An Extra Year

The concept of taking an extra year during the course of one’s education is meeting with greater favor now than ever before.  Whether it comes as a repeat year when entering a competitive independe…

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An Extra Year

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The concept of taking an extra year during the course of one’s education is meeting with greater favor now than ever before.  Whether it comes as a repeat year when entering a competitive independent school, a postgraduate year of study, a gap year between high school and college, a year off during college, a year between college and grad school, or in some other form, the extra year provides many advantages and almost no disadvantages to those who choose this terrific option.

In some cases, students who are offered admission to a competitive independent day or boarding school need an extra year to bring them up to speed with a more challenging classroom than they have experienced in prior years. A postgraduate year might be recommended for the student who is not quite ready to enter a university community. A gap year offers a rare opportunity to experience the real world and its many possibilities before the student must make a decision about a major field of study at university. A year between college and grad school provides an occasion for gainful employment before one’s life work – almost always based upon the graduate degree – is written in stone.

The main reason why educational institutions of all types seem to support an extra year for almost every student is twofold: 1) the added time makes the student’s transcript and overall record more impressive, and 2) the extra year adds twelve more months of maturity before tackling the next level of academic challenge. In fact, the only serious impediment to this option tends to come from those parents and students who equate an extra year with flunking or failing.

Obviously, the decision to take an extra year for high school students should come at a time when the student is changing schools, to avoid social stigma. After high school graduation, the extra year is not so much associated with failure as with the commitment to get ahead, to improve one’s standing in a competitive peer group. At many highly competitive schools and colleges, the average age is somewhat higher than at less competitive institutions. This phenomenon can be explained in part by the proliferation of “the extra year” in recent years, but also as the result of the fact that many parents start their children in school later, rather than earlier, beginning in kindergarten. When there is a choice, many families elect to start their kids a year later because ample evidence suggests that an older child in almost any classroom will tend to do better than one who is younger and, therefore, almost certainly less mature.

One last example of the value of an extra year can be found among students with long-undiagnosed learning differences. Often, schools without sufficient resources to manage learning disabilities choose instead to use social promotion as a way to keep kids moving through the system without actually addressing the problems. It is in the later years of high school that academic work becomes more challenging and, at the same time, objective testing can provide glaring evidence of shortfall. In such cases, families may not know there is a need for remediation until the tenth or eleventh grade, too late to make an optimal recovery, but still worth all of the effort that can be mustered.

An extra year, wherever it may fall in one’s educational experience, is overwhelmingly for the good and should be considered seriously as a way to improve personal circumstances. Kids need to stop thinking of this option as flunking, and parents need to rise above the feeling that, somehow, the notion of repeating reveals a fatal defect in the family. It does not. It is the final analysis that matters, the end of a successful academic career that will completely justify the means necessary to get there.

Carter P. Reese                                                             Informed Educational Solutions

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Accept The Challenge

ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE One of the most often asked questions by college bound students (and their parents) is whether to take easier courses through the high school years as a way of increasing grade…

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Accept The Challenge

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ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE

One of the most often asked questions by college bound students (and their parents) is whether to take easier courses through the high school years as a way of increasing grade point averages and, presumably, enhancing college admission prospects. College counselors hold various opinions on this subject, of course, in part based upon factors at work within the specific high school and its policies regarding weighting of honors courses, etc. In general terms, though, most competitive college admissions officers recommend that every good student accept whatever academic challenges the high school has to offer.

Clearly, it is in the interest of every college admissions office to evaluate every student on the basis of his or her best work. Yet one part of every college application consists of evaluating grades and, when calculated, class rank. The student who takes a lighter load does have the likelihood of earning higher grades with less work – unless the high school adds weight to advanced and honors courses. For example, an A in a regular math courses might be weighted as a 4 on a 4.0 scale, while an A in an honors math class might be weighted as a 4.2. (It would be a great idea for every student with questions in this area to ask the college counseling office whether the high school adds weight to advanced courses, which is the only fair way to reward extra effort.)

Not every course in high school has multiple sections or regular and honors options. Some sequences – Algebra I, Geometry, Alg. II with trig, Math analysis/pre-calculus, etc. – are truly set in stone. Yet there are tremendous differences in syllabi, which can make it difficult for colleges to measure achievement. For example, some schools purchase Algebra textbooks that are actually divided into two sections, the combination of which comprises a full course in Algebra I. For schools with a less rigorous delivery system, these two halves of Algebra I can sometimes be called Algebra I and Algebra II, thereby denying competitive students full access to essential math concepts.

