Vol.15 No.6 February 2001

Counseling the
Underprepared Student
COUNSELING A COLLEGE-BOUND student can be challenging under the best of circumstances. The junior and senior years are filled with decisions about college choice and application strategy. Time must be set aside to write recommendations and send transcripts. But what if some of your college-bound students are underprepared? Assisting these students adds a layer of complexity to an already intense time.

So this month, CB spoke to experts and gathered data on counseling the underprepared students to help our readers tackle an always difficult task. Here are some hints, advice and collected wisdom for helping this special population.

The definition of an "underprepared" student can vary according to context. But generally, an underprepared student is one who does not meet the requirements for initial matriculation at the college of his or her choice. Typically, these shortfalls or "deficiencies," are in the area of course work, test scores or general skills.

Depending on the type and severity of the deficiencies, the college may deny the student admission or require the completion of remedial course work (sometimes called developmental course work), often within a specified time frame. Continued enrollment at the college may be contingent upon a certain level of academic success.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that underprepared students are often the first children in their families to attend college. According to research conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education, 23 percent of first-generation college students have taken no academic math class in high school, compared with only 4 percent of students from families in which parents hold a bachelor's degree or higher. Conversely, 61 percent of the students of degreed parents completed a high school math class beyond algebra 2, compared with just 22 percent of first-generation students.

For this population, the high school counselor may be the first person in the student's life to fully understand the importance of high school course work in preparing for college and to urge the student to enroll in an appropriate high school curriculum.

Clearly, the solution for the underprepared student is to be encouraged to take college prep course work from the first year of high school. However, this early intervention is often not possible. The student that has, for three years, steadfastly insisted on direct entry from high school into the military or job market will one day walk into their counselor's office with the news that he or she is now interested in college. And, with little time left for alterations in course work, it falls to the counselor to help the student prepare as fully as possible in the time remaining.
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Nancy King, vice president at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, and immediate past president of NACADA, the National Academic Advising Association, advises high school counselors to take advantage of whatever time they have remaining with the underprepared student to lay a strong foundation for college success.

"Use the senior year to prepare," King advises, emphasizing the need to use all available time for preparation. She cites a growing expectation that "the senior year is seen as a time to rest." Falling prey to this expectation "makes the shock of entering college all the more severe," especially for the underprepared student.

What sort of preparation should take place? King stresses helping the student develop good personal habits that will become critical in college. "Impress upon them the need for time management," she suggests. "They are going to have to schedule their time."

This is especially important for students who expect to work in addition to going to school. Many of these students forget the rule of thumb that, for every credit of college course work they take, they should plan on two hours of study time. A 15-credit schedule would therefore demand 30 hours per week of study time in addition to the in-class time. Add a work schedule, and little time is left for sleep, leading to a sleep deficit and the temptation to cut classes.

Careful scheduling is essential to the success of an underprepared student. Although most of the academic advising will be done by the college's advisors, high school counselors can help the underprepared student develop realistic expectations. "Talk to them about not overloading with classes," says King.

The temptation to overload is especially strong for underprepared students, who may be required to enroll in one or more developmental courses that do not count toward the degree and which the student may view as easy or a waste of time. Actually, these courses to remediate an academic deficiency may prove to be the most challenging ones on the student's schedule. The grades received usually figure into the GPA.

A poor academic performance the first semester may be difficult to turn around. "It is critical to get off to a good start," says King. "There is something about not doing well that seems to be self-perpetuating."
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Underprepared students may find it helpful to enroll in college classes in the summer. King recommends that they do so if practical, taking one or more developmental courses and a freshman seminar, sometimes called "a first-year experience course," if offered. This will help the student adjust to the college course work and expectations before being faced with the demands of a full-time class schedule and campus full of students.

College selection is also key to the underprepared student's success. In this case, the college application process is less about gaining admission to the most elite school and more about finding the best environment for the student.

"There are certain tiers they will be locked out of; they will go to schools with open door policies," says King. She suggests that underprepared students and their counselors look for schools that are noted for helping students succeed.

"Some schools have a reputation for being very nurturing," she says, suggesting that this population start their academic career at an institution noted for teaching and only later consider a transfer to a research institution."Underprepared students see4 to do better with smaller class sizes," she adds.

Finally, King recommends that students and counselors investigate each college's services that will help the student. "Look for a strong record in student support services," she says. This includes academic advising, writing centers and subject labs, tutÒring, career services and supplemental instruction, a program in which an upper-class student is available to help students in introductory courses by serving as a sort of hybrid teaching assistant and tutor.

