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Your Senior Survey & Letter of Recommendation

Your high school counselor can be a great ally in assisting you during the college application process. One of the ways they can support you is by writing a letter of recommendation about you to colleges. So how do they know what to write?

Apart from meeting with you, guidance counselors use your responses to the “ Senior Survey” to understand your goals and strengths, and will pass their insights on to the colleges that are considering your application. An Assistant Director of Admission at Chapman University says “High school counselors are our partners. They provide valuable information about our applicants and we trust them to be honest and forthright with us. Their letter is often the most important letter we read in a file.”

Just like your high school counselor provides accurate information to college admissions offices, you should be honest and thoughtful in your responses. Stay positive, even when asked about what you did not like, or what your weaknesses are. If you’ve faced challenges, talk about them! You can downplay issues to an extent, but not to the point that you’re glossing over something serious.

You should also know that your high school counselor is quite busy. It’s not uncommon for a counselor to use quotes from your answers to the survey verbatim when writing your recommendation letter. That is why it’s important to make this a priority and put forth the effort to provide excellent responses.

Your school may have different questions, but this gives you an outline for answers. Put effort and thought into answering them!

1. What are your plans for next year? Be specific! Name colleges you are interested in, potential majors, as well as possible graduate school and career ideas.

2. Which courses at our school have you enjoyed the most and why? 2 – 3 short strong sentences.

3. Which courses at this school have you enjoyed the least and why? 1 sentence and do not bash the teacher, nicely explain why.

4. Is your high school record an accurate measure of your ability and potential? If not, why not? This takes introspection and is worth thinking through and answering intelligently.

5. Have you participated in any summer programs, work or study opportunities that have been of significant importance to you? Please describe. 3 – 5 sentences.

6. What do you believe are your greatest strengths and your greatest weaknesses? Explain. Please list one small minor weakness and do not go into a lot detail. If you can show how you are addressing it, even better.

7. List 5 adjectives that describe you and explain. You can use the personality profile that we did to find these adjectives.

8. What do you plan to study in college and why? (If you haven’t decided on a particular major or concentration, what academic area(s) interest you?)

9. What is your favorite thing to do that you don’t think I know about?

10. What has been your most memorable positive experience at this school? Or what accomplishment are you most proud of and why? Please describe.

11. List all extracurricular activities, including sports, clubs and community organizations. Include years of participation. Please give them a copy of the activities sheet or resume if you have it done.

12. Is there anything else you think is important for us to know as we develop your letter of recommendation? Here you can thank them for their support, or tell them how you have matured this year.

Show your answers to your parents for quality assurance before you submit it to your high school guidance counselor.

Ethics in the Independent Education Consultant (IEC) Profession

On Tuesday March 12, 2019, a nationwide bribery and fraud scheme to help students gain admission to elite colleges and universities came to light.  This has shocked members of the Independent Education Consultant community and, I’m sure, many parents of students who are currently using or considering using a college consultant to help their son or daughter navigate the college admissions process.  So, who can you trust and how can you protect yourself?  There are two main ways families can ensure they are working with an individual or organization that abides by ethical consulting practices: fully vetting the college consultant and the consultant’s participation in appropriate associations.

First, when deciding to work with a college consultant, it is very important that you vet them fully.  There are several red flags that families should be aware of when working with a College Consultant; IECA has come up with a list of 12 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an IEC and 12 Warning Signs that an IEC is Not Worth Hiring.

Second, there are three main college consultant associations.  Each association has a strict Code of Ethics that the consultant is required to follow and Annapolis College Consulting is proud to be a member of all three associations.

  1. Independent Education Consultants Association (IECA)
  2. Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA)
  3. National Association for College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) or their local NACAC group

Here, you can view the Code of Ethics for IECA, HECA, and NACAC.

In Mark Skarlow’s (IECA’s CEO) State of the Profession 2018 presentation, he stated:

  • 30 years ago, the percentage of IEC’s that “belonged” to a professional association was over 80%
  • Today the 2,700+ affiliated IECs represent only 20% of the total

This means that families who fail to fully vet their college consultant have an 80% chance of working with someone who has no standard of ethics that they are being held accountable.  This is not to say that all unaffiliated college consultants are unethical people, however, families can rest much easier at night by working with someone who is affiliated with at least one of the professional organizations that were mentioned previously.

