Higher Education Planning

"This is outstanding, I'm glad we connected with you. Now my baby has several written career paths to choose from. I think you are going to be a positive influence in her life, it is good to have a shared focus base for her to be able to pull from."
- Z. Bailey, father of a high school student

How early should I start applying for college? Service and scholarships
Houston volunteer opportunities Should I join every club and organization?
People laugh at my choice of major How to write a letter of recommendation
My dream school does not have my major How many activities look good on an application?
20 Questions to ask before you choose a college Be efficient: Remember user names & passwords
I returned to college when I was 34  

Question: How early should I start applying for college?

Answer: Applying to college is like a professional boxing match. The boxing champion knows the opponent before entering the ring. Training means strenuous physical conditioning. Training means priorities and sacrifices. Preparation wins the fight; a knockout confirms the victory. College acceptance and financial aid award letters reflect your entire high school career. Your training regimen:

  1. Your passion. Think about your dream career or your favorite hobby.
  2. Choose prospective colleges that are right for you.
  3. Rigorous courses that explore your passion. (And make the best grades that you can.) Do you want to be an engineer? Plan to take Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus.
  4. Consistent extracurricular activities. Everyone tells you to be well rounded. So, your instinct leads you to join National Honor Society, Student Council, ROTC, FFA, and UN Club. Slow down. Remember your passion. If you love painting, enter every art contest. Join the Drama Club to design sets for theatrical productions.
  5. Community service and work experience are more than blanks on the college application form. They reveal your commitment to others and to your future. Is your passion to become President of the United States in 2040? Coordinate a group of peers to volunteer for a local political campaign.
  6. SAT and ACT. Boxers must meet weight requirements; you must have the right scores. Practice and study to tip the admissions scale in your favor.

Service and scholarships

Eavesdrop on an actual conversation that I hope to never have again:

High school senior: Ms. Jennifer, I really need scholarships to pay for college. Where do I start?
Jennifer:  Well, let's talk about your community service activities. Do you volunteer?
High school senior: No.
Jennifer:  Would you like to do community service? It can improve your chances of winning free money for college.
High school senior: Maybe...
Mother of the high school senior:  I didn't know he needed to do community service!
Students who spend 4 years volunteering have a competitive edge over their peers who spend only a few months volunteering.  Before your freshman becomes overwhelmed with the newness of high school, encourage him or her to commit to community service. Here are 5 benefits of volunteering (working without getting paid):
1. Volunteering demonstrates commitment: Stick to one or two organizations and lead special projects and events.
2. Networking opportunities: People notice a young volunteer's commitment and want to help with the youth's future. Think scholarships, letters of recommendation, and employment that aren't available to students who dedicate their summers to the 3 S's (sleeping in, surfing the internet, and sending text messages).
3. Hands-on experience: Gain a realistic look at a potential career. Hospitals, zoos, and court rooms want free labor from future doctors, veterinarians, and judges.
4. Help others: Develop your special gift to enhance the quality of life for the less fortunate.
5. Develop a habit of giving: I practice what I preach. In college, I donated my time at least once a week to non-profits. Although I'm finished with school, I volunteer to speak at charitable events.

Q: Ms. Jennifer, where can I find volunteer opportunities in my Houston neighborhood?
1. Volunteer Houston: http://volunteerhouston.org/
2. YMCA: http://ymcahouston.org/
3. Houston Zoo: http://www.houstonzoo.org/
4. Houston Children's Museum: http://www.cmhouston.org/
5. Houston Public Library: http://www.hpl.lib.tx.us/
6. Harris County Public Library: http://www.hcpl.lib.tx.us/
7. Your church or place of worship
8: Methodist Hospital: http://www.methodisthealth.com/tmhs/home.do
9. Houston Food Bank: http://www.houstonfoodbank.org/
10. City of Houston: http://www.houstontx.gov/

Q: Ms. Jennifer, my daughter is a junior at Channelview High School. I'm so proud of her; she is determined to get scholarships to attend Louisiana State University. Extracurricular activities and community service count for a lot on the applications. My daughter sees many of her classmates join every club and organization. Should she be doing the same? — Lamar B.

