Godwin, Tucker, Deep Run, and Midlothian Robotics Teams Advance

Congratulations to the Robotics teams from Midlothian, Tucker, Deep Run, and Godwin high schools for advancing to the world robotics championship in St. Louis!

Read the official press release here about Godwin, Tucker, and Midlothian moving on from the Virginia Regional.  Deep Run advanced by winning the Chariman’s Award at the North Carolina Regional.  Great job!

In addition to the technically challenging aspects of designing, building, and operating the robots, FIRST is all about building teams and building minds.

FIRST also is a pathway to a number of college scholarships.  The full list can be found here:


Money matters for teens

It’s pretty easy when you are living at home and don’t have to worry about rent, about food (other than Moe’s and Chipotle), about car insurance and maintenance, about laundry, cell phone bills and utilities and all the rest of it, to forget that you are just a few short years away from being financially independent.

You want to be independent in many ways, just not necessarily financially (yet).

But that time is coming fast, and the way you handle the money you have now will make a huge difference. Even if you don’t have a steady job, money passes through your hands. Gifts, allowance, part-time work, whatever the source, you are in control of a certain amount of money. When you get to college, that amount will increase. How responsible are you being with what you have spend right now?

Here are a few ideas.

If you have a checking account, balance it. If you don’t know what that means, send us an email and we’ll help.

If you use a debit card, write down your purchases when you make them. Don’t rely on online banking to tell you how much money you have. In fact, speaking of mobile banking, do you really think it’s safe and secure? Why?

When you make purchases, do you try to get good deals or do you just impulse buy? With sites like FatWallet, Slickeals and Retailmenot, it’s hard to defend not looking for bargains.

Have you ever talked to your parents seriously about money (and a conversation that begins with “Can I please have…” does not count)? For starters, try asking them about their regular monthly bills so you can get an idea of what you can expect in the real world. How much does this standard of living to which you’ve been accustomed cost?

On a bigger scale, do you understand or pay attention to what is going on in Washington? Do you see “the government” as some magical provider of benefits like roads, education, and health care, or do you know that the government just takes money in from taxpayers and lenders and then pushes it back out?

Finally, when you think about money and financial matters, what’s your biggest unanswered question? Finding answers to those questions now can avoid mistakes later.

As you start to treat money with a sense of responsibility, you’ll develop good financial habits that will put you ahead of the game. Please let us know if we can help you along the way.


Talking turkey

Where are you applying?

Why do relatives do it?  Why do they ask you so many questions about college?  And what should you do about it?

Thanksgiving has always been a great time with family, but you know this year will be different because everyone from Aunt Minnie to Uncle Earl will be asking you where you are applying.  You really don’t want to talk about it!  Aargh!

First, take a deep breath, and think about why the older relatives bring this up.  The primary reason is that this is the first topic in years that they feel they can talk to you about!  You don’t get together that often, and they don’t really know that much about what is going on in your teenage life (that’s a good thing).  That makes having a conversation difficult for them.

But now, this year, they can have a conversation with you on a topic they know something about.  College.  So when they ask where you are thinking about going, don’t be offended, it’s just their way of trying to connect.

Some people say you should nicely tell them you don’t want to talk about it.  I disagree.  You are moving into adulthood, you need to learn how to have difficult conversations.  However, that doesn’t mean you need to offer up your list of schools and hear Uncle Earl pontificate on what strange choices you have.

This is actually a great opportunity for you.  Here’s one way to approach it and have fun:

First, practice with your parents this week, before you get together.  Get on the same page so your parents aren’t working against you.  You don’t need your mom to call out, “Jessica, come tell Aunt Minnie where you are applying,” if that’s not what you want to do.   Talk about how much you are willing to divulge and how you can remain respectful and steer the conversation.

You can actually learn from your relatives.  Ask them where they went to college and what they liked most about it back in their day.  Ask them what other schools were in the running and how they made their final choice.  Ask them if looking back on it all, if they are happy with the choice they made.

You’ll end up honoring their desire to connect and learning something in the meantime.  And enjoy your turkey!


How Sandy might affect your college plans

Mom told you to get it done early!

Hurricane Sandy has shut down many businesses, schools, and families up and down the East Coast.  This comes as many students are facing a deadline this Thursday, November 1, that of early application to college.  You might think that students who are so certain of their number one choice would have their applications done early, but you’d be wrong in many cases.  As many as 50% of students wait until the last day, in some cases the last hour, to hit submit.  With no power, are you out of luck this year?

No.  A number of colleges have extended their deadlines, so if you are facing November 1 as a drop-dead date, call the college admissions office and see if they will grant you some leniency.  Here is a sampling of decisions:

UVA will accept applications for early-action through 11:59 p.m. Sunday

University of Maryland has extended the priority deadline of November 1 by an undetermined number of days.

