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Multi-Tasking Doesn’t Prepare You for College!

Are You Multi-Tasking During this Pandemic? A few posts back, we wrote about the importance of setting good habits during the pandemic. Since many students have been attending classes on their computers, and in general spending a lot of time on screens, we thought we would take the time to examine multi-tasking, since, computers and screens seem to encourage multi-tasking behavior! The Pandemic’s Impact on Learning Having so much autonomy in the pandemic, in terms of academics, has had different impacts on students, depending on their levels of independence, of self-management. In the Harvard Gazette’s interview of Paul Revelle, the Francis Keppel Professor of Practice of Educational Policy and Administration at Harvard Graduate School of Education, Revelle explained that: Some students will be fine during this crisis because they’ll have high-quality learning opportunities, whether it’s formal schooling or informal homeschooling of some kind coupled with various enrichment opportunities. Conversely, other students won’t have access to anything of quality, and as a result will be at an enormous disadvantage. The Pandemic is a Window on College Life So, how are you doing? Getting stuff done? This time is a great test of your ability to manage your own time applied to various goals - just like college! (And life in general!) Which camp are you falling into? If multi-tasking is so great, all the great minds do it? Right? WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Computer Science Professor Who Ignores E-mail Professor emeritus at Stanford, writer, and likely one of the most influential computer scientists ever, Donald Knuth is a busy person. He doesn’t have time for email - he tried it for “15” years between 1974 and 1990 and decided that was enough for him. If you really want to communicate with him, he is fully confident that you will send a letter by post, or, perhaps a fax. So, if he isn’t replying to emails, what is he doing? Or, what isn’t he doing? Multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is pretty much...never...the answer to the question, “how to do X better?” Multi-Taskers are EVERYTHING In fact...multi-taskers are not ANYTHING, as Clifford Nass and his comrades from the Stanford Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab were to find: We were absolutely shocked. We all lost our bets. It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They're terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they're terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized; and they're terrible at switching from one task to another. In fact: There’s not a single published paper that shows a significant positive relationship between working memory capacity and multitasking. Instead, the relationship could very well be negative: People who frequently use many types of media at once, or heavy media multitaskers, performed significantly worse on simple memory tasks. What is Cognitive Capacity? Hey, guess what’s great for learning? Memory. Not just “rote” memory - just, memory - in general. Right? How can you apply what you have learned if you just...forgot? Perhaps it is because, as MIT Professor Earl Miller noted: The average adult human can, at best, think only 3-4 things simultaneously. This is called cognitive capacity. The Secret of Deliberate Practice OK so instead of multi-tasking, how can we all become like our own version of Donald Knuth? With deliberate practice: spending MORE time on the hardest tasks - as Anders Ericson noted in a very famous study of elite violinists: [D]eliberate practice is a highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance. Specific tasks are invented to overcome weaknesses, and performance is carefully monitored to provide cues for ways to improve it further. Removing Temptation Helps You Focus MIT’s Miller recommends - for adults: Use your “executive brain” – Plan to single-task • Avoid temptation. Go “off-grid”. Put away your cell phone when you drive. Turn off your email/web access for a while. • Block out time to single task. Tell yourself that you will work on project X and nothing else for the next few hours • Prioritize. Work on your most important tasks first. Then you won’t feel pressure to multitask. • Be self-aware and resist. Recognize that humans have the temptation to multitask but that it is not effective. Multitasking invites TEMPTATION. Guess what? Humans have a limited amount of willpower. Research shows that people who say that they are good at self-control are actually removing temptation from their life. Be An Olympian - At YOUR Thing One of our recent posts addresses how you actually form habits - something some of us here at Enlighteens Education learned from reading James Clear’s book, “Atomic Habits.” If you are transitioning from being addicted to multi-tasking and want to change your routine for the sake of your productivity, Clear’s book is a great choice. To help you visualize what that kind of focus and concentration looks like, i.e., the OPPOSITE of multi-tasking, consider athletes! Have you ever heard of a high school varsity athlete who told you that she or he was doing X sport while also playing on their phone? No, of course not! Now, why is that? What is it about multi-tasking that just doesn’t help you be a better athlete? Or better at anything, really? It is instructive to think about what athletes do to become their very best. When I have worked with students whose athletics were part of their college admissions process, their schedules were absolutely packed. “Practice” might include time before - and - after school, and on the weekends. It’s basically like a job. It will easily add up to over 30 hours, not counting actual competition GAMES. Do you think that level of focus permits multi-tasking? Probably not. Your coach would probably flip out if she or he sees you on the phone during practice!!! Oh, and, usually being a great athlete means you have been doing your sport for many, many YEARS. Even if you are not “competitive” in that you are not a Junior Olympian or something, pouring yourself really into your sport means focus over time. That is the opposite of multi-tasking. What if you are not into sports? What if you are not an athlete? Well, there are still tons of things you want to practice, learn, etc. we’ve known students who were into art, helping their family, music, robotics, volunteering in their communities, and any mixture of those! The Real World Demands Obsession The real world rewards actual focus, concentration and persistence - these are the OPPOSITE of distraction and multi-tasking. It’s also important to figure out the right thing you want to really focus ON. Penelope Trunk confesses that she knew she did not desire winning like the Olympian players she was competing against: I don't have the tenacity to be an Olympic athlete, but my experience playing against those athletes makes it so clear to me that we can each be a big winner if we find the spot in the world where we do have that tenacity. Her “spot in the world” was business; she has successfully launched multiple start-ups: I see this in the start-up world. I have had three start-ups. In each case I've been absolutely obsessed with seeing it through to funding and getting my idea off the ground. Obsession probably does look a bit insane, and there was a time that Trunk thought her competitors took themselves perhaps a bit too seriously: There was a time when I thought those women who were killing me each week were insane for caring so much...Now I see that on some level, that drive to win no matter what will always look insane. But it's the only way to get outsized results from your efforts. Educational Perspective Over the years, we have seen the context in which students are pursuing their homework, personal projects / etc. is important. Time of day, place, etc. - if you can choose the variables so that you maximize focus and concentration, all the better. So is the overall family dynamic - since the time spent at home often means young people are experiencing positive or negative feelings about their academics. Sometimes the “multi-tasking” or “distraction” is a way to escape these unpleasant feelings. Trying to do homework while also playing video games would be something worth examining as a family, together. Does it actually help you work better, faster, etc.? The same goes for other types of multi-tasking; do you understand what is at stake when you play on your phone for hours? Observing how well you manage this pandemic time is a test of how you might manage your time in college. So use this time well to strengthen your skills and make observations about yourself!!! We bring you this topic so that you get a glimpse of the kinds of issues we help families resolve together so that they can move forward with their goals.

