Author: swegmiller

Why You Need Extracurricular Activities

During this early part of summer, I am meeting individually with some students from the class of 2021. I am their Senior Advisor. The purpose of our meetings is to see how ready each student is for the college application season.

I have to tell you that we have some excellent students in our Iredell school systems. Most of the students I’ve met with have an extremely high GPA. In fact, several were almost perfect 4.0 unweighted, or 4.5 and above on a weighted scale. These students also had outstanding ACT scores. I’d like to think that this level of talent only exists here in our county, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.

So what’s the point in telling you all this? The point is that these students all look very similar when looking at their “numbers”. When only .01 separates one GPA from another, it’s hard to say that one is a better college prospect than the other. It’s not uncommon for many students to have the exact same GPA upon high school graduation.

Test scores–did you know that scores 30-36 on the ACT represent the top 1%? So, all the students in that score range are in the 99th percentile. In other words, they scored better than 99% of the students who took the test in a given year. Can you say that a score of 32 is so much worse than a 35 when they are all so good? It’s hard to make that distinction.

How can a student get noticed in a group with thousands of great college applicants? The answer is extracurricular activities. What students do when they aren’t in school can make them stand out to an admissions officer. Here are a few tips to make your extracurricular activities work. (These same tips apply to scholarship applications.)


1. Find 2 or 3 activities that you enjoy and stick with them. Admissions officers don’t expect students to take part in 20 or 30 clubs, sports, or hobbies. In fact, they would rather see depth in participation instead of breadth.

2. How to get “depth”? Show growth in the activities you choose. Did you become a captain, officer, or committee chair? For these activities to be meaningful, you have to actually participate—not just join. And, being an officer doesn’t mean much if you can’t give examples of how you helped lead the organization.

3. Seek and accept leadership positions and then shine! Grow the group, plan new events, rally fellow students around a cause.


4. Make sure at least one of your activities involves community service. You’ll feel great about what you do to help. And you’ll learn more than you can imagine by volunteering.


5. If you need to work a part-time job, don’t sweat it. This is also an extracurricular activity. Admissions officers value strong students who work.

6. On your college application, be sure to rank your activities. List the best or most impressive ones at the top. If you don’t know which those are, ask your Crosby Scholars Senior Advisor, a parent, teacher, or friend. They will know!

Finally, summer is the perfect time to enjoy some extracurricular activities. If you are starting high school, find out what clubs your school has and make a plan to join at least one. If you’re an athlete, use your summertime to build your skills and abilities. If you like fine arts, learn a new dance, painting technique, monologue, or new instrument. Keep a growth mindset and enjoy your summer.


Rigorous Coursework: How much is enough?

(As I sit down to write this blog, I have a headache! The more I study, read, attend webinars, and watch videos about college admissions, the more complicated it seems! If you search, I’m convinced you can find a resource to support any position you want to take when it comes to getting into college.)


That’s why Crosby Scholars is here to help!! You might have heard that taking “rigorous” courses in high school is important for college admissions. This is true. But why?

A high school transcript shows more than GPA and Class Rank. Although helpful, those 2 factors don’t tell the whole story. Admissions officials want to know if students will be able to handle the rigor of college coursework. To make an educated guess, these officials look to see if the transcript shows “rigorous” courses with A or B grades.

So what exactly does “rigorous” mean? It’s widely accepted that AP and IB courses are rigorous. In some circles, honors courses hold the same designation, but not always. Since AP and IB curriculums and standards are universal, there is consistency. Regardless of the school you attend, the expected outcomes are the same. Honors courses, though, lack uniformity from one high school or district to another. So Honors English at one school might be very different at another.

Does rigor impact GPA’s? Yes! Some students and parents have become experts in how to milk every single possible point to build a high GPA. Course scheduling to boost GPA’s has become an art form. Decisions made about what classes to take in high school are often made by how choices might improve class rank. This is nothing new. Years ago a friend of my brother dropped out of typing class because he wasn’t earning an A.

How do colleges evaluate GPA’s?

Did you know that many colleges completely recalculate the GPA’s of applicants?

Here’s how the University of California system does it:

The UC system recalculates applicants’ GPAs. They include only college prep classes. Each A is worth 4 points. An extra point is given for each semester of honors-level 10th & 11th-grade classes. (For out-of-state students only AP and IB classes count.) A maximum of 8 points may be awarded.

The University of Michigan has another approach:

The University of Michigan recalculates GPAs using a 4 point scale for all classes in 9th through 11th grade. Plusses and minuses are ignored (that is, they treat a B+, B, and B- as a B). The university’s website also says, “Additionally, we review the number of demanding courses separately. During the holistic review process the rigor of the applicant’s curriculum is considered.”