It is without a doubt disheartening to have this scandal drag good, caring, ethical college consultant’s names through the mud.  However, I am confident that the light this is shedding on the profession will bring more awareness of the services that are available to students and families and encourage them to seek out the “good ones.”

10 Things Any Student Can Do To Improve Their Success

The college process is complex, and you can’t control all the elements, but here are things that you should do to improve your success.

  1. Eliminate interruptions during study time. No calls, texts, emails, social media—nothing but you and the subjects.
  2. Stop activities that you don’t enjoy and will not add significantly to your college applications.
  3. Allow time to focus on yourself. Taking of 30-60 minutes for your sanity can keep your energy level high and improve your productivity on the elements you find difficult.
  4. Remember to be grateful. It will improve your relationships with teachers, parents and friends. For instance, tell your teachers that you appreciate they are teaching and find it meaningful.
  5. Attend three high school events (sports, music, drama, etc.) and show your support for the people who are participating. It will come back to you on many levels.
  6. Put your hand up at least once a day in a class where participation is invited.
  7. Identify the activity that means the most to you and think of one new way you could contribute or otherwise make an impact within it.
  8. Start making healthy choices.  Ensure that you are eating balanced meals throughout the day, getting at least 8-9 hours of sleep each night, and 30 minutes of physical activity.  Starting to implement these habits now will help you to carry them over to when you are in college.
  9. Remember that sometimes it is better to follow your heart and not the crowd.  It is very easy not only in high school, but college and life beyond to get caught up in what the crowd is doing.  Only go along with the crowd if you feel it is the right thing to do.  If it doesn’t interest you or you feel it won’t help you to be successful then listen to your heart and skip it.
  10. Don’t quit when things get tough.  In life things are bound to happen such as a personal crisis, problem, or frustration.  When things become difficult, remember to advocate for yourself and reach out for help.  Don’t stop coming to class or other activities and notify your instructor/coach/etc. of your problem (in as much detail as you feel comfortable).  Then, make arrangements to make up any missed assignments/work in a timely manner.

 

Essential Skills College-Bound Kids Should Know

Prepare for Independence:

This is a list of activities students should know how to do before they leave home. The list is long, but not difficult so review and persevere. 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.  If your student is not able to do all things listed prior to leaving for college don’t sweat it.  If they continue checking items off this list while in college, they are headed in the right direction.

Financial Matters:

  • Write a check
  • Cash a check
  • Know your debit card balance – Download your banks app
  • Know how to transfer funds (via phone app is even better!) – Look into PayPal or Venmo as an easy way to transfer money
  • Pay a bill (check or online) – Look into auto draft as an option to avoid any late fees!
  • Advise debit/credit card companies of card use when travelling – This only applies when you’re going out of the country
  • Withdraw cash from an ATM
  • Save for a goal
  • Pay rent & utilities (split with roommates) – Again, investigate autopay if necessary.  If one person will be paying the entire bill, set up an automatic transfer so that you’re never late on payments and they don’t have to “bug” you for your portion
  • Use campus “points” with meal plans
  •   Calculate a tip – Your cell phone can do this for you.
  •   Pay for dinner
  •   Cancel a membership – be sure to confirm whether there are any fees for cancelling before the contract is up.
  •   Figure out the cost of postage and shipping

Travel Matters:

  • Make travel arrangements – air, bus, train
  •   Navigate an airport, train or bus station
  •   Deal with a cancelled flight
  •   Take an Uber or Lyft, have the app and know how to use it
  •   Get around locally without a phone
  •   Pack a suitcase – When traveling for a trip, you can use this handy list to make sure you don’t forget anything: Pack This!
  •   Follow TSA rules
  •   Catch the local train/subway
  •   Check tire pressure
  •   Change a tire
  •   Check the oil
  •   Jump-start a car
  •   Parallel Park

