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Q: I am a high school senior. The only thing I know about college is that I want to double-major and eventually get a degree for secondary education. However, I have many interests so I'm unsure what to major in. I love English, biology, and chemistry, but mostly psychology. I am hoping to travel in summers and help kids across the country. I need a degree that will help me do that! Thank you!
A: You are in luck, although you might not realize it now. It seems as though you may be confronted with difficult decisions, but quite the contrary: your future lies before you like a treasure map, but instead of just one treasure, there are many! You have a lot of options.
Q: I am an international student and wish to study economics in the United States. I have taken the O-Level examinations and scored mostly As with some Bs. Currently I am taking A-Levels in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and economics. Is there a top-ranked university I could easily get into, and are there scholarships or other financial awards for which I could qualify?
A: Your qualifications are excellent: the O-Levels (sometimes called the GCSE: General Certificate of Secondary Education) followed by A-Levels represent the highest curriculum in the British educational system. That is the encouraging part of my answer.
The discouraging part, unfortunately, is that many students have rigorous qualifications, and that makes acceptance to a strong, popular university program extremely competitive. The word "easily" simply does not apply. College admission in the United States, especially in fields such as mathematics, chemistry, and economics, is not easy.
Mayor Bill de Blasio made a splash with his promise to offer all children classes in computer science over the next decade. But tucked into his education speech on Wednesday was something that may have an immediate, concrete impact: a pledge to hire reading specialists for all the city's elementary schools by fall 2018.
Needless to say, reading is an essential skill. Research shows that children who don't read well by 3rd grade are unlikely to graduate from high school. Unfortunately, New York City has not previously invested in reading specialists—that is, teachers who have a master's degree focused on reading issues.
Q: Over the summer, we took our daughter to visit a number of colleges. We saw a lot of impressive things: beautiful buildings, nice dorms, modern labs, and so forth. But the cost! We have heard our friends telling us how much college is costing them, but we never actually realized it until now. The cost of going to college is more than many people even make in a year! Why is it so expensive?
A: It costs a lot to run a college. What students pay covers some, but not all of the cost. There are the faculty salaries (plus benefits like health insurance), generous administrators’ salaries (the college president, vice presidents, provosts, vice-provosts, deans, associate deans, assistant deans, and so forth), and staff salaries (the department managers, administrative assistants, librarians, admissions staff, student services directors, and so on). What about infrastructure? Buildings have to be maintained by the buildings and grounds crew, heat and electricity must be provided, buildings painted when needed to keep a fresh look. Libraries must stay current by ordering the latest books and renewing subscriptions to journals. Maybe the Classics Department doesn’t have to order many new items from year to year, but the Biology and Chemistry Departments need new equipment all the time.
You get the picture. A school’s budget is enormous.
Q: After I graduated from high school in 2006, I went to community college. But I wasn't prepared mentally or physically; I quit going to classes, gave up, and failed out. Now I am 24 and feel ready to take getting a degree seriously. I live in a town where there aren't any counselors who will give genuine advice because I am low-income. I am interested in psychology. I've always felt like I was made for helping people, and being a therapist is the career meant for me. Am I too old to get this degree, and how do I begin this long journey? Please help me—and be honest.
A: Honestly, it's not too late! Although it does not seem young to you, 24 is delightfully young and full of promise. But even if you were 34, 44, 54—I'd say the same thing: it is never too late to learn. Actually, you are in a good spot—since you have experienced the real world for a few years, you are mature enough to realize that education is a serious thing. On the whole, professors themselves find that older students are more dedicated, insightful, and full of purpose than many 18 or 19 year olds.
Algebra is a gateway course—the foundation for higher-level math and a critical hurdle that New York students must clear in order to graduate. Eighth- and 9th-graders who do well in it are steered to more advanced courses that prepare them for college and good jobs. Yet in New York City, nearly half of all students fail the Algebra Regents exam on the first try, and thousands end up re-taking the exam multiple times, caught in what educators call the "algebra whirlpool."
