Episode 134: The College/Career Value of Internships

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Welcome back from the Labor Day holiday and welcome back to school for those of you living in the Northeast, where the very last kids to start back reside. And welcome back to our series, Researching College Options, where we have spent the last three episodes talking about the academic hurdles that kids will meet in trying to get into a college. Those hurdles are, first, SAT and ACT scores of competing applicants; second, average high school grade point average (GPA) of competing applicants; and third, courses that all applicants are expected to have taken in high school, usually listed in terms of credits (or Carnegie units) in each subject area, but also sometimes including specific courses, especially in math and science. To repeat from our previous episodes, all three of these academic standards matter at most of the nation’s most selective four-year colleges, and high school GPAs and high school courses taken actually matter at virtually all of our nation’s four-year colleges.

When we talked about high school courses taken (in Episode 133), we said that this is something you could probably still fix if your kid is just starting back to school now for his or her senior year. Yes, your kid’s fall semester courses were likely chosen some time ago, but changes can be made in most high schools as classes start if there is an important enough reason–and, clearly, meeting college entrance requirements is an important enough reason. Parents of younger students, we told you that you still have time to have a major effect on the high school courses your kid will take in the next couple of years, and you should absolutely start looking at entrance requirements now–before it is too late. Go back and listen to Episode 133 to find out why and how.

In today’s episode, we want to talk to all of you parents about something else that you can still influence–something else that will improve your kid’s college application, to be sure, but that will also just simply improve your kid. It’s not a new topic for us, and we hope it will sound familiar to you, too.

As we turn to today’s topic, let us remind you, one more time, to give your kid our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students, designed to help students get the information that they need to make good choices about where to apply. We will talk more about the book in a few weeks–when you all are getting really nervous about those unfinished college applications.

1. What About Internships?

But now, we want to take you all the way back to Episodes 16 and 17, when we first talked to our audience about the topic of internships. I imagine that many of you listeners were not with us then since we had only just begun our podcast. Or, perhaps you had kids who were younger then and not yet in the throes of college applications. So, I think this bears repeating. Let us start with some internship basics and then talk about a new research study that offers some very interesting new evidence about the value of internships–especially for certain students. So, stay tuned.

Let us say first and foremost that students who have had internships in high school almost universally say that their internship was one of the most valuable learning experiences they ever had. And, from another perspective, their adult supervisors at the workplace almost universally say that having the student intern was a great experience for the organization as well. Undoubtedly, some students might be unprepared academically or socially for an internship, and some organizations might be unprepared to use an intern effectively. But, when a student is prepared and the organization is welcoming, an internship is a well-documented way of helping a student acquire some of the skills that he or she will need in real life, both in college and in a career.

Unlike many innovative programs brought into schools in the past century, there is simply no downside to student internships. About 40 years ago, my nonprofit organization started evaluating internship programs that were funded by government grants and operated by individual school districts, colleges, and nonprofit organizations. Every single program we studied offered great results for students and received high marks from the adults involved–both in the workplace and in the schools. We never evaluated any kind of innovative program that was more effective or more universally liked.

One of the best ones I ever saw was then called the Executive High School Internship Program, and it was used in many school districts. It placed students in executive internships–that is, students worked with executives in various professional fields. Back in the late 1970s, we did an evaluation of the Executive High School Internship Program in the Montgomery County Public Schools in suburban Maryland. At that time, the program placed students in, specifically, public administration internships–for example, working with County government officials. It was a really interesting idea, I always thought.

I searched for Executive High School Internships while I was preparing this episode and found a version of the program still offered in Montgomery County at the Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. Since almost nothing innovative lasts in education for 40 years, I am thinking that those administrators and parents and students in Montgomery County agreed with our highly favorable evaluation all those years ago. Here is an excerpt from the Walter Johnson High School website today:

The Executive Internship Program is a rigorous, high-quality profession-focused academic program. This program allows students to explore and clarify career options in a chosen area of academic interest. Students are required to use verbal, analytical, questioning, and writing skills while participating in their internship. The general expectations of the workplace will be followed throughout the experience. All students enrolled in this program should gain personal and professional experience that will assist them in meeting their lifetime goals. An internship enables students to identify a field of interest, observe and participate in related professional activities, and understand a chosen profession’s requirements and culture. This will help a student determine if a profession is compatible with his interests, values, skills, and aptitudes. Students will integrate academic knowledge [into] a professional setting and apply that acquired knowledge to a variety of experiences. Students will develop interpersonal communication skills, advance their social skills, and mature in their personal habits as a function of working in a professional environment.

