Three Tips for Improving Your SAT Score

Studying for SATOne of the hardest things that students have to go through in high school is the SAT. This one standardized test can make or break your college dreams and unfortunately, the standards for many schools today have risen so much that it’s nearly impossible to achieve the scores they’re looking for.

The options for preparing for the SAT are minimal. Some choose to spend thousands of dollars on private tutors and extravagant lessons while some decide that the best way to prepare is to just purchase many study books and go through each and every one of them.

Throughout my studying as well as my friends’, I have seen certain strategies and behaviors that have helped achieve a higher score far more than the classic studying techniques. Here are my tips for improving your SAT score:

1. The first tip, and perhaps the most important one, is to study one section at a time. The SAT is divided into three sections: Math, critical reading and writing. I originally started studying for my SAT by just taking whole practice tests over and over again until I realized that my score never went up by more than 100 points. Many tutors will tell you that it’s good practice to repeatedly take the SAT because it will help you get used to the long time period but in fact this method will only trick you into thinking that you’ve studied.

First, take one diagnostic test; see what your strengths and weaknesses are. After you have discovered what section you need most improvement on, begin to practice it. By working on only one section at a time, you are allowing your mind to absorb the techniques instead of just quickly brushing them off and jumping to the next section.

My critical reading score was the lowest out of the three so I decided to focus on that one first. I would take about three to four section tests a day and I began to see that my critical reading score went up tremendously. The same went for my writing and math scores. By dividing them, I got the chance to focus my attention on what I really needed to improve rather than just glide through the test only partly understanding.

2. Learn vocabulary. I cannot stress this enough: vocabulary will be useful way more than you think when you are taking the SAT. Don’t limit yourself to the set of words that your tutor or your textbook gave you. I have collected words from English classes, movies, TV shows, books and just by going outside. Dedicate at least ten minutes a day to just studying vocabulary words because they will be like free points during the test. But not only will your multiple choice score increase, so will your essay. Collect a solid list of about 20 big words that you can use in many different ways and so when you are writing your essay on any topic, you will be able to just incorporate those words with ease.

3. The final tip is to read every critical reading passage as if it’s the most important thing that you will ever read. I know that many of the passages will be almost torturous to sit through, most of us are not amused by the elaborate stories and descriptions of little girls seeing grasshoppers for the first time and the SAT writers know that. The point of the long and often boring passages is to check the test taker’s endurance. Fight the urge to fall asleep and focus as hard as you can on the passage. A helpful trick to get used to the long passages is to read old news articles online (my personal favorites are science and technology articles).

There is hope for all of us to achieve that high score on the SAT and with the right practice, we can all do it. Don’t limit yourself to one method of studying and be ready to spend hours preparing because the unfortunate truth is that no matter what method you will end up choosing, it will take a long time to truly see its effects.

This is a guest post by Noa Livneh, a high school junior in the San Francisco Bay Area.

What to Bring to College

Moving to collegeAs the summer winds down, students of all ages are beginning to get to work on their back-to-school shopping lists. But if you’re an incoming college freshman, your tentative list probably contains a dozen of expensive gadgets that you’d like to think are necessary.

As you expectantly await a new, exciting chapter in your life, you might look for ways to make the days go by faster. One of the most popular ways to pass the time until your highly anticipated new life is via consumerism. And though there are many things you will need to survive college, there are even more things that are probably just a waste of time, money and valuable packing space.

Personally, I bought a lot more than I used my first year of college (everything looks really useful in the ads!). Here are the five essential school supplies that got me through school and dorm life during my freshman year.

1. A laptop. In this day in age, a computer is practically a necessity, and it does everything. I used my laptop to read, write, research, take notes, plan and document my freshman year (thank you Facebook). By my senior year, I even downloaded a few of my textbooks as eBooks, which were both cheaper and lighter than their paper counterparts.

2. Kitchen utensils & a plate / bowl. You’ll mostly be eating in the dining halls (which as you can imagine, provide you with the necessary dining accouterments), but you might want to eat the occasional bowl of cereal or slice an apple, which will be a heck of a lot easier with eating utensils.

