Getting Ready for College

This is something different than what I usually do, but given that I’m about to be done with school soon, I should occasionally use this platform to provide some kind of service. This powerpoint is a section of a webinar I created a couple of years back and I think it would be a real help for anyone about to go to college or anyone who knows a future college student.

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  1. Tips for Starting the Search. Most high schools offer some days that students can use to go visit colleges so these days should be taken advantage of.There are also several college fairs that are hosted in the city throughout the year.  There are also days that colleges will host groups of students and take them on a tour of the campus.  These are great opportunities to gain more information about colleges that you may not get from just looking on the school website.
  2. College Entrance Exams.Most colleges will accept either the SAT or the ACT, but most schools have a preference between the two.  Check with the school to make sure which one they prefer. A good time to take either test is during the fall or spring semester of junior year.  If you want to take the test again to get better scores, this gives you enough time to properly study and prepare for another test before college applications are due. Each test also offers fee waivers, so check the requirements of each test to receive a fee waiver. There are differences between the two tests.  Generally speaking, the ACT is based more on the curriculum that students learn from in school, while the SAT is more of an aptitude test.
  3. SAT vs. ACT. There are some important differences between the two.  The length is about the same, but the ACT has an optional 30-minute writing test.  The SAT has reading, math, and writing sections.  The ACT includes English, math, reading, science, and the optional writing section.  The scoring scale for the SAT is 600 – 2400 and the scale for the ACT is 1 – 36.  For the SAT, 1/4 is deducted for wrong answers, so there is little benefit in guessing.  For the ACT, there is no penalty for wrong answers so it is a good idea to guess if you don’t know the answer.
  4. Preparing for the SAT/ACT. 
    • The College Board Web Site — Free test preparation materials, excellent resources for finding, selecting, applying to and paying for college
    • The ACT website — Free ACT prep materials, good information, and resources for college search and admission process
    • Number2.com — Excellent free site for SAT and ACT prep and personalized vocabulary builder
    • Test Prep Review.com — Free practice test questions, and subject area self-assessment modules for the SAT, ACT and PSAT
    • The Princeton Review — Test prep company offers some free study materials for the PSAT, SAT, Subject Tests and ACT. Click on “Free Practice Tools” section for each test.
    • Kaplan — Test prep company provides some free SAT and ACT prep materials including access to free “Quiz Bank,” “Practice Tests” and “Practice Questions”
  5. Personal Statement. The personal statement is a major part of the college application.  It allows the college to more easily identify stand-out students within a large pool of applicants and provides more information about a student than test scores and grades.  Personal statements usually fall into two categories: a general and comprehensive personal statement and a personal statement that answers very specific questions.
  6. Tips for Personal Statements. Here are some tips for writing a good personal statement.  Make sure that you answer the questions that are being asked, no matter how well written your statement may, it won’t matter if you do not answer the questions that are asked.  Be specific.  Whatever claims or statements that are made should be backed up with specific reasons.  Telling a story also helps because it provides concrete experiences that can help you to stand out above other applicants.  Doing research on the school benefits you because you can explain in more detail why you are applying to the school and what resources provided by the school that you can take advantage of.  Avoid cliches, so that means staying away from the types of things that a lot of people say in their personal statement.  Include original thoughts.  Make sure that there are not any errors.  The readers will not be able to focus on your unique experiences if they are too distracted by errors in grammar, spelling, or punctuation.  To prevent having any error, have multiple people proofread it.  Having multiple people do it helps because one person may catch something that another one didn’t.  Finally, statements should be tailored to each college.  While there should be a general structure that may apply to different school, the personal statement should fit what the college is explicitly asking for and other things that may grab their attention.  So this goes back a to the previous point of doing research on the college.
  7. Financial Aid. One of the biggest issues facing college students is financial aid.  It will help to understand some important terms.  The award letter basically tells you what financial aid the college can offer you.  Exactly what information is included can differ. So while a school will tell you how much they can offer, they may not tell you the actual cost of attendance.  Expected family contribution is what it sounds like, how much the family is expected to contribute to your college education. This is important for filling out the FAFSA, which will be discussed in the next slide.  Grants are money that can come from different sources such as the government and the school that do not have to be paid back.  Loan have to be paid back federal student loans don’t have to be paid while in college.  Scholarships are usually awarded for some type of achievement.  Work study or work awards are funds given by the Federal Work Study Program to students for part-time employment to help cover the costs for college.
  8. FAFSA. The FAFSA or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid determines how much you or family has to contribute to your education.  This is the previously mentioned Expected Family Contribution.  Expected Family Contribution in turn determines how much you are able to receive in grants, loans, and work-study.  There are different application deadlines for each school, so check with the schools to find out their FAFSA deadlines.
  9. Tips for Parents. Parents also have to be aware of certain things in finding and dealing with financial aid.  Understand what the colleges are offering.  The distinction between grants and loans is important.  Colleges may not differentiate whether they are offering grants, loans, or both.  Get up to date information, costs are subject to change without notification so it always a good to keep in contact with what is going on.  Apply for financial aid on time.  This is very important because paying on time can mean the difference between being registered for all classes and having to sit out a semester or more.  Don’t be scared away from the more expensive private colleges.  They tend to provide more financial aid because they have the additional resources to do so.  The costs could end up being the same as going to a cheaper public college.
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To Be Young, Black, and In School