Are Your Daughters Saying “Sorry” Everyday?

The Child Mind Institute recently published an article that impressed us as very real: “Why Girls Apologize Too Much.” It immediately struck an emotional chord. From a few of my female co-workers’ messages, I read these reactions: “this is sooo real” and “like how my mom told me girls should wear skirts”! This article reminded them of their own experiences. It is worth reading in total because it addresses not only the factors that situate girls into apologizing unnecessarily, but, also what parents can do to set a good example for girls to follow, plus demonstrate greater directness and confidence: [H]elp your daughter focus on being direct first, and polite second. Using clear language demonstrates confidence and makes it more likely her point will be heard. Work together to test out alternative statements that are polite, but direct. For example, compare the following responses to a lab partner who is struggling with a task: Indirect response: “Sorry, I’m not really an expert, but maybe I can help?” “Direct response: “I know how to do this, would you like me to show you?” The direct response is still polite, but it also communicates that she’s comfortable taking the lead and confident in her skills. Cultural norms affect young people, everyday. As my female students have taken on leadership positions in their communities and schools, sometimes they encounter conflicts within themselves or with others because they don’t want to be seen as too “bossy” or too “weak” either. Yes, even in high school!!! One of my students told me that he was the one in the family to encourage his younger sister to work hard in school; his parents had only told her to focus on getting married instead. What is the right balance? These sorts of quandaries lead us to continuously study and learn more about the human condition so that we can incorporate those findings into our college consulting operations. What are your hopes and aspirations for your children? History tells us that female leaders must develop the style that befits their station, as well as their gender. Sibyl Hathaway, the Dame of Sark, is famous for being the world’s only feudal head of state who happened to outsmart the Nazis during the Second World War!!! Part of her charm lay in the way she employed simple manners: As it turned out, the strict feudal etiquette she had spent her life practicing would become a potent weapon, a tool for bending the occupiers to her will. The Dame of Sark also kept the German occupiers off-balance by exploiting the fact that most Germans - coming from a land-locked country - were not adept at navigating the sea as most Sark islanders were: Sark’s coastline is foreboding. In the Middle Ages, pirates and privateers would circle the island's bluffs looking for a place to dock, only to declare it unreachable...In Dame Sibyl’s day, horses lugged the passengers up. But not on the day the Nazis arrived. Dame Sibyl resolved that she would not go to meet the Germans; they would come to her—and they would walk. She certainly internalized the idea that women need not be so accommodating! But what about your daughters? How about them? What if they needed to save their people? Are they ready to take charge? Like lionesses, can they fend for a community? A LION PRIDE is all females all the time. They catch the vast majority of the food, and they guard the territory from intruders... Despite the famous roars of the male lions, in the world of lions, it’s actually the female lions who maintain a stable family group, the pride. And it is the females who hunt in organized groups to feed their entire pride; males rarely even participate in these hunts. Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research provides a discussion guide - for adults - to discuss gender discrepancies for the career hunting that humans do: work. Simple things such as direct eye contact and direct statements are among the things that the Institute identifies as helpful for women throughout their career trajectory. What would it be like if we include lionesses, and women like Dame Sark as examples of femininity for young women to consider? Will your daughters be seeking advice about communication styles and eye contact when they are adults? We can choose different role models and norms for young women as they shape their personas. Actions always speak louder than words, so, letting your daughters see your actions and choices will help them learn and understand how to navigate the world closeup. We made this post because we want you to know that we are always striving to keep our minds open and ready for knowledge about human development as we pursue the best ideas for our students - we are never satisfied with our past accomplishments as college consultants and mentors.