A new policy brief, the third in a series on math and science education by Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs, examines factors that fuel the algebra whirlpool. It also highlights what some schools are doing to help struggling students who lack the mathematics foundation to master algebra by 9th grade pass the course and move on to higher-level math.
Reporters from Insideschools visited more than 100 middle and high schools and found that with the rollout of the Common Core standards, many educators have been thinking about new ways to teach algebra and to structure class time so students fully understand the material. We also found that there is heightened attention in school to getting algebra instruction right, given the importance that higher–level math plays in college readiness and careers.
When Insideschools staff visits a high school we like to hear about students' hopes for the future. Some say they like animals and want to become veterinarians. Others may like to design and build things and want to become architects or electricians. But these and many other occupations are closed to students who don't take chemistry, physics or advanced mathematics in high school.
A new policy brief by Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School examines the importance of a college-prep curriculum in math and science—algebra 2, physics and chemistry—and how many high school students have access to it across the city. The results are sobering: More than 150 of New York City's public high schools—or 39 percent—do not offer a standard college-prep curriculum in math and science; more than 200 schools do not offer a single Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate class in math or science.
Can you be a strong college applicant with just three years of high school? Two students in very different circumstances want to know.
Q: I live in Honduras, a country where only a few schools offer four years of high school. I attend a school that has only 10th and 11th grades. As an 11th-grader, I am currently a "senior" and am preparing to apply to Ivy League colleges and the best universities in the US. However, I am not sure if American colleges (especially the most selective ones) will recognize my diploma with only three years of high school. I am a straight A student with solid extra-curricular activities and test scores. Is this particular situation an obstacle to my applications? Or will I have to complete 12th grade in another school before applying?
Q: I attend a very large, overcrowded urban public high school in the U.S. I have taken good classes, including some honors courses, and have a GPA of 3.8 out of 4.0 at the end of my sophomore year. But high school really isn't pleasurable for me, and I am thinking of graduating early. Because four years of English are required for a diploma, I figure I can double up on English next year (which is my junior year). This way, I will meet all the minimum course requirements and can graduate a year early and start college a year earlier. Is this a good idea? Will missing a fourth year of high school count against me?
A: Both students have the same dilemma—should they apply to colleges with just three years of high school? If they meet the college or university's entrance requirements, can they apply? Yes. But will they be at a disadvantage? In the first case, perhaps; in the second, definitely!
Q: I am a sophomore in high school. When it's time for me to apply to colleges, would it be important to list if I had a website? Is that something that could help my application? Also I enjoy writing short stories in my free time. What can I do to show the colleges my writing, if I do not have a portfolio?
A: You are asking two excellent questions. Let's start with the second: You should start to set up a writing portfolio now. Add a story each time you finish one, and also keep a list of ideas you get for stories. Please remember to back up your files—it's heartbreaking to lose creative writing!
As you explore your college options, look for those that have creative writing programs. Those colleges may require applicants to submit an online portfolio. While it is NOT a good idea to send unsolicited stories, poems or writing samples with an application, the common app does have a box at the bottom that says "use this space to tell us anything else you want us to know." There you could talk about your writing, and include a link to your portfolio. Know that unless it's a small school, and unless you are applying to a writing program, admissions officers may not read it.
Two inquiries came in this week from parents wanting to know how the type of high school their children attend will affect their college admissions. The scenarios are different but the answer is pretty much the same, so I'm answering them together.
1. How important is the choice of high school on college options? We have been happy that our children are doing well in middle school and even happier that they are enjoying it so much. This school will transition into a grade 6–12 next year. But we have heard that, coming out of a new school without an established reputation, they will be seen as less appealing to colleges. Many, if not most, parents around us are in a frenzy preparing for the specialized high schools exam, saying that one of these schools is the only pathway to the best college opportunity.
2. My daughter is a happy freshman at one of the specialized high schools. Her grades are in the low 90s in the humanities and in the 80s in math/science. But at her high school, 92 is like the edge of a cliff: 92 and up means you get to do electives, APs, and have a range of college options. Below 92, you do not. It really seems that binary. Ironically, it seems that her chances at a future with choices would be higher elsewhere. Should we seek to transfer out?