Designing Your Year for 9th and 10th Graders

Today, our team facilitated a new workshop we called Designing Your Year, for students entering the 9th and 10th grades. The workshop used design thinking principles to empower students in 9th and 10th grades to create their own plan for the coming school year, with clear goals and action steps.

We had the chance to attend an amazing training on Designing Your Life at SXSW EDU last spring. From this experience, we began to connect with educators around the country who were using this method with high school students.

We’ve developed a model from our work with high schoolers which proved to be a useful guide for our discussions:

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This first Designing Your Year workshop proved to a huge success, with more than 60 students and parents engaged for more than 2 hours on a rainy Saturday morning.

Here are a few of the tools that our students used:

Interest & Involvement Reflection

High School Year Experiment Canvas

In addition, here is the discussion guide for our workshop with parents.

We are excited for the next workshop with students and parents.

One note: We are currently working with many 9th and 10th graders, coaching them through the college process. If you’d like to explore to know more about working with us, please feel free to reach out.

Additional resources that might be of interest:


What Do Admissions Officers Look For In STEM Applicants?

Undergraduate enrollment numbers have plateaued, but the number of students enrolling in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors has continued to grow rapidly. That means that admission for STEM students at the nation's top institutions is becoming increasingly competitive,

So what exactly can make a student stand out among the thousands of other strong applicants to STEM programs?

Challenging Course Loads

Students interested in STEM majors should take the most rigorous courses that fit their schedule in high school—and do well in them. This is especially important for math and science courses, but showing a well-rounded course load is a plus.

Specifically, aspiring STEM students should take math courses all the way through Calculus, and they should have Biology, Chemistry, and Physics on their transcript. What's more, having honors, AP, IB, or upper-level versions of these courses can be a key factor in helping admission officers feel that a student can handle the rigor at their institution.

Involvement In STEM Activities

It's not enough to have a solid course load, great grades, and high test scores in STEM subjects. A student who wants to major in a STEM subject needs to show their interest outside of academics. Extracurricular activities are a great way for students to highlight their passion for STEM. That means taking initiative at their school and in their community to learn about the different STEM fields available. Here are a few examples:

  • A student could join the robotics team. If there's no robotics team at their school, they can advocate to start one.

  • A student could take courses at a local college or online in computer science, biological engineering, theoretical physics, or video game design.

  • A student could get involved with the Math and Science Olympiads.

  • A student could reach out to local college professors or STEM companies to find a research opportunity or internship.

Ability To Communicate Interest In The Major

It's one thing for a student to say they want to major in Electrical Engineering, but they need to be able to communicate that they understand what it actually means to study electrical engineering. To get that deep understanding, students can talk with adults in the field, ask about the major on college visits, or seek a teacher as a mentor. The more they learn about the major, the better they'll be able to communicate their interest on their application in a convincing way.

The field of STEM is broad: a student needs to do some research to know if they prefer theoretical physics or applied, or the difference between biological and biomedical sciences. Those nuances can go a long way in helping an admissions officer feel confident that a student is a good fit for the program to which they are applying.

6 Financial Aid Terms Every Parent Should Understand

Heading off to college is exciting (maybe a little more for the student than the parents).  On the other hand, wondering how you’re going to pay for the next four or so years of your life can be pretty daunting. Here are 6 terms that can help parents navigate the confusion of financial aid:

  1. Expected family contribution: This is a term used in the college financial aid process in the United States to determine an applicant’s eligibility for need-based federal student aid, and in many cases, state and college aid. The expected family contribution (or EFC) is an estimate of the parents’ and/or student’s ability to contribute to college expenses.
  2. Demonstrated need: This is the difference between your EFC and the cost of attendance. In other words, it’s what you need in order to attend college that you or your family can’t afford to pay.
  3. Net price: This is the price of college minus tuition discounts, scholarships, grants, etc. This is usually far less than the advertised price for private colleges.
  4. Need-aware admission: Need-aware is a term used to describe colleges who consider applicants’ ability to pay when accepting or denying their application to attend.
  5. Education Tax Benefits: These are tax-deductible benefits you can receive when families file taxes, based on what you paid for college. Some examples:  The Hope Scholarship tax credit, Lifetime Learning tax credit and the student loan interest deduction.
  6. Direct PLUS loan: Federal loans available to parents or to graduate/professional students. The interest rate is higher than other loans available to undergraduate students, and borrowing limits are much higher. They’re also frequently called Parent PLUS loans, and they’re the only federal student loans that require a credit check.

