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Dr. Jane S. Gabin
Dr. Jane S. Gabin After 10 years in university admissions and another decade as a college counselor in the NY metro area, Dr. Gabin works as a researcher, writer, and independent educational consultant. She graduated from Queens College and has a PhD in English from UNC-Chapel Hill. She is a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.
Q: What advice can you give with regard to summer courses in terms of looking best on a college application? My son is a high-achieving student and would like to take some courses next summer that would enhance his applications.
A: If your son is hoping to find a summer course which will reinforce his academic interests, and his college application, he has a number of options.
Q: My daughter just received a summons to jury duty this fall. She is supposed to report to a court in lower Manhattan. But she goes to college at Binghamton! How is she supposed to serve on a jury while enrolled in a college many miles and hours away? She can't miss all those classes!
A: Jury duty is a responsibility that must be taken seriously -- but the court system will not expect your daughter to miss classes in order to serve.
Q: Since my school has very few AP classes, are "College Now" courses good substitutes?
A: When colleges review students' applications -- and this is especially true with selective colleges -- the transcript is the most important document they examine. They look not only for outstanding grades, but for a strong curriculum. In general, they look for the number of challenging courses rather than for the number of As.
How many of these challenging courses are required? There is no set number. In all cases, students will be evaluated according to the classes available to them. In some high schools, Advanced Placement (AP) courses are the hardest ones available, while in others it might be honors courses. "College Now" courses are another option.
Q: Will college admissions personnel take my daughter's learning disability into account when reading her application? Or will revealing it hurt her chances of getting in?
A: It takes all kinds of learners to make a school community, and if your daughter has the attributes, skills, and experiences that will make her a positive addition to a college, that's what will count. A learning disability, in itself, will not make her ineligible for college.
A learning disability is like any other disability -- and it is illegal to discriminate against applicants with disabilities. But she will need to show that she is able to do the work. Students with various disabilities are admitted to an array of colleges all the time; but they not are admitted because of the disability. They are admitted as a result of demonstrating that they have been able to master academic skills.
Whether you are starting high school as a 9th grader or as a senior, there are things you can do right now that will prepare you for college. Here are some quick tips that can help you without adding to stress.
High school will be an adjustment, so take it week by week. Take some time to get to know your teachers and fellow students. Make academics your #1 priority, but you also have to have some fun. Find clubs, teams, or activities you would enjoy. Don't think "what will look best for college?" Pick an activity or two based on your own interests. If you get involved with something you genuinely enjoy, you will excel at it, and it will make high school more pleasurable.
Q: My daughter is going to be a high school senior this fall. School hasn’t even started yet, and she is already stressed about college applications, re-taking the SAT, writing her essay, and all the rest of it. She is just one step below panic. How can I help her?
A: In June, summer stretches before us like a huge, inviting lake. We laze around in a little canoe and before we know it, we’ve drifted nearly to the other shore. All of a sudden, it’s the end of August and there’s no time left! Your daughter isn’t the only one in this dilemma, but there is a way to calm her and help her face the challenging months ahead. It’s called planning.
If your daughter sees at a glance everything she needs to do – but in an organized, one-step-at-a-time fashion – she’ll be on her way to conquering the problem. First, she needs to write down all important dates, such as for the SAT and when applications are due. But she should not merely do this in a pocket planner. These planners stay closed most of the time. She should write things on a calendar she can post on her bulletin board or wall. She can use different color inks for different categories (e.g. red for college-related items, purple for class assignments).
Q: My daughter is heading off to college this fall, and has already "met" her roommate on Facebook and through e-mail. They have many interests in common and are really looking forward to living together on campus. Now they are starting to discuss "who will bring what?" and we are a bit unsure about how to navigate this. Should we suggest the other family provide a TV if we provide a microwave? What about linens, or extra lamps? How do we divide the responsibilities without looking either demanding or stingy?
A: It's great that your daughter seems to have found a compatible roommate! The college is doing a good job of matching. Many families go through the same situation -- are we providing too much, or too little?
Q: Is there any point to visiting colleges over the summer? Won't everything be closed?
A: While it's best to visit a college while it's in full session, this is not always possible—especially if the college is far from your home. So summer is a peak time for campus visits, and colleges are well prepared for visitors. Many colleges have more visitors over the summer than they do during the regular academic year. In addition, many colleges and universities have summer sessions in progress, so you are going to see an active campus.
