What You Need to Know About Extracurricular Activities: How much is too much, Most Impressive for Future College Apps, Skill Boosting, etc.

Most people know that colleges do not just look at grades only but give a careful eye to extracurricular activities. The activities within which your son or daughter participates, will give the colleges a wider view of who they are as a person and what they value in life. Below are some points to consider as it relates to extracurricular activities and how colleges look at them when considering applicants.

Passion Plays A Part

Extracurricular activities are important. Students should focus on activities that they are passionate about. When a person is authentically passionate about something it will shine through. If a student is volunteering in something they are not interested in, whoever is their supervisor will see through it and may be less inclined to give a good reference. However, a passionate person is more likely to do a good job which will be noticed by someone who could be a good future referrer.

Balance, Balance, Balance

While extracurricular activities are important there is the possibility of “too much of a good thing” Students are always encouraged to have excellence in performance, and many people may think that they need to participate in multiple activities in order to look like a superstar student who can “do it all”.  However, doing too much can make your child look unfocused and overworked.

One study found that students that participate in more than 17 hours of extracurricular activities a week could harm their educational prospects. Doing too much and not having time for relaxation can be stressful.   Students need balance in their lives and colleges are looking for students that appear to be able to balance life – academic life and life – outside of school.

Start Early  

Colleges look not only at your child’s activities but also how long they have been active. It is best to start early, as early as the 9th grade.  Starting early gives students the chance to build hours and try different activities.  If it is almost time for your child to submit college applications and they do not have much activity, now is the time to get busy. Some extracurricular activity is better than none.

The Best Extracurriculars?        

Colleges want to understand who your child is as a person.  When your child chooses and participates in extracurricular activities they need to be able to show that they have made an impact and a level of leadership.  How these two important factors are shown will vary, for example a student that volunteers at a pet shelter and demonstrates impact and leadership by fundraising and were a part of helping a lot of pets become adopted can be just as impressive as a person who volunteered at a nursing home and took the lead on teaching seniors how to use computers and tablets to have video chats with their family members who live far away.  The key thing is that your child needs to be encouraged to participate in activities where they can make an impact and show leadership plus initiative.

With commitment and some time, your daughter’s or son’s extracurricular activities can create a track record that will impress colleges.  It is important to have a balance, start early, and make an impact to create the positive impression that you and your child is hoping to create.

Why Your Child Needs to Conquer the Academic Basics

School today looks much different than what you would have experienced as a child.  Did you have a smart board, quiet room or media lessons when you were a student in middle or high school?  Like most parents, the answer is probably “No”. Well, today there are different emphases on learning outcomes and your child may be expected to know how to understand and manipulate technology, on top of the things that you would have learned as a child.  In a modern world, “new” subjects may be important but, it is very important that your child conquers the academic basics in order to have a strong foundation, confidence, and ingrained knowledge that they can apply to a vast array of circumstances in and out of the classroom.

There are statistics that show that there is a declining functional literacy rate in this country.  That is not to say your child is at risk for functional illiteracy, but it is important that they are able to function in today’s modern society. A child who has difficulty reading will have difficulty in all subjects.  If they cannot read the instructions in their math book or cannot read what the teacher has written on the board, it will be very difficult for them to keep up.   A child that can read can learn anything. Being able to read and read well is powerful and a necessity.

Reading is important; but comprehension is just as important.  We often hear that children are sponges and soak up information; but that information is not so good if they only parrot back what they have heard.  Comprehension is important as it is the basic ability to understand and take that info and apply it to a relevant, real-life scenario.  Being able to comprehend and follow through with real world applications at the core is what education is about.  In life, the people who do well in their chosen field are the ones who know, understand and apply knowledge.  The comprehension piece is important to problem solving which we all need at home, school, and at work.

The academic basics apply to other areas too such as writing.  Your child should be able to express his or herself clearly (as is appropriate for their age level). Writing is a powerful memory aid and reinforces reading skills.  Students and adults alike do a lot of writing, in school, at home, at work, and life in general.  Writing is an important educational and communication tool that your child will need to master to be able to function at a reasonable level in everyday life.

Numeracy is also important, from the grocery store to the pay check.  Even though we are in a digital age with less counting of money and more swipes of a debit card, mathematical problems exist everywhere in our daily lives. Your child will need to use math to figure out how much time they have from the moment they wake up until the first bell at school.  They will mathematics to estimate how much a desired item is after tax so that they can be sure to have enough funds to cover the cost.  There are many more scenarios where the basic usage of mathematics is critical, both in and out of school; and virtually every job out there will require a basic proficiency in math.

In short, the “basics” are fundamental to virtually all areas of life. Without a solid construction foundation, a house cannot be built and the same is true in terms of a solid academic foundation and your child’s likelihood of having a successful lifetime career.

Have questions about what the academic basics are or what your child should be achieving?  Do you have concerns that they may not be well-grounded in the academic basics?  You can refer to other blogs by clicking here. We have many articles to help and, of course, you can always contact your tutor for insights and directions. Our Chelsea Tutors are certified teachers and professors with many, many years of experience in their chosen subject, as well as mentoring of thousands of students, just like yours.

