Category Archives: College Choice & Career

06 Feb 2018

Second Semester Junior Year

Second semester junior year is a critical time to prepare for the college application process that will begin senior year. From test prep to summer plans, every detail matters.

Key factors that should be on every Junior’s mind:

1. Academic Excellence

Every year of high school academic are important. Junior year is no exception but it is the last opportunity students have to prove consistently high marks OR a clear trajectory of growth.

If you had a weaker start in high school but you have shown consistent growth through second semester junior year, college admissions committees will look at your grades favorably. Remember, any progress you make senior year won’t be on your application transcript.

2. Leadership Positions

Colleges want to see a commitment to 2-3 extracurricular activities that you’re really passionate about. Being able to show a leadership positions that has made a difference in your school or community is the best way to prove you will an asset to the college of your choice and will be able to contribute to the school community.

Begin thinking about possible leadership position in your senior year while you are still a junior. Put your name in for captain, start planning your student council campaign, talk to your coach or teacher about how you can contribute more to the team.

3. Summer Plans

A productive and fulfilling summer is just as important as the school year for your college application. Options can include work, volunteering, travel, or study.  To have the best opportunities available, start planning for them before spring break of your junior year.  Most summer programs have application processes that will need to be completed before March.

4. Test Prep

Summer is a time when most students do not have the structure of a daily schedule. Summer before junior year is the best time to prepare for standardized college, or, if you have completed your junior year, it is the best time to conclude test prep so you can take official tests in the early fall.

Meeting with a tutor more frequently during the summer months and adding more practice will help you reach your score goals.

And don’t forget to check exam dates and make sure you register for the right ones.

5. Identify your Recommenders

Start thinking about who will write your letters of recommendation. Before you leave for the summer, ask your teachers if they will write your recommendation.


a) It is more courteous to ask for the recommendation (unless she has already agreed to write it, then begin your letter by confirming her offer).

b) Include a list of your accomplishments from freshman year to present. Don’t forget to highlight any leadership positions and include non-school related activities.  (This is an excellent motivation to write a resume).

c) Be direct and ask for a strong, stellar, outstanding… whatever word you choose… recommendation.

d) Provide a time line for a response and a date for the completed recommendation.

e) Close your request with a thank you and.

6. Narrow your College List

By the end of second semester junior year, you’ll want to have a preliminary list of colleges you want to apply to. Start the research. Know your “competitive tiers” – the schools that would be your target, reach, and safety schools.

7. College Visits

Use spring break to visit colleges while they’re in session. While it is nice to visit schools on your list, also take the schools with a variety of factors – urban vs. rural, big vs. small, public vs. private, etc. Information that includes a wide range of factors regarding schools and campuses will be helpful to inform your final choice.

8. Get Organized 

There’s a lot to keep track of in the college admissions process. Standardized test registration dates, early decision and regular decision application deadlines, dates to get your transcripts and your letters of recommendation – start adding these to your calendar NOW and review dates regularly during your senior year.

18 Dec 2017

Colleges Aren’t Different. The Teachers In Them Are.


In a New York Times article titled, The Fundamental Way That Universities Are an Illusion,” Kevin Carey digs beneath the outer-most layer of schools – ultimately finding little in the way of a unified, coherent educational personality. When we peel away the outermost layers of universities, Carey writes, all that’s left are individual teachers – all armed with their own idiosyncrasies. The teachers, not the school, make the education.

Carey likens each teacher, in each wildly different department, to an entrepreneur—bringing to the table his or her very own approach to the education of students. The type of education students receive at U Penn, for example, wholly depends on the individual classes students take, the professors who teach those classes, and the departments those classes are in.

So is a Williams College education unlike a Northwestern one? That depends on the teachers. This understanding of what makes schools different is especially important to keep in mind during the college process; it matters less where you land, and far where you place yourself once you’re there.

On the outside, colleges might give off a distinct personality. But once you strip back a few layers, the outer coherence gives way to radical inner variation. A couple teachers will shape your education, not the school you attend.

If you want to read the whole article, click here.