The internship is a semester-long elective course completed during the school day or after school. The student receives honors elective credit . . . . (quoted from the website)

So, kudos to the Executive High School Internship Program and its legacy.

Marie and I can tell you countless stories of high school students’ internship experiences and how effective they are–from working in a prestigious architecture firm in Manhattan to working in a small, full-service advertising agency to working in technology support at a City University of New York college campus to working in a neighborhood children’s clothing store to working in a large engineering company, where one of our students actually solved a problem that the engineers were having trouble with. These are all stories from the internships our students had at the high school we co-founded in Brooklyn. Our Early College engineering- and architecture-focused high school was started in conjunction with NAF (formerly known as the National Academy Foundation and now going just by its acronym), a nonprofit organization that supports the programming of 675 career academies in high schools in 36 states, serving over 96,000 students. A formal internship is a key part of the NAF academy model.

So, if your high school has a formal internship program, get your kid into it. It looks great on those college applications because it is evidence that your kid has shown commitment over time, dependability, responsibility, initiative, and appropriate social skills in a real workplace environment. While these skills are all great for some future career, they are also equally important for success in college. Just think about it. And don’t forget, an internship might be an excellent source of college application essay material and an excellent source of additional college recommendation letters, if needed.

If your high school does not have a formal internship program, you can help your kid seek out an internship on his or her own–after school or on weekends (by the way, parents of younger kids, you still have summer options available to you). Ideally, you would have your kid look for an internship in a career field of interest and/or in a prospective college major field of interest in an organization where a responsible adult would agree to supervise and mentor your kid. (By the way, college applications often have an essay about why the student is interested in the major he or she has declared. An internship in the field is a great thing to write about in those essays.)

We are not saying that getting an internship on your own is particularly easy to do or that your kid won’t have to compete with college students, who are also looking for internships and who might be more qualified and/or at least more mature. However, we are saying that an internship experience with personal adult mentoring is priceless and worth the headache of trying to find one. Using whatever personal connections you might have at work, through friends, at your place of worship, or elsewhere might be your best chance of helping your kid find an internship.

Just a note: Some internships are paid, and some are unpaid. For example, NAF strongly believes that internships should be paid. To be sure, paid internships are a better simulation of the actual world of work and increase the likelihood that the student will be taken seriously by the adults on the job. Nonetheless, internships are such a good experience for students that we would argue that an unpaid internship experience is still worth it, and being able to accept an unpaid internship will definitely make it easier to find one.

2. The New Case for Internships

Now, I didn’t need any more evidence to tell me how valuable internships are. But, I was happy to find some while reading an August 29 article by Sarah Sparks at the Inside School Research blog at Education Week. She refers to a research report by the Urban Institute, which evaluated a high school program that provided mentorships, six-week professional career skills training, and a senior-year internship. The report looked, about two years after high school, at just over 1,000 students who had applied to the program in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Some of the applicants were put into the program (through random assignment), and some made up the control group. They were about average students (with an average high school junior year cumulative GPA of 2.7), and about 89 percent were African American and typically lived in “economically distressed” neighborhoods.

The report is entitled Pathways After High School: Evaluation of the Urban Alliance High School Internship Program, and it is authored by Brett Theodos, Mike Pergamit, Devlin Hanson, Sara Edelstein, Rebecca Daniels, and Tanaya Srini. Here are some findings:

  • Students in the program self-reported that they were more comfortable filling out the FAFSA and applying for other scholarships than students in the control group.
  • Male students in the program were more likely to graduate from high school than male students in the control group.
  • Male students in the program were more likely to apply to college than male students in the control group.
  • Male students who completed the program were 23 percentage points more likely to attend college than male students in the control group.
  • Male students who completed the program were 21 percentage points more likely to earn a two-year degree or be in college in their third year after high school graduation than male students in the control group.
  • Male students in the program were significantly more comfortable with their own “soft skills” (e.g., “speaking with adult coworkers, writing professional e-mails, making presentations, dressing professionally, completing work assignments on time and getting to work on time”) after one year out of high school and even more comfortable after two years out of high school.
  • The program shifted students with middling high school GPAs from attending two-year colleges to attending four-year colleges.

So, if you are the parent of an African-American male high school student, the data say that you should get him into an internship program, especially if he is just an average student. Of course, we believe that the rest of you should also get your kids into internship programs, because, as we said earlier, there is just no downside. You will be glad you did when it comes time for your kid to fill out those college applications, but you will also be glad you did when it comes time for your kid to function at college during the academic year and in the workplace during the summers.

