Jan 30, 2013

Your Midyear Report Can Tip the Scales in Admissions

Johns Hopkins University

The Common Application recently issued a Facebook reminder to students and counselors that midyear reports need to be submitted as soon as first semester/trimester grades are available.

Not all colleges require these documents. But for those that do, midyear reports can sometimes tip the scales in admissions.

With the surge in applications submitted this year and the relative comparability of credentials among applicants, the midyear report is taking on greater importance. It’s no longer a “pro forma” document simply to be filed after admissions decisions are made.

For example, a student whose grades at the end of junior year fell just shy of what a college expects can show improvement or document an extension of an upward incline begun earlier in the high school career. An added boost in GPA might also help with scholarship dollars for schools using a grade factor for allocating merit money.

Most midyear reports also provide counselors with the opportunity to bring colleges up-to-date on additional achievements, scores, or distinctions since the original application was filed. Be sure to let your counselor know if there’s anything worth reporting to the schools receiving these reports and ask that the information be included along with grades on the document forwarded to your colleges.

Note that the midyear report can be an important “marketing” opportunity for your counselor to support your candidacy. Incomplete or late documents add little or nothing.

On the downside, students who have dropped classes or succumbed to a mean case of senioritis risk being revealed on the midyear report. It’s no secret that colleges take a dim view of students who slip during their senior year, and major changes in academic performance or behavior can have unfortunate results.

Neither the Common App nor the Universal College Application (UCA) sends reminders about midyear reports. It is the student’s responsibility to keep track of this requirement and to ensure the counselor is aware of it.

For Common App colleges, you can check to see if a midyear report is required by clicking the name of the institution in the online requirements grid. Specifically review the “School Forms Required” section for an indication of whether the report is required.

The UCA specifies which schools require a midyear report in several places. You can click on any of the Member Colleges and a complete list of requirements including forms will appear or you can go to your personal “Checklist” and access the information by clicking on “School Forms.”  The UCA even provides you with the ability to remind your counselor to send a midyear report by clicking a request button.

For colleges using neither the Common App nor the UCA, you will have to research the requirement on individual websites. Georgetown, for example, required its own midyear report to be submitted no later than February 10, 2013.

Among other local colleges, American, Catholic, George Washington, UVa, Christopher Newport University, Goucher, the College of William & Mary, Mary Washington, Randolph-Macon, University of Richmond, and Johns Hopkins require midyear reports. Towson, UMBC, Salisbury, McDaniel, St. John’s, and Marymount do not.

Note that many high schools have policies requiring that midyear reports be sent to all colleges receiving transcripts in the admissions process—whether you (or the institution) want them to or not!

Jan 28, 2013

2013 FAFSA Deadlines are Rapidly Approaching

Nearly every college and university has a clearly posted priority financial aid deadline by which the FAFSA should be filed for students to have the best possible chance of receiving both institutional and federal aid.
Because most of these deadlines are either on or before March 1st, students and their parents must act early in the New Year—often before tax returns are filed with the federal government.

To underscore the importance of beginning the FAFSA sooner rather than later, even if it means estimating income and taxes to be paid, the following is a list of local priority financial aid (FA) deadlines:
You can research individual deadlines by simply going to a college or university website and entering “FAFSA” or “FAFSA deadline” in the search function. Only the most poorly constructed websites will fail to pop up a link to either an admissions or a financial aid web page clearly stating the priority deadline by which you should file your FAFSA. Some will even give you a few good reasons why this is so important.

Many states also have FAFSA deadlines that are entirely separate from but usually after institutional dates. A handy tool for researching individual state deadlines is provided on the FAFSA website. Locally, the State of Maryland has posted March 1st as its deadline, and the District of Columbia uses June 30th. Virginia is noncommittal and refers applicants to individual financial aid administrators (Hint: you may notice a pattern of March 1st as a deadline for the Virginia public colleges and universities listed above).

Filing the FAFSA by the priority deadlines and promptly responding to any requests for additional documentation helps ensure you’ll receive your financial aid letters at about the same time you receive admissions decisions.

Note that it takes the FAFSA processor 1 to 2 weeks to get information to individual colleges and universities—if the FAFSA is filed electronically. If you use the paper application, the turnaround can take from 3 to 4 weeks. And delays could be longer if your application is randomly selected for a more in depth review.

Remember you do NOT have to be admitted to a college or university before submitting your FAFSA. You CAN file using last year’s tax return to estimate income and taxes—provided you remember to amend. If you have any questions or need additional assistance, contact the FAFSA on the Web Consumer Service either online or by calling 1-800-433-3243 (1-800-4-FED-AID).

Jan 26, 2013

Internships for Students who reach for the Stars

Under the guidance of NASA, the DEVELOP program offers high school students exciting opportunities to work with science advisors in partner agencies on projects in local communities throughout the U.S. 

With feet firmly planted on the ground, students research topics in areas ranging from agriculture to weather and make important contributions in support of NASA’s broad-ranging earth science mission.