Johns Hopkins has extended the early decision deadline of November 1 by an undetermined number of days.

Washington and Lee offers flexibility with the Early Decision 1 deadline of November 1.  If you will miss the deadline because of Sandy, please contact the school at (540) 458-8710.  Hopefully you have a friend reading this.

Duke has moved its early decision deadline to November 4.

Vanderbilt is offering flexibility for those impacted by Sandy.

Stanford has extended the deadline to 11:50 p.m. Pacific Time (not that you would wait to the last minute) on Monday, November 5.

Yale is also observing a November 5th deadline but says it will only apply to those in the Northeast.

Elon has moved the early decision deadline to November 5th.

Many other schools have made changes so please check with your school directly to verify the current deadline.  Even the above dates and times might change, this is too important to trust to a blog post.  Get on the phone and find out for yourself!

And, as Mom says, please don’t wait ’til the last minute!

Update:  The New York Times has published a more comprehensive list of extensions.  It can be found here.


Common App essay changes coming next year

Seniors never had it so good!  Juniors, watch out.  Next year’s Common Application will not have the “topic of your choice” essay prompt that has been so popular with students.  Instead, four or five topics will be listed for you to choose from.  These planned changes were discussed at the recent conference of the National Association for College Admissions Counselors.

The word length requirements will also be strictly enforced (minimum of 250 words, maximum of 500).  The new Common App will be available on August 1, 2013.   Just one more thing for juniors to think about.


Richmond and lacrosse

The University of Richmond is in the midst of a disagreement over the recent decision taken by the board of trustees to make some changes to the sports programs.  Men’s soccer is to be replaced with men’s lacrosse and men’s indoor and outdoor track will be eliminated as well.  The dicussion is both emotional and complex, and both sides have important points.

But the trend toward lacrosse is not just a U of R thing.  Lacrosse is being used at some schools to attract desirable high school students.  The USA Today wrote about it last spring here.  Quoting in part:

Lacrosse players are desirable for several reasons, but the main one is that they tend to be what enrollment professionals call “full-pay” students, or students whose families tend not to qualify for need-based aid. Because of that, they must pay an institution’s sticker price unless the college offers non-need-based grants and scholarships.

According to USA Lacrosse, the sport’s national governing body, lacrosse players tend to come from more educated households than the general population, with 85% of adults involved in the sport as either players or parents having graduated from a four-year college. They also tend to be wealthier. Less than 10% of lacrosse players come from households with incomes of less than $50,000, and nearly 75% of all lacrosse-playing families value their primary residence at $200,000 or more.

That certainly is a desirable group.  The article does not give comparable demographic information for soccer players, and soccer as a sport seems more popular across the country and across the population.  Lacrosse seems to be faster growing.  At the college level, the administration has to consider the number of scholarships and the different sports offered.  There’s no question it is complicated. 

It serves as a good reminder for all students that just because a college offers a program you are drawn to, whether it is academic or athletic, it does not mean that things cannot change.  Budgets are cut and academic offerings and majors are removed all the time.  Entire degree programs are jettisoned.  Do your homework.  Read school newspapers.  Talk to professors or coaches about the future if those things are important to you.  There are no guarantees, but if you do your due diligence, and you don’t choose a college for one single reason, you’ll stack the odds for a good outcome in your favor.


How many colleges – Part II – Parents can help

How many colleges should you apply to?  We recently addressed this common question with our answer here.  If you look around on the internet, you’ll find many different answers, many different approaches.  The takeaway is that there is no one single answer for all students, you have to decide on the approach that works for your family.

Application costs are not insignificant, both in terms of money and your time.  US News posts a list of ten colleges with the highest application fees, they were in the range of $75 to $90.  Some schools have lower online application fees, so be sure to look for any discounts or waivers that you can get.

Time is often underestimated by students, but think about the time you’ll invest in your essays, alumni interviews, asking for recommendation letters, and all the rest.  You will be doing all this while trying to get straight As and be Mother Theresa-like in your community service, maybe playing a sport or being involved in extracurriculars too.  Can you handle the stress?  Are you well organized?  Do you have a plan or are you just going to wing it?

One of the best resources you can turn to for answers is your parents.  Your parents, amazingly, will have a different perspective.  Bring up your thoughts and concerns and listen to their input.  How many different applications do they think you have time for? Do they consider you to be organized?  How can they help you with your concerns?

It’s a great chance for some project management and teamwork if you invite your Mom and Dad in early.  If you wait until December, you’re going to hear nagging and “I told you so.”  Use their knowledge and wisdom to your advantage.


