Seven Steps to Emptying Your Inbox and Managing Your Day

What if you spent less time reading emails, attending meetings and sorting through papers – and more time serving students?  If you are overwhelmed by Outlook or getting daily jitters from Gmail, these simple steps will get you off of your computer and on to rewarding things in no time. 1. Know your organization’s – [...]

What if you spent less time reading emails, attending meetings and sorting through papers – and more time serving students?  If you are overwhelmed by Outlook or getting daily jitters from Gmail, these simple steps will get you off of your computer and on to rewarding things in no time.

1. Know your organization’s – or your own – overall mission. Missions are measurable, and they have deadlines, e.g., “The CLIC will increase the number of students obtaining accredited bachelor’s degrees by 5% by 2017.”  A lot of times, organizations have value statements that they mistakenly call missions.  Value statements tell us with what social and moral emphases we want to accomplish our mission – “The CLIC will prioritize exposing students to opportunities and acknowledge and address their achievements and their roadblocks with compassion.”  If your mission statement really is a value statement, sit with your team and lock a measurable mission in place, even if it’s just for you.

2. Set only one or two short-term goals at a time. As you push towards the long-term mission, list all of the amazing ways you could accomplish this.  Then take two easy steps: 1) Remove any goals you don’t have at least 80% control over – or rephrase them so now you do; and 2) decide which one (MAYBE two, at the most) is the most likely to help the mission in the short term.  The rest can and must wait!

3. Radically reduce your Outlook filing folders or Gmail labels. The search functions on these applications are incredibly powerful.  It is fine to just create a single folder/label called “processed.”  At most, you can give yourself six Outlook filing folders or new Gmail tabs (e.g., Admin, Students, Schools, Families, Partners, Funding).  Right now, create a single folder called “Archives” and move all of your detailed folders in there just to clear visual space.

4. Adopt “prioritization” labels that let you mark emails based on their need to get done. “P1″ (first priority) is for things that have an immediate deadline AND move the mission forward.  “P2″ (second priority) items have a longer-term deadline AND move the mission forward.  “P3″ (third priority) items have an immediate deadline BUT DO NOT move the mission forward.  You will be tempted to do P3 items instantly just for the relief of having met a deadline.  Let that go!  Start tackling the more critical P2 projects before they become emergencies…and you’ll soon run out of P1 items!

5. Transform emails into tasks or filing immediately. Don’t use your email inbox as your To Do list!  Process emails to figure out what you need to know or do, then turn any To Do emails instantly into tasks or calendar events (or assign them as tasks to other team members).  In Outlook 2010, you can create Quick Step buttons to flag an email (which adds the full email with attachments instantly to your task list) AND add a priority category of P1, P2 or P3 – with a single click.  In Gmail, open an email and choose “More” from the top menu, then click “Add to Tasks” – and be sure to start your description with P1, P2 or P3 so you can sort by priority!  Remember, emails are for information; TASKS are for action.  Process those emails, then file them all as “Processed,” then switch to tasks to get things done.

6.  Plan your day EVERY DAY. Don’t immediately start reacting to emails at the top of each day or just turn off your computer at the end.  Schedule about two minutes to review your tasks, and schedule them by priority into the available moments of your day.  If you can set aside the first hour of your day to process emails, schedule tasks and act on P1s, you can turn the rest of the day over to the routine rush and crush and still have moved your mission forward.  One big bonus: in Outlook, when you switch your calendar to weekly or daily view, your tasks are listed at the bottom and can easily be dragged and dropped right onto the calendar!

7. Accept that most of the day will be lost to the “rush and crush.” The nature of our jobs – and everyone else’s – is endless meetings, calls, colleague emergencies, etc.  If you hone in on a measurable mission, select only a few goals at time to pursue, and prioritize all emails, calls, meetings, drop-ins and other requests based on your priorities, an hour a day will get most things done – and you will regularly and steadily move your mission forward.  And that is the key to feeling productive, useful and effective in your day!

Are you ready to free up your days, stop working constantly after you leave the office and lift that nagging feeling that something fell between the cracks?  Consider sharing your new system with friends, bosses or colleagues so you can work better together – and so they understand when you gently ask if you can address their flame-shooting “P3″ later today at a scheduled time on your calendar.

DMA is the CEO of The CLIC, the revolutionary new site where students can powerfully plan for college and institutions can effortlessly recruit students from a single home page in our FREE interactive network. CLIC students can connect to college matches, scholarship searches, college access programs and the nation’s first master calendar of all college-related deadlines and events, with streaming video tips and much more, at

reacting to emails

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Seven Steps to College from Seventh Grade Forward

You can’t begin planning for college early enough – and that’s not just families saving up for skyrocketing tuition and fees. Below are seven straight-from-the-hip tips to get yourself on track to a four-year college, from middle school through grad night.

You can’t begin planning for college early enough – and that’s not just families saving up for skyrocketing tuition and fees. Below are seven straight-from-the-hip tips to get yourself on track to a four-year college, from middle school through grad night.

  1. Seventh grade – Know your times tables by heart (through the 12 times tables). Yes, you learned these a gazillion years ago in third grade!  Math skills are critical for college prep, so if you’ve forgotten your times tables, still use your fingers to add, or really can’t get through basic problems without a calculator, now is the time to grill and drill.  There are excellent – and fun! – websites that let you practice math, and, of course, nothing beats flashcards and a friend to nail those times tables.
  2. Eighth grade – be proficient in Algebra. One of the greatest predictors of college success is your 8th grade math proficiency.  The ideal is to be proficient – as in, a C (70%) or higher – in Algebra at the end of this year.  If you are not at that level, look into tutoring or summer classes to get you there.
  3. Ninth grade – draft a four-year class plan. Here’s the rule: the classes and grades you need to graduate from high school are not always the same as those you need to get into every college.  So that thing you do right now, where you walk into the counseling office and take whatever classes you’re handed?  Yeah, STOP THAT.  Go online to the website of a state school, a private college in-state and a private college out-of-state.  Check each Admissions section for their recommended or required courses, then choose classes that will do double-duty: get you out of high school AND get you into college.  Follow these Seven Steps for Formulating an Academic Plan to get started. Read the rest of this entry »

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Seven Steps to Selecting the Right College: Part 1 – Academic Matches

From now on, there are only two types of colleges you are going to look for: 1) the ones you want to go to…and 2) the ones that want you to come. Here is the first in a series of posts telling you how to find them – and, ideally, get the best of both worlds. In this post, we offer seven steps to evaluating if a college is a good academic match for you.

