Monday, December 31, 2012

Be SMART in 2013

As we head into the new year, this is a time that many of us make resolutions to improve ourselves. Some people vow to lose weight or stop smoking, or make other changes to improve their health. Let's discuss some strategies and examples related to age appropriate New Years resolutions in high school.
There is a widely accepted principle to goal setting that you have already learned about in school counseling lessons since elementary school. We are more likely to find success with our goals if they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. It would also give us some focus if we relate these goals to the three domains of student development that school counselors support, namely, academic, career, and personal/social.
When goals are specific, we give them focus. "I'd like to lose weight" is not as specific as "I will lose 10 pounds." "I will improve my grades" is quite broad when compared to a long-term goal like "My quarter GPAs will be 1 grade point higher than the previous one" or a short-term goal like "I will spend 30 more minutes reviewing and rewriting my class notes, and start studying for exams two weeks before the tests are scheduled." A specific social goal would be to sit down and eat dinner with your parents at least three nights a week, or to not touch your phone while eating said dinner.
When we talk about goals being measurable, we add accountability. It is sensible to know how we did at meeting (or setting) our goals if we write them down (like a contract) and revisit our progress periodically. Such accountability will inevitably involve the use of data, like reducing your class tardies or increasing the number of homework assignments you turn in complete and on time. However, please don't punish yourself harshly if you come short of your goals. Nobody is perfect, especially not teenagers. Allow yourself the flexibility to make mistakes. Simply revise your goals over time to make them more attainable as measured by the data that makes sense for your situation.
Making goals attainable is a challenge for many teenagers, evidenced by popular plans to improve their cumulative GPAs from below 2.0 to above 3.0 in one year or making blanket and complicated intentions like getting into college. The actual admission is not in your control, but you can control your efforts, timeliness, and use of resources. Similarly, "making more friends" is not as simple as it sounds; it is more attainable to "join two student organizations" or "try out for an athletic team," which can put you in a position to establish meaningful relationships with peers who share your interests and values.
Making goals relevant addresses two areas: they should be related either to a clear need you have (it's more relevant to improve your grades if they are lower than B's, but maybe if you have a GPA higher than 3.0 you can plan to find time in your schedule for extracurricular enrichment or exploring possible careers) or pertinent to your long-term objectives (if you wish to attend college, it will help ensure personal and social acclimation to convince your parents to give you practice with more autonomy and independence, like applying to volunteer at a sleepover camp or attending a summer program on a college campus).
Committing your goals to time-bound parameters helps you maintain control of your goals. If you break your goals into smaller chunks, you can modify them every month or academic quarter to better address your actual life, beyond the lofty optimism that comes after being off school for a week. One time bound goal is to secure a summer internship by May. Another is to be academically eligible for fall sports, which requires a C average during fourth quarter. You can set yourself up to achieve that goal by working similar academic goals into your plans every five weeks between now and April, so that by the time the fourth quarter comes around, you'll be used to the habits that give you such a result.
Please discuss your resolutions with the important adults in your life, as they know you best - maybe even better than you know yourself. If you happen to have a family situation in which sharing your goals will result in your feeling worse about yourself than not saying anything at all, please come in and share your goals with your school counselor. We can empower you to meet your goals, and maybe even help you develop strategies for self preservation at home.
After all, the act of setting and assessing goals is intended to improve our lives. Failing once in a while is not necessarily terrible. It is okay to make mistakes. What matters is what you learn about those mistakes. Just keep moving onward and upward, and never settle for the status quo, and you'll be sure to have a happy and successful 2013, by whatever definition works for you as an individual.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Where are our seniors getting admitted?

Congratulations to the class of 2013, who have so far reported admissions to:

Arcadia University
Art Institute of York
Barry University
Boston University
Canisius College
Case Western Reserve U
Clark Atlanta University
Colorado School of Mines
Colorado State University
Drexel University
Emerson College
Emory University
Evergreen State University
Frostburg State University
Full Sail University
George Mason University
Goucher College
Green Mountain College
Hampshire College
Hampton University
High Point University
Hofstra University
Hood College
Humboldt State College
Indiana University
Ithaca College
James Madison University
Johns Hopkins University
Lehigh University
Loyola University Maryland
Lynn University
McDaniel College
Michigan State University
Morgan State University
New York University
Notre Dame of Maryland U
Nova Southeastern University
Penn State University
Radford University
Saint Francis University
Shippensburg University
Stevenson University
St. John’s University
SUNY - Buffalo
Towson University
Unity College
University of Baltimore
University of Chicago
University of Colorado
University of Maryland
University of Massachusetts
University of Miami
University of Michigan
University of New Hampshire
University of Vermont
University of Virginia
Utica College
Washington College
Washington Univ of St. Louis
West Virginia University
York College of Pennsylvania

We will continue to update this post with each new addition, and will also update the list annually.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Putting it together

As we have distributed and explained the ReadiStep score reports to nearly all of the freshmen, some salient moments have occurred.

During the class session, we discuss how the ReadiStep scores are merely indicators of test-taking and problem solving skills, and help students estimate and predict their likely SAT ranges. We remind the students of the GPAs that we helped them calculate just prior to Thanksgiving based on their first quarter grades. Finally, we assist the students in activating their College Board accounts on the MyRoad module and familiarize themselves with the college search and other functions of the College Board website.

With their individualized data in-hand, students are empowered to find colleges that offer an appropriate educational fit for them. At this early stage in high school, ninth graders have the chance to either proceed as they have been for the past three months, satisfied with the post secondary choices that they see, or make changes to their work and study habits in order to meet more lofty goals.

