Sep
29
2014

The College Recommendation Letter: Who to Ask, When to Ask, and How to Ask

As part of your college application, admissions committees often ask for two or three letters of recommendation written on your behalf.  There’s no need to be anxious about requesting a recommendation, so long as you follow these few simple guidelines!

Who to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Guidance counselors and high-school teachers typically write letters of recommendation, although additional letters can come from coaches and/or employers.  In any case, these letters should be from people who know you well, both in and out of the classroom.  Collectively, they will inform the admissions committee of your abilities, character, passions and personality.

When deciding whom to ask for a recommendation letter, consider the following questions:

–        Is this a teacher with whom I’ve formed a connection with?

–        Has this teacher witnessed my growth or development in any way?

–        When was the last time I spoke with this teacher?

–        What subjects did I take with this teacher?

Your 12th grade teachers have likely not yet had enough time to get to know you, unless you took a class with them previously, and you have presumably matured since you were a wide-eyed freshman in 9th grade (at the very least you want to appear as though you have!).  The strongest letters of recommendation don’t always come from the teacher with whom you earned the best grade, but instead the teacher who watched your academic skills develop.  A letter that says, “Devon struggled early in my history class, but she re-doubled her efforts after the first exam, stayed after for help and steadily improved throughout the semester as a result of her hard work and determination” is a lot more compelling that a letter that says “Abigail earned an A+ in my AP Calculus class and she seemed nice based on my limited interactions with her.”

If you are only allowed one teacher recommendation, it’s best ask one who taught you a core academic subject.  Check the requirements of your colleges; some require two recommendations – one from a math/science teacher and another from a humanities teacher.

When to Ask for a Recommendation Letter

Ask early.  As you probably know from your own essays and written assignments, you never do your best when rushing at the last minute.  Give your teacher or guidance counselor time to write you a glowing review.  At a minimum, you should make an in-person request a month before the deadline, but you can ask as early as the end of junior year, since it is those teachers who will likely be writing your letters.

How to Guarantee a Great Letter of Recommendation

Arrange a time in advance to speak with your letter writers after class, or after school.  This ensures you’ll have your teacher’s full attention, and also makes a good impression by demonstrating that you respect your teacher’s time.

While the Common Application will automatically email your recommenders once you add them to your online application, this should not be seen as a substitute for in-person request, nor should you add a recommender to your Common Application before asking.  Many surprises in life are good, but learning via your inbox that you’ve been tasked with writing a recommendation letter for a student who didn’t even ask you isn’t one of them.

Request, but don’t expect.  You will benefit by having your recommendation written by someone who sincerely desires to write a strong letter on your behalf.  If your request is denied, be grateful that this individual understands the impact these letters have on your future and respects you enough to be honest about their willingness up-front.

Be prepared with a list of colleges to which you are applying as well as their application deadlines.  A resume, short summary of your high-school accomplishments, and statement regarding your collegiate plans should also be provided to your letter writers.

Afterward, be sure to show your gratitude by writing your recommenders a formal thank you note and don’t forget to keep them updated as application decisions start rolling in!  They’ll be thrilled to know they helped you achieve your college dream.

 



Sep
25
2014

The Top Reasons to Prep for the PSAT

psatSophomores and Juniors – it’s PSAT time! The PSAT is a few weeks away – and you are likely thinking, “It’s the PSAT – practice for the SAT, the real test.”   This is true. It is a practice run for the SAT, but this is likely one of your fist times taking a standardized test and prepping for it can really pay off. Why should you prep for a practice run? We’re breaking down the top reasons for you right here!

1. It’s like prepping for the SAT! The skills and topics tested on the PSAT are also tested on the SAT. By preparing for the PSAT, you are already on your way to preparing for the SAT.

2. You’ll know what to expect.  Do you want to walk into the PSAT not knowing what is tested or just how long it really is?  By prepping for the PSAT, you will be familiar with the format and question types you will see on test day.  Would you want to walk into a test and not know what was on it?

3. It can help with test day nerves. By preparing you’ll gain confidence.  You will walk into test day feeling prepared and ready to do well. It’s like any other test – you want to do your best and preparing will help you to do that! If you have never taken a practice PSAT (or SAT or ACT) you may feel nervous about not really knowing what is on the test.  Knowing what to expect can help with test anxiety and can lead to a better score!

4. There is scholarship money you can earn for college! That’s right! Just by doing well on the PSAT in your junior year, you can earn a college scholarship.  The National Merit Scholarship Corporation as well as many colleges and universities award scholarships to students who score well on the PSAT.

So, where should you go to prep? The good news is Kaplan is offering PSAT Cram sessions for FREE to help students prepare for the Math and Critical Reading sections of the PSAT. We’re committed to helping students feel prepared so they can walk into the PSAT ready. To sign up for  PSAT Cram sessions click here!



