Monday, September 9, 2013

The "Molly" drug. Understanding the path of responsibility.

Recently, local New England universities UNH and Plymouth State tragically lost 2 of their own students and authorities are pointing to the drug “Molly” as the main culprit. So who or what is “Molly” you may be wondering.

Known as a popular dance club drug, Molly, also known as MDMA, has been referred to as a powerful form of ecstasy. It comes in a powder or crystalline form and is known to cause instantaneous euphoria followed by deep depression several days later. Side effects can include increased heart rate and respiration, uncontrollable seizures, cardiac arrest, and coma. What’s more troubling is because it is considered to be an uncontrolled substance, there is inconsistency in what it may contain- which means those ingesting it may never really know what is going into their system.

There is nothing that a school can do or say to a parent that will ease the pain and suffering surrounding the loss of a child. So how then does a college rebound from something like this moving forward? How we do we learn from situations like these? What are the obligations of the school community to prevent these types of tragedies from occurring in the future? These are questions I’m sure both UNH and Plymouth State along with many others are asking themselves in the wake of this terrible tragedy.

I’ll never forget 2 tragedies that occurred during my undergraduate years- one a suicide and the other from a car crash. I did not know the latter victim which did not diminish the pain I felt for his family, but sadly I did know the former and had even met with him several days prior to the suicide to discuss some budget-related issues my club on campus was wrestling with.

Did I notice any signs when I sat with him that day? None that really jump out to me, but then again as a meek and mild college freshman, I was too naive to really know what “signs” to be aware of. If either of these individuals had been close friends of mine, I probably would have blamed myself for NOT recognizing some type of sign that there were serious issues lurking beneath.

A college campus and those who populate it, need to be in synch with one another. Certainly students (and people in general for that matter) who put drugs into their bodies are taking a major risk in how their own systems will respond to a foreign substance and need to be told that it can be akin to playing Russian roulette where the outcome is pretty uncertain.

Colleges who keep aware and up to date on the potential drugs that could infiltrate their campuses will be one step ahead of the game. With that knowledge, comes the responsibility to share this information in a variety of ways with the greater student body community, such as community-wide workshops and forums. Students, also need to become involved and take steps to better educate themselves and each other on the harmful and damaging properties that various drugs contain. If you knew that a drug had the likely capability of causing long term confusion, depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation would you think differently about experimenting with it?

No one can ever watch everyone nor prevent students from going to music festivals and concerts, but I would argue it is up to students to look out for each other be it at these events or simply hanging out in the dorm room. If you even slightly suspect that someone may be going down the “wrong” path, you owe it to yourself (and that person) to take action.

If you can talk to the student about your concerns and explain to them what you have learned about the potential side effects of a drug you suspect or fear they may be using, this is a good 1st step. If you meet with resistance, a second step might be to contact someone within your school community, such as an RA (Resident Assistant), school counselor or an advisor about your concerns.

Just like bullying, even if you are not doing it yourself, you can still be held accountable if you don't stand up for the person being bullied or at the very least report it. Students are continuously confronted with choices in college of which “path” to take. In the realm of looking out for our fellow students, the “path” of responsibility is in your hands. We hope you choose wisely.

For more information on Molly, go to:


About the Author:

Jay Robie is Director of Student Services at College Planning Strategies and also oversees all business development, partnerships & client relations for the SmartTrack™ Toolkit online products. He has worked in the college admissions consulting space since 2004 and has worked in admissions at the secondary, collegiate and graduate levels. He received his BA degree from St. Lawrence University and MBA from Boston College

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Demonstrated Interest: Fact or Fiction?

The “Demonstrated Interest” Phenomenon

What is it?

Demonstrated Interest simply put is the amount and extent of interest that any given student might show to a prospective college prior to and during the application process.  Some colleges value this occurrence, while others claim to not subscribe to it at all.  If done correctly and strategically, it can offer a student an informal “edge in the application process.  The number of positive “touch points” a student has with a college over a period of time could go into his or her demonstrated interest “account”. This virtual account is a way for colleges to assess the level of interest from any given applicant. 

