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Does Your Drinking Water Contain Lead?

Remember the lead scare in Flint, Michigan back in 2014?  Lead-tainted water had 46% higher blood-lead levels than other parts of the state.  Over 12,000 Flint children were exposed to high levels of lead, which can cause learning disabilities, health risks, and even cancer.  Ever wonder if there is lead in your water?  Check out this handy app that will tell you what contaminants are in your drinking water. 

Go to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) site and simply enter your zip code. You'll get a list of problems with your local water.

Knowledge is power.  If you find that you have contaminants in your water, call your water treatment plant to find out what is being done to remove them.  You can also buy filters for drinking water to ensure that you and your children are safe. 

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Cheating and Favoritism in College Sports

Honestly, how can colleges look the other way when their star athletes cheat and plagiarize, when other students are expelled and humiliated for doing the same thing?  What’s worse is that this rolls into a despicable arena where rape and sexual harassment are ignored when it involves athletes.  This is just wrong.  It sends the wrong message to the student body and to aspiring young athletes.

In my book, athletes shouldn’t receive any special treatment in the classroom or the courtroom.  These athletes should go into professional sports and leave spaces open on college campuses for students who really want a college education.  Period.

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Did You Know That Some Colleges Are Slashing Tuition To Recruit Students?

Who would have believed that some colleges are desperately seeking students when you hear about how Stanford has a 4.8% acceptance rate, which is lower than Harvard’s 5.4%? Yup!  There are over 2,800 public colleges, and over 1,200 private colleges in the US. Only the top colleges are ridiculously selective.  Eight private colleges just announced that they are slashing tuition for next fall (2018-2019). Reducing college tuition is called “tuition reset.” 

Although you might think that this tuition reset attracts and helps financially struggling families, it actually does the opposite.  Students who would be entitled to financial aid (grant and loans), only receive less financial aid so the actual amount they pay is about the same.  ARGH.  And guess what?  The wealthy students are the only ones who actually pay less with tuition reset.  Because these students wouldn’t get financial aid anyway, the discounted tuition rate means that they pay less for college. 

So tuition reset is really just a marketing ploy that benefits the wealthy.  It moves the college into the limelight bringing more applicants; and to make up for the decrease in tuition revenues, many colleges are increasing their enrollment.  In my book, that may lead to lower academic standards with increased class sizes and fewer professors.

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Does Location Matter When Choosing A College?

You’ve heard that LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION is everything in real estate and retail business, but did you know that location is also a key factor in choosing the right college?  Yup! I’ve been advising students to choose a college that’s located in a vibrant city where they can intern in top companies – possibly for their future employer. Going to college in cities where they can explore the industry and make vital contacts adds a bonus to the mix when choosing colleges.

According to Stanford’s Chetty and coauthor Brown University economist John Friedman, students who attend college in New York City, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Fayetteville (Ark), El Paso, and San Antonio, increase their after-college earning salaries by as much as 15%. 

In other words, you don’t want to study business marketing in a rural community or animal sciences in a metropolitan city.  It’s really just common sense.

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Dirty Little Scholarship Secrets

Did you know that colleges can actually take scholarship money away from students? It's called DISPLACEMENT, it's a common practice, it's highly unethical, and it makes my blood boil more than just about anything else (except MAYBE Donald Trump). What's worse is that they can take money they said they'd give to YOU and give it to someone else instead. The money you bring in from outside awards/scholarships DISPLACES (or replaces) any awards the school has said it would give you. And often, students don't even realize this until very shortly before they start school, which can put them in a very difficult financial situation.

Here's how it works: 

Let's say that someone (like my daughter, for example), works hard to get a $20,000 outside scholarship to help pay for her VERY expensive education. One of the colleges she considered offered her $30,000 in financial aid. Tuition, room and board were $55,000 per year. So logically, she should have had to pay just $5,000 for her freshman year. Great, right? NOPE.

The school takes the money they said they'd give you and SUBTRACTS the amount you bring in "from outside", which tosses the funds you would have received back in the pot/endowment/whatever. To add insult to injury, this particular school told her that the only way her outside scholarship would be applied toward her net cost AT ALL was if she earned OVER $30,000 in outside scholarships. In other words, she would have to MATCH what the college gave her in financial aid, and ONLY THENwould they apply a single dime toward her tuition bill. SO. SO. WRONG.

Colleges should not have the right to take a student's promised funds and give it to another student. This discourages students from applying for outside scholarships and discourages philanthropists from awarding grant money to students in need.