Wellness Matters:

  •   Make an appointment (hair, dentist, doctor)
  •   Self-prescribe over-the-counter meds – When in doubt, if you go to the local pharmacy (CVS, Rite Aid – you can tell someone there your symptoms and they can easily recommend an over the counter medication to you)
  •   Know basic first aid
  •   Locate the campus health center
  • Know when to call a doctor or go to a doc-in-the-box
  • Carry a medical insurance card and know when to use it

Meals and Laundry Matters:

  •   Cook a meal – simple things they like
  •   Go food shopping – what to look for in fresh food items
  •   Load a dishwasher
  •   Put out a kitchen fire
  •   Buy clothes
  •   Return a purchase – Key thing is to hold onto your receipt!
  •   Do the laundry – remember to go back and move it to the dryer and back to your room
  •   Remove a stain
  •   Iron a shirt
  •   Sew a button
  •   Importance of good nutrition and vitamins
  •   How to store leftovers
  •   When to toss old food

Household Matters:

  •   Hook up cable
  •   Change a name on utility bills
  •   Unclog a toilet/sink
  •   Check the smoke alarm/CO2 alarm
  •   Fix basic household problems
  •   Renew car license plates & insurance
  •   How to vote absentee

General Matters:

  •   Think critically and question the status quo
  •   Manage your time
  •   Dress properly
  •   How to approach and meet new people
  •   Be a respectful house guest
  •   How to ask for help

And last, but not least, most important matters:

  •   Negotiate a deal
  •   Write (not email) a thank you note
  •   Say “no” with confidence

TIP: When hurting and in doubt, call home

You probably have mastered some of these before high school graduation. Be as ready as possible so you have a smooth transition and success.

There are some life lessons that we cannot predict nor protect you from: broken hearts, failing a test, making friends, losing friends, or saying they are sorry. Believe in yourself, and continue to move forward and upward, understanding that there will be setbacks.

Financial Information and Scholarship Websites

Financial Information

FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid portal, provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

FAFSA4caster is a college cost forecasting tool that estimates your eligibility for federal student aid.

StudentAid.gov has resources for learning about federal student aid, how to apply using the FAFSA, and get information on repaying student loans.

A video that talks about what to expect when your federal student loan enters repayment.

FinAid! – The SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid is a free resource for information, advice and tools about student financial aid, college scholarships and education loans.

CSS Profile – the financial aid application service of the College Board (required by some colleges in order to apply for financial aid).

The College Board’s Net Price Calculator allows you to estimate your net price to attend a specific college.

 

Scholarships

SchoolSoup scholarship database

FastWEB scholarship database.

Chegg scholarship database.

CollegeXpress offers college search tools, a scholarship database, lists and rankings, and online articles.

Scholly –  an easy way to find scholarships for high school seniors, current undergraduates, and graduate students.

 

Visiting Colleges

Planning

Plan your college visit ahead of time and see a number of suitable colleges in the same geographic area. You can use the website GoSeeCampus.com, and click on Trip Planner which can show you routing from one university to another, as well as nearby hotels. Also, when you input each college on the list it usually gives you links to the colleges’ websites so that you can sign up to attend the information session and the tour. Then it will tell you the distance between the schools, and the roads that you can take. Google Maps also works well for trip planning. Do not plan to visit more than two colleges in a day, as it becomes very stressful and hard to remember the details of each college.

Do You Need to Visit

The general rule of thumb that college admissions counselors use is that if you are within four hours of the school, you should take the time to visit the college to show that you are truly interested in them. Further than four hours the school does not require it, but you will need to show interest, see this article Demonstrate Interest. Most big universities do not track your interest level at all, as it is mostly a numbers game for them. If you have chosen the right classes, you have a GPA the college looks for, and test scores in the college’s range, you should get admitted. Touring colleges will hep you determine what is important to you and broaden you understanding of choices, Options for Visiting a College.

