Wednesday, December 4, 2019

15 creative ways teen entrepreneurs can serve their communities

by Nancy Griesemer

This is the second of a series of 3 articles on community service.

Not everyone is a “joiner.” More entrepreneurial students may prefer to think outside the box when it comes to creating volunteer activities or devising ways to serve their communities. And with the support of social media to reach your market, many of these projects are easier than ever.

With a little imagination and willingness to tackle tasks others find boring or difficult, you can show initiative, reveal business acumen and hone managerial skills—qualities colleges value and others appreciate.

And you can do some good.

Consider a few ideas:

1. Establish a donations program. Most nonprofits and churches need in-kind donations such as books, school supplies, athletic equipment or art materials. One local high school student collected used children’s books. She donated most but sold others through a yard sale, the proceeds from which she donated to a nonprofit.
Hint: Use social networking sites to get the word out.

2. Begin a tutoring service. Reach out to organizations serving younger children or look within your immediate community to volunteer your services as a tutor. You can even put your high school foreign language training to good use by working with English as a Second Language (ESL) students and adults.
Hint: Teaching others will help sharpen your own skills.

3. Be an entertainer. Gather friends and create a traveling road show appropriate for venues such as senior centers or summer camps. Clowns, musicians, jugglers and amateur magicians can put their skills to good use in these kinds of ventures. One local high school band volunteered to be the entertainment at a “prom” for disabled adults and was wildly received. 
Hint: These projects can evolve into great business opportunities for a fledgling rock group or for the budding thespians among your inner circle of friends, and if you can't perform, you can always be the manager.

4. Develop a curriculum. It can be as simple as kitchen science experiments or as comprehensive as one local student’s work on environmental issues which she developed into an educational program for elementary school children. Do some research, put together a project, and then approach organizations looking for activities or presentations to supplement their own.
Hint: Summer camps and afterschool programs are particularly receptive to scheduling special events or classes for campers.

5. Plant a community garden. If you have a green thumb or love spending time in a garden, consider planting a “community” garden in which you grow fruits or vegetables for donation to a food bank—either from the products themselves or proceeds from sales of products. Plots may be rented through various community groups and nonprofit organizations or you can set aside dedicated space in your own backyard. 
Hint: Any garden can double as a research laboratory for investigating niche science fair topics ranging from fertilizers to pest control. 

6. Support a child care center. Read stories, develop art projects, coach easy sports concepts, or create a movement or stretching class. Share your knowledge and skills to enrich the program as well as provide relief to teaching staff.
Hint: Inner city programs serving low-income children are in particular need of support.

7. Use your computer skills. This can be as complex as offering to make or maintain a website for a local nonprofit or as simple as providing one-on-one support to an early learner or a senior citizen.
Hint: Many seniors want to set up internet accounts to connect with old friends and family but simply don’t know how.

8. Write for a local newspaper. Submit an article on how students give back to their communities. Describe your experiences, interview local volunteers or volunteer organizations, or promote upcoming events.
Hint: Published articles may be attached to or appears as links on resumes and college or scholarship applications.

9. Create a blog. One local student developed a blog on her experiences living with cerebral palsy. Her suggestions and thoughtful commentary received responses from all over the country. Blogs are not difficult to create, and they can reflect a range of experiences, interests, or expertise.
Hint: Well-written and maintained blogs can be of great interest to college admissions officers and also may appear as links on resumes and applications.

10. Establish a recycling service. Offer to pick up recyclables and get them to the proper facilities. This project will require familiarity with local rules and regulations, but knowing how to dispose of cans of old paint or how to recycle single-use batteries through mail-in or take back programs can be enormously important to saving the environment.
Hint: Promoting the availability of these services through social media can help raise community awareness of the importance of properly disposing of toxic and other materials and could evolve into an effective public service campaign.

11. Decorate for the holidays. Provide a little holiday cheer by gathering a group of friends who can untangle holiday decorations and don’t mind standing on ladders. This is a great way to bring the gift of light into the lives of those around you, particularly the elderly and disabled.
Hint: Solicit donations of new, more energy-efficient lights from individuals and organizations committed to environmental causes and publicize their support for your initiative.