3. Storage. In an overcrowded dorm room, you’ll want to make the most of the little space you have. Closet shelves, under the bed containers, and shoe racks will help you fit all of your stuff into your shoebox of a room.

4. Bathrobe. In a classic college dorm, you will have very little privacy. Besides having to squeeze into a small space with two or three other people, you may very well have to trek down a long hallway filled with people every time you take a shower. It’ll be very useful to have a reliable way to cover up.

5. Personalized room decorations. Now this may not sound necessary at all, but being able to customize your room to look more fun will make your living space a lot more livable. Whether it’s pictures, posters, curtains, comforters or all of the above, you’ll enjoy this extra effort.

Learning in College

College LearningAlthough you wouldn’t guess it from the media, college is about learning. Learning in the classroom, learning outside and learning internally. And while it’s true that all of life is really a learning experience, a college campus is essentially a giant petri dish containing rapidly multiplying academic and life lessons.  From math to literature to how to feed yourself, you’ll find that there’s a lot to learn in college.

As with any experience, it’s easy to engage in the all-around academic environment, but easier to squander this once in a lifetime opportunity.  Here are five ways you can make the most of your time on campus.

1.    Go to office hours. When you live and study on campus, you’re surrounded by an excess of knowledgeable people. To get the most out of your classes, pick your professors’ brains in office hours. The smaller groups will help you focus better and you’ll have the chance to ask any and all of your burgeoning questions (about both school and life). It may require a little extra time, but you’ll make new friends, get to know your teacher and probably even improve your grade.

2.    Go to on-campus lectures and events. There is always something happening on a college campus.  Speakers from all over the world come to speak on every topic you could ever imagine, and large-scale events are always happening.  Take advantage of your years as part of the campus community by listening to on-campus speakers and participating in campus events, because educating yourself will never again be so accessible.

3.    Learn to cook. Don’t just heat up frozen meals and order take-out. College is likely your first experience living alone, and though it may be hard not to have your parents serve you dinner every night, this is the perfect sink-or-swim moment for some self-teaching.  Take some time to cook or bake something from scratch—not only will you be able to feed yourself whole and healthy dishes, but you’ll also be able to put together something impressive for all future potluck dinners.

4.    Take a class for fun. Sure, you need to take classes to fulfill your major requirements, but most likely, you’ll have time to take something off the course list. It’s important to enjoy school, and it’s even more important that you feel like you have control over your education. Rather than letting your final degree dictate your coursework, take a class for the sole purpose of your personal enjoyment.

5.    Get out of your comfort zone. There is a vast array of opportunities on campus, and many of these are activities that you’ve never even considered. As a student, most of these opportunities come at little to no cost. You can go on a hike with the rec center, join a running club, play Quiddich and much, much more. By trying new things, you’ll open yourself up to finding new hobbies and passions that you can enjoy for the rest of your life.

6 Tips for a Great Summer Break

college summer breakSchool’s been out for two months and you’re having a blast. And although you’re having fun, you’re not really sure if you’re making the most of your free time. But even if you’re not doing an internship or taking a summer course, that’s no excuse to let your brain rot. Lucky for you, there are all kinds of cheap activities you can do on your own time that make use of your mind, body and spirit. Here are six ways that you can expand your intellect this summer vacation:

1. Read a book. Books can transport you around the world without having to leave your bedroom. While TV is all good and well, it’s an entirely passive experience. By opting for this old fashioned entertainment, your imagination gets a chance to do the heavy lifting for a change.

2. Do something creative. Whether you’re interested in art, music or writing, set aside some time to explore your artistic aspirations. Create art, learn a new instrument or start a blog. Not only will it keep you busy, but you’ll also have something to show for your time investment.

3. Be active. Sports are fun, social and most obviously, healthy. It’s the ultimate way to kill three birds with one stone—you can meet new people or spend time with old friends while improving your health and getting some fresh air. Not to mention, research shows that physical activity is good for your brain.

4. Audit a class for fun (and not for credit). Learn more about a topic you find interesting, whatever that may be. Whether it’s psychology, environment, or pottery—take time to learn what gets you excited without the pressure of being graded.