The academic basics are the foundation of future learning and application. Once they are mastered and ingrained, future skills and more complex concepts can be added. Academic basics are needed for sure footing so that your child’s mind can be stretched to learn challenging subjects and be capable of adapting to new ideas and topics. In other words, they simply need to be ready for real-life and the everyday challenges that come along with it.


Your Child is Special: Journeying Through School With a Special Needs Child

Every parent wants the absolute best for their child. When your child has special needs, it can be difficult to adjust your dreams for your child, and even know how to help your child be successful. Please keep in mind, every child whether they have special needs or not, learns differently and certainly every child with special needs from Asperger’s to dyslexia, or from ADHD to gifted, will learn differently. While tutoring and special instruction are crucial, you the parent are the most important factor in their future success.


Learning Disabilities Can Be Overcome
Life is full of obstacles and that is a lesson every child needs to learn. You as a parent can teach your child how to deal with the obstacles of their special needs. Be their cheerleader and help them keep moving forward. One of the best ways to help them move forward is by observing and learning how they learn. Your child may learn best by seeing or reading. Or, (s)he may learn best by “doing” or “listening”. A visual learner may need extra videos to help in the process, a “doer” or kinesthetic learner may learn by creating models, crafts, or other hands-on projects. Your tutor or teacher can point you towards materials that can help your child’s particular type of learning style and, there are retail stores that specialize in providing materials that cater to different learning styles as well.


Seek Out Information
As you make a “study” of knowing your child and how (s)he learns, what strengths and weaknesses (s)he has, you can build upon the strengths. There are many blogs, websites, and videos that can provide information about your child’s particular special need. Keep abreast of new and innovative resources, and don’t be afraid to try new techniques with your child. Keep consulting with your child’s teachers and tutors and have open disucssions about what you see and believe are their strengths and weaknesses; as well as any learning information that you find, since they may be something your child’s educators can add to their teaching repertoire.


It’s a Journey, not a Short Race
You probably did not discover your child’s special needs overnight and those needs won’t be overcome overnight either. Each grade will bring new challenges and with every progress you make, it may feel like (s)he regresses a little at times. However, remember that success is not linear, and some ups and downs are to be expected in any area of life, not just academics. Pace yourself and help your child pace themselves. Reflect on past successes and keep moving forward. Your child will be looking to you as their main cheerleader so keep a steady pace, keep cheering, and keep enjoying the mini successes along the journey.

Your child’s successes may also be different from other children too. Good grades are fantastic, but if your child learns to accept every challenge, do their best and be adaptive to change while having less than stellar grades; those skills later on in life maybe just what they need to have the career that is right for them.

Your support for your child with special needs is so very important because your influence, cheerleading, and guidance outweighs what everybody else inputs into their lives. Your child is watching you and your optimism, encouragement, humor and strength are things that they will likely adopt in their own lives. They are reflections of you and though they may learn differently they can succeed in academics and in life with the strong foundation that you lay for them today.


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Study Skills by Grade Level

Parents are always concerned with their students’ progress. Every student is different but there are benchmarks to look out for so that you can be aware and guide your student in their development and learning.

At this grade level, children should begin asking “why” questions. If they have learned a particular topic in class, you can ask them why questions about what they learned. The response they give does not have to be complex but should reveal that they remember one or two concepts. Children should be able to sit down to do any homework assignments for up to 15 minutes with you beside or nearby.

1st Grade
First graders take on the ability to see a new world of concepts and symbols. In school and at home the lessons and homework should be seen as exploration. If the activities are fun and interesting, your student should be able to do homework for approximately 15-20 minutes with a break if needed. Your child should remember to bring home homework but may need encouragement to put it in their backpack or near the front door to remember to take it to school the next day.

2nd Grade

In the second grade, students should be able write basic sentences and be able to read complete sentences without needing to figure out or question what each word means. Your child should be able to read out loud and tell you what her homework is. It is still important to be available if she asks questions but a confident child at this stage may begin homework with a fairly good understanding of what to do. In the classroom, they will be absorbing large amounts of information. At home they should be able to do homework for about 20 minutes.

3rd Grade
At this grade level, children should be able to follow directions for homework. If they have difficulty, it may be because of rushing to read instructions. Third grade students should take their time to read, focus, and be sure that they understand the instructions. The third grader may still require a parent to be nearby if they need help deciphering a question. A third grader should be able to sit and do homework for 30 minutes before needing a break.

4th Grade

In the fourth grade, your child should be developing some strategies for learning and studying to ensure they can stretch themselves. For example, they should be able to compare today’s homework with yesterday’s homework and make inferences if they are not sure how to proceed. Getting clues from context helps them. Students at this level should be able to study for 30-40 minutes at a time.

5th Grade

Your 5th grade student should move beyond comparison and using context, to being able to figure out problems in their different subjects. They should also be incorporating their interests and personality into various subjects, in particular ones with writing. Students at this level should be able to study for up to 45 minutes with one or two breaks as necessary

6th grade

Your 6th grader should be skilled in being a self-starter with homework. A routine should be established and outside of major distractions they should tackle their school work on their own. They should be encouraged to ask for help. Students at this level may study for approximately 45 minutes and may begin to do “extra” research on their own for topics that they really find interesting.