Sophomores and juniors are also getting their PSAT scores and activating their College Board accounts, and are equally empowered to find colleges that provide a good academic fit. Please encourage all students to be proactive and schedule appointments with their school counselor so we can help them narrow or build that list of "fit" schools to about ten, to which they'll end up applying to about five.

Another interesting development in the PSAT Quickstart module is that this year, the College Board has added a pink square with a link to the students' AP Potential recommendations. This offers an excellent chance for students to take one or two courses with more rigor, to better prepare students for the challenges of college. Please consult with teachers and school counselors to find course selections for next year that make the most overall sense for each individual.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Is my score good?

We are over half-way done distributing and explaining the PSAT and ReadiStep scores to students. Today, several students asked me individually, "is my score good?" The most truthful answer I can give is that as long as you tried your best, it's your score.

We have many students who are conditioned to believe that you "have to" get into a "good" college, and lose sight of the fact that there are thousands of post-secondary institutions, many of which will be "good" for each individual student. The students' PSAT score reports show how they did at taking this test. It isn't an indication of their value or worth as a human being, or even just an assessment of the quality of student that they are. While it is true that PSAT, SAT, and ACT scores have some predictive validity related to students' success in college, it is only part of the picture. Success in high school courses plays a much larger role in college admissions, and success in academically rigorous courses is even more important.

Regardless, it is extremely important for all of us to remember that even if your grades and test scores are not  in the range of a particularly coveted college, there are still options. Perhaps there is something about this college that the student admires which can be attained at any of dozens of similar colleges in (or outside) our region. It just takes some time to schedule an appointment with your school counselor to discuss best-fit colleges, beyond just the "best" colleges that we hear about so often in the media.

Further, if a student is really so determined to attend this dream school (think "Rudy"), remember that what matters in life is how you finish, not necessarily how you start, and that the journey is more valuable than the destination. Students can start at one four-year or two-year college and then potentially transfer to a different college. Many who plan to transfer end up staying where they are because they eventually learn that being where they are is actually in their best interests!

It's not about a "good school," it's about a "good fit" school.

Monday, December 17, 2012

College Pathways

We took 18 sophomores to CCBC today to participate in the College Pathways Program, one of the many partnerships between CCBC and BCPS.

During this program, sophomores

  • discuss the expectations of college admissions, including the average GPA and SAT/ACT scores that students have to be admitted to colleges that are popular in this region
  • identify resources that help students find academic success in high school and in college
  • tour the campus
  • visit specific classrooms (today, we toured the allied health and nursing practical labs - including a mannequin that told us that it felt sick - as well as the automotive shop, where we saw vehicles from next year's GM model line for students to practice)
  • take a short Holland code career interest inventory and learn the value of finding a good career fit
  • stop in and see the large gymnasium that's on campus (with reminders of the March 5 college fair)
  • have lunch provided in the dining hall
This program is incredibly valuable, as it shows students what college actually "looks like," instead of being some abstract concept that the adults in their lives keep talking about, or however "college" is portrayed in popular culture. In addition, students get to see the many opportunities that CCBC offers as a means of getting their college education started with the ability to transfer to four-year colleges to complete their bachelor's degrees.

As a bonus, today's program resulted in our scheduling a Parallel Enrollment Program information session for February 7, from 6:30 to 7, immediately following the #PHSfit college fair.
The students returned in time for 7th period, and promised to check with their teachers to get caught up on what they missed in their classes!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Get Me To College

Thanks to following @getmetocollege, we are introduced to two great college-planning sites:
They help students and other interested parties consider issues that they may have overlooked. The essay writing is especially important, since it seems that many of our students are reluctant to take risks in their essay writing. Remember, your personal statement needs to convey a deeper sense of who you are, what you've been through, and how you are becoming an adult. If you've made mistakes (especially the ones that are obvious from your transcript) this is your chance to explain those mistakes and, more importantly, what you've learned from them. We grow much more from our failures, not just from our successes.

Friday, December 14, 2012

First Post

Welcome to the blog for Pikesville High School's School Counseling department!

In the pursuit to find the best way to convey the latest information, we are trying this venue. By signing up for email notifications, you can find out anytime the blog has been updated, which we plan to do on a regular basis as scholarships and summer programs are publicized.

This blog is also a way to provide a more in-depth discussion about current or upcoming issues that are pertinent to our students and their families.

So... what's current?
  • We held a financial aid information night presented by Benee Edwards from MHEC, and posted (thanks to Jake F.'s mom) the video on our Library/Media Center's youtube page
  • PSAT and ReadiStep score reports are in the building, and are in the process of being distributed to English classes in the computer lab, when we will assist all of the students in creating accounts at Such an account is necessary to register for the SAT Reasoning and SAT Subject tests, so it is important to start that now. Not only will students use the site to register for the tests, but their ReadiStep and PSAT score reports grant them access to MyRoad, to explore colleges, careers, and majors. 
  • Half of our sophomores and half of our juniors took a Field Trial version of the SAT in September. The College Board tells us that they will ship the score reports to us by December 20, so they will likely be distributed to students in early January.
  • Also in January, we will start the process of course advising for the 2013-14 school year. Look for links to our first Virtual AP fair!
  • February 4-8 is National School Counseling week. One of our events that week will be the #PHSfit College Fair, attended by between 25 and 75 regional colleges. The fair will be held from 5pm to 6:30pm, with a college information session presented by Craig Meister from 6pm to 7pm. Dinner will be available as a fundraiser by our AVID students.
  • March 4 and 5 will bring the CCBC/BCPS college fair, attended by more colleges (more opportunity) and more people (less intimacy) than our school's college fair. We recommend that you attend both to get the most exposure to possible appropriate college matches.