No. Name of activity, years of participation, your most outstanding role or contribution—these describe the high school involvement of a future Tiger. (See www.lsu.edu).

3 tips for maximizing extracurricular activities:
1) Join clubs for your enrichment, not to impress others.
2) Your outstanding roles and contributions must be:  leading, serving, and competing on behalf of your organization.
3) Develop a relationship (professional) with the club sponsor; this person will write a glowing letter of recommendation about you.

Q:  I'm a senior in high school and want to major in Physics or Engineering in college. People around me think I'm joking when I tell them my future major because I struggle in math and science. I've never taken an Advanced Placement, Honors, or upper-level class in these subjects. Right now, I'm not sure what college to attend. Any suggestions?— Scientist with no school

A: Choose a school where the professors' main priority is teaching. Because you are not strong in your most important subjects, you will thrive in a supportive environment.

Texas A & M, the University of Texas, and the University of Oklahoma offer engineering programs that would look great on your job applications to DuPont, Exxon, Halliburton, and NASA. Such schools are research universities, and their professors focus on publishing their discoveries; you will be teaching yourself. What does prestige matter if you can't pass Physics II?

Choose 5 teaching universities with Physics and Engineering programs. Of those schools, here is how to spot the best one for you:

  • Visit.
  • Go to a freshman-level science or math class.
  • Find out about academic support services such as free tutoring, test-taking and study skills workshops.
  • Go to the career center.
  • Talk to current and former students about their experiences with the school.

Q: Jennifer, I am a librarian writing a letter of recommendation for one of the library volunteers. She has been accepted to UT, Baylor, and Texas A & M, and she needs this letter for a scholarship application. She is always on time. During her two years of service, she has shelved books and proved to be a self-starter. In addition to these great attributes, what should go in the letter about this promising young lady? — D. Librarian


A: Request a resume or a brag sheet from the volunteer that details the following:

  • Outstanding things that she has done for the library
  • Volunteer activities
  • Employment

Including these specific experiences in the letter will demonstrate your volunteer's level of commitment, motivation, and potential.

If you would like a copy of a brag sheet to use as an example, email jdledwith@scholaready.com.

Q: I'm a high school senior, and I want to go to the University of Oklahoma. I've had my heart set on becoming a Sooner for a long time. I plan on studying Agriculture so that I can become a game warden. I've heard that OU doesn't have an Agriculture program, but I really want to attend the school. What do you suggest? — Joaquin
Joaquin, OU is not the school for you. (Disclaimer: I graduated from OU.) I visited http://webapps.ou.edu/academics/default.cfm  to search for Agriculture, and the result was: "There are no Academic Interests in your Search."
Choose a school that offers a major or a variety of majors that interest you. Don't suffer through a major in order to attend a certain school.
College is already tough. Your educational expenses will rise every year. Your first dorm room could be as small as a closet. As a college student, your most lucrative job may require selling your plasma. Yuck! You must be committed to your studies in spite of these inconveniences. You must believe that each hour in the library or the lecture hall will bring you closer to your dream of becoming a game warden.

Q: Jennifer, as you know, my son, your student, is getting ready to apply for college and scholarships. At the football game last night, some of the kids in the stands were talking about the application process. It is so different from when I was in school. Some of the young ladies at the game were talking about all of the school and community activities that would make an application look good.

My son has spent 4 years on the football team. He has also volunteered and participated in drill team at our church every week since his freshman year. Does he have enough activities to put on his applications?

-V. W.