7th Grade

Children at this stage of development are faced with more complex and demanding homework. You may have them asking you more frequently for help. They will in some ways be relearning how to focus as they face potential distractions from social situations at school or even puberty. Students at this age may need help self-regulating their study time but should be able to study for 45 minutes to 1 hour with breaks as needed.

8th Grade

Children in the 8th grade would have similar challenges as they did in the 7th grade; however, with time they should be better at self-regulating against distractions and be able to study for 1 hour or more with breaks as needed. Despite their young age, some signs of maturity as a thinker and as a responsible individual should be present. At this grade level, children should also be trying to study more in preparation for high school.

High School

In high school, children should be self-regulating in terms of being on time for class, managing their study time and completing tasks fully and completely. Most likely they will not ask parents for help, but may share what their challenges are. High school students should be self-starters, have strategies for completing tasks, and have a fairly predictable routine both during the school week and weekends that help them stay on track with the goal of doing well. High school students, though not fully mature, should be clearly developing the skills of consistency and reliability while solving problems independently. During the high school years, they may focus for very long periods of time in order to get larger, and often simultaneous, projects done. At this stage you may be able to see a glimpse into your child’s future in the way they conduct themselves, and the “high school skills” that they use may be very similar to how they will apply themselves as working adults.

In the early years, reading to and with your children as well as showing interest in and encouraging your child to study are the most important things you can do to help ensure your children have good study habits. At all grade levels, showing consistent concern on your part will help them have consistency on their part. Where you may be concerned that they are not meeting the benchmarks above, creating a plan with a tutor can help your child reach their academic potential and develop study skills that will help them in all areas of their life.

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Making the Most of Your Time

It is never too early to begin teaching time management skills to your star student. In fact, these are skills that should be adopted early in their education. With each passing grade, school work gets more involved, more tedious, and more demanding. Without proper time management skills, your student may become overwhelmed with his or her workload or miss out on extracurricular activities due to the belief that there is no time.

Discover these lifelong tools and tips to help your student succeed and still have time leftover to fill with meaningful interests and hobbies.

Studying Tools & Time Management Tips

Study tools and time management tips can help your student make the best use of his or her time. Whether you choose to use these ideas or research some of your own, find out what works best for your child and incorporate them now. It is up to you to help instill these good habits early so that they become a lifelong habit that will help your child find success.

  • Keep an agenda. Mark down all assignments to complete and when they are due.
  • Make a list and prioritize. This list will show all things that the student needs to complete, with the most important (or first due) at the top of the list.
  • Designate a specific space for your child to complete homework assignments. This space should be quiet and free from all distractions.
  • Organization is incredibly important. So many students fill their backpacks with crumpled up papers and broken pencils. Teach your student the importance of keeping a clean, organized backpack and work area. This way, nothing gets lost and everything he or she needs is easily accessible.
  • Create notecards. When preparing for a test or learning some new material, write key information on notecards. Your student can carry these everywhere and review at any given point in time.
  • Consider starting with the most arduous task first, while the mind is still well-alert.
  • Create a reward system. As a parent, you can lead your student down the path to creating a habit by initiating a reward system. For instance, if homework is completed upon arrival at home all week, a special treat is given.

Remember, you set the example for your special student to follow. Perhaps you can add a few of these to your own daily routine!

What Happens After School

What happens after school is just as important as what happens during school. After a long day at school, sometimes the only thing a student wants to do is to come home, kick off their shoes, and relax on the couch with the television remote. Or, spend time scoping out the latest games, gossip, or trends on his or her tablet. This means homework gets pushed off until later in the evening. And, before you know it, it’s time for bed and then, the whole routine starts over the next day.

Unfortunately, this routine can have some negative consequences in the long run. Sure, it is healthy – and beneficial – for there to be a break between school and homework. But, pushing homework off until late in the evening generally means a sleepy, unfocused student – and mediocre work. If this routine is followed day in and day out, there will be no time for extracurricular activities, and grades may suffer due to lack of focus.

Consider helping your student make wise choices after school. Explain the benefits and the consequences of these choices. For example:

  • Completing homework when arriving home from school (or arriving home from extracurricular activities) leaves the whole evening free for other activities.
  • The brain is still in active learning mode, so it will take less effort to focus and complete assignments after school, rather than just before bedtime.
  • By discovering and joining extracurricular activities, not only is the student adding additional skills to his or her portfolio, but also participating in healthy, social after-school fun.
  • A well-rounded person has a lot of interests and enjoys experiencing many things. By conquering homework first, the evening can be spent researching new interests, spending quality time with friends and family, or even learning a new board game.

A child is more than just a student. By keeping priorities in order and making effective use of time, you will help develop a well-rounded and accomplished young person.

Keep Learning Alive While on Break

With the holiday break almost upon us, this is the perfect time to discuss what to do to keep learning alive while on break. Of course, you want your child to spend time relaxing, rejuvenating, and spending free time with friends. However, it is not the time to let the mind sit dormant and the hands to stay idle.