University of California: Updates & Info

The UC recently emailed high school counselors about changes for this year’s admission cycle. Here is a quick glance! Dates & deadlines August 1: Fall 2020 application opens October 1: Financial aid: FAFSA and Cal Grant Verification Form opens for applicants to all terms November 1-30: Submission period for the fall 2020 application Campuses & Majors UC Merced, UC Riverside and UC Santa Cruz are accepting transfer applications for Winter Quarter / Spring Semester 2021. The filing period is July 1-31. Each UC campus has its own set of majors Some majors require you to submit supplemental application materials Application Requirements - Updated for COVID19 Academic History – UC will allow pass/credit grades for A-G courses during COVID-19 impacted terms of winter, spring and summer of 2020. Activities & awards –The character count for activity descriptions is reduced to 350 characters (from 500), and the character count for award requirements, use of work earnings, and organization descriptions is 250 characters (from 500). The UC permits you to use up to 20 spaces to describe your activities, awards, etc. That much space means - it’s of course of vital importance that you continue being active in whatever ways you can, in your extracurricular activities (EA). Here are some posts about what can make your EAs more meaningful along with 50 examples of what they could be and how you can take advantage of your shelter-in-place conditions to set up great new habits! If you are lagging, and need some summer EAs ASAP, here’s the post for you! Test Scores – ACT and SAT are optional for Fall 2021. Official score reports are not necessary. Order and send official scores only prior to enrollment.(For more information on changes to UC testing policy, see the press release.) You are also welcome to read our blog post about the timelines/details of how the UC plans to handle standardized tests over the next five years. Writing Scores – Applicants will not be asked to report ACT Writing and SAT Essay scores on the application. Personal Insight Questions – No changes for Fall 2021. Applicants must answer 4 Personal Insight Questions, and choose them from eight (8) options. That means, yes, you must choose four topics to write about - YOURSELF. If you have never written about yourself before - please use this summer to jump-start the process!!! Be sure to spend plenty of time on this writing process so that admissions readers can learn about you, and see you as a whole person - and not just a bunch of records. This is especially true now that the UC is not looking at test scores in this application season. Hope you enjoyed a quick journey through the UC’s most recent updates about admissions and applications!!!

When Families Fight About the News

Do you believe everything you read? How can you tell whether you are in an echo chamber? Are you falling victim to “confirmation bias“? When you read one set of news, and your children read others - what happens when you start fighting about politics? How can something as benign as a newspaper article or website ignite a family fight? Are you or your children saying things you both regret, because of news or politics? We are hearing from families that they are experiencing stressful disagreements between parents and children due to current events. This is a good time to remember 1) how to stay respectful when you so strongly disagree and also 2) how to evaluate media sources so that you can all be better informed. Respectful Disagreement Are either of you feeling under the spell of “emotional flooding”? Here is a definition from the Gottman Institute: Basically, when we react in the grip of emotional flooding, we do and say the kind of things that are likely to trigger emotional flooding in our partner. And then both people in the room are out of control. In the moment, you might act like enemies! When really, you know that you are a team! Conflict is an inevitable part of relating to people - so how can you disagree, better? Instead of escalating conflict so that everyone is overwhelmed, you may wish to consider how to build the best relationships possible - especially since you are very likely spending a lot of time together with whomever is living with you, during shelter-in-place! Instead of criticizing, insulting, getting defensive, or shutting down, you can move in a positive direction, by expressing your needs, build a culture of appreciation, taking responsibility for wrongdoing and calming down by soothing your nervous system. Accepting that you are different from each other - which means, holding different views - may be necessary to keep the peace! The American Psychological Association reminds us: Accept that you may not change the other person’s mind....Having conversations, specifically on sensitive topics, will not always be easy going. Recognize that you may not be able to change their viewpoints. Use the conversation as an opportunity to share views, not to convince anyone that your view is best. Evaluating News Sources - Neutrally It is very possible that if you are reading news or consuming other media, depending upon your country, you might only have a choice of a few large media conglomerates (for example, in the US, there are only a handful which occupy 90% of the media marketplace as of 2013). So, even if you and your children disagree, you might want to consider if you are merely repeating the positions you have heard about from your various sources instead of genuinely reflecting and deciding what you really think based on the facts. You surely would not shop for a car without comparing prices and features in different places - should you treat your news information any less casually? When deciding what to believe - about the world, about events - what can you do to ensure you have the most accurate information available? When checking for bias, Purdue University recommends looking for an unbiased tone (versus language filled with emotion), evidence supporting the information, and whether the information is sponsored / endorsed by a special interest group. The picture is from a TED-ed talk, which recommends either getting information directly from the source directly. Whether a scientific study or speech, you can often get the original source yourself - cutting out the news middleman entirely. That is of course, the best source of information. But, if you do not have time to dig up original sources, and want to be able to read news stories which are reliable - how can you find them? How can we go about finding actual information, real facts - trustworthy information? One way is to be aware of potential bias when you read something. The University of Michigan’s Library lists some resources to help people identify various biases in their news outlets. One site,, weights various social media news sources for the magnitude of bias to help you find the most centered and reliable news. From “We display the day’s top news stories from the Left, Center and Right of the political spectrum — side-by-side so you can see the full picture.” Modestly, it disclaims that even the news it labels as “centered” may still be biased or not the best resource. Perhaps it is comforting to see that the site discloses the possibilities of bias due to the political identity of the founder, John Gable, which happens not to match those of his staff and the possibility of influence by various funders (who do not politically agree with each other either). In classic nerd form, in a TED talk, Gables makes a Star Trek reference to help the audience understand the problem of bias: You see, we human beings -- we're not nearly as smart as we think we are. We don't generally make decisions intellectually. We make them emotionally, intuitively, and then we use our big old brains to rationalize anything we want to rationalize. We're not really like Vulcans like Mr. Spock, we're more like bold cowboys like Captain Kirk, or passionate idealists like Dr. McCoy. Perhaps these thoughts about news evaluation sound obvious, but, even for the generation growing up on social media - the research show that they are ill-equipped to evaluate information they find on the Internet. A Stanford University study, "Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Reasoning" of nearly 8,000 middle, high school and college students in 12 states revealed that most believed news articles without any critical analysis. Tasks such as distinguishing between a news article and an opinion column, correctly identifying ads on a website, assessing the relative “strength of evidence” of two users on Facebook - the subjects did not perform that well. The study found that only 9% of students enrolled in AP-level history courses were able to figure out that a particular website was a front for a lobbyist - because most never even performed any research to move beyond the site itself. Stanford’s History Education Group, spurred by this research, offers materials to help teachers guide students critique news sources, in its (FREE!!!) Civic Online Reasoning courses. Lessons in skills such as lateral reading - something professional fact checkers do - comparing many different sources in different browser tabs. It sounds so simple but a study of Stanford undergraduates that 40% of them were fooled by slick websites and the use of “.org” in a site name!!! Thank goodness, critical reasoning skills can increase with practice. Something to ask yourselves as adults is - are you doing a better job than they are, in terms of questioning your news sources? This picture, from Crashcourse’s video, Introduction to Crash Course Navigating Digital Information #1 captures how bias can be like water for fish - invisible to us, since we are immersed in it, all the time! One takeaway from the second video (see the still below) in that series is to act like fact-checker, and ask three questions every time you read a site: who is the source behind the info, what is the evidence and what do other sources say about the organization and its claims? So, families - stay patient and kind with each other, and, be sure to do your homework by vetting the news like a fact-checker! You can set a good example for the next generation!!! P.S. For your reading pleasure, I have intentionally embedded at least three (3) pieces of misinformation in various places within the words above. (Just kidding....!!!)