America’s education system is screwed up. For Black people, it can be an absolute shit show. I am originally from Gulfport, Mississippi and spent my whole life there until moving to Atlanta for college. As I got older, I began to notice things as I progressed through school. Being a high achieving student, I was placed in honors and advanced classes, but I noticed that fewer and fewer of my fellow African American students were in those classes. There were several instances in which I was the only African American student in the class. At times I felt isolated and alienated, particularly during that one wonderful semester when I was constantly called names by a White student every time I entered the classroom.

Those experiences are not unique to me. Various inequities are part of the educational experiences of African Americans. Discrimination and unfair treatment occurs at all stages of the education system. We get notified very quickly about our standing in schools. Messages are communicated to us about our value, intellect, and worthiness. Too often we get messages about how we are troublemakers. Messages can be sent through relationships with teachers as they tend to have less favorable views of African Americans and have more conflict with their African American students. Disciplinary actions send messages through the disproportionate punishment of African American students. Tracking disproportionately places Black students in lower tracks, while the few Black students in the higher tracks often feel a sense of isolation, not unlike that terrible feeling I remember having frequently. Studies have helped reveal how African American students are not given adequate opportunities to display their intellect and are discouraged from taking more rigorous courses. School curricula are largely characterized by an absence of Black history or culture. I don’t remember learning any significant Black history in the classroom until I went to college at Morehouse. And this is all just in primary and secondary school: it becomes more disheartening to realize that these issues continue on to higher education.

I don’t need to remind you of all the recent stories regarding the protests at several universities. Here is a good resource that gives a pretty efficient rundown of everything happening across the country. I will try to at least explain broadly a lot of issues that African American college students deal with. Studies have shown the negative effects of racial discrimination such as its relationship with negative outcomes including lower academic motivation and increased stress. African American college students too often report negative racial climates outside of the classroom. Classroom interactions too often negate their experiences, leaving them to feel self-doubt and change their educational plans. Even for graduate students, experiences with racism are related to more symptoms of depression and stress. No wonder people are protesting everywhere, look at what they have to deal with and how it affects them!

I know much of the discussion has been about what has been going on at colleges around the country, but I would like people to think about what these students have been going through both during college and before college. It’s understandable why students are frustrated and fed up; they probably have been dealing with these same things for their whole lives: elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and grad school. It’s been a part of their educational experiences for too long and they are tired of it. And so am I.

New Year, New Start

This year is going be different, hopefully that is a good thing. For one thing, I’m starting in a new research lab this semester after switching advisors. Things are looking good so far and I think this will be a significant improvement from the previous situation I was in, a none too healthy one. I look forward to a lot of positives and hopefully graduating within the next year and a half. I’m teaching again this semester as well. This first class was this week and I think I have a good group of students this time around. I’m hoping to learn from some of my mistakes last semester and improve my teaching this semester. This year is going to be a period of growth and looking forward. I’m nearing the end of this PhD program and I have to start putting more thought into what I’m going to do after this and how I can best prepare for myself for that next step. This is going to be an interesting year.

Diversity

I went to a relatively diverse middle school (diverse in the sense that there were as many African American students as White students). The advanced classes that I was in reflected this diversity, but when I got to high school that all changed. Very quickly the trend began in which I was either the only one or one of a small number of African American students in a class, specifically advanced classes. The first time that this happened to me in 9th grade, it was difficult for me to cope. I did not necessarily know a particular word for it at the time, but I experienced stereotype threat. My anxiety about being the only Black student in the class negatively impacted my performance in a subject I more than excelled at (mathematics). It took time to adjust to it, but I eventually did.

Although I never had any negative experiences with teachers in terms of racism and discrimination (at least that I could perceive at that time), there were some negative experiences with classmates that I had. People were never bold enough to call me something that could obviously be construed as a racial slur, but it was clear from the language used that I was different and that I would be constantly reminded of it every day. Another issue that I immediately noticed was that even though the school demographics were essentially split between Black students and White students, Black students were significantly underrepresented in the college preparatory classes. Even in high school, I knew that something was wrong, but I do not think I could articulate it as well at that point. Now I realize things like that are systemic and institutional. They come from a long history of inequalities facing Black students and it is not such an easy fix as “students should want to learn more.” It is going to take an effort from groups of people on different fronts in order to even the playing field and ensure that everyone has an adequate education.