Nov 8, 2018

The 'reading advantage' in college admissions


In an increasingly connected world, reading beyond what pops up on a mobile devise is dropping to the bottom of priority lists for many teenagers. And for those of us dedicated to books and the power of reading to educate, inform and entertain, this is REALLY bad news.

It’s hard to think how anyone can build fundamental communication skills without dedicating significant time to reading, whether for pleasure or information gathering. And it’s not just about developing an interesting mind or expanding vocabulary. Students who aren’t readers often don’t write well. They have a hard time imagining as well as organizing thoughts, developing arguments, and articulating ideas. 

For college-bound students, this is more than just bad news—it’s a crisis. Colleges not only care that you read, they also care what you are reading as well as what you have learned from the experience.

These concerns play out in many different ways in the admissions process, and the most successful applicants are often those who set aside time in their busy schedules to read. And not just what appears on your daily “feed.”

For high school students, being aware of the reading advantage in college admissions is key. Here are five excellent reasons you would be wise to make time for reading:

Academics
It’s no secret that many of the most academically challenging courses in high school require strong reading skills—the ability to absorb and retain a large volume of material in a relatively short amount of time.
Advanced Placement (AP) as well as International Baccalaureate (IB) curricula in social studies, literature, and language are notoriously reading-intensive. And colleges want not only to see you’re taking these courses but also that you’re succeeding with good grades

Summer is usually a great time to “study forward” by obtaining AP/IB texts and reading beyond what is assigned or expected by the first day of school. Get ahead and stay ahead of the reading. You’re bound to see results in terms of improved reading skills, better grades, and less stress.

Test Scores
You can pay thousands of dollars to the best test prep company in town, but nothing improves test scores like being an active reader.  Both ACT and SAT are designed to challenge reading skills both in comprehension and interpretation.  And those students who didn’t stop reading in middle school are bound to be more successful test-takers.

Push your reading level higher by mixing pleasure reading with more academic magazines, journals, or texts. Challenge yourself by not only reading from AP/IB course materials but also taking the time to annotate texts and look up vocabulary words. A little extra time devoted to reading can pay off in a big way in terms of improved test scores—ACT, SAT, and AP.

Applications
Colleges have learned that a good way to get to know a student in the application process is to ask about their reading habits. For example, one of the supplemental
essay prompts required by Columbia University during 2018-19 asked, List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year.”  In fact, Columbia asked three questions designed to probe applicants’ reading tastes and interests. Stanford, Wake Forest, Princeton, Emory, Colgate, Davidson and a number of other schools have their own versions of questions designed to probe reading habits. 

Knowing these kinds of essay questions may be in your future, why not dive into a wide variety of literature? Don’t limit yourself to a single genre or to reading only fiction or nonfiction. Mix it up. Go a step further and read something that relates to potential career and/or academic interests. And be sure to keep track of what you have read noting best books or interesting magazines as well as favorite authors. 

Interviews
If you’re applying to a college that either recommends or requires a
personal interview, you had better come prepared with at least one favorite book about which you can knowledgeably speak. The “reading” question appears in many different forms, but the bottom line is that if you stumble here and can’t come up with a title or are forced to reach back to middle school, you could be in a bit of trouble. And you wouldn’t be alone. It’s shocking to interviewers how often students can’t remember the last book they read for pleasure or respond with cheesy middle school novellas. And worse, they might remember the title of something read for class, but they either have the story all wrong or simply can’t remember any element of the plot.

Avoid the embarrassment and read some good books as you have time. Take notes, think about what you read, and even talk over the best books with friends or family. Know why you would recommend a book. And get feedback on your recommendations. Don’t think you have to re-brand yourself as an intellectual by only reading great literature. Interviewers can have fairly ordinary literary tastes. And don't try to “fake it” by suggesting a book you think will make you seem smart. If you're honest about what you like, you might be surprised to find that you and your interviewer share tastes in authors to the point that an interesting conversation ensues.

Stress
All kinds of research shows that reading is way more effective at reducing stress than listening to music, drinking a cup of tea or even taking a walk in the woods.  Significant side benefits include an increase in emotional intelligence and empathy—character traits increasingly shown to be wanting in adolescents. And reading also turns out to be a very good way to focus energy and improve concentration. 

But if none of the above moves you to pick up a book, then focus on this: readers live longer! ‘Nuff said.

Sep 27, 2018

Writing a high school résumé that ‘works’


Wash U provides for resume uploads.
Of the over 800 Common Application member colleges and universities that are “live” as of this writing, about one-third, have made specific provisions for or even require the submission of a résumé. And these include Brown, Colgate, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Penn, Vanderbilt and Wash U.

But while they bear similarities in purpose, a high school résumé is quite unlike a document a job seeker might use to impress a Fortune 500 company. For one thing, there’s usually less content. For another, the audience is entirely different and doesn’t care much about the bells and whistles professionally-prepared résumé frequently feature.