23 Aug 2013

Success in Small Envelopes: The Silver Lining of College Rejection

With colleges accepting fewer and fewer students and application pools overflowing, the possibility of receiving the coveted “big envelope” of admission is becoming as slim as the dreaded rejection envelope.  Although the goal is and always will be to receive an offer of admission from your “dream school” the consequences of rejection are not nearly as life ending as one may fear.  As highschoolers across the country begin the arduous process of brainstorming, drafting, redrafting, scrapping, and rehashing college applications, it is important to keep perspective on what its all for.  The college application process is not simply a game to be won, but a journey to find a school that matches the interests, talents, convictions and goals of an applicant.  In several cases, initial rejection has been the springboard that has launched the most famously successful into careers with big payouts.


Steven Spielberg

Billionaire Director of our most iconic movies of the last two decades tops our list with a grand total of three rejections… from the same school.  Steven Spielberg was so convinced that the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts was the first and most essential stop on his way to silver screen success that he applied and was rejected on three separate occasions.  Obviously, the Jurassic Park, Terminator, E.T., Saving Private Ryan and Shindler’s List Director found an alternative road to success, capturing five Oscars and countless imaginations along the way.  Today, Spielberg holds an honorary degree from USC and sits on the schools Board of Trustees – who’s laughing now?


Meredith Viera

Beloved anchor of the Today Show, and one time host of hit television series “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire”, Viera was turned away from Harvard’s doors hat in hand.  Viera later enrolled at  nearby Tufts University where she met her mentor who offered her an internship that inspired her to pursue a very successful career in broadcast journalism.  Had she not been initially been rejected from Harvard, she “doubts [she] would have pursued a career in journalism.”


John Kerry

Former Democratic nominee for President of the United States, long sitting senator, and current Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry has not always been the lauded leader of the more liberal party we know today.  In 1962, he was one of many gangly teenagers to have a dream crushed by the Harvard University admissions committee.  When asked about his rejection, Kerry stated, “I never would have fit in at a total jock school.”   But, the lure of Harvard held strong – in 1973, Kerry tried and failed again to attend Harvard, this time, as a law student. Sec. Kerry took his talents first to Yale University and then to Boston College Law School, going on to become one of the most respected and long serving legislators of the last few decades.  Of course, marrying someone with the last name Heinz didn’t hurt.


Warren Buffet

The Oracle of Oklahoma, the CEO of value inventing, and the world’s most well known and oft imitated investor, Warren Buffet joins our list of “rejects”.  Similarly Crimson-ly challenged, Buffet was rejected from Harvard Business School at the age of 19.  Looking back, he say’s “Harvard wouldn’t have been a good fit. But at the time, I had this feeling of dread”.  Ultimately, Buffet landed at the prestigious Columbia Business School where legendary investors, Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, mentored and influenced the young tycoon’s investing approach.  By 2008, Buffet’s schooling and intellect had resulted in $62 billion in investments and he is considered one of the pre-eminent market movers… in the world.  Take that Harvard!


Tom Brokaw

Nightly news legendary anchor, Tom Brokaw has reported and recorded his fair share of failures.  Brokaw, who self describes himself as majoring in “partying and co-eds” while completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa was shocked when he received his rejection letter from Harvard’s Journalism school.  The former anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News called his rejection from Harvard “the initial stumble” that was “critical in getting me launched.” According to the Wall Street Journal, the denial was instrumental in inspiring the revered newsman to commit to journalism… and to stop partying so much!


Ted Turner

Finally, Ted Turner, the most famous undereducated success story of… hmmm, maybe ever.  Mr. Turner, who attended Brown University for 3 years, never earned a collegiate degree of any kind (though he was awarded an honorary B.A. from Brown 1989).  After his Junior year, Turner was forced to move back home to manage his late father’s billboard business, and managed to grow it into the multinational multi billion dollar cable news conglomerate, CNN.  The rest as they say is history.

16 Aug 2013

Social Media Privacy Guide

Hello Seniors!

As you begin to apply to colleges, it is important to be sure that your online social media presence is squeaky clean. While you may think that you can fly under the radar as just one of thousands of applicants, keep in mind that application readers are often recent grads and will utilize social media to learn more about an interesting applicant.

Let’s start with the basics..

1) Google yourself! Hopefully, the only search results that pop up are your many accolades across sports, clubs or other school sanctioned activities. If you find something unexpected, do your best to contact the web administrator of whichever page you find (Tumblr? Pinterest? Foursquare? Facebook? Youtube?) and ask if it can be taken down.

