Online Learning Tips for Success

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Using the internet for studying, researching colleges, or to complete a simple homework assignment can be useful, yet extremely daunting all at the same time. If you are familiar with certain programs or sites that are user-friendly and disseminates information in a productive, efficient manner, then using the internet should be easy for you! But, if you are one of those people who gets overwhelmed quickly, or you just don’t have time to be scanning website after website, then you are in luck!

At Lighthouse College Planning we recommend many resources for students to be successful when studying for the ACT/SAT or when researching everything there is to know each specific college you are interested in. When studying for one or both standardized tests, the internet should be your friend. Collegeboard.org has teamed up with Khan Academy, which offers any student free SAT prep. Khan Academy gives students endless practice work and explanations of why an answer is right and why an answer is wrong. Khan Academy is there to help students master a skill before they move on to the next. ACT.org has free ACT prep practice as well. They offer students a “Question of the day” and multiple free subject tests with answers. ACT.org is not as extensive as Khan Academy, but it’s free!

When researching colleges, I always recommend that if a student’s high school has the Naviance program, he/she should use it. If your student’s high school does not use Naviance, again, collegeboard.org is very helpful. If students are using the Common Application and are looking for quick information regarding deadlines, fees, or if they want to know how many teacher recommendation letters they need or if a counselor recommendation is required, each year Common App offers an updated grid titled College Deadlines, Fees, and Requirements. If students are looking for quick information regarding the colleges’ grade point average requirement, ACT/SAT requirement, SAT subject test requirement, enrollment, graduation rate, matriculation rate, location, etc., students can research using niche.com, cappex.com, or my personal favorite, the school’s college data/college profile page; you can google each school’s specific page. If you are totally lost on even where to apply, we also recommend that students and parents look at the schools published in the book, 40 Colleges that Change Lives. The book is informational and gives students and parents a different perspective on what these specific colleges look for in a student during application season.

When applying to colleges, websites that you should know and can begin navigating are commonapp.org and coalitionforcollegeaccess.org. These two sites work with hundreds of colleges in order to give students access to one application and one main essay when applying to multiple universities. Students should begin using these sites in the summer going into their senior year. Students should not wait to go back to school senior year to start applying. Most selective or highly selective schools require students to write multiple essays on top of the one general essay for the Common/Coalition Application. Writing essays is tedious, so I always recommend that students google The Naked Truth College Essays. The Chicago Tribune published this article back in 2006 where they highlighted essays of high school seniors from Chicago who were accepted into highly selective schools. It is a great starting point and it gives students specific examples of what a stellar essay looks like.

What is the Most Important Factor on your HS Transcript?

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College admission officers weigh a variety of factors when making admission decisions. They take into consideration your ACT/SAT scores, class rank, GPA, rigor of high school courses, college admission essays, and much more. Most of this information can be found on your high school transcript, which begs the question, “What is the most important factor on my high school transcript?” The answer is your GPA. 

Your GPA represents every single grade you receive throughout your high school career, and it helps college admission officers formulate opinions about who you are as a student. It serves as a snapshot of your academic ability and can potentially speak to your work ethic and dedication in the classroom. It is also directly correlated to your class rank, which shows college admission officers how you compare to other students in your graduating class. 

Your GPA in college preparatory courses is extremely important. While colleges place high value on taking a rigorous course load, they want to see that you are successful in these courses. In addition to your unweighted GPA, many high schools will report your weighted GPA on your transcript, which factors in the extra point for successfully completing an honors or AP course. Your weighted GPA represents your performance in college preparatory courses and can potentially allow you to stand out among the other top students in your graduating class.

Overall, your GPA is more than just a number. It gives college admission officers their first impression of who you are as a student. Maintaining a high GPA with a rigorous course load will allow you to stand out among other applicants during the college admission process. 

5 Questions for Juniors to Ask to Prepare for College

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What classes should I be taking in high school in order to prepare me for college and my anticipated major?

Students should be focusing on taking your 5 core classes each year, and then supplementing with classes that may introduce you to your preferred major. For example, students should be taking a course in English, Language, Mathematics, Science, and Social Science each year in high school. Even though most high schools’ graduation requirements do not require that students take this course path, colleges are looking to see four years in each area of study. Colleges are also looking at the rigor of your course load. If you are looking to apply and get into highly selective schools, you should be taking Honors and AP courses throughout your four years of high school and work hard to receive A’s. Colleges want to see that you are challenging yourself and are taking the most rigorous courses that you can handle or the most rigorous courses your high school offers if you plan on applying to an Ivy or highly selective college.