BEFORE you accept admission on May 1st, PLEASE check with the financial aid department to make sure your scholarships/outside aid will actually be applied to your tuition bottom line! Fortunately, not all colleges work this way - make sure yours doesn't! College is expensive enough!

3 Things You Need To Do To Secure Financial Aid For Your College Student

If your child will be starting college in the fall of 2018, it’s time to get ready for the financial aid process.  The 2018-2019 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens on October 1st.  For financial aid it's first come, first served! So, sharpen your pencils and do the following 3 things:

  1. Get your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID
  2. Get your 2016 Tax Records and Social Security Numbers
  3. Complete your FAFSA before March 2, 2018

Students who qualify for the California Dream Act (CADAA) and the Chafee Grant for Foster Youth can attend the free Cash for College workshops in California.  Sign up for the 100+ workshops to learn more about moneys available.

In order to receive scholarship funds, you need to complete the FAFSA and indicate which colleges you’re applying to.  After the colleges receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) from your FAFSA application, they will calculate your financial need and create scholarship/loan offers if your child receives an admissions offer. Good luck!

Who Needs To Take the SAT 2 Subject Test?

It used to be that college-bound students took the SAT 1 or ACT to demonstrate that they had the reading, writing, and math foundation to be successful in college, and they took the SAT 2 Subject tests to demonstrate their specific skills in academic subjects.  While most colleges still require the SAT 1 or ACT today, very few colleges now require the SAT 2 Subject Tests.  

If you happen to be strong in a particular subject area and you’re applying to competitive colleges, take the SAT 2 Subject Tests and submit them with your other scores.  It might help you get in.  But, if you’re not a good test taker or you aren’t ready for any of the subject tests, then skip them.

Check with the colleges on your list to make sure you don’t need the SAT 2 scores.  In California, UCs don’t require SAT 2 Subject Test but they do recommend them for freshman applicants majoring in competitive majors like engineering, biology, chemistry, or physics.  Here are the UC recommendations:

Berkeley:
Chemistry: Math Level 2 and science test (same as major)
Engineering: Math Level 2 and Physics

Irvine:
Engineering: Math Level 2 and Physics
Computer Science and Engineering: Math Level 2 and Physics
Pharmaceutical Science: Math Level 2, Biology M and/or Chemistry
Physical Sciences: Math Level 2
Public Health Sciences: Biology E, Biology M, and/or Chemistry
Public Health Policy: Biology E, Biology M, and/or World History

Los Angeles:
Engineering: Math Level 2 and Physics
Applied Sciences: Math Level 2 and a science test closely related to the major

Riverside:
Natural and Agricultural Sciences: Math Level 2 and Chemistry or Physics
Engineering: Math Level 2 and Chemistry or Physics

San Diego:
Engineering: Math Level 2 and Physics
Physical Sciences: Math Level 2 and a science closely related to major

Santa Barbara:
Engineering: Math Level 2
Mathematics: Math Level 2
Physics: Math Level 2 and Physics
Biology: Biology
Chemistry and Biochemistry: Chemistry
Computer Sciences: Math Level 2

Sept 30th Is The Deadline for UC TAG!

Transfer students who attend California community colleges and hope to transfer to UCs need to get their Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) application in before September 30th

Six UC campuses offer an admission guarantee for junior transfer applicants (Davis, Irvine, Merced, Riverside, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz).  Simply complete the online UC TAG application at https://uctap.universityofcalifornia.edu/students/index.cfm.  Use the useful Transfer Admission Planner (TAP) to help you get organized. 

If you need help, just ask a Merit College Advisor at info@meritworld.com!

The Myth Behind "Poor Test Taking"

Learning How to Study

There seems to be an epidemic of “poor test takers” who routinely get A’s on their homework but fail miserably on quizzes and tests. Looking at their grade sheets, you’ll see a few D’s or F’s for tests and quizzes scattered among a sea of A’s for homework. Parents shake their head in confusion because their children manage to get high marks for doing their homework but those good grades aren’t reflected in their low test scores.

Parents often meet with their children’s teachers in search of explanations for these disparate grades. As the director at Merit Educational Consultants, I often hear parents’ claims that their children do their homework and receive excellent grades but that they are just “poor test takers.” Although test taking does require some skills, these students aren’t poor test takers. Claims like this are misconceptions. With the exception of students with learning differences or test anxiety, the problem isn’t poor test-taking skills; rather, they simply don’t know how to study for tests. When students learn how to study, they can achieve much higher exam scores that accurately reflect their academic potential.

