SC
Summer Science and Engineering Program Smith College, Amherst, MA
Summer Session for High School Students University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Summer STEM US Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD
Summer Studies in Math Hampshire College, Amherst, MA
UMassAmherst Precollege Programs University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
As college application season ramps up, you’ve probably noticed a lot of activity around your guidance counselor’s office. Eventually, you’ll need to get in there, too. Making sure you get your turn is all about being assertive, says Craig Meister, admissions expert and founder of AdmissionsIntel.com.
“To make the most of a guidance office, high school students do need to step up and take responsibility for their future,” he says.
Each year, thousands of high school students across the country gain valuable hands-on laboratory and research experience by interning for a variety of academic, government and nonprofit organizations engaged in scientific research.
Locally, high school interns may be found in George Mason’s Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) or in one of the two Science & Engineering Apprenticeship Programs (SEAPs) sponsored by George Washington University, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Navy. They may also be found at NIST, NASA or one of many summer programs offered by the National Institutes of Health.
While they vary in terms of content and work experience, each of these internships supports opportunities to explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Students meet and interact with scientists, learn lab skills, conduct research, and possibly publish their findings or patent their ideas.
In fact, some programs encourage students to present research at poster sessions or similar scientific forums where they gain self-confidence, improve writing skills, and potentially earn credentials important to colleges and universities as well as future employers. They also lay the groundwork for undergraduate research assignments as well as admission to post graduate studies in medical schools or PhD programs.
And many young researchers turn their summer experiences into competitive science projects, vying for hundreds of thousands in scholarship dollars offered annually by organizations supporting the goals of STEM education.
Here are 12 of the more prestigious and well-respected competitions:
- AAN Neuroscience Research Prize. Students investigating problems concerning the brain or the nervous system are invited to compete for monetary prizes as well as all expenses paid trips to the AAN Annual Meeting, to present their work during a scientific poster session.
- Davidson Fellows. This prestigious scholarship annually awards up to $50,000 to students, 18 and under, who have completed a “significant” piece of work in one of eight categories including Engineering, Mathematics, Science, Literature, Music, Technology, Philosophy, and Outside the Box.
- Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge. Participants work in teams of 2 to 5 members to develop solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems. Finalist teams compete for seed funding grants, investment opportunities, patent support, business services and scholarships.
- ExploraVision. Jointly sponsored by Toshiba and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), ExploraVision encourages collaboration by restricting the competition to group projects. Although all participants win gifts and discounts, the top four teams receive US Savings Bonds worth $10,000 for each student.
- Google Science Fair. Beginning with online submissions, this competition invites young scientists from all over the world to compete for up to $50,000 in scholarships as well as a trip to the Galapagos Islands sponsored by National Geographic. Finalists are invited to Google Headquarters to present their projects before expert judges. To receive information on future competitions, sign-up on the Google Science Fair website.
- Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The Intel ISEF is possibly the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, providing an annual forum for over 1,800 high school students from countries all over the world who compete for approximately $4 million in awards. Competition begins at the high school level and culminates at the International Science and Engineering Fair, held each year in different cities around the country.
- International BioGENEius Challenge. This competition is designed to recognize outstanding research in biotechnology. Finalists showcase their talent and research before a prestigious panel of expert biotech judges and have the opportunity to win cash awards.
- Microsoft Imagine Cup. Imagine Cup is a global competition for computer science students who team up to use their creativity, passion and knowledge of technology to create applications and compete for cash, travel and prizes. Sign up on line to get notified when the 2018 season begins.
- MIT THINK Scholars Program. The THINK Scholars program is an initiative that promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics by supporting and funding projects developed by high school students. Finalists receive all-expenses paid trips to MIT to attend XFair (MIT’s spring tech symposium) and winners receive up to $1000 to build their projects. Additional scholarship prizes are also available.
