Episode 15: Activities, Activities, Activities

Happy New Year! This week, we’re starting our third series: Getting Ready to Apply, by focusing on high school activities.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Inventing 21st century activities, like student-created online publications, blogs, and podcasts
Turning a hobby into an activity for college applications
Taking online courses instead of private lessons

Episode show notes are available at http://usacollegechat.org/15

Connect with us through…
Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education http://policystudies.org/parents
Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help
Following us on Facebook

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Calling our hotline at 516-900-NYCC
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

This week, we’re beginning our third series, Getting Ready to Apply, by exploring some of the many activities your child may participate in during their high school career.

NYCollegeChat is now available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, and TuneIn!

NYCollegeChat Episode 15 Activities Activities Activities from Series 3 Getting Ready to Apply

Whether your child will be completing The Common Application (which is currently used by over 500 colleges), the Universal College Application (which is currently used by 46 colleges), or an individual college’s own application when a college does not use either one, there will likely be a section that asks your child to make an elaborate list of activities that he or she participated in while in high school (though there are some exceptions to this, especially among community colleges and some less-selective colleges). Having something to say in the activities section of the application is important in showing that your child is a well-rounded individual, who is likely to contribute to the college community outside of the classroom.

You will hear advice of all kinds from consultants and from college admissions officers about whether it is better for your child to have a few activities that he or she participated in year after year or for your child to have an array of activities covering all kinds of interests (such as music and sports and debate and theater and student government), even if they do each one for just a year or two. It is doubtful that any ninth grader beginning life in a new high school can really plan to choose one path or the other and then execute that plan. But the more you know about the options available to your child in school, the better you can help your child take advantage of the activities that are offered—and you might decide that you want to supplement what the high school offers with activities outside of school, whether those are community activities or private lessons and whether they are free or expensive.

Let us say that many applications also ask whether students have had any honors or leadership roles in whatever activities are listed—like winning a regional speech contest or being elected president of the student government or serving as editor of the school newspaper or being selected as the captain of a city championship baseball team. So let your child know that trying for a leadership position is always a good idea.

Let’s look at some possible activities in and out of school and consider why each is valuable for your child—both in your child’s life generally and for college applications down the road. Some of them require talent or aptitude, to be sure, but not all of them. While this is not an exhaustive list of every possible activity, it offers broad categories of the more common ones.

1. Music

By the time students get to high school, you might think it is too late to start playing a musical instrument or singing in a chorus. You might think that musical talent has to be developed when a child is young. Undoubtedly, you have seen your share of Suzuki violinists and heard these pint-sized kids playing classical violin pieces. But even Dr. Suzuki himself believed that musical ability could be developed through proper training and that it was not a talent that children are simply born with. So, maybe it is never too late.

If your child has played an instrument in elementary and/or middle school or sung in school choruses, tell your child not to quit now. While that might mean taking music as a subject for a grade in your high school and/or attending early-morning or late-afternoon practices and rehearsals, it is all worth it. Furthermore, it is worth it to continue with music lessons and performance groups through high school even if your child does not want to continue with music in college.

If it is too late for your child to learn to perform well enough to be in the performance ensembles at school—the orchestra, band, show orchestra, jazz ensemble, string ensemble, chorus, choir, or whatever your child’s high school has to offer—you could still consider music lessons after school. While we could go on and on about the value of playing an instrument or singing well—the discipline, the culture, the camaraderie, and more—the fact is that music is a great activity to have for life and a great activity to have for college applications.

2. Student Government

Being a member of the student government of a school is automatically a leadership position because it means that your child was elected by his or her peers to represent a class, a grade, or however your child’s school sets it up. We are the first to admit that student governments in high schools are sometimes ineffective and not useful for the students or the school. Nonetheless, the idea of student government is an important one, and colleges know that. So, if your child can run for the student government—as a class representative or as an officer—that is a good thing and should be encouraged. Starting down that road in ninth grade is also a good idea while most of the students are still new to each other and no cliques have formed yet. Plus, being elected in ninth grade could lead to being elected in later grades.

