Sunday, July 15, 2018

Is Community College Transfer Right for You?

Not all students can or should go straight to a four-year college after high school graduation. Maybe cost is a concern, or you're uncertain about moving away from home, or you just aren't ready to choose a college yet. For kids who want to begin college but find the timing isn't right for a "traditional" college experience, following a transfer path at a community college can be a smart choice.

How Does It Work?

Increasing numbers of kids attend community college as a pathway to transfer to a four-year college or university. State community college systems are designed to enable students to complete the first two years of general education and prerequisites required to transfer to a state college or university; by offering courses that are “articulated” to specifically fulfill the lower division requirements of a four-year university, they offer a straight “pipeline” into earning a four-year degree. Many state colleges and universities even guarantee a spot to community college students who successfully complete a transfer program and meet a minimum GPA requirement.

Many private and out-of-state public colleges and universities also welcome transfer students. While some, like Stanford, accept only low single-digit numbers of transfers, others, like USC, accept close to a quarter of those who apply. Some private colleges have “articulation agreements” with state community colleges that are similar to those shared between community colleges and state public four-year institutions, which facilitate a smooth transfer of credits.

While students traditionally choose to transfer to a four-year college as juniors, some colleges do accept students as freshman or sophomore transfers after they have completed a semester or year of community college courses. This is more common at private colleges; at some public colleges, like the University of California and CSU system, it is very rare that a student will be accepted as a transfer with fewer than 60 credits (junior standing).

Working with an on-campus transfer counselor is crucial for students planning a transfer to four-year college; it’s essential that kids take the right classes to fulfill the requirements of their future college or university, and the path can often be challenging to navigate on their own.

The Benefits of Community College Transfer Path

Lower Investment

Community college can save thousands of dollars off the cost of the first two years at a four-year college. Completing two years of lower division coursework at a community college is inexpensive (and, in some states, may even be free). In California, the cost of one year is around 11% of the cost of attending a University of California campus and 20% of attending a California State campus. At a state college where the cost of four years of attendance is $100,000, for example, spending two years at a community college before transferring would bring the cost to nearly half. Because students typically attend community colleges near their homes, many choose to live at home while they complete their degrees, lower overall costs even further.

Support & Connection

While community colleges are bustling places, class sizes are generally small and afford students close contact with professors and peers. This is great for kids who value teacher support and the chance to build connections that can result in outside opportunities and strong letters of recommendation that can be useful when applying to four-year colleges.

Growing Room

Some kids need more time to mature before moving straight to college, and community college can be a great “stepping stone”. Kids build academic and personal independence, but generally still live at home and have the benefit of family support as they prepare to launch. Just as a gap year can be a great way for kids to mature and find their feet before heading off to college, community college provides the same opportunities in a more academic, structured (and less expensive) way. For kids who have faced mental or physical health challenges in high school, this interim educational phase can be even more important, as it affords additional time to adjust after high school and make sure everything is in place to meet a student’s needs before she moves on to the independence of a four-year college experience.

A Fresh Start

In addition to providing a slower transition to college, community college can also give a student who has had academic challenges a “clean slate”. In most cases, once a student begins community college classes and has earned a certain number of credits (which varies by college) they are no longer required to submit high school transcripts or SAT/ACT scores when applying for admission to a four-year college. This means that regardless of what happened in high school, a kid who does well at community college can end up being accepted to many great four-year colleges that would have denied him admission as a freshman.

Improving Your Odds

In states like California, where admission to top-tier public four-year universities is increasingly competitive and out of reach to even the most highly qualified high school students, spending two years at community college can greatly improve the likelihood of acceptance. In fact, the UC recently announced that it will now guarantee a spot at a UC to all qualified transfer students, hopefully as soon as 2019. Currently, this benefit is extended to some California community college transfers through the Transfer Admission Guarantee program (TAG). Several UC campuses participate in TAG, which guarantees students a spot at a single campus of their choice provided they meet all general education requirements and achieve a minimum GPA. Students can "tag" one campus and still apply to other UCs in the system. UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego don't participate in TAG, but it's an option at the other six campuses.

If you are shooting for a top-tier school like UC Berkeley or UCLA, attending a community college can also make admission to these campuses much more attainable; a student who wasn’t eligible for admission to these UCs as a high school senior will find it easier admitted as a junior transfer as long as his or her grades are very strong.