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Episode 79: What To Do This Summer

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Welcome back to our summer series, entitled The Search Begins. Again, this series is dedicated to those of you–primarily the parents of juniors–who are starting a focused college hunt now. However, today’s episode is going to be useful to all high school parents as kids gear up–or wind down–for the summer. A note to families with younger high schoolers: It might be time to get a jump on preparing for college applications.

What To Do This Summer on USACollegeChat podcastLong ago in Episodes 15 and 16, we talked about extracurricular activities, internships, volunteer service, and part-time jobs that students might undertake after school during the school year in order to give a boost to their college applications.

Whether your child will be completing The Common Application (which is currently used by over 600 colleges), the Universal College Application (which is currently used by about 45 colleges), or an individual college’s own application (when a college does not use either one), we said then that 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 order to show that your child is a well-rounded individual, who is likely to contribute to the college community outside of the classroom. We will talk more about activities during the school year in an upcoming episode.

But, as we mentioned back in Episode 18, many college applications also ask the applicant to detail what he or she has done each summer while in high school. Knowing this now will help you work with your child to plan significant summer activities, which are useful not only in filling out college applications, but also in making your child’s out-of-school life richer and more meaningful.

If your child needs to work in the summer to help support your family, then that has to come first. But, hopefully, there will be some time when he or she can also engage in some activities designed primarily for academic or personal enrichment. If your child is looking at a selective college, then summer should not be viewed as a time to rest and fool around, but rather as a time for your child to pursue some interest or perfect some talent or learn something new or do some good for others–at least part of the time. Here are some broad categories of activities you should talk through with your child immediately since some of these opportunities will be closed very soon.

1. High School and College Study

Some high schools and school districts offer summer courses that allow students to take more advanced courses or different courses from those they take during the school year. Accelerated or enriched high school study in the summer is a time-honored tradition and would be a very reasonable summer activity, from a college’s point of view.

But, even better, would be study at a college. U.S. colleges have more summer programs than you can count for truly interested and/or reasonably bright high school students. You can’t scroll through Facebook these days without seeing sponsored ads from a variety of colleges for these programs, including from some of our nation’s top-ranked colleges. Some courses are part of full-time residential programs on the campus; others are not. Some college programs are not academic at all, but rather sports related. Unlike taking free public high school courses, programs at a college can be expensive; but, fortunately, scholarships are often available.

How do you find such a college course? Well, Google it, of course, or resort to the old-fashioned way of reading the newspaper. Colleges in your hometown likely advertise in the newspaper (even in hometowns as big as New York City). Your child’s high school should have information and brochures as well. Out-of-town colleges that your child might be interested in attending are also a great idea, because a summer course there is one way for your child to get to know the campus–even if not the college and its students–like an insider.

One final note: If your high school does not offer students the opportunity to take college courses of any kind during the school year (perhaps through an Early College or dual credit arrangement), then a course taken at a college in the summer–especially one that earns college credit–would be a particularly attractive option for your child. Being able to say on a college application that you have already taken and succeeded in a college course somewhere at some time is, obviously, an advantage for an applicant.

For families who are interested in sending students outside the U.S. to study in the summer, there are certainly programs to be had. Just Google them. This is almost an irresistible summer combination–college study and seeing the world. Great for college applications and great for life!

2. Family Travel

Quite a few students have close family connections in other countries, often in the country that their parents emigrated from. Many of these students go home to these countries during the summer to visit relatives for several weeks or more, often making it difficult for students to engage in summer programs set up by their schools or in their local communities. Students can take advantage of these family trips–for example, by keeping up with a native or second language, by visiting cultural sites, or by working in a family business–and find something interesting to write about on their college applications.

Other families might take a short trip to a different part of the U.S. or to a different country near or far. As always, giving students a close look at important historical sites or art museums or architecturally magnificent buildings or geologic wonders makes it possible for them to write in more detail and more interestingly about these summer activities on their college applications.

3. Internships and Volunteer Work

We have made the case several times that engaging in internships and/or volunteer work lets a college know that a student is responsible and dependable, takes initiative, and, depending on the assignment, cares about others. From the student’s side, an internship or volunteer assignment helps the student explore career interests and potential college majors.

