Boost your GPA, without studying!

You don’t have to be Einstein to get great grades!

First impressions count, even in the classroom. It is the beginning of a new school year, so now is the time to let your teachers know that you are a driven “A student. You must let the teachers know, in September, that you are a “Go Getter”. Some school districts pressure teachers into limiting the number of “A”s awarded. This is known as grade deflation. Therefore, often subconsciously, teachers loosely separate their students into 3 sections; the “A”s,  “B”s, and the “C”s and below.

In the next few weeks, you want to impress your teacher with “A” student qualitiesDo this by arriving on time, sitting in the front, asking questions, and turning in assignments. Be the straggler out of class and ask a few more questions. If you are having trouble with a homework assignment, go to “teacher hours” or send the teacher an email requesting an appointment. Finally, do really well, especially on your first assignments or tests. Okay, so that probably requires studying  – the title lied. 😉

Once you have established a good rapport with your teachers, it is difficult to dumb down your grade. Afterall, you are a conscientious and engaged student! This type of bias may appear when grading an test essay or homework assignment or it may even appear when you go for extra help and the teacher tells you exactly what to study for the upcoming exam. That often happens when you go to extra help!

Review all graded homework and tests to see that it was graded accurately and fairly. You may want to challenge your teacher’s grade or request a “do over” for an assignment to bump up your grade. Most teachers respect the student who comes forward and will often offer them a second chance. That is what learning is all about. Additionally, now the teacher is aware that your grades are important to you.

It’s difficult for a teacher to penalize a student who appears to be putting in extra effort. Thus without even doing a lot more work or studying more, your teacher may unknowingly give your grades a boost. In Elizabeth Wissner-Gross’s book,  What Colleges Don’t Tell You (and Other Parents Don’t Want You to Know) 272 Secrets for Getting your Kid into Top Schools, she dedicates a section to what she calls “Registering for an A”,  or letting the teacher know that you plan to be one of the A students in their class. Many of her themes are clearly explained to help the student perform to the best of their ability and be rewarded accordingly.

Your GPA, is the primary consideration of your college application. Forget about joining a million clubs, you need great grades to help your application. Get the highest grades you can, while taking the most challenging courses such as AP and Honors classes. Next in order of importance are your SAT/ACT scores, then essays. Of less importance are; the teacher recommendations, your demonstrated interest, high school extracurricular activities, work, awards  and special circumstances including your family income. The order of relevance of the last few factors differs from college to college, some schools will give preference to legacy as well.

Great grades are not handed out easily. You are competing with your fellow classmates to be recognized as one of the top students in the class. You may not be the smartest brainiac in the class, nor do you have to be the teacher’s pet. You must earn your grades by demonstrating that you are an engaged student. The bottom line is that you need to let your teachers know, by actively reaching out to them, that you are working for good grades.

Don’t forget to ask GOOD questions!

Editors Note: Originally published  9/2013. We thought it was time to reprint to help your student have a great 2015-16 school  year! 


Laying the Groundwork for Achieving Better Grades

Report-Card-Freebies-300x284If your student is capable of achieving “A”s but is happy with “B”s, how do you ignite the desire to do better? They have to want it. You can nag, plead and punish, but all that nudging may only amount to a lot of unpleasantness.

Note: This is not about getting into Harvard or Yale, it is about motivating the underachiever.

The #1 recommendation amongst college counselors is to go on some super college campus tours with your sluggish student. Make it fun, choose an attractive campus, go on a beautiful day, buy a t-shirt, be open-minded and attend the information session. Visit a school that has a lot of school spirit or attend a big football/basketball game. If you have not done this be forewarn, lots of families are doing this. Whether it is consciously or unconsciously parents groom their children to do well by visiting their alma mater’s games and reunion events.Hustle Lincoln

When attend a college information sessions, which is strongly recommended, a highly selective college
will tell your student that they expect to see  “A”s, and a few “B”s are okay. Your kids are hearing it from the source. And they will also say hat the student should take challenging  classes in high school. No more nagging folks, the Admissions Rep delivers the message for you!