Sep
22
2014

Your Monthly Math Strategy!

MathWelcome to our monthly blog series on SAT and ACT math topics! Each month, we will target a different math topic that you will see on the SAT and ACT. Practice makes perfect – so if you practice these math skills, you’ll be well on your way to earning a new high score! This month, we will focus on sets.

What is a set you may ask? A set is any given list of elements. That’s it! It could be a list of the single-digit prime numbers – 2, 3, 5, 7 – or even a grocery list! Don’t be confused by the use of brackets around a list of items; they just show you where the list begins and where it ends. For example, Set A consists of the numbers one through five inclusive and the vowels in the alphabet: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, A, E, I, O, U]. Nothing scary there!

What could the SAT or ACT ask you to do with sets? Well, it will either be one of two things: find the union of the sets, or find the intersection of the sets.

 

Union:

The Union of sets is anything that appears in Set A OR Set B. It’s what you get when you take both sets and combine them into one. So for example:

Set A: [Apples, Bananas, Tomatoes, Kiwis]

Set B: [Carrots, Broccoli, Apples, Oranges]

Union: [Apples, Bananas, Tomatoes, Kiwis, Carrots, Broccoli, Oranges]

**Since apples appear in both sets, it only needs to be counted once in the Union.

 

Intersection:

The Intersection of sets consists only of the things that appear in BOTH sets. So in the example above, only one item appears in both sets: apples. Apples is the intersections of those two sets. Let’s do another one, just to make sure we get it.

Set A: [Cow, Duck, Pig, Dog, Cat]

Set B: [Fish, Hamster, Dog, Turtle, Cat]

What is the intersection here?

Dog and Cat appear in both sets, so those are the items in the intersection!

[Dog, Cat] would be the answer!

 

Generally, the SAT and the ACT will stick to letters and numbers when making up sets, but the process is the same as above. You can now walk into test day with confidence, knowing that you’ve mastered Sets!



Sep
17
2014

Your Monthly Vocabulary Strategy!

imagesGoing through vocabulary flashcards not your favorite weekend activity? Of course it’s not!  But if you are a high school student, it is important to build your vocabulary. Why you may ask? Well, the SAT and ACT test your knowledge of vocabulary through Critical Reading passages and questions that focus on grammar. While often overlooked by many students, studying vocabulary is one of the best ways to improve your verbal scores on the SAT and ACT. This monthly blog will help you build a stronger vocabulary and help you rock the verbal sections on the SAT and ACT.

Let’s face it: summer has come and gone, which means I no longer have an excuse to pretend I’m Kobayashi and eat 50 hot dogs in a single sitting. It also means that I’ll have to put “School’s Out for Summer” by Alice Cooper on the backburner for another nine months or so. But that doesn’t mean that Back to School and the coming of autumn is any less exciting than summer! While most high school students dread this time of year, there are many things to look forward to! September means that autumn is just around the corner. Autumn is when nature reveals its full beauty before going to sleep for the winter. The leaves change color, and the air starts getting crisper. There are hundreds of words that describe this time of year, but many focus on one aspect of it: beauty.

With hundreds of words that mean beauty, how can students possibly learn them all in time for the SAT and ACT? By grouping words together by meaning, you can create connections between words, allowing you to recall many words rather than one. Because of this, words here will be grouped by meaning rather than by how they happen to be spelled.

This month’s group of words focuses on the beauty of autumn:

Dazzling

Exquisite

Bewitching

Pulchritudinous

Resplendent

Sublime

Picturesque

Ravishing

Affecting

Aesthetic

So get out there and start using these words to describe the beautiful change of seasons! Remember that the more you use a word the more likely you are to remember it!



Sep
15
2014

The Top 5 Tips for Fighting Off Senioritis

Seniors – this is it! Your final year of high school! Many of you are working on college applications, writing essays, collecting your letters of recommendation, and possibly studying for the SAT or ACT one last time. All this on top of school work and maintaining some semblance of a social life! It is easy to understand how “Senioritis” – that infectious little bug that runs rampant around January or February of Senior Year – is so contagious.  Don’t worry – we are here to give you the top 5 tips for fighting off Senioritis.