What does the college application process look like at my high school when I’m trying to compile the following various forms: transcripts, teacher/counselor recommendation letters, essays, and ACT/SAT scores?

Each high school has a different college application process and students and parents need to be aware of this process junior year of high school. Some of the questions you should be asking your college counselors are: How do I request a transcript? Do I have to pay for my transcript to be sent to colleges? How much does it cost to send each transcript? Do I have to request recommendation letters through Naviance? (Rule of thumb: If you have to request a recommendation letter through Naviance, first ask your counselor or teacher face-to-face, and give them a heads up that they will receive an email from Naviance allowing them to upload the recommendation letter. Remember to say thank you; it goes a long way!) Are my test scores on my transcript or do I have to send my scores directly from the ACT center or Collegeboard.org? Note: Some colleges require that the scores come directly from the ACT center or Collegeboard.org even if they are on a student’s transcript. When should I start my essays and who can revise them? If my school does not use Naviance, how are my transcripts and letters of recommendation sent? Do I have to send them through the mail? See your high school counselor often and make sure you form a relationship with him/her and the college application process will be much easier!

When should I start filling out college applications and when should I hit the submit button?

Students should be filling out applications the summer going into their senior year. We recommend that all applications be completed by October 1st, so students need to use their summer wisely. Applying to schools is like taking an AP course in regards to time. Applying is not hard, but time-consuming when you look at all the essays you need to write. The Common Application launches August 1st, while other applications open in June or July. Get a jump start in the summer and do not wait until school starts senior year to start applying! When you get back to school, you should only have to talk to teachers about the recommendation letters you should have requested before you left for summer, request your transcripts, send your test scores from the ACT center or Collegeboard.org, and possibly have your English teacher revise your essays. You should feel confident to hit that submit button October 1st!

What should I be doing during my summer/winter/spring breaks?

Research, research, research! A major component of Lighthouse College Planning is our counseling program. We recommend that students research up to 30-35 colleges and then narrow their list down to about 8-10. Researching becomes very time consuming and nearly impossible if students start senior year; we start this process with our sophomores. Our sophomores start researching about 1 school a month and by the time they are juniors, they then continue to research about 2 schools a month.

When researching, our students look at the following factors in order to learn more about each college campus and the academic programs they have to offer: majors/minors offered, retention rate (what percentage of the freshmen class returns sophomore year), graduation rates in four, five, and six years, direct admit programs if offered, tuition, percentage of scholarship/merit aid distributed, acceptance rate, acceptance rate for early action deadline, admission deadlines, SAT subject tests needed, location, campus life, and the list goes on…

Students should also be using their vacation time wisely by working a part-time job or volunteering on a consistent basis. Colleges are also looking for students in leadership roles and who take advantage of the opportunities within their high school and community. Students should also be looking into job shadowing or internships in the career field they are thinking of pursuing. Colleges love to see students gaining extra experience in the field before getting to college.

Should I know what I’m going to major in before I get to college?

Yes! Or have some type of idea. Time and time again, I have heard high school counselors say that students do NOT need to know what they want to major in before they get to college. I have also heard high school counselors say that it is okay to switch majors three or four times while in college! I do not know anyone who can afford to switch their majors three or four times!

At Lighthouse College Planning, we work with students extensively on career planning and goal setting. High school students need to have an idea of what they want to study when they get to college. They need to know the course track they will be taking when they get there and they should be determined to graduate college in four years. Nowadays, between 50%-65% of students are graduating in four years. What are the other 35%-50% of students doing that they are not graduating in four years? They are switching majors, not taking at least 15 credit hours per semester, failing classes, or taking full semesters off. Try to avoid the above reasons at all costs or the cost of college will keep rising. Make sure you have an idea of what you want to study in college and make sure the colleges that you are applying to have the academic programs you are looking for to further your future career. If you have three different careers in mind, make sure your colleges have all three majors or academic paths that will help you reach your end goal.