5. Foster your appreciation for the great outdoors. Maybe you’d enjoy a month-long hiking trip, or maybe you’d rather spend a few afternoons gardening. Whatever relationship you have with nature, it’s important to experience the beauty of the world in which we live.

6. Seek out cultural experiences. Go to a concert, see a play, or visit a museum. These activities are not only fun, but they’ll also provide you with a unique opportunity to learn both about a new topic and yourself.

However you spend your free time this summer, make sure to relax, enjoy the warm weather and most importantly, learn about yourself. Every new activity you try brings you one step closer to understanding yourself and your personal likes and dislikes. Explore the frontiers of your intellect, your athleticism, your creativity and your passions to maximize your personal growth during your extended vacation.

6 Ways to Finance College

Financing CollegeThe problem many future college students face is how they are going to be able to afford their education. Today, colleges can range from costing almost nothing to almost seventy five grand a year. Many times it can be tricky to decide on a college because although it might have everything that you are looking for in terms of academics, social life, location, and size, it could result in a dead end because of its cost. Many of the schools that I have fallen in love with (such as NYU, BU, and Northeastern) are considered to be very expensive and I needed to figure out a way to be able to afford them. Here are six ways that can help you finance college:

1. College fund. This method of paying for college is obviously out of the student’s control – it’s up to the parents and sometimes the grandparents – but it’s the most effective. Setting up a college fund for a newborn might seem like an overkill yet as I’ve noticed throughout my school, kids who have a college fund are much less stressed about which college they are applying to and have a bigger selection to choose from. I strongly suggest that parents of young kids open an account (such as a 529 college plan), because it will lift a tremendous burden off their child’s shoulders.

2. Create a general budget. It’s important to know what your budget is because it will help you focus your search. If you can only afford a college below thirty grand, it might not be wise to look at many private schools. Create a college list of at least three to four schools that are in your price range that you wouldn’t mind paying the full tuition for. Although most schools offer some sort of aid, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

3. Look for scholarships. They are everywhere! There are many companies and programs that allow you to apply for certain scholarships. This includes the national grant, merit scholarship and local scholarships. Things such as essay-contests, science fairs and sports awards are great ways to get a lot of money knocked off the tuition cost. I am currently looking at multiple contests that involve writing and some of them offer one to several thousand dollars each. I have heard of students who have had their whole tuition paid for by applying to almost every scholarship they could get their hands on. Don’t think that you don’t have what it takes to get a scholarship because you will be very surprised.

4. Apply for financial aid. This is a different sort of scholarship because it looks at your family’s income and situation rather than what you have accomplished. I have many friends who have found this extremely helpful so I would recommend everyone to apply even if they think they don’t qualify. There are many ways to be eligible for financial aid and it doesn’t always have to be low income. Cases such as twins or siblings close in age and intellectual disabilities might also qualify.

5. Apply for a federal student loan. The U.S. Department of Education has two federal student loan programs, The Direct Loan Program and the Federal Perkins Loan Program for students with exceptional financial need. The interest rate on federal student loans is relatively low, so if you decide that you must borrow, this should be your first option.

6. Apply for a private student loan. Private loans are your last resort, after you’ve exhausted all other college financing options. Look for a loan from a reputable lender, with transparent terms and no hidden costs, and make sure you only borrow as much as you absolutely need – not even a cent more.

There are many more ways to get money for college. Summer jobs, working part time while in college and studying the first two years in a community college can help you save cash. It’s important to remember that most schools don’t actually end up charging you the full tuition and that the price you see right now will probably not be the price you actually pay. Don’t only limit yourself to relatively cheaper schools but also make sure you don’t only apply to schools that are known to be expensive. And most importantly: remember that just because a school is expensive doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better.

This is a guest post by Noa Livneh, a high school junior in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Post College: Becoming Financially Independent

Post college financesWhen I graduated college, I couldn’t wait to become financially independent. But as it’d turn out, my road to financial independence would be a long one, filled with part-time jobs, low-pay checks and my parents’ generosity.

Now, two years later, I’m still learning more and more each day about what it means to function as a financially independent adult. Here are some of the important things I’ve learned about money whilst making (and spending) it for myself.