During the entire college admissions process, it’s important to build allies both internally and externally.  Internal allies might include coaches, admissions reps and professors.  External allies might be friends, neighbors or relatives who are connected to that college in some way, such as being an alum or parents of a current student or alum.  These folks (at the appropriate time) can vouch for your character and allow the admissions committee to better understand the three-dimensional version of you not just the two-dimensional version.

What are some examples of Demonstrated Interest?

  • Initial outreach by the student (not the parent) to the college via phone to request application materials and information on visiting the college. Contrary to the traditional notion that getting on a mailing list is a “bad thing”, being on the college’s mailing list allows them to enter you into their system as a potential applicant and allows you to receive updated information from them

  • Stopping by the admissions office to introduce yourself even if your visit to the college is an impromptu one, shows initiative. Just make sure that you’re not wearing ripped jeans and sandals.  Who knows, you just might find the admissions director in the office that day- even if it’s a Saturday

  • Taking the initiative to call and/or email the admissions representative, who will be assigned to your high school’s upcoming college fair, to simply introduce yourself and express enthusiasm for meeting them, shows a level of seriousness and responsibility

  • Mailing and emailing a well-written thank you note within 24 hours of a visit that references specific topics you had discussed during your meeting, shows thoughtfulness. The hand-written note can help students stand out from the pack, because it has long since been replaced by email and considered today by some to be a unique form of communication. Be sure to address the note to “Mr.” or “Ms”- not to their first name and if your handwriting is poor, stick to email only.

    • Example:

Dear Ms. Admission Officer,

Many thanks for taking time to speak with me during my visit on May 22nd to XYZ college. I enjoyed our discussion about the semester abroad program in Kenya and your own personal international travel experiences to Australia and New Zealand (Your personalizing it here).

The newly renovated black box theatre would be an exciting place to showcase my passion for acting and seems to be a major growing in popularity amongst your students.

I look forward to keeping in touch and am excited about the opportunity to apply to XYZ in the near future.


Susan Smith

How can it help a prospective student’s chances for admission?

Demonstrated Interest is really about developing your own personal brand and every interaction/communication with colleges, be it via phone, email or in-person, will either enhance your own personal brand or detract from it. 

Sending a well-thought out thank you note within 24 hrs of an interview by mail or email can enhance your personal brand while using text or IM to send it could just as easily diminish your personal brand. 

It really is the accumulation of these various communication touch points done strategically that can boost a student’s chances for admission, provided that he or she meets the other criteria for the college.

Often times, the demonstrated interest factor can rear its head if a college is trying to decide between two equally capable students who present quite similar on paper.

Even if you are waitlisted at a school, calling that school and reinforcing your excitement about that college shows them that you are taking the wait-list process seriously. Keep in mind, these types of calls should be done tactfully not annoyingly.

Demonstrated Interest does not mean calling a school twice a week to check on the status of your application or hounding the college about why you were waitlisted.  As in life, the more professional and tactful your approach, the better received it will be and the higher your own personal “stock” will rise in the eyes of those who will ultimately decide your fate at that particular college.

About the Author:

Jay Robie is Director of Student Services at College Planning Strategies and also oversees all business development, partnerships & client relations for the SmartTrack™ Toolkit online products. He has worked in the college admissions consulting space since 2004 and has worked in admissions at the secondary, collegiate and graduate levels. He received his BA degree from St. Lawrence University and MBA from Boston College.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How to Prep your Undergraduate for Their 1st Job Interview

Written by Guest Author Vivian Kerr

Undergraduate education is more expensive than ever, and many college financial aid packages include some type of work-study. Students often also take on positions at nearby restaurants, banks, and retailers to help subsidize their education. Give your child a leg up with some first-time job interview tips!

If not this, then something else.  A job interview can feel a bit like a first date, all sweaty palms and awkward conversation. But remember the key is not to come across as needy and desperate. A confident  and posed 18-year-old is always impressive!