Being Engaged

This college visit is an important opportunity for you to really understand what the college can offer you, and if it is a good fit. Do not let your cell phone or a conversation with a friend distract you from this task. Decide which of these questions you want to ask the tour guide, Questions to ask on a College Visit. Silence your cell phone and be engaged so that you have accurate memories.

Eat at the College

I generally recommend that people go to the cafeteria and eat, so that you have an idea of the quality of food and the atmosphere. Additionally you can either observe students or sit down and talk to some and get a more candid picture of the college. You can learn a lot from students who are on campus and they should answer your questions honestly. Just remember that there are many opinions, but the more information that you have the better your decision will be.

Interviewing

I always recommend visiting schools when they are in session so that you can get a better feel for their students and the atmosphere. This can be done during any holidays or spring breaks, as well as quick visits on Saturdays. Most colleges give two tours on Saturdays and some also do Sunday tours. Going in the fall can be a very busy time for colleges, so you may need to plan quite a bit ahead to make sure you can be part of the group. If it is a college that recommends that you interview with an admissions representative on campus, make sure that I have time to prepare you for the interview.

Use My Checklist

Use a checklist to write down your thoughts, so you won’t confuse information from one college campus with another. While you are on the tour ask questions that you have to the tour guide or the person running the information session. Just realize that these people are not always candid, and most are being paid by admissions to represent the college.

After the visit take the time to record what you really liked, as well as the aspects that you did not. Think about whether that school could be your home for the next four years. Put an approximate rank on the school and feel free to change that as you go. These notes will help you when you need to make a decision at the end.

Finding the “Right” College

It is a hard question to answer, “what makes a college ‘good’?” the reality is that what makes a college good for you might make it a bad choice for someone else. One thing is certain though, how ‘good’ a college is may have very little to do with rankings or the percentage of applicants they admit. Look past the numbers and try to see what a college can do for its students.

Small vs. Large College: Is the school you’re considering focusing on its students? Institutions with a student-centered approach to education, or with language to that effect in their mission statement, are likely to provide personalized education with lots of student-professor interaction. Large research institutions may receive a lot of grant funding or house esteemed researchers, but that may not be useful if you do not have access to those facilities or chances to interact with those professors in a meaningful way.

Freshman Retention Rate: An often telling statistic is a school’s freshman retention rate (the percentage of students that return for their sophomore year). Most students know after a year whether or not they made the right choice. If you see a school with low freshman retention, it is likely that students are not finding what they were told they would find, the school is not supporting them on campus (be it academically, financially, or socially) or the student did not identify whether or not the college was a good fit in the first place. Schools with high retention tend to do these things well and tend to have strong orientation and first-year experience programs. Students that return after their first year and eventually graduate are likely to have found a school that is engaging and valuable in their personal and professional development.

Strong Advising: Support on campus needs to take place for longer than just the student’s first year as well. Academic advising can play a key role in on-time graduation and finding engaging academic pathways for students. With strong advising, you can also make better-informed decisions about your academic and career options. Advising may not be something that is important to you in the college search process, but it will certainly be a key factor in your satisfaction with the college you choose when you are on their campus. Will you have a departmental advisor, an advisor for your specific college, or a generalist advisor for multiple parts of campus life? These are all important questions to consider – especially so if you are considering a graduate degree after your undergraduate career. Strong advising can set you up for long-term success.

Learning that Fits You: The academic environment can also play a huge role in determining if a college is ‘good’ for you. Finding a school that offers hands-on learning, cutting edge research, and abundant internship opportunities should be a goal for any student. You will want what you learn in the classroom to be applicable to the real world as well as in the job market, so having an experiential-learning environment is key! You may also want to make note of where students are finding their opportunities for internships and research. Is there a dedicated career development center or undergraduate research office? Will you be prepared to interview and have help with your resume? With which companies do students tend to intern? Will you have a mentor on campus? Will you have a senior project that brings all of your education together? These are important questions to consider.

It may not be as hard as you think to find a school that handles these aspects of academic and campus life well. Rankings and statistics may help you identify some options, but look to these other attributes to help you find colleges that are ‘good’ for you.