1. As my father always told me: life’s expensive. Growing up, I always thought I knew what he meant–he’d use this phrase after spending on some semi-special event (pretty much just dinner or a movie) for my entire six-person family. So I guess I subconsciously came to interpret it as, the small luxuries in life are expensive. But once I started living on my own, I realized that there was much more to pay for than dinner and a movie. After paying for rent, bills, insurance, a phone plan, groceries, internet, etc.…. I saw my small paycheck shrink by, well, a lot. These days, this increasingly wise paternal phrase has taken on a whole new meaning: merely existing is expensive.

2. Tracking my spending lets me know exactly where my money is going. One winter day, I checked my credit card statement and nearly died of shock. Where on earth did all that money go? I didn’t make any big purchases! Did someone steal my identity?! Then, I looked a little closer and saw that no, I have not been a victim of identity theft, but just a little bit mindless with my credit card. See, it wasn’t one big thing at all, but all the little stuff that added up. Today, I like to spend in cash (because then I can see the money run through my fingers), and obviously, those spendings won’t show up on my credit card statement. So to keep up with my spending, I maintain a fairly accurate spreadsheet of expenditures. That way, I can see when I’m reaching my monthly limit and know the actual disturbing amount of money that I spend on coffee.

3. I don’t need to spend it all. Actually, I’ve always been a saver. But when you have a regular paycheck, it’s tempting to just go crazy (’cause you know, you’ll make more). But by saving up a little extra dough, I can be sure that I have enough cash “just in case,” or that I have the means to go on vacation. If you’re really smart, you can even start investing some of those savings.

And while you may be super excited to pay your own way, make sure to be smart with your money. Just because it’s yours doesn’t mean you can be reckless. So be smart, save up and be ready. Because seriously, life’s expensive.

This was a guest post by Molly Cornfield, a recent college graduate.

8 Ways to Minimize Your Student Loan Debt

student loansAdd up the costs of a college education, and you’ll likely feel a looming sense of doom. Between tuition, room & board, books and personal costs, your four-year degree can put you an overwhelming $200,000 in the hole. But if you feel like thinking about numbers this high will land you in the ER, do not fret—there are quite a few solutions to help you cover college costs without borrowing too much in private student loans.
Here are our top eight picks of ways to save some dough on your degree.

1. Search for grants and scholarships. There are a lot of people and organizations willing to help you bear the burden of your college costs—you just need to find them. Scour the internet for any college grants or scholarships that might be applicable to you and invest time in applying for them. In the short term, it may seem less convenient, but you’ll definitely appreciate your forethought and research when it’s time to pay tuition.

2. Work part time. By paying at least a part of your tuition as you go, you’ll not only be minimizing the amount you’ll need to take out in student loans, but also the impending debt that said loans will incur (i.e. the loans plus interest). Although you will most definitely need to effectively balance your time, this option will pay off (literally) for years to come.

3. Start out at a community college. By studying at a local community college for your first two years, you can save yourself thousands of dollars. Tuition is a fraction of the cost of that of a four-year university and you can also save on room and board by living at home. Plus, when you transfer to a four-year university, you’ll wind up with the exact same degree as students who entered as freshmen.

4. Take out a federal loan. Although it’s still a loan, federal loans usually have lower interest rates that don’t change over time. Before looking at private student loans, look into procuring a federal loan instead.

5. Borrow from family. While borrowed money is borrowed money, it’s a much safer bet to take a loan from someone who loves you. In most cases, this money comes without interest. So see if you can strike a deal with a loved one who has your best interest in mind.

6. Consider the price when you pick your college. If you’ve got financial limitations, don’t spend more than you can afford on your college degree, even if it means giving up on your dream school. Your alma mater won’t make much of a difference in terms of hiring, but a lingering debt will haunt you for many years to come. Choose your college wisely with practicality in mind.

7. Get your degree in less than four years. By really focusing your studies, you should be able to earn your college degree in six or seven semesters. Seeing that each semester costs about 15,000 for tuition alone, getting out of school early could save you a nice chunk of change.

8. Choose your lender wisely. If you do need a private student loan, do your homework. Read reviews, check rates and loan terms, and make sure your lender is transparent and honest. It’s very important that you fully understand your loan terms before signing anything.