In other words, if you want a résumé that ‘works’ for college admissions, forget the shadowing effects, the funky typeface, and the overuse of the bold function. Instead, put most of your effort into listing your accomplishments in a clear, concise, and easy-to-read document.

It’s really not all that hard. Begin the process of developing content for your résumé by brainstorming your high school career. This may require help from your immediate support team like parents, mentors or friends.  Mom and Dad tend to have a particular focus on you and everything you’ve done since you first toddled across the living room. They can be great resources for this project.
Start with the 9th grade and make note of all activities, honors, memberships, and enrichment programs. Don’t leave off summers especially if you did something other than sleep or text friends for 3 months.

Next, begin to organize the information into major categories: honors, extracurricular activities, community service, sports, enrichment, special skills, work experience. Use whatever categories work best for the information you’ve collected, but keep in mind the general blocks of information requested on college applications.

Then organize individual entries by category and date. Be specific about positions, titles, organizations and locations. For example, if you were a “pitcher” for the JV baseball team at Oakton High School in Vienna, VA, say so. If you were a “pitcher” for the FPYC, forget the acronym and say Fairfax Youth Police Club, Fairfax, VA. Acronyms can be really annoying.

Similarly, if you manned the cash register at the Clock Tower Thrift Shop in Centreville, you might want to list it as Volunteer Cashier, Clock Tower Thrift Shop, Northern Virginia Family Service, Centreville, VA.

Don’t overlook special skills and certifications. They not only show accomplishment but also suggest more than a passing interest in an activity. If you’re on the computer team, you may want to list under skills that you can program in Java, C++, Python and HTML. If you are a swim instructor for the Oak Mar Adaptive Aquatics program, you may want to list your Red Cross lifeguard certification.
In these cases, the activity, skill or certification show deeper interest—passion even—to use a trendy term. Also note that there’s no place on most applications to show these kinds of skills and certifications, yet they could be key to making your case about depth of involvement.

When you’re ready to transfer your raw data to a document, use a format you think accommodates your information well and looks attractive. At the top, establish a “letterhead” by listing your name, address, phone number (home and cell), and email address. Later in the game, you can add your personal Linked In URL.

By the way, if you’ve been “BuggerPicker333” or “FoxyLady” since middle school, preparing your résumé might be a good excuse to go to something a little more professional. And if you’ve been calling yourself “SoccerStar” and you don’t play soccer or you’ve been “HarvardMan2025” since your parents bought you the sweatshirt, you might want to rethink the handles.

The body of your résumé should be grouped by category, and entries should be listed chronologically. Usually most recent to oldest is best. Feel free to use bullets or other tools to streamline your descriptions, particularly for employment or volunteer entries. Make sure your descriptions are specific and use lots of action verbs (“▪ supervised and managed all aspects of local fundraising initiative”).

And keep in mind, that some of the most selective colleges in the nation are transitioning to Committee Based Evaluation (CBE) methods for reviewing applications. In a nutshell, this means you will get about eight minutes to make your case for admission. For those colleges providing for resume uploads, you may want to make sure your résumé is “top-heavy” with your most relevant/important skills and accomplishments at the top, assuming that time may not permit a full and detailed review of your résumé content. In other words, the reader may not ever get to the last entry of the document, so order your material accordingly.

If space permits, you may want to include a list of hobbies or special interests—like knitting, guppy breeding, exotic bird watching or fantasy football. Use your discretion and don’t include hobbies that make you seem strange—well not too strange. But if your interests paint a fuller portrait of who you are, go for it.

Also, do not be afraid to add “live” links to your résumé. At a minimum, your email address should be live as well as any links to online media you have created. For example, if you created and actively maintain a Facebook page or a website for an organization or cause in which you are involved, feel free to include those links. Or if you have a private YouTube channel featuring sports highlights, a speech you gave, or a recital in which you participated, include it. If you’ve created a personal website to showcase your art or a blog to air your views, include those links. Just make sure that you include the entire URL in case the reader can’t click on the link and needs to copy-and-paste the web address.

And finally, don’t go over two pages. Usually, one page will suffice. Students who have been heavily involved in competitions, sporting events, or performances may need extra space. But definitely keep it to two pages. One exception would be an “expanded” résumé prepared for the University of Texas-Austin. That admissions office doesn’t seem to care how long the résumé is as long as it covers the great expanse of your accomplishments in detail. But for the most part, high school students shouldn’t have a need to exceed two pages.

A résumé is a marketing piece. It won’t work if there are spelling errors, the format is messy, and you’ve otherwise not taken care in the preparation of the document. Ask your parents, your counselor, or someone you trust to proofread and go over your content for accuracy and completeness.

Once you’ve finished, you may want to turn your resume into a PDF to attach to emails. But be sure to keep the original file for future editing and expansion.

Your résumé should be a living document. Don’t just leave it as a dust-collecting file on your computer. Tweak it regularly by adding entries or updates. It should be ready for printing or email at a moment’s notice.

And now and again take a moment to appreciate all you've accomplished!   