Making the most of admissions office visits

This is prime season for college admissions officers to visit your high school.  Depending on your school, there might be 75-100 visits scheduled in the upcoming weeks.  How should you handle these visits?  Should you even bother to go?

College visits are absolute musts.  What a fantastic opportunity!  You get to learn about schools you are interested in and you get to meet someone directly connected to the admission process.  You now only want to attend, you want to make a good impression.  That doesn’t mean you turn into Eddie Haskell (your parents will get that joke), but you don’t want to show up late, not take any notes, and not ask any questions. 

Plan ahead.  The guidance office can help with this, but don’t be surprised by a visit that’s taking place in 10 minutes.  Know when the schools you are thinking about are coming, you might need to make some changes to your schedule.

There’s no magic number, but the rule is more is better.  Visit every school that you or your parents have even talked about.  This is not the time to say, “I’ll never go there.” 

Listen and take notes.  The admissions officers will be telling you important information about their schools and how they might fit you.  Colleges are different, this is a great chance to hear about their differences.

Even if you have visited the school or done a tour, you still want to go and meet the admissions officer.  Do not just think, “They know I’m interested” and use that as an excuse to skip it.  Schools keep track of your demonstrations of interest, and every little bit helps.

Ask at least one good question, either in the meeting or afterward.  Admissions officers see a number of students, but they also are trained to remember them.  Separating yourself from the pack will help them remember you, hopefully favorably!

Fill out the information cards at the meeting and leave it with the officer.  Make a note of the name and email address of the representative visiting your school and send him or her a short “nice meeting you” type of note.  This isn’t the place to go into a long discussion of your special case, just let them know on a personal level that you made a connection.

Colleges have personalities.  The best representatives reflect those personalities.  Notice the differences between the tone and content of the meetings.  Are they talking about academics or other aspects of college life more?  What they talk about is what is important to their schools.  If you listen to the presentation, and it is not clear to you, there’s your question:  “Describe your school’s culture and uniqueness.”

If you’d like a list of other possible questions to ask, drop us a note.



Cheating in college

There is cheating at Harvard.  This might sound like gambling at Rick’s Café, but it actually is quite embarrassing for the elite school.   125 students are suspected of collaborating on a take-home test.  Harvard is vowing to study the problem.  The behavior was deemed “unacceptable”, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to punishment.

We’ll see how Harvard handles this but most high schools in our area wouldn’t need to “study” the problem of kids caught cheating.  One novel idea Harvard is considering is to establish an “honor code.”

Contrast this with a recent article on Davidson College, and its honor code:

Incoming students must sign the Davidson Honor Code, pledging to refrain from stealing, lying, or cheating on academic work. They also must report any honor code violations; failure to do so is itself a violation. Infractions are brought before the Honor Council where punishment is decided.

“We take it very seriously,” says Tianna Butler, a senior from Salisbury, Md. “You’ll see laptops on the lawn, or somebody will leave their MacBook in the library and go into the other room to take a nap. People don’t steal your stuff here.”

Very few colleges actually have an honor code.  When you are considering schools for your college list, how important to you in an environment of refraining from stealing, lying, and cheating vs. an atmosphere of “cheat or be cheated?”

More on the Harvard cheating scandal here and here.  By the way, the name of the course that the 50% of the students are suspected of cheating on?  Introduction to Congress.


SAT Tricks

The SAT is challenging enough without some of the well-documented traps that were more prevalent in the past.  However, as with many multiple choice tests, there are things to be aware of that can help you from making some silly mistakes.

Jon Siegelman has a good post on a few of these which is worth reading and considering.  Here’s one takeaway.  At the beginning of each section on the SAT are the easy questions, the hard questions come at the end.  Let’s say you see a question like this:

Q:  Joanne drives to work at an average speed of 20 miles per hour, and returns home along the same route at 50 miles per hour…

Mr. Siegelman says  “If it’s anywhere near the end of the section, don’t answer 30 miles per hour.”

What he is saying is that your brain will give more weight to “30” as the correct answer because you have been conditioned that way, “Hm, 30 is the average between 20 and 40, that must be it!”  But since it is at the end of the section, it is a hard question and 30 is the “easy” answer.  Avoid it. 

We suggest that you don’t look at the possible answer choices until you have calculated your own answer so you don’t get accidentally “attracted” to one of the choices.  Let one of the answer choices validate what you came up with on your own.

That’s not to say obvious answers are not ever correct; in fact, Mr. Siegelman notes they are routinely correct earlier in the sections.  Not every question is a trick, but when you are dealing with the hard questions, don’t jump to conclusions.