Utilize High School to Prepare for College

Utilize High School to Prepare for College

How to approach your high school classes so you’re prepared for college

Students and parents come to us all the time worrying that their high school courses aren’t adequately preparing them for college.  We find this concern in reality; a lot of high school courses don’t require the kind of research, reading, or writing that most college courses do.  Further, the pace and structure of college courses will catch most students by surprise. It’s also an unfortunate reality that lots of students who got by in high school really struggle their freshman year adjusting to a new workload and schedule.  While we recommend Academic Coaching as one method of ensuring you are prepared to succeed in college, we’ve also put together a list of tips that will help you build good studying habits now, so college feels like a piece of cake. 

1)Schedule your study time  

Treat studying like any other class or commitment. Choose a time and location for studying every day or every week and stick to it. Treat it with the same level of importance as you would any other extracurricular or class. You can even go one step further. Plan out what you hope to accomplish each study session, by breaking your time into blocks and scheduling different assignments.  For example, if you plan to do work from 5PM-7:30PM, schedule 5-5:45PM to review bio notes, schedule 5:45-6:30PM to complete reading for history class, and schedule 6:30-7:30PM to work on history paper.

2)Asking for help

If you talk to any successful college student, they’ll have experience going to a professor or TA’s office hours to ask for help.  Maybe they aren’t even confused by a class topic. They just want to walk through an upcoming paper or discuss the best way to study for the final.  Building a relationship and opening lines of communication with your instructors is so important in college. Hence, one should get used to it in high school. Not only do instructors appreciate when a student is conscientious and engaged in their coursework, but it can also come with added benefits when it comes time for grades.  Your high school teachers likely have after school hours or lunch time where they’d be happy to schedule a meeting. By learning to reach out and ask your high school teachers questions, you’ll be impressing them and preparing for college life. 

3) Develop good sleeping habits.

Be sure to aim for 8 hours of sleep every night.  Sleep is critical for letting your brain process information. It’s a good idea to develop good sleeping habits early so that you don’t find yourself exhausted in college. Lots of freshman in college find themselves up at 4 AM cramming to finish an assignment due the next day.  This will likely lead to a bad assignment. However, it could also lead to bad assignments for the rest of the week because you’re so tired. Following tip #1 and the tips in this blog on how to not procrastinate can help here.  

4) Learn to prioritize. 

In college, you might not always have time for everything. It’s important to know what is most important and what you have to get done first. By learning to prioritize in high school, you’ll set yourself up to succeed in college. Prioritizing also means finding a healthy work/life balance.  Sometimes it’s okay to push back studying time to attend a lecture on campus or a club meeting. You want to leave college feeling like you did more than just earn your grades. 

 5) Participate in class discussion 

This might be the most important tip. In smaller college classes, participation will likely account for a portion of your final grade (sometimes as much as 25%!). Many college courses, especially in humanities or social science majors, are discussion based.  For lots of students, this is one of the scariest parts of college. Especially if you’re a freshman in a class with juniors and seniors! Our best advice is to get comfortable participating in high school by regularly answering questions and joining discussions in your classes. Better yet, get used to answering questions even if you might be wrong.  Incorrectly answering questions can lead to major learning moments and the development of a growth mindset. Read this blog to learn more about how your mindset can lead to more academic success. 

While everyone else is struggling to get their assignments done, while getting sleep and having fun, you’ll be ace-ing freshman year if you follow these tips. 

Unawareness of Students – Cause of Stress

Unawareness of Students – Cause of Stress

As high school gets more serious and college admissions become more competitive, it’s not a surprise that there’s an increasing prevalence of mental illness, including depression and anxiety, as well as unawareness among high school students. In fact, new research has found that students in high performing schools have the same risk for serious mental illness as students growing up in poverty, foster care, or with an incarcerated parent. 

well known study found that students— regardless of their ability levels— are terrible at estimating their own capabilities. This lack of self-awareness, known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, undoubtedly leads to lots of undue stress. 

Top students slightly underestimate their knowledge and tend to overstudy. Meanwhile, less capable students wildly overestimate their knowledge and tend to understudy by quite a large margin.

Because “over studying” tends to produce good results, students don’t realize they are doing it. Highly capable students are losing countless hours of sleep, taking time from hobbies or other things that they enjoy, for no good reason.

On the contrary, less capable students tend to overestimate their abilities; they take tests and think they did well. Then, they get their score back and they’re surprised. They felt good when studying, so they don’t know what they did wrong. Even worse, they don’t know how to prepare for the next one.