- National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. Individual students compete for scholarships and recognition by presenting the results of their original research before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers. Regional scholarships as well as eight national top awards of up to $12,000 are among the prizes available. Different regions/states run on different schedules.
- Regeneron Science Talent Search. The Regeneron Science Talent Search invites the nation’s best and brightest young scientists to present original research to nationally recognized professional scientists. Open only to high school seniors, 40 finalists are selected to come to Washington DC and compete for the top award of $250,000. This year’s competition will open on August 1, 2017. All applications will be due on November 15, 2017.
- Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology. Since 1999, the Siemens Foundation, has provided young scientists with opportunities to win scholarships ranging from $1000 to $100,000 for original research in team and individual categories. This year’s competition is now underway and all competition materials must be received by September 19, 2017.
When the NCAA updated its Eligibility Center website in November, the goal was to make it “a lot easier for students to navigate,” says Gretchen Morin, Coordinator of Eligibility Center Communications.
Updates include Help sections and FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on each page; and a module to let students track their progress through eligibility certification. These new features are especially significant since eligibility rules have also been recently modified: as of 2016, students must complete a specific progression of core courses during their high school years, and meet minimum GPA and test scores, per a sliding scale.
“We also wanted to streamline the registration process,” says Morin, so profile questions were eliminated or revised “to get just the information we need.” Students can now quickly complete registration and start using the website.
Wanting to encourage student-athletes to use the website earlier in their high school careers led to another update: the Profile Page, an alternate (and free) registration option to the existing Certification Account (which requires a fee).
The Profile Page is a preliminary account designed to help high school freshmen and sophomore student-athletes “get into our system and get into the communication flow,” says NCAA Director Nick Sproull. “We can make sure they know and understand the rules earlier in the process.”
“Later,” says Sproull, “if a student-athlete is being recruited by a Division I or Division II college or university, they can easily transition that account from a free Profile Page to a paid Certification Account to be certified for eligibility.”
To open either type of account, students need to have a reliable email and complete a personal profile that includes their age, contact information, and high school data. They can also begin to record their sports history; this will facilitate any subsequent transition later from the Profile Page to the Certification Account.
(Note: students who participate in Division III college sports do not need to be certified.)
In addition to opening a Profile Page, student-athletes can chat with their own high school and club coaches to get feedback and insight on the recruiting process. For academic eligibility guidance, students should also speak with their school counselors.
Since there is no cost involved to setting up a Profile Page, “we really encourage freshmen and sophomores to go ahead and sign up for that Profile Page account right away,” says Sproull. “The first day of ninth grade is not too early.”
For high school counselors and teachers, the symptoms of “senioritis” are all too familiar—an ‘I don’t care attitude’ characterized by lack of motivation and general bad behavior.
It usually strikes some time shortly after seniors receive college acceptance letters. And for those with early results, symptoms may start appearing as soon as mid-December.
School administrators report that the onset of senioritis usually coincides with warm weather and only becomes epidemic once the last Advanced Placement test has been completed. It tends to be very contagious among second semester seniors, who are “so over” high school, they put social before school.
The CDC doesn’t track senioritis. But judging by the uptick in daytime activity at the mall—before, after, and during school hours—it seems that many high school seniors are succumbing to advanced stages of what can be a crippling disease.
Although easy to catch, senioritis is hard to cure. Symptoms include skipping class, neglected homework, dropping out of extracurricular activities, failed tests, and way too many lapses in judgment or integrity. You can chart outcomes on a graph: as absenteeism increases, grades decline.
And devoting class time to Snap Chat, Instagram and Twitter may signal senioritis is out of control.
For extreme cases, a strong dose of discipline is required as students mindlessly indulge in troublesome behaviors including but not limited to pranks, truancy, substance abuse, or totally inappropriate postings on the Internet.
And there are consequences. Colleges accept students on the condition that grades and behavior will remain acceptable.