Successfully Attending a College Fair

Attending a college fair is a great opportunity to hear from college representatives about their institution, and make an in-person connection while getting your questions answered. Representatives at college fairs are often the same people that will be reading your application, so it is best to be prepared!

Here are some tips to get the most out of your visit to a college fair:

Have a set of schools in mind and research them first. Most fairs will have a website or flyer before the event that lists which colleges will be attending. Find 10 – 15 that you would like to chat with and take a look at their websites for general information first. At the fair, stop at those tables and ask in-depth questions. If you have extra time, chat with any other colleges that pique your interest. Your list should include schools you would not normally be able to visit in person.

Save time and use labels. College representatives are there to not only hand out information, but to gather it as well. Most colleges will have an inquiry card to fill out so they can add you to their communication flows and track your interest. Have some adhesive labels pre-printed with your full name, gender, address, phone number, (appropriate) email address, year in school, potential major, and the name of the high school you attend. The more information you can give the better. Then, instead of spending valuable face time with a representative writing info, you can simply stick the label on an inquiry card and get your questions answered.

Sign in. If you can’t make labels, signing in lets the college know that you attended an event and were interested enough to stop by. Use legible handwriting, the same spelling of your name that you use on the college application, and the same email address you plan to use for all college admissions correspondence.

Make a good first impression. You should be engaged, alert, enthusiastic, acting in a professional manner and dressed appropriately. This may be your first interaction with a college you are interested in, so you will want to put your best foot forward. Get there early, introduce yourself with a handshake, smile, make eye contact, and try not to get distracted by your classmates that may also be attending the fair.

Ask focused questions. You may be one of dozens of students that the college representatives meet. Stand out and ask thoughtful questions. Broad questions get broad answers. Instead of “How’s your business school?” try “I saw you have an entrepreneurship emphasis in the business school. Can you tell me about that?” If you can easily find the answer online or on one of the handouts, then don’t ask it. You may also find it beneficial to ask about the school’s atmosphere, what kinds of students do well on campus, and what are the school’s unique/best features? Be aware that others may want to chat with the representative as well. If there’s a line, keep the discussion short. It’s not the time to cover every aspect of yourself or the school.

Follow up. Ask for the business card of the representatives you meet. Send them a follow up email thanking them for their time and asking any questions that might have popped up after you left their table. Attach your resume to your email and ask that it be added to your file.

Keep it all organized. You’re going to be collecting a lot of handouts and materials at the fair. Separate content by school and have a folder for each institution at home. Write down relevant info like the dates and times of fairs and who you met there. You may have collected material from schools you’re not interested in. Throw it out and focus on the schools you see as a good fit.

Take things a step further. After the fair is a good time to revisit a school’s website, plan a visit, contact admissions or schedule an interview with an alumni representative or college representative. You can use the time at the college fair as a reference point and expand on the conversations you had.

Overcoming Test Anxiety

Test anxiety can be a debilitating and stressful experience. As a student, you may be feeling frustrated by your inability to calm yourself down and put your test preparation to good use. As a parent, you might be feeling at a loss in your abilities to provide helpful advice. Never fear! Test anxiety is something that you can learn to control.

There are two main goals in overcoming test anxiety: Understanding it, and overcoming it.

What is text anxiety?

Anxiety itself is an abnormal sense of fear, nervousness, or apprehension about performing poorly. The difference is that test anxiety occurs only in a testing situation. It may result in difficulty tapping into skills like concentration, attention, and memory.

Anxiety is not grounded in reality; it’s in the head of the test-taker. At its core, anxiety is all about neuroscience. When you experience fear, cortisol knocks out your working memory, making all of that test preparation difficult to access. Your body is ready to spring into action, not to think. This isn’t really helpful if you aren’t trying to fight crime during the SATs or ACTs.

Author Carol Dweck notes an important step in overcoming anxiety as “learning to fulfill your potential.” If you realize that you can learn from the test, you will actually get smarter from taking it. So not only can you beat the test, you can take that information with you!

You have the power to overcome test anxiety!