Summer is also a great time to think about politics–especially this summer, of course. Local, state, and national office-seekers can use plenty of extra hands to stuff envelopes, put up posters, and get voters to declare their intentions. Media-savvy teenagers can often reach out to voters in ways that older adults do not entirely understand. A summer in a political campaign is a powerful way to learn about American government and political science firsthand.

Summer is also a great time to pursue a volunteer assignment in a hospital or nursing home. Many high school students–and indeed college students–interested in attending medical school and/or pursuing a career in health care look for these volunteer opportunities, so interested students should pursue this kind of assignment right away.

Summer internships–in which a student has a chance to try out a future career field, under the mentorship of a successful individual already working in the field–are even harder to get than volunteer assignments, so students should have already been looking for those. Parents, remember that high schoolers will be in competition for internships with college students–and, more and more, even college graduates–which makes an aggressive search even more important.

As we said back in Episode 18, summer is also a great time to talk with local church youth groups about mission trips to nearby or far away urban or rural areas in or outside of the U.S. where teenagers can do a host of volunteer jobs for the young, the old, the sick, or the homeless–from cleaning up a park to repainting a house to playing games to serving a hot lunch to reading aloud. Having teenagers do work that helps others, while under the supervision of caring adults, is a win for everyone.

4. The New Report

In Episodes 61 and 62, we looked at a new report that grew out of a meeting a year ago hosted by a Harvard Graduate School of Education project called Making Caring Common. The meeting brought together college admissions deans, high school folks, and others to discuss the state of college admissions. The report is entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions. While we have been critical of the actual commitment of the many excellent colleges that endorsed the report to see their recommendations through to implementation, the report does interestingly take an in-depth look at the importance of community service for high school students. Here are two recommendations from the report:

Meaningful, Sustained Community Service: We recommend that students engage in forms of service that are authentically chosen–that emerge from a student’s particular passions and interests–that are consistent and well-structured, and that provide opportunity for reflection both individually and with peers and adults. We also recommend that students undertake at least a year of sustained service or community engagement . . . . This service can take the form of substantial and sustained contributions to one’s family, such as working outside the home to provide needed income. Just as important, it’s vital that the admissions process squarely challenges misconceptions about what types of service are valued in admissions.       Some students seek to ‘game’ service by taking up high-profile or exotic forms of community service, sometimes in faraway places, that have little meaning to them but appear to demonstrate their entrepreneurial spirit and leadership. The admissions process should clearly convey that what counts is not whether service occurred locally or in some distant place or whether students were leaders, but whether students immersed themselves in an experience and the emotional and ethical awareness and skills generated by that experience. (quoted from the report)

So, what does it all mean? As we said back in Episode 61, it means that the service should be something that your teenager is actually interested in and invested in; that the service should be something your teenager thinks about, talks about with other kids and with adults, and learns from; that the service last at least a year; and that the service may be something that your teenager does in order to support or help your own family, such as working at a paid job if financial help is needed or taking care of a younger sibling or an elderly relative if that kind of family support is needed. I think that the report’s notion that the service last at least a year is particularly significant. In other words, the college might not look so favorably on a one-week community service project in the summer–unless perhaps a student did several of those projects summer after summer.

Authentic, Meaningful Experiences with Diversity: We encourage students to undertake community service and engagement that deepens their appreciation of diversity. (quoted from the report)

While the report goes on to talk about its own notion of what meaningful experiences with diversity are, the basic idea is clear: work in and learn from activities conducted with racially, ethnically, and nationally diverse groups of kids, classmates, and/or adults.

So, what if that “meaningful, sustained community service” that includes “authentic, meaningful experiences with diversity” could happen this summer–and just as important–summer after summer to build up to the year-long recommendation the report makes? And, better still, what if summer volunteer work could be combined with volunteer work after school during the year to build up to the year-long recommendation the report makes? What might that look like?

5. Spotlight on After-School Programs

Here is an example. For many years, I served on the board of an after-school homework-help and enrichment program for low-income kids, including many new arrivals to the U.S., who would otherwise have gone home to empty apartments. This is a shout-out to you, Adventures in Learning in Manhasset, New York, with its one-of-a-kind executive director Diana Holden. Teenagers from local high schools and adults in the community volunteer in the afternoons to work with Adventures’ elementary-school-aged kids–to improve their reading and writing and arithmetic skills, to get their homework done correctly, to offer them special science and arts programming, and to provide them with the other after-school things that the families of kids in their classes at school provide routinely for their own kids–from Scouts to sports to tap dancing. In the interest of full disclosure, my daughter Polly is doing her master’s degree internship program at Adventures this summer, and my son Bobby did a high school internship there a decade ago. If you ask either one of them, every minute they spent at Adventures is and was worth it.