3. School Newspaper, Yearbook, Literary Magazine, Etc.

Writing for any school publication is the kind of academic-flavored activity that can be impressive to colleges because it shows that a student is both competent in the valuable academic skill of writing and willing to take on extra work outside the classroom. But it is not only about writing. Artwork is also often needed on school publications; so, if your child is a talented artist or photographer, then school publications are also a good choice. Working on a school publication also shows that a student is organized enough to meet deadlines and is able to work reasonably well with others inasmuch as all publications require some teamwork. Rising to a leadership position—like sports editor or editor-in-chief or art editor—also gets students points on the leadership scoreboard.

4. Debate, Speech, Model United Nations, Etc.

This is another set of academic-flavored activities, all of which require public speaking skills, analytical thinking skills, and the ability to think on your feet. Many high schools offer students the opportunity to participate in one or all of these. They typically involve competition within the school and with other schools—locally, statewide, regionally, and even nationally. These competitions give students a chance to earn awards of various kinds, all of which can be detailed on college applications. For students who are relatively smart and have enough confidence to speak in front of others and argue persuasively in front of others, these kinds of activities are a great choice.

5. Theater

Who doesn’t love a school play—whether it is a traditional drama, like 12 Angry Men, or a classic musical, like The King and I, or a more modern, contemporary piece that most of us never heard of? If your child has any acting talent—or dancing talent or musical talent—then you should encourage auditioning for any school play coming up. If your child loves the theater or movies or even television, then you should encourage auditioning for any school play coming up. And remember that there are plenty of behind-the-scenes roles for students, too—stage crew, technical crew (like lighting and sound), set design and construction, costumes, props, even advertising the production.

Putting on a play is all about teamwork, and working on a play demonstrates that your child has those valuable skills. Theater activities can also be great practical experience for students who imagine themselves with college majors in theater, fashion design, architecture, interior design, art, music, dance, and even business. Putting on a play usually requires a substantial time commitment, which can be proudly noted on college applications that ask students, as many do, how many weeks and how many hours per week they engaged in each activity on the list.

6. Service Organizations

Many schools have various clubs and groups that serve others in the school community—peer tutoring, tutoring younger students, working in the library, maintaining school computers, working in the school office, volunteering in summer orientation programs for incoming ninth graders, and more. Doing this kind of volunteer work shows colleges that a student is responsible, dependable, caring, and concerned for others. It shows that a student can work well with classmates, with younger or older students, and/or with adults. It shows that some adult in the school thought a student was reliable enough and perhaps smart enough to do the work being asked of him or her. If these kinds of service assignments are available at your child’s school, they are a good way for your child to demonstrate lots of skills and traits that colleges are looking for, especially if your child does not do volunteer work in the community or have a paid part-time job outside of school time.

7. Specific School Subject or Future Career Clubs

There are many clubs that are focused on a school subject or a future career choice, sometimes sponsored by outside professional and nonprofit organizations—for example, the French Club, the Math Club, the Physics Club, the Robotics Club, the American Society of Civil Engineering Club, Future Farmers of America, and so on. These subject-specific clubs may give students an opportunity to get to know individual teachers better (which is especially helpful in the future when college recommendations are needed), and these career-oriented clubs may give students an opportunity to get to know professionals working in a field they are interested in (which is especially helpful in the future when a summer internship might be sought). As with all clubs, they give students a chance to form friendships outside of the classroom and, in some cases, such as a Robotics Club, give students a chance to learn how to work as a team.

8. Athletics

Some college applications have a separate question about athletics, and it is a shame not to have anything to say in that spot. Athletics includes club sports, intramural teams, junior varsity teams, and varsity teams; and, of course, athletics includes both individual sports and team sports. Students who are good athletes—or even great athletes—will, not surprisingly, have a lot to say at this point on a college application. They will often play more than one sport a year and may even be the captain of a team. As always, showing that your child played on a team throughout his or her high school years is the best case scenario, but that requires talent as well as commitment that your child might not maintain for four years. Participating on an athletic team indicates a lot of positive things to a college—even if your child is not pursuing an athletic scholarship and even if your child will not continue with the sport in college.