College admissions and scholarship committees prize dedicated students. How can a student serve as an effective leader if he or she belongs to every organization from the Anchor Club to the Youth Choir?
Use the Texas Common Application (www.applytexas.org) as a guide for extracurricular and community involvement. In the upcoming months, any high school senior applying to a public university in Texas will face page 7 of the application.
Students who have drifted from one after-school activity to another are in for a rude awakening. Leadership positions held, actual duties experienced, and total time (hours, weeks, years) devoted — each of these must be disclosed in the activity section. Students should focus on developing learning experiences, earning awards, and serving as leaders in a few organizations. Avoid the shotgun approach of belonging to every cause.
V.W., your son's focused level of involvement demonstrates that he can join an organization and persevere through four years. Hmmm...what else requires at least four years of perseverance?

20 questions to ask before you choose a college:

1. Is the school located in a large city, suburb, or a rural area?
2. Throughout the school year, what is the weather like?
3. How far is the school from home?
4. Where is the closest airport, train station, and bus station?
5. How large or small is the university?

6. Is the school a research university or a teaching university?

7. How much are tuition, fees, dorm/apartment leases, and meal plans?
8. What are the financial aid options?

9. How much financial aid will the school offer you?

10. Does the school offer on-campus employment?
11. What is the social scene?
12. Does the college have any Greek fraternities and sororities?
13. How diverse is the student body?
14. What is the male to female ratio?
15. Do they offer online classes?
16. Can you walk to class, or do you need a car?
17. How much does the parking permit cost?
18. What 3 majors at the school interest you?
19. What are 3 on-campus eating places?
20. What are 3 programs that the school offers to further your career and educational goals?

Pookie's Password

Save all of your user IDs and passwords for every website related to getting into college, paying for college, and staying in college. Trust me, when you emerge from the lulling security of procrastination and try to register for the SAT on the January 20th  deadline, those passwords will be a distant memory.

Here are a few storage tips:

1.  I like to store security information on my computer and back-up disk.
2.  Are you a student on the go? Put a lock code on your cell phone and enter your passwords into the mobile device. Your access codes to applytexas.org and fafsa.ed.gov will be as easy to find as today's text messages.

3.  If you prefer pencil and paper, keep two sets of password notebooks. Keep one copy in your bedroom and the other copy with a trusted adult.

4.  Email your user name and password to yourself. Keep these messages in a folder labeled "College Admissions" and you'll find them in any time crunch.

5.  Don't share your passwords with anyone. This way, your college choices are your choices. Plus, no one will suspect that typing "Pookie93" grants access to your future.

Stimulate your own economy
What is your economic stimulus plan? Examine your professional goals. Perhaps you resolve every year to enhance your education — earn a GED, complete an Associate Degree, pursue a Bachelor Degree, or seek a vocational license— to climb the career ladder and earn a higher income.
I spoke with Annie Harris, who is a certified teacher, reading specialist, and entrepreneur, about her return to college at age 34. While raising five children (including an infant), Annie studied at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. She realized her dream of graduating before she hit the Big 4-0.
Annie, you had five children and a husband when you were in your mid-30's. Why did you go back to school despite your responsibilities?
I had a desire to do something for myself. Before I started college, I worked as a nurse's aide, making about $9,000 a year. That wasn't a lot of money in the 70's. As a consequence, I started thinking "profession" instead of "job." In Beaumont, career opportunities and decent salaries were scarce for Black people without degrees.
Many non-traditional students face a double financial burden: paying thousands of dollars for classes and forgoing paid workdays for study sessions. How did you survive?
I didn't work full-time, but my husband did. Grants and student loans? I didn't qualify. Part-time employment at Lamar University's library allowed me the flexibility I needed to study and spend time with my children.
Since you finished from Lamar in 1994, what have you been doing?
In 1998, I earned a Master of Education Degree from Prairie View A & M University. Currently, I teach at a public school. Soaring In Learning Tutorial Service, the company I operate, offers private tutoring to elementary and middle school students.

Were the sacrifices you made for your education and career worth it?

Yes. When you desire education, you don't think about your current needs, you focus on the end results.
Annie Harris can be reached at (713) 330-7520 and marieannie@sbcglobal.net for additional information about Soaring In Learning Tutorial Service.

Last modified: Thursday, 2 November 2017, 1:37 PM