How To Navigate a Gap Year

Illustration depicting a roadsign with a gap year concept. Blue sky background.

A College Application Guide for Gap Year Students

By Kyle DeNuccio — New York Times  April 6, 2017

Applying to college is onerous enough. Asking to defer enrollment for a year can be even more intimidating. Here’s how to navigate the gap-year process.

When to Apply to College

Delay freshman year, not your application. Students interested in a year off should still apply to college their senior year of high school, advises Michele Hernández, co-president of Top Tier Admissions and a former admissions officer at Dartmouth. It ensures that you’ll have access to your school’s resources and won’t be bogged down with applications and standardized testing during a year that may include travel abroad.

“You’d be surprised how quickly your high school forgets you,” Dr. Hernández said. “It’s really hard to go back and ask for teacher recommendations and the other materials you might need after a year has passed.”

It’s also a good idea to keep options open should plans suddenly change. You might not get that internship or job you were counting on, or you might get into a college with even better options for a bridge year, like the tuition-free international program at Princeton or Tufts’ “1+4” program, offering both national and international service opportunities.

When to Ask for a Gap Year

Harvard has long encouraged applicants to consider a year off, but that won’t increase your chances of getting in. While more and more institutions are seeing value in a gap year, it’s better to inform them of your intentions after you’ve been accepted.

 “It might work against you because admissions’ priority is filling that year,” Dr. Hernández said. “They don’t know what the next year is going to look like.”

If your plans have merit — education, work or service components — they are likely to agree. But, she said, “depending on what you’re going to do, a gap year can be viewed as slightly frivolous. So that’s why I say, get in first and then propose an idea.”

If a college has no gap year program, write to the admissions director before deposits are due. Describe plans for the year ahead, and ask whether time off will affect any scholarships the school has offered for freshman year.

Where to Find Resources

USA Gap Year Fairs organizes events where students can hear about an array of programs and speak with professionals in the field: 39 were held this winter; a list of locations for 2018 will be published in the fall (usagapyearfairs.org). The American Gap Association accredits independent programs that offer skills- or service-based learning experiences. It maintains lists of the programs, which run a few weeks to a year, and their scholarships, as well as university policies on deferring enrollment (www.americangap.org).

The association tracked $2.8 million in need-based support for gap year programs in 2015. Some universities even provide funding for service-based experiences. Florida State University offers $5,000 gap year fellowships, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers fellowships of $7,500, with a focus on students from rural school districts in the state.

Chapel Hill is impressed with the results.

“Students in the gap year fellowship don’t struggle like other freshmen do with the transition into college,” said Richard Harrill, who helped design the program. Instead, he said, participants “become even more intellectually hungry.”

 

Can You Prevent Math Anxiety?

Fending Off Math Anxiety

By Perri Klass, M.D.  —  New York Times  April 24, 2017

Stressed High school or college Latina female student sitting by the desk at math class. Blackboard with complicated advanced mathematical formals is visible in background

My mother was what we would now call math anxious, if not phobic. My daughter, on the other hand, was a math major, which always left me feeling like the transitional generation, capable of mastering standardized-test math problems and surviving college calculus (it’s one of the pre-med requirements) but never really connecting to the beauty or power of the subject.

So when I hear people talk about lack of self-confidence when it comes to numbers or intense math anxiety, I always think first of my mother, a college English professor who was terrified by the idea of calculating a 10 percent tip, and desperately grateful to leave it to any grandchild at the fourth grade level or beyond. (Little did my Depression-era mother know that I had taught her grandchildren to jack up the tips to 15 percent; it would never have occurred to her that anyone would willingly undergo both a slightly more difficult arithmetic problem and a slightly higher cost.)

New research shows that math anxiety is by no means an American problem, and is found in countries where students regularly outperform us in math skills. In a study published in February, researchers from the University of Chicago looked at data from 64 countries participating in the Program for International Student Assessment, which tests 15-year-olds in math, science and reading skills.

“Math anxiety is prevalent all around the world,” said Julianne Herts, a study author and a doctoral student at the University of Chicago who works in cognitive psychology. “If you look within Japan, students in Japan who are math anxious aren’t scoring as well at math,” she said. “If you look between countries, countries where more students experience math anxiety tend to underperform.”

So does being “bad at math,” whatever that is, make you anxious, or does being anxious make you bad at math?