But what if your child is not a great athlete—or even a good one? What if he or she likes sports, but is not very talented? Then, encourage your child to play on intramural teams or on noncompetitive club teams.

Or consider getting your child lessons so that he or she is engaged in athletics, but not necessarily on school teams—for example, fencing, boxing, or karate, which are all individual sports likely requiring lessons outside of school and could all be started as late as high school. Summer athletic programs can also serve as an alternative to school athletic teams in some sports, like fencing.

9. Private Lessons

We have just talked about private lessons in various sports. And, of course, there are private lessons in instrumental music, vocal music, visual arts, dance, gymnastics, and more. If your child is taking any private lessons outside of school, they should be included in his or her list of activities. A commitment to some of these takes up hours and hours of a child’s time every week. For example, a student who is not serious about dance, but enjoys hip-hop, might spend an hour and a half in a hip-hop class once or twice a week; a student who is serious about dance is more likely to spend 10 to 15 hours a week in ballet, modern, and tap classes. Colleges want to know what students are doing with their time outside of school and whether that time is being used productively. Clearly, taking private lessons is one productive use of that time.

10. Community Activities

There are many kinds of community activities that students might engage in—from playing on competitive travel sports teams to taking classes at community centers to playing in community musical ensembles to participating in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts to working with community theater productions on stage or backstage to going on service trips with church groups. All of these are interesting and valuable ways for your child to use free time, and all of these should be included in his or her list of activities on college applications. These community activities can be especially important for your child to seek out if your high school does not have an array of after-school activities or if your child’s commute to school or responsibilities at home, such as picking up a younger sibling from school, make it difficult to stay late enough to participate in many after-school activities.

 

Internships, volunteer work in the community, and paid employment will be discussed in our next episode.

One Final Note: Some college applications ask whether the student plans to continue each activity while in college. When filling out the application, your child should think hard about that. If there is an activity—and, hopefully, there is more than one—that your child has a continuing interest in, make sure that he or she checks that box. Colleges want to see that students are bringing more to the campus than what they bring to the academic classroom. That is part of what makes a college campus a great place to live and learn.

Remember that activities during the high school years are more important to have when applying to selective colleges. But because a child does not know in ninth grade what kinds of colleges he or she might want to attend or might be eligible for, engaging in activities can prove beneficial in the short run and in the long run. Besides, extracurricular activities make high school life a whole lot more interesting.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Inventing 21st century activities, like student-created online publications, blogs, and podcasts
  • Turning a hobby into an activity for college applications
  • Taking online courses instead of private lessons

Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

Episode 14: Focus on The City University of New York and The State University of New York

This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by focusing on the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY).

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

Guaranteed admissions to CUNY and SUNY campuses

Impressive SUNY campuses most people never heard of

Impressive CUNY programs most people do not know about

Episode show notes are available at http://usacollegechat.org/14

Our next episode of NYCollegeChat will air on Thursday, January 8, 2015. We will still be working if you have last minute questions about college applications!

Connect with us through…

Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn!

Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat

Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education http://policystudies.org/parents

Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help

Following us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/nycollegechat

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

Calling our hotline at 516-900-NYCC

Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by focusing on the public college and university options in New York State.

NYCollegeChat is now available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, and TuneIn!

NYCollegeChat podcast: Focus on the City University of New York and the State University of New York. Brought to you by Policy Studies in Education.

Because we are NYCollegeChat—emphasis on New York—we want talk in this episode about choosing between The City University of New York (CUNY) and The State University of New York (SUNY) as well as choosing among the branches of each of these college systems. Though most of our episodes have information useful for parents anywhere, this episode is especially for New York City and New York State parents—or indeed for parents anywhere who might like to send their children to our public higher education institutions.

