College and career readiness services - Steps to the Future

header photo

Ruminations from the Rhode

College Preparation Timeline: 3 Amazing Tips for Reading More!

I walked by Books on the Square during a visit home to Rhode Island with Karen Carvalho-Franks (my bestie, bff, ride-or-die) and of course, we had to go inside. Browsing around through all the stories waiting for me to read, I saw this quote on a linen cloth hanging on the wall and knew I would not leave the store without one. People who know me well are aware of my insatiable habit of buying books, some I read and some I don’t. Piles of books exist at my house to my husband’s dismay (which is putting it mildly).

Taking me to get my first library card at the South Providence Public Library on Prairie Avenue was a gift from my late mother that keeps on giving. By the way, my birthday is in September in case you’re wondering what to get me.

So why all this talk about books and reading? Well, working with aspiring college students always leads to conversations about their reading habits.


                                                Dr. B: Tell me what you’ve read that a teacher did not assign.

                                                Student X: What? You mean like a book?

                                                Dr. B (a little exasperated): Yes, a book, a magazine, anything. What have
                                                you read?

                                               Student X (sheepishly): Nothing. I don’t like to read.

Yep, “I don’t like to read” but somehow, this student is going to go to college, stay in college and graduate without any issues. Oy vey!

The Pew Research Center reports  interesting data highlighting reading habits based on income level, educational attainment and place of birth. Their findings do not paint a positive picture on the reading habits of many adults in the United States. With the rise of video-enhanced entertainment, I wonder if reading for pleasure will remain elusive for many people.

This summer, I am encouraging my students to read. I shared several tips with them in this video, but most of all I want them to read. Now, I am working with several students who are readers like me (hooray). One student recommended The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, which turned out to be the perfect book for me as I struggled with establishing better habits (not buying every book that caught my eye). In the meantime, my pile of books continues to grow thanks to my mom’s wisdom of introducing me to the library.

Start, Stop, Continue and Change in 2018

 Resolutions do not work for me. I make them, I break them. Now, I use four words to help me sketch out my coming year: Start, Stop, Continue and Change. Thinking of all of the items on my bucket list (whittling it down slowly), what do I want to start this year? I want my calendar at the end of the year to show fun activities with friends on a regular basis. It may reveal a brunch with my friend Kia Walker on New Year’s Eve day, visiting my BFF, Karen Carvalho-Franks, in my home state of Rhode Island or talking almost daily with my sister from another mother, Antoinette Battiste, as we solve the world’s problems and some of our own. Number 1 on the stop list is negative self-talk. You know that ticker tape of “oh no’s” running through your head when no one is around but your thoughts. I will continue bringing value to families who are taking steps to maneuver through the college planning process. I want to continue seeing the world through the eyes of my “adopted grandchildren” (waiting patiently for my own in the meantime) as we spend time together watching movies or making cookies. Over the Christmas break, the oldest of the four and I watched STEP, a documentary about a step dance from an all-girls charter school in Baltimore. 

What will I change? I will heed something I read recently – “Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” I will put on my oxygen mask first. It is that simple. Will I find that challenging? No doubt. I am counting on you to let me know if you see that mask slipping.

Loving my work as a volunteer with the Chillax Teen program at a local branch library in the Cumberland County Public Library system and maintaining those relationships is high on my list for 2018. Ranging from 6th grade to 12th grade, some of the pre-teens and teens had their own views on stopping, starting, continuing and changing.   Let me share some of their thoughts with you.

A.J. – 9th grade: Start working out; stop not studying as much as I should; continue dancing; change my outlook on friendship.

T.R. – 7th grade: Start reading books; stop getting C’s; continue to be good; change from playing games so much.

W.T. - 9th grade: Start getting all A’s; stop getting B’s; continue getting good grades; change my not so good grades.

D. M. – 11th grade: Start doing my homework in time instead of 1st period; stop procrastinating; continue getting better at math; change more things in my room.

A.D. – 6th grade: Start talking to more people; stop being alone and sitting alone at lunch; continue getting all A’s and B’s; change my hair color.

T.F. – 7th grade: Start doing better in school in my science and math classes; stop talking so much; continue doing good in all of the other classes; change some of the people I’m around.

H.E. – 11th grade: Start studying harder; stop staying up late; continue working hard; change my habits.

I find it fascinating to listen to students reflect on who they are and who they are becoming. I wonder about A.D. sitting alone at lunch. Will that change in the coming year? For many of the students in Chillax, grades are a recurring theme and sometimes, there are spirited conversations about their future selves. Other times, they just want to play games (board, cards and video) with their friends or hang out and talk while enjoying each other’s company. My goal is to give them as many opportunities as they will take to sift through the sands of change, connecting the dots along the way.