Be patient. Don’t be offended by general questions, even if the prospective employer has a checklist. They may even be asking you for information you've already given them on your resume. They’re likely seeing a lot of candidates.  Always aim to appear gracious, professional, and happy to be there. No one wants to work with a jerk!

Don’t make stuff up. And while we’re on the subject of your resume, don’t ever lie on it. There’s no need – no one expects an undergraduate student to have a lot of experience in the workforce. DO have a good idea in mind as to why you’d be a great fit for the job or why it interests you. They’ll probably ask, and this will serve you well as you build your career! Check out more advice in this vein on this Learnist Career Advice board. The first learning especially offers more practical, logical, doable ways to improve your interviewing technique.

It isn’t academic. Now’s not the time to brag about your SAT score. In undergrad you’ll be a small fish in a big pond. An employer isn’t going to be impressed by your GPA in high school. They WILL be impressed by a good attitude and an eagerness to learn.

Follow up. The day after the interview, shoot an email over thanking them for their time and reinforcing your interest in the position. If you were an employer and interviewing four candidates, only one of whom followed up, to whom would you offer the position?

Don’t lead with the “money” talk. Most work-study jobs are minimum wage, and it’s unlikely any off-campus job will pay a student much more than that. Have a good idea of what you’d like to be paid, and don’t be afraid to ask at the end of the interview. But starting off with a list of your “salary requirements” will definitely not make the right impression.

But what about post-graduation? How do you build the networking skills you’ll need in the “real world”? This awesome resource on interviewing, job hunting, and more provides helpful tools to guide you as you search for internships and jobs after graduation from the Gamma Chapter of Pi Sigma Epsilon.

About the Author:

Vivian Kerr
: Vivian Kerr has been teaching and tutoring in the Los Angeles area since 2005. She graduated from the University of Southern California, studied abroad in London, and has worked for several test-prep companies including Grockit & Kaplan for whom she taught ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and did admissions counseling.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

“Party Schools” – Fact or Fiction?

Written by Guest Author Vivian Kerr

Any parent about to send their child off to college worries whether they’ll truly be getting a return on investment. No one wants to fork over $100,000+ on 4 years of undergraduate just so their student can party like a rock star the whole time. But are these so-called “party schools” really deserving of their reputation?

In 2012, the Top 10 party schools are as follows according to Princeton Review:

1. West Virginia University
2. University of Iowa
3. Ohio University
4. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
5. University of Georgia
6. University of Florida
7. University of California
8. Florida State University
9. Miami University of Ohio
10. Syracuse University

So where on this list is the notorious Penn State? Proof that schools, unlike leopards, might actually be able to change their spots, Penn State has dropped out of the Top 10 . You may recall Penn State’s wild ways documented on a 2009 episode of This American Life called “#1 Party School.” This year it was re-ranked as #11.

This year Penn State was also ranked as one of the top fifty universities in the world, according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities in Shanghai. Its reputation for academics is stellar. Students may like to party there, but it would seem they also like to study. Check out the entire podcast from 2009 from This American Life and judge for yourself!

But what about the new Top Ten? It’s true that these schools have active social organizations, including fraternities and sororities, but keep in mind many of these so-called party school “rankings” are online, vote-based. If enough students decide their school is a big “party school,” it may unjustly get ranked as such. Each of these schools has significant “pros” besides the party school label “con.” Find out more on Princeton Review.

This is all the more reason to take tours of prospective schools with your son or daughter. You’ll want to talk to academic chairs and look at the campus itself, of course, but also consider a drive or walk around on a Friday or Saturday night during the school year. Are there a lot of students out? Drinking in public? But more importantly, does it feel safe? These party schools almost uniformly have local police and campus patrols to keep their undergrads in line. Ultimately, it will be up to your student to strike the balance between work and play.