I read an article recently that proved what I have always believed about after-school programs like these. A study of 6,400 children in England was reported in The Edvocate in mid-May in an article entitled “After-School Activities Help Disadvantaged Students in the Classroom.” Let’s take a look at a few paragraphs from the article:

An academic increase was . . . observed for disadvantaged students who attended after-school programs. They attained higher scores in science, math and English at the end of primary school, lessening the attainment gap between poor students and their more affluent peers.

Academic improvements are not the only benefit documented for children participating in after-school activities. Improved social, emotional and behavioral skills were observed from students who participated in organized activities, in comparison to their peers who did not.

With there being so many advantages to participation in activities including sports, music, language, tutoring and arts classes, many schools are offering school-based clubs as an affordable alternative for poorer students. For disadvantaged students who do not have access to formal out of school activities, after school programming is imperative.

The research could have an impact on policy makers concerned with education, as well as implications for after-school childcare programming.

It is clear that the structure and delivery of after-school activities have a positive impact on disadvantaged students. The importance of exposure to these experiences [is] even more significant for poorer students who may not typically have the opportunity to participate unless the program is offered after hours via their public school. (quoted from the article)

Or, I would say, unless the program is offered after hours via community-based organizations that make up for what some public schools don’t do or can’t afford to do. Having your child volunteer to work with younger students in such a program–both during the school year and during the summer, when those programs offer summer activities, as many do?is a way for your child to make an actual difference in the academic, social, and personal futures of the kids who are enrolled.

And it is a way for your child to make a statement on his or her college application about a long-term commitment to helping all kids succeed. Feel free to have your child quote the same article I did here if your child chooses to write about this kind of volunteer work in an essay on a college application. People who think that having higher schoolers volunteer in after-school and summer programs like these is just an easy thing to do that looks good on an application couldn’t be more wrong. It is much more than that. Show them the proof.

So start looking around for a program like this near you. Your teenager doesn’t have to be a genius to help younger kids do their homework. And, your teenager can offer his or her own talents, too–music, art, sports, or something else. When your teenager wants to play all summer, have them listen to this episode. Because it will be time to do college applications sooner than you think.

Hear about firsthand experiences with community service in this week’s Facebook Live video.

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Episode 21: The Art of Getting Recommendations

In this episode, we continue our series on getting ready to apply to college by talking about the art of getting recommendations. Show notes for this episode are available at http://usacollegechat.org/21

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In this episode, we continue our series on getting ready to apply to college by talking about the art of getting recommendations.

The Art of Getting Recommendations on NYCollegeChat, a weekly podcast for parents of high school students, brought to you by Policy Studies in Education

I have spent a lot of time in my life writing recommendations for students and colleagues pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees. In the interest of full disclosure, I have no idea, really, how seriously colleges take recommendations because I have never been on the reviewing side. But, as long as colleges ask for them—and some do not, especially large state public institutions, which receive thousands of applications and have generous acceptance policies for students in their own states—we should make every effort to get the best possible recommendations for your child.

Some colleges will be quite specific about the recommendations they want to see. For example, they will ask for recommendations from teachers who taught your child for a full year, preferably the junior year of high school. Or they will ask for recommendations from teachers in core academic subjects. But, absent any specific requirements, you should have some good candidates of your own for recommendation providers.

In some high schools, by the way, the college counselor or guidance counselor writes a recommendation for each student, often based on the comments of teachers in the building. If that is the case, that is one of the recommendations that your child will need. But he or she still might need one or two more.

1. Teachers in Core Academic Subjects

Core academic subjects include English, mathematics, science, social studies, foreign languages, and sometimes technical subjects, like engineering. Your child should have a recommendation from a teacher of one of these subjects—and preferably from teachers of two of these subjects, especially for selective colleges that want two academic recommendations.

Ideally, your child would be able to get a recommendation from a teacher in the subject he or she hopes to major in at college. Don’t forget that your child most likely had to declare a prospective major in the application, so the college knows what your child is interested in studying. For example, if your child wants to be a doctor and has proposed a biology major, with a pre-med professional interest, then one teacher recommendation should be from an upper-level science teacher—AP or honors or other advanced biology, in the best case, but chemistry or physics would be fine as well.