Students who elect to take honors, AP, or other designated advanced course work provide college admissions committees with a fairly accurate sense of which kids are truly at the head of the class. Gifted students usually want to be in advanced placement courses, and high schools should have some way to communicate to colleges which courses need to be considered the most challenging available. At the risk of sounding heretical, this author recommends strongly that parents seize the reins, when necessary, to be sure that their kids’ high school is reporting high achievement to colleges in some coherent way. Is there weighting for advanced courses? Does this weighting affect class rank, where available? Does the college counselor include an individual assessment as part of transcript information to be sent to colleges? Does the high school’s transcript form contain a key to course weighting or honors designation?

In a world where everyone gets a trophy for participation, the notion of achieving academic excellence seems at times to be under attack. Nonetheless, able students need to be rewarded for going beyond the ordinary. By accepting every academic challenge within reach, the successful college bound student is enhancing her position in several ways. She will travel farther in each subject area; she will, therefore, have a more impressive transcript to submit to colleges; she will also be able to apply to more competitive schools; and she will be eligible for more advanced placement standing in the freshman and sophomore years. In the end, the challenges will have been worth the cost.

NB: While these guidelines are important for strong students to adhere to, seniors need to think strategically about these suggestions.  For example, if an advanced fall of senior year course is being taught by a notoriously tough teacher in a subject area that is not the student’s strength: think hard. Perhaps dropping down from AP Chemistry to honors, thereby avoiding a C+ or worse (which would lower the GPA and create a black hole in senior year transcript)would be the smart move.

Students planning to apply to leading state universities, whose admissions decisions often hinge significantly on GPA, should make course choice decisions with the highest possible GPA outcome in mind.

Carter P. Reese          Informed Educational Solutions

This is the sixth in a series of blogs written for parents of younger students, junior high age or so, who are thinking ahead about college admissions. We firmly believe that planning ahead can yield enormous benefits and reduce anxiety about the transition from high school to college.

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College Degree & Career

“College” Means Many Things It is generally recognized that a college degree today is roughly equivalent to a high school diploma a century ago. Post-secondary education is essential to assure a li…

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College Degree & Career

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“College” Means Many Things

It is generally recognized that a college degree today is roughly equivalent to a high school diploma a century ago. Post-secondary education is essential to assure a life of upward mobility, especially in light of the changing characteristics of America’s workforce in the 21st Century. Flexibility is the operant word in the job market, and every participant must be prepared to change jobs – even career paths – numerous times in the course of a working lifetime.

If high school is a time to cram seemingly useless facts into the memory bank, then college, in all its configurations, is a time for developing real skills and learning how to learn. Today, most cell phones carry much more information than the greatest libraries on earth. The trick is to know what to ask and what to do with the answers. This ability to synthesize endless facts into patterns that can become knowledge is one that matures after the high school years for most people. It is during that post-secondary educational moment that much of life’s skillset is refined for the long haul.

Given the importance of the four years after high school as a seedbed for future harvest, it is critical to fill that time productively. While the emphasis in this essay is upon traditional college or university enrollment, there are many alternative avenues available for the journey to competency in something. (And it is competency, and finding a career interest resistant to takeover by a robot, that will determine long-term success in life.) Community college, junior college, two-year college followed by a transfer to a bachelor’s degree, the military services, traditional four-year university degree options: these and other avenues offer clear paths to adult competency, which is the real objective of a college experience.

A motivated student in a community college can have a vastly more productive learning experience than a less enthusiastic student in a more prestigious institution. Successful individuals emerge from every type of post-secondary experience, so it would be unwise to diminish anyone’s credentials before knowing what that person has done with what was available.  In very little time after the conclusion of the college experience, whatever its dimensions, few will remember a person’s pedigree; yet everyone will be able to see clearly the level of competency that has resulted. The highest possible composite GPA is the single indicator of effort paid and competency developed.

The opportunity to attend a four-year undergraduate degree program is a great privilege and certainly at the top of the heap of post-secondary educational options. The stronger the college or university, the greater the probability of high level employment thereafter.  There are exceptions, but that is the rule. Stronger initial employment is associated with higher starting salaries. Higher starting salaries lead to bigger bonuses and raises, even when the raise is at the same percentage as that of a lower priced employee. The lower salaried employee never catches up and, in fact, loses ground with each raise.