  1. Remember – grades still matter! It is very tempting to let the Senioritis bug catch you when you hit submit on that last college application. But, remember those colleges you have applied to and your dreams of receiving that acceptance letter! Colleges may ask to see second semester grades and you do not want to show them a nose-dive second semester. Stay focused on your goal of getting into the college of your dreams.
  2. Nix that bad habit before it becomes your routine. One of the top symptoms of Senioritis is lethargy. You have worked so hard, maybe the hardest you have in your high school career – balancing school, applications, and standardized tests is a lot. It’s natural to tell yourself “I deserve a break!” and of course, you do, but don’t let this become a habit. Take some time to relax after you have submitted applications and taken your last SAT or ACT, but don’t take too long of a break.  Stay involved in school and your activities and keep your grades up.  If you don’t, it will be easy to lose focus.
  3. Remember, this is your last year of high school – you will want to enjoy it! One year from now you will be in college. Repeat – one year from now you will be in college! Let that sink in for a moment! You do not want to look back at Senior Year and think, “Wow, I wish I had done that…” or “I wish I was more involved in high school..” It is exciting to think about college and be done with high school, but it is your last year of high school at home with your friends. Enjoy it! You don’t want to regret missing out on things.
  4. Challenge yourself. Continue to take challenging courses, this will keep you on top of your game. If you take an easier course load, it can be much more tempting to slack off.
  5. Have fun! Remember to take time to have fun! Everyone needs some time to recharge. Just find a balance between working hard and having fun. This will make Senior Year that much sweeter.





 



Sep
5
2014

The Top Tips to Surviving Your Freshman Year of High School

High school can be a very overwhelming place, especially since you’re the new kid on the block. You’re in a new environment surrounded by new teachers and new students. While high school can be scary, it’s also the start of a new chapter in your life. This year, you don’t have to take admissions tests, look at colleges, or apply for financial aid. It’s the perfect time, though, to start taking the first steps on the path that will take you to your dream school. Here’s a list of what you can do in your freshman year of high school to help you prepare for college:

  1. Get yourself a daily planner. High school is a busy time between classes, friends, extracurricular activities, studying, family, college prep, and the rest. A daily planner will help keep everything in your life in order. Every assignment due date, test, deadline, or appointment will all be in one place.
  2. Challenge yourself in school. Select classes that will stretch your knowledge and skills – and impress colleges down the road. This is also a great time to map out the classes you’ll take over the next few years.
  3. Get the best grades you can. Remember your freshman year grades do count!  They will affect your GPA and will be viewed by colleges.
  4. Form relationships with your favorite teachers. Not only will they help you throughout your high school career, you’ll feel very comfortable asking them to write the recommendations for your college applications.
  5. Find extracurricular activities that spark your interest. These can be activities organized by your school or activities that you do outside of school. Be willing to try activities that are new to you whether it’s volunteering, a new sport, or a club.
  6. Start learning about the new PSAT and SAT! You will be one of the first classes to take the new tests. The College Board has already shared some important information and you can learn about it all on our SAT Test Change page. Remember to keep checking this page for the most up-to date info on the test change!

For a month-by-month guide on what you should be doing during your freshman year and for your entire college journey, please download our KapMap!



Aug
29
2014

College Admissions in the Headlines: The “I Cannot Believe We are Back to School” Edition

Poster-HeadlineHere are some of the latest, most interesting headlines about the college admissions process from media outlets across the country. And we hope everyone has a great back to school. Go get ‘em!

The annual  national scores report for the ACT was released earlier this month. What does it show? There were more test takers than ever, but scores remained stagnant compared to the previous year. Keep in mind that historically more test takers mean lower average scores. But the good news is that more students understand the value of a college education!  (Inside Higher Ed)

This is probably coming too late for most of you, but doctors from theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics are recommending that schools start later to allow students to sleep more. (TIME)

Are you a parent who is about to borrow to finance your child’s education? Think about it some more…and be very smart about it. (U.S. News & World Report)

Check out some of this past application cycle’s most interesting college admissions essay prompts. Which one would you like to answer most? Which one do you think would let admissions officers know the “real” you better? (Parade)

Hey parents, here’s why you may not want to post your child’s back to school photos on Facebook. (The Washington Post)



Aug
25
2014

The Top 5 Tips for Filling out the Common App

 

CommonAppLogo-small1It’s Common App Time!  On August 1st, the 2014-2015 Common Application went live. The Common Application, also known as the Common App, is a single application for college admissions used by over 500 universities!  Because so many schools participate, the Common App can simplify the admissions process – students can apply to many schools with the same application. Bonus – it is a huge time saver as well! Below are some tips to help you when filling out the common app.

Tip  # 1 – Create your account and review the application

Before you start filling things out, make sure to go through the application and see exactly what information is required to fill it out. Make sure to collect what you need ahead of time so that you’re not stuck when you officially start working on it.

Tip #2 – Work on your essay early

The essay is one of the most important parts of the Common App as it gives admissions officers a glance into what makes you you.  It’s 650 words or less and you must choose one of 5 topics which will demonstrate your ability to write. The topics for this year can be found here.

Don’t rush working on your essay. Take your time writing it and have family, friends, and teachers review and critique it.