Consider ways that you can keep your child learning while on break – to hone skills or to get a better understanding of the most difficult subjects.

  • Buy or make flashcards for things such as vocabulary words, spelling words, multiplication facts, etc. Carry them with you and pull them out when the time is right, such as while traveling, running errands, or even shopping! While catching your child in a relaxed, happy mood, he or she will be more likely to respond to the flashcards than if it were a forced task.
  • Research fun science experiments or S.T.E.M. projects that can be done at home. Then, spend some time doing these projects with your child.
  • Contact your local library or city to see if there are any educational events taking place for kids during the break.
  • Make a sightseeing tour a learning experience for your kids in your own city. Visit local museums, parks, zoos, etc.
  • Reading is always a fantastic way to keep the mind active. Read with your child or help he or she discover a book series that can be read and enjoyed over the break. Just be sure to discuss the book with your child to ascertain whether good comprehension and interpretation of the text has been achieved!

There are so many activities that need to fit into the daily life of a child. And learning certainly doesn’t stop once he or she leaves school. It is up to you, as their parent or guardian, to guide them on a journey to becoming a well-rounded, organized, and accomplished individual. And it all begins with good time management skills!


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The Importance of Good Handwriting (even in a digital world)

Handwriting is a skill that will follow you throughout life. First learning to write in elementary school, you then use those skills to take notes and complete writing assignments and other classwork throughout the entire length of your education! Then, you will find that handwriting is necessary for many reasons as you enter adulthood, such as:

  • To successfully perform in many career positions.
  • To complete forms at the doctor’s office.
  • To jot down a grocery list.
  • To send a birthday card or a thank you note.

There is just something different about putting a pen or pencil to paper, rather than fingers to a keyboard. It is more personal, and it is more intimate. In fact, your handwriting is unique to you. So, come with us as we explore just why good handwriting is important!

Legible: To be or not to be?

What is the purpose of writing if you cannot read it? Many students don’t take the time to slow down and write neatly, often leaving assignments illegible and unorganized. Teachers then are faced with the task of deciphering what it is that the student was attempting to write – and hope it is deciphered correctly. Otherwise, the student will end up missing (or gaining) points that he or she shouldn’t have.

In the long run, this method could hurt the student. Not only will he or she get in the habit of bad handwriting, but leaving it up to the teacher to determine what the student wrote can lead to mistakes in grading. For instance, a good essay written poorly may lead to a poor score. On the other hand, a teacher may incorrectly determine what the student has written and may award points for a topic not clearly learned and understood. In addition, students who may try to proofread their work may find it difficult to do if the handwriting is not legible.

Lastly – and thankfully, there are some teachers who understand the importance of good handwriting and return any assignments or papers with handwriting that can’t be read. While it may seem as though these teachers are being sticklers or acting harshly with students, they are simply making a point: if your writing is illegible, it cannot be graded fairly.

Handwriting and Cognition.

Nowadays, it is commonplace for students to take notes on tablets, laptops, or even cell phones. This is a near mindless task. However, it has been shown that physically writing your notes down – or anything that you need to remember – engages your mind and its cognitive processes. There is a distinct action that takes place, allowing your note to etch in your memory.

Surely in life you have heard the statement, “If you want to remember it, write it down.” Well, that is exactly where this comes from. Despite all of the technology that exists, nothing can help you learn and remember something more than writing it down.

Handwriting struggles can slow you down

It is important to begin writing neatly as soon as your student learns to write. And, regularly practicing writing skills is a wonderful idea. Handwriting should become second nature and should not be something that your student needs to stop and think about.

Consider this: Your student is taking a test that requires handwritten answers. He or she knows the answers and could verbalize them with little effort. However, if handwriting is a struggle, then taking extra time to determine how to write the answer can lead to an undesired outcome. Either the student will run out of time and be left with an incomplete test. Or, the illegible handwriting will lead to answers marked wrong, despite knowing the correct answer.

Don’t let your student struggle with handwriting. If he or she is finding it difficult to write with little effort, then it is time to stress the importance of working on this skill.

Good handwriting boosts confidence

Believe it or not, handwriting can affect one’s confidence. As an adult, how often do you hear someone remark about someone’s handwriting? Perhaps it’s a co-worker referring to a supervisor’s “chicken scratch,” or maybe it is your teenage daughter laughing at your misspelled grocery list. And, the last time you received a handwritten card in the mail, did you pay attention to whether the handwriting was neat or sloppy? It may seem like an insignificant thing to pay attention to, but it happens every day. And, just one innocent statement, in passing, could boost or squash a kid’s confidence.

Don’t let your student struggle with confidence due to lacking handwriting skills. Help get this under control now. Teach your student the importance of having good handwriting and how wonderful it feels when he or she produces a well-written piece of work. It’s gratifying and good for the self.

If your student is straining to produce good handwriting, it is time to take a stand.

