This week's post comes from my brother-in-law Jason, who is a guidance counselor at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and a former admissions officer at Albion College.
I've copied and pasted his email response to my very simple question, "What are the best websites to find scholarships?" Dude knows what he's talking about!
Hey, I'm trying to answer your scholarship website question and it's a complicated answer. Quick response, here's a link to a article that hits the big dogs: https://www.moneysavingpro.com/scholarships/ The problem with this is that cappex, zinch, fastweb, etc are the big dogs. Every high school counselor in the country is referring students to these sites. So, the competition is fierce. The positive is that they are pretty thorough sites and so much more easily accessible than 'local' scholarships...which sometimes don't even have websites or on-line applications. The mom and pop organizations like Credit Unions and Community Foundations do a lot of their dirty work with individual high schools. I get stuff mailed to me regularly and mass email it out to students. I also like stalking good school's counseling sites. You can poach info from them. ie - Clarkston Northville Ann Arbor Community Lakeland
What makes this even more complicated is that when people think scholarships this is what they think of, community foundations, credit unions, and the Mary Jane Rottencrotch Memorial scholarship for left-handed diabetics. The big money, though, comes directly from the college. Either through need based aid (FAFSA), which depends on the family's financial situation, or merit based (GPA and Test Scores). There are a lot of departmental awards offered at these schools too. I tell students that this is where their search should start (for example http://onestop.utk.edu/scholarships/). There is just more money to be had directly from the schools.
However, here is a dirty little secret that a lot of people don't know. Let's say UT gives a kid some institutional "grant" money to help meet that students financial need, which is basically like a coupon...here's 10% off because we like you and need that other 90% of your tuition money to help pay the bills. Later that kid finds out he has won the MJ Rottencrotch Scholly, which awards them a one time sum of $1500. You would think that you would be able to stack those dollars on top of each other to help off-set the costs, but that's not how they work. Most of those schools end up cutting $1500 of the institutional money they offered you to meet your need. Their logic is that you are getting that money from somewhere else now, and your "need" is still being met. Kind of makes you think that the 500 word essay you wrote, and the letters of recommendation you gathered aren't worth it. But this varies from school to school and student to student (https://costofcollege.wordpress.com/tag/stacking-scholarships/)
Sorry, I get kind of carried away with this stuff. I hope this helps.
“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”
― Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Works
First off I want to congratulate you on being in a position to go to college. Did you know that only 6.7% of the world's population holds a college degree? Consider yourself privileged to be in this position, thanks to your parents, your teachers, your coaches, your administrators, SparkNotes, and of course - you.
Now, if you're a bit confused about where to apply, there may be a couple things going on:
1. You're truly overwhelmed by the amount of choices and the gravity of the decision. You're going to be fine. You will be diligent in your search, you will seek out counselors, teachers, siblings, friends, mentors, and anyone else you can, to help narrow your search. I highly recommend Fiske's Guide to colleges for a comprehensive, sans-propaganda look at tons of schools.
2. You're masking your fear by telling everyone (and yourself) that it's just too overwhelming to decide where to apply. This self-deception runs rampant in senior hallways across America. If not tackled early, it can have a serious impact on your future. It usually manifests itself with statements like "I might just take a year off." or "I don't even know what I want to do. Why am I going to waste my money on college?" I could go into the tired old argument about the direct correlation between education and income, but that would be too easy. While college tuition has reached preposterous levels and hoodie-wearing, Pokemon playing 19-year-olds are clearing 150k/year writing software, college is still the best back-up plan out there, especially if you go to the right place.
Sometimes a senior will say, "I'm just being lazy." What they mean is, "I'm afraid." And if there's one thing that we know about fear, it's that if we're afraid of something that we know is good for us, that's a sign we should do it. (If you want to read more about this subject and simultaneously have your mind blown, read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art).
