Ask These 5 Questions To Find The Best Volunteer Opportunity for Your Teen

There are many places where a student can volunteer including schools, non-profit agencies, museums, and more. While volunteering is all about helping others, finding an opportunity that is interesting and exciting for your student can make service a win for all involved.

  1. What do you want to learn? The answer to this question can include specific skills like teaching or public relations or more general exposure like “learn more about animals”. Listing 2-3 items here is a great start.
  2. In what areas do you want to grow? This may include gaining exposure to issues and experiences that will broaden your child’s perspective or a skill he wants to develop such as “becoming more comfortable meeting new people.”
  3. What are you curious about? The focus here is the BIG questions your child has about how the world and society works such as “what can we do to keep rhinos from becoming extinct?”
  4. What kinds of experiences do you most enjoy? ave your teen think about whether she prefers working one-on-one or in groups, working outside or inside, working with thoughts and conversation or hands-on activities.
  5. What level of impact do you want to make? This is very related to question 4. Someone who most enjoys working one-on-one may want to have a more personal impact, while someone who prefers large groups may prefer something on a larger scale. This is often the area of the greatest mismatch between volunteers and organizations, so it is helpful to spend a bit of time thinking about and discussing this one.

Answer the questions above and write the answers down so you can refer to them during your search. Then, head to the internet and begin researching. Remember to be on the lookout for those that most align with your student’s goals and interests.

Start by checking out the following sites for comprehensive lists of service opportunities right here in Austin.


Volunteer Match

Community Impact

Eventbrite Austin Volunteer Events

Why Age (And Personality) Matters For Summer Planning

For many of today’s college-bound high school students, summer is no longer nine weeks of total relaxation, but rather an opportunity to spend time actively working, learning new skills, or diving deeper into an area (or areas) of interest. Summer is the perfect time to take calculated risks that push students into unfamiliar situations that build skills and enrich life experiences. How do you find that experience? Planning — and knowing what types of opportunities to explore at each grade level throughout high school—is key.

Depending on what grade your student is in, you might consider making a loose, multi-year plan for your summers. It’s absolutely possible for students to do more than one activity during the summer. If there are multiple activities a student would like to participate in, we encourage them to include those activities in their summer plan to see how a summer might flow. Map out possible activities for the next few summers, and see if you identify a common thread or interest to pursue.

  • Freshman and sophomores: Summer programs, camps (including CIT programs), and travel are great options for exploring interests. Paid programs on college campuses probably won’t have any impact on getting into college but can be helpful for students (especially those who are less engaged in the college process or are first in their family to go to college) to experience what it’s like to live on a college campus and determine what they want in a college.

  • Juniors and seniors: Consider something that is more self-driven, such as a job, internship, or academic research. Students gain valuable experience from researching, applying to, and interviewing for jobs or internships.

  • Parents: know your student and their schedule! Make a plan that ensures the student doesn’t become too busy or overwhelmed; students should never return to classes in the fall feeling burnt out and exhausted. Take into account your teen’s personality and needs before signing up for a program that would push him or her too far. For example, an introverted teen who needs some downtime every day may not thrive in a month-long group program where she doesn’t get any alone time.

Creating a Well-Rounded College List

The first—and possibly most important—step in the application process is deciding which schools to apply to. There are thousands of factors to consider when choosing which colleges to put on a final college application list, and hundreds of schools that might fit the bill, so we urge parents and students alike to keep an open mind and not to be swayed by name recognition alone! 

What Defines A College Match

College match refers to the how a school matches a student's academic, social, geographic and financial criteria. Rather than starting with a wishlist, it is most effective when students consider their individual personalities, skills and talents as they develop that criteria. While a student's test scores and grade point averages may be identical to their friend, their criteria likely differs a great deal.

Students are not the only ones looking for a good match. While the academic match continues to be a core criteria for the college, admissions committees are increasingly taking a holistic approach.  This means admissions officers place emphasis on the applicant as a whole person, not just his or her academic achievements, so soft factors may be given just as much consideration as the empirical data present in hard factors. Colleges want to ensure that their entering first-year class consists of well-rounded students whose personalities, skills and talents match the culture of their institution.