1. Students Interested in CUNY Campuses

As we said in an earlier episode in our first series, Understanding the World of College, CUNY serves about 270,000 students taking credit courses on 24 campuses—11 four-year colleges (which CUNY refers to as “senior colleges”), 7 two-year community colleges, The Macaulay Honors College for undergraduate students, and 5 graduate and professional schools, located throughout New York City’s five boroughs. CUNY is the nation’s largest urban public higher education system.

If you currently have a high school junior who is an outstanding student, with a high GPA (in the 90s) and excellent SAT/ACT scores, you should have a look at The Macaulay Honors College right now. Tuition is free, and there are other financial incentives, too. There is also the prestige factor to consider. The Macaulay deadline is a bit earlier than the regular deadline for most colleges (it was December 1 this year, so it is too late for current seniors), so you have to be ready when school opens next fall to get the application put together. This year’s application was not too difficult (for example, it had just two relatively short essays), but you will need to get teacher and/or counselor recommendations lined up. During the admissions process, a Macaulay prospect is accepted first to whatever CUNY four-year campuses the student listed in the application. So, if the student is not accepted to Macaulay, he or she will still be able to enroll in one of CUNY’s four-year colleges and might even be accepted to an honors program at one of those colleges.

Now let’s look at the 7 two-year community colleges and 11 four-year colleges. The first question, of course, is whether you are interested in a two-year or four-year college. We talked extensively about this in our last series, Understanding the World of College. Generally speaking, stronger students with better high school records should choose four-year colleges, while students in need of boosting their academic skills and improving on their high school academic record should choose two-year colleges. But which two-year or four-year college?

The obvious next thing to consider is location. Because most New York City residents are likely to live at home while attending a CUNY college, the commute to the campus is an important factor in college choice. While subway transportation is relatively reliable, fast, and inexpensive, no student really wants to be commuting from the far end of Brooklyn to the Bronx to attend classes every day. Furthermore, some campuses are not as public transportation friendly as others. For example, Queensborough Community College is in a lovely, rather suburban location in Bayside, Queens, but there is no subway service close by; or, to take another example, unless you live on Staten Island, the College of Staten Island is not a quick ride away.

Another thing to consider—and likely the most important thing—is what majors the college offers. Because the colleges are part of a public system, all majors are not offered at all colleges. This is one way the government saves taxpayers’ money—that is, by not duplicating majors on all campuses and, thus, not running smaller-than-cost-efficient programs on campus after campus. For example, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in German at just two CUNY campuses or a bachelor’s degree in archeology at just one CUNY campus. Then, you also need to think about the colleges that specialize in certain fields—like New York City College of Technology, which specializes, obviously, in technical fields (like engineering and architecture and computer studies) or John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which specializes, obviously, in criminal justice, but also in pre-law, fire science, forensics, and studies focusing on social action.

Another thing to consider is reputation. All colleges are not created equal. You can learn about the two-year and four-year colleges by reading about them on their own websites (for example, the history of City College is fascinating and quite moving), and you can learn about their reputations by talking with professionals in any field who have lived in New York City for a while, by talking with graduates of the colleges, and by talking with some high school teachers and counselors, if they have experience with more than two or three of the CUNY campuses. For what it’s worth, five of the CUNY four-year colleges are ranked by U.S. News and World Report in the top 20 regional public colleges in the North: In no particular order, they are Baruch, Hunter, Queens, Brooklyn, and City College.

2. Students Interested in SUNY Campuses

As we said in an earlier episode in our first series, Understanding the World of College, SUNY serves about 460,000 degree and certificate students in 64 higher education institutions, including research universities, state colleges, colleges of technology, community colleges, medical schools, and an online learning network. The institutions are located throughout New York State—from Plattsburgh in the far north to Buffalo in the far west to Stony Brook in the far southeast. Looking at a map of New York State with the campuses located on it is actually quite impressive.