So first accept that you're not being lazy (the concept of laziness is actually a myth); you're paralyzed by fear. We know that action cures fear, and any action toward your goal can counteract your narrative about laziness and indecisiveness.
Second, look through an actual, old-fashioned book (you know the thing with pages and ink) about colleges. We know that a focused internet search is actually an oxymoron. What starts as a keen appraisal of Bowdoin College's Literature program ends up as binge-viewing pathetic school fights on Worldstar. You don't even have to buy the book. Just go to a local bookstore and "borrow" it for a few hours.
Last thing: If you set your personal deadline for November 1st, you will never have to worry about Senioritis because by the time it kicks in, you will have done all the most important stuff.
Okay guys, I hate to be the old curmudgeon, but this needs to be said:
Stop emailing your teacher the same way you text your friend.
Here's a recent email from a student::
I shared the essay with u
Does this seem perfectly acceptable to you? Well, it shouldn't.
Here's the deal: even though teachers should always treat you with the same respect as you treat them, it doesn't mean you should interact with us like we're peers. Remember, we're the same people who write your letters of recommendation. You need to be extra careful with everything you write. That doesn't mean you need to be super formal or deferential--just courteous.
So, your email might look like this instead:
I just wanted to let you know that I shared my essay with you in Google Drive. I'm looking forward to your feedback whenever you get around to it.
Thanks a lot,
See the difference? The first example is saying, essentially, "I'm too lazy to even write out the word 'you', now grade my essay."
The second is saying: "I respect you enough to take the time to really think about the message I want to convey, and I thank you in advance for your time and attention."
Kids who operate with the former end up not having recommendations written for them, not getting a C+ bumped to and B-, and not getting special consideration on a college application.
Bottom line: your tone is as important (if not more) as your content. Interestingly, there can be a disconnect between the way students interact in person vs. online. The humble, respectful "live" student can come off like a jerk in digital correspondence.
This of course, speaks to a greater issue: the easier it is to communicate, the more careless--and perhaps thoughtless--we become. And this, of course, is not exclusive to teens.
So the next time you send an email to a teacher, counselor, supervisor, or any other authority figure, be sure to:
1. Ask yourself if you would want an admissions counselor at your dream school to read this email.
2. Use the Grammarly Chrome extension to check for spelling and grammar errors.
3. Read it aloud to make sure you didn't miss anything.
4. Be sure you've included a greeting and a salutation.
Follow these simple rules, and every time you press "send" you can feel confident that you're becoming more skilled and less annoying.
If you want to get rich, get involved in the multi-billion dollar standardized testing industry. Test creators, software and hardware companies, tutoring companies, and college consulting firms get richer every time you have to take a test; and their coffers swell when some genius decides to change a high-stakes test (i.e the "new and improved" SAT). That means new software, new materials, new everything. I'm no economist, but I think this is called planned obsolescence--the same principle that forces you to purchase a new iPhone because the new OS won't support your existing one.
So where does all of this skepticism leave you? You still have to take the redesigned SAT in April (or the ACT, LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, or some other evil acronym) and your admission will depend, somewhat, on your performance on said test. Some faceless admissions counselor will look at that score and triangulate it with your GPA, recommendations, personal statement, and some other factors of which you may or may not be aware (for example, your Twitter feed--yes, they look at that).
How to approach the test then?
First, keep in mind that you can try your best on something that you don't completely agree with. So approach the test with a balance of respect and dismissiveness. Remember that, in the grand scheme of your life, it means nothing. That's right. Nothing. Your value as a human being has nothing to do with this exam. That said, if you want to get into Michigan you will need to score X on the new SAT. And yet, I would argue that if a university does not admit you because of test score, then you probably don't want to go to that university. This is not unlike the guy on Match.com who can't get a date because he has a beard; consider it a great way to weed out non-prospects. Further, anyone who asks you what you got on the SAT (or any standardized test for that matter) is doing you a favor by eliminating him or herself as a potential friend. It's just plain classless and ugly to do such a thing.