Tip #3 – Review any additional requirements the colleges you are applying to may have

Colleges that use the Common App might also have supplemental essays and/or require additional information. Make sure to check their college pages within the Common App to see if you have more information to fill out.

Tip #4 –Preview your application before you submit

It’s very important to preview your application before hitting that submit button! In preview, you will be able to see exactly what colleges will see and have a chance to re-read everything one last time. If you catch any errors, you can still fix them. Note that once you submit, you can’t go back and edit your application.

Tip #5 – Print!

In addition to previewing, you should also print your app so you can make edits right on the paper. Once you submit, make sure to print the submission confirmation for each college to which you apply. It’s always great to have a printed copy for your records in case colleges say they are missing materials.

To begin your application, go to the Common App website. Good luck and congrats on starting your journey to college!

 



Aug
21
2014

SAT/ACT Reading Article of the Month

When teaching SAT/ACT Reading strategies, we emphasize the merits of accuracy over speed – you only earn points for questions you answer correctly on Test Day!  However, we won’t deny that proper pacing is essential.  In this monthly series, we’ll discuss how you can use real-world articles to build your vocabulary and increase your reading speed.

Though it may seem as though many of the words you encounter on SAT and ACT reading passages exist solely as hurdles between you and your goal score, vocabulary words are in use all around you!

Take, for example, this recent Natural Science article from the New York Times, All for One and All for the Hunt, that describes the hunting behavior of Africa’s wild dog population.  When read straight through, you might not even realize how many vocabulary words you’ve stumbled upon; that’s because the surrounding text gives the word a definition in context.  Good news for you – that’s exactly how both the SAT and ACT test your knowledge of individual words!  In vocab-in-context questions, you’re asked to provide a definition by drawing on clues from the surrounding passage.  On the SAT, you’re also asked to define vocabulary words in the context of a sentence, as part of sentence completion the portion of the Critical Reading sections.

Below are just a few of the vocabulary words appearing in the article above that you may encounter on Test Day.  Define each word using only context of the passage first, then confirm your predictions with a dictionary.

  • To conjure
  • Synchronized
  • To obscure
  • Communal
  • To devise
  • Exuberant
  • Resilient
  • Crude
  • To presume

Closer than you thought, right?  You can repeat this exercise with any magazine or newspaper article, as well as with literature you might already be reading for school.  You’ll be amazed how rapidly your vocabulary grows, solely from words that are already part of your surroundings!  With regular practice it won’t be long until you’re a ready to tackle the ACT/SAT Reading sections with an alacrity you never thought possible.

 



Aug
18
2014

College Essay Do’s and Don’ts

The college essay is often seen as the most difficult part of the college application. Most universities require at least one essay, while many require two or more of various lengths.  While your ACT or SAT test scores, along with your GPA, give the college admissions officers an opportunity to assess your academic potential, the college essay is your opportunity showcase your personality – what makes you you?   These top tips will help you not only get you off to a strong start, but also help you avoid common college essay mistakes.

1.  DON’T expect your first draft to be perfect.  Getting started is the hardest hurdle to overcome.  So your first draft ends up looking nothing like what you want to submit as your final essay – who cares!  You’ve gotten started, and that’s the first step.

2.  DO revise, early and often.  Your college essay should go through multiple stages of revision.  We’re not talking about a quick proofread; you should ask parents, teachers and even your peers to read through your essay and give you substantial critical advice.

3. DON’T rehash your resume.  The college admissions committee has already seen a list of your extracurricular activities and volunteer work, as well as the honors and awards you’ve received – you listed those accomplishments elsewhere on your application!  Your college essay should portray you as a mature, thoughtful individual.  What is your personal story that captures this quality?

4. DO use first person. Avoid generic third person pronouns like “one” or “students.” This essay is about you!

5.  DON’T rely on famous quotes to do the heavy lifting.  If you have a quotation that particularly speaks to you, and that is essential in order to tell your story, tell the readers why those words are so meaningful, not just that they are.  In the same vein, avoid clichés and other common phrases.  If you’ve heard it regularly before, chances are the admissions officers will have heard it hundreds of times.

6.  DO say what you mean, and mean what you say.  Be honest, but not boastful or self-deprecating.  Be specific, clear and concise.  Using a thesaurus can help you find the exact word you want to convey a feeling or emotion, but …

7.  DON’T have your essay read like the dictionary.  Vocabulary words definitely belong in your SAT Essay, but in your college essay you want to sound like yourself.  If you wouldn’t ordinarily describe sharing meals with your family as a “salubrious assemblage of kin” your college essay is NOT the place to start.

8.  DO start early!   Writing your college essay is not a task that you should put off until the last minute.  The sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll be one step closer to attending your dream school!



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