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Q: I'm thinking about transferring from a private to a public school in the middle of my senior year. If I do end up transferring, will this affect the college applications I've already sent? And if so, will this have a heavy impact?

A: The answer is yes! Transferring from one school to another during the high school years is one thing; but transferring in the middle of your senior year is another.

Switching high schools is fairly common. It happens for many reasons: a parent gets a new job, a parent re-marries and moves to another city or state, a family's financial situation changes. I remember reading an application from a young woman in a military family; they moved to a new base annually, and she wrote that one of the reasons she looked forward to college was being in the same place for four consecutive years! But the moving around, in itself, did not hurt her.

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Q: I failed my geometry class for one grading period, but I am a straight A student for everything else. Is there any way for me to get accepted by a pretty good college?

A: Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer: Sounds like you had a tough time with your math class, but you are a hard-working student and this failure came as a real shock; failing is not what you ordinarily do. And someone is telling you, "Now, you'll never get into a good college!" Take a deep breath. Everyone messes up on something. But if this one grading period's failure is uncharacteristic, and everything else is fine, you will have no problem getting into a ton of colleges. You may run into a problem, however, if this is part of a pattern of weak grades.  (As a side note, remember that you still have time to improve your grade before the end of the semester. Ask your teacher for help!)

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Q: I just read your comments about the the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) programs. My daughter and son have received so many different "opportunities" and it is indeed difficult to discern the value of these programs. So what is your opinion about Model United Nations (MUN) programs that provide intensive "opportunities" throughout the country? My daughter is involved in MUN at her high school and wants to develop her skills in this area. Will participating in a program such as this add value to her resume?

A: Participation in Model UN could add value especially if she has had a leadership role in the organization or has participated actively (that is, other than just going to meetings). The National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) and other "honor" programs, such as the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF), offer worthwhile experiences—but at a steep price. One of the organizers of the NYLF, in fact, is the Envision company which, as a dot-com, is interested mostly in making profits for itself. The experiences offered by these programs might be enjoyable, but they will NOT help anyone get into college.

Model United Nations (MUN), on the other hand, is a legitimate activity that originated around the time the UN did. In 1927, a model League of Nations was founded, followed by the Model UN in the late 1940s. Many high schools and colleges offer their students MUN as one of their extra-curricular activities. Here, students experience simulated UN sessions and learn about world affairs, decision-making processes, negotiation and diplomacy. Being involved in MUN during high school is considered an excellent activity, equal to being involved in the orchestra, an athletic team, the debating society, a theatrical production or any other group demanding a commitment of time and brainpower.

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by Rachel Howard, Lori Podvesker, Albert Martinez and Todd Dorman of INCLUDEnyc

All 8th-graders have a rough time applying to high schools in New York City, but for the 15,000 8th-graders with disabilities—out of 270,000 total students with disabilities—the application process is even harder. Information in the high school directory can be misleading, and parents of children with disabilities don't get much help at fairs or open houses. Families hear the same mantra: “This school will provide students with disabilities the supports and services indicated on their IEPs.” Too often, it’s just not true.

Students with disabilities, especially those from high-need neighborhoods, are at the highest risk for placement at the city’s lowest performing high schools—or at schools that are unprepared to support them. Through our work at INCLUDEnyc, we’ve seen kids choose underperforming schools over better ones because they were close by; we’ve seen others apply to schools that they weren’t qualified to attend, or that were geographically inaccessible to them. Too many students with disabilities make uninformed choices about high school—and it shows. The graduation rate for students with disabilities is 36.6 percent (about half of the city average), and the dropout rate is especially high during 9th grade.

Students who meet the criteria for one of 13 federally defined education disabilities are legally entitled to an Individualized Education Program, known as an IEP. An IEP outlines the services, supports, and educational strategies that must be provided so the student can learn and graduate ready for a job or college. The IEP is both a legal contract and a working educational map. But the capacity of any school to fulfill a student’s program—which is different for every student—is all but ignored in the NYC high school application process.

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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.

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Monday, 21 September 2015 11:49

College Counselor: Advice for foreign students

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.

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Wednesday, 16 September 2015 12:52

Computer science? Reading comes first!

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.

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Wednesday, 02 September 2015 23:26

College Counselor: Why does college cost so much?

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.

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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.

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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.

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