So over the next few weeks, you will probably be doing a lot of test prep both in and out of school. It probably will help you, but it may not. You probably will do well on the test, but you may not. Remember that what's most important is that you do the best you can, then quickly remind yourself that it doesn't matter. If that seems paradoxical, it's because it is--so is life.
Plus, you can always take it again. And the testing industry will be happy to take your money.
Wonder why some students seem to always do well on tests while others struggle? The common--albeit lazy--answer is often "they're just smarter" or "they're really interested in the material."
The reasons students do well on tests actually has more to do with the way they define the word "study," which actually has two definitions:
1. Look at closely in order to observe or read.
2. Devote time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject.
Which most accurately reflects how you study?
If, when your teacher says, "Okay guys, you've got 15 minutes to study before the exam starts," and you proceed to stare at your notes--skimming, rereading, and "going over stuff in your head,"-- then you're doing the wrong kind of studying.
If, on the other hand, you join up with a couple of classmates and ask each other questions, write down key ideas, discuss ways to remember important concepts--in other words, actually devote time and attention--now you are really studying.
Think of the first definition like watching TV. You're sitting back passively, letting the content wash over you.
The second is more like playing a video game. You're interacting with the material, manipulating it, making meaning as opposed to "going over stuff."
And be careful about over-digitizing your study session. You can make online flashcards, but print them out when it's time to study. It's fine to look at videos to review, but take old-fashioned notes as you watch. The research, overwhelmingly, supports the importance of speaking and writing the old-fashioned way as you study. This helps to rewire the neural pathways that have been short-circuited by all of your texting, Instagramming, and Snapchatting.*
In summary, to do better on exams, do so with the second definition in mind:
1. Devote time. Never wait until the day of the test to study; your brain processes while you're sleeping. Think of it as a computer emptying the trash.
2. Devote attention--activate the material through speaking, writing, drawing, etc, preferably with other human beings.
It's amazing how just knowing the meaning of a word can change your approach. Now stop studying (#1) this blog and start studying (#2) for your exam!
*For a haunting, impossible-to-refute argument on this subject, check out Nicholas Carr's book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
Ever heard of John Dewey, the father of modern education? Well, he's dead, and he's turning over in his grave.
Has your teacher ever said, "You better pay attention because you will need this on the test," or "you will need this in college" or "this is preparing you for the next step." My go-to line was "The real world isn't going to stand for this!" As if the real world only starts after your walk across the stage. This message comes from your teachers, your parents, your counselors, your principal, your coaches, your supervisors, your siblings, your aunts and uncles, even your president. The recent obsession with "college and career readiness" has become so prevalent that it's now trite. Your life, as a high school student (or college for that matter) is all about getting ready for something else.
The thing is, these people aren't lying to you. They're actually trying to help you, and to an extent, what we're saying is true. But treating learning as a means to an end rather than an end in itself will not sustain you in high school, in college, or after. As Dewey taught us, "Education is not the preparation for life. Education is life."
So a question like "will this be on the test?" is an indication that your approach to learning is more transactional than transformational. Everything you learn, I don't care if it's the quadratic formula or the meaning of the word "synecdoche," is, in itself, helping to expand your mind and improve you as a person right now, in this world, which is actually real.
You've probably heard the saying, "Boring people get bored." Here's how to not be boring : embrace new concepts and new skills not as some sort of currency that you can cash in later in life, rather as an automatic payment to your brain, right now.
Ever notice when you go to the gym, that all of the unfit people look completely miserable? They're watching the clock on the treadmill, hoping for a circuit to break, trying to distract themselves with TMZ or Judge Judy. They see working out the same way too many kids view learning--as a means to an end. Notice that the people who are in shape seem to be purposeful, intense, almost serene.
Approach learning the same way and you will find that high school, college, and work will be so much easier, so much more gratifying, and so much more fun.
Now get back to your homework!