However, you also have to think about what kind of recommendation a teacher in that proposed major field is going to write. It’s a balancing act. For example, if your child wants to major in a natural science, but does not have great grades in science classes, then don’t ask a science teacher for a recommendation. It is surprising to me how naïve students can be about this. You need to impress upon your child that he or she needs to ask a teacher who has given your child good grades in the high school courses the teacher taught. Obviously, the recommendation needs to say that your child is a good and serious student; if your child got a B– or an 82 in a teacher’s class, the recommendation is probably not going to say that your child is a good and serious student.

My advice is to go with a teacher who has given your child good grades, even if that teacher is in a subject your child does not intend to pursue in college. But apart from the good grades, your child would ideally have some sort of relationship with the teacher. That could be from an after-school club the teacher sponsored or from helping the teacher clean up the classroom after projects or from being useful as a peer tutor for kids in the class that were having trouble or something else. In some way, your child needs to distinguish himself or herself from all of the other seniors that teacher might be writing recommendations for. You would be surprised how many students will say to me, “Yes, I think that teacher will remember me from class last year.” That is not likely to be a strong enough relationship to produce a great recommendation.

Knowing this ahead of time—we are talking to you, parents of sophomores and juniors—should help younger students seek out and develop relationships with teachers who can become good references for them in the future. Asking such a teacher to write a college recommendation at that time—say, at the end of the sophomore year or certainly at the end of the junior year—when your child is still well known to the teacher is a great way to get a solid recommendation on file in the college counselor’s or guidance counselor’s office—so it is there when you need it later. It avoids the last-minute rush when every senior is asking teachers for recommendations and when they are then, understandably, done in a more hurried, less personal way.

2. Teachers in Other Subjects

By “other subjects,” we mean art, music, theater, health, physical education, and sometimes technical subjects, like computer technology. Teachers in these subjects can also write strong recommendations, especially if your child is interested in majoring in one of these subjects. So, for example, if your child is applying to fine arts programs at a university or to art or music schools, then a recommendation from a teacher in that field is important. If your child is applying to art school, then there is a good chance that one of the art teachers helped your child prepare a portfolio that will be judged by the college admissions committee. That teacher undoubtedly knows your child and his or her work quite well and would make a good reference.

Even if your child is not interested in majoring in one of these fields, your child might have a good relationship with one of the teachers as a result of in-school or after-school activities. For example, if your child takes instrumental music classes or music theory classes and has played in the band throughout high school, then the music teacher can speak about your child from more than one perspective and should be able to write a strong recommendation. Or, if your child loves science, but took an acting class and did well in it and was in a school play, then the theater teacher is well-positioned to write a multifaceted recommendation for your child.

The bottom line, again, is this: Impress upon your child the importance of building a relationship with a couple of teachers so that those teachers are able to write more personal recommendations for your child. That will mean that your child needs to go the extra mile first—for example, by helping out in class, volunteering for extra projects outside of class, joining clubs, working with younger students, or something else.

3. The School Principal

If your child knows the high school principal well, the principal is a great choice as a recommendation writer. Perhaps your child has been a student government officer or a star athlete or top student or a dedicated volunteer at the school. When we opened our small Early College high school in Brooklyn, we had an incoming first class of about 120 students. The principal knew every one of them—well.

A sincere recommendation from a principal could mean a lot to a college because it means that a student has somehow sufficiently distinguished himself or herself from the crowd so that the principal took notice—in a good way, of course.

4. College Professors

If your child has been fortunate enough to take a college class while in high school—either during the school year through dual enrollment or during the summer—that professor could make a good choice as a recommendation writer. This would be true only if the college class were small enough that the professor knew your child, of course. And again, ideally, only if your child did well in the course. Clearly, having a recommendation from a college professor saying that your child has already succeeded in college-level work would be reassuring to a college. Just make sure that your child requests the recommendation as soon as the college course is over; otherwise, it will likely be difficult to get in touch with the professor, and the professor will likely have difficulty remembering your child.

5. Internship Mentors

If your child has been fortunate enough to have an internship in the workplace before the second semester of the senior year of high school—whether it was paid or unpaid—your child’s mentor would be an excellent choice for a recommendation from outside the academic world. Some colleges accept one or even two such recommendations—not to take the place of academic recommendations, but to supplement them.

We have already said in previous episodes that internships are one of the best ways for a high school student to spend time and that they are priceless learning experiences. Being able to use the internship mentor as a reference is just one more plus to the internship experience. Mentors will be able to write about your child’s initiative, dependability, seriousness, determination, creativity, and/or intelligence—all of which a college would be happy to get in an incoming freshman.