Will my college recalculate my GPA? Sometimes it’s hard to find this information unless you contact the school and ask specifically about this. However, most colleges and universities will have similar systems to the examples above. Grades in core courses will be important. Bonus points will be given for more difficult work. Schools will look at your transcript for more than the GPA and rank. This is also why many schools only ask for your unweighted GPA—they will apply their own weighting system.


How much rigor do you need? So does this mean a student should take every possible course with “rigor”? In my opinion, the answer is no. Students should plan a schedule that allows them to take part in other activities they enjoy. Colleges look for good grades, but they also seek student leaders, marching band members, athletes, debaters, researchers, and others. If a student uses every waking moment doing classwork, they can’t build other valuable skills.


Maintaining a balance is key. Too many students today are stressed and anxious a majority of the time. It is good to have a course schedule that is challenging, but not overwhelming. Getting C’s and D’s in rigorous classes won’t help. As parents, we want our kids to be happy. We should help our students find balance while juggling coursework, sports teams, musicals, part-time jobs, and free time. Few students will be ranked number one or have a perfect GPA–and that’s okay. Instead of overly worrying about the numbers, help your child develop their strengths and find success. Remind them of things they do well and encourage them.

Finally, don’t forget that no matter what the GPA, there is a next-step for everyone. Our goal at Crosby Scholars is to help every student find the next-step that is best for them.


Advocate for Yourself Successfully


We tell students to learn to advocate for themselves. But what does that mean? I looked in my thesaurus (I still own an actual paper copy!) to see what words are similar to advocate. Many were listed, here are a few of my favorites. Champion. Speak well of. Stand behind. Support. Speak for. These words help describe what it means to be an advocate—for oneself or for others.

When we self-advocate, we are usually seeking a change to a current situation. People who do this successfully know a few secrets.

Let’s use an example of a student who feels they were awarded a grade on a group project that is unfair. After the steps, I’ll share examples of how this might work.

  1. Know the facts of the situation. Take out the emotion and write down the specific points that you know to be true. Do this at the beginning!
    • Example: How many group meetings were you a part of? What specific tasks did you personally complete? What did you do to try and get the group working better? What and when did you communicate with other group members and/or the teacher?
  2. Figure out what you want the outcome to be. People will be easier to convince if they know what you are looking for.
    • Example: What do you think your grade should have been? (This should be supported by your evidence in step 1) Do you want your grade to change? Do you need information on how to start some other action?
  3. Carefully put into writing what you listed in steps 1 and 2. Be specific about the words you choose so that you set a tone of cooperation. Avoid words that are emotionally charged.
    • Example: Leave out adjectives and adverbs. That is where your emotions will show the most!
  4. Follow the “chain of command”. Start your communication with the person closest to the situation. Give them the first opportunity to respond. For example, if you have a concern that you were graded unfairly, start with the person who awarded the grade. Your first communication should not be with the superintendent.
  5. Be appreciative. Whether you achieve your desired results or not, thank the people who listened to your appeal. Being polite will reap many rewards in the long run!

Consider these two e-mails:

Email #1:

Dear Mr. Smith,

My group recently received a 75 on our research project. I understand that this was because some parts of the grading rubric were missing from our presentation. I am frustrated, though, because I tried 5 times to get two of my group members (Johnny and Sally) to contribute. They agreed to complete the Introduction and Conclusion, but never got it done. Other group members and I tried to encourage them and offered to help, but they kept telling us “I got it”. On the morning of the presentation, we learned they had no slides for the project.

If possible, I would like to have my grade calculated on the part of the presentation that was complete and shared with the class last week. My other group members (Carl and Nancy) also deserve this accommodation.

Thank you for considering my request. I have text messages and e-mails that support my position if you would like to see them.

Sincerely,

Sam Student

3rd Block English


Email #2:

Hey,

My group got 75 on our research project. The missing parts from the rubric were not my fault. My group members were lazy and wouldn’t do what I told them to. They agreed to complete the Introduction and Conclusion (the easiest parts!!) but didn’t do it. On the day we presented, I was like “Dudes, where are slides?” and they were like “Sorry, didn’t get them done. Got into a big battle on a video game that lasted all night.”

I don’t ever want to be in a group with them again. I deserved an “A” on this project, but because of their “F” work, I got cheated. It’s not fair. I hate it when teachers grade that way.