This is the third of three articles on the importance of résumés in the college application process. A list of colleges providing for résumés uploads on their applications may be obtained by emailing: 

Sep 20, 2018

12 excellent reasons to add a résumé to your college application toolbox


Union College provides for résumé uploads
Getting into college bears an uncommon resemblance to applying for a job: you need to persuade an organization that you possess sought-after skills and that you’re a great fit for their community. 

It sounds a little like marketing. And yes, you are marketing. Only instead of years of progressive work experience, you’re mostly marketing academic achievements, extracurricular involvement, community service, and special skills.

So it makes sense that you would need a tool summarizing those accomplishments in a clear and concise format. And that’s where a résumé comes in and possibly why over a third of all Common App members make provision for a résumé upload on their applications.

Yes, there’s debate among counselors about the use and usefulness of a high school résumé. Some ruin the effect by referring to it to as a CV (curriculum vitae) which is Latin for pretentious, and others persist in calling the document a “brag sheet,” which sounds well, a little icky. 

And the effect diminishes if you do a sloppy job or go on for pages and pages. Even the most accomplished student can fit everything onto two pages—really! It’s also important that you keep your résumé current and ready to send on a moment’s notice.

But whatever you call it, never underestimate the value of a well-constructed document summarizing your high school career. In fact, here are 12 excellent reasons to add a résumé to your college application toolbox:

1. Historical record. A résumé helps you keep track of accomplishments. It’s easier to remember you won Most Valuable Player for the junior varsity lacrosse team in the 10th grade if you’ve been documenting activities since you walked through the door of your high school.

2. Gaps. A properly constructed résumé that follows along the lines of what college applications request (honors, extracurricular activities and work experience) will suggest where gaps exist in your portfolio. If you’ve never volunteered or don’t belong to any clubs, those gaps will quickly become evident as you put together your résumé. And the sooner you act on the gaps, the better.

3. Special skills. A résumé may be structured to highlight special skills in the arts, sports, or in academics. If you’re a dancer, your résumé can provide a foundation for an arts supplement that tracks where you’ve studied, under whom, and where you’ve danced. Smart athletes also use a résumé for presenting relevant stats to communicate with coaches.

4. Degree of involvement. By providing a general timeline and noting dates of participation, a résumé suggests how deep the involvement and how extended the commitment. And by including information relative to hours or days per week and weeks per year, a résumé drills even deeper into the role the activity plays in your life. 

5. Applications. It’s easier to tackle the task of completing a college or scholarship application if you already have a single document summarizing all of your high school achievements and activities. Having a printout of your résumé sitting beside your computer as you fill in blanks not only saves time but also helps you prioritize which of your many activities are most important to you.

6. Color. Electronic applications tend to be fairly cut and dry. They ask only for facts. A résumé gives you the opportunity to color in between the lines and provide additional information that makes you come alive or stand out as a candidate. If you have specific computer skills, language fluency or certifications, a résumé is a great vehicle for presenting them. If you’ve conducted research, given presentations or participated in enrichment activities, you can add titles, summaries, or the names of your mentors.

7. Upload. Most electronic applications severely limit the amount of information you can provide in the way of extracurricular activities. The Common Application, for example, allows applicants to present ten activities, including school clubs, community service, and employment. Each entry is allowed 50 characters for a label and 150 characters for a description. Because of these limitations, many colleges specifically ask for resumes, so it’s good to have one on hand. But remember that a resume should “inform”  your application not “duplicate” it. If it doesn’t add anything, don’t attach it unless specifically requested.

8. Links. Résumés are becoming increasingly internet-friendly. Most of the time, documents converted to PDF format will support live links to online media including blogs, videos, websites, Facebook pages or articles appearing in newspapers, journals or magazines. Don’t hesitate to include these links in the form of complete URLs on your résumé to encourage readers to visit websites where you create, contribute to, or manage content.

9. Recommendations. An up-to-date résumé should be provided to anyone you ask to write a recommendation on your behalf—school counselor, teachers, or even the classmate who's agreed to write a peer recommendation. It helps them get to know you better and to remember all the details of your amazing high school career.

10. Interviews. A résumé is a great conversation starter for an interview. It puts you and the interviewer on the same page—literally. It also helps an interviewer remember specifics about you after the conversation ends. NOTE: You should always have a résumé available for an interview, but ask first before handing it over. Some college interviewers have rules concerning the use of background materials.

11. Employment. Having a résumé to attach to an application for a job, internship, or mentorship makes you look that much more professional and job ready. It can answer questions employers haven’t even thought to ask about your background or experience and will make your credentials stand out from the crowd.

12. Self-confidence. At the end of the day, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of all you’ve accomplished. Maintaining a résumé and looking at it once in a while will help you remember the highlights of your high school career. And that’s a good thing.

This is the second of three articles on the importance of résumés in the college application process. A list of colleges providing for résumés uploads on their applications may be obtained by emailing:  Nancy@CollegeExplorations.com.