Advanced Placement (AP) classes

Advanced Placement (AP) is a buzzword among high school kids and their parents. This article is an effort to understand what it means and how can you benefit from it.

Advancement Placement Classes are college entry level classes which can be taken during High School. Why would you want to do that? There are lots of benefits. Listed below are some:

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  • Making a major choice early-When you get to take a college level class early, you get to decide whether you like a certain area or not early. For eg. if you always wanted to be a Psychologist and you took the AP Psychology class and hated it, you will understand it better if you truly enjoy Psychology or not.
  • Increasing your High School GPA- AP Classes are graded on the scale of 5 and High School GPA is on the scale of 4. Hence, if you get an “A” or “5” in an AP class, that increases your GPA and if you are straight As High School student, your GPA will turn out to be greater than 4 on the scale of 4.
  • College admissions- An AP Class on your transcript informs the admissions panel at colleges that you are serious about college and hence made the extra effort of trying out college level classes in high school.
  • Advanced Placement itself- AP means that when you enter college, you will be given preference for intermediate/advanced classes of the subject whose AP exam you have already passed. The preference is needed because college classes have limited student intake and not everyone who wants to take a certain class, gets to take that class.
  • Saving money- High School (if public) is free while college (public and private) is expensive. So, if you knock off some of your college credits in High School, you save money paying for college.

So, how would you proceed about AP?

  • Try to take classes in summer after 9th/10th grade etc. so that you can knock off some other classes in place of which you will take an AP class in Spring or Fall Semester of High School.
  • Take the AP class in the regular school year.
  • At the end of the AP class, you take the standard AP exam through College Board, offered in your High School itself.
  • Once you pass the class, the grade appears on your High School transcript.
  • Here is the link to understand what colleges accept:

Hope this information was helpful!

What is PSAT and who should take it?

It’s important to know about the different tests out there because they offer opportunities in some form or other. Take the example of PSAT. Not many people know about it but it is a very useful test for college bound kids.

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Kids take this test in their 11th grade. The scores are used for the following:

  • Scholarship screening of National Merit Scholarship Program.
  • Recognition of Outstanding Hispanic/Latino students- offered by College Board.
  • National Scholarship Service- college preparation guidance for African American kids.
  • Telluride Seminar Scholarships- scholarships for gifted 11th grade kids.
  • Feedback on SAT preparedness and a study plan- since the pattern is same as SAT.
  • Feedback on strengths and weaknesses for SAT- you receive a personalized analysis.
  • AP Success Potential- you know if you can do well in Advanced Placement classes (I will write about AP later).
  • Online College Planning Starting Guide.
  • College Connection- financial aid information.

Kids can test twice, by taking the test once in 10th grade and once in the 11th.

Happy PSATing!!

 

Should I go to graduate school?

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Graduate School is not for everyone! PhD is like a short term marriage with your advisor. MS is like a two year contract which reads- “yes, you could have been making a lot of money right now, but for now, bear with the student loan and negative cash flow”.

Then why go to graduate school and is it for you?

I was lucky enough to go to graduate school with full fellowship for my first year and was funded as a  teaching assistant in the following. I had enrolled myself in a PhD program but graduated with a Masters. Going to graduate school was one of the finest decisions of my life. I learnt a lot of technical skills (I got an MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering) and life skills (believe me, life is much tougher than undergrad). Here is how you could decide whether you should go for graduate school:

  • Glamour: don’t go to a graduate school just because you fancy to see yourself as a Doctor of Philosophy. For starters, you won’t be a real doctor and more importantly motivation will dry off soon if your basic premise was glamour.
  • Depth: do you like to get into depth of things? Or do you prefer to know about a lot of things but don’t like to get too deep into a topic. Graduate School means a lot of deep diving. So, go for it only if you have the temperament for deep diving.
  • Expertise: if you want to become a subject matter expert in a certain area, graduate school is a very meaningful path.
  • Research: if you are interested in research, you MUST go to graduate school. That’s the single most prominent path for research in America.
  • Duration and patience: getting a Masters can take anywhere between 1 and 3 years and getting a PhD after a bachelors can take from 4-10 years.