Myths about Preparing for the Legal Profession

You might think hey, it’s super easy to get into law school! Who wants to be a lawyer anymore? Right? WRONG! If you are looking at the top law schools, the name of the game is low acceptance rates. Yes, you apply to law school after you have already attended college and have done well - but it is something you can plan far, far in advance. If you take a look at this handy chart (thanks Internet Research Legal Group of the University of Texas at Austin, School of Law!), you’ll see that some of the acceptance rates are in the single digits - harder to enter than Ivies! Yes, there are many law schools. However, if you want to apply - and actually enter - the top-ranked schools, you need to put on your boxing gloves good and early! Additionally, it may be no surprise that many of the country’s top law schools are part of the top-ranked universities. This post is about breaking down some basic myths people have about how to prepare for the legal profession. So, let’s go! It’s OK to pursue law as a “fall back” choice High school is too early to think about being a lawyer My undergraduate major matters, a LOT The LSAT is the most important Law schools are desperate for applicants so I can have whatever GPA 1. OK to Pursue Law Career as “Fall-Back” Choice: FALSE! You know you can’t stand the sight of blood, so, becoming a doctor is out of the question. And, you have tried engineering stuff but hated it. And, spreadsheets make you crazy! So, why not law school, right? WRONG! Law school cannot be the “default” path just because you did not like everything else. It is important that you choose something which is a good match for YOU. Nope. The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), which develops the Law School Admissions Test (which law schools typically require in their application processes), advises you to: Choose courses that will enhance your reading comprehension, writing, and analytical skills. In other words, buckle up for lots and lots of reading, reading, reading, and analysis. So, when you are writing essays in high school, (or for the SAT / ACT) what’s the part of the rubric which students often find the most challenging? The ANALYSIS. If you hate reading, books, research, writing - then perhaps you need to take a good look and choose some other path for yourself. Because, most likely, the law will not be a great fit: law school, and lawyering, mean you will spend years and years of your life doing just that. If you love that sort of thing, GREAT! Maybe you love to read the fine print! Or, you willingly spend time reviewing user license agreements! The American Bar Association even offers some handy-dandy curricula for elementary, middle and high schoolers, to try out their critical thinking skills, such as this one about news literacy (appropriate for 6-8th grade). They are meant for teachers, but, you can take a look and see the type of skills they are encouraging you to develop. So - one more time so you don’t miss the point - law is something to choose if you really, really love reading, writing and analyzing! (Or, you happen to be really good at it!) 2. High school is too early to think about the law - FALSE! False! If you have already determined that you love, love, love reading, writing, and analysis, the LSAC is happy to advise you to take challenging classes (oh yes, that could very well mean AP US History, AP Language & Composition, etc.) keep up your grades, and start doing career research. And, as mentioned above in #1, the American Bar Association wants get kids engaged with civic / legal concepts as early as elementary school! So, it’s never too early! Start now! 3. My undergraduate major matters, a LOT No, it won’t! If you don’t believe me, here’s what Harvard Law School has to say about it: Harvard Law School considers applications from all undergraduate majors. There are no fixed requirements with respect to the content of pre-legal education. The nature of a candidate’s college work, as well as the quality of academic performance, are reviewed in the selection process. If we look at the LSAC advice about preparing for a career in the law, you’ll notice that there is no specific recommendation about majors. Instead, you’ll see that keeping up your GPA and preparing for the LSAT are primary concerns. 4. The LSAT is the most important - TRUE By now, you might be curious about the LSAT, since, you’ve seen that acronym several times by now. You might think, now, why after all this talk of reading and writing, what is up with a multiple choice test? Why would law schools care about such a thing? Your college GPA will be of utmost importance too. But this is a common factor for grad school admissions in general. The LSAT, with its special mix of questions, is a particular “filter.” Unlike the GMAT or GRE, there is no “math” per se. However, its questions are definitely designed for a very, very specific purpose - to see if you like to split hairs, make fine distinctions, all while parsing complex text and keeping track of logic in a disciplined way. Don’t worry, there is an on-demand writing portion so you’ll definitely be writing. However, the multiple choice questions assess your reading comprehension skills, analytical reasoning, and a double-dose of your logical reasoning skills. 5. Law schools are desperate for applicants so I can have whatever GPA Yes, it’s true that enrollments are down. However, the top law schools are admitting those with college GPAs of 3.8 and above. Whether you want to apply to Harvard, Stanford or UC Berkeley for law school one day, you’ll have to keep a very sharp eye on your academic performance. So, college will not be a time for napping like a kitty!