Anyway, I think I should get the “A”. Go ahead and give them an “F” in you want—they deserve it. I’m really tired of doing all the work in group projects and then getting a low grade because of slackers.

Susan


Which of these students is self-advocating? Which is mostly complaining? Put yourself in the teacher’s shoes. Are you more likely to change the grade for Susan or Sam?


Nirvana or Nightmare? Online Life

The Crosby staff chose this “online” topic back in December. We had no idea that in a few weeks everyone would be using online courses. The original idea was to explore whether online learning would be a good option for you or your student. That ship has sailed, so now I want to talk about dealing with this new reality.

It’s true that not all learners prefer, nor thrive, in an online learning environment. But there are things you can do to make the best of our current situation.

I am inspired by a book I liked as a child, What Good Luck, What Bad Luck, by Remy Charlip. It has been published more recently as Fortunately. I wish I had the talent to create fun illustrations like the original story…

Fortunately, we live during an age of connections through technology.

Unfortunately, we live in a world under attack by coronavirus and have no choice right now except to interact at appropriate social distances.

Fortunately, many online resources are being offered for free during this time.

Unfortunately, not everyone has good access to a reliable internet connection.

Fortunately, faculty are good at “learning how to learn”.

Unfortunately, teachers had very little time to prepare for this transition to online learning.

Fortunately, learning to work more independently is a good thing.

Unfortunately, in this situation, it’s kind of like learning to swim by being thrown in the deep end of the pool.

Fortunately, teachers have flotation devices and tips on how to swim!

Unfortunately, many students aren’t good at asking for help—especially by e-mail or text.

Fortunately, Iredell Crosby Scholars staff had been working with Zoom for several months.

Unfortunately, we still need more practice!

Fortunately, we are all in the same boat.

Unfortunately, that means we are all learning to paddle at the same time.

Here are some ways to look for the silver lining while social distancing–

Consider it a free trial! By working online now, every student is getting a taste of what it is like. Use this time to think about what you like about it. Better to find out now that online is not for you than to pay for a course that you end up dropping.

Practice working independently. In a virtual environment, it’s not as easy to raise your hand and get a question answered. We have experienced this in our own work environment recently. If we were at the office, we could call everyone over to our screen to show an example. When we meet on Zoom, trying to juggle everything makes it much harder to do that! Sure, we use e-mail and text, but it’s not the same as asking in person and getting immediate answers.

Learn new technology. We have had Zoom in our office for several months now. We are learning by doing—that is a great way to increase skills! It’s okay to have glitches and technical issues. Everyone is in this together and experiencing similar frustrations.

Use available help if you need it. If you are struggling, let your teacher know! Find out what extra resources are available to you. Many internet options are available for free all the time. During this pandemic, there are even more free resources thanks to companies that want to help. On our website homepage is a list of many of those that we have heard about. Check it out!

Have fun and participate! Contribute to the online sessions by asking questions and entering the discussion. Wear a silly hat or shirt—everyone could use some fun about now. Be positive for your own good and the good of others. Make a list of crazy things that are happening so you can look back and say “remember when…”!

Make a plan. Many students run into trouble with online classes because they don’t do a good job of pacing themselves. Get a calendar and map out your assignments for the day and/or week. Create a list of things you need to get finished each hour or day. Don’t expect that you will be able to read 200 pages in a day—break down those large assignments into smaller pieces. For example, read 20 pages every weekday morning and another 20 in the afternoon. After a week, you will have covered the 200 pages! Make sure you check your assignments regularly to see if there are changes. Don’t procrastinate! The sooner you get your work done, the sooner you can do something you really enjoy!


Community College is not a Dirty Word

Are you a parent thinking community college is fine—as long as it’s not where your student will attend? Students, do you think less of your peers if they attend community college? Face it, whether we like it or not, there is a stigma about attending a two-year college.  

It’s time to change the idea that a community college education is only a fallback plan. Many students and their parents don’t even consider community college. They believe that classes or the campus experience at a two-year school are not as good.  

Last year, Mitchell Community College was the top choice for Crosby Scholar graduates. But, “I’m only/just going to Mitchell” is a statement we heard way too often! Students should be proud to attend community college. Crosby Scholar alums who attend community college aren’t there because they lacked options. They chose a two-year college for good reasons.  

 Value 

The old adage, “you get what you pay for” doesn’t work when talking about college. The price of college (which varies widely) doesn’t always reflect the value of what you are earning. Instead of seeing community college as a great value, people assume that if it is cheaper, it must not be as good. There is nothing wrong in wanting to earn a degree in a cost-effective way. One semester of tuition and fees at App State will cost about the same as three semesters at MCC. Avoiding student debt is a very good reason for choosing an economical education. 

