Doorway to College Blog

Getting Great Letters of Recommendation

Posted by Cynthia Miller Coffel, Ph.D

Feb 4, 2016 7:00:00 AM

It’s easy to put off one of the key steps in the college application process : asking teachers for letters of recommendation. You know that your grades, test scores, and college essays are important, and you’ ve been working on those , but your letters of recommendation are important as well. You have it in your power to make sure these letters are great ones.   

Letters of recommendation tell the college what kind of worker you are, how you have grown as a learner, and how you have participated in the school community. Recommendations provide context for your transcript, essay, and standardized test scores. They are important because they provide a picture of you from particular people who know your work well.  

Read on to learn how to assure that your letters of recommendation are the best they can be. 

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Topics: college application, college admissions, recommendation letters

It's FAFSA Time!

Posted by Karen Nichols

Jan 1, 2016 7:00:00 AM

It’s a new year — time for high school seniors and college students to submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for 2016–17. The mother of all Financial Aid forms, the FAFSA is required to access aid from federal, state, and college sources, both need- and merit-based. It is to your advantage to apply, whether or not you think you will qualify. Most college students receive some form of need- or merit-based aid — if they apply.

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Topics: financial aid, FAFSA

Word Power: Five Tips for Building a Commanding College Vocabulary

Posted by Karen Nichols

Dec 14, 2015 7:16:57 AM

Without question, a strong vocabulary is a great asset. An expansive vocabulary improves reading, speaking, writing, and reasoning skills, and research has linked it to long-term educational and career success. Entrepreneur and best-selling author Seth Godin makes this point in his blog post, "Does Vocabulary Matter?":

The typical native speaker knows 20,000 words, and there's your opportunity:

If you know 40,000 words, if you learn five words a day for a decade, the world changes. Your ability to see, to explain and to influence flies off the charts.

In the short term, a strong vocabulary can also help you do your best on college entrance exams and college application essays. Read on to learn a few tips for growing your vocabulary during your high school years and beyond.

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Topics: ACT test, SAT test, study skills, Vocabulary Building, PSAT

Want to Improve Your ACT and SAT Test Scores? Get Better Sleep

Posted by Karen Nichols

Nov 10, 2015 10:34:33 AM

Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

Did you know that, as a teenager, you need eight to ten hours of sleep a night in order to function at your mental and physical best? Yet, according to the National Sleep Foundation, only 15% of teens get at least 8.5 hours of sleep on school nights. Read on to learn how you can get some more solid shut-eye.

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Topics: ACT test, SAT test, test prep, study habits

College Admissions Essays: Getting Started Is the Hardest Part

Posted by Julia Wasson

Oct 5, 2015 2:57:43 PM

If your student is planning to attend a four-year college next year, there's a lot of work ahead.

There's plenty of pressure on students to get great grades, be a leader in school and out, have a squeaky-clean online persona, and on top of that earn stellar test scores. The thing is, all prospective college students are striving for the same outstanding record. If your student wants a way to stand out among others with equal qualifications, the college admissions essay can be the vehicle to propel him or her to the top of the applicant list.

But the problem is, one of the most dreaded parts of the college application process (aside from filling out the FAFSA) is the college admissions essay.

If your scholar is charged up by the thought of sharing his or her personal take on life with anonymous readers, count your student — and yourself — among the lucky ones. But don't count on that being the case. Most teens resist writing and actually need help starting college admissions essays.

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Topics: college application essay

Creative, cost-saving options for prom

Posted by Julia Wasson

May 12, 2015 7:00:00 AM

Ah, prom. It’s the dance of the year. It’s the stuff of teenage dreams and parental nostalgia. But let’s face it: This rite of passage can be an incredible expense for both students and their parents.

Somehow, what used to be a special event that meant strobe lights and a punchbowl in the high school gym has become an extravagant affair featuring designer gowns, tuxedos, limousines, and increasingly grand locations. According to an ABC News report, the cost had risen to a nationwide average of $1,139 in 2013. While 2014 saw a modest drop to $978 per family, there is little doubt that this teenage dream still costs kids and their parents a nightmarish chunk of change.

With college looming, many teens and their parents are looking for ways to keep expenses low. So, what can you do to keep the cost of prom night down? Read on for some ideas on how to duck the massive expense of this important evening.

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Topics: college savings, prom, finances

Managing Spring Fever: Productivity Strategies to Keep You on Track

Posted by Karen Nichols

Apr 20, 2015 2:04:00 PM

After a long winter of being cooped up inside, hibernating, you may feel a bit of “spring fever” in the air — that burst of new energy and activity that comes with brighter days and warmer weather. Spring is finally here, but it isn’t summer yet, folks. You still have classes to attend, homework assignments to complete, exams to study for, and all the other extracurricular, community, and work activities on your schedule. How do you maintain your focus when what you really want to do is break free and have some fun?

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Topics: study skills, study habits, time management


Posted by Julia Wasson

Apr 8, 2015 1:38:00 PM

How to keep your application active and improve your chances of admission

’Tis the season when high school seniors are receiving acceptance and rejection letters from the colleges they’ve applied to. These letters are easy to understand — either you’re in or you’re out, right?

Actually, there’s another possibility: the “wait list.” If you receive notice that you’ve been “wait-listed,” what does this mean exactly, and what can you do about it?

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Topics: college admissions process, wait list

When Standardized Testing Meets Social Media

Posted by Julia Wasson

Mar 23, 2015 2:58:00 PM

Be careful what you share online about that test you just took.

You just finished taking your college entrance exam. After months, or even years, of preparation and hours of testing, you’re glad it’s over. Elated is more like it. You’re both exhausted and keyed up, your mind churning.

That one reading question about Stephen Hawking — I swear it had two answers. And the main idea question on the Vietnam passage didn’t seem to have any answer at all. How on earth do you work that math problem, #23? I know I spent too much time on it ...

You can hardly wait to hop on social media to chat up the experience with your friends. You reach for your cell phone ...


Don’t press “Send” just yet. Before you talk about any commercial standardized test on social media, there are a few things you need to know (starting with the fact that the cell phone in your hand is not even allowed in the testing center).

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Topics: ACT test, SAT test, social media

College Campus Visits: Deciding What You Want Before You Go

Posted by Karen Nichols

Mar 10, 2015 2:25:00 PM

Previously, we’ve offered several tips on how to make the most of your college visits. We’ve even published an ebook on the topic. In this blog post, we want to help you with “the vision thing” — defining more specifically what you are looking for in a college and what features will matter most to you once you get there.

As you’ve inched closer to your senior year and graduation, your mailbox has likely been inundated with marketing materials from a variety of colleges and universities. Piles of brochures and “view books” have shown idealized portraits of college life. Your expectations about the college experience may also be informed by fictionalized stories in books and film, past visits to campuses for sporting events and other happenings, and the college experiences of your parents, older siblings, and friends.

Now comes the time to figure out what you really want in a college. This is more than just what the marketing brochures say you should want — really, is a game room in the dorm all that important? — or what your friends or even parents and counselors say you should look for. This is about deciding what really matters to you for the next four years of your life — and beyond.

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Topics: collect visits,, college selection process

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