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How to help your students ace the Why College X essay

We’ve given you a lot of resources tips about writing personal statements over the years. Before the school year ends, we’d like to leave you with some sound advice to help you guide your students on the one supplement that poses challenges for all sorts of students.

I am talking about the Why College X, or Why Us, essay.

Several years ago, I moderated a panel discussion about the college essay for high school counselors at the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling annual meeting.  
 
We had counselors from New York and reps from Columbia and Barnard, and we spoke at length about supplements, mainly the Why College X essay.  

During the Q and A, Christina Lopez, at the time Barnard College’s Director of Admissions (she is now the Dean), called the Why College X essay the dating essay.  

The term stuck. It made so much sense. Still does. Because this essay is the one that can really help colleges determine if your student is a match.  

Lopez offered a lot of great insight that day:  

The supplements separate a good applicant from a great applicant.  

The more you can espouse why you are a match in the short answer question genuinely (without regurgitating our website to us because we wrote it!), the more you will stand out to us.

It is a great place to let a college know if we are the first choice, and why you love us.


No matter how the Why College X prompt is written, colleges want to know why applicants want to be there, and what they plan to do on campus.

The best way to help your students answer this question is to help them understand what the prompt is asking before brainstorming ideas with them.  

Then we assign pre-work, with these types of questions (in writing):

  • What is the prompt really asking?
  • What attracts me to this college or program?
  • What do I want readers to know about me?
  • How does what I know about the program mesh with what I want readers to know about me? How can I illustrate this intersection?

If you want to see how we do it, here’s a sample of our pre-work guide for preparing to write the Why College X essay.

Kim Lifton is President and Co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop, which teaches students and educational professionals a simple, step-by-step process for writing effective college essays, so students can stand out and tell their stories. Kim leads a team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the college admissions industry with our unique approach to communicating messages effectively through application essays, including personal statements, activity and short answer essays and supplements.  We teach students – and we train professionals.

Coming Up 

We cover a new topic in our Pro Chats each month – Wednesdays at 1:00 Eastern! Click here to register!

May 12: Should my students write about depression, politics or Covid-19?

June 16: Brainstorming with students who think they have nothing to write

Let your students know we have a free class for them, too!

If you wants to help students with the basics, encourage them to sign up for our monthly free student class, or listen to the recording. Next up: Wednesday, May 12, at 7 p.m. ET! You are welcome to sign up, too.

Beyond College: 2021 Webinar Series

Wells Fargo (through their CollegeSTEPS program) has put out a nice series of webinars that contain some great information that should be of interest to your students.

Here are links to each of the videos that are archived:

Charting a path to graduate school….Successfully!

Defining and building a strong leadership brand

Creating a rock-solid resume

Preparing for success in your job interview

Budgeting and money management 101

Here are the links to register and dates for the upcoming ones:

May 20, 2021, 4:00-5:30 p.m. ET – Entrepreneurship and the gig economy.
Find out if you are ready to start your own business, and learn about tools and resources to help.


June 17, 2021, 4:00-5:00 p.m. ET – Salary vs. value: How to determine which role is perfect for you.
Know what to consider when evaluating job offers and what you can negotiate.


July 29, 2021, 4:00-5:30 p.m. ET – Wells Fargo careers and internships.
Recruiters from Wells Fargo share information about internships and full-time career opportunities, including how to apply.


August 26, 2021, 4:00-5:30 p.m. ET – Digital Native: Social media smarts.
Join a discussion about how social media can promote or destroy your personal brand.


September 23, 2021, 4:00-5:30 p.m. ET – Success strategies for managing student debt.
Learn new ways to manage student debt and real-world budgets.


October 21, 2021, 4:00-5:30 p.m. ET – Building responsible credit: Why your credit matters.
Gain tools and resources to take charge of your own finances and reach your financial goals with tips on building credit.


November 4, 2021, 4:00-5:00 p.m. ET – Mentors and sponsors: Your personal board of directors.
Many believe that to be successful in your career you must build your own personal board of directors. Learn about mentorships and sponsorships, including how to leverage each successfully.

Please share these links to any students that might have an interest.

School Counselor: Guidance 2.0

When your refer to us by our new school counselor title, it is a vote of confidence that we appreciate.

We come from a long line of service. Did you know that guidance was advocating for child employment reform in the 1900’s? Or that guidance was a key point of focus in the National Defense Education Act of 1958 that helped the United States put a man on the moon in 1969?