You don’t have to spend big bucks to visit a great college, choose one that you can make as a day trip.

Most Influential Information Sources in Application Decisions

These recommendations are not about getting into a prestigious schools, it is about creating options and possibly earning merit awards. The higher your student’s GPA and SAT/ACTs are, the greater the possibility for scholarships, grants and merit awards. Choose a school where your child has grades that are in the top 25% of their enrollment and merit scholarships may come their way.

It is not too early to visit a college with a freshman, especially since achieving “A”s is always easier during 9th and 10th grade than 11th and 12th.  Dial down the pressure and let them know that this is just information gathering. One rising high school junior visited some competitive colleges during a summer vacation. When he realized that good grades might get him into a really cool school, he went back to school in September ready to work. Consequently, he made the honors list the next four semesters. Clearly, he could have earned a few “A”s in the early high school years.  Since your GPA is cumulative those 9th and 10th grade grades can be helpful or hurtful to the big picture.

Success breeds success. Once a student gets on a roll of good grades, teachers unconsciously may favor the student. (See How to Boost your GPA – Without Studying). Furthermore, since most schools’ better teachers are teaching the honors level classes, wouldn’t you want your child to be in that classroom verses the goof off, zoo-like classrooms?

If teachers have said that your child “does not apply” themselves, a few fun college visits could be the tool which motivate them! If all else fails, offer them $20 bucks for every “A” they bring home or book they read. Just kidding… in the meantime go on a college visit.





Sophomore & Junior College Prep Checklist

Calling all 10th & 11th graders! Here is your check list and game plan for applying to college. With proper planning you will have acceptance letters that you will make you proud. ***

If you are in 11th grade, hopefully, you have visited a few schools and taken eitherChecklist the SAT or ACT. If not then register now for both the ACT  and SAT.

What to Know and Do

Your grades and course load are the most important measures when colleges evaluate your application. If you are falling behind, work hard, get good grades, and get tutoring (especially in math and science). It could save you $1000s of dollars if you win academic scholarships.

Don't be "Deer in headlights"! Be prepared.

Get a summer job. This can start as early as 14 years old. The more work experience you have, the more you impress the admissions departments. Note that during the school year a part-time job should not compete with your schoolwork.

Get involved – Your resume should show that you have participated in community service and have had some type of leadership role in any activity i.e.; sports, work, scouts, volunteering, or school club. Summer is the perfect time to focus on this.

The quality of your extracurriculars are more important than the quantity. Take your passion or interests and develop it in these three areas:

  • Leadership – You are Captain, Leader, or President of your “passion”.
  • Community Service – Share your talents, give back to the community.
  • Enjoyment – Do it, because you love it (music, sports, robotics). This is what makes you interesting!

Visit colleges – Go on official tours and attend information sessions. Every college visit will help you determine where you want to go. The more schools you visit, the better decision you will make.

Read extensively – or take summer community college classes in subjects that interest you. Take them for non-credit or if your high school allows for credit.

Take both SAT and ACT in January, February or March of junior year. Better to collect your test scores early rather than waiting for the May and June tests.

If applying to highly selective colleges  note that they require the “ACT with Writing” or SAT II Subject Tests. The advantage of ACT vs. SAT,  is that it does not have separate Subject Tests (SAT IIs). If you are submitting SATs, then you need to sit for additional SAT II Subjects tests. The Saturday test offerings are far and few, so it becomes quite complicated taking multiple test requirements.

If you will be submitting SAT scores (not ACT) then think about taking SAT Subject tests in both Sophomore & Junior year, when the material is fresh. Note that AP exams can sometimes substitute for SAT II in rare cases.

Once you have a test score benchmark, you’ll know if you need to study more and what types of schools are in your target. You can retake your preferred test (ACT or SAT) again in June. Do not wait until senior year.