The logistics and finances associated with attending college differ greatly from person to person, and the burden on most families is considerable. In cases where money is the central impediment, weighing the costs of a degree by pricing each credit hour individually is one place to start. If an undergraduate degree requires fulfillment of 130 semester hours, for example, the cost per credit at a community college could be one-tenth the cost at a prestigious private college. To save resources, the first two years worth of credits could be taken at a community college, after which a transfer could be made to a bigger name school. Students with impressive GPAs from community colleges or branch campuses can transfer “up” after two years with little impediment.  SAT/ACT scores are often not required at this stage, and admissions decision are based entirely on success in coursework.

The eventual degree will come from the second school, and no one will be the wiser!

We are seeing increasing number of students planning to major in a specifically career-oriented field:  STEM, business, communications, etc.  In today’s rapidly changing job market, we believe this to be wise.  There is still time to pursue music or psychology courses that are of interest while preparing for a career in a specific field.

However the bill is paid, data clearly show the positive impact of a college education in terms of lifetime earnings.  College graduates earn more than high school graduates starting at their first post-college jobs, and the gap keeps widening.  College graduates who do obtain a professional job right after college do better than purely high school graduates, but never catch up financially with their peers who got right into a first job. Spending time in the campus career planning office beginning in the sophomore year is important.  Internships when well executed yield post-college job offers.  Campus job fairs bring employers right to college seniors.

There are also many, non-monetary benefits to the college experience, and they continue to pay dividends throughout one’s life, in key areas like self-esteem, self-knowledge, the ability to adapt, enhanced social position in the community, and job promotion. Once achieved, the degree never stops giving back.

Carter P. Reese                Informed Educational Solutions

This is the fifth in a series of blogs written for parents of younger students, junior high age or so, who are thinking ahead about college admissions. We firmly believe that planning ahead can yield enormous benefits, and reduce anxiety about the transition from high school to college.

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Be Your Best Self

Nearly forty years ago, a well respected New England college director of admissions made the first reference to “the well rounded student,” an almost mythical paradigm that has been chased and ulti…

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Be Your Best Self

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Nearly forty years ago, a well respected New England college director of admissions made the first reference to “the well rounded student,” an almost mythical paradigm that has been chased and ultimately misinterpreted by millions of students ever since. It turns out that, after virtually every independent school, college, and university applicant in America has done everything possible to meet that standard – joining every club, playing every sport, signing up for any community service activity in sight – what was really meant was that every entering class should be well rounded, not every applicant!

The myth of well-roundedness is easily discredited when one considers that high school students don’t actually have too many hours in the school week to engage in dozens of extracurricular activities. Clearly, they cannot be expected to involve themselves in any single activity to any great depth. There is simply not enough time available. Signing up for clubs and other school optional activities for the sole purpose of putting a fatter list on some college applications is shallow, at best, and even dishonest to some degree. The rationale has always been that everyone else is doing it, so I have to do it, too.

The truth is that being really good at something – just one thing – is far more impressive to a college admissions committee than simply having signed up for everything in order to score points for participation. A long-time boarding school admissions director in Pennsylvania had a habit of exploring depth of knowledge in the hundreds of junior high schoolers he interviewed each fall. At the time, coin collecting was frequently cited as an area of interest, mostly by kids who thought it would sound good. To find out who was a real collector, the director asked hundreds of applicants over several years if there ever might have been any U.S. coin that included the name of that coin’s designer on the coin itself. Only once did a student reply that, yes, there was such a coin. In fact, the seventh grader said, the coin was a 1914 U.S. penny, and it carried the letters S V D B. When asked what those letters represented, the boy quickly responded that the S stood for the Seattle Mint and the V D B letters were the initials of the designer, Victor D. Brenner. The initials were discovered after the first year’s issue had been struck and were then removed.

That young man demonstrated the depth of his interest in coin collecting in one short reply. (He was admitted to the school and enjoyed a predictably successful career there and through graduation from an Ivy League college.) He was not especially well rounded, but contributed to a well-rounded entering class – a class of specialists that became well rounded in the aggregate.