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  • Finances: there are a lot of things to remember here. If you were fortunate like me, you will have full scholarship and you will be even paid a monthly stipend to take care of your living expenses. For a PhD program, it is very common to be fully funded. (fully funded would mean tuition and living expenses taken care of).  Not all Masters programs offer full funding. So, if you did not get fully-funded for a Masters program, you will have to analyze the return on investment in your Masters program. Usually, having a Masters helps you in getting a higher pay on graduation. But, you will be paying for tuition and living expenses and won’t be earning either. Of course, there should be job opportunities in your desired area of expertise in the first place. If there are jobs in the area, the decision is easier for people making less money in their jobs currently. For eg. all other things being equal, it is easier for an engineer working in India to decide to get a Masters over an engineer working in the US. An engineer working in the US might be already making a good salary hence her financial incentives will be lower to take a loan and get a Masters. An engineer in India does not have as much cash flow to lose on and hence she might decide to take a loan, get a Masters, get a job in the US and repay the loan back. Since I assumed all other things are equal; this includes the savings; which I assume are zero for both. It is not a surprise that you see a huge international student population in graduate schools.
  • Immigration: Graduate school is a path of immigration to the US as well. If you want to work in the US, you are more likely to get a job if you got your degree from here.  Since an undergraduate education in the US is extremely expensive, a lot of students get their undergraduate degrees in their home countries and come to the US for their graduate degrees. Post graduate school, they can work on OPT (F1-visa) and eventually H1B visa.
  • Necessity: in some fields like medicine and law, graduate school is almost necessary.
  • Switching careers: I think this is a very important reason for going to graduate school.  Often times, the only way you can switch careers is by going to graduate school. Eg. music major  moving to management by getting an MBA.
  • Career jump: this is the obvious one. If getting a graduate degree helps you jump ahead in your career by helping you get promoted to a role which you desire and which you will enjoy, it might be well worth it.

These bullet points might make it easier for you to decide if you should go to graduate school.

College admissions decoded: the path to formal education demystified

College education is still very relevant if you choose the right major and the right schools. A lot of preparation is warranted for college admissions. Here is what you need to do if you want to get your undergraduate (Bachelors, Associates) degree in the US. An article can be written separately on each of these steps but for now, manage with just this one

  • Major selection: Let’s say you are a senior in high school and you exactly know what sort of work you want to do in your life, then you can pick a major easily. For eg. If you want to design computer chips, go for Electrical and Computer Engineering; if you want to get a degree in acting, go for Bachelors in Theater. But if you don’t know your desires yet, you can skip this step for now.
  • Shortlisting colleges: There are thousands of colleges in the US. You should pick the ones which fit your bill. There are several parameters you should look at- quality of the program for your intended major, employment opportunities post-graduation, entrepreneurship culture on campus, cost and scholarship opportunities. If you don’t strongly feel for a major yet, look for colleges with overall good undergraduate programs along with the other aforementioned parameters. You don’t need to declare your major until the end of sophomore year in most of the US colleges. Once selected, you can also change it at least once in some colleges. You might ask where to look for information and the answer is that there are several websites which cater to this market- “College Board”, “US News” and “FastWeb” to name a few.