Far from automatically closing the door on the underprepared student, some colleges have designed programs to help these students become successful. Choosing a college with such a program can make the difference between academic success and failure.

Paul Nicholson is the director of special programs for Purchase College at State University of New York in Purchase. He administers the Educational Opportunity Plan, an alternative admission program for students who do not meet the school's academic admissions requirements and are economically disadvantaged. For example, while Purchase requires a combined SAT score of about 1100, the EOP will work with a student whose combined score is as low as 800.

Nicholson reports that this program has been very successful, posting a 50 percent graduation rate. The key is the individualized attention that each program participant receives.

Students are only admitted to Purchase's EOP after testing and a personal interview. They participate in a summer preparatory program, and they are required to meet with their counselor once a week. This assists the student in building that critical support network and greatly increases his or her chances for success.
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Another type of program is administered by Gael Mericle, director of the learning center and contract program administrator for Minnesota State University, Mankato. This contract program admits a small number of underprepared students, equal to 10 percent of the previous year's entering class. One characteristic that it shares with Purchase is the careful selection of the students admitted.

"These students have gone through the 3ppeal process and have been reviewed by a faculty committee for admission into the contract program," Mericle says. "The program consists of intrusive advising along with required behavioral and academic performance criteria."

The success of the seven-year-old program is obvious. "Last year, almost 92 percent of students admitted on contract successfully met the conditions for admission and were released from the program at the end of their second semester," Mericle says. Additionally, "nine percent made Dean's List during spring semester and 54 percent had GPAs of 2.5 or better."

Finally, students who see that they won't graduate in four years should not be embarrassed. Students with demanding academic programs, participation in co-op programs, heavy work and family responsibilities or other concerns frequently take more than four years to complete a baccalaureate degree. The underprepared student will not find him or herself alone. Today, life-long learning is a reality.

With proper preparation and a solid support network, the underprepared student can feel confident of his or her chances of success at college. The very fact of the student's admission, whether through standard admission or a special program, can be taken as the college's vote of confidence that the student can succeed.

"It wouldn't be wise for any college to admit a student who doesn't have a chance to succeed," says Nicholson. With support from a college and a lot of hard work though, the underprepared student can realize his or her college ambitions of a college degree.
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Added Advice for Counselors
After working successfully with underprepared students, Nicholson and Mericle offer this advice to high school counselors working with this population.

  • "Try to identify a college that best meets their needs. Visit, talk to people and attend open houses," says Nicholson. He also suggests that students and counselors "be aware of special programs; a lot of campuses have these secondary programs," such as Purchase's EOP.
  • For students who may be underprepared for a higher tier of college, he recommends speaking with the transfer counselor at the school which is the ultimate goal, and forming relationships with professors who will be able to provide recommendations for transfer.
  • Mericle stresses the need for completing as many college prep courses as possible in high school. "Students should take courses that are writing intensive, four years of math and read for pleasure as well as for classes," she says.
  • Once at college, the student needs to be aware of the challenges that this new environment presents. She cites the change in pace of college level instruction, noting that it is "approximately three times faster than that of high school." She also points out that grades are usually determined by a single final examination or a series of assigned projects, with "almost no opportunity for extra credit."
  • Mericle also advises students not to put undue pressure on themselves to follow an unrealistic schedule for completion of their degree.

"Students need to recognize that it will take more than four years to graduate if they have numerous deficiencies or if they change major programs," she says.
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30 College Admissions Myths
BELIEFS THAT ARE not based on real facts, and ideas that are held uncritically become the stuff of myths. There are many that relate to the college admissions process. Students frequently apply to the wrong institutions because they take common misinformation as a statement of truth. Below we describe the top 30 most frequent myths students have about the experience of applying to college. Hopefully, students will remember that often the truth is the oppositve of what they hear.

1. You have to attend an elite college or university in order to prepare for and get accepted to a major graduate school.

2. An Ivy League or other elite degree guarantees contacts and professional success for the rest of your life; or, without an elite diploma you will not have a chance for a successful life.

3. All colleges have pretty much the same ambiance, character and values, so it doesn't matter where you attend in terms of the education you will receive.

4. You hurt your chances for acceptance if you apply for financial aid to a selective college.

5. You have to attend a large university to get exposure to a broad range of courses and famous professors; or, good teaching and contact with faculty only takes place in small colleges.

6. Colleges and universities really don't change much over the years, so your parents' memory of Old Siwash as a good or bad school is pretty accurate, and you should decide to apply accordingly.