2) Google your email address – this is an easy way for colleges to check on whether their initial Internet snoop links the right student to the right page.

3) Google your cell phone number. Think of this as an extension of your email address.

4) Google your “username” – if you’re like most social media users, you likely have a username that you use across multiple platforms. Check and see what this search yields. While colleges will not specifically know about your commonly used usernames, it’s still valuable to know what information exists online that is linked to your identity.

5) Don’t forget to Google image yourself too!

So, now that you’ve thoroughly scrounged the Internet for any identifying information and expunged anything remotely illicit, let’s move on to……


1) CHANGE your name: Last AND first name, no exceptions and no middle names as last names – this is a code easily cracked.  

2) CHANGE your username if it contains any identifying information OR if it is one of your “common usernames”.

3) MAKE SURE your profile picture displays you at your most wholesome. Your profile picture is ALWAYS included in any search so it must be something 100% innocuous.

4) DON’T FORGET your cover photo. Same rules apply as your profile picture.

You may want to consider…..

Custom Friends Lists: Are you Facebook friends with anyone connected to your school? Teachers, coaches, administrators etc? If so, create a Custom list for them. This will allow you to block them specifically from seeing any of your content. Here’s how: On the left hand side of your Facebook homepage, expand the “Friends” tab. If you swipe your mouse over any of the words, you’ll be able to click “More”. From here, you’ll be able to click “Create list”.

Time to move on to PRIVACY SETTINGS! 

Click the gear at the top right and select Privacy Settings

Who can see my stuff?: This refers to who is able to see status updates, shared photos, shared links, shared videos and basically anything that YOU put on Facebook or were tagged in.

You should not be sharing ANYTHING on Facebook with ANYONE that is not “age-appropriate” or alludes to an activity that you wouldn’t want your grandmother or admissions counselor to see. This includes, but is not limited to:

Smoking (anything, duh.)

Drinking – no beer cans, no wine bottles, no liquor bottles – NOTHING

Anything possibly construed as drug related

Plastic cups – even if that red solo cup only contained juice…..

Party – you may not be doing anything wrong, but party pictures can project an image that may conflict with how you would like an admissions officer to view you

Complaints about your teachers, school, or boss – just don’t do it, you never know who may see it or how it could negatively affect a recommendation or the support for your candidacy by your school.

Complaints about your friends or family – even if they’re meant in a non-serious way, you never know whether a mildly offensive inside joke will strike the wrong chord.

Excessive PDA pictures – if you’d feel awkward showing your grandmother, keep it off Facebook.

“Fun” pictures of you doing anything remotely illegal – did you hop a fence and pose in front of a “private property” sign? Keep it off Facebook!

Who can see your future posts?: Make sure that you have this setting on either “Only Me” or “Friends”. If you made a friend list for school contacts, click ‘Custom’ and enter the name of your friend list in the “Don’t share with” box.

Review all your posts and things you’re tagged in: This is a very good setting to keep on, just in case one of your less cautious friends decides to tag you in something that should stay private. If you click “Review Activity Log” you will be able to see who was able to view any of your Facebook activity, such as Likes, shares, wallposts,  etc. You can change the audience for each post using the pencil edit graphic.

Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friend of friends or Public: If, in the past, you have any posts that are set to be viewable by “Friends of Friends” or the Public, you can use this option to limit all of them to Friends Only.

Who can look you up using the email address or phone number?: Put this setting on “Friends only”, or if you can’t bear to do that, at least “Friends of friends”

Do you want other search engines to link to your time?: NO, no you do not. Unclick the box that says, “Let other search engines link to your timeline”


Who can post on your timeline?: Make sure this setting is on “Friends” only.

Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline: Turn this setting ON – you may be able to catch something unsavory before it goes public.

Review what other people can see on your timeline: Here’s a great opportunity to use the “View as” setting to see what strangers (aka, the “public”) can see about you if they are able to break through your many clever security measures to stay hidden. Ideally, strangers should be able to garner ZERO information about you and NOT see any pictures apart from your happy, smiling, wholesome profile picture and cover photo, both of which will project you as the ideal candidate to your school of choice.

Who can see posts you’ve been tagged in on your timeline?: Select Custom and select the option to share only with Friends, and do not share with your custom list of school related Facebook friends.