On both sides of the spectrum, the results are the same. High performing students feel immense pressure and stress; low performing students have low self-esteem. Both can lead to unhappiness. 

How can we get students to better understand their abilities? How can we show students how to develop healthy study habits that will lead to long term success? Learning how to study is an important skills a student can develop, but it often gets glossed over in the classroom. 

For students on either side of the spectrum, academic coaching can be helpful in preparing students for college level classes. That said, we’ve also put together a short list of tips so students can maximize the effectiveness of their studying, while minimizing stress!


Space out your studying- starting to study a week before a test instead of the night before can really reduce the stress you feel. Not only that, but spacing out, or chunking, the material ensures information is stored into your long-term memory instead of your short term memory.


Ask your teacher to provide you with practice tests or practice problems. Take these like they are true assessments (phone away, no googling), but leave ample time to thoroughly review missed questions. 


Create checklists and calendars for your studying plans. Make sure they detail everything you must have memorized prior to the exam. Convert the material into flashcards, Quizlets, or Cornell-style notes! Read, re-read and re-write anything that needs to be memorized. Have a friend or parent quiz you (this is even better than Quizlet, because it can hold you accountable!).


Take time to reflect on your grades when you get them back. How long did you study? How did you feel about the material when you were preparing? Did you get the grade you expected? What do you think you could have done differently? Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher to sit down with you to discuss the best method to prepare and get her feedback on what you might be doing wrong.

Making Good Learning

Making Good Learning

The Best Lecture – The difference between sitting in a lecture and actively interacting with content is the difference between a momentary experience and sustained learning. An amazing lecture can be incredibly interesting. But how much of it can you explain the next day? I can name the best lecture I have heard. I was taking notes throughout, but I can never fully explain and pass on what I know from that lecture even when I try. Was that good learning?

The inherent passivity of a student during even the strongest lecture, is the reason that this style of learning will never come close to the rewards of more active (and actively challenging) teaching styles.

Active Tutor Teaching

In learning, as with many aspects of life, you get out what you put in. It is the job of a tutor to make sure you get a return on the investment of your time and effort. Forcing students to recall, generate and use what they have learnt enables real learning happens when

For example, when you are learning a new language, you can have conversations which force you to translate what the other person says. You can recall what you know of the language in order to respond. It is one of the best ways to practice and work towards becoming fluent. This is why immersion is one of the best ways to learn another language. Immersion requires some study, but while you are immersed, you may begin to get a sense for the sentence structure and some definitions without being explicitly told. They force you to retrieve that information from memory.

When they force you to build off of what you already know, pull what you have learned from your memory and generate some of that information yourself. This way you are hardwiring what you have learned. This method may be harder than passive learning and potentially more embarrassing when you stumble. However, now you do not just know the information, you also understand it. You own it.

The Great Student

When someone is a “natural” at a particular subject, it is when that person is able to generate more of what they are learning of the subject than the average person. What defines a great student is constantly striving to recall what they have learned whilst generating ideas and reach logical conclusions based on what they already know.

The Logic Behind the Learning

Research has also shown that retrieval practice and the “generative effect” as methods of encoding information tend to be more effective and associated with “a broad neural network.” By learning something and then pulling that knowledge from memory in order to use it, you will find that what you have learned is more firmly embedded. Like exercising a muscle, when you have the opportunity to use everything from language skills in conversations, to math skills in problem sets, to analytical skills in reading constitutes a process of learning that more deeply inscribes what you learn into your very neural network.

The past, present and future of learning

The past, present and future of learning

The Past of Learning

There was once a time when people were smarter and more skilled because they simply had to be. They had a multifaceted intelligence that they needed in order to remember everything they needed to survive. People had to recognize the languages of humans and animals. They had to be a part of a web of local languages. All this in order to exist in a complicated natural human ecosystem. This is the past of learning.

The Present of Learning

There still exists a version of this ecosystem in many places. That is where people have to know or are taught many languages in order to get through day to day life. Teachers will sigh over places like Finland and Singapore for their equation systems.

How is America so far behind in languages? This country does not actually have an official language, so why are we so confined to English? Why do most students leave the education system no more linguistically versatile than how they began? Why do we not have the advanced machinery of the Finnish and Singaporean education systems?