“There’s increasing reason to believe it’s a bidirectional relation,” said Alana Foley, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago in developmental psychology, who was the first author of the study. “Poor performance in math can lead to math anxiety, but there are also studies that point in the other direction; if you have math anxiety it disrupts your concentration.”

Even students who score high on math tests can feel a special worry around this subject, Dr. Foley said. Among high-performing students, she said, “math anxiety takes a bigger bite out of their performance.”

Other researchers involved in the study traced math anxiety back further into early childhood. Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and the author of the book “Choke,” about performance and pressure, said that math anxiety “oftentimes relates most strongly to the performance of those kids who want to do well, who tend to be high achieving in school.”

A couple of years ago, Dr. Beilock and her colleagues published an article showing that parental math anxiety could be transmitted to children (you can take a test based on the assessment they used, to look at your own level of math anxiety). “The moral of the story is that parents likely play an important role, either for the positive or the negative,” she said.

There has been some overlap demonstrated between math anxiety and other more general types of anxiety, especially related to test-taking, but math anxiety seems to exist as a separate phenomenon; studies have shown increased heart rates when people were tested on math, but not on other subjects.

One problem is that we tend to believe with math that you either have the ability or you don’t, rather than assuming that your skills and abilities are the result of study and practice. “It’s an interesting phenomenon in our culture to hear highly intelligent people bragging about not being good at math, not being numbers people,” Dr. Beilock said.

Dr. Susan Levine, chairwoman of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago, agreed: “An educated person doesn’t go around saying, I’m not a reading person.”

Researchers believe that the skills — and the anxiety — are actually shaped even before children start formally learning math.

Dr. Levine said, “a lot of my work starts in the preschool years with the thesis that math learning begins at home.” Math skills at kindergarten entry, she said, predict not only later math achievement but also other important skills, including reading. “There’s some research out there that shows that when kids enter the kindergarten door behind in math, it’s hard to close the gap,” she said.

So what are those crucial math skills in early childhood? Dr. Levine said that although many preschool children know how to count, they don’t necessarily understand the meaning of the number words. By the time children are around 2, “They can recite the count list up to maybe 10,” she said, but “they don’t understand that the last number you reach is the set size; they don’t connect the counting” to the total. With children from 2½ to 4, “parents are often shocked when we bring kids into the lab,” she said. “They know the kids can count, but when we ask them to give me two of something they just grab a bunch of things.”

By kindergarten, children have additional skills; for example, they can understand that you can make five by holding up three fingers on one hand and two on the other, or four and one. Dr. Levine said they also can demonstrate what is known as flexible counting — that is, they can start from four or five, without going all the way back to one, or count backward.

“Parents embrace as part of their responsibility to get kids ready to read in school to introduce them to the alphabet and letter sounds,” Dr. Levine said. “They’re much more likely to think it’s the school’s job to teach math.”

Whether we realize it or not, the researchers say, those of us who get worried around math probably are less likely to talk about numbers and number concepts to our children. In a 2015 study, parents used a program called “Bedtime Math,” a mobile app that presented short numerical story problems to their children; the children’s math skills improved relative to children in a control group, Dr. Beilock said, but the improvement was strongest in children whose parents had math anxiety.

Working with the app might help dispel the myth that there are math people and non-math people, said Dr. Levine, and make parents less anxious and more willing to introduce math talk into their daily lives (let’s put five raisins in each cookie; let’s set the table, how many forks do we need?).

“Think of math as something that’s the purview of the home, not just the school,” Dr. Beilock said.

Strategies for the College-Bound Student

boy w beatsFrom freshmen to seniors, there are worthwhile strategies that students can employ in 2017 that will vastly improve the college admissions process ahead.

 

For Freshmen

First-year students should create specific college application goals early on. Of course, their interests and plans will evolve as the high school years go by, but they can still make a timeline for college visits, scope out potential AP courses, extra-curricular activities of interest, and the like. By creating an overarching outline of their college preparedness plans now, freshmen can reduce the stress of college planning later.

 

For Sophomores

Many high school students wait until junior year before considering college admissions tests, but sophomores can get a head start. By encouraging your child to prepare for the PSAT, as well as research the right admissions test for their skill set (ACT vs. SAT), he or she can focus more clearly on optimizing scores in junior year.

 

For Juniors

Junior year is a tough balancing act. While maintaining a solid GPA and participating in activities, students must prep for the ACT and/or SAT. They should plan to take a test (or both tests) two or three times. At the end of the year, there are likely to be AP tests and possibly SAT Subject Tests.