Who can see what others post on your timeline?: Same setting as above, friends only and don’t share with your custom list of school related contacts.

Now let’s talk about YOUR PROFILE.

About section: Go to your profile and click the ‘About’ tab.  This is where your work & education, family, location, ‘basic information’, and contact information are stored. Each section has an edit box. When you click it, you’ll have the option to hide each piece of information from your timeline, or make it accessible to only friends. For whatever you wish to keep on your timeline, make sure it’s accessible ONLY to friends.

If you scroll down, you’ll probably see several other sections like “Places”, “Likes” “Events”, “Groups”. All of these should be set to private using the pencil edit icon on the top right hand side.

Friends: Click the Friends tab. At the top left, you should see a pencil edit box, click it and select edit privacy. Now, adjust the setting so that only your friends can see your friends list and “following” lists.

Once you’ve gone through all of these settings, go back to the “View as” setting and do a double and triple check that ALL of your information is private and secure. Remember that Facebook tends to take 24 hours to put changes into effect, so be sure to do your final triple check 24 hours after making adjustments.

31 Jul 2012

Tips to Protect Yourself as an Intern: A Cautionary Tale

Melissa Reyes’ internship was a bust. After graduating from Marist College with a degree in fashion merchandising, Reyes was excited to learn she had been selected for an internship position at the Diane von Furstenberg fashion house in Manhattan. She had every reason to believe that the position would provide her with professional skills, which, in turn would help further her career. Instead, Reyes became expert in the arts of fetching lunch and running errands. Far from reviewing the season’s fashions, she was sent to clean out her manager’s closets. Moreover, Reyes never anticipated that she would be expected to work twelve hour days–9am to 9pm–five days a week. She kept reminding herself that she had landed an enviable internship that would certainly stand out on her resume. It didn’t help.

Horror stories like Reyes’ are (sadly) fairly common and should remind us to be cautious when considering an internship position. In this blog entry, I will first suggest strategies for students to track down meaningful work. Following this, I will provide tips for turning a disappointing internship into a meaningful experience and discuss whether it’s appropriate for interns to quit a bad post.

What is an internship and how is it different from paid work or volunteering?

The distinction between interns, paid workers and volunteers is, in fact, not arbitrary. Whereas volunteers and paid workers commit time and skills to serve an organization or cause, interns work to better themselves. In other words, an internship—much like going to school—serves to further the intern’s job readiness and personal growth. Making this distinction reminds us that a legitimate internship will amount to more than a resume entry–it provides challenging and meaningful work in an area where a student has real interest.

Federal law requires unpaid internships to meet six criteria. Two of these criteria reinforce what has been stated above: An internship’s primary purpose is to train students to perform tasks associated with a certain career. Another of these criteria maintains that unpaid interns cannot displace paid employees. Unpaid interns, that is, cannot perform operations essential to a business. They are necessarily redundant so they can focus on learning.

Of course, most internship programs don’t fully meet these criteria—and that’s OK. Interns should expect to do some unskilled work that benefits the company more than themselves. Such work, however, should complement rather than replace the training and projects that foster professional growth.

So, a true internship provides professional training. How, then, do I ensure my internship experience will be a valuable one?

1.) Before you start looking for your internship, define what you want to get out of the experience.

Finding an internship to further your growth will be nearly impossible if you haven’t first defined your goals. Before you even begin looking and applying for internships, take some time to consider the experiences you wish to gain.

Vague goals like “I wish to gain experience working at an art gallery” must be refined. If your expectations are unclear, research the tasks professionals in your field of interest typically perform. An internship should refine—not found—your understanding of what it’s like to work in a particular field.

2.) Talk to students who have interned in your field of interest.

Your friends are a goldmine for internship information! Asking your friends about their internship experiences will help you identify qualities to look for in a program. Good questions include:

  • Was the internship what they expected? Why or why not?
  • What was their favorite/least favorite part of the internship?
  • What aspects of the internship caused them to grow most?
  • What professional skills did the internship help them develop? What projects or assignments contributed most to these skills?
  • After completing the internship, do they still feel excited about a career in the field?


3.) Interview your Interviewer!

You’ve done your research, defined your goals, and you’ve just received a call asking you to interview for a position you’re really psyched about! Hooray!