Decision letters contain carefully worded statements that usually read, “Your admission is contingent on continued successful performance,” meaning the last official part of your application process will involve a review of your final transcript as well as a report from your school counselor. For an interesting reference, UC Santa Cruz spells out their terms and conditions in excruciating detail on their website.
And here is an example from the University of Michigan of how the warning works
As an admitted freshman, the University of Michigan expects all aspects of your academic performance and conduct in your senior year to be consistent with the record you presented upon admission. Any significant decline in your academic performance, such as three or more C’s, any D’s, E’s or F’s, may be cause for revoking admission. Declining grades or a significant change in curriculum may also be cause for revoking admission. Although senior year grades are reported directly to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions (OUA) and reviewed, it is your responsibility to advise OUA of any serious decline in grades or changes in course selections previously entered on your application.”
Failure to live up to expectations can have painful consequences such as
- a rescinded offer of admission,
- placement on academic probation before you even begin college,
- delayed or second semester start,
- remedial coursework,
- a mandatory gap year to grow up,
- loss of Advanced Placement credits or
- reduced financial aid.
No kidding, these things happen. Seniors who earn D’s during second semester may find they have no college to attend in the fall or suffer a serious loss of scholarship dollars. And those who blow off Advanced Placement exams stand to lose course credits worth a significant amount of money or a fast pass to early college graduation.
Statistics related to revoked admissions are notoriously difficult to obtain—no one really likes to talk about it. A few years ago, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reported that 1 in 5 or about 22 percent of colleges surveyed revoked offers. And the average number of offers revoked more than doubled from 10 to 23 per school in one year.
In an interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said the Office of Admissions usually sends warning letters to admitted students if they detect a “pattern of lower grades” or a failure. Students are asked to provide an explanation, after which a decision is made on an appropriate course of action.
And it can be really costly*:
Your case has been reviewed by the Dean of Emory College and myself. I am sorry to inform you that our decision is to revoke your admission to the Emory College Class of 20–. I realize this turn of events is of great disappointment to you. On behalf of the Admission Committee, I want to extend our sincere appreciation for your interest in Emory. Should your interest in Emory persist, you may apply again to Emory College as a transfer student next year. Please note that we require one full year of college work and have a postmarked deadline of June 1st for transfer. Lastly, I offer you my best wishes for a productive, and above all, rewarding college career. Sincerely, Dean of Admission for Emory University.”
One local family was put to the test tracking down an errant son who took off for a mission trip to a remote part of South America immediately after graduation. On receipt of a final grade report containing two “C’s,” the boy’s prestigious university sent an email demanding an immediate explanation with a clear threat that revocation of his admission was possible.
The young man was eventually located and provided access to internet services which he used to email a detailed explanation and apology to the college. He entered his freshman year on academic probation.
Note that colleges have more incentive than ever to take back offers. With record-breaking applicant pools, unexpectedly high yields, and huge wait lists, schools have many enthusiastic applicants happy to take the places of previously-admitted students who dropped key academic classes, let grades slip, or otherwise got in trouble.
In March, the University of Virginia invited several thousand students to be on their wait list, and not all have been released yet. You can bet a bunch of those kids would jump at the opportunity to grab a spot regardless of how it becomes available.
Most seniors will finish the year knowing they’ve completed a job well-done. This warning is not for you.
For those who haven’t quite managed to turn in your last three English assignments, please come home from the beach now…
*From a collection assembled by Kevin J. Kuczynski, Warren Consolidated Schools
We’re not talking about servers at restaurants or performers on the stage. Instead, we’re focusing this pretty important pep-talk on students who WAIT to be asked to join a group or activity versus students who ACT on their passion without needing an invitation. Get more expert undergraduate admissions advice at https://admissionsintel.com.
At the top of every list of what colleges look for in applicants is a strong academic record. This means both grade point average and strength of academic program. And they go hand-in-hand—you can’t cut corners on either.