12. Adopt a Highway or a Street. Although rules vary by jurisdiction, most states will allow families and small independent groups to adopt highways. And many municipalities have street adoption programs. In Virginia, one member of the group must be 18, but the work crew can have members as young as 10. The adopting group will be asked to make a commitment to pick-up litter several times per year from an assigned segment of highway in return for training, equipment, and trash bags.
Hint: Come up with a creative name for your group and write about your experiences or the kinds of trash you’re gathering (see numbers 8 and 9 above).

13. Be an Etsy retailer to support a cause. A couple of years ago, a local student used her sewing skills to make simple sundresses she marketed over the internet. She designed the dress, set up a website, obtained fabric donations, and solicited sewing help from friends. All proceeds were donated to charity.
Hint: This young lady had no trouble getting into college.

14. Establish an online store. If you’re not particularly creative or don’t have a handmade product to sell, you can go the re-sale route. Collect donations of small, easy-to-ship items no longer useful to their owners but which might have value on Ebay or similar online retail outlets. Make sure your customers know their purchases will be used to support a nonprofit activity or organization and don’t forget to figure shipping into your price!
Hint: Items which aren’t sold may be donated to charity or otherwise recycled with local nonprofits.

15. Provide services for shut-ins. There are folks in your community who could use extra help but can’t afford to hire a professional service. Offer to be a companion, run errands, walk the dog, pull weeds, shovel snow or organize the garage.
Hint: You can support your volunteer effort with a paid enterprise marketed to those interested in “renting a kid” in your neighborhood.

Some activities can have lives beyond the summer. They evolve into long-term service learning projects or new clubs at school.

Be creative and industrious, but feel free to have a little fun too.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Opening doors through community service

by Nancy Griesemer

This is the first of a series of 3 articles on community service.

Incorporating community service into your life is incredibly rewarding and is almost always habit-forming. In fact, it often opens doors for life.
As you consider volunteer options, look for opportunities that fit you—your interests and skills. You don’t have to travel across the world or pay fees to be an effective volunteer. Some of the most engaging community service may be found right in your own backyard and costs nothing but your time and caring.
And the time commitment is entirely up to you. You can be deeply involved in a one-time event or you can sign up for a couple of hours each week. It really doesn’t matter.
Yes, community service pays off in many different ways. By sharing your time and talent with others, you most certainly will:
  • Do some good. Volunteers have the opportunity to make a difference—change lives, support a cause, or improve the world around us.
  • Discover a passion. Figuring out what you really love to do and channeling it into something productive is the surest road to happiness. And what better way is there to discover passion than through service to others?
  • Test-drive careers. If you’re thinking about medicine, teaching, or even large animal husbandry, volunteer in a clinic, a school or on a farm. Community service provides hands-on experience and opportunities to explore different career paths. 
  • Polish job-readiness skills. Being dependable, on time, and responsible not only makes you a great volunteer but also prepares you for entering the world of work. In addition, you can develop communication, organization, and invaluable “people” skills, all of which make you incredibly employable.
  • Learn to collaborate. At its core, volunteerism is about teamwork. The ability to collaborate on a shared goal is an essential element of community service, whether it’s participating on a construction crew for Habitat for Humanity or fundraising for the American Cancer Society. And along the way, you may learn how to develop a business plan, schedule activities, and assign tasks—all valued skills for prospective business majors.
  • Expand your network. Volunteering is a great way to make new friends and build solid connections to businesses, schools, or other community-based organizations. These are the kinds of relationships that tend to grow and blossom, particularly if you find yourself working in a team or supporting a cause.
  • Get a recommendation: A byproduct of the volunteer experience can be a strong personal recommendation for college, scholarships, or future employment. While teachers and counselors can speak to academic and school-based accomplishments, some of your best character references will come from among supervisors and co-workers in organizations to which you contributed volunteer hours.
  • Challenge your comfort zone. If life as a high school student has become a little boring and predictable, try volunteering in a totally unfamiliar part of your community or serving a population with which you don’t ordinarily interact. Expose yourself to new ideas, challenges and situations that will help you grow as a person.
  • Enhance scholarship prospects. Although service to others should be its own reward, there’s no question that colleges, foundations, and businesses are willing to acknowledge service by awarding very generous scholarships. Winners of these kinds of honors typically begin early and dedicate significant hours throughout high school.
  • Build leadership skills. As a volunteer, you may be presented with opportunities to build supervisory, management, or decision-making skills as a team leader or project organizer. You might even get the opportunity to explore your entrepreneurial side. These are talents that colleges, scholarship organizations, and employers value highly.
  • Receive academic credit. If your school offers service-learning as part of the curriculum, you could be eligible for academic or extra credit if you volunteer your time or get involved in a community-based project. In fact, high schools are increasingly seeing the benefits accrued by students engaged in various kinds of ‘experiential learning’ opportunities and are moving to make them required for graduation.
  • Upgrade college portfolio. Colleges want to see that you’ve done something more with your summer than texting or posting pictures on Instagram. Community service provides strong evidence of character, commitment, and motivation—all of which are pluses in college admissions.
  • Discover an essay. The best college essays flow from personal experience. In fact, essay questions often ask about significant achievements, events, or people—all of which may be found by volunteering.
  • Learn something. You learn by doing. And if you’re lucky, you may even be offered specific skills training you can take with you long after the event or project is completed.
  • Be a role model. As a volunteer, you set an important example for your friends, family and community. When you step up, others will follow.
  • Do some good. This cannot be overstated.
So get involved. You really will make a world of difference for yourself and others!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Headlines from NACAC’s 2019 State of College Admission