  • Pay attention to how your child is grasping the pen or pencil and adjust if necessary. Sometimes penmanship is lacking simply due to the way in which the writing utensil is being held.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Have your student practice writing letters, words, and sentences. Try giving the student a new pencil or pen that may lead to more excitement about the exercise.
  • Make writing practice fun. Play a puzzle game, play a game of hangman, write cards and letters to those in the hospital or in the military, etc.
  • Get crafty. Pull out the finger paint and let your student get messy and practice writing with his or her finger. Sure, it is not a pencil, but it is still writing. Or, have your student write a message on the fogged bathroom mirror after each shower.

The point is that handwriting just doesn’t disappear, despite how digital our world has become. It just means we need to practice handwriting now more than ever since we don’t use it as regularly. Don’t wait until its too late to emphasize its importance to your students.

Aiming For The Ivy League? A Perfect SAT Score Can Actually Backfire!

By Elizabeth Dankoski/www.elizabethdankoski.com

If you’re reading this, you probably have dreams of getting into Harvard or Princeton or Stanford — or some other amazing school. Now, what has everyone been telling you that you have to do to get into one of these schools?

The formula probably looks something like this: get perfect grades and test scores, enroll in as many AP classes as you can (and get 5’s in all of them), sign up for a million extracurriculars, make sure you’re the leader or the captain of at least 3 of them, and volunteer like crazy in all of your “free” time.

We’re not even going to talk about your mental health after trying to accomplish all of this. But let’s say you follow this formula.

Do you know what your chances of getting deferred or waitlisted are? Last year, Stanford waitlisted 659 students out of more than 42,000 applicants. And you know how many they chose from the waitlist? Seven. That’s it.

The point is that with the acceptance rates at the very top schools plummeting to 5, 6, 7%, there is no way that old formula of perfect grades and test scores and a million time-intensive extracurriculars is going to work anymore.

The truth is that if you follow this formula, you end up spending so much time trying to reach perfect grades and test scores that you have no time to develop what’s unique about you. Sadly, next to every other high-achieving student, you’re actually going to look average if all you have is strong grades and test scores and the usual extracurriculars.

So you know what happens? The schools don’t want to outright reject you because you’re obviously so accomplished, but because they don’t see anything new and different, the colleges end up bumping your incredibly hard-working self onto the waiting list.

Now, some of you are probably panicking right now and thinking, “This is impossible. It’s just too competitive.”

I get it. But let’s pause for a moment. Because I actually have some great news.

You want to know how to get around this crazy competition? It all comes down to one thing:

Finding out what lights you up and then building this passion into something truly substantial that makes a difference in the larger community. That’s it. Really.

Now, that means that you want to get started early. If you’re already a junior, then time is a little short. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stand out on your applications.

In fact, sometimes all you need is to tell an amazing story, a story that really communicates HOW you’re unique and lit up.

Let me tell you about my student Brian. Brian came to me a little over a year ago because he’d gotten deferred when he applied early decision to Cornell. And he wanted to know if there was anything he could to tip the balance in his favor.

So, we sat down together and took a look at his application, and I could see right away what the problem was. His SAT scores were slightly on the low side for Cornell, but if they were too low, he would have just been rejected.

The real issue was that his application didn’t fully reflect his passions and his ability to impact others. It turns out that he had written his application in a fairly conventional way, the way his guidance counselor had recommended, and as a result, all of his best qualities weren’t able to shine through.

So I told Brian that he needed to write a much more personal and compelling story. And for the next week, we worked closely together to rework his application, which he resubmitted to Cornell. He also submitted a new set of applications to his regular decision schools based on everything we’d done together for his Cornell application.

And it worked like magic. When his results came out last spring, he found out he’d been accepted at Cornell AND at MIT.

Now, the thing is that he didn’t get accepted because of his perfect grades and test scores. He had a decent GPA, but he certainly didn’t have a 4.0, and his SAT scores were actually on the low side for Cornell and MIT.

He also didn’t have a million extracurriculars. In fact, he had just two: he was part of his school’s robotics team, and he volunteered at his local farmer’s market on Saturdays. That’s it.

Now, remember, most people would think that a student like this wouldn’t get accepted. Not with these crazy competitive acceptance rates. After all, he didn’t follow the formula of perfect grades and test scores and a million time-intensive extracurriculars that everyone says you need.

So, what tipped the balance?

Well, his application went way above and beyond his grades and test scores to show that he was passionate, thoughtful, and deeply caring. In other words, his best qualities shone through — and that is what ultimately got him a yes at two very fine institutions.

So, what did we just learn? The key to admissions at your top choice school isn’t perfect grades and test scores and a million time-intensive extracurriculars. Rather, the key is to communicate your passions and your ability to impact others in your own way, the way that no one else can. Now THAT is what college admissions officers are looking for.

So, what’s one thing you can do right now that will increase your chances of acceptance?

If you’re a freshman or a sophomore, I want you to start asking yourself what interests you, what lights you up, what kind of problems you want to solve in the world.

And then I want you to go find a mentor, whether that’s your parents or a teacher or another adult, who can help you figure out how to build your interest into something substantial that makes your community better. You can read a lot more about this here.