There are many valuable things you can do while visiting a college campus over the summer:
- go on the official tour (usually run by the undergraduate admissions office) and sign in at that office—that way there will be a record of your visit
- after the tour, wander around on your own—visit the library, the student cente, and any location of special interest to you (e.g. art studios)
- have a meal in the dining hall
- approach students/faculty you see, ask if they are at the college during the regular academic year, and ask them what they like best about their school
- check out the campus neighborhood—are there things to do, shops close by? Is public transportation nearby or is the campus isolated? Is it a friendly area? do you feel safe?
Take notes you can consult later, and if you are visiting several campuses you can have some extra fun by:
- looking for gargoyles
- comparing the quality of campus pizza
- asking the tour guides about any campus ghosts or legends
Later, when you are actually applying to colleges, you will have had some valuable glimpses that will provide a better perspective than you'd gain simply by looking at view books and websites.
Q: My son’s GPA at the end of 10th grade was between a 92 and a 93. But this year his GPA dropped to 86.5 – the problem was with an AP math class. He got a grade of 70. Seeing that his grade was going down, my son asked his math teacher for extra work to bring up the grade, but the teacher was at first unsure and then absent for over a week. Now the teacher says there is no time to grade any extra work. My son has done badly this term because he was overwhelmed by AP History. History is not his strong point, and he could have dropped this class earlier but he wants to challenge himself and as a result he has no time for other subjects. What should I do to help my son? Should I talk to the teacher? Will a lower GPA in junior year affect my son’s college admission possibilities?
A: You ask many excellent questions and there are a variety of answers. First, I want to assure you that ONE low grade in the junior year is not going to ruin your son’s chances of getting into most colleges.
Q: I have gone to the same summer camp upstate since I was 9 years old. Every year, I see some of the same people, and we've become like family. Last summer, I was a junior counselor, and this year they want me to come back as a full counselor, working as a tennis coach (I am on my school's tennis team). My dad says because I am going into my senior year, I should do an internship this summer. He could arrange something with a friend's law firm, and says this would look more impressive to colleges than working at a summer camp. But it's also my last summer in high school, and I want to spend it with my camp friends. What should I do?
A: A lot of high school students -- and their parents -- seem to get caught in the "what looks best?" dilemma. "What looks best for college?" This course or that course? Debate or Model UN? In your case, a job at your summer camp or at a law firm?
Let's apply other questions: "What is best for ME? Which choice will make me happier? Which choice will allow me to shine?"
It's clear from what you have written what your choice should be. You have a history and an emotional tie to the camp. The camp management likes and respects you -- demonstrated in their offer of increased responsibility this year. And the position involves something in which you already excel: tennis. When a college admissions committee looks at your application, they will see a pattern of commitment, both to your place of employment and to the sport you love. Just be sure that this pattern of commitment is made clear in your application.
An internship in one's chosen professional area is a staple of many college programs, but now it seems as if families of high school students think it's a requirement. Not so. First of all, many places require interns to be college students and over the age of 18. A summer placement for a student under the age of 18 in a law firm or a medical office will probably not involve any professional duties. Often interns are observers, or they make photocopies, or they answer the phones. There are exceptions, of course; the student who is crazy about art, and gets to share this with kids as a docent at a children's museum, for example, is going to have a terrific and meaningful experience.
But you speak of something that can be arranged by your father with a friend. Do you have an interest in the law that might be increased by spending several weeks observing the day-to-day events in a law office? Perhaps, if you were involved in student government, or volunteered with your local member of Congress, this kind of summer activity would seem part of a natural progression. But it does not sound like that. This isn't even something you are pursuing yourself, out of interest. It's something being engineered by your father, to help you "look good" for college.
Colleges can spot that. Admissions officers are not naive. They can see when a relatively short-term activity, often unrelated to anything else in a student's application, has been added for the sake of appearance rather than as a result of true passion or commitment. And that's the key: passion. If an applicant's true passion for an activity -- whether it's nurturing young children, playing a sport, spending hours behind a microscope, or writing poetry -- comes through, that's what is going to impress.
Do what you love. Enjoy your summer!