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The Common Application: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As I have worked with a number of high school seniors this year, it has become more and more evident that the impact of the Common Application is more complex than I first thought. No doubt, it is a great tool for high school seniors who gain the efficiency of filling out the myriad of information needed for college admission decisions only once. The site also provides students a great number of added benefits through its database functions of keeping up with their applications and status. Along with Naviance, there is a tremendous “paperless” revolution going on within this vast industry. Yet, the ease of application provided by the Common Application software has multiplied college applications exponentially. This has functionally changed the calculus of the admissions industry. Colleges are now faced with ever-growing virtual stacks of applications and find the man-power needs of processing and considering the merits of these applications quite problematic. I would not want to be in college admissions these days. They face an avalanche of applications. How do they sort and carefully consider this pile? Unfortunately, I believe that the only response can be to use admissions testing more extensively to make initial and secondary cuts in applications. This reality magnifies the significance of the ACT and SAT. Both of these exams are flawed indicators of success and contributions to a potential college. They are but one measure….flawed but used. I see ACT and SAT preparation growing even more relevant for students who are not as inclined to perform well on these platforms. Fortunately, there are a number of software sources available at no charge to help with this reality. Two sites that are free are and, both effective tools to improve overall performance on these tests.

ALM this Summer, Test Prep; Leadership Training; College Admissions

Academic Leaders is providing a suite of workshops and institutes this summer.  I am very pleased to announce that SAT and ACT preparation workshops will be taught by Mr. Jonas Holdeman and Mr. Phillip Stalls.  Please contact our office for more information.

The Importance of Planning for the Summer Break

One of the significant realities that planning for future college and career placement hinges on how much thought, reflection and planning a student exhibits in looking at the series of summer breaks embedded in their four-year high school program.  Unfortunately, many students do not look at the summer months with any strategic sensibility or planned perspective.  It is a break from school studies and activities but high school students with any authentic ambitions and motivations must put some time and thought into how they can best use these months to expand their options and experience opportunities and insights that only come from moving out of the comfort of their “bubble” and diving into unknown “worlds”.  There are many options within these options to enjoy experiential learning in new arenas of life and study: (1.) Study abroad programs that provide students with either foreign language and culture immersion or on-site studies done best abroad. (2.) Summer study programs at hundreds of colleges and universities seeking to attract highly motivated high school students to their campus for a “taste” of academic investigation within their programs. (3.) Internships and/or organized opportunities to conduct research or shadow particular career pathways. (4.) Service-learning experiences working with NGO’s or governmental agencies focused on building better lives for people and communities. This option can be combined with service-learning opportunities abroad in other countries. (5.) Development and implementation of a summer program of your own that provides a positive option for other youth within a community to enjoy and benefit from such as a summer soccer camp; chess camp; arts program; etc. (6.) Participate in a selective academic program such as a Governor’s School or by-application summer study program such as the options found at schools like MIT, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, etc.

Colleges are looking for students that act on their passions and interests and use their summer months to expand their horizons and broaden their interests.  It doesn’t mean to use the entire summer for activities such as these.  Everyone needs some recuperation and rest during the summer too.  It is a matter of balance. 

I can recommend sites like as clearinghouses of all the options and choices that students have in planning their summers with a more strategic plan in mind.  It is easy to google phrases such as “summer high school programs in ________” and get a long list of possible options to choose from for future investigation. As a grey-bearded individual on TV commercials says, “stay busy my friends”…..

The Importance of “Demonstrated Interest”

With students applying to more and more colleges these days and with the overall growth in students applying to 4-year colleges and universities, the “numbers’ game” that is now very much in place strongly requires that students take into full account the role of “demonstrated interest” in admissions’ decisions. With spring break coming up in a month or so, students need to appreciate the decisions that admissions offices make when they vet thousands and thousands of applications. You may be a fantastic student with a strong GPA and some good to great test scores. The problem is….there are lots and lots of other students with a strong GPA and good to great test scores.

When an admissions committee has a stack of applications sitting in front of them, they find themselves looking for that oh so important…..extra factor! Often, that factor is the reality that you have visited their campus (maybe on multiple occasions), visited with their representative on a number of occasions in Memphis at college fairs and your school, and you have created a “presence” during all of these contacts with the school. “Presence” means you made a good impression on all of these occasions by maintaining good eye contact; asking good questions and setting a good example for yourself (dress/smile/etc.). Very often, the decision to admit or deny boils down to the existence of a “critical mass” of positive vibrations that you have created through what is called “demonstrated interest” in the college of your choice.

Building confidence year by year with college admissions testing

I strongly emphasize with students and their parents the necessity to not dismiss the significance of tests like PLAN and PSAT.  Unfortunately, many students dismiss these tests as unimportant and having no real role in their journey to a good-fit college or university.  The PLAN is an old ACT that is administered to 9th and 10th grade students as a “practice” ACT.  The PSAT is an old SAT taken by 10th and 11th graders as “practice” for future SAT’s.  By sitting for these tests, students get a “feel” for what a full-fledged ACT or SAT will be like when they are an upper classman with a bit more focus on the pending search and application to colleges and universities.  This is true but, at the same time, doing their best on these tests through some preliminary practice and preparation will streamline the impact of these highly discriminating exams.  Athletic coaches do not tell young athletes that their junior varsity years fill with innumerable practices and games are just “practice” and do not require commitment and focus to maximizing improvement in identified skills and physical prowess.  The same is true with an Academic Coach.  The more effort, practice, commitment and focus a student gives to preparing for these preliminary versions of the SAT and ACT, the better they will perform when the score really, really counts.

The Score Reports for the PLAN and PSAT are some of the most ignored and misused documents relevant to the student’s college advisement and test preparation process. These reports provide a blueprint for maximizing additional efforts and work to improve the next steps in building the strongest portfolio of scores and grades possible to achieve admission to desired colleges and universities. It is much more effective to proceed with an important journey if you have a “map” of how to get there.  These score reports are a student’s map.

Critical Reading Powerpoint Presentation

Critical Reading

Power Point on Learning Styles

Learning Styles and Habits of the Mind


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