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Starting in the 6th Grade – College Prep, Life Prep

In April of last year, Forbes’ Jason Ma published, “Why To Start Preparing For College In Sixth Grade.” And, while this may sound as though Jason Ma is asking too much of our 11-year-olds, he makes some important and interesting points: “high-achieving teenagers and young adults need significant time to unleash their full potential,” and “their goals and aspirations must go beyond just admissions to top universities or graduate schools.”

In other words, this isn’t about starting children thinking about college at age 11, but about getting them started thinking about their potential, their skills, and their interests early on. As Jason Ma goes on to say, “Building up true interests and strong extracurriculars and leadership positions can help students thrive during the brutal top-tier college app season” — knowing what skills they want to master and what goals they’re working toward beyond college can help students better handle pre-college stress and to target those schools and programs that will truly get them to where they want to go.

After all, figuring out what skills and interests students want to focus their college years on can be just as stressful as taking the SAT exam if they haven’t begun thinking and talking about these interests early on. Why do schools take elementary level classes on field trips to museums and aquariums? It’s because they want to begin fostering wider interests in their students as soon as the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. However, how often do these children get to gaze into the eyes of a dolphin or an octopus and hear an adult actually come out and say,

“You know, if this interests you, this is what you could do when you grow up. You have the potential to work with these creatures professionally one day if you want to.” ?

Children need to hear these words explicitly early on. It’s not enough to shove them into the many possibilities of the world and say, “Find your passion!” That’s a way to simply fast-track students to tearing-their-hair-out levels of stress in their junior and senior years of high school because they still haven’t found their “passion.” Instead, what kids need to hear is, “If this interests you, you should try to learn more about it — read Whatever Book, ask a librarian for research materials, or talk to your parents about it. Lots of people do exactly this for their careers, and, if you want, you could one day as well.” In other words, give kids something concrete to think about early on rather than throwing them head-first into the abstract universe of unknown “passions.”

To help students better explore such concrete and various options as Marine Biologist, Medical Entomologist, Truck Driver, Hatter, Chef, Writer, Neurosurgeon, Teacher, Realtor, and so forth, Jason Ma suggests the perfect starting place: Reading Diversely! Read fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, romantic fiction, westerns, essays, classics, newspapers, magazines — don’t simply find a single niche and plant yourself there; go exploring into a new genre, writer, and style from time to time. This will not only improve students’ reading comprehension and critical analysis skills, but will give them a better view of the true range of jobs and possibilities available to them. And, once they’ve got a clearer, more confident grip on what skills they want to develop and what careers most interest them, they’ll have a much easier time communicating their goals, studying to meet these goals, and targeting their work toward achieving these goals.

A Few Unique Reads We Might Suggest Are…

National Geographic (and don’t forget that they have a National Geographic for Kids as well!)

Orion Magazine

“…Orion has become a focal point in an extraordinarily rich period of nature writing, and it has remained true to that core conviction, though the magazine has evolved into a bimonthly and the range of its interests has broadened to include not only environmental but cultural concerns.

Orion’s mission is to inform, inspire, and engage individuals and grassroots organizations in becoming a significant cultural force for healing nature and community.”

the Claremont Review

“the Claremont Review is a magazine that showcases inspiring young adult writers, aged 13-19. We publish poetry, fiction, drama and art, twice a year, spring and fall. If you are interested in submitting your work check out our submission guidelines.

We strongly encourage students, teachers and libraries to subscribe to this tremendous resource and critical venue for young writers to voice their talent.”

Ms. Magazine

“Ms. was the first national magazine to make feminist voices audible, feminist journalism tenable, and a feminist worldview available to the public.

Today, the magazine remains an interactive enterprise in which an unusually diverse readership is simultaneously engaged with each other and the world. The modern Ms. boasts the most extensive coverage of international women’s issues of any magazine available in the United States.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education is the No. 1 source of news, information, and jobs for college and university faculty members and administrators.”

Analog: Science Fiction and Fact

“Astounding/Analog (often all-encompassingly just called ASF) is often considered the magazine where science fiction grew up. When editor John W. Campbell took over in 1938, he brought to Astounding an unprecedented insistence on placing equal emphasis on both words of “science fiction.” No longer satisfied with gadgetry and action per se, Campbell demanded that his writers try to think out how science and technology might really develop in the future-and, most importantly, how those changes would affect the lives of human beings. The new sophistication soon made Astounding the undisputed leader in the field, and Campbell began to think the old title was too “sensational” to reflect what the magazine was actually doing. He chose “Analog” in part because he thought of each story as an “analog simulation” of a possible future, and in part because of the close analogy he saw between the imagined science in the stories he was publishing and the real science being done in laboratories around the world.”

Cobblestone & Cricket Magazines

“Our literacy & language arts magazines for toddlers to teens build reading skills with selections from the best children’s writers and illustrators from around the world. Our nonfiction magazines in history & culture and science & ideas bring the excitement of discovery to young readers ages 3 and up. Well-researched articles, magnificent photos, and hands-on activities make learning about our world fun and engaging.”


Chatting with a National Merit Finalist from Lovejoy High School

High school senior, Austin Gallaway, was recently informed he was Lovejoy ISD’s first National Merit Finalist. Knowing he will be the first of many, the Lovejoy Journal recently sat down with Austin and his parents, Scott and Laura Gallaway, to discuss the National Merit process.  We wanted to know what they learned from the process and what the benefits were of becoming a National Merit Finalist.