Financial Decisions: You v. Colleges

When it comes to money, most families are concerned about paying for colleges. So do colleges. While we seldom look into how a college keeps itself running, its approaches are directly affecting admission decisions and financial packages. Colleges Admission officers are not the only ones that can determine whom to keep or let go. After the initial decisions are made, enrollment officers will come on the scene. Every final decision is the result of the fight between meeting the institutional need and maintaining the school’s ranking/image. Operating an institute like a 4-year college is expensive, so the more the student can pay, the less the school is responsible for. But meanwhile, regardless of the financial ability, admission officers care about those who are high-achieving. Moreover, with social mobility being one of the ranking criteria, colleges have to consider admitting a certain number of students from underprivileged backgrounds. A small number of schools can ignore students’ abilities to pay and make decisions based solely on other factors, which is known as need-blind admission. On the other hand, schools that take financial standing into consideration are need-aware. However, does it mean those who demonstrate intensive need should focus on need-blind schools, and students from wealthy families have high-chance of acceptance at need-aware schools? Not really. A need-blind school is not necessarily committed to meeting the full financial need of students. In other words, it’s possible that one can get into the college but receive a poorly structured financial package. Actually, this is a common strategy adopted by many college enrollment managers. Nevertheless, many high-profile need-aware colleges are using their best practice to assist qualified students in paying for college. Therefore, being need-blind or need-aware is independent of a college’s desire to fulfill students’ financial needs. Whether a student is from a low-income or upper-middle income family, it’s recommended to apply to a range of schools so that one doesn’t rule out any chance, both academically and financially. You While every individual financial package is built differently, it’s essential for students and parents to understand its components and how these together may help achieve affordability. Financial aid can take on various forms. The common elements include: Grant and scholarship aka “free money.” There are need-based grant and sometimes, merit-based scholarships depending on how badly the college wants a student. Self-aid. Loans. There are many different types of loans available to both students and parents: Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS), subsidized loan—no interest until graduation, unsubsidized loan—interest added, Perkins Loan—distribution determined by the school, and even private student loans. Work-study. Funds are provided to part-time, usually on-campus, employment when students are still in school. Once the student earns all the funds awarded, the work-study terminates. As most of these items are need-based, students must apply through standardized applications: FAFSA. It’s provided by the federal government and used by ALL schools. It’s recommended that all students should apply, regardless of family income. The main goal of this application is to determine aid eligibility by the federal and state. CSS profile. It’s part of the College Board site and used by more than 200 schools, mostly private. Only students applying to the specific schools need to complete this application. The purpose of this profile is to determine the additional non-federal aid. Besides the need offered by the government and school, students are encouraged to seek additional scholarships. There are numerous independent scholarships out there. Some of them are available to specific schools, and some of them are for particular areas of study. It’s worth a good amount of research. Final Thoughts As much as we care about the admission results, we would like to see students be able to go to their favorite colleges. Like college-readiness, students and families should become aware and begin the preparation at an early stage. Some tips for our future college kids: Get a part-time job while in high school to have a taste of work-study. Research the financial options at the schools you like. Be cautious about the scholarship scam. NEVER miss the FAFSA/CSS deadline!

UC Drops Test Score Reporting - First Glance

Today, the UC Regents voted unanimously, 23-0, to suspend the SAT requirement over the next few years - making test score reporting optional from now until 2024, and (possibly) eliminating test scores from the application process completely in 2025: The University of California Board of Regents today (May 21) unanimously approved the suspension of the standardized test requirement (ACT/SAT) for all California freshman applicants until fall 2024. The suspension will allow the University to create a new test that better aligns with the content the University expects students to have mastered for college readiness. However, if a new test does not meet specified criteria in time for fall 2025 admission, UC will eliminate the standardized testing requirement for California students. For rising 12th graders, current juniors, due to COVID19, the UC decided earlier that test reporting will be optional: The University recognizes the challenges that students are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, in response, UC is temporarily suspending the standardized test requirement for students applying for fall 2021 freshman admission only. The decision today will impact students 10th grade and younger, as follows: WRITING PORTION: Eliminating the writing test starting 2021 (affects current 10th graders) FALL 2021 & 2022 - Test Optional (Current 10th & 9th Graders) FALL 2023 & 2024: Test-Blind Test scores ELIMINATED for California public school / private school attendees. Only used for placement, scholarships, etc. Non-residents still allowed to report test scores (due to non-California coursework) The following outlines the Regents’ actions: Test-optional for fall 2021 and fall 2022: Campuses will have the option to use ACT/SAT test scores in selection consideration if applicants choose to submit them, and will develop appropriate policies and procedures to implement the Board’s decision. Test-blind for fall 2023 and fall 2024: Campuses will not consider test scores for California public and independent high school applicants in admissions selection, a practice known as “test-blind” admissions. Test scores could still be considered for other purposes such as course placement, certain scholarships and eligibility for the statewide admissions guarantee. New standardized test: Starting in summer 2020 and ending by January 2021, UC will undertake a process to identify or create a new test that aligns with the content UC expects students to have mastered to demonstrate college readiness for California freshmen. Elimination of the ACT/SAT test requirement: By 2025, any use of the ACT/SAT would be eliminated for California students and a new UC-endorsed test to measure UC-readiness would be required. However, if by 2025 the new test is either unfeasible or not ready, consideration of the ACT/SAT for freshman admissions would still be eliminated for California students. Elimination of writing test: The University will eliminate altogether the SAT Essay/ACT Writing Test as a requirement for UC undergraduate admissions, and these scores will not be used at all effective for fall 2021 admissions. The timeline for the future of standardized testing at UC: Join our webinars to learn more about the impacts for current high school and middle school students! ACA5 OFFICIAL UC PRESS RELEASE:

