Wednesday, September 28, 2016

College Application Season Brings Changes

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

If you’re a high school counselor, you probably don’t need to be told that there have been a lot of changes made to the college application process over the summer—and some are still taking place.  As schedule changing season winds down, and college application season heats us, here’s a reminder list of what you need to watch out for:

Testing, Part I    Some of the biggest news this summer is the number of colleges that no longer require SAT or ACT results as part of the application process for most students.  This shift to test-optional admissions usually comes when one of the major tests makes changes; colleges look at the role test scores play in admissions, decide they don’t add that much information, and decide it isn’t worth putting students through all the stress of taking the test.

An updated list of test optional colleges can be found at , and since colleges were just added last week, it might be a good idea to take a peek.  Keep in mind that some colleges still require test scores for some admissions cases—it’s still required for students who want to play interscholastic sports at Division I and II schools, for example.  Other colleges will still ask for test scores once the student is admitted, to use them for scholarship consideration or placement into freshmen classes.  Students should check the admissions Website of their colleges for more information, and if a student’s test scores are above the college’s average, it’s probably still a good idea to submit the test scores anyway.

Testing, Part II   Another big change that came this summer is in the highly selective colleges.  Many of these schools required students to submit either the ACT or the SAT, plus two or three SAT Subject Tests results as well.  A number of these colleges looked at these requirements over the summer, and realized this may be a little too much testing.  As a result, many highly selective colleges are now recommending students submit Subject Tests, or describing them as optional.

In some cases, Subject Tests are only optional if the student submits the ACT with Writing, but other colleges are making them optional if any other test is submitted.  It’s wise to double-check the college’s Website.

More Early Applications  The five year trend of colleges encouraging early application continues this year, with more schools offering more versions of Early Action and Early Decision than ever before.  All of these new programs make it more important than ever for students to understand that Early Decision programs require the student to attend that college if they are admitted under an Early Decision program—so if they apply ED and the college takes them, their college search is over.

Look for an increase in the number of Early Decision II programs.  These work just like Early Decision, but they usually have a later application deadline, typically in January.  This gives students more time to consider their choices before deciding to apply ED to a school.  It also allows them to apply ED to a second school, if their first choice ED school doesn’t admit them in November.

Finally, note that more Early Action colleges are trying to limit the number of other colleges students can apply to Early Action.  Usually known as Early Action Single Choice, these programs give students until May 1 to pick their college—but they can’t apply Early Action to any other college.  This requires students to also make some important choices; make sure you walk them through all of their options before they decide.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Skilled Trades Tale of Two Senators

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

As Michigan students head back to school, Michigan families need to take a minute to contact two state senators, to thank one for looking out for their kids, and to urge the other one to start to do so right away.
The topic is skilled trades, a world of work that was supposed to die during the Great Recession and never come back. Evidently, someone forgot to tell that to the plumbers, pipe fitters, and other skilled tradesmen, whose annual salaries average$41000 a year—and these fields have openings they can’t fill now.
Getting information about these opportunities to young people has been a bit of challenge, and that’s where Senator Ken Horn comes in. Rules governing the skilled trades have been added here and there for the last thirty years, creating a patchwork of state law that made skilled trade regulations confusing, and sometimes contradictory. By introducing the Skilled Trades Regulation Act, Senator Horn has taken a well-meaning mix of skilled trade regulations and made them as easy to understand as reading the newspaper.
In introducing the Act to the public, Senator Horn said “Creation of the Skilled Trades Regulation Act will update and revise the relevant laws into one universal code that would ensure they meet the highest standards for enforcement and efficiency.”
This is excellent news for everyone in Michigan, especially students who like to work with their hands. The Skilled Trades Regulation Act is one legislative effort that will help students understand the strength and viability of many important career paths in the skilled trades, and most of them are attainable with two years or less of training after high school. When it comes to creating options after high school for students, Senator Horn’s innovative thinking is leading the way, as this bill has already had one round of Senate hearings.
The same cannot be said for another bill that would do even more to help students shape their futures after high school. House Bill 4552 makes sure Michigan students and families are working with school counselors that have the latest information on career and college opportunities in Michigan. Many of Michigan’s school counselors report they receive little training in college advising, and even less in the skilled trades. By including this training in their existing requirement for professional development, House Bill 4552 would help counselors understand the latest trends in career and college opportunities, information that’s been shown to be needed by students as early as age 10.
This bill passed the House by a wide margin, and with bipartisan support, in January. Since then, it has languished in the Senate Education Committee, even though the bill has received the support of business leaders, law enforcement officers, counselors, and retired military officers. Members of the Senate leadership have indicted the bill will easily pass the Senate floor, but it has yet to even be scheduled for hearings by the Senate Education Committee, which has not met to discuss any issue in the last six weeks of legislative session.
All of Michigan’s students deserve an opportunity to understand all of the career and college options that await them after high school, and your voice can make that happen. Take a moment to contact Senator Ken Horn’s office to thank him for helping Michigan’s students, then contact the Senate Education Committee and urge them to take up House Bill 4552. In this time of incredible postsecondary opportunities, our students deserve easier access to all of them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

College Advice to High School Ninth Graders

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

It always happens during schedule changes.

“Excuse me, are you my counselor?  My name is Josh, and I’m a new ninth grader, and I’d like to talk to you about applying to college.”

Because you’re a counselor, your response is partly one of support and compassion.  Because it’s the first day of school, and you’re up to your eyes in schedule changes, your response is also one of exasperation.

But support and compassion win, and you tell the student you’re swamped with schedule changes, but if they leave their e-mail address, you’ll get in touch.

And then, you send them this:

Thanks for coming by today to talk about your interest in college.  It’s important to think about the future every day you’re in high school, and learning more about your college options is a big part of building that future.  What’s great about learning about college as a ninth grader is that discovering more about college means discovering more about yourself.  That’s why it’s important to focus on these three goals in high school as part of being ready for college.

Learn to Be a Good Student  It’s likely at least one of your ninth grade classes is going to challenge you in ways no class has challenged you before.  Some students will see this class as hard—but good students see it as an opportunity to learn more about themselves, and more about their study skills.  That’s one of the key skills you’ll need in college—when faced with a challenge, how do you respond?

The first step in learning to be a good student is to pay more attention to how you study, and less attention to your grades?  Why?  Because there are many smart students who will get As in classes where they never have to study.  They just let their natural talent guide them to a high grade, without really thinking about the answers they put down on a test, or comparing the new ideas they’re learning with the old ideas they’ve always believed. 

Good students are always asking key questions, like how does this relate to what I already know, do I agree with what’s being said, or how does this idea apply in the real world. The answers aren’t always easy to find, but in looking for them, you’re learning more than you ever could just studying to get by.

Participate in Extra Curriculars  Too many people think colleges are impressed by students who join twelve clubs, but that isn’t the case.  They see clubs, sports, and other activities of other ways to learn and interact with others.  These are key parts of learning more about yourself, and by focusing on just a few activities (including work, if you’d like), you’re making the most of these learning opportunities, and maybe even taking on some leadership positions.  That’s real growth.

Work in Community Service  Whether or not you’re go to college, you’ll need to understand more about other people, and community service is a special way to do that.  Giving to others gives you a view of the world you just can’t get in a classroom, especially if you’re working to improve the quality of life for others in your own home town. Mission work in another country is important, for sure, but don’t overlook the needs of those nearby.  In addition to making a difference in their lives, you’ll be sharpening your skills to be a member of a community—and a college is really just a community of learning and living.