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Teens - Get A Job!

Posted on January 22, 2016 at 4:25 PM

A recent blog by NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) references an article by former Chronical of Higher Education editor, Jeffrey Selingo, that only 20% of teenagers currently hold a job while in school. I was truly taken aback and find this to be a staggering statistic.

Growing up as a teenager in the 70’s – 80’s in a middle class suburb of Pittsburgh, I can’t think of any friends or classmates in high school who didn’t have a job. We worked in restaurants and delis as bussers, wait-staff and dishwashers; we cut grass, babysat or worked other odd jobs for spending money and to help pay for college. We continued to work even while in college full time. It’s just what you did.

For myself, a job was one of the best learning experiences I could have imagined – as much as earning my college degree. Like many teenagers, I liked to sleep in during the summer or on weekends, play video games or pick up baseball or basketball with friends. But my first job working in my uncle’s deli/restaurant helped to teach me responsibility and time management. On many Saturdays, I had to be at work before 7 a.m. to open the door, turn on the lights and cheerfully greet the customers – some already standing outside and waiting for the doors to open. On other Saturdays, I worked until 10 p.m. mopping floors, cleaning countertops, counting the cash receipts and locking the doors for the evening.

Certainly tuition costs have skyrocketed over the last 20 – 30 years and a part-time job may barely cover the cost of books and spending money. Yet the NACAC blog rightly points out that a job during school provides a great many more benefits than just helping to cover educational costs. Selingo notes, “A job teaches young people how to see a rhythm to the day, especially the types of routine work teenagers tend to get… It’s where they learn the importance of showing up on time, keeping to a schedule, completing a list of tasks, and being accountable to a manager who might give them their first dose of negative feedback so they finally realize they’re not as great as their teachers, parents, and college acceptance letters have led them to believe.”

If I hadn’t learned it before my first job, I surely started to understand the meaning of responsibility soon after. I vividly recall several instances in which I was called to task for coming up short in my duties, and I learned from that. After a period of time, it was then MY turn to have a conversation with some of the newer employees.

Managers will often cite that the hardest part of being the boss is managing other people. I got my first dose of that early on – and there’s nothing one will learn in college classes that will prepare them for this than practical, on-the-job experience.

Over the years, I have witnessed more and more parents preferring that their sons and daughters take more demanding classes in high school or spend more time in sports and other activities rather than earning a paycheck. In some cases, the hope is to build a strong enough resume so their student gets into a ‘good’ college (a whole other topic) or maybe even earn an athletic scholarship. This is shortsighted thinking, however. Elizabeth Heaton, a former admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania noted, “I loved paying jobs when I saw them on applications… the experience can show that students can show up on time, be responsible and do a job they’re hired to do, and deal with adults they aren’t related to.”

Time magazine references a survey by the ManPower Group that, worldwide, 1 in 5 employers can’t fill jobs because applicants lack ‘soft’ skills. A part time job can also provide a teenager with the opportunity to learn the meaning of punctuality, appearance, interpersonal skills and flexibility – traits seriously lacking in many new college graduates.

So to all teenagers and parents out there wondering if a nominal paycheck is worth the time and effort, take it from the professionals. There is little one can do to help build a college resume and prepare for professional life than to GET A JOB!


Bias in "Holistic" Admissions?

Posted on August 12, 2015 at 7:35 PM

Sara Harberson is the former associate dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania and the former dean of admissions and financial aid at Franklin & Marshall College. In this LA Times editorial, she offers some refreshingly honest insight into the practice of “holistic” college admissions – particularly as it pertains to the latest controversy over perceived bias against Asian Americans in the application review process.


Every year, many students and parents ask the same question regarding highly selective college admission – “What does it take to get in?” A perfect SAT and GPA guarantees nothing. Yet, a highly recruited athlete or child of a well-connected donor or alum (a “tag” as Ms. Harberson notes) with lesser marks might very well have the advantage for admission.


In my experience, I don’t know that gaining admission to highly selective colleges is any more difficult for Asian Americans than for many ‘majority’ applicants. But I also don’t doubt that certain tags are helpful in college admissions as well. Unfortunately, what I found somewhat disheartening during one of my recent college information sessions is that some Asian Americans believe that this bias permeates even beyond highly selective colleges. For those families willing to look beyond college rankings and simply seek the best fit college, the world truly is their oyster. Numerous selective colleges (perhaps not the ‘most selective’), either because of their geographic location or other factors, would find Asian American applicants highly desirable. Not only might the prospect of admission be much greater, but perhaps a generous scholarship might also be in the offing.


So for an insightful and candid look into the holistic admission review process from someone who has been there, the following should shed some light on this continuing controversy. 

The truth about 'holistic' college admissions - LA Times 

Selective College Admissions - Why the Hysteria?

Posted on July 16, 2015 at 5:05 PM

Frank Bruni

March 13, 2015

How to Survive the College Admissions Madness


New York Times OP-ED columnist Frank Bruni is known for writing constructive opinion pieces regarding the hysteria surrounding college admissions that seems to have caught fire in the last couple of decades. As the Common Application is set for release on August 1,for the 2015 - 2016 school year (some colleges are already accepting applications for the upcoming school year), I share his March 13 column here to help illuminate students and parents on the need to relax, take a deep breath and not be so fixated on a small number of “elite” schools as though only a degree from a college deemed in the top 10 or 25 from some news magazine will determine one’s self-worth or value in the marketplace.


Regardless of which college a student attends, it’s the effort, determination and willingness to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the school (research, study abroad, leadership, etc.) that will ultimately determine their success. One sometimes wonders what’s driving the stress level for admission to highly selective colleges. Is it expected job prospects, future wealth, etc.? Or are students (parents?) more concerned about their peers’ perception of them if they (or their child) are accepted / denied admission to a “top tier” college?