Guidance in the 21st century has led us to a new professional framework and title: school counselor. We now work to implement data-informed comprehensive programs that promote prevention and address multiple challenges that include advancing technology, mental health concerns and access to college and career options.

We thank you for your continued trust and support as we continue to make new contributions and advancements under the banner of school counselor.

Publishers note – LINK for Counselors made the decision a few years ago to use the term “school counselor” rather than “guidance counselor” in all our published articles. The above definition/piece was posted by Bob Tyra in the High School Counselors Network Group on Facebook.

3 High School Alternatives to AP and IB

When it comes to competitive colleges, a high school transcript decorated with Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses may seem like an unspoken prerequisite to acceptance. AP and IB classes are designed to demonstrate college readiness, but unfortunately they are not universally available.

If you are home-schooled or attend a rural or small high school without these advanced courses, know that you still have options. Most colleges value diversity in their student populations, and the admissions process typically considers differing access to educational opportunities. But academic rigor is still key.

College Admissions Playbook powered by Varsity Tutors published a blog on three ways other than AP or IB to get the challenging junior- or senior-year courses you need for college admissions success. Here are the 3 alternatives they suggest and summary of each:

  • Choose honors-level classes.
  • Develop an independent study.
  • Register for CLEP, DSST or UExcel exams.

Choose Honors-Level Classes

Students should search their high school’s course catalog for honors-level classes. While they do not conform to a set external standard like AP and IB classes do, the term “honors” indicates that the course is more challenging than its regular-track version.

As they build their schedule, follow this rule of thumb: Choose classes that demonstrate curiosity and intellectual rigor. For example, instead of selecting easy electives, choose options like honors-level music theory or honors-level sociology. Keep in mind that what is easy will depend on their unique strengths and weaknesses.

Develop an Independent Study

Another option is to develop a challenging independent study with the help of a favorite teacher. This is also a great approach for home-schooled students who may not adhere to the structured format of a traditional high school.

In one student’s case, his high school had no AP or IB options, no advanced language classes and no math courses beyond introductory calculus. So he arranged several independent studies that were intended to approximate calculus II, an advanced class on English novels and German courses that were equivalent to third- and fourth-year study.

If your student cannot develop an entire independent study, they should ask their teachers for extra-credit projects that they can cite on their college applications.

They can also incorporate massive open online courses, or MOOCs, into their independent study. This will likely require some negotiation and planning, generally with the help of a teacher or from you (their Counselor).

As they design their independent study, make sure that they will be able to explain to a college admissions representative what their course objectives were, whether they met them and how they were evaluated.

Register for CLEP, DSST or UExcel Exams

A third option, standardized testing, is not a class but it is still worth considering. Not all colleges ask for test results from the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) or UExcel exams, but many will consider them as part of your students overall college application.

These exams allow them to demonstrate their academic abilities by taking subject-specific assessments in biology, history, literature, math and other subjects. Each test has ample study material, so they can even design an independent study around the exam that is the most relevant to their college and career goals.

It is unlikely that they will be able to tackle all the tests, so select just one or two that best demonstrate their inclinations and capabilities. As a bonus, many colleges will accept sufficiently high scores on CLEP, DSST and UExcel tests as college credit or course prerequisites. Thus, superior performance can demonstrate competitiveness against students from larger or better-funded high schools that may offer AP or IB.

Document Their Accomplishments

A final piece of advice is to document their accomplishments as they complete each honors-level class or independent study.

This is because you may be asked to rate the relative difficulty of their courses when you forward their transcript to a college.

Save documents like exams, papers, reading lists and syllabuses. Not only can they use them as they compile their college applications, but they can also share them with you (their Counselor).

Gaining admission to a competitive college is difficult for any student. But with careful planning, it is possible no matter what classes their high school offers.

Paramount Research Study Results & 10 Amazon Gift Card Winners

We recently had Paramount Research conduct a study on readers who received either the print or digital version of LINK for Counselors Spring 2021 issue. Here are some of the things we found:

56% of our readers work at a Public School, 28% at a Private School, 8% are Independent Counselors, 6% are Other Types of Counselors and 3% work at a College/University

The average Counselor works with 234 students

More than 51% of our readers do not belong to NACAC

Thanks for all of you that took the time to participate in the survey. Paramount Research randomly chose 10 winners of a $10 Amazon Gift card from all participants. These are this years winners:

Ebony White – Maryland

Mark D Dean – South Carolina

Ellen Frazier – Louisiana

Daysi Colom – New Jersey

Givanni Anchundia – New York

Melissa Kukta – California

Amelia Johnson – Alabama

Renee Garvey – Pennsylvania

Chris Bonneau – California

Yasmin Shepperd – California

Congrats to all the winners!