UPDATE: COVID19-Specific Common App Prompt

Common App just published this week a COVID19-specific prompt for applicants to use. It will be in the Additional Information Section of your Common App. Here’s what it looks like: Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces. Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you. Does this mean you should automatically write a response for this? NOOOooooooo! Consider if the prompt really applies to YOU and your situation. Breaking It Down I’ve underlined some phrases to help break down the kind of information you could share: Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces. We can pull out a few phrases to break down and mull over - see highlights in bold above. “[F]amily Circumstances” You might choose to discuss, for example, the fact that one or both of your parents lost their jobs or otherwise suffered economic loss, if that loss affected you. Did you have to leave your home as the result of an eviction? Or maybe some relatives or friends are living with you because of a change in circumstances. Maybe you took on more responsibilities because one or both of your parents works in an essential role, such as food service or healthcare, and you are doing more caregiving for younger siblings to help your parents as they work longer hours. “[A]ccess to reliable technology” Technology can feel like something you take for granted - until it’s gone. If, for example, you faced challenges in transitioning from face-to-face learning to online classes - let’s say, in your least favorite class - how did you handle it? Even if your school district decided to issue Pass / Fail, instead of letter grades, it will still be good to share with admissions officers what you did to pursue your education despite technology barriers. Did you find someone who would let you come over to access wifi? Did you pursue extra credit? Food for thought. As you learn about this prompt, you can also consider your writing strategies - in general - for Common App. Personal Statement Common App gives you a maximum of 650 words to write about yourself. How are you going to choose your topic? Sometimes, one of your extracurricular activities can be a great choice. As I mention in in Meaningful Extracurricular Activities & 50 Examples, “[m]any extracurricular activities can be “meaningful” if you can honestly say that you pursued the activity with a sense of purpose. As you choose what you will spend your time doing, think about what is motivating you to do what you do?“ That includes volunteering - one of my students was such a passionate volunteer for a food closet, that he taught me something about some social issues - and it ended up being the topic of his personal statement! "With the food closet, he became such a fixture that the non-profit relied upon him to eventually train other volunteers - including adults (!!!) and to provide interpretation services for Mandarin and Spanish speaking clients. And of course, he hauled, packed and sorted donated foods!!!" If you have a great story of how you CHANGED for the better, so much so, that it’s like a movie (!), consider borrowing essay-writing secrets from the blockbuster film, “Crazy Rich Asians.” For example, if COVID19 actually helped you create better life/etc. habits, that might be a good reason to discuss the pandemic in your Personal Statement as well. In that post, I share how other students have actually written about their unusual habits, long before COVID19, and, you can too! Other Writing In addition to the Personal Statement, Common App has other sections which allow you to directly express yourself in written form: Supplemental Prompts Additional Information Activities Supplemental Prompts Each college on Common App can choose to require you to write something specific for their application. So yes, you will need to think about not just ONE topic, but, hopefully, MULTIPLE topics so that you will have interesting things to say in various application essays - especially since each college can have more than ONE supplemental essay! For example, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor requires THREE (3), and one of them clocks in with maximum of 500 words. Yes, a FULL PAGE. Additional Information This section gives you 650 words to share things “to discuss circumstances and qualifications not reflected elsewhere in the application.” Activities This is the section you will use to report up to 10 extracurricular activities, in 150 characters or less. This is just a quick update to let you become aware of this new writing section of Common App, and to get you thinking about your approach in general. Happy Writing!!!

SAT/ACT: Love It? You Have To!