Create a list of colleges. Go to ‘s “Super Match” or “College Search” to help you create your list that include two reaches, six likely s  and two safeties. You will input your GPA, SAT or ACT scores, desired geographic location, size of school, major, etc.

Create your resume. A resume is helpful for many reasons and it is easy to do. This will be helpful when completing college applications, for teachers who write your recommendations and for college and job interviews. Parents can help you with this task by collecting and organizing your information.

Recommendations! At the end of junior year, ask two teachers to write your college recommendations. Many teachers cap the amount of number of recommendations they will write, so ask early!

If your school uses Naviance become familiar with the college “Scattergrams”. The scattergram profiles college’s acceptance rates in that high school based on the students SAT scores and GPA.

***If you do not want to stress out about applying to college, you can postpone doing many of these tasks. However, this may mean that you end up going to less selective colleges, miss out on receiving merit awards, and miss deadlines for big flagship universities. Less selective colleges can be fabulous learning institutions and experiences and can be perfect for many students.  ***

Be a college geek and get it done! 


College Interviews – Know Before You Go!

Know Before You Go…

Many colleges offer you a chance to interview with their admissions office or with alumni representatives. Some colleges require* that you interview as part of your application. Here are a few tips to help you prepare and convey that you are a top-notch candidate for their school.

Albeit gorgeous, the Wake Forest Admissions Building  can be scary right before an interview!

Albeit gorgeous, the Wake Forest Admissions Building can be scary right before an interview!

Before your interview, spend time on the college’s website. Learn about the programs, school traditions, and school culture. One HS senior went to their interview and said he planned to major in business. Unfortunately, the elite university did not offer a business major. The interview wrapped up quickly, with the student feeling embarrassed.

If you are meeting with a local alum, research the person by looking up their LinkedIn profile. There you may find that you have a common interest, such as: in their profession (if they are a lawyer and you want to go to law school), in civic organizations, or sports. This could be a great conversation icebreaker.

Practice a few interview questions with a family member or friend. You can Google “College Interview Questions” and it will give you a sense of what might be asked. Be prepared to have some answers.

Bring a fresh looking folder and pen. Include in your folder:

  • A list of questions to ask about the college. Often your nervousness may prevent you from asking a few intelligent questions, do not rely on your memory.
  • Your resume (2 copies looks good). Immediately offer the person a copy of your resume. This is helpful when they write their report.
  • Any personal “supplements” that you would like to share. A supplement is a conversation starter, such as photos from a service project, a super paper you wrote, a special note from a teacher or supervisor commending you. The alumni interviewer typically has not seen your application so it is fine to talk about something you wrote in your essays.
  • Conversation Starter: As an interviewer, I met one HS senior at his high school where he was building a 14 foot long hover craft. The student happened to tell me about it when I called to make the appointment, so I decided to meet him at his school. Cornell accepted him.

Arrive a few minutes early.

The appropriate attire is conservative, business casual. For guys this means a dress shirt, jacket, and ironed khakis. A tie is a bonus touch, but not required.  A suit is not necessary. For ladies this means conservative top, sweater or jacket and dress pants. Or if wearing a dress or skirt, be sure that the length skims the top of the knee and low heels. This is not the time to look like you are going to a party or a typical day in school.

Bring your best manners; firm handshakes, eye contact, try to smile, do not chew gum, and express appreciation for seeing you.

Try to find a Common Thread with the interviewer. This requires excellent listening skills. You are looking to hear something from the interviewer that you can turn into a question and then you can reveal more about yourself. Is it the town you live in, athletics, volunteering, interest in their profession?

Ask the interviewer for their business card. If they do not have one, then ask for their contact information. Take the time to write it down. You can say “May I contact you if I have any more questions?” But the true purpose of obtaining the contact information is to send a thank you note.

Send a thank you note immediately. Thank them for their time and any helpful information they shared with you. A handwritten note is superior to an email.  You may only be able to obtain the email address, if so, then an emailed note if acceptable. The sooner is better! You want the interviewer to receive it before they finalizes their report.