 

For Seniors

Take a deep breath. For parents and students alike, the college application process has likely become a whirlwind. Don’t forget that the journey is just as important as the destination. The hard work and preparation he or she has put in will pay dividends in the future, no matter where he or she arrives for college in the fall.

 

At Dogwood Tutoring and Test Prep, we recognize that academic preparedness begins early on in a student’s life. That’s why we’ve identified and possess the tools and resources necessary to make your student’s high school career and college transition a positive and successful evolution. Whether your student is prepping for an algebra exam, the SAT or ACT, AP tests, or SAT Subject Tests, our one-on-one tutoring can make 2017 a year of life-changing academic growth. 

Back-to-School Basics: 4 Tips to Brush Up on Study Skills

Teenage Boy Studying

As the new school year begins, there’s no better habit for your student to develop than employing healthy study skills. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of tips to help your student build a strong academic routine that will serve well for years to come.

  1. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Have your child divide his or her study time into manageable increments over the course of a week or so, instead of sprinting through all the material the night before a test. Not only does this strategy cut down on stress, but repeated reinforcement of information over the course of the week will actually encourage a longer-lasting, integrated understanding of the material.

  1. Catch Some Z’s

For some this may go without saying, but all-night cramming sessions are ultimately detrimental when it comes to long-term retention of academic concepts. Scientists have long emphasized the importance of sleep as a recovery period for the brain—which is integral to retaining, recalling, and synthesizing information.

  1. Simulate the Real Thing

Practice tests are extraordinarily valuable because they challenge students to take the information they’ve studied and put it to applicable use. It’s one thing to have material rigidly memorized, it’s quite another to understand and utilize it effectively come test time. Tip: flash cards are excellent tools for practice testing.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Share

When students adapt academic concepts into their own words, they’re creating a deeper, readily recalled connection to the material. Encourage your child to teach or explain academic concepts to you, a sibling, or a family pet! Translating high-minded concepts to another individual is a surefire way to test for weak spots in your student’s understanding of the material.

No matter what goals your child has set for this school year, Dogwood Tutoring and Test Prep’s tutors are here to help. From our Study Skills Program to SAT-ACT Test Prep to Subject Tutoring for all grades and levels, we customize each one-on-one tutoring session to meet your child’s needs. Have your child stride into the school year with the confidence that comes only from crafting positive, lifelong study skills.

How Does Online Tutoring Stack Up?

girl-tutorMost people rely on computer-based services and smartphone apps to handle so many of our daily tasks, large and small. How did we ever survive without them? So let’s see how online tutoring services stack up against face-to-face sessions with tutors.

While online tutoring can be good at providing free generic instructional help and repetitive practice exercises, online training uses a cookie-cutter approach. When it’s crunch time, however, only seasoned tutors can assess what each individual student needs to really understand and apply the concepts. Beyond just explaining challenging concepts, Dogwood’s expert tutors identify each student’s specific strengths, weaknesses, learning style, and goals. Then they tailor each lesson to meet those individual needs. Using verbal and nonverbal communications, they match an appropriate teaching style with your student’s unique learning style, resulting in improved learning skills and self-confidence. Our tutors can clearly see when students are “getting” the material. Online services have yet to bridge that human touch. 

College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free online SAT prep. Kaplan has announced a similar arrangement with ACT. These are positive developments to try to level the playing field for students whose families can’t afford tutoring. One problem is that some students don’t have the focus or motivation to go it alone with online training. Dogwood tutors are instrumental at mentoring students, keeping them focused and accountable throughout, especially with the demanding yet required practice exercises. Online students have to rely on themselves and/or their parents to stay on task… and it’s not easy.

Another problem is that high-achieving students usually need help in very precise areas to improve their ACT-SAT scores. Online they will have to dig deeper to find that level of help, if it’s available at all. At Dogwood, our tutors deliver such laser-focused, expert help in an efficient and productive framework, customized for each student’s needs. If your student needs to increase her score from 28 to 30 on the ACT to earn $10,000 more per year in scholarship money, online tutoring is certainly not the solution.

Overall, online tutoring will be helpful for some students but it has some definite limitations. In the final analysis, there is nothing more effective and efficient for busy students than face-to-face, customized tutoring like we offer at Dogwood Tutoring and Test Prep. For more information, please call Ivan at 678-735-7555 or email Ivan@DogwoodTutoring.com.