3/24: Tufts introduced the test-optional admission for the next three years. 3/25: BU decided to go test-optional for students applying for the next academic year. 4/1: UC announced that it would ease some requirements for the coming admission cycle by eliminating the SAT/ACT requirement. 4/22: Cornell suspended the test requirement for 2021 applicants. As the decision deadline approaches, we expect more colleges to change their admission requirements based on the yields of this year. Many students are overjoyed and feel relieved after the series of changes. But is it really the time to relax and celebrate? Let’s look into a profile of a rising senior: Unweighted GPA: 3.8; UC GPA: 4.0 AP/Honor count: 8 by the end of 12th grade Tests: 790 on SAT II Math taken in 11th grade, 1450 on the first official SAT Activities: piano, tennis, about 100 volunteering hours, CS Club, Key Club, one or two lecture-based summer camps. This profile is typical for Asian kids in the Bay Area. Based on the standing of this type of student—good GPA and average activities, 11th grade and the summer before 12th grade are critical as they are busy with test prep and expecting to utilize the last summer for advanced activities. Among all the possibilities that will help improve this profile, standardized tests are of notable importance: Asian students are known for being strong test-takers. According to the report from the National Center for Education Statistics, the mean SAT score of Asians is 1223, which is 100 points higher than the second-highest mean (FYI, the ethnicity group with the second-highest mean is White). It’s our advantage. Compared to using the limited time to improve other areas, seeking a boost in test scores is more cost-efficient in most cases though it doesn’t mean that students should overlook other components of the admission criteria. Most students’ target colleges fall under the category that still prioritizes academic performance instead of elite colleges that put significantly more weight on activities and personal attributes. If the student’s academic interest is one of the most popular majors, then numbers become even more important. Though not the highest-achieving kid, the student and parents will still try to apply to a few dream schools. But don’t you just say elite colleges focus more on activities and characters? That’s because when 90% of their candidates have beautiful GPA’s and test scores, they have to use other factors to differentiate applicants. At this point, no one knows how many students are “done” with their standardized tests exactly. And since many of the best high schools have switched to the Pass/No Pass grading system, a competitive SAT/ACT result will give students an edge on the application and is also a sign to colleges that they are not slacking off during the pandemic. But what’s the point of making tests optional? Who will benefit from this policy? We are not talking about VIP’s—athletes, legacy, or honorable donors. As for our everyday high school students, tests are indeed optional at a decent college if the student has a strong GPA from a rigorous curriculum at a competitive high school, a unique or exceptional resume, AND something to show his continuous effort when staying at home. After all, there are three things colleges look for: the ability to survive college courses, how students use their free time, and whether one strives for success in any conditions, and in most cases, testing plays an inevitable role in reflecting these qualities.

Creating Atomic Habits During the COVID19 Pandemic

It’s stressful living under quarantine rules, as a sizeable portion of the population of the USA (California, New York, and as of March 20, 2020, Illinois) are learning. They are adding their names to the many who are already living under such conditions in various nations (such as China, Korea, UK, ) in the effort to combat COVID19. On one hand, you are under shelter-in-place orders, cannot see friends, cannot go places, cannot attend school or do so much of what you are accustomed to doing. But on the other hand, if you are in an environment with running water, electricity, and internet access, well, life could be pretty easy. Staying at home might be....almost...too easy. Now, all you have to do is figure out how to not get stuck on social media all day long! It’s great if you are a self-starter who already knows how to “self-learn“ when school has been cancelled - because you can just learn at home on your own and everything is good. But what if you are not? Then, you can take this opportunity to create NEW habits. You might wonder, how does that actually work??? Let’s look at some familiar and conventional thinking. Wishful Thinking Many parents / adults engage in wishful thinking when attempting to influence their children, or even themselves, to take on better habits. Leading with ideas of how we WISH things to be - better, tidier, faster, etc. - may or may not help us figure out how to make lasting change. Common Techniques Adults often resort to various ways to influence each other, and of course, their children: “Grit” / willpower giving a pep talk about how one must “grit” one’s teeth and “just do it”carrot/ stick approaches bribery for the “good” behaviors (carrot)punishment for the “bad” behaviors (stick)trouble-shooting / reasoning / persuading various problem-solving modes, logical approaches or trying to “think” it through The Habit Loop
James Clear breaks down habits into four parts: “Cue” - Trigger - such as seeing your coffee cup “Craving” - after seeing the coffee cup, anticipating coffee “Response” - how you REACT - drinking the coffee “Reward” - the taste of coffee / the caffeine / etc. To help us figure out how to create our own good habits, Clear identified the Four Laws of Behavior Change: Cue: Make it obvious. Craving: Make it attractive. Response: Make it easy. Reward: Make it satisfying. REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE#1: KAWAII ECO-BAG Once you understand this framework, you can see it everywhere! I recently started to improve my “habit” of bringing bags to the grocery story (instead of buying extra bags at the store) by using a cute eco-bag I bought as a souvenir when traveling! So here’s one example of seeing the habit “framework” with the four laws in action Cue: Make it obvious. I started putting a very cute eco-bag into a specific pocket in my backpack Craving: Make it attractive. at the store, I know I can reach for it in the backpack and see that kawaii-ness! Response: Make it easy. Remove bag from backpack, it’s a snap! Reward: Make it satisfying. It’s much cuter than generic bag that I can buy at any normal store and saved $ by not buying yet another bag! REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE #2: Biking as Meditation And I’ve seen how high school students have made creative use of difficult situations, to form unique habits. One of my students had very little privacy: he did homework in living room along with family TV / etc.) commuted to/from school on bicycle. Cue: commute time = thinking time Craving: personal questions or even math problems on his mind - he would sav “save” these for his commute to ponder Response: Thinking through it on the bike Reward: Stress Relief, Meditation Result: this habit of his actually became the topic of his personal statement for his college apps! If you are in a shelter-in-place area, you might need to find -and appreciate - the small freedoms that you would otherwise take for granted. Can you find those nooks and crannies in your now totally different routines to take advantage of your time in different ways? I know of one family who is leveraging the extra time their children have to address many of the household tasks: laundry, cooking, taking care of the backyard plants while the parents work remotely from home! Because our routines have changed so much, this can be actually a bizarre opportunity to reset one’s defaults. All kidding aside, if you are so fortunate as to have all your basic needs met, and you can put energy into school, you might actually learn something you would have otherwise missed. Before your parents become afraid that your home will become one gigantic pile of potato chip bags, you can figure out what resources - and HABITS - work best for you to stay focused and engaged. Not only is this an opportunity for you to keep up your academic work (and for your parents to learn how to homeschool you!), you have quite a bit of extra time to dedicate to other skills that you want to learn. If you want to learn about the physics of surfing, go for it! As school districts roll out their plans for handling teaching remotely, as your teachers and school administrators are also working from home, take a good look at your habits - the ones you have, and the ones you want to start!