But this is where we find the sticking point. The fact that we treat education like a technology to make learning more efficient. This is an Industrial Revolution mindset; it’s kids we’re putting on the assembly line instead of machinery. Children are not machines! And the only thing they learn from a system like this is how to conform to society. They don’t learn any new skills or languages. Trying to upgrade a fundamentally superficial system with iPads and MacBooks is not suddenly going to give us the capacity of the Singaporean education system.

The Future of Learning

What we should be doing is pairing that technology with a system that works. A return to a time of multifaceted intelligence and an understanding of the human ecosystem. We should stop trying to experiment with the broken system and turn to the one that works. Tutoring is a return to a time when learning made more sense. Giving some of the resources that are sunk into the broken machinery of the public school system to tutors dedicated to leading you through learning is the best path forward.

Moving Up a Level in the Pandemic

Moving Up a Level in the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive disruptive impact on students in the U.S. As might be expected, many have fallen behind due to the unique difficulties of remote learning. Also due to the way that the pandemic has changed the circumstances of many outside of school itself. Due to people falling behind, many grade schools have had to grapple with the question of whether to advance their students to the next grade level or not.

In many ways, the idea of promoting students to the next grade level regardless of their technical readiness for the task seems just plain irresponsible.  However, on May 24 the City of Chicago’s Board of Education voted to do just that. As it is “the nation’s third-largest school district with some 340,000 students,” the board’s decisions made in regards to these students have a ripple effect not just on the decision making of contemporaries but also on the futures of all of the students currently enrolled in their system.

Thinking through the Consequences

This determination to push students forward a grade has been accompanied by several lowered bars for graduation requirements. It makes the school system seem more like an educational conveyor belt than a place of sincere learning. Teachers are concerned that they were unable to complete their jobs as educators and fully prepare their students for the future of their education.

Of course, holding students back would have also had destructive consequences. For example, the potential of ruining a student’s confidence can have major psychological repercussions. What with the fairly strong association in the public mind between repeating a grade and incompetence or stupidity. The struggles of rebuilding their confidence could end up being more difficult than making up for learning deficits in the long run.

The System Over the Student

At the end of the day, pushing students a grade ahead regardless of their preparedness is a recipe for disaster. After all, students were pushed ahead to the next grade. This was not out of a concern for their mental health. It was out of a concern for the assembly line of the education system. Sacrificing the potential of a generation of students is much more convenient for them than actually looking after their needs. Standardization and efficiency will always take priority over actual learning and efficacy.

What is the Ideal College Admissions Process?

What is the Ideal College Admissions Process?

The college admissions process is in a state of flux. Popularly held values have shifted. This has had people reconsidering whether the current admissions system is equitable or even effective. It has made them try to change things in the places in which it appears not to be. And ultimately, it is the public that defines what is profitable (and thus what is possible) in the free market. Thus, there is a real chance of change. A public who have the right mindset towards improvement are making many of these new judgements. However, they lack the practical experience and factual knowledge to make any such changes effective and sustainable. Speaking as a passionate tutor with years of experience with the college admissions process, I propose the following as the ideal college admissions process.

Standardized Testing

Criticism of these tests is not unwarranted. Some current standardized test questions are flawed, but standardized tests are neither the holy grail nor evil incarnate. They should not be made to carry too much of the weight of the admissions process. Rather, they should be part of a larger system to give evaluators an understanding of a student.

Evaluation Process

Part of this larger system should be an expansion of how we evaluate students. We should not just limit ourselves to paper exams. We must expand and invest in oral examinations to ensure a more holistic process. Oral evaluations would present an opportunity for a far different type of pressure testing than do written exams. Optimistically, expanded exams involving oral testing and effective skill-specific evaluation might incorporate some elements of the current AP system. In this, there is a different structure for tests. The evaluated skill determines it. Instead of being limited to students who took AP classes, though, it would be part of the standard process much like the SAT or ACT exams. If done well, this would allow colleges to evaluate a student’s ability to do something with their skills.

Students’ Skill Development

There should also be reliable data collected on students’ skill development over time. Looking at a student’s course manuscript at the end of high school rarely holds the value that it should when the quality of education varies so drastically from school to school. Another element of the current system that can supplement this is the eye towards extracurricular activities. They can say a lot about whether a student is intellectually interested and what they have done to pursue those interests.

If we found ourselves investing in a new system like this, then we might finally have an admissions process that really says something about what a student is capable of, allowing them to truly find their way to the best college for them.