5 Ways to Teach Students About Money

Teaching students about money lessons is essential for raising adults who are comfortable talking about and handling their money

Here are 5 great tips for helping students learn about money.

1. Talk About Family Finances

We’re not suggesting that you study your financial spreadsheets with your kids for a family fun night, but your children can’t get comfortable talking about money until they know you’re comfortable talking about it.

By setting up a consistent family budget meeting — you don’t have to call it that if the b-word scares/bores everyone — your gang can get in the habit of discussing topics like how much money it takes to keep your household functioning and why it’s important to plan for big purchases.

If kids get the opportunity to give their input — and no, they don’t get the deciding vote, even if they outnumber you — it will empower them to take responsibility for how the household spends its money.

It can start with something simple like: We have $50 extra spending money this month. Would you rather go to a drive-in theater or save the money so that next month we could go on a camping trip?

2. Show Them Why Saving Pays

Your child’s method of saving will evolve as they get older, but teaching the basic value of setting aside money will help them avoid the temptation to make an impulse buy each time they have money in their hands.

Use Real Dollars and Coins

Using physical cash and coins is great for helping younger children understand the concept, as it allows them to see how their nickels and dimes (and dollars) can really add up.

You can start out by teaching kids to budget their money — consider using one piggy bank for savings, another for spending and a third for giving.

Open a Bank Account

When they’re ready, you can take the next step by opening a bank account for your child. Many banks have accounts specifically for minors if their parents also bank there, which can help your children save on fees that banks may charge for regular accounts.Pro Tip

If your child values something more than money — like screen time — use that to help reinforce the savings concept. Give them an “allowance” of minutes that they can work to earn more of.

By bringing them along to a physical location to open their bank account, you’ll help your kids become more comfortable dealing with financial tools and institutions. That way, banks won’t seem as intimidating when your kids open their own accounts as adults.

Teach Them About Compound Interest

Additionally, use their savings accounts as an opportunity to teach kids about compound interest — a basic financial concept that explains how your money can grow by earning interest on the interest.

If the numbers on the account don’t pile up fast enough to impart the lesson (or you need a little more help understanding the concept), check out this video about how compound interest works — it uses candy to teach the concept in a much more appetizing way.

3. Let Them Learn the Value of Their Money

Getting your children to value their money can give them a head start on money management skills.

It starts with understanding where the money comes from (the ATM doesn’t count).

Whether you pay them an allowance, they receive money as gifts from relatives or they’re making their own money (yes, even a lemonade stand business counts), your children will better understand how much a dollar is worth if they learn how to budget their money early on.Pro Tip

If you have a teen who’s thinking about bigger purchases like a car or college tuition, let them use their summer break to make extra money — check out these ideas for jobs for teens.

Accounting for each dollar allows a child to learn decision-making skills that will prepare them for later in life when they’re parcelling out their paycheck.

Ask them questions like: Is it worth doing an extra chore to have their pick in the candy aisle at the grocery store? By giving them the power to make that decision, your children will be able to apply the same money concepts when deciding as an adult whether it’s worth working an extra shift to buy those new shoes or taking on a side gig to pay to build an emergency fund.

4. Don’t Let Investing Be Only for the Rich

Your kids don’t need to become the next Warren Buffett to learn the value of investing. And they don’t need to be rich to start (and neither do you).

No matter what their age, kids can learn about growing wealth by investing a small portion of their money. We recommend starting with a very small amount since there is, of course, a risk that their investment could lose value. It’s a tough lesson, but one that’s easier to accept if your child lost a week’s allowance rather than a lifetime savings.

And investing doesn’t require a large cash outlay to start, especially if you work with a brokerage that allows you to open a custodial account and invest in fractional shares.

For just a few dollars, your kids can pick a couple of companies that make their favorite toys or movies, then check the stock price each week to see how their investment is faring.

If your family is the competitive type, let every member invest in a different stock and see whose stock grew the most at the end of a year.