And, just in case you had a few of the same questions, check out the interview for yourself:

LJ: Austin, what did you think when you were told you were a National Merit Finalist?

Austin: Actually, back in the spring of 2010, I was informed I was a National Merit Qualifier. I earned this honor along with 5 of my classmates: Chase Anderson, Zachary Bogucki, Helen Hansen, Brandon Sayeed, and Anjali Sethi.  In September of 2010, I was informed that I was a semi-finalist.  The other qualified students were all recognized as Commended Scholars.  It was not until early February that I was told I had been named a finalist.  When the principal, Mr. Goodrich, told me I was a finalist, I was very happy to know I would have the opportunity to attend college on a nice scholarship.

LJ: How did you become a National Merit Finalist?

Austin: Basically, it comes down to the score I made on the PSAT during my junior year as well as having an SAT score and coursework to back it up.

LJ: So, Mom and Dad, what have you learned?

Laura: We learned that the score a junior achieves on the PSAT can really matter.  Like all Lovejoy students, Austin took the PSAT as a freshman and sophomore, and he did well.  We thought this was just good practice for the SAT test he would take as part of his college admission process.  But it was more than that. As a Commended Scholar, Semi-finalist, or Finalist, there are significant scholarship opportunities available.

LJ: So, how significant of a scholarship?

Scott: There are three types of National Merit Scholarships:

  • National Merit® $2500 Scholarships,
  • Corporate-sponsored scholarships,
  • and College-sponsored scholarships.

The college sponsored scholarships can be substantial, depending on the school you choose. There are a few schools inside Texas such as UTD, Texas Tech, and University of Houston, that are close to a full ride.  The University of Oklahoma is a big player in recruiting National Merit Finalist as well.

LJ: What advice would you give other parents?

Scott: Pay attention to their progress on the PSAT.  If their sophomore score is around 190, they are in range to do well enough as a junior to be National Merit Qualified.  If they can score above 215 their junior year on the PSAT, they have a good chance to be a National Merit semi-finalist and finalist.

Laura: I would also recommend, if your child’s sophomore score is 190 or above, that you consider investing in a prep course.  There is only one opportunity to take the PSAT as a junior, so it is important that they are well prepared on test day.

LJ: Anything else to add?

Laura: The counseling staff at LJHS–Jeannie Walls, Amanda Breeden and Stacey Ruff–were very helpful during the application process.  Their efforts certainly helped us succeed.

LJ: So finally, Austin, where will you be attending school?

Austin: It came down between the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.  Both offered great scholarships and had good engineering schools. In the end, I choose OSU, and plan to study Mechanical Engineering.

Interested in learning more about how you can prepare for the PSATs and put yourself in the same National Merit Finalist shoes as Austin Gallaway? Visit Tutoring 101’s website for PSAT prep information and for information on different prep courses we have available.


(The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition for recognition and scholarship that began in 1955. For more information, visit: http://www.nationalmerit.org)

Getting Down to Business – College Prep in Your Junior Year


Everyone knows that junior year is the toughest year of high school. Not only do you have your regular classes to worry about, but now you also have to begin knuckling down and doing the hard work of researching and actively preparing for college. Now you’ve got homework, band practice, football, choir, art, likely eight other extracurricular commitments, along with figuring out not only what colleges you’d like to apply to, but what you’d actually want to do in college, what you’d want to study for some of the most important and expensive years of your life.

Of course, on top of all of this, your junior year is also haunted by the great specters of the PSATs, SATs, and ACTs. For some, these tests might actually be a welcome reprieve from the wildness of picking out colleges and majors, but for others, junior year as a whole is dreaded because of these tests.

But regardless of how confident, nervous, busy, or bewildered you are, Tutoring 101 is here to help!

So, just to get you started, here is the basic breakdown of everything you need to know to get ready for your college test preparations during junior year:

  1. Begin studying for your PSATs the summer before junior year begins. The PSAT, as further explained by College Board, is an important and terrific way to kickoff your year of SAT and ACT exams. Not only can the PSATs help you figure out what areas to focus your studies on when preparing for the SATs, but they can also  help familiarize you with the format and style of the SAT while providing you the opportunity to enter the National Merit Scholarship program.
  2. Take a prep class! The summer between your sophomore and junior year is the perfect time to take some extra college prep courses. These courses can give you a real jump start on studying and on learning how to study for your PSAT, SAT, and ACT.
  3. Take the PSAT in October of your junior year.
  4. After you’ve completed the PSAT, you can take the SAT at any point during your junior year. Of course, it’s better to give yourself the best cushion possible between your PSATs and your ACTs, in order to avoid burning out. Given this, a December/January SAT date is recommended.
  5. Take your ACT in the spring of your junior year. While you have plenty of opportunities during the spring to get your ACT exam out of the way, the earlier you manage to get it over with, the better. This not only helps alleviate stress but will also give you more time to study and retake any exams on which you think you can do better (after all, we all have bad days where our best doesn’t always shine through). So it’s best if you can get your first round (and hopefully last round!) of SATs and ACTs over with by March.
  6. During the summer between your junior and senior year… RELAX, take a breath, congratulate yourself, and start visiting colleges!

Getting ready and making decisions about college can be some of the most stressful parts of high school — but you don’t have to do these things alone and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You have a world of resources at your feet to help you prepare for these exams, so don’t let it slip through your fingers and don’t let nerves stop you from getting that head start you need.