No matter what path you choose to get your undergraduate degree, there will be pros and cons. Community college transfer students do miss out on some things, like the experience of living in a dorm and the sense of pride that can come with attending a prestigious college as a freshman. But for many students, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Community college can be a smart choice for kids in a variety of situations and who have a wide range of goals and ambitions. In college, as in life, there are countless ways to get where you want to go; community college might be the right one for you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

AP Classes: Maximizing Benefits, Maintaining Balance

The popularity of AP classes at U.S. high schools is booming. Most schools offer at least a few advanced placement classes, and many give kids the opportunity to choose from more than 20. Along with the increased availability of AP classes, so too has the pressure grown for students to take advantage of these advanced courses, which are now viewed as one of the keys to acceptance at competitive colleges and universities. As a result, many students pack their schedules with AP classes, often at the cost of sleep, social life and extracurricular activities. But are APs necessary to get into college? How many should kids take, and how many are too many? 

Colleges expect students to be actively engaged in learning and to demonstrate a high level of mastery in the courses they take. A common guideline is that students should take the "most rigorous courses available to them." This doesn't, however, mean that kids should take every AP offered at their high school. The key is to balance APs with regular college preparatory coursework, a process which should take into account the rigor of the class as well as students' interests, strengths, and tolerance for stress.

Some APs are more challenging than others and carry heavier homework loads. Not surprisingly, APs in "academic" areas like science, math, English and history tend to be more difficult, while those in the arts, languages and social sciences are considered "softer". Of course, the relative challenge or ease students experience in a course depends in large part upon the areas where they excel and those where they aren't as proficient. 

In general, students should build an AP course schedule that includes the subjects of their greatest interests and strengths. If a student is equally strong in math/science and the humanities, diversifying to include courses in two or three subject areas can demonstrate that he or she has a solid foundation across the curriculum. It's also important to be sure that the course load is balanced; no schedule for a conscientious student should regularly consume more than three to four homework hours per day.

If a student has already chosen a college major of interest, taking AP classes related to that field can be beneficial to demonstrate both strong interest in and aptitude for a subject (this is especially true of the sciences, computer sciences and engineering). While AP credit may be counted toward lower division major requirements at some colleges, don't be surprised if competitive majors at selective universities won't accept AP credit to waive foundation classes. This doesn't mean the classes aren't worth taking, however, as they will provide strong preparation for successfully approaching the major's coursework.

If a high school doesn't offer an AP class in a student's area of interest or if he or she wants the flexibility to pursue advanced study outside the regular school day, there are alternative ways to take classes. Several accredited online and independent high schools offer AP classes throughout the year. While sometimes expensive, this can be a great option for kids who want to complete work over the summer or are unable to fit a course into their school day.

Another frequently overlooked option is community college courses. While community college courses aren't APs (which is a standardized high school course), they are in some ways even more valuable in that they demonstrate a student's ability to master a college level curriculum as well as be successful in a college environment. Students can take general education classes or focus on a particular area of interest related to a potential major. When applying to college, students send their community college transcript along with their high school transcript, and the courses are "weighted" in the calculation of the GPA just as an AP class would be. If the courses are transferable, the credits earned can typically be used to fulfill lower-division requirements or even prerequisites for a major. Community college is affordable and students enjoy the freedom and independence they have outside the high school classroom.

If a student wants to take an AP class but is worried about the challenge, consider adding the course to the school year schedule and then taking an AP "pre-course" over the summer through a platform like EdX. These MOOCs (massive open online classes) are offered by major universities and are often self-paced. Students can get a head start on understand the AP material and hopefully relieve some stress and homework time during the school year by laying a strong foundation before the first day of school. 