What does 2018 hold in store for you? Are you taking steps to live the future you envision? Four short words provide a simple framework. Try them on for size and let me know how it works for you.

Photography Credit: Small Frye Photography

Four Apps for College Planning

New information comes out daily about college planning, from changes in admission policies to paying for college. Keeping up with the constant barrage can be overwhelming. Oftentimes, I wonder how families keep abreast of all the news when as a college planning professional, I find it challenging on good days. Personally, I scour social media, follow influencers, read professional publications, attend conferences and participate in more webinars than I can count. Visiting colleges is a major part of my ongoing education as a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). To date, I’m on schedule to tour about 30 colleges and universities before the end of 2017.

Lately, my self-imposed professional development regimen includes learning about apps to help students plan, prepare and pay for college. My kids at Chillax, a teen program sponsored by one of my local library branches, were trying to teach me the importance of Snapchat but I’m saving that professional development for another day. Four apps caught my attention and I want to tell you a little something about each of them. They are the Daily Practice SAT, Minorities to Majorities™, Scholly and ZeeMee.

Daily Practice SAT. If you know students prepping for the SAT, this app is a great resource at no cost! The first time I used it I became giddy over the possibilities this app presented. I’m a life-longer learner and I get excited about when I have something to share with my students to help them move forward. This app scans, scores and delivers a question and answer analysis for students’ practice tests. Watch this video to learn more about using this app.

Minorities to Majorities™. Jasmine N. Chigbu, Duke graduate and creator of this app envisioned a resource “to provide students, especially ethnic minority, female, LGBT and international students with information about various scholarship, internship, and fellowship opportunities.” Available in the App Store and Google Play, currently there is no cost for this tool. Watch this YouTube video to learn about its features and hear from Ms. Chigbu in her own words.

Scholly. How many of you are Shark Tank fans? I am. I love watching the entrepreneurial spirit come alive during the pitches. Chris Gray pitched Scholly, an app designed to help students at various educational levels to search for scholarships more efficiently, on Shark Tank during Season 6.  For the low price of $2.99, students can download the app, complete their profile and start applying for scholarships. How did Chris do on Shark Tank? Watch!

ZeeMee. Part of the college application process involves college bound students telling their story. This redesigned platform allows students to convey whom they are through 26-second videos and photos chosen by them. Currently, more than 200 colleges are partners with ZeeMee. Do you need more information about this free resource for college admission? Watch Ethan Lin, ZeeMee’s Head of Education give some tips to help you create a video profile to support your college application.

These resources and tools are an opportunity for college bound high school students and current college students at the undergraduate and graduate level to explore the many possibilities open to them.


What will you do when the game is over?

I am a die-hard New England Patriots fan. The final minutes of Super Bowl LI was for the history books, though not good for my racing heart. Did I mention that I love the Patriots, the good, the bad and the ugly? Did you notice during the game, one young wide receiver (WR), rookie Malcolm Mitchell, had six receptions for 70 yards breaking a record set by WR Terry Glenn  in 1996? More remarkable than his play during the game, is his story.

 A graduate of the University of Georgia, Malcolm entered college reading at a junior high level. Not content  with his literacy level, during a period of rehabilitation from a torn ACL, Malcolm worked with tutors intensively  to improve his reading skills. Wanting to move beyond his comfort zone, he became an avid reader. One day  he approached a woman in a Barnes & Noble in Athens, Georgia requesting a book recommendation.  Malcolm not only received a recommendation, he also became a member of Kathy Rackley’s book club. He is  the youngest, the only male and the only African- American member of this club and he is proud of it. During  an interview with CBS News, Malcolm proclaimed his pride in becoming a nerd. Never one to be too far from  a book now, he has authored a book, The Magician’s Hat, which encourages young people to follow their  dreams. Best of all, the setting of The Magician’s Hat is a library, one of my happy places (the other is any  bookstore). Continuing his advocacy for literacy, Malcolm created the Share the Magic Foundation, a  nonprofit with a mission to “promote the long-term benefits of reading and book ownership among students in  Title I schools and underserved communities.”

 Malcolm Mitchell is in good company. Let me tell you about another New England Patriot’s work with literacy.  Currently playing for the Patriots as a tight end, Martellus Bennett asks in his Tedx Talk, More Than An Athlete, and “What will you do when the game is over?”(Ah, now you know how this article got its title). Using his creativity, intelligence and imagination, he founded The Imagination Agency, creating a world of characters for children to experience while increasing their literacy skills. , The Imagination Agency’s first book, with its mobile interactive app, allows children to explore A.J.’s adventures making breakfast on her own. I bought the app and played the game! Somehow, I missed some of the bunnies along the way – must try again.