7. The popularity of a college with students in your school or town is a sure sign of its academic strength and appropriateness for you.

8. The recognition a university has because of its nationally-ranked athletic program means it also has top academic programs.

9. Family or friends with connections to a selective college will ensure your acceptance.

10. It is unnecessary and not worth all the trouble and expense involved to visit college campuses before you decide where to apply.
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11. You have to apply on the early decision or action plan of a selective college to have a good or any chance of being accepted; or, applying early gives you a much better chance for acceptance.

12. The more colleges you apply to, the better your chances for admission to a top college.

13. You have to attend a large university to find a diverse student body.

14. You have to be a well-rounded individual to be accepted by a selective college; or, you have to have attained world-class standing or recognition to be accepted.

15. High test scores on the SAT or ACT are the most important factor in admissions decisions. Your scores are average so you know a top college could never accept you; or, very high test scores should guarantee your admission to an elite college.

16. Admissions committees automatically consider your best individual test scores, such as your highest verbal on one test and highest math on another; or, the committees average all of your scores and use the average to make their decision.

17. Interviews are required by all selective colleges and can make or break your chances for acceptance.

18. Admissions committees don't read all those essays and recommendations they require from applicants. Thus, I don't need to put a lot of effort and thought into my responses. They just want to make me and other applicants go through a lot of hassle.

19. You have to know what you want to major in, in order to apply to college and to better your chances for acceptance.

20. You are the first one in your family to apply to college and you have no connections to any school. You are certain this puts you at a disadvantage.
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21. The colleges that cost the most are automatically the best.

22. You are a strong student, but you won't qualify for any scholarships because your family earns too much.

23. Once the financial aid office makes an offer of aid to you, it won't change its mind about offering more help if you are to enroll.

24. If no one from your high school has applied to or been accepted to a particular selective college in recent years, then your chances for admission are pretty low.

25. Since you have become so bored in your small suburban or rural high school, you need to attend the largest or urban-located university you can find to make sure you have access to an exciting campus and social life.

26. If you have a learning disability or ADD, you should not tell admissions committees about it, since this will automatically disqualify you for acceptance.

27. Teacher recommendations really don't matter very much.

28. It is always better to get an A grade in a regular high school course than a B in an Advanced Placement or Honors class.

29. It is the really creative or off-the wall essays that make the most favorable impression on the admissions officers. The more different your personal statement, the more they will want to accept you.

30. The elite famous colleges are really for students from rich families. Therefore, you will not fit in socially and will not find other students like yourself.

Adapted from: Making It Into a Top College and The Hidden Ivies© Howard R. Greene and Matthew W. Greene (New York: HarperCollins, 2000) [back to top]

The College Board will publish its third edition of a Guide to High Schools in spring 2001, a directory to more than 25,000 U.S. High Schools; for info contact College Board Publications, Dept. GSPO200B, Two College Way, Forrester Center WV 25438.

"The Official Catholic College and University Guidebook, 2001 edition" will be available in January from the NCCAA, PO Box 7992, Cumberland, RI 02864; ISBN 1-893728-01-3; $14.95.

"Preparing Your Child for College: A Resource Book for Parents" by the U.S. Department of Education. This report is available free of charge; orders are taken on the web at
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New Programs. The following schools have announced new degree programs beginning Fall 2000:

The College of Staten Island, City University of New York, will offer a bachelor's degree in information systems.

Ohio Valley College (Parkersburg, West Virginia) offers bachelor's degrees in secondary education in English, mathematics, physical education, science and social studies.

Philadelphia University will offer bachelor's degrees in e-commerce, e-design and organizational leadership.

The University of Virginia will offer a bachelor's degree in media studies.

Wheeling Jesuit University (Wheeling, West Virginia) will offer a bachelor's degree in technology development.

And, for counselors looking for continuing education opportunities, the University of Miami (Coral Gables, Florida) is offering a certificate program in enrollment management.
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New Certifications. For students seeking a career in the high-tech world, a college degree may not be the only important credential. According to a new study conducted by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education, a "parallel postsecondary universe" is emerging that offers certifications in specific IT specialties, such as proficiency in a program, language or network technology.

The D.O.E. found that more than 300 discrete IT certifications are now offered by vendors and industry/professional associations for an approximately 1.6 million individuals to earn 2.4 million certifications.

