Category Archives: College Choice & Career

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

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!

21 Feb 2012

Creating Your First Resume: A Tutorial

Looking for your first job or internship? Then you’ll need to create a strong resume to display your skills and impress potential employers. In this blog entry I will discuss why creating a resume as a high school student is important, and provide some tips and suggestions to help you do so.

Why Create a Resume as a High School Student?

Few high school students realize the usefulness of creating a strong resume. A resume is a summary of your achievements and qualifications. It’s a professional snapshot–kind of like a FaceBook profile, but directed toward a different audience. When applying for your first job or internship, you can use your resume to help you stand out from the crowd, as a resume lets you  include information not requested on most applications. A resume is also neat & easy to look at, refreshing against swarms of messily-penned applications picked up at the prospective place of work.

OK! I’m convinced!

But… If I’ve never had a job, how do I create a resume??

If you’ve never had a job as a high school student, not to worry! Most high school students haven’t. As long as you’re applying for an entry level position, you will not be expected to have previous work experience. There are many other things to include on your resume. If you have, however, had a job before, be sure to include this information!

What to Include:

There are four main sections on every student resume: Contact Information, Education, Experience, and Activities/Interests.

Contact Information

Includes your name, address, telephone number, and your e-mail address.

— Should go on the top of the page

— Make sure you have a professional and appropriate e-mail address! Nobody will hire you if your e-mail address is!


 — This should come next, as school is ostensibly your first priority and primary occupation.

— List your school & its location, your expected graduation year, and your GPA if it is 3.0 or above.

— You can also include your class rank, scholastic awards/achievements (have you been on the honor role?) and your SAT or ACT scores if they are high.


Mamaroneck High School, Mamaroneck, NY, Diploma Expected June 2013
GPA: 3.5/4.0; Received honor roll recognition 2009-2010, 2010-2011
SAT: 700 Math, 660 Critical Reading, 680 Writing


— If you have previous work experiences, list them here.

If not, describe your extracurricular activities and/or volunteer work.

— You can even list involvement in one-time events, such as food or clothing drives, and fundraisers.

— Use action verbs to describe what you did in these experiences. Here’s an example, with action verbs in bold:

Mamaroneck High School Food Drive, Coordinator, April 2010
Promoted event with posters and announcements
Raised over $700 cash donations
Distributed over 800 non-perishable items to targeted populations


— Here you should list activites and hobbies where you don’t hold a leadership position. Write only what the activity is, and the years you’ve been involved in it. For example: Piano Lessons, 2002-Present

— When you’re finished with your resume, be sure to have a friend or relative look it over for accuracy, typos, as well as spelling/grammar mistakes. Good luck landing your first job!

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Ostensible: outwardly appearing as such; apparent; evident

09 Feb 2012

Is your FaceBook page killing your chances for college admission?

When I was in high school, social media was the realm of the young—invisible, or so we thought, to anyone older than 25. Kids loved to show off their weekend adventures drinking, smoking, or otherwise intoxicated. Profile pictures were hot. Frequently, social media was used to boost social status and bully the “unpopular”.

Social media is fun because it allows us to connect with friends and control the image of ourselves that others see. However, college admissions officers may have different ideas from your friends about what is funny and cool. As more adults become social media savvy, high school students must learn to keep their Internet-selves in check.

Take the gifted, 17 year-old cornerback, Yuri Wright. Ranked the 40th best recruit in the country by ESPN, Wright was recently expelled  from Don Bosco Preparatory for posting sexually graphic statements on his twitter. Although Wright had long dreamed of attending the University of Michigan, the school stopped recruiting him when admissions officials learned of his account.

Wright recently accepted a scholarship to the University of Colorado, which shows that limitless talent can overcome even the grossest transgressions of propriety. Still, the incident taught Wright that he needs to work hard moving forward to prove his character. Wright recently started a new twitter account with clean, upbeat content appropriate for the public eye.

All of this is to say that the Internet must be approached as a public place, and that social media accounts may be monitored as part of the college admissions process. So, as you write your essays, prep for tests, and gather recommendations, bear in mind the importance of presenting yourself professionally online.

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors:

Transgression: violation of a law; command; etc.
Propriety: appropriate behavior

07 Feb 2012

Are Standardized Tests Still Important?