As is the case with all of these recommenders, make sure your child asks for the recommendation at the end of the internship, not months later when a recommendation is due. If your child has spent any time with his or her mentor talking about future college plans, that’s all the better.

6. Workplace Supervisors

If your child has worked in part-time jobs or done substantial volunteer work during high school—either during the school year or during the summer—then your child’s supervisor might make a good reference. Just as with internship mentors, these real-world adults can speak about the qualities in your child that make him or her a good employee or good volunteer—all of which are likely to make your child a responsible college student as well. If your child works or volunteers each summer, then start collecting those recommendations after the freshman year—because those early jobs or supervisors might turn out to be the best.

By the way, sometimes these adults in the real world ask the student to draft the recommendation for them. That makes it easier for the supervisor, of course, and the supervisor probably wants to deliver a recommendation that the student can use. If that happens, make sure that your child is positive and complimentary in the recommendation, but does not go overboard. It should sound as though the supervisor actually wrote it!

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why recommendations are important even if they aren’t needed for college applications
  • What to do when someone doesn’t seem excited about writing a recommendation for your child
  • Whether your child should waive his or her right to see recommendations before they are sent to colleges

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Episode 18: Spotlight on Summers

This week, we’re putting a spotlight on summer activities as part of our Getting Ready to Apply series.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
More summer study programs for high school students
How to turn a part-time job into a rewarding internship experience
Getting high school credit for an internship

Episode show notes are available at http://usacollegechat.org/18

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
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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 continue our series on Getting Ready to Apply with a spotlight on summer activities.

Subscribe to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn!

NYCollegeChat Episode 18 Spotlight on Summers

One college application I looked at recently asked the student I was working with to detail what he had done each summer while in high school. Somehow we knew that hanging around with friends and playing pick-up basketball or going to the local pool just wasn’t what the college was looking for. Knowing this in advance—we are speaking to you, parents of ninth graders—will help you work with your child to plan significant summer activities, which not only are useful when it is time to fill out college applications, but also help make your child’s out-of-school life richer and more meaningful.

If your child needs to work in the summer to help support the family, then that has to come first. But, hopefully, there will be some time when he or she can also engage in some of the activities we are going to discuss here. If your child is looking at a selective college, then summer should not be viewed as a time to rest, but rather as a time for your child to follow some interest or refine some talent or learn some new thing or do some good for others. While we cannot provide an exhaustive list of every possible summer activity, we can offer broad categories of the more common ones.

1. High School and College Study

Ever since high schools became a part of our public schooling in the U.S., some students have gone to “summer school.” Often, those were students who needed to retake classes they had failed during the school year. However, there were others who went to summer school to get ahead so that they could take more advanced or different courses during the school year. Accelerated or enriched high school study in the summer is a time-honored tradition and would be a very reasonable summer activity, from a college’s point of view.

But, even better, would be study at a college. U.S. colleges have more summer programs than you can count for reasonably bright and/or interested high school students. Some courses are part of full-time residential programs on the campus; others are not. Unlike taking free high school courses, courses at a college can be expensive; but, fortunately, scholarships are often available.

How do you find a college course? Look up colleges in your hometown to see what they offer. Or look up out-of-town colleges that your child might be interested in attending, because a summer course is a great way to get to know a campus. Or look up college courses for high school students by subject field—such as courses or programs in engineering, music, etc.

To take one example, Cornell University has a broad array of summer courses that high school students can take for three weeks or six weeks—and earn college credit for—in fields as different as veterinary medicine, social change, biological research, literature, government, computer science, art, business, and architecture. In addition to all those, Cornell’s College of Engineering runs two intensive one-week programs—The CURIE Academy for girls who excel in math and science and CATALYST for students of ethnic and racial backgrounds that are underrepresented in the fields of engineering, math, and science—as well as the six-week Cornell Engineering Experience for students who excel in math and science.

To take another example, if your child is drawn to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hampton University in Virginia offers about a dozen summer programs for high school students—some residential, some not. For students from New York, going to a summer program at Hampton is a great way to experience life at an HBCU in a lovely and very different geographical setting.

A final note: If your high school does not offer students the opportunity to take college courses of any kind during the school year, then a course taken at a college in the summer—especially one that earns college credit—would be a particularly attractive option for your child. Being able to say on a college application that you have already taken and succeeded in a college course somewhere at some time is, obviously, an advantage.