Latest Update: Corona Virus FAQs

What are the symptoms? Mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of • fever • cough • shortness of breath. Severe complications include pneumonia in both lungs, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death. Severest symptoms seem to be associated with those who have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, or, the elderly. How can I help protect myself? Avoiding exposure is the key: when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes they project small droplets containing the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the virus. Avoiding close contact with people who are sick (for example, at home, at work or in a healthcare center). Maintain social distancing - at least 1 meter (3 feet) between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever. Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or, if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. What to do if you are sick? Stay home Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. What is the current status of the corona virus, in the USA? The people facing the greatest risk are those who are either living in China, traveling within China, or health care workers or are somehow in close contact with people infected with it. What should I do if I recently traveled to China and got sick? If you were in China within the past 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, you should seek medical care. Call the office of your health care provider before you go and tell them about your travel and your symptoms. They will give you instructions on how to get care without exposing other people to your illness. While sick, avoid contact with people, don’t go out and delay any travel to reduce the possibility of spreading illness to others. What if you encounter the discrimination because of you are a Chinese or Chinese American? Remember that discrimination is often the result of fear and paranoia, i.e., instead of rational thought. Employment discrimination is considered the most powerful form of discrimination in the USA today. Understand that even lesser “microaggressions” - such as daily rudeness, snubs, misguided comments - can be very hurtful and damaging. Seek support from others in your network. Get involved with like-minded groups / organizations. Prepare your child for the possibility of discriminatory encounters so that they can associate it with discrimination instead of blaming themselves personally. Be assertive and stand up for yourself. Reflect on your own beliefs about assimilating versus retaining your cultural values. SOURCES:


Psychology Today: American Psychological Association:



The Magical College Ranking

Chen Liu I walked into the multi-variable calculus class, feeling miserable. Before the semester started, I looked up my professor, who was the only one that taught the course back then, on He was certainly not one of the top 10 most popular math teachers; on the contrary, he was one of the lowest-rated professors based on an overall score. Sadly, I had no choice but to chew it up. I was glad I stayed. His class was indeed challenging for a community college course, the reason why he got ranked so low on the website. However, he was one of the best teachers I had ever met and made his classes the same level of difficulty as the calculus classes at UC’s, and I learned how to succeed in not only this class but also the classes I had after transferring to UCLA. But does that mean I would no longer look at the rankings? The answer is no. I check the ratings of the restaurants on Yelp when finding a place for my friend’s birthday dinner. I search for the best VPN’s before I download one for my trip overseas. Now as the US News has recently released the college rankings of 2020, I couldn’t wait to explore the surprises, as well as shocks. Let’s be honest. We like rankings, or more precisely, we rely on rankings. As early as in the 1950s, George Miller, a Harvard psychologist who helped with the founding of cognitive psychology, uncovered that in addition to passively transmitting the incoming information, people recode the array into mind-friendly categories, which Miller called “chunks.” Chunks of recognition can take on various forms, and the numbered list, college rankings in our case, is one of them. Moreover, it’s evident that striving for greatness is a fundamental inner drive, which can occur in a range of areas such as sports, academics, and performance. So it’s natural for the college-bound kids and their parents to look at a ranked college list, trying to figure out the best place they can get in. Built on Miller’s theories, Isaac and Schindler documented six experiments on our ability to process information in their paper, The Top-Ten Effect: Consumers’ Subjective Categorization of Ranked List. They found out that the round-number categories, rather than the exact value, guide the interpretation of the ranked list. For example, we use terms such as Top-10 or Top-20 frequently. Moreover, people tend to exaggerate the differences between ranks bordering round-number categories. Thus, a bump from number 11 to 9 results in a more significant effect on the consumers/readers than going from number 24 to 22.That’s why when UCLA finally makes its way to the Top-20 or when SCU gets its upgrade from a regional school to the national category, we are astonished and become even more obsessed with the college rankings. However, it’s dangerous if we only look at these numbers without considering the context. Many of us are not aware that rankings do not necessarily speak of qualities. There are numbers of college ranking systems out there. The methodologies implemented by different systems lead to different results. Except for the top ones that are outstanding in every way, the rankings of a particular college vary across lists. Knowing how it is done, colleges are able to play with the ranking. Think about this: why some schools would take the risk to misreport their data. Furthermore, as revealed in Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Where You’ll Be, funding is always one of the criteria and sometimes valued high, but it remains ambiguous how a college should spend the money—upgrading the equipment and devices in the biology lab or building a new recreation center. It’s worth noting that students and parents are not the only ones obsessed with the college rankings. So do the colleges. We are living in the digital era, where technologies make applying to multiple schools possible and easier than ever. What comes with more applicants is not just the applications fees, but also the drop in acceptance rate—part of the factors affecting the ranking. Speaking of attracting applicants, I believe there is no better commercial than a positive impression from the numbered list. So how should we evaluate these lists? When I look up the restaurants on Yelp, I go over the menus as well. If I can’t decide on which one of the recommended VPN’s to purchase, I read through the reviews and find the one that meets my need. Admittedly, rankings are important because they provide the foundation of assessment. The top-10 schools and the ones ranked 20 to 30 have different expectations on the applicants. But keep in mind that they are useful references, not destinations.

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