by Nancy Griesemer

Every year, the Arlington-based National Association for College Admission Counseling(NACAC) surveys its members to get a picture of what’s happening in the world of college admissions. Their results are compiled in NACAC’s State of College Admission, which essentially examines the “transition from high school to postsecondary education” and features data collected from school counselors as well as admissions staff at colleges and universities across the country.

This year, 2345 school counseling offices responded to the Counseling Trends Survey (CTS), of which 85% were public, 6% private non-parochial and 10% private parochial. The Admissions Trends Survey (ATS) was subdivided into two parts—one went to admission offices and the other went to institutional research (IR) offices. NACAC received 447 institutional responses for an overall response rate of 35% out of 1263 colleges contacted.

While the report provides a good overall snapshot of the state of the college admission industry, a few specific headlines are worth noting:

1.      College applications increased by 6 percent. The Higher Education Research Institute reports that 36% of first-time freshmen applied to seven or more colleges. And according to the Admission Trends Survey, the average number of applications for each admission office staff member for Fall 2017 was 1035 for public institutions and 461 for private institutions. It’s no surprise admissions offices are increasingly turning to enrollment management software for support.

2.      Colleges and universities accept two-thirds of applicants. Despite how it feels to the average high school student, the average selectivity rate among colleges surveyed was 66.7% for Fall 2017. This rate has actually increased from a low of 63.9% in Fall 2012.

3.      Average yield rate holds steady after long decline. Over the past ten years, average yield (percent of students accepting an offer of admission) has steadily declined from 48% in Fall 2007 to 33.7% in Fall 2017. While yield rates mean little to most prospective students, accurately predicting yield is critical to admissions professionals hoping to avoid either over- or under-enrollment. Having this metric stay steady is a big deal for those charged with crunching the numbers.

4.     Email tops the list of recruitment strategies. Colleges have a wide range of tools available for connecting with prospective applicants. Not surprisingly, contacting them through email and engaging with them through the institution’s website or by hosting campus visits were the most “important.”

5.      Early decision applicants increased in 2018. Twenty-five percent of respondents to the Admission Trends Survey offer Early Decision (ED). Between Fall 2017 and Fall 2018, colleges reported an average increase of 11% in the number of ED applicants and 10% in ED admits.

6.      Early action also increased.Thirty-eight percent of colleges responding to the ATS offered early action options. For Fall 2018, 45% of applications to colleges with early action plans were received through EA. But average yield rate for EA admits was nearly identical to that of the overall pool (25% and 24% respectively). From Fall 2017 to Fall 2018, the number of EA applications increased by 10%, while the number of students accepted through EA increased by 9%.