There’s a good chance that all you’ve been told about selecting a college is to find realistic “target” schools you’d like to attend, some “safety” schools you can breeze into, and then some “reach” or “dream” schools where you really don’t stand a chance of getting accepted. Let that advice go! Many “safety” state schools are required to admit the top students in the state, which means you may be competing against perfect grades and test scores – plus limited financial aid in the current economy.  Meanwhile, students with 3.4 GPAs are getting into Stanford because they’ve demonstrated excellence in other areas.  And Stanford has the endowment to pay them to go!

From now on, there are only two types of colleges you are going to look for: 1) the ones you want to go to…and 2) the ones that want you to come. Here is the first in a series of posts telling you how to find them – and, ideally, get the best of both worlds.  In this post, we offer seven steps to evaluating if a college is a good academic match for you.

  1. Are you taking the course load required for admission? Colleges post their required (or recommended) courses you should take in high school – and they don’t always match the classes you need to graduate from high school!  Visit college admissions pages to make sure the classes you are taking now will qualify you for a state school, a private school in your state and a private school out of state where you’d like to go. Follow these Seven Steps for Formulating an Academic Plan to get started.
  2. Do you have the grades required for admission? Let’s not talk about grade point average (GPA) just yet. First, please know that you must have a grade of a “C” (70%) or higher for any class to count towards admission to most mainstream four- year colleges. If you had some “knucklehead” semesters in high school, retake those “D” (69% or lower) and “F” classes now so they count. Even better, if you have the time and discipline, check the local community college to see if they offer “dual enrollment,” which lets you take courses there and get credit for high school AND college. The good news is, as a high school student, you sometimes can take  community college classes for low or no fees.
  3. Do you have the GPA required for admission? Not every college has a minimum GPA for admission. Those colleges that do typically require at least a 2.0 GPA (a “C” or 70% grade point average) – check their website’s Admissions page for details.   Don’t assign high grades to the top private schools and low grades to “safety” state institutions.  Remember, public schools often are required by law to accept the top students in the state, so applying to your favorite state university actually may be more competitive than private college admissions. Also, smaller and private colleges often also are able to use a “holistic” admissions process, evaluating your academics, your long-term commitments, academic curiosity, personal essays, teacher recommendations, personal interviews and more to consider you as a full person, not just a calculated number. Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Simple Steps to Setting up a Student Technology Survey

Quickly set up your own student technology survey to find out what kind of Internet and mobile access your students and their families have.

As I travel the country speaking throughout the year, my most frequent presentation actually is not “Why You Should Use The CLIC”! We are a free site that matches students to every conceivable type of resource for which they are eligible, so we typically don’t need a “hard sell” to entice users – especially when students learn it’s a social network.

What we do focus on, instead, is making our site, and other social media, a lot more accessible for the grown-ups who are committed to serving our students. Of course, before a school or program can begin to update their outreach with Internet and mobile tools, they first need to discover what kind of digital access their students have.

In two years of non-stop presentations, I have not yet met an organization that has already conducted a technology survey of the students and families they serve. Having set many of them up with their first survey, it’s time now to post this great resource for all of our users.

We are going to use Google Docs for your new technology survey.  Google has its own free suite of applications much like Microsoft Office: Google Documents (similar to Word), Google Presentations (similar to PowerPoint) and Google Spreadsheets (similar to Excel).  Unlike Microsoft Office applications, however, Google’s are free, are accessed online, AND can be shared and edited with a team.

Use the seven steps below to have your own survey ready to go in less than 15 minutes!

  • Register for a Google account. If you already have a Gmail email account, you are all set.  If you do not have a Gmail account, just go to Google, click “Sign in” on the upper right, then Create an Account.  Use your own email as the user ID, create a password, and sign in.
  • Open the CLIC Technology Survey. Google Spreadsheets are fantastic because they let you create a form that is linked to a spreadsheet.  Every time someone answers your survey, their answers are instantly captured in your spreadsheet – and you can analyze the data instantly with built in charts!  To create your survey, click here to open The CLIC Student Technology Survey.
  • Copy the Spreadsheet. Once the spreadsheet is open, just click “File/Make a Copy” on the left side of the spreadsheet toolbar.  Rename the sheet to whatever you like, then click Okay.  You now have your own spreadsheet & survey in your personal Google account!  Only you can access that version, unless you choose to share it with others.  Important: you must be signed into Google to copy the spreadsheet!
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Seven Steps to Updating Social Network Settings

Don’t hide from social networks – learn to use them safely and effectively! This easy sample update of Facebook privacy settings will start you on your way.

This blog post is an alert on how to update your Facebook settings to prevent your pictures from appearing in ads on friends’ pages.  As always seven simple steps, and a big picture message, follow:

The policy. As part of their existing privacy policy, Facebook can use your photos in ads that appear on your friends’ pages (e.g., to let them know about Pages that you fan). “We’ve run advertisements from our own advertising system for more than a year that let your friends know if you have a direct connection with a product or service.” -Facebook

The fix. Update your privacy settings:  1) Log in to your account.  2) Click Settings, Privacy Settings, then News Feed and Wall. 3) Click the Facebook Ads tab. NOTE: the alert that pops up has a blog post that further explains this policy. 4) Under “Allow Ads…to Show My Information to,” choose “No one” and save changes.

The strategy. You don’t have to avoid or prohibit social networks to use them wisely.  Stay aware of policy and update your accounts accordingly.  Set Google alerts for “Facebook privacy,” “MySpace privacy,” and other networks you use, and when buzz begins about policy changes, you’ll be the first to know! Oh, and a savvy option #2 would be NOT to post CRAZY PICTURES of yourself on social networks in the first place.
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Seven Summertime Tools for Cash-Strapped Schools, Students and Programs

Seven financially friendly summer strategies for the college-connected community and the students they serve during touch economic times.

With federal, state and household budgets all at challenging lows, it is a tough time for schools, community programs, students and their families. But college-going culture isn’t an optional line item; it’s an unwavering commitment for all of you and for all of us here at The CLIC. Here are seven financially friendly summer strategies for the college-connected community during touch economic times.

“Check out” the public library. Many libraries offer free tutoring, test prep programs, computer labs and more for students – which are HUGE now with budget cuts cutting back on summer school and other programs. Some library systems even have dedicated young adult librarians whose specialties include college-bound assistance!  Call or stop by your nearest public library – at the very least, the free books, CDs and movie collection will save you cash on entertainment this summer.  And at the very best, you may be able to volunteer to tutor or otherwise serve your community over the summer.

Switch to a social media solution to collect college-related data (teachers and advisors). Social media means so much more than chatting and posting videos – and it can be extremely safe!  Why pay to print, mail and compile student surveys when you can survey them online for free using “Google Forms” (just Google that term for easy info)?  Students are quick to click on surveys, their answers are instantly saved in a spreadsheet – and you can view data reports with one click!  To keep personal student information off of the Internet (and comply with district policy), just hand out slips with random numbers on them for students to write their names on.  Then they can use that number to identify themselves on the survey.  When they give you their name and number, enter them in a raffle for a small gift!

Take your personal pages to a professional level (students).  We love Facebook, YouTube and MySpace (we’re on there, too) – but it’s time to clean up your home pages!  Take down all pix and videos with bad behavior or risqué clothing, delete posts with foul language and otherwise prepare your home pages for employers and admissions officers to evaluate you.  Because they are going to look for you online – believe it!
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Seven Social Media Strategies for College-Going Culture

Seven stellar strategies to safely and effectively maximize your organization’s college-connected goals through social media (blogs, wikis, social networks).

For all of the institutions we serve – CLIC Colleges, Communities (including financial aid programs) and Schools – if you discovered that nearly all of the students you are trying to help were gathered in a single location…would you go there?  Or would you keep waiting for them to come find you?

Your students, our students, actually are in one place: online.  More precisely, on social networks.  Specifically, on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and now, we are happy to say, The CLIC.  But you may not be sure exactly how to reach them online, when to use which tool, and how to do it all safely and effectively.  So below are seven stellar strategies for maximizing your institution’s college-connected goals through social media.

  1. Learn the lexicon.  Web 1.0, 2.0, 18.0?  What’s the difference?  It’s simple.  Web 1.0 was about information.  Just seeing someone else’s info on your computer screen was a revolution itself.  Then Web 2.0 ushered in interactivityThe user now could affect the content on the computer screen – by uploading a video to YouTube or posting a comment on a blog.  That exploded the amount of content online – and with Web 3.0, we now are able to aggregate all that content.  Thanks to feeds, widgets and command central home pages (like The CLIC or NetVibes), Web 3.0 content is portable.  It comes where we invite it, and we can add it to other desirable content in a location of our choosing.
  2. Make Web 2.0…Web You.0. You don’t have to try everything at once!  A blog is a great solution if you have a focused message to share that you want students or community members to respond to (like this “CLIC with College” blog you’re reading).  That’s why advisors all have blogs on our CLIC pages.  A wiki is just a web site that any member can easily edit.  So they are perfect for group projects (as on Wetpaint) or for interactive student and family tracking (PBWiki offers strong page-level privacy settings).  And a social network is a great solution for letting your community rally around your organization’s mission and brand.  But before you create your own network (using Ning, for instance), explore the popular networks that your students quite certainly already are on.
  3. Meet up on MySpace. If you serve fairly young students (up to 10th grade), chances are very good that they already are on MySpace.  You can create a simple Web presence there in under five minutes and invite your students to be your “friends.”  Don’t worry – they’ll be thrilled to friend you!  You can upload video, add a logo, create a blog and more.  And you can proactively keep up with your kids via their own MySpace posts and musings.
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Seven Critical College Access Tips for Undocumented Students

Important tips for undocumented students and future high school graduates so they can plan for college with knowledge.

With the Dream Act not yet back on the table, I get more questions than ever about how to help undocumented students navigate the college-bound process in the U.S.  With many thanks to my contacts in admissions offices across the country, I want to share seven important tips for current and future undocumented high school graduates so they can prepare for college with knowledge.

  1. Non-resident tuition exemptions. Nine states* currently have laws that allow eligible non-residents, including undocumented students, to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.  Those states are California (AB 540, 2001), Illinois (HB 60, 2003), Kansas (KSA 76-731a, 2004), Nebraska (LB 239, 2006), New Mexico (NMSA 1978, Ch 348, Sec21-1-1.2, 2005), New York (S 7784, 2002), Texas (HB 1403, 2005), Utah (HB 144, 2002) and Washington (H.B. 1079, 2003).  Beginning in 2012, Rhode Island joins the list, and in 2013, California’s own Dream Act ups the stakes by allowing students to receive financial aid.If you live in one of those states, to be eligible, you must:
    • have attended high school for a certain number of years in that state,
    • have graduated from high school or obtained a GED in the state, and
    • if you are not yet a permanent resident, sign an affidavit promising to apply for permanent residency whenever you become eligible to do so.

    *Oklahoma rescinded SB 596 in 2008.

  2. State college admissions. The issue is not whether you can or cannot apply to a state college or university (you absolutely can).  It is how you will be classified as an applicant.  And that matters mainly due to the tuition and fees you will be required to pay.  If your state does not offer non-resident exemptions as listed above, then you will be considered either as an out-of-state or international applicant, both of whom are charged far more to attend.
  3. Private college admissions. Private institutions will classify you either as a U.S. or an international student applicant.  This does not affect what you pay; for the most part, private colleges and universities charge the same tuition to everyone who applies.  What it can affect is your applicant pool – many private colleges have far few spaces open for international students if that is how you’re categorized.  So you are in a way more competitive pool.  Also, admission for U.S. applicants often is “need-blind,” which means they will accept you regardless of how much financial assistance you need.  But international admissions policies certainly may take need into consideration when reviewing your application.  Start with a phone call to the campuses you’re applying to – use the phone number right there on their CLIC pages.  For you high achievers, great news!  Most of the elites/Ivys welcome and fund undocumented applicants, as do many of the excellent small privates across the country.
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Seven Steps to Formulating a Four-Year Academic Plan

Never frantically scribble down your classes the day before you are scheduled to go to the counseling office. Use these steps to create a long-term, four-year plan to make sure the courses you sign up for will give you the life you long for – as a college graduate.

If you’ve ever been faced with a giant catalog of classes for the next year of high school, you might be tempted to just call or text your best friend and write down whatever he or she already did.  Guess what we think about THAT idea?  Exactly.  But it would be wrong/crazy/typical to tell you what not to do without offering a clue about what you should do instead.  So here’s one big tip: don’t frantically scribble down your classes the day before you are scheduled to go to the counseling office.  Instead, right now, create a long-term, four-year plan to make sure the courses you sign up for will give you the life you long for – as a college graduate.

It may surprise you to know there is frequently a gap between high school graduation requirements and college application requirements.  It’s important to determine as soon as possible if you are on track not only to graduate from high school but also to be eligible to attend a four-year college or university.  Here are seven simple steps to help you instantly craft your own four-year plan:

  1. Get your high school’s course catalog. This will be available either in the counseling office or online at your school’s Web site.  It lets you know what courses your school offers, what grade levels they may be restricted to and what prerequisites they may require.  It also will let you know if there are any Advanced Placement (AP) or honors level courses at your school and what the requirements are for entry (e.g., teacher recommendations, minimum gpa).  *IMPORTANT: If you don’t have one already, request a copy of your current transcript while you’re in the counseling office.
  2. Locate the credit requirements for high school graduation. This should be listed in the course catalog.  It will tell you how many credits in each subject area you have to have in order to graduate from your school.
  3. Request a list of college-readiness credits for your state. Many states have a separate list of minimum credits to attend public four-year colleges in that state (which will only faintly resemble the high school grad requirements).  In Texas, this is called the “RHSP,” or “Recommended High School Program.”  In California, these are called the “a-g requirements” for wholly inexplicable reasons.  Your counselor will know if your state has assembled this information and how you can get a copy.  Frankly, your counselor probably has given you a copy several times this year already.  But now you really need it!
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Seven Steps to Strengthening your Academic Transcript

There often is a dramatic difference between the classes students must take to graduate from high school and the classes they need to qualify for a four-year college. It only takes a few steps for students, families and counselors to understand and close this gap so that one diploma flows smoothly into the next.

In Texas, it’s the “RHSP.”  In California, it’s the “a-g’s.”  In plain English, there often is a dramatic difference between the classes students must take to graduate from high school and the classes they need to qualify for a four-year college.  But it only takes a few steps for students, families and counselors to understand and close this gap so that one diploma flows smoothly into the next.

For some quick background, “RHSP” stands for “Recommended High School Program.”  Many states have some version of this, which allows students and counselors to track two separate bars of progress: if you are on track to a diploma, and if you are on track to at least attend a state university.  Find out from your counselor if there is such a distinction in your state – and get a copy of that recommended college-bound course list!

Next, know the danger zones.  First, to attend a good four-year college, you’ll need at least three years of math, ideally four, but many high schools require only two years.  Two years of science is typical for high school graduation, but three years is minimum for the more competitive colleges, and four years is best if you are looking at a science, engineering or technology major.  And you almost always will want to take more foreign language credits than your school requires. Again, shoot for three or four years.  One note – if your school is on a block schedule, not to worry; admissions officers are aware that sometimes your required full year of freshman English will be taught in one semester.

At the same time, you should know that courses like Health and P.E. generally are not considered in your college academic requirements, and only certain electives, like Economics and Computer Science, qualify for consideration.  Each four-year college’s application usually indicates specific requirements or exclusions they apply when reviewing your transcript.

Finally, be an advocate for your educational experience!  As frustrated as many of our counselors are that they are stuck constantly revising schedules instead of guiding students, you absolutely must be the person who knows the most about what classes you need and when you need them.  Don’t rely on school officials or parents or guardians or anyone else to take care of this for you.  It’s that important.  If your current visual is of you slumped in a chair while your counselor types and reads classes back to you, I want you to revise that to you entering the counseling office with a chart of courses.  Then strategize together how to keep you on track to college every single session you two have.  Trust me, you will make your counselor’s day!

Here now are some strategic steps to keep you laser-focused on the classes you need to go to college – and a few extra moves to help you get there:

  1. Take a long-term approach. Don’t pick your high school courses out of a book the day before you meet with your counselor.  As early as eighth grade, you want to craft what the next four years need to look like to help you get into the best four-year college possible.  Think of this as the business plan for your education, and update it CONSTANTLY.   Even if you’re a senior right now, get started over the holiday to see what you can do next semester and over the summer to beef up your academic history.
  2. Create a tangible four-year plan. To get started, you will need a copy of your high school’s course catalog (from your counselor or online), the list of graduation requirements AND the list of eligibility requirements for the nearest four-year state college (usually available online).  Now, clear a table or a wall; grab some stickie notes; write out your required and desired classes; then start slapping down four year’s worth of classes.  Switch around at will – and use your cell phone to shoot each version so you can revisit it!  Review this sample four-year plan to see what your final grid might look like.  BONUS!  Get step-by-step guidance to Building your Four-Year Plan right here on CLIC Blog, and track your credits to date using our simple credit comparison grid.
  3. Plan for honors and AP courses. You don’t have to carb-load, taking EVERY advanced class at school (not that it won’t help if you can handle it!).  But if your school offers such courses, colleges will be scrutinizing your transcript to see if you took advantage of them.  (It is true that a B in a tough honors course is more meaningful than an A in the lower level class. )  Of course, there isn’t always enough room in these classes to accept every student, and yes, some schools have “gatekeepers” who hand select who gains entry.  Your best bet is to manage 8th and 9th grade with a good GPA and attitude so you can be part of any honors program from the beginning.  If you don’t manage to get into these courses at your school, though, all is not lost – read on!
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Seven Strategies for Tackling Standardized Tests

As high school juniors and seniors continue to plan for college, it’s hard enough to stay on top of your ABCs without also worrying about those other three ominous letters: SAT or ACT. Here are seven very simple steps to put you in control of your test-taking terror.

As high school juniors and seniors continue to plan for college, it’s hard enough to stay on top of your ABCs without also worrying about those other three ominous letters:  SAT.  ACT.  The SAT IIs (what is that, some sort of horror sequel?  “I Know What You Didn’t Study Last Summer?”).  All right, so the SAT IIs are called SAT Subject Tests now.  I’m sure that makes you feel much better.  And if that doesn’t, this will!  Here are seven very simple steps to put you in control of your test-taking terror.

  1. Don’t take the SATs or ACT before junior year. You may not yet have the math background, test-taking experience or writing style to do your best, and, most importantly, not all schools allow you to bury bad scores.  Why make the test harder than it is by not being academically prepared when you take it?
  2. Do take the PSAT junior year. It’s excellent practice for the full standardized tests – and it puts you in the running for the National Merit Scholarship (and the National Achievement Scholarship for African-American students).  Know this: even if you take the PSAT sophomore year, you will have to retake it junior year to qualify for the scholarships.  And yes, you can take it senior year, but if you win an award, payout would not begin until your second year in college.  Be sure to read all the details on the official Web site.
  3. Take at least the ACT or the SAT by fall of your senior year. Not every college requires standardized tests, but since many do, take one to keep your options open as you apply.  Ideally, take the test at the end of junior year so you can see your scores over the summer and determine if you want to retake one or take the other in fall.  Also, if you do well, it frees you up to study for the SAT Subject Tests over the summer.
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Seven Steps to FREE Standardized Test Prep

As you plan for college, if you cannot swing the cost of the many excellent but expensive test prep courses on the market, here are seven FREE steps to preparing for a standardized test.

Planning for college? Raise your hand if you knew how much you were going to have to pay…before you ever got accepted!  Testing fees, summer program costs, tutors, postage…ka-ching!  By the time junior year rolls around, you’re facing down those standardized tests…but are those actual commas on the price tag for test prep classes?  If you cannot swing the cost of the many excellent but expensive test prep courses on the market, here are seven FREE steps to preparing for a standardized test:

  1. Choose your test. The ACT and the SAT are not made equal, but they ARE accepted fairly universally.  MYTH BUSTER: If your school counselor has advised you that “ACTs are for in-state colleges and SATs are for out-of-state,” that is not true (why do I keep hearing this?).  If a college still requires a standardized test, most accept either.  So which should you take?  Very broadly speaking, the ACT measures what you know and the SAT measures how you think (it calls itself a “reasoning test”).  So if you kind of stink at taking tests but are doing all right in most of your classes, the ACT may be a strong fit.  But if you are quick on your mental feet, you might do great on the SATs, as well.
  2. Get a practice book with full tests. Skip the books with the shortened sample tests.  You want full practice tests with multiple exams in it.  Make sure the book has the answers AND the explanations for those answers included.  You can buy test books in a bookstore, order them online or just check them out of a library.  If you check them out, be sure to photocopy enough sets of answer sheets for your practice days.
  3. Schedule at least three Saturday mornings before your test to practice. Does each have to be on a Saturday?  YES.  At 8:00 a.m.?  Thanks for asking – YES.  For five hours?  NOW YOU GET IT.  And you have to be dressed, fed and seated at a table at 8:00 a.m.  Not only does it simulate the real test day, but it also will let you gauge how much time you really need to get physically set and mentally maximized before the test.  It’s best to do this over at least three months if you can.
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Seven Slamdunk Questions to Ask a College Professor

As you plan for college, when you meet a college professor or teaching assistant, here are seven insightful questions to help you evaluate a potential college and major.

As you plan for college, it would be great if you could meet and interact with college professors before you show up in a lecture hall the first day of classes. Why? Because these academics are the doorway to your intellectual and professional future. They will teach you entire new worlds of information and ways to process it. They will grade you on a curve, and you will like it! Okay, you will hate being graded on a curve if there is a genius in the class who keeps setting the top mark in the stratosphere. Unless you are that genius. BE THAT GENIUS! All right, got that out of my system.

I know the thought of talking to a 60-year-old, white-haired icon of brilliance and power can be a bit scary (or a little too “Harry Potter”). Relax… Professors come in all varieties of ages, ethnicities and more. Think of them this way: they also headed off to college after high school, fell passionately in love with what they were studying, studied it for 2/4/7 or more years in graduate school, still loved it, and decided to teach more students how to love it, too. Don’t think of them as academics – think of them as fan club presidents for your major.

Now that we’ve identified him or her, the elusive “faculty member” actually is not that hard to spot. Here’s where you might meet one:

Campus Visits. If you haven’t caught on already, I insist that you see at least four distinct campuses before applying to college. Be sure to arrange at least a brief meeting with a professor in a field you’re interested in while you’re there!

Special Programs. Summer camps, student weekends, lecture series and more all offer opportunities to meet professors year-round.

Personal Outreach. Most college Web sites list their academic departments and the faculty right there online, with emails. You can send a brief note introducing yourself as a prospective applicant and asking for a time to talk.

Once you do meet a professor, or even a teaching assistant (since they are fellow students doing graduate work in a field you are interested in), here are seven insightful questions to get the conversation started:

  1. Office hours. What are the two most common reasons students come to see you during office hours? This will help you understand what kind of private counsel the professor offers beyond what you learn in the classroom.
  2. Using this major. What are some of the more unusual jobs or internships some of your students have gotten using their major? This tells you interesting things you can do with your degree – AND if the professor stays in touch with former students (always a plus).
  3. High school prep. What high school classes and experiences will prepare me best to succeed in this major? No one knows better than a professor (or a TA), what core skills will cost you if you don’t learn them before starting college coursework. Get the inside scoop!
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Seven Slamdunk Questions for College Financial Aid Officers

As you plan for college, here are seven MAQs (Must Ask Questions) to clear up the common stresses about applying for financial aid and how to pay for college.

Perhaps my biggest battle every year is to keep students – and their families – from self-selecting themselves OUT of applying to a college because they believe “I can’t afford to go.” So many people make college decisions based on the wrong information – or no information at all! Now, I’m the first to admit that financial aid is a touchy and frankly weird little beast. For instance, you have to apply for financial aid before you’re even admitted. And you have to re-apply every year, even if nothing has changed (believe me, that FAFSA is like a whole month of finals weeks for your parents and guardians). But unlike some finals exams, or some of the outfits from my class photos “back in the day,” there actually are easy explanations to help you understand financial aid for your four-year education and beyond.

First, what exactly IS financial aid? It’s money you don’t pay back (scholarships, fellowships or grants), money you do pay back (loans, with or without interest, and with or without deferments before you start to repay) or money you earn and contribute (like work study jobs on- and off-campus). You are matched to all types of financial aid on your CLIC student home page, and you can surf and subscribe to even more! Be sure to keep on top of deadlines with your CLIC Calendar. And always click through to the freshmen admissions pages of any colleges you’re linked to so you can read more about their financial aid policies. Also read through their financial aid FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) and take notes of anything you don’t understand.

Before we launch into our MAQs (Must Ask Questions), let me quickly clear up three of the most common stresses about financial aid:

Middle class income status. Yes, you qualify for financial aid even if your family is considered middle class. Financial aid is not determined strictly by family income. Overall assets matter, and certain types of debt plays a big part, too (like if your parents already are putting another kid through college). There is plenty of money to go around for middle class students, white students, male students – don’t believe the hype! You’re going to have to work for it, of course, like everything and everyone else. And your CLIC page will make finding it a snap.

Undocumented resident status. Yes, you can receive financial aid if you are not a U.S. resident or are undocumented. Government funds are not available to you, but private scholarships may be. Check their requirements.

Independent status. No, you cannot simply declare yourself independent to save your family money or even if they refuse to support your education. To be officially “independent” you must be one of the following: 24 years old by December 31 of the year the aid is granted (if your birthday is shortly after and you live independently, you might get some consideration from some colleges); a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces or on active duty (not in training, but serving); married, an orphan or a ward of the court; or have children or dependents who receive more than half of their financial support from you.

All right, are the college Web site FAQs all read? Check. Basic misconceptions all cleared up? Check. Now here are seven critical questions to ask the financial aid office at every campus that has caught your eye.

  1. Aid for my income level. What percentage of currently enrolled freshmen who are at my family’s income level are receiving financial aid? Income level alone doesn’t dictate financial aid, as I’ve explained, but this will tell you if you are in the running or not as likely to get a package from this particular school.
  2. Early admissions impact. Is your aid formula fixed for all students, or is there a chance I will get less aid if I submit for early action/decision admissions? There is no standard for all colleges. Some might set aside monies for their early deciders; others might withhold funds so they can “sweeten the pot” for regular cycle students to get them to accept. Find out – if they will tell you.
  3. When aid funds get tight. How soon after your FAFSA deadlines do you generally run out of funds, if at all? I’m going to say this as often as I can – your family’s FAFSA has got to be turned in by January 31 of your senior year. It doesn’t matter if the deadline is in March! Monies typically are distributed on a first-come/first-served basis. Find out how fast you need to get in line.
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Seven Slamdunk Questions for Admissions Officers

As you plan for college, if you’re not sure what to ask an admissions officer, these insider questions will help you understand the admissions process and life on the other side of an acceptance letter.

You know that feeling you have when a grown-up calls you by your full first, last and middle name? That stomach-flipping “uh-oh” you get as you’re summoned to the front of a laughing classroom, the scene of your dad’s dented fender or any other physical area where your latest lapse in judgment can most visibly be put on display? As many of my students prepare to apply to college, that is precisely the feeling they get when I tell them, “You should talk to an admissions officer.”

Admissions officers get such a bum rap! Everyone cries or cheers with joy when they meet Oprah, but when an admissions rep travels to meet prospectives, they might as well wear a black helmet and breathe “Luke, I’m your father.” I know you think they’re the evil gatekeepers, making sure that only 10% of kids even get into most colleges, but that’s not true at all! Here’s the FACT: most U.S. colleges accept most kids who apply. Not even 30 out of nearly 1600 are at a 10% or lower admit rate). But colleges can’t accept you…if you don’t apply.

Remember, no two campuses are exactly alike. If you want to know how a campus you’re considering handles the application process, the smartest move you can make is to talk directly to admissions. Just go to their CLIC page and click through to the Freshman Admissions page so you can read everything they want everyone to know. Then, when you can, set up some time to meet with the real thing – and trust they are just as excited to reach out to applicants are you are to learn more about your dream school.

So how do you meet admissions officers?

Campus Visits. Heard this somewhere before? You’ve got to get to at least four distinct college campuses before you apply during senior year! The first step you’ll take is contacting the admissions office. Talk to someone then if they are available, or schedule a brief face-to-face while you’re on campus.

College Fairs, Traveling Presentations and Career Center Visits.
If you’re interested in any campus, be sure to subscribe to their college on The CLIC so their events fill your calendar. Let your counselor and career center director know that you are four-year college-bound so they alert you of upcoming visits. If the colleges you crave aren’t scheduled to come to your school, ask your counselor or career center director to reach out to the admissions office. Even if they can’t come to your school, they may be coming somewhere near you, or many will send volunteer alumni to talk to students.

Personal Outreach. While you’re on their Web site, you usually can sign up for their outreach list. And you absolutely can email or call directly to set up a time to talk. It will only take about ten minutes.

Not sure what to ask once you’ve finally got an admissions rep’s attention? Here are seven insider questions to help you understand their admissions process and life on the other side of an acceptance letter.

  1. Applicant pool. What pool of applicants will I be considered with – only students from my high school, my district, my region or all applicants as a whole? This will help you understand how competitive you are.
  2. Supplemental application items. Do you welcome or even accept additional items with my application (e.g., extra recommendation letters, talent portfolios, low-fat/gluten-free cookies, hilarious personal videos, etc.)? This could save you a lot of time – that you now can spend on finding more colleges or scholarships!
  3. Counselor updates. Is it all right for my counselor to contact you with updates regarding my academic progress, special circumstances or other issues as you evaluate my application? Many colleges welcome ongoing interaction with high school counselors to stay current on an applicant after your application arrives.
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Seven Steps to Customizing Your College Campus Visit

As you plan for college, these simple steps will help you explore the local and long-distance universities on your radar – and plant your sneakered feet on what might be your future alma mater.

I saw a lot of colleges growing up, thanks to graduations, summer programs and local cultural events. But my first official “campus visit,” as in “Do you think you want to go to school here?,” was right after tenth grade. My parents took my sisters and I on a trip to see where my middle sister might want to apply (my oldest sister had already settled on Howard…and went to KU). My middle sister was thinking about Northwestern, so off we drove to Chicago. We spent probably a week on that tour, including a visit to the University of Chicago (my dad’s alma mater). My middle sister instantly settled on Northwestern. And went to U of A.

Listen up, everyone – it is not an option to begin applying to colleges without ever having a meaningful visit to a campus, even the one right down the street. Here are seven simple steps to personalizing even a local campus visit so you can begin exploring the universities on your radar – and plant your sneakered feet on what might be your future alma mater.

  1. List four of your personal interests: a possible major (like English or biology), an activity you enjoy (like swimming or songwriting), a community you’re part of (like an ethnic or religious connection), and one form of entertainment you love (like music or poetry slams). Now you have the foundation for planning a visit that might really excite you.
  2. Explore the school’s Web site. Search for a nearby college on The CLIC, then go to their CLIC page to easily find their official site, upcoming events and more. Now search their Web site for things that relate to your four interests. Jot some notes and bookmark pages as you go.
  3. Contact the admissions and financial aids offices. All campus visits should begin with a call or email to the admissions office to find out everything they offer to visiting students and set up an admissions meeting. See if the admissions rep can set up a dorm visit and a student chat, too. Schedule a talk with a financial aid rep, also, if you can. You can find the phone numbers for both departments on each college’s CLIC page. Read the rest of this entry »

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Seven Secrets of the College “Honors Experience”

As you plan for college, here are seven stellar reasons why academically motivated students must add at least one school with an honors experience to your college wish list.

There are about 40 four-year colleges and universities in Los Angeles County alone. Yet each fall when I work with college-bound kids, one of the biggest challenges is convincing them to apply outside of their comfort zones. How comfy are those zones? They usually include only two college choices! In Los Angeles, it’s often just “USC or UCLA” or “Northridge or Long Beach” or whatever combination of schools my students have visited or at least heard of. Across the U.S., this “same-two-schools” application fixation translates into “NYU or Columbia,” “Kent State or Akron,” “Virginia State or UVA,” etc.

Talk to big achievers and that comfort zone sometimes expands to maybe ten or twelve schools – the “elites,” who last year stunned even us college advisors by edging down into the “lower than 10%” admit rate. Note to self (and to YOU): with Stanford turning away thousands of valedictorians annually and big state schools receiving tens of thousands of apps each year, only applying to a small handful of schools…that EVERYONE ELSE IS APPLYING TO…is not a win-win strategy.

So here’s the big, encouraging number – there are more than 1500 four-year, regionally accredited, residentially based, bachelor-degree granting colleges and universities in this country. And wrapped inside many of those 1500+ “traditional” undergraduate experiences, are dazzling gems known as “honors experiences,” where a small, selective group of students gets to work with distinguished faculty in a specialized environment and enjoy all of the top resources of that college. Thanks to the hundreds of honors experiences across the country, even the most competitive student now can cast a net across dozens of appealing schools and still land an outstanding undergraduate education.

Honors experiences come in a variety of fantastic formats. First up are honors colleges. Remember that universities are collections of colleges (e.g., College of Engineering, College of Liberal Arts, etc.). At many schools, there is a distinct honors college with its own admissions and financial aid process, curriculum, and more. Next up are honors programs (sometimes referred to as “scholars” programs), which can be a series of specialized courses, sections or a major track that is part of the many academic offerings at a college. Finally, honors semesters are more focused experiences, often associated with internships and/or travel. Colleges may also have their own mix-and-match versions of an honors experience, as well.

If you are an academically motivated student who enjoys stretching your mind and spirit, here are seven not-so-top secret reasons why at least one school with an honors experience belongs on your college wish list.

  1. The ultimate academic experience. The honors experience on any campus usually offers close contact with their most prestigious faculty members, the most challenging courses, and the cream of the student crop.
  2. Dedicated facilities. Many honors colleges have their own residential housing for students. At a minimum, honors programs generally offer special lounges, private computer labs or other exclusive facilities for their honors students.
  3. Same price, best education. When you are accepted into an honors experience, you generally pay the same tuition, fees and residential bills as all of the other students on campus – but you get an “upgraded seat.” Some programs and colleges do charge additional fees for the extra resources you can access, but they often have special scholarships to help pay for those.
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Seven “Must-Read” Classics and Why…You Must Read Them

As you plan for college, reading these diverse “oldies-but-greaties” will captivate you, affirm your own life experiences and give you swift passage into “the cultured club.”

As a college advisor, I regularly check in with my students about summer reading lists or heavy reading for lit classes during the school year. As soon as they hear they are being assigned to read a “classic,” their eyes glaze over. “Classic,” to them, just means “old,” and “old” is never fun, interesting or relevant.

What I remind them – and now am sharing with you – is that books are called “classics” because decades or even centuries have passed since they were published, and readers still love them. Still connect to them. Still rent the DVDs of them then read the book yet again. Classics are fantastic stories that are fun to experience over and over.

Even better, beyond their time-tested “good times” value, here are three entirely self-serving reasons to read the classics BEFORE they ever show up on an assignment list:

Insane personal validation. Any experience you have had, good or bad, has been brought to brilliant life in a classic. Wildly in love with someone who doesn’t know you’re alive? Crack open Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. This is also a good read if you’ve ever had a crush on someone who is way out of your league or if you’re frustrated because you don’t have the same spending money as some of the richer kids in school. From political engagement to friendships in jeopardy to escaping controlling families, the classics let you know that you aren’t the first person to go through love, pain, jealousy or joy, and you won’t be the last. Your kids will, when you make THEM read your favorite books.

Staying culturally hip. Nearly every 30-40something in the U.S. instantly knows the implied injustice behind yelling “No soup for you!” And every 10-20something knows the funny bravado of brushing a “hater” off of your shoulders like so much dandruff or dust. But what we all share across the generations are comfortable classical references from reading the great books. Did you just arrive in a crazy new place with strange rules and people that make you feel unsafe and uncertain? Congratulations, Alice, you just “fell down the rabbit hole” (Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). Are you in a no-win situation where all of the choices cancel each other out and leave you right where you started? You’re stuck in “a Catch-22” (Joseph Heller’s Catch-22). You know what? This is another blog post entirely. Look for that link soon!

Wildly expanding your world. If all you know of the world is your immediate neighborhood, the place your grandparents live and what you see on reality TV shows (I used to produce those!), here’s some great news. Reading the classics seriously ramps up what you know about the world AND how you might deal with some of the crazy choices you’re about to face. The collective works of Alexandre Dumas alone will get you through first love, a broken heart, working with friends, betrayal, forgiveness and keeping tough promises. And unlike those heroes, you don’t have to deal with any of that stuff wearing a corset or a cape.

All right, I promised you a list, so here it is, with some final thoughts that follow. Note: THIS IS NOT (drumroll) “THE DEFINITIVE LIST OF CLASSICS” (there are hundreds more). It’s just one unranked list of seven diverse stories that I believe will captivate you:

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) – being “the outsider” in a small-minded community…who will pay the biggest price for speaking up or trying to fit in? (if you like this, add The Grapes of Wrath)
  2. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) – first romance, shocking betrayal and living very large, indeed…can money buy love or only revenge? (if you like this, add The Three Musketeers)
  3. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë) – crazy romance, crushing heartbreak…so how does it end? (If you like this, add Jane Eyre)
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Seven Summer Strategies for College-Bound Kids

As you plan for college from the eighth grade on, your summers need to be more strategic. Start living in the “big picture” of being college-bound with these seven smart summer strategies for students and their families.

Once a student reaches the eighth grade, in some ways summer needs to be more strategic. I’m not talking about adding yet more busy work to your soccer-filled schedules. I’m talking about developing a new filter through which you do things. I want you to start living in the “big picture” of being college-bound so you’ll start doing things now that will help shape your college experience later. Here are seven smart summer strategies for college-bound kids and their families:

  1. Visit a college campus. Before this summer is out, go to at least one campus – and do more than walk around. Craft more a personal visit by finding out in advance which classes and events actually connect to your current interests. (Read more “Seven Steps to Customizing Your College Campus Visit”). In fact, between now and the first day of freshman year at college, every time your family takes you out of town for any reason, make sure a custom campus visit is part of that trip. “Big Picture” Plus: Your college-bound plans will be far more powerful once you know what that experience looks and sounds and feels like.
  2. Read a classic. A lot of kids hear “classic” and immediately think “old,” and we all know where old stuff ranks on the “Mom-can-I-do-that?” list. Listen – books become classics because decades, even centuries, of readers read them, fall in love with them and read them again. Jump into Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The classics are the common cultural language that crosses all generations. They expose you to new worlds. And they are GREAT READS. “Big Picture” Plus: Committing to reading something unfamiliar is a great step towards building the academic discipline you’ll need in college.
  3. Go to camp. Making s’mores is great – but building a robot is amazing! Today’s summer camps have you climbing mountains, studying sea life, coding video games – and often living right on college campuses in dorms with fellow college-bound kids. (Remember, on The CLIC, you’ll match to summer camps in your “My Communities” widget.)  If money is tight and the program you want isn’t free, make sure you check into scholarships they offer or work hard to raise the funds the year before through jobs, your church, friends and more. Summer camps dramatically expand the world in which you feel you belong – the bigger, the bolder, the better. “Big Picture” Plus: Camp is a fun way to learn how to live with people who are nothing like you, a strong start for college.
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