The interview is an important time for you to not just impress a potential employer, but also discover if the internship is indeed a good fit. Be sure to ask your interviewer about the specific tasks and duties you’ll be expected to perform and make it clear that you are excited to contribute

Other questions to ask:

  • Will you please describe a typical day for interns at your company?
  • Are interns at your company paired with a mentor? How much opportunity do interns have to interact with supervisors and paid staff?
  • What skills do interns develop by working at your company?
  • Are interns permitted to attend meetings? If so, how frequently?

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask about opportunities to gain experience doing tasks or assignments that you’re especially interested in. By asking about this, you will not only determine whether this internship will help you meet your goals, but you will also demonstrate motivation, initiative and eagerness to learn.

4.) Keep in mind: A paid internship is not necessarily better than an unpaid one.

Unpaid internships are not always un-serious. Many companies, especially in the non-profit sector, offer amazing unpaid internships that will provide experience, training, and insight into the field.

What happens if your internship turns out to be less than expected?

Don’t lose hope or motivation if you find yourself working a disappointing internship. As Kayla Riley for Her Campus explains, it’s not uncommon for interns to have a lot of downtime. “Think of your next internship as an extended job interview,” she writes, “and prove that bullet point on your resume that says you’re ‘self-motivated.” If you find yourself with a lot of downtime between tasks, make it your own mission to come up with projects and activities that will be of use to the company and advance your skills. Someone will notice!

Along similar lines, don’t be discouraged if you’re asked to do some tedious work. Happily tending to menial tasks is a good way to demonstrate your flexibility, humility, and ability to work as a member of a team. Talk to your supervisor, however, if unskilled labor is the main thing you’re being asked to do. Politely explain that you can better serve the company by completing assignments that peak your interest and utilize your education and skills. Additionally, show your initiative by proposing a few projects or duties that you would like to take on.

No matter how bad the situation, do NOT act out or behave in a passive-aggressive manner. This is HIGHLY immature and unprofessional and it’s better to quit than to behave badly. If your manager is unsympathetic to a request for more challenging tasks, try and think of ways to make the best of your situation. Just being inside the office brings access to invaluable resources. Jump at any and every opportunity to speak to coworkers about their work. Also, spend downtime observing coworkers or researching the industry—rather than checking Facebook.

Finally, toughing out a bad situation not only builds character, but you will also appreciate it more when you land a better job.

Should I stay or should I go…?

Internships rarely last longer than a few months, so you should strive to survive even the most disappointing program and get a good review. Under some circumstances, however, you should absolutely quit. These include:

  • If your duties compel you to violate your values or moral beliefs.
  • If you are being sexually harassed or physically or verbally abused
  • If you are required to do something illegal
  • If you are manipulated or coerced into doing something that makes you uncomfortable


Resources for finding good internship programs:

The following websites provide excellent resources and advice for hunting down—and landing—the perfect internship.


These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Arbitrary: random; meaningless; haphazard
Coerce: to compel by force, intimidation, or authority

28 Jun 2012

How to Achieve Your Goals, Part 2: Getting into a Good Routine

When I was in high school, I hated the idea of routine. It sounded so stiff, fixed, and boring. I wanted to be passionate! Friends, teachers, and parents should see me as spontaneous and creative, I thought.

As I have gotten older, however, I’ve come to realize that routines and goals are like yin and yang—they are interdependent and bring one another to fruition. Routines allow us to take control of our lives. Instead of flaking out, procrastinating, or becoming overwhelmed by banal tasks, routine followers calmly navigate their daily duties and make steady progress toward long-term goals.

On Tuesday, I explained that long-term goals must be broken down into a series of small steps. Since achieving long-term goals means prioritizing such steps, we must work them into our daily routines. In this blog entry, I will therefore outline a good daily routine for high school students that emphasizes daily progress toward long-term goals.

A Good Daily Routine for High School Students:

Before Bed:

1.) A few hours before bed, identify twomain goals for the next day. These can be large and time consuming, like writing an essay, or as simple as signing up for SAT prep. Your two main goals are the most important tasks you have for the day. Even if you get nothing else done, completing your two main goals will mean you’ve had a productive day.

2.) After you’ve identified your 2 main goals, write a longer list of things to do if you have time.

3.) Prepare for the next day by laying out your clothes, packing your lunch, and making sure everything you need for school is already in your backpack.

