Monthly Archives: March 2012

20 Mar 2012

Reasons and Resources to Consider a Gap-Year

For many students, college feels like simply the “next step” in the hamster wheel of life: automatic, and without clear purpose. Taking a year off between high school and college can be a great way for students to challenge such passivity and re-evaluate their reasons for pursuing higher education. In this blog entry, I will attempt to assuage some fears associated with the gap-year, address reasons why students opt for a year off, and suggest some ways the year can be spent. I will also advise on a few practical issues, such as planning the gap-year or finding a program, and whether students should alter or maintain the college application timeline.

What is a gap-year and how is it different from “taking time off”?

Many parents are (understandably) nervous that the gap-year will cause their children to stagnate and flounder. In response, I want to note the distinction between a gap year and simply taking time off. “Taking time off” implies a sort of directionlessness. It is an unbounded, unrefined period of time that tends to end in the same place it began. A gap-year, by contrast, is well-structured and planned for students to resolve a question or achieve a goal.

Harvard University officially encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year “to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way.” Many universities have likewise noted that students who take a year off are more academically focused when they begin college. In short, a gap-year done right can promote immense confidence and maturity, as well as instigate a sense of direction about the future.

So, parents: Don’t balk if your kid doesn’t want to go to college right away. Instead, push your student to question his/her reasons for wanting a break from school. This will help your child turn his/her ambivalence into a focused plan that he/she feels comfortable with and excited about.

Why take a gap year?

In my research, I have come across three common reasons why students opt for a year off:

1. Post-high school exhaustion

This is essentially self-explanatory. After the tremendous pressure of junior & senior years, many students feel burnt-out and dread the thought of 4 more years of (increasingly difficult) essays and tests. A year spent traveling or pursuing a non-academic interest or hobby can help such students refresh and refocus.

2. Lack of clarity about future goals

Taking a break after high school to clarify one’s goals is actually a deeply mature, forward-thinking move. If you feel this way, you should make gap year plans that are not only refreshing, but that will also galvanize your passions and excitement for the future. A year in the workforce—as a paid employee, volunteer or intern—may excite you about potential careers that require a college degree. At worst, spending a year doing a hated, menial, full time job will help you feel more motivated to go through with college. Meeting new people, making responsible choices, and navigating unfamiliar terrain while traveling or volunteering abroad also helps students self-examine and become more independent.

3. Gap year as a back door to top-choice schools

Some students see a gap-year as a way to get into a better college than those that admitted them in high school. This is generally not an effective strategy, unless your gap-year plans include taking classes at a local college to raise your GPA and prove your potential. However, according to an article on College Confidential, gap year plans that build on passions pursued in high school can also impress admissions committees. For example, if your college application already demonstrates an interest in painting, you might take this to the next level by looking for a pre-college artist residency program or interning at a gallery or as an artist’s assistant.

So, I think I’m gonna take a gap-year! But I still have a few questions…

1. What’s the most common gap-year pitfall?

Ah! The beautiful feeling of nothing to do! So liberating! So many options! I… uhhh… think I’m gonna go play PS3.

BEWARE OF THIS. Spending your valuable gap-year vegging out before the boob tube is, of course, a waste of time. Avoid this by planning your gap year in advance. If you’re staying at home to work or pursue a personal interest, make a contract with your parents that limits the amount of time you can just “hang around”.

Parents: If your child plans to work, volunteer, or intern while staying at home, he/she will gain valuable experience by seeking opportunities on his/her own. Encourage your child to use our student resume writing tutorial to get started. Avoid holding his/her hand too much, but also give direction and guidance so he/she doesn’t feel overwhelmed, stagnate, and fall into the cavern of video games and TV.

2. Should I still apply to college during my senior year?

Most experts advise that students taking a gap-year should still apply to, and select a college during their senior year of high school, while they have access to guidance counselors and teachers for letters of recommendation. Most colleges are happy to defer enrollment for one year, provided the student has a meaningful, well-thought-out interim plan.

That said, it’s fairly common for students to emerge from a gap-year with new perspective on their interests, as well as an altered idea of what they want in a school. In such instances, it may be wise to defer application, or reapply to college during the gap-year.

3. What’s the best way to plan my gap-year?

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to planning the gap year. As the gap-year is often intended to facilitate independence and self-exploration, some experts recommend that the structure of the trip or activity should be left to the student. This is how Gregory Kristof approached his thoroughly rewarding gap-year in China. “Just do what I did,” he writes, “sign up for a foreign language school and book a flight.”

If Kristof’s larky independence makes you or your parents uncomfortable, there are numerous formal gap-year programs you can use. Here is a short list to get you started:

Global Citizen Year – Kind of like a mini peace corps, Global Citizen Year is a gap-year program that guides high-achieving high school graduates through a year of volunteer service and leadership training in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

City Year – A division of AmeriCorps that places high school graduates, ages 18-24, in high-need public schools across America as tutors and mentors. This is an excellent, eye-opening opportunity for students interested in education to see what it’s like to teach in a real classroom, impact the academic success and confidence of young students, and learn about issues related to the sociology of education.

Cross Cultural Solutions –A volunteer abroad placement program that provides room & board and a thorough professional support system. Students choose to volunteer in one of 12 countries, located in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Gap Year Listings – This is a general catalog of gap year programs. Spend some time surfing and researching the options they provide!