Since 1999, the DEVELOP program has administered over 2,400 internships in locations across the country. The Langley-based National Program Office oversees 15 DEVELOP team—six at NASA Centers in Maryland, Virginia, California, Alabama, and Mississippi as well as five regional locations in Virginia, Colorado, Illinois, New York, and Alabama;  two academic locations in St. Louis and Georgia; and two international locations in Mexico and Nepal.

During the summer term, high school students work 30-35 hour per week for 8 weeks, starting this year on either June 3 or June 17, 2013. Some internships are paid, while others are offered on a volunteer basis.

As part of a DEVELOP team, students conduct research in areas that examine how NASA technology can benefit partner organizations and construct projects that focus on practical applications of NASA’s research results. These projects often provide the basis for continued independent research and can easily evolve into national science competition entries. And it’s no secret that colleges are looking for students with proven interest or expertise in STEM-related fields.

High school students with a strong interest in environmental science, earth science, technology, computer science, environmental policy are invited to apply. Thousands of students have already graduated from the program, and many discovered career paths along the way.

To qualify, students must be enrolled in high school, college or graduate school and must be at least 16 years of age. Students must also have a 3.0 GPA and submit an application that includes two letters of recommendation as well as an essay, a resume, and an unofficial academic transcript.  Don’t wait until the last minute to start this application, as it is fairly comprehensive and asks for a great deal of information.
For this year’s summer term, all applications must be sent to the National Program Office in Hampton, Virginia, and postmarked by February 4, 2013.

Housing is not provided and students are responsible for living expenses. But for the student with interest in applied sciences who wants to get a head start on research, the cost may be worth it.

For more information on all the NASA programs for high school students or to download a DEVELOP application, visit NASA’s science education webpages.

Jan 24, 2013

The Very Best Guide to Mastering the ACT

Preparing for college entrance exams isn’t all that different from perfecting skills in sports or music.  It’s all about mastery and practice.

But frankly, there’s not much on the market designed to support do-it-yourselfer’s prepping specifically for the ACT, even though the ACT is now the most popular entrance exam in the US, having officially edged out the SAT in terms of tests taken last year.

Enter Applerouth Tutoring Services, an Atlanta-based education company, with a mission to help students at all levels prepare for admissions testing.  Responding to a noticeable hole in the market, Jed Applerouth came up with the idea for Get Your ACT Together:  The Fabulous Guide to the ACT, designed to be the “sister act” to the already popular Ready SAT Go:  The Fabulous Guide to the SAT.

For this project, Applerouth’s team of tutors took the most effective strategies from private tutoring, applied them to the most current content being assessed by the ACT, and crafted a comprehensive and original manual for anyone looking to maximize ACT scores.

And make no mistake.  Parents and students are increasingly focused on the ACT.  It’s not enough to tell them that mastery of high school curriculum is the best way to prepare for this exam.  They want materials that both support understanding of the test and provide the kinds of targeted practice questions that result in improved scores.

But the folks in Iowa remain notoriously stingy about releasing old tests or updating the compilation of retired exams first published in 2007 (the 2011 Real ACT Prep Guide is essentially a reprint of the 2007 edition).  At the same time, the test has become increasingly more challenging as the company aggressively enters the market for state-wide assessments.

And Applerouth found that by failing to update content in its official prep manuals, the ACT was doing a disservice to test-takers.

“Our students were regularly scoring 35’s and 36’s on the Official Guide tests, administered under controlled conditions,” commented Applerouth.  “However, when our students went in for the official administrations, they’d bring home 31’s and 32’s.  It was quite disheartening for our students who had effectively mastered all available testing material released by ACT, Inc.”

To tackle the problem, Applerouth and his staff studied the ACT.  They amassed a collection of released tests going back nearly a decade, and Applerouth personally took seven of the last eight tests.  Determined to model questions on those written by the ACT, Applerouth’s team familiarized themselves with the test writers—their language choices and nuances—and began constructing sample questions reflecting the most recent content.

“The idea was any student who could correctly answer every question in our book would be ready for a 36 on the official ACT,” Applerouth explained.  “We did eliminate a good number of questions that have not been tested on the ACT in years.  We wanted to be exhaustive, but include nothing that hasn’t been assessed in the last few years.”

They were so successful that one of the Applerouth tutor/writers was snatched away by ACT, Inc.!

The resulting volume is nearly 1000 pages long and embodies a great blend of visual presentation, humor, conversational language, and expert knowledge of the test.  Get Your ACT Together easily surpasses the most current ACT-produced guide in terms of test-taking tips and practice materials—not to mention entertainment value.

“Apart from all the deep analysis and accuracy, we worked our tails off to make sure the book was fun, funny, and designed for visual learners,” concluded Applerouth.  “We don’t have a major publishing house behind us, so essentially our book is the best-kept secret in the prep industry.”

Applerouth is okay with that for now.  What matters most is that students are killing the ACT with the book as their primary tool.  And by all accounts, that’s what’s happening.

“I just wanted you to know that my daughter was a guinea pig for your relatively new ACT prep book,” said one Charlotte-based independent consultant (and mom).  “She went through it late this summer before taking the Oct ACT (her first) and scored a 35.”

For more information or to order a copy online, visit the Applerouth website.  Get Your ACT Together is also slightly discounted at Amazon.com.