Just as with considering CUNY campuses, the first question when looking at SUNY campuses is whether you want a two-year community college or a four-year college—and, as we said earlier, we have already talked a lot about that decision. So let’s talk about the three other questions we raised about the CUNY campuses because they also apply to SUNY campuses: location, majors, and reputation.

If you thought that the CUNY campuses were spread out over the five boroughs of New York City, the SUNY campuses are really spread out—over virtually the entire state. For a student living in New York City, going to a SUNY campus in upstate in New York is hours farther away than going to a college in New Jersey or Connecticut or even parts of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. As we have said before, we had students at the high school we co-founded in Brooklyn who had no idea where many of SUNY campuses were, yet they thought about going to them. To repeat our minimum standard for choosing a college is this: You should not go to a college you cannot find on a map.

And part of location, when it comes to SUNY campuses, is whether you want to be in a more urban, suburban, or rural location. They are all available—from the University at Buffalo or the University at Albany and the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan (which people often forget is a SUNY campus) in the more urban category to Nassau Community College and the State University College at Old Westbury and Westchester Community College in the suburban category to the College of Technology at Canton and the State University College at New Paltz and Finger Lakes Community College in the rural category.

Just as with CUNY campuses, the most important thing to consider is what majors the college offers. Again, because the colleges are part of a public system, all majors are not offered at all colleges in order to save the taxpayers’ money, so you have to check carefully if your child has an interest in a particular subject field. What is definite is that almost whatever your child can think up to study, it is being taught on one SUNY campus or another.

Just as CUNY has New York City College of Technology, specializing in technical fields, SUNY has colleges that specialize in technology in Canton, Cobleskill, Delhi, and more. But SUNY also has colleges specializing in other technical fields—like the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Maritime College, the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the New York State College of Ceramics (which actually includes both engineering and art and design majors and is located at Alfred University, a private university).

For some students, the three public colleges that are part of private Cornell University are a great financial bargain. Cornell houses four private and three public colleges: the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Human Ecology, and the ILR (Industrial and Labor Relations) School—an Ivy League education at State tuition prices.

So what about the reputation of the SUNY colleges? There are probably many opinions about which colleges are the best and probably no way to prove which colleges are the best. In a list of top national public universities, U.S. News and World Report lists the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at number 30 and Stony Brook University and Binghamton University tied at number 38. In terms of campuses being known for specific academic programs, one of the clearest examples is Stony Brook, which is well known for its undergraduate and graduate science programs, including its School of Medicine, and for its co-managing of the prestigious Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.

Generally speaking, among the four-year choices, the SUNY universities have more prestige and higher admissions standards than the SUNY state colleges and the colleges of technology—though that does not necessarily make one of the SUNY universities a better choice for your child.

3. Choosing Between CUNY and SUNY Campuses

The choice between applying to and indeed enrolling at a CUNY campus vs. a SUNY campus is probably most present in the minds of high school students who live in or near New York City. For those students, there are several factors to consider—including, at least, living arrangements and prestige (assuming, of course, that the campuses offer the right major). For New York City residents, CUNY colleges and SUNY colleges cost just about the same (and some New York State residents who live outside of the City might be eligible for the same CUNY tuition rates as City residents are). But the living arrangements can be substantially different. Is it cheaper to live at home in Queens and attend Queens College than to live in the dormitory at SUNY Albany? Of course it is. But would the student rather have the chance to live away at school as part of the whole college experience? If so, then attending a SUNY college outside of the City is the better choice.

Is a SUNY college automatically better than a CUNY college because it is part of the bigger State system? Definitely not, even when comparing the four-year SUNY universities and the four-year CUNY colleges. Again, which individual colleges are “better” than which other individual colleges is a matter for debate among educators and graduates and faculty members and interested observers. But it is clear that there are some excellent choices in both systems—choices that are right for New York’s best students as well as for New York’s average students.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Guaranteed admissions to CUNY and SUNY campuses
  • Impressive SUNY campuses most people never heard of
  • Impressive CUNY programs most people do not know about

 

Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…

In New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…