7.      Likelihood of wait list acceptance remains low. While wait list activity generally increased, the odds of getting admitted from the wait list were still pretty low. For the Fall 2018 admission cycle, 43% of colleges reported using a wait list and placing an average of 10% of all applicants on the wait list. An average 50% of waitlisted students opted to stay on the wait list, while colleges admitted only about 20% of these hopefuls.

8.      Admissions offices identify grades and curriculum as top factors in admissions. For decades, academic performance in high school has been the most important consideration in freshman admission. In fact the relative importance of many admissions decision factors have remained “remarkably” stable over time. Notable exceptions would include the declining importance of class rank and interviews.

9.      Student-to-counselor ratios remain outrageous. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2016-17 each public school counselor was responsible for overseeing a caseload of 455 students, on average. This number greatly exceeds the 250:1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association. Only New Hampshire and Vermont had ratios below the ASCA’s recommended standard (220 and 202 respectively). The states with the highest number of students per school counselor included Arizona (905), Michigan (741), Illinois (686), California (663) and Minnesota (659).

10.  Private schools devote more time to college counseling. College admissions counseling is only one of myriad responsibilities shouldered by school counselors. Counseling staff at private schools spend an average of 31% of their time on college counseling, while their colleagues in public schools spend only 19% of their time on that task.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Got talent? Don’t miss college fairs for students in the visual and performing arts!

by Nancy Griesemer

Students who excel in visual and performing arts have amazing opportunities to develop their talents in a variety of postsecondary arts programs. 

And if you’re in this very select group, colleges, universities, festivals and conservatories want to introduce themselves at a series of special college fairs and portfolio review sessions.

This fall, high school singers, dancers, and artists should consider attending one of 26 Performing and Visual Arts (PVA) College Fairs sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).

Or if you are more narrowly interested in visual arts, the National Portfolio Day Association (NPDA) sponsors a series of Portfolio Days in 26 US and Canadian cities.

NACAC’s PVA College Fairs are targeted to students interested in pursuing undergraduate or graduate study in music, theater, art, dance, or other related disciplines. 

These fairs assemble groups of experts who provide information on educational opportunities, admission requirements, and financial aid. They also advise on portfolio development and auditions.

Free and open to the public, PVA College Fairs do not require pre-registration, although the opportunity to register is offered online. And a list of participating institutions is provided with registration.

An entirely separate program, NPDA Portfolio Days offer opportunities for students to receive free advice, counseling, and critique from some of the best academics in the art business.

Upcoming Portfolio Days are scheduled in major cities across the country from Boston to San Francisco, and they traditionally wrap up in January at the Ringling College of Art & Design, in Sarasota, Florida.

And these are pretty incredible events. Students drive long distances to stand in lines clutching portfolios, paintings, sculpture, pottery, and other creations. They bring sketchbooks, works in progress, and finished pieces—some small and others quite large. It’s an amazing experience!

At the head of each line, experts from National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)-accredited colleges take considerable time to offer support and constructive criticism, as well as to give pointers on how to build a portfolio. No one is hurried, and every question is answered. Several (not all) participating schools even accept portfolios on the spot as the visual portion of an individual application.

Also free and open to the public, Portfolio Days require no registration and operate on a first come, first served basis. Note that sometimes the lines can be quite long!

Although PVA College Fairs and NPDA Portfolio days generally attract high school students, some Portfolio Days are now labeled “graduate.” Check the website for more details.

And be aware that high school programs are not just for seniors. Underclassmen are strongly encouraged to get a head start by taking advantage of the opportunity to get free advising from experts in the arts.

More information on Portfolio Days may be found on the NPDA website. A complete schedule of PVA College Fairs as well as terrific advice on the application process for performing and visual arts students is provided on the NACAC website

And for the “backstory” on the college arts scene, be sure to check out the 2019 Guide to Performing & Visual Arts Colleges which is offered as a free digital download by TeenLife Magazine.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Students vote ‘no confidence’ in college admissions

by Nancy Griesemer

More than a simple distraction or a salacious news story featuring lots of celebs, the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal is definitely having an impact on the way students view the admissions process. In high schools across the country, they are voting ‘no confidence’ in colleges and the college admissions process.