The college search should be a time of excitement and exploration and not some drive to prove to others (or yourself) that you’ve got what it takes to gain admission to a college that has achieved national prominence. So follow the paths of Peter and Jenna in Frank Bruni’s article and see what amazing opportunities can await you – regardless of your school of choice.

How to Survive the College Admissions Madness 



What's New with the PSAT and SAT?

Posted on July 15, 2015 at 2:20 PM

The College Board has redesigned the PSAT/NMSQT ® and rising 2015 juniors will be the first to take the new test in October. This will coincide with the redesigned SAT, which will be first offered in March of 2016. What changes are in store? The College Board has been planning for the myriad questions surely to arise regarding the changes and is offering both sample questions and practice tests to help students prepare.

The practice tests are offered through Khan Academy, which has partnered with the College Board to offer the free practice tests so that students of any economic background will have an opportunity to prepare for the new PSAT/NMSQT.

The PSAT is not used for admission consideration – that would be the SAT or ACT (unless a college is considered a "FairTest" school). However, for high scoring students, the PSAT can be considered for National Merit Scholarship consideration. Last year, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation awarded $48 million to more than 9600 students based on their PSAT scores.

Rising juniors will have an opportunity to take both the old SAT – offered through January 2016 – and the new SAT – beginning March of 2016. Colleges will accept either test score so test takers may submit the best score to the colleges at which they intend to apply.

With the changes in the PSAT and SAT comes the sometimes inevitable anxiousness of students and parents alike. Given that, there is expected to be a rise in ACT test takers – interesting in that the new SAT will now be more comparable to the ACT - in content if not in format. I am personally pleased to see more students taking the ACT and perhaps breaking free of the SAT bias often found on the east and west coasts (there is also an ACT bias in flyover country). All colleges will accept either the SAT or ACT. And history indicates that a slightly higher percentage of students will score higher on the ACT - at least in the current SAT format. As a bonus, a number of colleges will accept the ACT in lieu of the SAT Subject Test if required.

For those students and parents who might be fretting over the changes in the PSAT and SAT – DON’T! Standardized testing is only one element of a college application review. Students should only worry about those things that are in their control, beginning with the most important consideration in college admissions – academics! Students should take challenging classes up to their ability, work hard, and impress their teachers (they write recommendation letters!). Students can also build a solid resume with activities, community service and leadership opportunities that they enjoy. This isn’t to say that the standardized test should be ignored. Practice tests are available through Khan Academy and are often offered free of charge, or for a small fee, by test prep organizations in your community. Ask your school counselor if they are aware of any or do a quick web search for one in your area.


NPR - How Do You Get Into Amherst?

Posted on July 9, 2015 at 6:30 PM

In 2011, NPR aired a segment titled, Behind The Scenes: How Do You Get Into Amherst?. It’s an instructive piece from Renee Montagne regarding the daunting process of reviewing admissions applications at highly selective colleges. In this story, Ms. Montagne had the opportunity to join the Amherst Admissions committee for a time to learn some of the nuances of gaining admission (or not) into this highly selective college. During this news piece, one will glean the importance of the college essay, high school activities and other personal characteristics of the applicant. Other than one brief mention early in the segment regarding a student’s status as valedictorian who took several AP courses his freshman year and earned a max five on three of them, nothing touches upon academics or standardized test scores. So when a student (or parent) questions why they were denied or waitlisted to School X, when they scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT or ACT – even more so received a perfect score – plus was a straight "A" student while taking numerous AP classes, the answer is often “what have you done to separate yourself from the other highly competitive applicants?” There is no easy answer to this question, but if one takes a few minutes to listen to the report, they will gain some insight into the world of highly selective college admissions. Listen here:


The College Essay

Posted on May 31, 2015 at 3:30 PM

Are you a rising high school senior? Summertime is the time to brainstorm and start your college essay (and preferably finish before the start of your senior year!). The Common Application, used by more than 500 colleges and universities across the U.S. and around the world, has released the 2015 – 2016 essay prompts. You only need to answer one question and the word limit is 650. Remember, 650 is your limit – not your goal. Following are the essay prompts:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Typically, the essay is the lengthiest and most challenging part of the application process. The essay should reflect who you are and what sets you apart from the other college applicants. Write an essay that is distinctly you. If you are writing about the big game winning goal, basket, etc. because it was the most exciting moment of your life, it could be that the college admissions representative already read five similar essays – in one day. The same could be true about that once-in-a-lifetime mission trip you took last summer. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t write about such an event, but it should be unique and tells a story that only you can tell.

Take your time and reflect thoughtfully on moments of your life that were meaningful to you – even if you don’t think it might seem particularly significant to others. Remember, this essay is about YOU and what makes you unique. The essay should be in your voice; it’s not about how many new words you can come up with by using the thesaurus. If you are not a particularly funny individual, don’t try to be funny.

Seek advice on your essay from a parent, teacher, coach or counselor. They should be objective and willing to share constructive advice. But the essay should not receive any rewriting by those individuals. Believe it or not, admissions representatives have a very good instinct for determining when someone else has ‘contributed’ to the essay.

Lastly, many colleges that are not Common Application members ask similar essay questions. You do not have to reinvent the wheel for every college application, but you should make any necessary tweaks and changes in the essay to be sure that you answer each essay prompt appropriately. In other words, be very careful before you cut and paste…

Good luck!


Admission 101: What You Need to Know

Posted on May 19, 2015 at 4:30 PM

"It's not your parents' college search. Way back in the days of yore, high school students pored over college guidebooks the size of doorstops, actually used the Post Office to communicate with admission offices, and painstakingly filled in their applications using a typewriter."