On the other hand, if you’re late in your junior year or you’re already a senior and you haven’t yet submitted your applications, the real key to your applications at this point is to put together an amazing set of application essays. I have a really helpful video on the top 5 elements of a winning application that you can watch here.

Still need help brainstorming how to distinguish yourself for your applications? Send me an email! I personally read every email I receive and will be happy to respond.

What I Wish I Knew Before I Left For College: For Instance The STRESS Factor!

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Going away to school is HUGE. It’s rated one of the top, life changing challenges that we go through, right up there with divorce and death of a spouse.

It is THE most challenging transition for college bound kids since they usually have not
married or divorced yet.

And what do we focus on when preparing them? Academics.

That seems obvious, right? It’s a competitive world and they need to learn how to study, and write papers on a whole new level.

And yet, there is something even MORE important than grades, tests, and study habits?

It is safety. And responsibility. And accountability.
I don’t remember knowing what those words really meant before I went off to my freshman year.

Your 17 or 18 year old is dying to get away from you and have “freedom”. They may not listen to you anymore. You may have turned into the Charlie Brown teacher to them years ago: blah blah blah blah blah blah blah…..

So how the heck are you going to get them to listen to YOU when you try to talk to them about: sex in “college” , drinking responsibly, the dangers of legal and illegal drugs, and sexual predators?

How will you know you are getting through to them? You don’t know and you can’t. They do not want to talk to you about this stuff and deep down, you don’t really want to talk to them about this stuff, either.

Let’s face it, with all due respect, most of us are uncomfortable talking about sex with anyone.
Sex is a highly explosive topic, no matter your religious beliefs or cultural back ground. As a parent, it’s awkward to talk about sex because no one really taught us how to talk about it with our kids. We all may still be traumatized by the way our parents did or didn’t talk to us about sex.
And where do we go to talk openly and safely about “good” sex. You know the kind when two people who love each other and are in a committed, monogamous relationship, (usually marriage)? Where is there an open and safe conversation?

Yea, uh, no where, really.
We’ve established that as parents, we may not be comfortable or trained to talk about sex with our own children. We also see how maybe there’s not really a place here in our culture where it’s safe and comfortable to talk and discuss about “good” sex between two people in a defined, monogamous relationship.
So now we bring in the media, the 24/7 information coming at us on our phones, our lap tops, our tablets, billboards, magazines, streaming this, downloading that, airplane tray boards with ads. No matter how we ingest our entertainment and news, we cannot seem to escape the advertisements.

And what do we use to sell things?


We use sex to sell beer, cars, sports, fashion, bbq sandwiches, socks, travel, shoes, insurance.

It is a mixed message that is rarely talked about, yet it drives our culture.
Sex is one of the most powerful, primal human drives, yet we can barely talk about it.
And advertisers use it to “play” us(hit our pain points) in unconscious and conscious ways.

Ok, so that is the fish bowl of culture we’re swimming in that we can’t even see because we were born into this: these layers of conversations and cultural norms and contradictions.

Now you ad 18 year olds, unprecedented freedom, on top of unprecedented social media pressure to look like you have the coolest, most fun party life, on top of alcohol, the most lobbied and advertised DRUG in the world, with sexual predators on the side.

Welcome to college.

Have you had THIS conversation with your college bound teen?

I want to help you and your college bound kid avoid the pain and shame that I went through. Grab your FREE College Bound Kid Safety Assessment Quiz at www.ElaineWilliams.com.

Five Tips to Conquer College Reading

By John Richter / EffectiveReading.com

Have you ever had a hard time finishing reading assignments? Have you ever procrastinated your reading? Does reading feel like a chore to you? Or, if you love to read, does it sometimes seem like it takes way too much of your time?

Having excellent reading skills is critical for your success in college. My commitment to you as a student (or the parent of a student) is to partner with you in creating that success. Of course there is a limited amount of space in a blog post, however, the information you’ll learn in this article is valuable and can transform your experience with reading and school. As one of my students, Diana Ellis, a business major said:

“I think this course is wonderful. I’m calmer and more focused about my potential in school. I more than doubled my reading speed and increased my comprehension by 15 points to 85%. I have definite goals and strategies for studying and note taking – which have been life savers! Thank you!!”

I would like to offer that same kind of experience for you, so I’ll give you as much value and practical information as I can in the space provided. If you want to dive deeper, I’ll show you how you can get more information on these subjects through one of the resources that I offer.

Here are 5 tips that you can begin to use immediately to help stay on top of your reading and studying in school.

  1. Optimize Your Mindset

Your mindset, or state of mind, affects not just your results, but the quality of how you experience life. Answer this question: have you ever felt bored, tired, frustrated, angry, anxious, or sad while reading or studying? How did the assignment go? Was it easy or hard to finish? Did you have fun, or did you wish you could have been doing anything else?

When talking about emotions, I like to use the words “contracted” and “expansive” rather than “negative” and “positive.” All emotions are a part of our human experience, and can have a useful purpose.

We refer to strong emotions like fear, anger, and grief as “contracted.” These feelings can make it difficult or even impossible for you to get through a reading assignment. Students with severe test anxiety might have excellent study habits and even perfect recall of what they study, however when they get to the test, their strong emotion of fear completely blocks their ability to remember what they studied.