Homework scores don’t always indicate how well students know the curriculum/material, either. Some teachers simply give credit to students for attempting to do the work. Others don’t correct the students’ work, so even though they did the assignment, there’s a possibility that every answer was incorrect. Even when the teachers do correct the homework assignments, the actual exercise may not guarantee that the students are learning the concepts. With their iPods blaring and their cell phones ringing, many students can mindlessly fill in the blanks and skim books while they go through the motions to complete their homework as quickly as possible.

Consider this. A math teacher may introduce a new concept and provide several examples on the board during class. Then when the students go home that evening to do their homework, they simply review their class notes, plug in the formula, and zip through the problem sets. So what’s wrong with this? The students are just going through the motions. They probably don’t understand why they’re using that particular formula for that type of problem. Then the following day when they learn a new concept in class, the teacher once again gives examples and sends the students home with a new formula to use to solve the equations for that day. A week later, when the students take a quiz or test, they do poorly because they aren’t sure which formula to use. In other words, they didn’t really understand what they were doing; they were on automatic pilot while they did the work.

When teachers announce upcoming tests, some allow students to make “cheat sheets,” which can be index cards or full 8 ½” x 11” sheets of paper filled with notes that the students can use during the tests. It’s remarkable how much information students can squeeze on to their sheets of paper. Other teachers give students study guides that define exactly what will be on the tests. Obviously, both of these systems – along with “going through the motions” while doing homework – fail to encourage students to learn the material that they should be responsible to know.

Most students prepare for their tests by cramming or simply reviewing their notes the night before. They think that by reading through their lecture notes and homework assignments, they’ve done all they need to do to ace their exams. What they don’t understand is that their brains can’t absorb all of that information in such a short period of time, so they can remember only superficial concepts. Cramming doesn’t give the students enough time to thoroughly understand the concepts so they could apply their knowledge in solving difficult questions on a test.

Even if they’re one of the lucky few who can cram the night before for a test and pull an A, what they memorized for the test probably didn’t go into long-term memory; so, when it comes time to study for the final exam, they’ll have to relearn everything again. And worse yet, when these students advance to the next class the following year, they’re setting themselves up for failure because they skimmed the surface of the previous class and don’t have the foundation they need to succeed in courses that require previous knowledge.

When students enter college, they will be expected to have retained basic information from high school courses and apply it to increasingly complex theories. Additionally, students must be able to assess what they need to study without depending on the professor to do so for them. Many a college professor is frustrated by student requests for study guides or open-book tests exactly because it suggests surface-level regurgitation instead of analysis, which is what students must do to succeed.

So how can a student ace a test? It’s really quite simple: the five-day plan. In order to get a perfect score on a test, they need to comprehend, not just memorize, the material. For English or History, that means that they need to have time to read the chapters, highlight important information, rewrite their notes in outline form, make flashcards, and test themselves. This will take time because their brains need time to absorb the information.

Five days before the exam, re-read the sections that will be covered on the test. If they own the book, they can highlight it and mark it up to help them remember important facts. Four days before, the students should rewrite their lecture notes in an outline format and add important information from their readings and lectures. Three days before, make flashcards from their outlines and notes, and begin testing themselves. Two days before, take a practice exam from the book or online and review their flashcards. Make a list of questions they’re not sure about and ask their teacher before or after class the next day. The night before the test, review the text, lecture notes, outline, flashcards, and practice exams. With this comprehensive approach to studying for tests, your child will be sure to ace the test.

Not all children learn the same way, so adjust the plan to work for your child. Some students learn best when they rewrite their notes while others may prefer to record lectures and listen to them. Experiment with various systems but stick with the 5-day plan. By allowing your children’s brain to comprehend a little bit each night, they will finally learn the concepts, and they’ll be able to retain them in their long-term memories.

Besides improving their test scores, they’ll be able to ace their final exams with considerably less studying and stress. Students who continue to review all of their notes once per week for the duration of the quarter or semester really come to know the material and typically do very well on midterm and final exams.

Inasmuch as learners have to practice when and how to use math formulas or recognize iambic pentameter in poetry, they also have to practice time management. Use the Merit Planner to block out time for different tasks the five days prior to an exam. That way, students don’t become overwhelmed trying to keep track of their study plans for multiple tests in all of their classes. By using the Merit Planner, all they need to do is complete the tasks each day that they’ve scheduled for themselves. And by the time they get to college, they will have already learned how to successfully manage their time. It’s really that simple. 

The Merit Planner is available on our website. Merit’s Time Management Specialists are available both online and onsite to help students take control of their learning and test-taking skills. Get started now so your child can start acing their tests!

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