Saturday, February 20, 2016

Stay Ahead of the Pack - Sharpen Your Year 2 Prep

In baseball there is an odd phenomenon called "the sophomore slump." Talented baseball rookies put the pieces together and by the end of their first season, they think they know it all. Somehow, their second season demonstrates all those finely tuned skills are a little bit off, and Year 2 can go off the rails.

Don't let something like this happen after a successful first year of high school. One transitional segment down, you have the two most important years ahead to build a formidable resume that will force universities to consider you a top prospect. In this first of two-part blog post, we help illuminate your path to the college of choice.

You should be on your correct track of classes already. If you are confident, take those AP and Honors classes. If you are struggling with anything, get assistance ASAP.

Seek out your school counselor. These are busy people helping juniors and seniors land at the best university. But you--as a sophomore--have a labyrinthine passage to arrive at the best place for you. Get on your counselor's radar and ask questions, never forgetting the counselor sometimes knows the college admissions personnel and a few tricks of the trade you don't. Your goal this year is to get that counselor to recognize your face, call you by name and understand you are serious about finding that best fit.

Sports and clubs. You tried out and made a sports team already. Now do something new or get on the track to move into a leadership position as an upperclassman. Hang close to a coach and ask questions about why certain game situations require different tactics. If in music, try a similar instrument to the one you have gotten good at playing. Sit in and gauge your interest in clubs from Anime Club to International Club to Youth and Government. Sophomore year is the time to firm up how your high-school resume will dazzle a college admissions officer. Variety and consistency are crucial, but this is the year to make sure you cast a wide net of activities--and include some public service whether local like the town animal shelter or national as in Habitat for Humanity. Now learn how to stand out within chosen programs. Demonstrate creativity, leadership, a special skill. Spend less time on Facebook and Instagram and begin to develop a LinkedIn profile. One tip: If you like Citizen Club or any of the young political clubs, sign up to be a High School Election Judge in states that have programs that encourage students to become part of the process before they can vote. For a university with roots in the political arena, it's a potential admissions game changer.

Take some career-interest questionnaires. We guarantee you will discover some career ideas you didn't realize were a good fit. Pare down your list of potential majors; you probably know by now if you are STEM material or a gifted public speaker. Think about big, like 80,000 undergrads, medium, a dizzying array of midsize public and private schools, or maybe small liberal arts colleges. Scan The Princeton Review's Best Colleges and/or Fiske Guide to Colleges. Make a list of 10 or 20 or more.  Even if the list is big, it gets you focused. Read about the schools and follow them on social media; some of them will feel familiar but others seem completely new. Personally, I find the origins of universities and how they came to develop specialties and odd traditions very entertaining. Maybe you will, too, and in the process become curious about an intriguing college as a possibility.

- Mike Ryan

Monday, February 1, 2016

Recognizing Trouble With a Capital T

The admission decision stretch run is under way.  This involves comparing and contrasting final college contenders before the May 1st National College Decision Day.  Students are boiling-over with excitement as they sense imminent adult freedom. But every young adult needs to know that also means responsibility and awareness of important safety issues in a bubbling caldron of energy and activity.

The Jeanne Clery Act was passed by Congress in 1990. Any college receiving federal funding is required to post information about campus crime and school efforts to improve safety.

So before your child starts drilling down to see the social media comments on his/her freshman rhetoric teacher, identify ways to help them safe. Visit

and review the crime incidents on campus.

When you are 18 and feeling immortal, the safety speech can get lost in the banter of discussions about college. Don't let it slide. It is up to the parents to insist on assigning a speed dial number for campus police and loading apps like Companion, Circle of 6 or Watch Over Me onto your child's smart phone. Find out what school safety protocols for the Mobile Age are in place; make sure there is an up-to-date crisis management strategy to contend with worst-case scenarios. Scan this website if you are short on talking points:

And while the Big Picture issues need action plans, it also is crucial talking with the schools and upperclassmen/women about how sexual assault, theft and burglary are addressed on campus. We know by now the where-and-when of first-semester classes. But find out what education programs are available for students on the crucial issues of trauma, bystander intervention and sexual assault. Face it, mom. Your daughter may occasionally drift off during family discussions, but when the campus police chief is talking the reality of underage drinking and the boundaries between consent and assault, your daughter will realize informed is better prepared. And while we all might get lucky leaving a phone in an unlocked car in the home's driveway, the protection of personal belongings in vehicles, residence and dining halls should become second nature from the moment your child lands on campus. Awareness and a sense of a situation being not quite right are life skills best developed before the first day of class.

And lastly, devote a minute to “Shoulder surfing,” Electronic device privacy screens are a must-have for keeping personal financial information just that. Sharing passwords with new friends are bad ideas. Visit a local bank and rent a safe deposit box for the really important items. 

As your family considers the various pros and cons offered by each college, the campus policy on maintaining a safe environment is critical to everyone's planning and peace of mind.  

-Mike Ryan