5. Don’t Make Debt a Four-Letter Word

You want to protect your kids from all the bad things, so if you don’t talk about debt, they won’t end up in it, right?

Maybe. But probably not. Giving them the tools to understand debt is a better way to avoid bad debt and responsibly handle the good debt that they’ll face in their lifetime.

Differentiate Good Debt vs. Bad Debt

So how can you teach kids the difference between bad and good debt? Remember these two factors:

  1. What’s the interest rate?
  2. What’s the value of the item they’re going into debt for?

As a general rule, if you’re borrowing money at a higher rate than you can earn by investing, that’s bad. The S&P 500 has a historical average annual rate of 7%, so that’s typically the benchmark experts use for deciding how much of a return you could expert on an investment.

For example, if a credit card charges 18% interest, you can’t reasonably expect to get those kinds of returns on investments, so that’s a bad debt. However, if you get a mortgage with a 3% interest rate, there’s a good chance you could invest that money and make more in interest.

It’s also important to teach kids that bad debt vs. good debt involves the types of things and events that they’d want to use the credit for. Borrowing money to buy a candy bar? Bad debt. Borrowing money to invest in a mower so you can start making money cutting the neighbor’s lawns? Good debt (since they’ll in theory be using that borrowed money to make more money).

Get Real About Student Loans

One of the biggest decisions kids will have to make early on in regards to debt is whether to take out student loans. Start talking to your teens early about how student loan debt could affect their lives after college.

Although it can be a very personal decision, encourage them to consider the costs and benefits of student loan debt. For instance, is the private, out-of-state school with the gorgeous campus worth the debt burden if they’re getting an education degree?Pro Tip

If the plan is for your teenagers to cover the cost of tuition themselves, help them discover the different options for paying for college — besides their parents and student loans.

Teaching your kids early about how to use debt and credit lines responsibly — perhaps by adding them as an authorized user — will let them see the benefits of building a solid financial foundation.

Start Small

And if all this is a little much for your youngest kids to understand, you can introduce this money lesson with one of these debt free charts.

Start by deciding on a bigger purchase your child wants but doesn’t have enough cash for yet — but small enough that they can “pay it off” in a few weeks or months. Each time they make a “payment” to you, they can color in another section of the chart.

By the end, they’ll have a better understanding of what it means to pay off debt, and you’ll have another piece of art to hang on the refrigerator. Win-win.

TIffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Dana Sitar contributed to this post.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.

Colleges are Ramping Up the Use of Artificial Intelligence in College Admissions

When one of your students has a question about a College they typically will go to that College’s website to get more information. Did you know that many Colleges are using AI for their chat when students have questions?

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is being used to shoot off these seemingly personal responses and deliver pre-written information through chatbots and text personas meant to mimic human banter. It can help a university or college by boosting early deposit rates while cutting down on expensive and time-consuming calls for stretched admissions staffs.

AI has long been quietly embedding itself into higher education in ways like these, often to save money — a need that’s been heightened by pandemic-related budget squeezes.

Now, simple AI-driven tools like these chatbots, plagiarism-detecting software and apps to check spelling and grammar are being joined by new, more powerful – and controversial – applications that answer academic questions, grade assignments, recommend classes and even teach.

The newest can evaluate and score applicants’ personality traits and perceived motivation, and colleges increasingly are using these tools to make admissions and financial aid decisions.

As the presence of this technology on campus grows, so do concerns about it. In at least one case, a seemingly promising use of AI in admissions decisions was halted because, by using algorithms to score applicants based on historical precedence, it perpetuated bias. So the next time your students are chatting online to get more information about a College they should be aware that they may not be chatting with a live person.

Here is a link to the complete story that the Hechinger Report compiled (as published in USA Today) – https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2021/04/26/ai-infiltrating-college-admissions-teaching-grading/7348128002/

Senior Graduation Requirement Acknowledgement Letter Example

Have any students that are failing a class and in jeopardy of not graduating? Here is a nice sample letter template you can use to inform their parents that action is needed immediately to avoid that from happening:

(Name of High School) 2021 Senior Graduation Requirement Acknowledgement

Student Name: ___STUDENT NAME_____                                 ID:  ____Student ID___

In order to graduate from (High School Name) on June 3, 2021 with the the Class of 2021, your student must successfully complete all (State Name) requirements for graduation per the (High School Name) Academic Planning Guide (see page x).