On the other hand, have you ever felt confident, focused, relaxed, or curious (expansive emotions) while reading or studying? How was that experience different than having the contracted emotions?

Most students report that when they feel expansive emotions, not only is it more fun to study or read, they actually better understand the information and find it easier to remember for their tests.

One way to change your mindset is to change what you are doing with your body. If you are feeling stuck, one of the easiest things to do is get your body moving. Get up and go for a walk, or start dancing or laughing. Yes, even fake laughing for 60 seconds (if you really go for it) can rapidly change how you feel – try it!

Another thing you can do is change your breathing. Stop what you’re doing, and take 10 slow, deep breaths. Inhale for a slow count of 5, and then exhale for a slow count of 5. You might be amazed at how quickly this can improve a contracted emotional state to at least neutral or even expensive state. Five to ten minutes of slow, deep breathing is a great way to start your day and reduce overall stress.

2. Have a Clear Purpose

Students often feel overwhelmed because they have no clearly defined purpose, or goal for their reading. If you need to read a chapter, the first thing to ask yourself a few questions:

  • What do I need to do with this information?
  • Will there be a test over the information?
  • What level of detail do I need to know?
  • Are there parts of the chapter that I do not need to read?
  • How does the information in this chapter fit into the larger scope of the semester?

Sometimes the course syllabus can be helpful for answering these questions. If not, it may be a good idea to meet with your professor and discuss his expectations. You may be surprised to find that all of the information you need to be responsible for on the midterm and final exam will come from lectures.

If that is the case, you may not even need to buy the textbook. Other professors will pull information exclusively from textbooks without adding anything new in their lecture. Some professors use some information from the textbook and elaborate in the lectures. It is very helpful to know in advance whether or not reading assignments can be skipped.

  1. Increase Your Reading Speed

Many incoming college freshmen are completely shocked at the volume of reading required. I have met with thousands of college students within the first 2 to 3 weeks of the start of the semester, and well more than half report that they are already behind in their reading assignments.

Most study skills classes offered to incoming college freshmen recommend that students invest at least 2 to 3 hours reading and studying for every one hour of classroom time. That means if you are taking a 12 hour course load, you would spend 24 to 36 hours every week outside of class reading and studying.

The amount of reading and studying needed will vary greatly depending on your major, your background knowledge about the subject, which professor is teaching the course, and other variables. I’ve met pre-med and pre-law students who spent more than 40 hours per week reading, and students with no declared major not reading anything at all.

Average college students say they spend about 10 hours a week reading. Keep in mind that these are almost always the same students who have fallen behind in the first few weeks of school.

If you could just double your reading speed, which is simple to do with the right kind practice, you would cut your reading time in half. So if you were only reading 10 hours per week, that will be five extra hours that you can invest to do other things that are important. Over 16 week semester, that would add up to 80 hours!

After taking our course, Natalia Robledo, an accounting major at St. Mary’s University said “I have more time now to do other things rather than spend all my time studying. My state of mind is more relaxed.”

One of the greatest myths of reading is that if you want to really understand something, you must read it slowly and carefully. However, most people have experienced that this does not always work. Have you ever slowly and carefully read a passage, and when you finished you had no idea what you just read? Part of the reason for this is that your brain is capable of processing information much faster than your reading speed.

So how do you increase your reading speed?

Let’s first discuss what not to do. Some college learning skills centers offer “speed reading” courses. Some of these courses can help, however most of the ones I’ve seen over the years do more harm than good. They usually teach on skimming or skipping information, or focus on reading speed but never address comprehension or remembering the information.

One program out there has students “read” one page per second. How do you remember the information? By accessing your subconscious mind using an audio recording to guide you into a deep state of hypnosis. I don’t know about your school, however, none of the professors that I know would allow students to bring hypnosis audios into the final exam.

Any book, course, or program that promises outrageous increases in reading speed (i.e. 10,000 to 50,000 words per minute or more) is probably not going to be a good fit for academic reading.

What kind of reading speed is possible while maintaining comprehension? The average adult in the United States, whose native language is English, reads between 200 to 250 words per minute. With 20+ years of experience teaching college students how to improve their reading skills, I can say that students who are willing to practice can increase their reading speed 2 to 5 times, with comprehension as good as or even better than when they read at a slower rate. 500 to 800 words per minute is common with the right kind of training and practice. About 10% of students will reach 1,000 to 1,500 words per minute.

Here is a typical result from one of our students, Reevan Johnson who was attending the University of Texas at Austin: “My reading speed went from 136 words per minute with 40% comprehension to 680 words per minute with 90% comprehension.”

One part of learning to read faster is to practice reading faster. That may sound obvious, but let’s see how it works:

  1. Load the stopwatch app on your phone and time yourself to see how long it takes you to read page in a book. Whatever the length of time is what you will use for this exercise. For our example, let’s say it takes two minutes.
  2. Set your countdown timer to sound the alarm after two minutes (use your reading time!) Then push yourself to read two pages in two minutes. When your alarm goes off, stop and ask yourself “What did I just read?”