Recently, the New York Times revealed that Claremont McKenna College, a highly regarded California school, has reported false SAT scores to publications like U.S. News & World Report for the past 6 years. For the September 2010 freshman class, Claremont McKenna’s median score jumped 10 points–from 1400 to 1410–and the 75th percentile score of 1475 was reported as 1510. Small bumps, but enough to rank Claremont McKenna #9 in the U.S. News & World Report’s widely followed college rankings.

The revelation of the deception must be humiliating—especially considering that academic dishonesty is higher education’s most heinous crime. So, why would an already prestigious institution risk its national reputation for a few measly SAT points?

The scandal shows the crucial role standardized test scores play in public perception of a college’s prestige. And, as long as high scores = high rankings, colleges will continue to select students based on test performance.

What about the growing number of test-optional schools? Doesn’t this suggest the phasing out of standardized tests? According to Fair Test, more than 800 schools don’t require SAT scores for admission! True, but many test-optional schools spend thousands to purchase the names of high scoring students. As Janet Lorin for Bloomberg News explains, The College Board sells these names to over 1,000 schools—among them, such prestigious test-optional institutions as Bowdoin and Smith—for 33 cents apiece.

All of this casts unequivocal doubt on test-optional schools’ commitment to looking past standardized test scores. While test-optional schools may allow some highly capable students to work around poor scores, the schools still believe that standardized tests reveal student aptitude and skill. Accordingly, Lorin reveals that between 60 and 80% of applicants to test-optional schools submit their scores.

Though they certainly don’t reveal everything, test scores actually aren’t empty. As one member of College Confidential put it, “The SAT measures developed reasoning skills. The extent to which you can develop these skills depends on your IQ.” Although tons of students score lower than their intelligence should allow, there is some foundation to the use of the tests. Test scores help colleges compare students from different high schools, which can vary greatly in size, rigor and competitiveness.

Knowing this, we can assume that the SAT & ACT will continue to impact admissions decisions, at least until we come up with a decent alternative to standardized tests.

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Heinous: abominable, evil, or atrocious
: having only one possible meaning or interpretation; unambiguous, clear

17 Jan 2012

Career Planning in High School: Pros & Cons

While many people don’t begin career planning until they have entered (or graduated from) college, there are the lucky few that know precisely what they want to do, seemingly from the moment they were born. I’ve often wished I was of this breed, for there is something seriously appealing about forming plan and then championing your way through the less-settled parts of life.

Guess what, high school student? You’re well-poised to begin this process of picking a career, and there are many online resources to help you do this. You can begin by visiting Rutgers University’s career planner for high school students. This website attempts to breakdown some methods by which high-schoolers can select and plan for their future careers. In short, you should use this time to explore your talents and inclinations, and then volunteer, work part-time, or research specific careers that appeal to you. Once you have made a decision, plan ahead to ensure safe travels on your chosen path. Not only should you select a college with an appropriate major, but you might also start thinking beyond that. Understanding how to break into the field will help you best use your college time.

But is this information antiquated? According to a blog post by Penelope Trunk, unlike in the past, young people today will change careers about four times in their lives.  Trunk further argues that while school may teach you knowledge and skills, it is not a place where students discover who they are or where they fit into the world. All of this suggests that over-committing to a particular career before thoroughly understanding one’s values and abilities is futile—if not wasteful. “Try being lost,” Trunk says. “It’s normal.”

Although Trunk’s article targets 20-somethings who are considering graduate school after desperately prying the job market’s jaws, her points have bearing on pre-college concerns. I, for one, had little idea what I wanted to do with my life during (or even after) high school. It was only post-graduation that such questions became urgent to me. Several of my friends have likewise complained about feeling pressured to pick a college major too fast, which suggests that even the profoundly exploratory college years are too sheltered to elicit certainty. In other words, perhaps your lifestyle and values must be seriously challenged before you can really identify what’s important to you. Maybe it’s only through the process of fighting that one learns what is worth fighting for.

None of this means that high school students shouldn’t begin to form ideas about what they like and want to do, nor does it suggest that high school is the time to decide on a career trajectory. Rather, it should remind you, oh wise high-schooler, that you now possess the maturity and the wisdom to begin contemplating the skills you have and the activities you enjoy and how you may wish to apply them to your education, career and beyond.

These key vocabulary words are expertly identified by Sentia tutors

Anachronistic: No longer in use; outmoded in design or style
:  to bring out