According to a recent Kaplan survey of over 300 “aspiring” college students polled over email, 57% say they are concerned they won’t be treated fairly in the admissions process. Specifically, they believe their spot at a top college might be given to a less qualified applicant because of a personal connection to the institution.

In fact, nearly a quarter of these students claims they know someone they think is less qualified than they are, but who received “preferential treatment” in admissions because of family wealth or connections.

For those who have somehow been shielded from the daily tabloid-style updates on who is going to which jail, the Varsity Blues scandal involved a handful of very wealthy families with enough disposable income to cheat their way into elite colleges by manipulating applications, fixing text scores and otherwise using influence to ensure admission for their children.

And the story clearly hit a nerve, as what students applying to highly-selective schools thought they knew turned into fact—some families of privilege exercise that privilege to obtain positive admissions outcomes.

One student who planned to apply to only “top” colleges explained in his survey response, “I know numerous people that have connections to my top school, whereas I do not. I am especially concerned because I have a greater SAT score than them [sic], but they will have an upper hand and be admitted.”

Another student was more circumspect and remarked, “In light of the admission scandals, colleges will be more attentive and aware of these types of schemes. Also, considering a number of the parents who were caught and punished, I don’t believe that this will be a large problem in the future.”

The second student may be right.

In a separate Kaplan survey of 322 top colleges and universities (as defined by USNWR), admissions reps suggest that the corrupt practices exposed in the scandal are relatively rare. Less than a quarter (24%) describes the activities as common.

And only 11% say they were ever pressured to accept an applicant who didn’t meet admissions requirements because of who that applicant was or to whom they were connected—a significant drop from the 25% who suggested they were pressured to do so in a Kaplan survey just five years ago.

Nevertheless, colleges are worried about perceptions—their image among students making the decision whether or not to apply. Of the group surveyed, 49% think the scandal may have done long-term harm to the public image of the college admission process, while 37% don’t think it has and 14% aren’t sure.

When asked how colleges can convince families that the admissions process is not “rigged” against them, admissions officers were “largely unable to provide any specific policy prescriptions, but the theme of transparency was mentioned often.”

While the call for transparency seems like a logical, albeit a little disingenuous, response to the scandal, not everyone is so sure how it can be achieved.

And so it wasn’t surprising that the issue of how to achieve greater transparency in admissions lurked just below the surface of many discussions taking place during the 2019 NACAC Conference, in Louisville.

At a session dedicated to the Varsity Blues scandal moderated by Jeffrey Selingo, a DC-based journalist currently with The Atlantic, panelists wrestled with the idea of transparency—whether transparency was possible or even a good idea—when at the end of the day college admissions “is actually not a fair system” (Sacha Thieme, Indiana University).

Tongue in cheek, Jim Jump, of St. Christopher’s School in Virginia, added, “I’m not sure we want people to know how the sausage is made.”

Although several panelists suggested that the complexity of admissions works against complete transparency, they agreed that colleges can and should do more to help the public understand how applicants are selected, especially in context of competing institutional goals and the very real financial pressures institutions face.

And the question was raised as to how to be transparent in a constantly evolving process, when even enrollment managers can’t predict what their processes will look like over time. Several panelists pointed out that applicant pools and other factors change each year rendering these processes anything but static.

“Mystery creates mistrust, and in the absence of a narrative, the public creates their own,” said Angel B. Pérez, vice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College, in Connecticut.

And as a result, the public has created a narrative of a system rigged against the average college applicant.

Summing up the recent survey findings, Sam Prichard, Kaplan’s director of college prep programs, concludes, “Applicants deserve better.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The ‘extracurricular’ question lives on

by Nancy Griesemer

Harvard and Princeton both ask the ‘extracurricular’ question on each of their three applications:

1.   Common Application: “Please briefly elaborate on an extracurricular activity or work experience of particular significance to you.”
2.  Coalition Application: “Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you.”
3.  Universal College Application (UCA): “Tell us more about one of your extracurricular, volunteer, or employment activities (100-150 words).”