About the Author:

Vivian Kerr: Vivian Kerr has been teaching and tutoring in the Los Angeles area since 2005. She graduated from the University of Southern California, studied abroad in London, and has worked for several test-prep companies including Grockit & Kaplan for whom she taught ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and did admissions counseling. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Writing a “Personal” Personal Statement

Written By Guest Author Vivian Kerr

Most personal statements are either boring, cliché, or just downright untruthful. Sounds cynical? It is, but so are many admissions counselors. Imagine reading essay after essay that all sound the same or start with, “Here’s why you should accept me.” It’s not easy to write personal statements OR to read them. Make your essay personal, and more compelling, with these few quick tips.

Tell a story about something that matters to you. You’ve probably heard the phrase “show, don’t tell” a hundred times, but what that means is you want to paint a picture for your reader. It’s easier to engage them if you treat your personal statement like a traditional narrative. Check out the resources on the Writing Narative Texts Learnist board. It will teach you techniques to develop the telling of real experiences or events using selective details and well-ordered event sequences.

Adjust the essay to each school. Unless you’re using your statement for the common application, you’ll need to make adjustments for each prompt. Make sure if you include the name of the school within the body of the essay you change it before submitting it. There’s nothing worse than an application to NYU being sent off with USC mentioned in it!

Don’t repeat information. The application committee will have your transcripts from high school, so don’t repeat facts that can be found elsewhere. The personal statement is a place to address a part of you that can’t be found anywhere else in your package.

Relate your story to the school itself. Reveal part of your personal story that led you to choose this school. Why are you a great fit? Why is now the perfect time for you to go off to college? This is a great way to wind up your story. Tell the story, but then explain why you’ve told it! Don’t be afraid to use the first-person “I” and be emotionally revealing. Aim for depth over breadth. It’s always better to be sincere and honest than pedantic, or overly academic.

Don’t send your first (or second) draft! Accept that you’ll need to revise your essay a lot! The pre-writing will be a big step, and you might need to attempt four or five personal stories before you find one that thematically connects to what you’re trying to say to the admissions committee. Try writing a few different outlines before you begin. Get feedback from your family, friends, teachers, and guidance counselors. Give feedback to your peers so you can start to learn what a good statement “feels” like. Once you’ve finished your essay, go back and read the specific language of each prompt. Make sure your essay is appropriately on-task.

Looking to become an even better personal storyteller? Get inspired with this series of TED talks lectures on writing and the writing process!

About the Author:

Vivian Kerr: Vivian Kerr has been teaching and tutoring in the Los Angeles area since 2005.  She graduated from the University of Southern California, studied abroad in London, and has worked for several test-prep companies including Grockit & Kaplan for whom she taught ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and did admissions counseling.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What if they see that picture on Facebook?

Written By Guest Author Dawn Casey Rowe

When researching or applying to colleges, social media can be extremely helpful. Applicants can investigate majors, student life, follow athletic teams, and network with students. Colleges can engage with applicants and find out whether they might be a good fit for the university.

But social media can have a dark side, too, if improperly used.  Applicants were reporting that some universities were requesting to see into their social media beyond casual interactions, at times even requesting passwords to social media accounts. Legislators have stepped in and ruled on this practice. In states like California, New York, Michigan, Delaware, and Illinois, among others, it is now illegal for colleges to ask for social media passwords or to ask to potential applicants for access to accounts for recruiting purposes.

Many colleges use social media positively to engage with prospective students, and guidance councilors recommend that students “like” or follow colleges, stating that trends show it’s more difficult for students who “apply blind,” that is, without engaging and evidencing their interest in a university on social media. From a college’s perspective, if a student won’t follow them on social media, the applicant doesn’t seem to be a serious contender when compared to students who live and breathe the college online.  It can be perceived as a lack of commitment.

Even though several states have ruled applicants don’t have to hand over Facebook passwords to a recruiter, putting fines in place for violations, it is still a great idea to clean up social media when applying to colleges, fellowships, and jobs.