At this point, you may not be able to remember anything. That’s okay.

  1. Next, push yourself to read four pages in two minutes. Again, when the alarm goes off, asked the question “What did I just read?”
  2. Then set your countdown timer for two minutes. Read for good comprehension, and notice if you’re reading faster than before.

When you first begin practicing reading faster you may not understand or remember anything at all. This is normal. This practice is designed to push you beyond what is comfortable, and to expand what is possible. In the Effective Reading Course our students learn several exercises, along with other strategies to increase their reading speed with better comprehension.

  1. Upgrade Your Comprehension

Comprehension is the most important part of reading. If you don’t understand what you read, it doesn’t matter how fast you read.

One of the biggest mistakes that students make with reading a textbook chapter is that they dive in and attempt to read the entire chapter beginning to end. First of all, the human brain is not designed to take in that much information in one sitting. Some college textbooks can have chapters of 30, 40, or 50 pages or longer. The good news is that most college textbooks published now are very well organized (although there are glaring exceptions), and if a student knows what to do before reading the chapter, it will greatly improve their comprehension.

  1. Take about a minute to flip through the entire chapter. This will help you get an idea about how the chapter is organized and laid out. This gives you the “big picture” into which you will place the details.
  2. Read the introduction and conclusion before reading the rest of the chapter. This will give you the most important concepts and ideas.
  3. Chunk your chapter into smaller sections. The chapters in many college textbooks are divided into sections. The sections can be further subdivided with subsections. Read just one section and then stop and ask yourself “What did I just read?” Be sure that you understand the information that you just read before you continue.

There are many other strategies for improving your reading comprehension. On average, students who complete the Effective Reading Course increase their reading comprehension by 22 points.

  1. Make Brain-friendly Notes

There are several different note-taking systems for college students. They all have pros and cons. However, the one system that I have seen work consistently for the greatest number of students over the years involves making notes that are brain-friendly. What do I mean by “brain friendly? This means that you engage both the logical/linear and the artistic/nonlinear parts of your brain.

If you look at typical notes made by college students, they usually fall into one of two types:

Left Brain – the page is filled with words. Some items may be numbered or lettered, but all of the information looks pretty much the same. Often there is too much information. If you feel bored when you read over your notes, it’s most likely the right/creative side of your brain begging to be engaged. There is nothing unique or interesting about these notes and it is very easy to forget them when you’re taking a test.

Here is an example of left brain notes:


Right Brain – the page is filled with drawings or doodles, and often times not much more. These notes may have a few words of content, but usually not enough to pass a test.

Here is an example:


Brain friendly notes involves writing key words only, and using lines, shapes, drawings, and colors to connect the ideas. They can be very organized or linear, but because of the lines, drawings, and colors, both sides of the brain are fully engaged. There are many names for this type of notes. We call ours “Retention Diagrams.”

This method of making notes was developed specifically for college students who have tremendous amounts of information and important details to remember. As a matter of fact, we’ve had students raise their grades within just a few weeks after learning to make Retention Diagrams instead of their normal notes.

Mistie Seawell, a Biology/Psychology major said “I improved my Biochem test grade from a C on the first test to an A on the second test. This course is a great investment and definitely something worth doing.”

The first tip is to write your topic, chapter, or section title at the top of the page or in the center of the page. Underline it or draw a box or circle around it.

Next, use key words only – do not write in complete sentences. Remove all of the filler words (like “the”) that don’t add any meaning. Often times, writing one word will automatically convey a more complicated idea. Other times you may need to write several key words or larger sentence fragments. Use as many words as you need to, but not more than that. It’s not about leaving out information that is important, it’s about leaving off everything that does not help you remember. In this way your notes become far more concise and easier to study and remember.

From the title, draw a main line down the page. Write in the “main idea” key words. Be sure to draw lines underneath each one, and connect those lines to the main line. From there, write in your details and connect them to each of the main ideas with lines.

Be sure to use a pen (or pencil) and paper. Do not use “mind mapping” software or apps. They are cool, and can be useful for certain things. However, they do not engage the brain in the same way as writing and drawing the information by hand on a real piece of paper.

A well done Retention Diagram allows a student to see big picture ideas quickly at a glance, and gives instant access to all of the related ideas and details that are connected. Retention Diagrams can be super big picture, or have hundreds of minor details. For example, it is possible to have the “Big Picture” of an entire Biology textbook on one page. It would have the title of the book and the key sections. Here is what that could look like:

Retention Diagrams can also have as much detail as needed. Here is an example of details from a section of a chapter in a Biology textbook:



Some students have questioned if this method of making notes can really allow you to capture a significant amount of detail. To answer this, I show them examples of Retention Diagrams made by medical school students. To the best of my knowledge, they have more details to remember than any other type of student.

Making good Retention Diagrams does take coaching and practice, and there are several common mistakes that students make that are important to avoid.

If you’d like to have more free time, make better grades, gain the competitive edge in school, or bullet-proof your college reading skills, visit our website to learn more about the Effective Reading Course. Be sure to check out the free College-Ready Reading Quiz to see if you have what it takes to master college-level reading.