And they are not alone. At least 85 Common App members, or about 10 percent of the colleges currently posting applications, ask the exact same question or some near variation on the same theme. While the allowable word count ranges from 50 to 800 (the latter is an outlier), the intention is the same: focus on one item on your resume and tell us about it.

In a previous life, the Common Application required all applicants to provide two writing samples — a personal statement of about 500 words and a 150-word short answer focused on a single extracurricular activity or work experience.

Many writing coaches liked the extracurricular question because it basically served as a “warm-up” for reluctant writers or students who had little or no experience writing essays, particularly those that required a bit of reflection. In other words, it was a good place to start, especially for students nervous about their writing abilities, by asking them to describe an activity they cared about.

But several years ago, the new Common App (CA4) dropped the short answer in favor of a much longer, 650-word single writing sample (the subject of some controversy from institutions quietly objecting to the artificially-increased length of the personal statement). The extracurricular essay was relegated to one of a series of possibilities provided in a bank of questions from which colleges could choose as writing supplements or additions to the basic application.

But despite the demotion, the question apparently lives on. Among the colleges asking the extracurricular question are:

  • Amherst College (175 words)1
  • Brown University (150 words)1
  • Bryn Mawr College (word count varies by application) 1 and 2
  • Christian Brothers University (500 words)1
  • Colorado College (250 words)1
  • Cornell University (150 words)3
  • Davidson College (200 words)1 and 2
  • Fisk University (250 words)1
  • Guilford College (250 words)1
  • Harvard University (150 words) 1, 2 and 3
  • Howard University (250 words)1
  • Princeton University (150 words)1, 2 and 3
  • Purdue University (250 words) 1 and 2
  • RPI (300 words)1
  • Stanford University (150 words)1 and 2
  • Tulane University (250 words)1
  • University of Central Florida (250 words)1
  • Vanderbilt University (150–400)1 and 2
  • Washington and Lee University (250 words)1

Common Application
Coalition Application
Universal College Application

Students tackling this question should embrace the opportunity to write about an activity they actually care passionately about or one which provides an insight into character. Here are some tips:

  • The Activity: Don’t pick an activity because you think it needs further explanation or because you think it will impress an admissions reader. Colleges want to know what’s important to you. Use this opportunity to write about a passion or interest whether it’s playing the violin, swimming, or working at the local thrift shop.
  • Show Importance: You want to do more than simply describe the activity—keep that to a minimum. Instead, you want to provide some context in your narrative that will illustrate or otherwise surface its importance. This can be in the form of analysis or a brief anecdote. Or you can focus on specific impact — what you did and why. The purpose of the essay isn’t for readers to learn more about the activity; it’s for them to learn about you. Consider an activity that shows personal growth and development or possibly reflects career-related or personal ambitions.
  • Provide Details: Vague language and generic detail inevitably fail to convey passion. If you can imagine thousands of other applicants using the same ideas and phrases, you need to try another approach. Be colorful and specific in your descriptions, while avoiding clichés and tired language. Write in the active (not passive) tense — those helper verbs not only slow the action but they also add unnecessary words to your narrative.
  • Avoid Repetition.If you related an anecdote about one of your most important extracurricular activities in your personal statement, don’t go back over the same ground. Go for the next most important activity or one that sets you apart from the pack.
  • Be Precise:Short answers need to be concise and substantive especially if the word count is very limited. Unlike the personal statement, you may be actually “telling” as much as “showing” to get the point across that this is a meaningful activity for you. There’s no space for flowery language, wordiness, or repetition when you’re working with 150 words. On the other hand, don’t come up short on your word count. Take full advantage of the opportunity to show your passion using compelling descriptions.
  • Avoid Bragging: When elaborating on an extracurricular activity, be careful not to come across as an insufferable braggart with an ego as big as all outdoors. Again, it’s more about passion and not individual awards or accomplishments. Don’t use the essay as a vehicle for self-promotion.
  • Be Real: Resist the temptation to create a false reality in an effort to sound impressive. Don’t write about the one time you walked for hunger if your real passion is marching band. Colleges won’t admit based on a single good deed. They want students who reveal motivation, persistence, passion and honesty.