Most importantly, Malcolm Mitchell and Martellus Bennett envisioned a life beyond professional sports and took steps during their careers to make that transition. Let their leadership guide all future student-athletes to consider life off the playing field. 

Signed, sealed, delivered: What’s next?

Following a guest host spot on WIDU radio’s “Grow Your Business” program, hosted by Darsweil Rogers of RMC Strategies, I spoke with one of the listeners about what to expect after applying to college. This is a follow up to our conversation.

Check your email and student college account. This is for the student applicant. The primary form of communication from colleges is email and there are too many instances of students missing important deadlines because they neglected their email account. I know students prefer texting and other forms of social media for communication but colleges prefer emails, so check it regularly. One parent shared with me that her daughter almost missed the deadline for submitting her student health insurance information because she had not logged in to her student account for her first-choice college where she planned to enroll. Can you afford to miss information that may increase or decrease your out-of-pocket costs?  

Complete your FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the primary financial aid form for federal grants and loans and many scholarship programs. Mark Kantrowitz, author of Twisdoms about Paying for College recommends, “families should file the FAFSA every year, even if they got nothing other than loans last year.” The FAFSA application opens on January 1, 2016 (this will change next year with PPY, prior - prior year). You can create your FAFSA account here. The system walks you through each step and if you still have questions, there are some useful videos on YouTube to walk you through the process. You do not have to wait until you file your 2015 tax return. Using estimated information from your previous year’s return, students and parents can complete and submit the FAFSA soon after January 1. Update your information after completing your 2015 return by logging in to your FAFSA account. Do this manually or using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which automatically updates your information if necessary. Remember to safeguard your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID like your social security number. Some states, like North Carolina, award state grants on a first-come, first-served basis so submit early!

Research scholarships. Now that applications are in, pump up your search for scholarships. One of the best places to look is on your high school’s website, especially the school counseling department. Pay attention to notices posted in the school counseling office. Many departments keep an up-to-date list of local and national scholarships available to high school students. Check your local newspaper because local businesses sometimes advertise scholarship opportunities. Check with family members to see if their employers or civic organizations offer scholarships. One of my students applied for a Rotary scholarship because of a grandparent’s membership in this organization. Have you checked to see if any of the local organizations in your area offer scholarships?   In Cumberland County, the Cumberland Community Foundation (CCF) opens their scholarship program early next year. Last year, CCF awarded almost $700,000 in scholarships.

An important note – check your prospective colleges’ policies on outside scholarships. Will monies from a source other than the institution or the state/federal government decrease your out-of-pocket costs?  Kantrowitz refers to this as scholarship displacement. Check the financial aid website or call your financial aid representative to find the answer to that important question.

Finish strong academically. Applications are in; you have one or more acceptances under your belt. Do not slack off! Do not take it easy academically!  In my time as a high school counselor, one of my former students lost some scholarship money because he made the choice to slack off in Spanish IV, where his grade plummeted from an A to a D. Imagine his surprise when he received a letter rescinding some of his scholarship (free money) because of poor final grades. Read the fine print, not only can you lose scholarship money but also your acceptance offer could be rescinded as discussed in this article from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Do you want to take the chance? Think about it. Do you want the college of your choice to re-think their decision to admit you? Remember, colleges want students who not only gain access to their institution but stay and graduate.

Stay involved. Spring sports will start soon. Other activities will continue. Enjoy your last semester as a high school athlete, member of the yearbook staff, or just create lasting positive memories of your senior year. When you matriculate in the fall, continue your involvement in activities that are of interest to you. Review the student organizations section of your prospective college’s website and plan to join a student club or organization. During your college orientation, most colleges have an event to introduce incoming students to the array of activities offered on campus. Make sure you attend.

Compare, discuss, and decide. You receive several acceptances and their respective financial aid packages. What are the final out-of-pocket expenses for your family? Remember, loans do not reduce your net cost; they only postpone it. Read here to learn more about what to do.

Make a list and check it twice. Make a list of all the transition activities your selected college requires. Do you need to complete forms for housing? What about medical insurance? Have you submitted your immunization records? Did you sign up for orientation? Have you checked the status of your financial aid to ensure all forms are in?  Do you know when your bill is due? Have you set up a payment plan, if necessary?  Do you need to sign up for placement testing? Has your college received your final transcript? These questions and possibly more may need answers to ensure a successful transition to college.

View older posts »