For families that are interested in sending students outside the U.S. to study in the summer, there are certainly many programs to be had, with individual colleges sponsoring many of them and offering college credit for the classes students take while abroad. While these programs are understandably pricey, scholarships can be had. This is almost an irresistible summer combination—college study and seeing the world. Great for college applications and great for life!

2. Family Travel

We have found that quite a few students in New York City have close family connections in other countries, often in the country that their parents emigrated from. Many of these students go home to these countries during the summer to visit relatives for several weeks or more, often making it difficult for students to engage in other kinds of summer activities set up by their schools or in their local communities. Students can take advantage of these family trips—for example, by keeping up with a native or second language, by visiting cultural sites, or by working in a family business—and find something interesting to write about on their college applications.

Other families might take a short trip to a different part of the U.S. or to a different country near or far. As always, giving students a close look at important historical sites or art museums or architecturally magnificent churches or geologic wonders makes it possible for them to write in more detail and more interestingly about these summer vacations on their college applications.

3. Internships and Volunteer Work

We talked a lot about internships and volunteer work in our last episodes. We made the case then that engaging in internships and/or volunteer work lets a college know that a student is responsible and dependable, takes initiative, and, depending on the assignment, cares about others. From the student’s side, an internship or volunteer assignment helps the student explore career interests and potential college majors.

As we said, summer is a great time to talk with local church youth groups about mission trips to nearby or far away urban or rural areas in or outside of the U.S. where teenagers can do a host of volunteer jobs for the young, the old, the sick, or the homeless—from cleaning up a park to repainting a house to playing games to serving a hot lunch to reading aloud. Having teenagers do work that helps others, while under the supervision of caring adults, is a win for everyone.

Summer is also a great time to think about politics. It seems these days that there is always an upcoming election, even if it is really more than a year away. Local, state, and national office-seekers can use plenty of extra hands to stuff envelopes, put up posters, and get signatures on petitions. Media-savvy teenagers can often reach out to voters in ways that older adults do not even entirely understand. It’s a powerful way to learn about American government and political science firsthand.

Summer is also a great time to pursue a volunteer assignment in a hospital or nursing home. Many high school students—and indeed college students—interested in attending medical school and pursuing a career in medicine look for these volunteer opportunities, so students should not wait too long to line up this kind of assignment.

Summer internships—in which a student has a chance to try out a future career field, under the mentorship of a successful individual already working in the field—are even harder to get than volunteer assignments, so students need to start looking for those in the early, early spring. Parents, remember that high schoolers will be in competition with college students for internships in many career fields, which makes an early search even more important.

4. Community Activities

In our earlier episode entitled “Activities, Activities, Activities,” we talked about the many kinds of community activities that students might engage in during the school year, but most of them are likely to be available in the summer, too—from community sports teams to community theater productions to programs at community centers or local museums. Some of these—like sports teams and theater productions—require some talent and skill, but others might be more educational and easier to join. All of them are productive uses of a student’s free time in the summer, and all of these would be good summer activities to write about on college applications.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • More summer study programs for high school students
  • How to turn a part-time job into a rewarding internship experience
  • Getting high school credit for an internship

Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

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Episode 17: An Interview with Tanya Navas, New York State Director, National Academy Foundation

We share an interview with Tanya Navas, New York State Director, National Academy Foundation. Tanya talks with Marie and Regina about the career fields that NAF focuses on, the in-school and out-of-school components of a NAF academy experience, and the value of a paid internship for students.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Graduation rates and other success statistics from NAF Academies
The reactions of adult mentors who work with student interns in the workplace
How an internship can turn a student’s life around

Episode show notes are available at http://usacollegechat.org/17

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

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

NYCollegeChat: An Interview with Tanya Navas, New York State Director, National Academy Foundation

The National Academy Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports over 660 career academies in high schools in 38 states. NAF reaches over 81,000 high school students nationwide in its work of preparing students for college and careers. Tanya Navas, the New York State Director, is responsible for supporting the close to 60 career academies in New York State, with about half of those concentrated in New York City.

In the interview, Tanya talks with Marie and Regina about the career fields that NAF focuses on, the in-school and out-of-school components of a NAF academy experience, and the value of a paid internship for students. She also tells anecdotes about NAF students that make it clear why the program is a real plus for both school districts and for students.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Graduation rates and other success statistics from NAF academies
  • The reactions of adult mentors who work with student interns in the workplace
  • How an internship can turn a student’s life around

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