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  • College Application: First thing you would want to find out would be the application deadlines for your desired colleges. Let’s say you want to start in fall (Aug/Sept) of 2015, the colleges will have their deadlines anywhere between November 1st 2014 and July 31st It’s more likely that the deadlines will be between December 15th 2014 and April 15th 2015 but early and late deadline colleges are not entirely unheard of. Please find out the specific requirements of college application from each college’s website but they will more or less follow this template- General Information, SAT scores, Letters of Recommendation, Transcripts, Resume, Essay, specific requirements for your major(if any), TOEFL (or other English proficiency tests) for international students.
  • General Information: This is the easy one. You list your professional details and the different schools and colleges you have attended.
  • SATs: One of the criteria for college admissions is the SAT score. SAT is the Scholastic Aptitude Test, a test on English, Math and Writing. You can find the test syllabus and sample tests on SAT’s website (google it). You take this computer based test and send your scores to your colleges of interest. Please take this test ahead of time so that scores are available at your desired colleges before the college application deadline.
  • Letters of Recommendation: This will give you shivers. You have to go back to the teachers whom you probably disregarded at some point in time and ask them to write letters recommending you for the college programs. Please be careful about whom you choose because in most cases you don’t end up seeing what they write. Please pick an ex-manager or a teacher who really was impressed with your capabilities and work. In most cases, each college application needs two or three such letters.
  • Transcripts: Fortunately or unfortunately, research has shown that high school GPA is the strongest predictor of college completion and success in the US. So, colleges want to see your transcripts and yes, they want to see a lot of A’s. Please order official transcripts from your schools to be directly sent to colleges, before the deadline.
  • Resume: Please prepare a one page resume enlisting all your scholastic and extra-curricular credentials. Remember, colleges are also looking for diverse, well-rounded individuals. So, if you have volunteering hours under your belt, that’s a brownie point for you. If you are a star athlete, that’s the whole brownie for you. Colleges look for both types- they like the focused ones (excelling in one particular field, eg. brilliant musician, teenage inventor) and the well-rounded ones (with diverse experiences and good academics).
  • Essay: I think this to be a very important piece in the application puzzle. Here is your chance to tell who you are and why do you want to go to college. Start with your personality. Tell them about your short term goals and long term goals. Tell them what you have done so far to achieve those goals. Tell them how college will help you achieve those goals. And tell them how their college can help you achieve your goals.
  • Specific requirements: Always check if your desired college or major has some specific requirements. For eg. Bachelors in Theater program at UCLA needs foreign language proficiency (Spanish, French or German). Some majors need Subject SATs.
  • English Proficiency: This is for international students from countries where the mother tongue is not English. Most colleges need you to take TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language), so make sure you take these and send the scores before the application deadline.

I will elaborate on some of these steps in my future posts but you got your framework, right? So, tie your shoe laces and get ready to tread the busy path of college applications.

You Cannot Ignore Education

Welcome to my website. This is a window to explore everything about education.

Let me share a story. John was born to janitor parents. His janitor parents were not educated and they did not send John to school. How likely is it that John will have a financially successful life?  Very unlikely. John might have to fall back on Government to support him in his adulthood. This support comes from tax payers’ dollars and hence the entire society pays for John’s missed education.

I took an extreme example above to make my point that education is extremely important and is a social responsibility. I will be doing my bit by running this website.

Back to the story. Let’s say Government eliminates all unemployment insurance programs and social benefits. John is either unemployed or earns very little.  Under this circumstance, John might resort to crime to make both ends meet. Who pays the price?- society. Let’s say he gets caught and is sent to jail. Who pays for the prison?- society.

This is not a propaganda for encouraging social programs. This is to demonstrate that notwithstanding the absence or presence of social programs like unemployment insurance; societal costs of ignoring education is high.

Then there is another way to look at it. Let’s forget about the societal costs since such arguments do not work with right brained folks. How about compassion? If you were enabled by education to have a financially successful life, you might “feel” like enabling others to have the same. I “feel” passionately and compassionately about education, hence I started this website. I am not focusing on the underprivileged though, I am focusing on the seekers of information, knowledge and opportunities.

To be very clear, I am not suggesting that the uneducated  cannot have a good quality of life. By all means they can; but the statistical probability is low. There are several odds stacked against them.  Also, by education, I do not necessarily mean formally educated at a college. In this present day and age, access to post-secondary education is not limited to 4 year brick and mortar colleges, hence by educated I mean people who have acquired the necessary skills for a high paying job or entrepreneurship. The skills could have been acquired online, at a neighborhood non-profit institute or a brick and mortar college.  Statistics still show that people with college degrees make more money than people without them on an average, so college is still important.

Hence my goal with this website is to spread information about education and educational opportunities. If somebody wants to attend college in the US or in other countries like India, she should be able to get some information here to enable her. If people want to learn vocational  skills without going to college, they should be able to obtain some information on this website regarding that as well. I can also enlighten people on some very specific topics like computer programming and chip design if there is an ask.

Let’s spread the joy of education together!