For the record, grades always should be trending upward, and although “stuff happens,” grade blips are definitely not desirable. Two students with identical GPAs will be viewed very differently by admissions offices if one has improving grades and the other is on the decline.
But whether you’re just starting off or well along in your academic journey, here are a few tips for earning grades colleges will be sure to notice:
- Show up. And not just physically, although that’s a good first step. Attend class with the intent to learn. Avoid distractions such as reading other materials, texting, surreptitiously surfing the internet on your mobile phone, or talking to the student next to you.
- Get Organized. Invest in a planner and use it. Keep track of assignments as they are announced, check them off as they are completed and always scan ahead to see what’s on the horizon. You’d be amazed how handy a planner is—log-in club meetings, dentist appointments, or consultations with your school counselor. The more you use a planner, the better organized you will become.
- Sit close to the front of the classroom. Students who voluntarily sit in one of the first few rows generally earn better grades than those who sit toward the back. Sorry. It’s just true!
- Ask questions. If you don’t “get” something, the chances are excellent that others in the class also don’t understand. Inquisitive students are engaged students.
- Join class discussions. Teachers notice who is paying attention through class participation. This can play to your advantage when it comes time to giving out grades. Besides, discussions (and class content) are more likely to be imprinted on your mind if you’ve gotten involved.
- Take good class notes. You’ll be taking notes for the rest of your academic career, so learn and practice these skills now. Find a system that works for you and use it. But don’t count on your computer for taking notes. Studies show that technology just doesn’t work as well on this one.
- Listen. Listen “between the lines” for subtle messages. Many teachers provide strong clues about the most important elements in a lesson—even suggesting something about a topic’s relevance to the next quiz or test. The best students pick up on these clues.
- Ask for help. The key is not to wait until you’ve fallen hopelessly behind. Your front line source of help is your teacher, who should be very invested in your success. Stay after class or make an appointment for after-school help. If this doesn’t work, seek outside support. Try classmates or find a tutor if necessary.
- Keep up. Finish assignments before they are due. Actually turning in the work helps too. Work completed in advance of deadlines is often better than that thrown together at the last minute.
- Read actively. Active reading involves more than scanning words on a page. For some students, it means underlining, highlighting, or annotating materials. Others develop lists of key words and summarize materials as they read.
- Study daily. Successful students commit some time every day to active studying—reading, writing, and reviewing. This may also mean outlining, making flash cards, participating in study groups, or rewriting notes. Students who work steadily on coursework do better than those who study in large chunks, and they definitely outperform students who cram.
- Work the extra credit. View “optional” extra credit projects or assignments as required. Even if it’s just a few points added to your grade, the total can add up. Missing an A- by one point can be really painful.
- Upgrade writing skills. Learn to proofread, revise and correct written work. At the same time, take steps to increase vocabulary and develop facility with basic grammar. Improved writing skill strengthens critical thinking as well as listening, reading, and speaking abilities. It also pays off outside the classroom with higher standardized test scores.
- Limit internet distractions. There is no reason to have any social networking distraction going while doing homework. In fact, it’s likely you can complete most assignments without even turning the computer on. Consider studying somewhere away from the single biggest “attractive nuisance” in the house—your computer.
- Avoid overscheduling. Keeping in mind the relative importance of GPA in the college admissions process, be smart about the number of outside commitments interfering with your ability to study and complete assignments on time. Time management will become increasingly important as you go further in your education.
- Develop test taking know-how. Successful test taking avoids carelessness and rests on a few simple strategies like following directions, becoming familiar with different kinds of questions, and understanding how the test will be graded.
- Use time wisely. Even if you don’t procrastinate and are generally pretty organized, strategic use of time can reduce stress. Tackle harder work first and break large projects into smaller, easy-to-accomplish pieces. Feel free to reward yourself for completing major tasks by taking short breaks.
- Get enough sleep. Go to bed at a reasonable time and turn off your cellphone. Better yet, leave the cellphone in the kitchen. No text message is ever that important.