5 Criteria to Consider In Building Your List

  1. Major & Academic Interest: One of the best parts of college is deciding what you want to study or what your major will be. Some students know from a very young age what they want to study, while others are still relatively undecided, and that’s okay too. If you do already know what you want to study, make sure the colleges on your list offer that major, and research that specific program at the schools you’ll apply to.
  2. Location: Where in the country (or world) do you want to be? Do you want to live close to home or far away? This is an important criterion to consider as you create your list. For example, if college is far away (i.e. a plane ride), how often can you afford to come home? You should also think about what kind of environment you prefer. Do you want to be in the hustle and bustle of an urban setting, or do you prefer a rural area?
  3. Size: Do you want to be a large fish in a small pond? There are advantages to both a large and a small campus. At a small college you may know nearly all of the students in your graduating class or rest assured that your professors will know you well.
  4. Off-Campus Community: Given the varying personalities of students, it can also be important to consider off-campus life. The college experience doesn’t end at the edge of campus. For example, if you’re an aspiring artist or music producer, it makes sense to enroll at an institution located in areas that are rich with the arts. If you’re interested in politics, perhaps a school in Washington, D.C. would be a good option. Location creates greater opportunities for students to find internships or part-time employment that are aligned with their academic major or simply provides a more well-rounded college experience.
  5. Cost & Affordability: Given the high cost of a college education, families should consider the differences between the sticker price and the actual net price of any school. The sticker price is the advertised cost of attendance, where the net price is the final cost after scholarships, grants, and other financial aid sources have been deducted. Compare all financial aid packages to make sure you’re making an informed decision that fits in with your family’s finances.

These are not the only criteria to consider, of course, but this guide offers a starting point to help you begin the process of elimination as you build your college list. Take the time to identify other criteria that are important to you to help you find schools where you can thive.

Top 7 Summer Planning Myths For Parents And Teens

As you sit down with your teen to plan summer opportunities, it’s important to keep in mind that some advice you hear floating around is not necessarily true. Here are 7 myths to consider as you’re researching and discussing different options.

  1. School is so stressful that my child just needs to relax this summer. Don’t be afraid to make your teen do something; doing nothing should not be an option.
  2. My student is a great math student so she needs an engineering program. Students may not know what they’re interested in yet; find broad opportunities to let them discover their interests.
  3. Attending an Ivy League summer program will help my child get in to that school. Unless your child is genuinely interested in the program, this type of “gaming the system” to gain a leg up for college admissions is not recommended.   
  4. My teen should do more than just be a cashier or waiter. Summer jobs can have powerful impacts on students by teaching responsibility and enhancing communication skills.
  5. Volunteer work isn’t “enough.” Don’t underestimate the power of good volunteer work to impact both your student and your local community.
  6. Getting over 100 service hours over the summer is critical. It’s not the amount of community service hours that matters - showing impact is more important.
  7. My teen should stick with what he’s already good at. Encouraging students to try new things is a good way for them to learn more about themselves and increase confidence.

Summer planning should be a time of exploring the many different opportunities that exist for teens to dive deeply into a passion, learn new skills, meet new people, make a difference, and gain maturity - all while finding out more about themselves. Remember, engaging summer experiences make for great stories to tell. Hello, killer college essay!

Does My Student Need To Take SAT Subject Tests?

One of the most common questions we get during the spring testing season is whether or not students should take any SAT subject tests. While nobody wants to add another test to their already packed junior year, the answer depends on the student and where he or she is applying.
If your student is applying to the most selective schools (think Ivy League, MIT, Duke, Georgetown, and other top-ranked colleges), SAT subject tests will be either required or recommended (which really means required). Rarely are these scores a final decision maker, but rather they are an additive measure of a student’s academic potential.
If your student is homeschooled, SAT subject tests can help validate homeschool transcripts and many colleges require these subject tests when applicants are homeschooled. 

The other category of students who may want to take SAT subject tests are those applying to highly selective programs at large state universities, such as Berkley Engineering.
Lastly, students applying to schools that offer a test flex plan (such as Colorado College, Hamilton, and NYU) that allows for multiple SAT subject tests to be submitted in lieu of SAT or ACT scores may also want to take SAT subject tests if they are choosing not to take the SAT or ACT.
The good news is that most students applying to college can breathe a sigh of relief – they don’t need to take any SAT subject tests!
What SAT Subject Tests Should My Student Take?
Checking a school’s admission policies is the only way to know for sure what tests that school requires or recommends. But typically students take a math or science test and an English or history test. Those applying to the most selective schools should take Math 2 as it will be expected by schools requiring SAT subject tests. Engineering applicants are usually required to take Math 2 and a science such as physics or chemistry. If you’re particularly strong in another subject, such as a language, taking that test may be a good idea as well if a third test is recommended by the school.
Once you’ve determined which tests you’re going to take, map out your testing plan so you space out your tests and avoid being overwhelmed. Not that anyone would want to, but you can’t take the SAT and a subject test on the same day.
What’s The Difference Between AP Tests And SAT Subject Tests?
AP Tests and SAT Subject Tests are two very different things. First of all, college admissions is not the primary purpose of AP tests. They are taken after completing an AP class to determine mastery of that curriculum and can lead to college credit. Students self-report their AP scores.
SAT Subject Tests are submitted through the College Board and measure high school-level general knowledge of a given topic. They are used in both college admissions and sometimes lead to college credit depending on the college and the score.