4.) Relax a little by reading a book before bed. Not only is this an enjoyable activity, but independent reading will also help you prepare for the SAT/ACT!

5.) Go to bed early enough to guarantee you’ll feel rested in the morning.


In the Morning:

1.) Wake up in plenty of time to get ready for school. Nothing throws off a productive day like rushing out of the house unclean, unkempt, and unprepared.

2.) Eat breakfast!

3.) Do a little reading or a crossword puzzle over breakfast or on your way to school. This light mental workout will have you sharp and focused just in time for school.

After School and Extracurricular Activities:

1.) Take a break, but do not let this break turn into procrastination. Taking a break is a productive activity; it refreshes your mind so you can continue attacking important tasks. A productive break lasts about 30 minutes–1 hour.

2.) Get to work on the 2 main goals you identified the night before. As these are your most important tasks for the day, you should complete them before working on anything else. Remember, procrastinating by doing less important (though still productive) tasks is still procrastinating! Starting work on these projects right away will also ensure you have enough time to do them well.

3.) Finish your homework and/or household chores. If one of your main goals was a homework assignment, you have one less thing to worry about!

4.) Take 30 minutes–1 hour every day to work on tasks you dread and tend to put off. For some students, this will turn into SAT/ACT study time. Dedicating a specific (short!) amount of time each day to working on dreaded tasks not only ensures steady progress, but it will also make these tasks feel less daunting.

5.) At some point, you’ll obviously need to eat dinner. Eat something nutritious! 


Before Bed (We’ve come full circle, eh?)

1.) Reflect for a bit on the day that has just passed. Did you manage your daily responsibilities and accomplish your main goals? If not, why? Did you procrastinate? Forget to do something? Or were your main goals too ambitious to complete in one day? Now is the time to think about what went wrong so you can make adjustments for tomorrow.

2.) Repeat the process. You know the drill.


These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Fruition: completion; accomplishment; maturity
Banal: commonplace; everyday; mundane
Abide by: to follow

26 Jun 2012

How to Achieve Your Goals, Part 1: Planning for Long-Term Success

One day, Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, was asked by a young student, “How do you get to Mount Olympus?” Aristotle replied, “By simply ensuring that each step you take is toward Mount Olympus.”

Aristotle’s response is surprising. Usually when someone asks me for directions, I lay out a comprehensive plan. Walk straight for 5 blocks, I might say. Turn right at the church and you’ll see the mountain on your left. Instead of specifying a plan or worrying about the future, however, Aristotle instructs his student to simply concentrate on the present step. Only when this step is complete should the student concern himself with the next.

Back in February, Marcus (an awesome tutor here at Sentia) argued for the importance of setting goals when studying for admissions tests. In this blog entry, I will give some suggestions for how to make these goals actually happen. To do this, we don’t need to create a comprehensive final plan. We merely must identify and complete a series of next steps.

 How to Achieve Your Long-Term Goals:

 1.) Define your goals.

To achieve your goals, you must first figure out what they are. Since you have stumbled across the Sentia Education blog, I’m going to assume you’re a student aiming for a college or graduate degree. A lofty goal indeed!

Once you’ve identified your ultimate, long-term goal (COLLEGE! GRAD SCHOOL!), you must make a list of sub-goals. Sub-goals are all the projects you’ll need to complete before attaining your ultimate goal. For example, most colleges require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. Thus, if you’re a high school student applying to college, taking the SAT or ACT is an important sub-goal.

As you move forward with the method I describe below, you will continue to break your goals down into smaller and smaller pieces.

 2.) Force yourself to Just Get Started!

Beginning work on a big project can be daunting—especially if you’re not sure where to start or how much work you’ll need to do. In the germinal stage of any endeavor, it’s generally best to suspend such worries and focus on getting something—anything—done. This is the first step. Once you have taken the first step, you will find it easier to identify the next.

Setting a precise, limited work-time will make it easier to start work on your goal. To begin, challenge yourself to work for 30 minutes today. Stop working after 30 minutes, no matter how paltry your progress. You have made admirable headway just by forcing yourself to sit down, “break the ice,” and attack your goal. (Keep working, of course, if you’re being productive and don’t want to stop!)

When you are finished for today, schedule your next short work session. And so forth.