However you plan it, if you choose to do a gap-year, I am sure it will be an exciting and enriching experience!

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Assuage: to relieve; to lessen; to ease
Galvanize: to electrify; stir into action

08 Mar 2012

Ace the College Interview!

Although most colleges don’t require an interview, there are many benefits of sitting down one-on-one with a college admissions officer. Interviews allow students to show colleges that they are more than just test scores and grades. You get to display your unique personality, conversational style, and enthusiasm for the school. In addition, interviews are an opportunity to ask questions and learn about schools from knowledgeable reps, so you can be sure the college is a good fit.

But… interviews are scary! After all, you get one chance to show the school who you are and how you behave!

It’s true that you only get a small (usually 30-minute) window of time for your interview, but this doesn’t mean that the whole event is a one-shot-deal. In this blog entry, I will offer a few tips to help you prepare for the interview in advance. Following this, I will list some common college interview questions. I hope that this information keeps you from feeling too jittery on interview-day!

Practice for the Interview in advance!

— Look over the list of common interview questions below. Can you answer every one of them comfortably and conversationally?

— Do NOT wait to look at the questions until the night before the interview. You should leave yourself ample time to think deeply about and practice answering every question, so you don’t feel “put on the spot” on interview day!

— Do NOT practice by writing down and memorizing answers to each question. You don’t want to sound like a robot!

— Anticipate follow up questions whenever possible.

— Remember, you’re talking about yourself–a topic you presumably know well. No matter what the interviewer asks you, you already know the answer. It’s just a matter of figuring out the best, most impressive way to say it.

Schedule Interviews Strategically:

— If you’re going to fumble, it will probably be in your first couple of interviews. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to interview with your lowest-choice schools early on, saving interviews with the schools you’re most interested in for last.

— Some students even schedule interviews with schools they have NO interest in–just for practice!

Does your high school record accurately reflect your ability?
Thinking about the Best Way to Explain Variations in Your Record:

— Dreaded by some, welcomed by others, this common interview question is likely to come up. Be careful when answering–you don’t want to sound like someone who can’t take responsibility for a bad grade.

— That said, if poor performance really can be attributed to extenuating circumstances (such as a death in the family, parents’ divorce, or your own medical condition) you should let the college know.

— You might also take this as an opportunity to discuss why you persisted in subjects that are especially challenging for you.

— Don’t be afraid of being honest! It’s OK to say something like, “I didn’t work hard in ninth and tenth grade, but, by eleventh, I’d figured out how to be a successful student.” Such an answer shows maturity, the ability to take responsibility for one’s mistakes, as well as an upward academic trend.

Prepare Questions to ask the Interviewer:

— Asking thoughtful questions is one of the best ways to demonstrate serious interest in a school. Be sure to have some good questions prepared!

The best questions cannot be answered by looking at the school’s website or brochures.

— Research and ask questions about extracurricular activities, classes and majors offered, as well as the research professors are doing in your prospective field. Show the interviewer that you want a relationship with the school by pursuing information about such topics.

Some Common Interview Questions:

1.) Tell me about yourself.

2.) Why are you interested in our college?

3.) Who in your life has most influenced you?

4.) If you could talk with any (living or deceased) person, who would it be and why?

5.) What about you is unique?

6.) What do you expect to be doing 10 years from now?

7.) What are your strengths and weaknesses?

8.) Tell me about a challenge that you overcame.

9.) What do you do for fun in your free time?

10.) Does your high school record accurately reflect your effort and ability?

11.) Recommend a good book to me.

12.) If you could do one thing in high school differently, what would it be?


A Few Last Tips for Interview-Day:

Dress professionally and arrive early on interview day. Also, make sure your cell phone is turned OFF!

— Smile and be polite to everyone you meet

Arrive to the interview alone–do not bring your parents

— Be yourself!


Best of luck with your college interviews!

01 Mar 2012

Expert Test Tips: Vary your study location for maximum results!

Sitting at my desk, I examine neatly-penned flashcards. Bright green walls. Soft light. LED clock dimly glows: 8:00 pm.

1. Erudite: Characterized by great knowledge or learning; scholarly
2. Perspicacious: Very insightful
3. Innovator: A person who introduces something new

Though I don’t consciously realize it, my brain is associating this vocabulary with my surroundings. This means that every time I sit at my desk, I am subtly prompted to recall the material I learned there the night before. The space functions as a sort of mnemonic–a memory jumper–that helps me remember key information.

Unfortunately, however, no one takes standardized tests at their bedroom desk. So where should I study for maximum results? According to a New York Times article, students that vary their study spot retain more information. Varying one’s study spot forces the brain to make multiple associations with the same material, thus contributing to general retention.

On the flip side, Gina Carroll explains, having a regular, consistent study spot can help with organization and motivation. The theory is similar: Your mind will subtly associate your desk with the act of studying. You’ll be able to focus, and get productive faster. Plus, you’re guaranteed a quiet, well-lit study environment with all materials on hand. What could be better?!

I’ll tell you: arranging 3-5 study spots that you turn to at different times. Perhaps that nice coffee shop with the relaxing music and delicious coffee cake? Or the secluded desk by the window of your school library? When its warm outside, you can even head to your favorite park. Just be sure to switch between the different spots, and not to pick anywhere too distracting.