Writing a Winning Scholarship Essay

By:  Lauren Benters, School Counselor

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Scholarship essays are a good way for you to earn a few thousand dollars here and there to help offset student loans.  Here are a few tips to help you write essays that win.

  • Research the scholarship you are applying for.  What are the values behind the scholarship?  What is the organization/scholarship stand for?  That will become very important to tie your essay back to.  You still need your essay to tell a specific example about you, but if you can use your example to make connections to that scholarship, the readers are more apt to award you.
  • While you can use similar themes in scholarship essays, don’t get lazy and copy/paste.  It becomes so obvious when students have one essay and submit it to every scholarship.  Take the whole 20-30 minutes longer to read and understand what the question is asking of you, and answer that, specifically based on what you have experienced.  Yes, you will have similar essays, but they should all be a bit different.  This personalization can pay big dividends.
  • Focus on one aspect of your character that stands out.  Committees are looking to award someone money, but they have to decide who is most deserving.  They will usually have your GPA, so it is pretty clear what type of student you are.  What is not as clear?  Who you are as a person.  We all have qualities that make us different and exceptional.  What are yours?  When you’ve pointed that out, see if reading your own essay would make you want to award you the money.

Take the time to fill out scholarships!  So many students trick themselves into thinking the amount of effort for the scholarship is not worth it.  Wrong!  Remember, loans accrue interest you have to pay back.  Scholarships are gifts with zero payback.  Take the extra time, as it literally pays off.  You’d be surprised how many students don’t apply for scholarships, so the pool is typically small, leaving you a good chance for you to be awarded those gifts.

Being a Part of Your Class

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Big campus, small campus, or anything in between, you will need to become a part of your class and college community.  Often I will hear students cease talking about their goals when they discuss the college-application process.  There is almost a vibe that once they get in, they are set.

Yes – being accepted into college is a huge deal, and we are already proud of you.  However, we want you to remember why you are going to college.  Typically, these answers revolve around getting your dream job, and college is just the means to get there.  Also, dare I say you are also going to college to have fun and meet the people that will remain some of your closest friends?  Often true, too.

College is the place to work hard, and yes, enjoy your experiences.  This will be your first time living alone, and deciding your own study schedules.  You will meet people from all different areas, and become fascinated with the different upbringings people have.  All of this is much like the workplace.

This time then becomes your exposure to the different walks of life you eventually will work with.  How do you show your future, first employer, what you have done has been valuable and important?  You become part of your class.

Becoming part of your college class not only makes your experience more meaningful and fun, it will also help you land a job.  Here are some ways you can do so:

Go to class.  You will be so thankful you did.  Your professors are cluing you in on what they feel is important and what will be tested.  Listen to them!

Also, stay after class.  Talk to your professors further about a topic that made you interested or ponder and question.  They will be flattered to know you were genuinely thinking about their lecture.  Those conversations may then lead to an assistantship or a letter of recommendation – critical if you want a leg up on an employment application.  Go to your professor’s office hours.  Students rarely show up, and you will receive individual attention from the expert himself.

Do more than just attend college.  When you graduate college, your potential employer will want to know what one or two things you did outside of college.  Be prepared to have something to discuss.  Tutor elementary students, be a mentor, intern, write for the newspaper.  Pick what you’re interested in – this should not feel like a job.  If you are interested in what you choose to do, you will have the most impact.  The sky’s the limit!

Last, talk to your peers in class.  College can begin feeling incredibly lonely.  Talking to the person sitting next to you in class will make college feel more welcoming.  “How are you?”, “How long did it take you to get the reading done for class?”, “Did you understand what this chapter was about?”  People will begin to open up, slowly for some, but most students will open up.  Not only could you meet your best friend, you also are building your network of people for any and all connections we all rely on in life.  There is a lot of truth in:  it is not what you know, but who you know.

Choosing Between Standardized Tests: The Importance of the ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests

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Colleges accept both college admissions examination scores, so it is up to you on what test you take and what scores you send. Most high schools do not offer both tests to their students or are not national test sites, so you need to sign-up for the tests and pay for them on your own. You can visit act.org or collegeboard.org to sign up for both tests as well as SAT subject tests depending if the colleges you are applying to want scores from the SAT subject tests. You will not be penalized for sending every score from each test; colleges look at the highest score.