3.) Break your goal into a series of small tasks.

 The first step here is figuring out exactly how long you have to complete your goal. Then, you will make a list of things you know you need to do to complete this goal.

For instance, if you’re studying for the SAT, one of your first actions will be to register for the exam. Perhaps you will take it this October?

There are 15 weeks between now and the October 6 SAT. What do you need to do before then? A diligent student might write: I need to take & review practice sections; learn grammar concepts; and memorize 300 vocab words.

Continue to break down this list until you have a series of mini-goals to complete at specific times in the immediate future. Once again, our diligent student might here resolve to: learn 20 vocab words each week to memorize 300 in 15 weeks; take and review 3 practice sections each week; study grammar concepts for 1 hour each week.

 And there we have it! We have defined our next steps.

4.) Make a schedule of times to complete your mini-goals.

Once you’ve established a series of mini-goals, you will want to create a regular work-schedule to get them done. Creating a schedule for completing your mini-goals will not only cause the overall project to feel less overwhelming, but it will also force you to make this work a priority.

Treat each one of your scheduled work-sessions as a commitment you cannot break. I cannot emphasize this enough. Unless there is a serious (and I mean serious) emergency, you must honor and abide by the schedule you make.

Tip: Establishing a regular place (or—better yet—a few places) to go to work on your goal will help these sessions feel more like actual appointments. In addition, your brain will begin to associate such special spots with working on your goal, so you can get focused faster.

5.) Monitor your progress every step of the way.

 Let’s say you’re studying for the SAT. You have made a schedule whereby you take 3 practice exam sections each week. On Monday, you take a Math section, grade it, and learn you got all but 4 questions wrong. Ouch!

Sounds like it’s time to re-evaluate your work schedule and set some new mini-goals!

At this moment in time, you might set a mini-goal of getting a Sentia tutor to help you with math. You might also set a goal of re-learning concepts covered in the questions you got wrong. In either case, you are rethinking your plan to counter unexpected challenges. In other words, you less concerned with sticking to a pre-formed plan than with identifying and taking the appropriate next steps.

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

 Lofty: exalted in rank, dignity, or character; noble
Germinal: being in the earliest stage of development
Paltry: ridiculously small

24 May 2012

Should I go to a large university or a small college?

As the 2011-2012 academic year draws to an end, many high school juniors are beginning the process of narrowing down their college application lists. Deciding which colleges to apply to can feel like a daunting task. Not only must you think about such mundane factors as price and admissions criteria, but you also need to think carefully about why you wish to pursue higher education, how you learn, and what you want out of life.

Asking yourself a relatively benign question–“Should I go to a large university or a small college?”–might help you begin thinking about these larger issues. Last May I graduated from a diminutive liberal arts college. I loved some aspects, and hated others. Below, I discuss four features of small colleges that stand out to me based on my experiences as a student.

Whether you see these features as pros or cons really depends on your goals and who you are as a student/social animal. I hope that considering the differences between small colleges and large universities will help you begin to examine yourself and find a school that is a perfect fit!

Four Features of Small Colleges:

1.) Small, seminar style classes – In my experience, seminar style classes were the best part about attending a small college. Usually with 20 or fewer students, these classes made for a tremendously enriching learning experience—replete with discussion, debate, and personal attention from professors.

However, small classes also mean one must maintain good attendance and work habits throughout the semester. Participation is crucial, and professors will notice if you’re chronically absent or unprepared. By contrast, because large universities offer mostly lecture classes, in which final grades are based mostly on exams and papers, consistent attendance and preparation is less important. Know yourself, your work habits, and your style of learning to decide what class environment is best for you.

2.) Strong sense of community – Small classes really allowed me to get to know my classmates and professors. In addition, campus-wide events and traditions bring all students together and help everyone feel like they belong. The community’s closeness can also be a con. It can be hard to meet new people at a small college, as most people meet friends during freshman year and rarely branch out after that. However, if you’re outgoing or plan to join many clubs and activities, this shouldn’t be a problem.

3.) More opportunities to write papers – This is related to small colleges’ small class sizes. Grading papers can be very time consuming, so professors with large classes often opt to assess students via exams instead. Small class sizes mean teachers assign more written work. Writing papers not only helps students improve their writing skills, but it also facilitates deeper, more nuanced, thinking about a topic. Furthermore, small colleges allow more students to write theses—yearlong research and writing projects done under the close supervision of a professor.