Pursuit of these certifications may give applicants the edge in their job search. The study found that one in eight IT job advertisements mention a certification as a "plus," while one in five mentioned a degree as a requirement. The complete study, "A Parallel Postsecondary Universe: The Certification System in Information Technology," is available for order online at pubs/edpubs.html.
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Anchors Away. Students looking for a little adventure in their academic curriculum might consider the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, where all students complete the Sea Year program. Every Merchant Marine studies 300 days at sea working as a crew member of a vessel. The 300 days at sea are divided into two blocks, with sophomores shipping out for three months and juniors completing an additional eight months. Upon graduation, a student receives a bachelor of science degree, a merchant marine license and a Naval Reserve commission.
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Alumni Learning. Students who graduate from Oxford, Princeton, Stanford and Yale will soon be able to continue to take advantage of programs at their universities, no matter what their location. The four schools have each invested $3 million in a distance learning venture that will provide online courses in arts and sciences to their alumni. Through this alliance, alumni will be able to take advantage of interactive seminars, multimedia programs, live and taped coverage of campus speakers, lectures on tape and other offerings. Plans are also in the works to offer the courses to the general public.
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Who's Hot? Test prep provider Kaplan and Newsweekühave joined forces to release "How to Get Into College." Inside, they identified nine "hot" colleges nationwide: Miami U., New York U., Southern California, Northwestern, Washington University in St. Louis, Rice, Rhode Island School of Design, Claremont Colleges and Kansas State University.

Tops in Liberal Arts? Berea College in Kentucky was named the top liberal arts college in the South in the latest annual U.S. News and World Report ranking. Berea had held the third place position for five consecutive years (1989-93). Other regional number one picks were: (North) Susquehanna U. in Pennsylvania; (Midwest) St. Mary's C. in Indiana; (West) Albertson C. in Idaho.

Best for African Americans. Additionally, the Kaplan/Daystar Guide to Colleges for African American Students named Berea one of the top 100 colleges for African- American students. One quarter of Berea's enrollment is from an ethnic minority; 16 percent of Berea's freshman class is African American.

Web Wide. A myriad of web pages with info on higher education were suggested by those attending the NACAC meeting. One CB gathered: Tips for international student recruitment:
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Tuition Increases Continue. According to the College Board, 1999-2000 tuition and fees met or exceeded the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index, which stood at 3.4 percent in 1999.

By comparison, tuition and fees at four-year private colleges rose 5.2 percent; at four-year public colleges they increased 4.4 percent, and at two-year private colleges they soared by 7 percent. Tuition and fees at two-year pubic institutions kept pace with the CPI, rising 3.4 percent.

Complete data on tuition and fees at over 3,000 colleges as compiled by the College Board is available in searchable form at the from The Chronicle of Higher Education.
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Research Briefs
How to Get Better Grades.
Researchers at Ohio State University have determined that raising your grade-point average takes more than just a few extra hours of study or a last-minute push at exam time.

According to a study that appears in the Journal of College Student Development, a student who wants to raise his or her quarterly GPA by one letter grade must put in an additional 40 hours of study each week; each additional hour of study per week meant a 0.025 point increase.

"A lifestyle change has to happen before an impact is made on student grades," says study co-author Carl Zulauf, professor of agricultural, environmental and developmental economics.

A.P. Students Graduate. The U.S. Department of Education recently released a report confirming that students who take Advanced Placement courses are more likely to complete a bachelor's degree than those who do not take the classes. And completing that degree has some very real pay-offs: students who complete the bachelor's degree earn, on average, $15,000 more per year than do high school graduates.

"This report confirms the very real advantages for students who take challenging courses early on in their education," says former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley. The report, "Getting Ready Pays Off: A Report for National College Week," is available from the U.S. Department of Education web site at pubs/edpubs.html.
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COLLEGE BOUND's Editor: R. Craig Sautter, DePaul University; Associate Editors: Connie Amon, Jennifer C. Patterson; Assistant Editor: Larry Busking; Circulation: Irma Gonzalez-Hider; Illustration: Louis Coronel; Board of Advisors: Claire D. Friedlander, Bedford (NY) Central School District; Howard Greene, author, The Greenes' Guides to Educational Planning Series; Terence Giffin, Choate-Rosemary Hall; Frank C. Leana, Ph.D., educational counselor; Virginia Vogel, Educational Guidance Services; M. Fredric Volkmann, Washington University in St. Louis, Mary Ann Willis, Bayside Academy (Daphne, Ala.).



In This Issue

Counseling the
Underprepared Student

Added Advice for Counselors

30 College Admissions Myths


New Programs
New Certifications
Anchors Away
Alumni Learning

Who's Hot?
Tops in Liberal Arts?
Best for African Americans
Web Wide

Tuition Increases Continue

Other Articles
Research Briefs


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