8 Insider Tips for Admissions at University of Texas @ Austin

Information from someone with inside knowledge can be the key to creating a stand-out college application. That's why, on September 5, we hosted an info session with Alexandra Taylor, Director of Out-of-State and Alumni Relations for the Office of Admissions at The University of Texas at Austin. She was able to provide insights that you can't get without being in the belly of the beast.

Alexandra was able to provide crucial information to everyone in attendance, and we were thrilled by the turnout. But for those who missed the event, we did want to share a few highlights—what we found to be the eight most important takeaways for anyone considering UT:

1. Make the application personal.

Every applicant to UT gets a holistic review; this includes automatic admits, who aren’t necessarily admitted to their top choice school/major. That means admissions officers are reading a ton of material and students need to be sure that their story is coming through. From essays and short answers to resume and recommendation letters, each part of the application should show UT admissions what makes the student who they are.

Alexandra even suggested choosing non-traditional recommenders who know a student beyond their grades—those with personal stories to tell. Students should be strategic in choosing their recommenders, looking at their application as a whole and trying to fill in any gaps with rec letters. For example, if a student's grades and test scores demonstrate that they are a math star, they don’t want someone writing a letter that says essentially the same thing. Instead, the recommender should highlight a different strength or passion.

2. Second-choice majors aren't considered.

Many students were wondering: “How will I be considered for my second-choice major?” The short answer: they won't. Alexandra was upfront about the fact that students will not be considered for their second-choice major, except in extremely rare cases.

3. ...but they can be leverage for honors programs.

If a student is interested in honors programs—particularly any that are outside the college/school of the student's first-choice major—the second-choice major will give the student access to honors program applications in that college/school.

For example, if a student's first-choice major is in the College of Engineering but they are also interested in Plan II, they would list a major from the College of Liberal Arts as a second choice. They would then have access to honors program applications for Engineering Honors and Plan II and Liberal Arts Honors.

4. Essays matter a lot.

Alexandra was careful to note that essays really do matter. The long essay, in particular, serves as an opportunity for reviewers to get to know applicants on a personal level—so students should consider telling a story that really illustrates who they are.

Students will have plenty of chances to indicate their fit for their first-choice major in other parts of the application, so they shouldn't force it into the long essay if it doesn’t make sense. Instead, they should use the essay to focus on the personal stuff.

5. The expanded resume is critical.

Submitting an expanded resume is critical, particularly for Engineering, Computer Science, Nursing, Communications, and Business applicants. For example, Engineering and Computer Science applicants must show an actual background in the field—beyond just coursework—and business students need to demonstrate significant leadership experience.

Alexandra reiterated that students in all fields should use the expanded resume to communicate their fit for their intended major. The key to making a resume work for UT is to show details beyond those in the rest of the application and to clearly demonstrate why an activity matters to the student and their story.

6. Send in every score.

Alexandra made it clear that UT will pick and choose which test scores to consider for the student's major/school and will toss out the others. So there's no reason to withhold scores.

7. Emphasize fit to major.

Fit to major remains an important piece of the UT admissions puzzle. They want to match students to majors they know they have interest in—and are likely to succeed in. Alexandra confirmed that trying to "game the system" and sneak into highly competitive programs like Business or Engineering by selecting a different major will likely backfire. UT is onto this strategy, and it often ends in a rejection letter.

8. Don't mess with deadlines.

For UT, all application materials (recommendations letters, test scores, resume, essays) must be received by—not postmarked by—the deadline. This means ordering test scores for any fall tests on the day of the exam; that way, UT gets them the same time as the student. If any piece of the application is missing on deadline day, the student's application will be deleted. Don’t be late!

College MatchPoint Guide to Applying To the University of Texas at Austin

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We are excited to share our guide for applying to the University of Texas at Austin. Our team has worked with a wide variety of students as they achieved their goal of becoming a Longhorn.

Our guide includes the following topics:

  • The UT Austin Holistic Admissions Review Process

  • Evaluating Your Choice Of First-Choice Major

  • Developing An Expanded Resume

  • Tackling The Short Answer Prompts

  • Making The Most of Letters of Recommendation

We have also developed a set of videos on specific components of the UT Austin application:

The Expanded Resume

Career/Major Short Answer Essay

Leadership Short Answer Essay

Academics Short Answer Essay

Letters of Recommendation