This is to notify you that as of _03/22/2021_ (date), your student is failing the following courses and will not graduate unless they work with their teacher to complete work in the specified course(s) OR work with their counselor to sign up for and complete Credit Recovery for the specified course(s), if available. (Note: the courses below are what is needed for graduation and may not include other courses that the student is failing.)

English 4 A&B Edgenuity & ClassroomAlgebra 2 A&BEconomics
GovernmentEarth & Space Science Edgenuity & Classroom 

Attendance:  Students must also meet the “90% percent rule” for the state of (state name) which requires students to be present 90% of the time a class is held in order for the student to get credit. If you have questions about your attendance, contact your student’s Assistant Principal.

If you are currently an in-person student, go see your counselor ASAP concerning graduation.

Please sign and return this letter (via hardcopy or scan and email) to your student’s counselor by (date), 2021.

I understand that it is my student’s responsibility to successfully complete graduation requirements in order to graduate.

Parent/Guardian Signature: ________________________Date: ______________ Student’s Signature:  _____________________________ Date: _____________

________________          _______________

Counselor phone #                                                     Assistant Principal phone #

Counselor email                                                          AP’s email

This letter was adapted from a template created by James Jones of Rockwall-Heath High School in Texas

The Top Eight Myths About College Essay Writing

Everyone talks about how hard it is to write once you are in College. The first paper you are assigned can feel daunting with the array of different advice from different sources you will receive. How can you know whose advice to trust? Is it much more difficult to write an essay? The reality is no it’s not. Below are the eight biggest myths about college essay writing and why the truth is better than you think.

  1. Your essay writing needs to be done alone.

While it is true that you need to write your own essay, to say that writing is done completely 100% alone is not true. Getting input from your classmates and utilizing the writing centers on campus is a part of college essay writing. Most professors will set aside office hours for you to discuss your essay ideas. You would be foolish to miss those opportunities.

  • The word count doesn’t matter.

‘Professors don’t lie about word limits in papers’ says Freda Johnson, an educator at 1 Day 2 write and Write my X. Part of learning to be a great writer is learning to write to the exact word count. It vastly improves your critical thinking about if you can make your point in a more succinct manner. This is a necessary skill that needs to be developed. Not only that, but it’s also quite common to lose marks if you go over the word count significantly. It’s important to stick to the word limit as much as possible.

  • You should be the only one to edit your paper.

If there is one myth that needs to be buried, it is this one. The more eyes on your essay that you can get, before you hand it in, the better. Not just any eyes though, people who you can trust, who know the topic well and have a decent grasp of grammar. It will do you no good to give your essay on Roman emperors to your friend who is studying Mathematics and hates writing. Also, most universities have a writing center, that offers free editing services. Make use of it.

  • Citation format is not necessary.

‘If you fail to cite your references, you are plagiarizing, and there are serious consequences for this at the university level’ says Frances Moser, a writer at several websites including Brit Student. Usually, the department you are majoring in chooses to use a specific style, such as MLA or APA for every class within the department. There are numerous websites and books dedicated to citation and bibliography style. Formatting your citations properly makes it easier for the person grading your essay to check your work properly and gives you higher marks overall.

  • Complex diction and syntax are necessary parts of your essay.

Sometimes, simpler is better. You don’t always need to pick the fancy words and most complex sentence structure to get your point across. If you can say it in a more succinct manner, it’s probably wise to do so.

  • Good writers were born that way.

Good writers are not born really, they are made. Writing is a skill that is perfected by learning how to do it better. It takes practice and learning from the writing mistakes you make. Your university’s writing center can help you learn better ways of writing as well.

  • Don’t bother with a first draft.

The final essay you turn in is not going to be the first essay you wrote. It should have undergone many changes throughout the writing process. Trying to wait until you know what you are exactly going to say is foolish.

  • Don’t vary your writing style.

This goes back to knowing your audience. While it’s important to have your own voice come through in your papers, it’s ok to vary writing style based on who will be reading your paper. Knowing when to use a slightly different style is part of writing well.

These eight myths are some of the biggest and easiest to debunk when it comes to writing college essays. Writing an essay in College isn’t scary if you use your head and all of the resources available.

Michael Dehoyos is an educator and editor at Phd Kingdom and Write my personal statement. He contributes to numerous sites and publications. He also writes for Thesis help.

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