ACT/SAT

ACT- Most students will take the ACT because it focuses on curriculum, based on what a student has learned in school. The ACT measures college readiness and is designed to measure academic achievement. The ACT has four subject area tests, English, Math, Science, and Reading, with an optional Writing portion. Scores are based on number of correct answers and are not penalized for incorrect answers.

SAT– Both the components and the structure of the SAT was just recently redesigned in March 2016. The new components of the SAT are evidence-based reading and writing with a reading, writing, math, and language test. The 50 minute essay is optional; colleges determine if they accept the essay or not. Total testing time is 3 hours, plus 50 minutes if you choose to take the essay portion. The SAT is more of an aptitude test measuring testing reasoning and verbal abilities.

SAT Subject Tests

There are 20 SAT subject tests in five general subject areas: English, History, Languages, Mathematics, and Sciences. Students can take up to three tests on one testing day; the tests are an hour long. The subject tests test you on how well you know the material in each subject area that you learned in high school. Most students taking the SAT subject have already taken an AP course in the subject area.

A good rule of thumb is that if you are taking the SAT subject tests, take them immediately after your AP exams. The information will be fresh in your memory and you will have to do little, if any studying at all. Most highly selective colleges will ask you to take 1-2 subject tests of your choice or if you are applying to become an Engineering major, the college may ask you to take a science test and/or math test; each college is different so you need to research!

Extremely Important!

These tests are extremely important when looking at your future. The scores of either test will determine what colleges you are accepted into and more importantly, how much money you will receive in scholarships. Every year, college is becoming more and more expensive, and if you want the college to pay YOU to attend their institution, study, study, study! I highly encourage you to evaluate your strengths and see which test is right for you. The higher you score on your test, the more money you will receive from the college/university you apply.

On average, I recommend that students study 45 minutes a night for the ACT or SAT. Like I mentioned above, each test has different components that you need to focus on. For instance, the majority of the ACT Math test is Pre-Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, and Geometry. Most students forget the formulas learned freshmen and sophomore year, so you need to revisit them and take the time to study.

If you receive your tests scores and you are not happy with them, take the test again. On average, our students retake the test 3-5 times until they are happy with their score. Some students will also pay a tutor to work with them in the subject area they are struggling in. Majority of students will pay for an ACT/SAT prep program before taking the test in order to prepare them. Most prep programs are costly, but if you receive a $16,000 scholarship, the $2,500 prep program is worth every dollar!

Time Management

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Time management and organization are key skills to college success. College is much different than high school. In high school, your schedule is planned out for you and you know you’ll be in school pretty much between the hours of 7:30am and 3:00pm. In college, your schedule can vary drastically. You might have a class schedule that resembles something like this:

English: M/W/F, 8:00am – 9:00am

Psychology: M/W/F, 1:00pm – 2:00pm

Biology: T/Th, 12:30pm – 3pm (Labs on Wednesday from 11:00am – 12:00pm)

Statistics: T/Th: 3:30pm – 5:00pm

As you can see, you may have several hours of “free time” between your classes. In order to maintain your GPA (especially if you’ve got a merit scholarship that you would like to keep during your entire college career), you have to be able to put in the time to study, but you also want to be able to keep up with your work schedule and a social life.  To manage your time effectively, using a calendar and/or a planner will be key.

If you have a smartphone, you have a calendar at your fingertips that you carry with you everywhere you go. Use it to your advantage! Here is a sample of what a week might look like for a typical college student.

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In those extra blank spaces, you can add in time to hang out with friends, go to the gym, or do a service project. Being very specific about what you plan to do with your time will help you to initiate and follow through with your tasks. If you really want to, you can also schedule the time you go to bed and wake up every day, but not everyone needs to do that. Make adjustments to your schedule as needed based on what you need.

Some students struggle with not budgeting enough time or even too much time for a particular task. In this case, you may need to try an experiment and keep track of some data for a week or two to get a sense of how much time you need to devote to a particular activity. One thing you can do is create a chart of your tasks, estimate how much time the task will take you, then record how much time you actually spent on the activity from start to finish. There are also apps that can help you manage your time, such as 30/30, Remember the Milk, and Focus Booster.

High school is a great time to start practicing some of these strategies to help you ease the transition to college. If you can master this before you leave the fall of your freshman year, you’ll start college off in a much better position because you’ll have developed an essential skill for not only college, but for everyday life.