Last spring I was in the admissions building at Wake Forest, on an interview day. There was a large roomful of well dressed, nervous students and their parents waiting for their interview appointments.

It appeared that every one of those potential applicants were prepared. Interviewing at a highly competitive school is stressful, so preparation is your weapon. That and apply to several safety schools!

*Required interviews are tricky because there are deadlines for the appointments, require travel, involve expense and often conflict with your own schedule. This is a good reason why you should start the application process starts before senior year. You must plan early!


How about “Financial Safety” Schools?

It is tough to accept that you may be accepted to your dream school, but the modest financial aid package makes it impossible. It happens to smart students and families all the time.  Community college admissions officer will tell you they receive a rush of phone calls in late summer from upset parents asking if their really great student may be admitted because they cannot not afford their first choice school. Great grades does not guarantee scholarship if you are applying to the wrong schools.

In reality, most financial aid packages are loans. When the reality of taking $10, 000 to $40,000 a year in loans has set in, dreams are crushed. Although the student receives the modest financial aid package, which consist of mainly loans in April, often they had hope that it will work out. They send an appeal to the Financial Aid office only to be denied.

Alternatively, many parents will co-sign for big loans, send their not-too-mature child off to college. When the student performs poorly, they will pull the plug and have the student withdraw from school. Now they have one semester worth of big debt and a handful of “D”s. Furthermore, a terrible transcript does not bode well for transferring.

Now is the time to send a few applications to colleges which you can afford, without taking more debt than reasonable. Reasonable by some experts is consider between $5,000 to  $15,000  (gulp) a year, in loans. Remember a college degree from anywhere  does not guarantee that you will be hired when you graduate. When you graduate, in four years (or less! it can be done), how much money do you want to have to payback at 6% interest?

Find “Financial Safety” schools!  These may include:

  • Community college – delay the gratification of going away to dream school, save your money, get great grades, then transfer into super dream college. Watch a rerun of the movie “Rudy”, who goes this route and graduates Notre Dame and special bonus he accomplishes his dream and plays for the famous Fighting Irish football team! Not too shabby!
  • Instate public college – most of American students, approximately 80%, go to their public universities and colleges. You will be in good company.
  • Apply to lesser known colleges where your test scores and GPA are well above the college’s averages. If your grades are in that particular colleges top 10%, they may offer you a full scholarship! Note that schools that are highly selective, have very low admissions rates (less than 25%) are not awarding many full scholarships. They have too many applicants who can pay the full sticker price.
  • Colleges that have published, guaranteed scholarship awards if you meet test & GPA criteria.  Although there are not that many that offer this, here are a few: University of Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida A&M, U South Carolina-Columbia, Ohio U, and Choppin State (MD).

Your college education is what you make it, but it can cost big money. A really nice aspect of going to a “financial safety” school  is that there is economic diversity amongst the students. Most of your peers will also be working hard to pay their tuition. When I asked an adult friend how they enjoyed attending their elite, private university many years ago, she said, “My parents really couldn’t afford, I felt out of place. It was tough”. Ouch.

Many top students who are attending their financial safety schools, are planning to attend graduate school. They are looking at the big picture. It is not fun to go to dream school and worry about huge loans and keeping up with your classmates who go off campus for dinner. Going to a college with economic diversity is the real world. Find a forumla that works for your family’s finances.  You are going for a bachelors degree that will launch you into your chosen profession. It is not about the college name on the sweatshirt.