I recently signed up for Vizify, which is a great site that pulled together a bunch of information about me from the internet and displayed it quite nicely. After I set up my account, it showed all my residences, the schools I’ve attended, and all my prior jobs. The only thing it didn’t have was my newest address, and that’s only because I had moved the week before—I managed briefly to outwit the Internet.

I showed this to my seniors.

“You’ll notice some of my most common tweets.”  We studied the chart.  Things like “student,” “#satchat,” “#edchat,” “#edchatri,” “school,” “class,” “blog,” and “kids” were on my list of frequently tweeted words.

“Wow,” said one of my Twitter-loving seniors.  “My words would be “#$%,” “*&&*^,” and “@%$%!” She signed up, and sure enough, they were.

Is that the image you want to project of yourself as an applicant to a college, whether it’s legal for a university to spy or not?  Although similar laws apply to potential employers, it’s all too easy to access this information. Most of this type of personal information is readily available online. It’s best to put it in the best possible light just in case someone of future importance to your school and career goals happens across it.  A casual glance can affect an opinion. The old adage is true, “You never get a second chance at a first impression.” 

This is such a serious issue that there is a newly emerging field—“personal branding” to help with just these situations. People actually pay professionals to help them establish and maintain a positive image.

Using social media correctly can be the thing that helps you get into college or to find out about schools you might like—it can make connections for you and send you in the right direction for college and careers.   Using it incorrectly makes you a liability.  As you prepare for college and later for job interviews, take some time to think about how using social media can benefit you, and let it do just that. It can make a world of difference!

About the Author:

I teach Social Studies at the William M. Davies Career & Technical High School in Rhode Island. My passions include research, writing, history, sustainability, fitness and social justice. I'd love to see tech innovations to level the playing field in education. I'm a big fan of our local farmers, sustainable agriculture, and all things natural and tasty. I blog and run in my spare time.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

4 Ways to Get Free Money for College

Written By Guest Author Vivian Kerr

Who wouldn't want someone else to pay for their education? While getting a full “free ride” from a big school is getting more to be a rarity these days, it’s possible to attend even the most expensive private university with a combination of scholarships/grants, loans, work-study, and savings. Follow these 4 tips to maximize your financial aid and minimize your debt!

Make friends in the Financial Aid office. When you get your financial aid package from your school, it’s not the “final” amount. It’s just the opening offer! Remember that your financial aid package is arranged by a computer and a very few people. Those numbers can definitely change, and the people in the office do want to help you attend their institution. Don’t hesitate to contact them and ask what you could do to qualify for more money. If it’s a question of a few thousand dollars, an adjustment is highly possible.

Do extensive online research. College Board’s Scholarship Search and Fast Web are great sites which offer searchable databases of scholarships. Create an online profile and watch as scholarships are matched to you based on your gender, race, religion and field of study. There’s a number of other excellent resources on this Scholarships and Financial Aid Learnist board as well.

Get the FAFSA done early. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid ( FAFSA) is a major requirement for most schools to apply for a Financial Aid Application. The FAFSA for the current school year is available after the first of each year online (  Parents often need to estimate income for the rest of the fiscal year in order to get the FAFSA done early, so make sure you plan ahead! Students may also need to fill out the CSS Profile. CSS stands for the College Scholarship Service Profile. Schools that have Early Decision usually require the CSS Profile since the FAFSA is not available until Jan 1st.

Stay positive! While the application process will be done in January, applying for financial aid scholarships is an on-going process that will take you well into the late spring (or even into the summer). Scholarships are competitive, so you may apply for dozens before landing one. Stay organized and keep motivated. Six months of hard work might mean you’re debt-free for years after undergrad!

Remember to keep your eyes open – in recent years there are more scholarship “scams” out there as well! If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always confirm a scholarship from multiple sources. The guidance counselors at your high school are a great resource for this!

About the Author:
Vivian Kerr: Vivian Kerr has been teaching and tutoring in the Los Angeles area since 2005.  She graduated from the University of Southern California, studied abroad in London, and has worked for several test-prep companies including Grockit & Kaplan for whom she taught ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and did admissions counseling.