4.) Lack of vocational majors – Many small colleges specialize in the liberal arts, so they don’t offer vocational majors like business, journalism, nursing, or engineering. If you’re considering a vocational major, make sure this major is offered before applying to a small school.

Although there are many more differences between large universities and small colleges, I hope the above-listed features help you begin to think about which type of school is right for you. Good luck forming your college list!

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

mundane: common; ordinary; banal
kind; gentle; harmless
diminutive: very small
replete: well-filled

21 May 2012

Stories of success shirk fears of failure!

Last week, Yahoo! News and The New York Times gave us the stories of Chris Navas and Gac Filipaj—two individuals who sprung from humble circumstances to attain Ivy League degrees.

In Chris Navas’ narrative, a cascade of coincidences leads an academically apathetic young man to earn a spot at Dartmouth University’s medical school. The story begins when Navas, a high school dropout who holds a day job building boilers, signs up for a 200-level “behavioral neuroscience” class—simply because it works for his schedule. Normally a “do just what it takes to pass” kind of student, Navas didn’t expect to be good at neuroscience. Nevertheless, he found himself captivated by the teacher’s descriptions of breakthrough neuroscientific research and began reading unassigned chapters in the text. Before long, Navas had secured a spot in the honors neuroscience program and was working at a lab that studies learning and memory. He will begin medical school at Dartmouth this fall.

Navas explains his fortune as a force of luck. “The mentors made the difference,” he said, according to The New York Times. “I was just some kid working in a boiler company. I had no vision of becoming a doctor. I got lucky, over and over.”

Navas’ story certainly suggests fate played a hand in his scholastic path. After all, Navas signed up for “behavioral neuroscience” on a whim, without plans to become a doctor or a neuroscience major… without even particular interest in the topic! But, since there’s no lesson in luck, I’d prefer to highlight aspects of agency in Navas’ tale.

Chris Navas strikes me as a person who not only is tremendously brave, but also delves heart and soul into the activities he enjoys. As The New York Times explains, post-high-school, Navas had no plan. He picked up work as a secretary at a refrigeration company. One day all the mechanics were out, so Navas’ boss sent him to fix a broken refrigerator. Navas rose to the occasion, undaunted by his lack of training in refrigeration mechanics. He took school lightly because it wasn’t his thing, and didn’t worry too much about the future. Instead, he worked fervently at bodybuilding, his passion. When he became aware of his fascination with neuroscience, he pursued it relentlessly. He didn’t tell himself it was too late, dwell upon past mistakes, or focus on competition that lay ahead. He just did it because he loved it.

Similar bravery, passion, and perseverance can be seen in Gac Filipaj. Middle-aged and nearly done with law school, Filipaj was forced to start his life over when he fled Montenegro (then a Yugoslavian republic facing civil war) in 1992. Once in America, Filipaj lived with his uncle in the Bronx, worked as a restaurant busboy, and began to ask after the best schools in NYC. When he learned of Columbia University, he applied for a job.

Filipaj’s native language is Albanian, so his first hurdle as a degree-seeking American was to learn English. Once fluent, he took on the challenge of balancing Ivy-League-level coursework with a fulltime job as a janitor at Columbia. Yahoo! News reports Filipaj regularly pulled all-nighters during exam time or to finish a paper. Then he would go to class, and then to his 2:30–11:00pm shift at work.

Twelve years later, Filipaj donned a cap and gown to receive his bachelor’s degree—with honors—in Roman and Greek classics. In graduating, Filipaj reveals himself as someone who is able to take life as it comes and who won’t be discouraged, no matter the work required nor the magnitude of setback. Ultimately Filipaj would like to attain a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in Roman and Greek classics, so he can teach. For now, he is trying to get a “better job,” perhaps as a supervisor of other custodians.

Filipaj and Navas’ experiences demonstrate the power of hard work, passion, and faith in one’s abilities to trump even the most disheartening circumstances. When you love something and are determined to succeed at it, no task is too hard and no amount of work is too much. In turn, no goal is beyond your reach.

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Apathetic: marked by lack of interest or concern
Fervent: having or showing great intensity of spirit
Disheartening: very discouraging

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