Top Graduation Gifts – They Won’t Return

graduation-gift-guideWondering what to give the high school graduate? First and foremost, college students always love cash. As college tuition sky-rockets and textbooks cost as much as $350, every little bit helps.*

Here are a few ideas to meet all budgets:

  1. Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies Gift Certificate – Send the graduate a congratulations card with a note promising to send a care package of homemade chocolate chips cookies. Nothing like homemade cookies to help make new friends! $20
  2. University Flag – great for dorm room decor and graduation parties. They can be ordered online from the campus bookstore or $25-$50flag
  3. Gift certificates– Bed, Bath & Beyond or Target for dorm room supplies.
  4.  Amazon Gift Certificates– these can be used for textbooks and all types of necessary supplies. Most students open an Amazon Prime membership, thus they can receive their orders within 2 days. So easy.
  5.  The Naked Roommate by Harlan Cohen, a fun read of behind-the-scenes look at everything students need to know about college. $9
  6. Guys- 24 identical pairs of Socks – Lose a sock and you have 47 more that match. Go to Costco or a Nike outlet and laundry will not become an issue. $50towel
  7. Girls- Shower wrap around towel, bonus points if it is monogramed $20 – $40
  8. Memory foam bed pad and pillow– college kids love their beds and they tend to brag about who sleeps best on their hallway. $100+
  9. “Off to College” Laundry Basket – this is for the creative gift giver! Pick up a new laundry hamper and fill it with laundry graduate's gift basketsupplies, snacks, Advil, first aid kit, flip flops, flash light, extension cords, etc. $30+
  10. Bonus! New Computer – Before purchasing, check with the University tech department to see if they have any special purchasing discounts and what systems they best support. If purchasing a Macintosh, Apple offers a $100 discount with student id.  $500 – $1200

*Great Tip – if your child receives a large sum of cash in gifts, consider dividing it into payments that they will receive over the course of four years. For example, if the total is $1000, and it is not going directly towards tuition, allot them $250 per year for spending money, books, etc.

Campus Visits – A Parent’s Point of View by Kathleen Thometz

Welcome  Kathleen Thometz to CollegeintheBag’s guest blog spot! Kathleen, is a  very cool & creative mother of four who is preparing to send her oldest off to college in the fall of 2013. As she shared tales of recent college visits, I begged her to write about them. Thanks Kathleen and enjoy everyone!   

Up until Thanksgiving my husband had been in charge of our son’s college visits.  As we are from the Chicago area, they had been driving through the Midwest looking at various small colleges, Loras and St. Ambrose, in Iowa and Bradley in Peori, Loyola in Chicago.

As I was driving out to the east coast for Thanksgiving, I was charged with taking him to McDaniel (formerly Western Maryland) in Westminster and Goucher in Towson, Maryland.

I was surprised that I actually found myself enjoying those visits, in spite of the fact that McDaniel gave a lively 2 hour presentation to the parents before a tour of the lovely, colonial-feeling campus, and delicious lunch in their brand new cafeteria.

Goucher’s presentation was a one-man-band affair and down and dirty.  The one thing I liked about the school, besides the prairie style architecture, was the fact that it is the only school in the country that requires every student go abroad.  This is wonderful because it gives our students the much-lauded global experience.  It also allows them to savor the experience long after it happens because all of the older students have already done it and will want to continue to share their experiences and the younger students are gathering information to choose their experience abroad.

While I enjoyed the tours for the most part, I think these schools need to come up with a better way to give the tours.  Following a young man or woman across what feels like miles of campus, while they walk backward is disconcerting.  How about a mini-PA system or just walk frontwards and make the groups smaller? Since the writing of this piece I’ve discovered that it is very good for you, both physically and mentally, to walk backwards.

I was struck by the amount of great things, that don’t cost anything, offered at these schools that I don’t remember being offered when I went to college nearly 30 years ago.  I was impressed with the affinity housing, students with similar interests living together.  At McDaniel there is a house where the students raise a service dog together each year. I love the writing clinics both schools had available to students.

I know I’m a dinosaur but what I don’t like about college campuses in general is the too-fancy facilities. McDaniel just built a state of art cafeteria. I’d rather send my kid to a dumpy college with great professors and have lower tuition. I am not keen on paying to

High Point’s waterfall wall at the entrance of the cafeteria.

have my child eat in a kitchen more gorgeous than mine.  These kids will be in for a rude awakening when they move into their first dumpy apartment.  I’d rather have that experience come in college at less financial cost to me.