AP classes can be a valuable aspect of high school education, but it's important to maintain a healthy perspective when choosing classes. Earning a B in a tough AP class is usually better than getting an A in a regular college prep class, but Cs should be avoided. Kids shouldn't take on so many APs that the place their sleep, sanity or GPAs at risk. They should choose classes that that will deepen their learning and help them develop as confident students rather than focus on racking up AP credits. In education, there is no single "right way" to do things, so don't be afraid to take the "less is more" approach at times or to look for non-traditional ways to show colleges that you are a curious and self-motivated learner. By pursuing the courses that are right for you in high school, you can trust that you will get into and thrive at a college that is the best match for you. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Summer College Planning for Rising Seniors 2018

Summer is almost here! If you're a college-bound senior, now is the time to begin key college planning tasks and alleviate the stress and chaos of the coming fall admissions season. There are numerous ways you can use your summer break to get ahead of the curve on your applications.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

SAT Subject Tests: A Crash Course

What Are They?

The SAT Subject Tests are one-hour exams designed to test your knowledge in specific subjects. Students can choose from among 20 different tests in five subject areas. The tests are based on material that is taught in high school, and they give you the chance to showcase what you have learned and demonstrate to colleges how you are uniquely qualified in your best subjects. If you're doing well in your classes (and especially if you're taking advanced classes such as honors or AP) you're probably prepared to take subject tests and do well on them. 

Should I Take Subject Tests?

Around 160 colleges and universities require or recommend that students provide two (and sometimes three) Subject Test scores along with their SAT or ACT scores. They may also require scores if you are applying for a specific major. Check the websites or call the admissions offices of the colleges you are planning to apply to to see if you will need to submit scores. 

Even colleges that don't require Subject Test scores will often consider them when reviewing your application. This can be a great opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants and give colleges are more complete picture of your academic interests and abilities. If you're planning to apply to a particular major or program, subject tests can also let you show your preparation in those areas. 

In short, if testing doesn't make you a crazy person or a complete basket case, it's probably worth it to spend an afternoon taking Subject Tests in areas where you excel. 

When Should I Take The Tests?

Since Subject Tests are based on material taught in high school, it makes sense to take the tests in subjects you are currently studying (and doing well in) as close to the end of the course as possible. For example, if you take Chemistry as a sophomore and are getting great grades, take the Subject Test in May or June of sophomore year when the information is still fresh in your mind. After taking the main SAT reasoning test in March of junior year, you might take Math 2, US History, literature, or some combination of tests in May or June. 

If you're taking AP classes, you're exceptionally well-prepared to succeed on the Subject Tests, but the college-level knowledge that AP classes teach isn't required to score well.

You can take up to three Subject Tests at a single administration, but you can't take the reasoning test and Subject Tests on the same day. 

Am I Prepared?

For the Literature Subject Test, 3-4 years of college-preparatory study is recommended. The test reflects what is commonly taught in high school, but due to differences in high school classes, it's likely that you'll find questions on material that you've never studied. Don't worry about this: It's possible to do very well on the test even if you haven't learned everything that is covered (you can even get an 800 without answering every question correctly). This also applies to the U.S. and World History tests. 

After taking one year of Biology, Chemistry or Physics, you are ready to take Subject Tests in those areas. Again, don't be concerned if you haven't learned all the material that is on the test. 

There are two Biology tests: Biology E and Biology M. Take Biology E if you feel more comfortable answering questions about biological communities, populations and energy flow. Take Biology M if you feel more comfortable answering questions about biochemistry, cellular structure and processes, such as respiration and photosynthesis. You can't take both tests on the same date, but you can take them on two different test dates.  

While the SAT offers two levels of Math Subject Tests, Math 1 and Math 2, almost all colleges are only interested in Math 2, which covers three years of college-prep mathematics (two years of Algebra plus Geometry) as well as trigonometry and elementary functions (pre-calculus). For most students, this means that the earliest the Math 2 Subject Test should be taken is the end of junior year. 

There are also two types of foreign language tests: With listening and without. Like Math 2, almost all colleges want only scores from foreign languages "with listening". You should have at least two years of strong preparation in the language (more is better). Ideally, take the test as close to the end of the last level of the language that you plan to take in high school. 

Just to make things even more fun, the College Board only offers foreign language tests with listening in November. In general, this means the best (and probably only) time to take the tests are in November of senior year.

The College Board website has a wealth of information to help you learn about and sign up for Subject Tests. 

Even if you find you don't need to take them, Subject Tests are probably worth the time and brain fatigue. When it comes to college admissions, you never know what might make the difference between getting in and getting passed over. It can pay to take advantage of every opportunity you've got to shine.