In any given year, X college needs a tuba player for the orchestra; Y college just graduated a quarterback; and Z college is looking for urban studies majors.  By developing a student’s genuine interests deeply, that student is more, not less, marketable to colleges.  The same holds true in the job market, interestingly.

The lesson here, it seems, is that substance trumps superficiality. A passionate interest shows substance and owes no apologies to any admissions committee. Every selective admissions office is well aware of the well rounded application and what it usually means. To the contrary, the truly accomplished college applicant stands out from the crowd in one important way: The time it has taken to become really good at something almost always speaks volumes about that student’s commitment to excellence, a characteristic that is not so easy to find. Anyway, there couldn’t have been enough free time left over to be seriously involved in a dozen other activities.

Carter P. Reese                     Informed Educational Solutions

 

This is the fourth in a series of blogs written for parents of younger students, junior high age or so, who are thinking ahead about college admissions. We firmly believe that planning ahead can yield enormous benefits, and reduce anxiety about the transition from high school to college.

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Short Term Goals; Long Term Gain

In the teenage years, it is very difficult to envision that far-distant adult world of professional employment, building a family, or having a boss. Even more difficult is having the discipline to …

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Short Term Goals; Long Term Gain

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In the teenage years, it is very difficult to envision that far-distant adult world of professional employment, building a family, or having a boss. Even more difficult is having the discipline to prepare for that eventuality. Nonetheless, it is tremendously useful for those junior and senior high school students who aspire to great things in life to set big goals for themselves – long-term objectives that can be reached by achieving a string of shorter-term, incremental goals along the way.

When the educational consultants at Informed Educational Solutions begin to develop an education plan for a new client, among the first things to discus is where the student wants to be at the age of 30, for example. In some cases, the student’s goals can be so advanced that formal educational training will not have concluded by that age. More often than not, however, younger students are able to visualize their future, at least in general terms. If the goal is to live in a beach house in Malibu that includes an architectural design studio (and we have had this very scenario presented by an eighth grader not long ago), several parts of the long-term goal become clear immediately.

First, to accomplish that goal, the person will have been required to complete an architecture degree, either in an undergraduate five-year program or as a bachelor’s and master of architecture in six years. Since living on the beach in Malibu requires substantial income, a job with a major design firm is essential. To achieve that, the degree(s) must come from a highly reputable university. To get there, the student will have had to earn solid grades and test scores in high school, as well as a transcript that includes calculus and physics, at a minimum. Time should be spent on the US Department of Labor website (www.bls.gov/ooh) assessing  projections for future jobs in architecture. What about an internship in a local architecture firm?

To be sure that the high school years provide enough time to include AB Calculus, if possible, pre-calc should come not later than grade 11 and Algebra 2 with Trig should be taken in 10th grade. That means that Geometry needs to fit into grade 9 and Algebra 1 in the eighth grade.

What we have presented in this brief education plan is really a series of small steps which, when proposed to the junior high client, create a game plan made up of small goals, each one reasonable and leading to the next. In effect, we work backwards from the ultimate goal to the present day and create a digestible plan for the future. It doesn’t really matter whether the long-term vision changes over time. The message is the same: Start here; take these courses; do test prep, if necessary; apply to this range of schools; try to get this or that internship; look for jobs in this or that market, at design firms with these credentials.

When encouraged to approach the future with a set of goals in mind, kids tend to respond well, often noting that they actually prefer having goals to shoot for along the path to adulthood. It may even be fair to say that the junior high years are as bleak as childhood can get for many students. Neither child nor adult, kids of this age have no power or authority in their own lives, often lack direction, and seem to be looking for meaning where little can be found. The idea of introducing a detailed education plan to kids within this age group is one whose time has come. Small goals, piled high, add up to the realization of big goals – serious accomplishment without having to consciously acknowledge it.

Carter P. Reese                              Informed Educational Solutions

This is the third in a series of blogs written for parents of younger students, junior high age or so, who are thinking ahead about college admissions. We firmly believe that planning ahead can yield enormous benefits, and reduce anxiety about the transition from high school to college.

Posted in 10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade, AP Courses, Careers, Carter P. Reese, College, College Admissions, Educational Consultant, Educational Counselor, Educational Solutions, High School Grades, homeschool, homework, Informed Educational Solutions, internships, jobs, jobs for teens, Time Management, Uncategorized | 1 Comment