Students who choose a career degree at a community college also do well. There are two-year degree programs that result in high-wage occupations. (Think R.N.’s, medical technologists, engineering technicians, etc.). For students interested in these careers, community college is a no-brainer!  

 Convenience 

In NC, we are lucky to have a community college in every county. Students who have family responsibilities or a job are able to commute. Room and board prices at colleges are often as much or more than tuition and fees. Families have already covered those costs, so living at home doesn’t add to the bill for parents.  

Big fish, smaller pond 

Students at community college won’t find themselves in a class of 100 or 200 students. They will also have professors as teachers, not graduate students. Professors at community colleges spend most of their time in the classroom, teaching. Community colleges have libraries, student clubs, campus activities, and new people to meet.  

Career and transfer options 

Many students want to transfer credits from a community college to a university. To make this possible, courses must be similar. Two- and four-year colleges earn accreditation from the same organization. They must meet the same standards for faculty credentials. 

Every four-year college accepts transfer students—even the most competitive institutions. Research shows that two-year college graduates complete a four-year degree more often than other students. Those same two-year graduates are also have higher grades than their counterparts who were at the university for four years. 

Support systems 

Why do these students do better? Some of these students realize they are not ready to move out and take on more responsibility. By commuting to school, they maintain support systems with local teachers and family members. Gaining confidence through successful college work is valuable before starting at a university. 

So, let’s all work to get rid of the stigma that community college is less. The only way to correct this perception is to change our own attitudes and behaviors. Students should not be “looked down upon” for selecting a higher education path that is the best fit for them. Instead, let’s congratulate students on making the right choice for them! 


A Secret to College Success: Awesome Academic Advising

Coordinator of Advising and Assessment—my first position after completing graduate school. At Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio, I trained faculty advisors to work in the Advising Center. These expert advisors could explain a variety of options and possibilities for every student. They knew about every program offered at the college. 

Like today, students struggled with transportation and budgets. As advisors, we knew that it was important to take all these factors into account as we worked with people. We stayed in close contact with financial aid, career counseling, and other student services. We helped connect students to other resources available to them.

Students I knew came to college to make their lives better. Some were re-training after a lay-off. Others were coming to college for the first time after children were older. A few were starting over after making a poor attempt at college right after high school. So why, then and now, do students who come to the college so motivated, not finish a degree? Why is there such a high rate of attrition at community colleges and universities? 

There are many answers to those questions. This blog is focused on one. Students don’t finish degrees when they never see a clear pathway to the goal. Taking a class here and there with little direction means that a student often doesn’t see a finish line. Or, because of haphazard scheduling, the finish line is further away than it could have been. Most students, though, do have a goal that they want to complete—usually in the shortest time possible. 

When I was a freshman, I received a paper worksheet that listed all the requirements for my degree. My path was visible on that 8.5 x 11 page. I loved using my highlighter to cross off classes every quarter. I felt a great deal of satisfaction as I completed more and more pieces of my program. Today, many of those worksheets are digital, but still a powerful tool and motivator!

I had the advantage of knowing the degree I wanted to pursue when I started college. But, it’s okay to start as an “undecided” or “undeclared” major. These students need advisors and information more than anyone! One benefit of not declaring a major is the freedom to explore options. Yet, this can and should happen with a plan in mind. Advisors can recommend courses to a student based on conversations with him or her. The advisor knows the course offerings, professors, and “insider” information. By working with an advisor, the student’s schedule can be the best possible choice each term. 

Colleges publish plenty of information about degree plans and program offerings. But, advisors always know more than what’s in writing. They know which professors might be on sabbatical or medical leave. They often know what type of research a professor is conducting. Advisors know which courses are offered in certain patterns. Although 100 level courses are for freshmen, the advisor knows which ones tend to be more difficult than described. They can suggest good fits during the semester that requires several difficult courses. They also know about clubs and organizations on campus that might interest a student. Students who know their academic advisors well receive more than a signature on a schedule each semester. 


Students, though, should not depend on the advisor alone. Each student must become a self-advisor, too. Students need to know the degree requirements and the recommended course sequences. Undergrads should read the college catalog. They should explore study abroad, online, and other options. Good advising happens when a student brings a tentative schedule to the appointment. Instead of dealing only with scheduling questions, there will be time to talk about internships or co-op experiences. Students and advisors might also discuss the best options for classes in a minor field of study. Job opportunities in the field could also be a topic of conversation. 

Advising is offered by colleges to support students. Students should take full advantage!