There are many methods so choose one or multiple methods. Here are some of the most successful techniques:

  • Write It Out: The University of Chicago found that a 10-minute exercise before the exam helped to reduce internal anxieties, and thus, helped students perform better. The students would write about their personal worries, allowing them to “unload” before the actual test.
  • Visualization: Visualize positive and relaxing images and experiences. Envision yourself doing well on the test. Tell yourself daily over the next week that you will be relaxed during the test and that you will get the highest score that you have ever gotten. Practice in your mind, keep calm, and believe in yourself.
  • Get in the Zone: Take some time before your exam to pump yourself up. Maybe you have a song that puts you in a focused mindset. Listen to that song a couple of times before your exam; it will help you gain control of your adrenaline.
  • Treat it like a Game: Test or math anxiety is often immediate and strong. So strong in fact, that some students reported feeling physical pain. The thought of being evaluated and assessed in that way can be challenging to work past, but try treating it more like a game than a test! Pretend you’re trying to solve a puzzle better than a sibling or peer (that’s some good incentive to get it right).
  • Practice Self-Regulation: Spend some time learning how to soothe yourself and keep yourself calm. Begin practicing weeks before the test so you’ll have plenty of time to try out methods of anxiety reduction. Deep breathing can be very effective. Does it help to think of a happy place? To take a sip of water and a breath every time you begin to feel anxious?
  • Simulate the Testing Environment: Some students dislike being surrounded by others in the real test room, so they found it helpful to practice around others. Try taking practice tests in a public space like a library. 
  • Meditation Techniques: Take a few long deep breaths and borrow serenity. Slow breathing actually helps limbic release, so take a few slow breaths, paying attention to your heart rate and filling your lungs entirely with air before an exhale. Take an object such as a rock, a touchstone, which is not powerful until you yourself make it so. Though you might feel silly, using your breath and using your body’s feedback is a helpful way to gain control over your mind.

How parents can help

As a parent, you can be a positive guiding force in your child’s challenges with test anxiety. In addition to the above suggestions, parents can take steps to be coaches in the process. Students can pull others into their anxiety, which can be harmful to everyone. Coach your student to focus on him or herself rather than engaging with others that are anxious.

If all else fails, there are still options to help you or your child succeed. Consider another option of applying to some test optional schools. This helps reduce the anxiety that your score is all important.

You aren’t alone!

We are living in the age of anxiety, in which everyone is worrying about things like the future, with 31% of Americans suffering from some form of anxiety. In fact, test anxiety is actually fairly common. 61% of high school students reported test anxiety, as it tends to surface in high school years. Test anxiety is increasing in both the US and internationally. Interestingly, girls tend to have more anxiety than boys, leading to the discovery of a significant relation to the gender score gap. This form of anxiety is most prevalent in high-stakes tests and gifted students.

The best and final advice: you have more control over your mind and body than you might think, and you have the power to make positive, helpful choices. Let me know if you try any of these methods, and if they work for you.

 

Campus Visit Review

As you drive home from a campus visit take advantage of the drive time to review your experience! Write down your opinions while the experience is still fresh on your mind.

College: _____________________________ City/State:__________________________ Admissions Office Representative:______________________________________________ Tour Guide:__________________________ Email: _____________________________ Campus Visit Date: ___________________

Tour /  Rate each category (5 being best)

Grounds / Setting       Campus Housing       Student Center       Classroom Buildings        Class Size

Library Resources       Size       Energy       People        Athletics       Social Life       Cafeteria / Food

Fitness Center          Student Clubs / Organizations         Career Resources          Other

Impressions:

 

 

If you interview, Interviewer’s name Email:___________________________________________________________

What did I learn about the school:

 

 

Off Campus Life (i.e. music, movies, shopping, restaurants, cafes, art, theater, events)

 

Near campus:

 

City Highlights:

 

Outdoor Activities Nearby:

 

Transportation Options:

OVERALL ASSESSMENT: What I like most:

 

What I like least:

 

Level of academic challenge? Just right   Too difficult  Too easy  Would I feel comfortable here?

Does this school have what I am looking for?

Should I apply to this school? Why: