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North Castle Daily News

Byram Hills Junior Year of High School
What Parents Should Look For in a College Admissions Advisor
By Edward Woodyard

February 7, 2013
Here are some questions to ask yourself of the person who will have an enormous influence on the future of your college-bound student, the one whose future will depend largely on what the advisor recommends:

Will visits be in an office setting or in the comfort of your family home? Will the sessions involve just the student or involve the family? Will your student get the personal, individualized attention necessary to the process? Or will your student just be another person visiting an office? Do you want a specialist or a general practitioner?

Is college admissions advising the advisor’s only job or business? Or is the advising just a small part of a larger A-to-Z operation, one that doesn’t just specialize in college admissions? Does a franchise operation best serve your purposes? Or does it serve its own purposes?

If you are thinking about using a franchise operation, it will only be as good as the people hired by the company. Who is the person who will directly work with your student? Does the advisor do the work him/herself? Or does he hire someone to perform those duties? If so, what are the qualifications of those persons?  

What is the personal and professional experience of the advisor? Does it touch all the aspects necessary to the college admissions process?  Is there marketing and sales experience? Is there editing and writing expertise? Is there promotional and public relations experience?

How often has the advisor visited the colleges he/she is recommending? How tuned in to the college admissions process is the advisor? Does the advisor rely on websites for information? Or is there personal experience with the colleges?

Is the advisor available 24-7-365? Will the advisor adjust his/her schedule to fit that of your very busy student?

Does the advisor prepare students for interviews? If so, how? Will your student know how to present him/herself to the college? What are the questions that need to be asked? And how are they answered?

Are there any tricks to know about the college visit? What makes one college better for your student than another?

What is the advisor’s track record? How successful is he/she in choosing the college that is the “best fit” for your student?

Is the advisor accredited? Is the advisor a member of a recognized state and/or national college admissions counseling organization?

Will the advisor adjust fees? Will the college admissions program accommodate the variables in the process?

Will the advisor gladly offer the names and testimonies of former clients for referrals?

How confident do you as a parent feel with the advisor? How comfortable are you with him/her?

The final question to ask yourself: can I entrust my student’s future to this advisor?

Edward Woodyard is the founder of College Advice. He can be reached at (914) 273-3756.

Surviving Junior Year
By Alice Levine

Posted May 22, 2011
Junior year of high school is often described in terms that seem daunting. It is usually considered a challenging and stressful time for both students and parents. Fortunately, a collaborative relationship among students, guidance counselors and parents can help alleviate some of the stress and help everyone involved survive to enjoy a happy senior year!

Byram Hills High School Principal Chris Borsari and Dr. Michael McGrath, Director of Guidance, offered some important advice for juniors and their parents. “One of the factors that may create stress is the myth that a student’s grades from junior year disproportionately affect decisions in the college admission process. While they are very important, they are just one piece of the puzzle. The student’s entire transcript is reviewed by the admissions staffs of colleges,” emphasized Mr. Borsari.

Dr. McGrath discussed the additional demands of junior year, including SAT and ACT exams, additional work load from AP courses and the beginning of college visits. Dr. McGrath said, “Junior year has also become more compressed at high schools everywhere. We used to begin meeting with students to discuss colleges in January, but we now start the process in December. Since the deadline for early decision at many colleges is November 1, we feel it is beneficial to start sooner.” Early decision and early action application plans have become much more prevalent over the last few years. In fact, approximately 70% of Byram Hills’ students typically choose to apply early decision or early action to the college of their choice.

Guidance counselors can provide valuable advice to students concerning which admissions exam, whether the SAT or ACT, may be better suited for their strengths. Dr. McGrath feels that waiting until spring of junior year to take the exam is usually advisable, since the student has the benefit of more class time in math and English. In addition, the student can use the PSAT, given in October of junior year, to identify and focus on areas that need improvement. “The score choice option has made it easy for students to take the exams as often as they like, and that certainly alleviates some of the pressure,” he added. “The student ultimately decides which scores to send colleges, and he or she may elect to send SATs, ACTs or both sets of scores.”

As difficult as it often may be, Mr. Borsari stressed how important it is for juniors to “be in the present”. He commented, “We realize there’s a lot on our students’ plates, but I can’t over-emphasize the need for our kids to focus on their classes, sports experiences and social interactions. Students and families run the risk of losing the overall enjoyment and challenge of the high school years, if they become overly focused on college admissions.”

Dr. McGrath suggested that students get a head start during the summer after their junior year by working on the common application essays. “Summer is the perfect time to work on the essays, and ideally, complete them before the beginning of senior year,” he stressed.

Students are usually very focused on getting the best grades possible for the first marking period of senior year, and having the time to devote to the essay can be a real challenge. Time is precious during junior year and the beginning of senior year, so getting as much college application work done over the summer means less pressure on the student. And fortunately, the vast majority of colleges now accept the common application, although some require supplemental essays as well,” Dr. McGrath emphasized.

Mr. Borsari likes to encourage parents to take advantage of guidance counselors to help them cope with some of their stress, rather than burdening their kids. “We are here to work with you and help as much as we can with the college process. If you need support and wish to share concerns, we are here for you. Most of our students are highly motivated and seem to be very focused on college, even before their parents introduce the subject. Still, a parent can certainly help her child with establishing effective time management techniques and giving gentle reminders of deadlines,” Dr. McGrath said.

Jaime Romano, a parent of twins who are currently juniors at Byram Hills High School, agrees that junior year can be challenging for students and parents. Jaime offered these words of advice: “The anxiety definitely gets kicked up a notch junior year with more school work, testing and college focus. Playing a sport is a great outlet for your child. If anything, it helps make them focus more on their academics, while releasing stress and having fun. And take advantage of weekends for visiting schools that offer weekend tours and info sessions. Vacations may not be enough time to squeeze in all the college visits, especially when you have twins!”

Michael Cziner, a junior at Byram, recommends avoiding the trap of procrastination. “If you wait too long and fall behind in your class work or SAT course, it becomes really hard to catch up. That time crunch can get stressful, but if you stay on top of your work, it’s not too bad,” he said. If a student knows he’s a procrastinator, he should meet with his guidance counselor and make a plan to avoid falling behind with the college admissions process.

Dr. McGrath feels that February and April breaks are ideal times to begin visiting colleges. “During the fall, most colleges are focused on high school seniors. While they usually allow juniors to visit, it may not be the best time to get the attention you want. He also recommended that students come prepared with very specific questions. “If, for instance, your son or daughter wants to know the percentage of students that were able to get internships over the previous summer with the help of the career center, this is the time to ask.” He emphasized that students need a basis for comparison, so it’s helpful to visit many schools and take advantage of the information session and the campus tour at each college.

Finally, Dr. McGrath suggested that students consider applying to about 10 colleges: 4 schools at their level, 3 schools that are reaches and 3 safety schools. He added, “Make sure your other applications are ready, in case the early decision letter in December is a denial or deferral. December is not the time to be scrambling to finish college applications.”

Mr. Borsari feels that while the process may be stressful, it can be managed in a healthy way. He added, “At the end of the day, the vast majority of our students are happy at the colleges they attend, whether or not the colleges they attend were their first choices. Most students come back to visit Byram Hills, and are excited to share their positive college experiences with past teachers, counselors and other students.”
Finding a Topic for Common App Essay

By Alice Levine
AJGL Tutoring

Deciding on a topic for the common application essay can seem like a daunting task.  Probably the biggest mistake students make is trying to think of an “earth-shattering” event they can talk about.  Few of us have had such experiences; the good news is that some of the best essays are about everyday events, interests, or family experiences.  When brainstorming, try to think of a special interest or hobby you have, an experience you’ve had in which you learned something important, or a story about a  special  person in your life.   Just be sure to talk about yourself in the essay; the college wants to learn something interesting about you.   Write about something you’re passionate about.  Passion always comes across in an essay and it’s very difficult to fake it. Everyone has something he or she is passionate about, and writing about that particular interest creates a good essay.  Finally, jot down your ideas and write an outline for your rough draft.  You’ll know soon enough if there’s enough substance to constitute a good essay.  Good luck!

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