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.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Most Common College Admissions Mistakes & How to Avoid Them (PART II)

A few weeks ago we outlined some of the most common college admissions mistakes and how you can avoid them.  In part II of this series, we will outline a few more mistakes that can be detrimental to your applications.  Remember, if you take your time and do things right, applying to college doesn’t have to be as complicated as it seems.  You should begin your applications well before the deadlines and never leave anything to the last minute.

Here are a few additional application and admissions mistakes to avoid:

Asking the Wrong People for Letters of Recommendation:  Colleges typically ask for 1-3 letters of recommendation.  In most cases, they want you to ask your academic teachers.  They want to know about your character and about your performance in the classroom.  The best teachers to ask are those who you’ve had for more than one year and in more than one subject.  It’s also great to ask a teacher who you’ve had in a subject closely related to your intended major (some colleges and/or programs actually will require this).  Do not ask a teacher that you had back in 9th grade that you haven’t spoken to since, even if you got an A in the class and they loved you back then.  They don’t know you well anymore – they know you as a 9th grader.  If you know someone famous, say the governor of your state is your uncle’s girlfriend’s brother’s best friend, don’t be tempted to have them write you a letter.  Typically, admissions officers don’t like this.  They really just want someone that truly knows you well, can speak to your character, and that has detailed evidence and personal knowledge of how you work as a student.

Forgetting to Send Test Scores: Don’t forget that sending your test scores to your prospective colleges is your responsibility.  This is done separately from the application.  If you have SAT, SAT Subject Tests, or AP scores to submit, you send your scores through  If you have ACT scores to submit, you will do this through  This is a very important part of the application process; don’t assume that your guidance counselor or someone else will submit your scores on your behalf.  Look into the testing policies of your potential schools.  Most schools want you to submit all of your test scores and will only take into consideration your highest ones.  Additionally, some schools will require SAT Subject Tests and some won’t.  Make sure you know the exact testing policy of your colleges.

Applying Early Decision When It’s Not The Right Choice:  Be careful, here.  Don’t apply Early Decision only because you think it will be your ticket for admission.  Early Decision is a binding agreement that must be taken seriously.  If you are accepted through an Early Decision agreement, you are legally required to attend the college.  Typically, schools that offer acceptance through Early Decision will not give out generous financial aid packages because they know that you are obligated to attend.  And, you are unable to compare financial aid offers from other schools before making your decision.  Also, many students will change their minds about their college preferences throughout the process as they do more research and go on visits.  For these reasons, we typically do not recommend Early Decision.

Not Proof Reading Application & Essay:  The revision process (of both the application and the essay) is a critical part of the application process.  Spelling and grammar mistakes do not belong anywhere on your application.  It’s a huge pet peeve of admissions reps reading your application.  Steer clear of any text-lingo, too.  It can be habit when you are used to texting, but it has no place on your college applications.  Ask someone with a fresh set of eyes to proof read both your application and your essay before you submit.

Rely on Rankings in Magazines:  Do not confuse college rankings with quality.  Just because a magazine says that a particular college is number one on their list does not mean that it’s a good fit for you.  You may even find that the college of your dreams is ranked number 1 or number 10 or not at all depending on which list you’re looking at.  Colleges can be ranked very differently on different lists due to the different criteria used, not the actual characteristics of the school itself.  Ultimately, be careful.  College rankings can be a good starting point for researching different colleges and can even help you to discover schools that you haven’t heard of.  However, make sure not to confuse rankings and/or selectivity with quality.  You need to do your research and spend some time on campus to decide if it’s right for you.

Remember, the more you know about the process and the more research you do, the better off you’ll be. Using tools like our Admissions Assistance component or our Student Positioning component can make the process a breeze and really help to eliminate unnecessary stress. Take our advice here and you’ll be well on your way to admission as your top choice college. Until next time, best of success!

About Smart Track™ Toolkit: The toolkit is a web based service that assists families with everything from admissions and test prep, to student athletics and financial aid. Our intuitive software and on-demand workshops are key components to making sure students find their top choice colleges, and families can afford to send them there.

About the author: Laura Guarino is the Student Services Coordinator with the College Resource Center, LLC. Laura has a Bachelor’s degree in Human Development from Boston College and a Master’s degree and license in School Guidance Counseling.  She also holds a certificate in College Admissions Counseling.  Laura is at the forefront of the college admissions process for the families of The Smart Track™ Toolkit.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Do We Need College?

Do we need college?

This is a question that many are asking these days. The cost of college has risen over 1200 percent in the past thirty years, bringing it far out of reach for many families.   Often, families without means struggle to send their high-achieving students to the best universities despite the sacrifices they must make, and financial difficulties can often prevent these students from graduating.

As a teacher, I find myself in the midst of the reality of this firestorm.  I firmly believe that a college education can set people apart in their career, when done right, but when students do not consider all the options, they can end up with a lifetime of crippling debt that cannot be forgiven with bankruptcy.  Many experts feel that the student loan bubble will be the next strain on the nation’s economy.

This is why it’s so important for students and families to truly understand the college admissions process. As with any other major life decision or purchase, colleges and universities must justify their value to you.  You must consider the return on investment. 

All too often, students bring me letters that seem like honors and awards, but they are really thinly veiled predatory loans masked in beautiful marketing.  It’s college application season now.  I see people prepared to saddle themselves with fifty to sixty thousand dollars of debt a year if they don’t get aid.  Does that sound like you? That’s the price of a house if you graduate in four years. The trend today is to take five years or more, and while high schools collect statistics about graduation rates, getting penalized if they’re low, colleges do not get punished. In fact, the longer you stay, the more money they make. 

Students are encouraged to study areas of interest, take semesters off, and go where the heart leads them. While this is good advice in the realm of learning, it often leads to heartbreak when choosing an expensive university and a career path that cannot pay back those loans. At graduation time, students find themselves in the position of having to chase the dollars to pay back the bank anyway.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, as I watch parents and students warm up their pens to sign huge loans that will become their best friends for years to come.  I wrote a post on my blog called “College or a Ferrari?” because I feel it’s critical for students to really analyze their college choices once the aid packages are delivered, and to think about the return on investment for each potential major.  Also, students must commit to maximizing the benefit of college. Sure, you should have fun, but if you’re not ready to hit the books, consider taking classes at a local community college, or enlisting in the military--who, by the way, will pay for your college while you serve your nation. It’s the school of life, and it’s very effective. 

I made a Learnist board dedicated to helping families make these decisions. You cannot make a decision which has the potential to cost $200,000 based on emotion--you must consider the facts… college can be worth the investment, but the decision is no different from buying a house or a car. I've recently done both. There were things I would have loved, but they were just out of reach and not practical for the lifestyle I lead. In the end, I got a practical car that can handle the potholes my area that will never be fixed, and a house where I can live simply and get off the grid, like I've always wanted to do. No mansion. No Ferrari. And I’m just as well off for it. 

If you are going to college next year, do your research, work hard in school, and get your ducks in a row. And when the mailman comes with all your acceptance letters--and hopefully your financial aid, don’t forget to really think of colleges that will serve you for a lifetime, not just four or five years.  

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.