College Bound: Fall College Prep Checklist for 9th Grade Students

College success is not an automatic occurrence; it has to be intentionally crafted and planned.  In my line of work, I often see high school seniors who are way behind the college prep curve.  Unfortunately, these students are usually in the underrepresented populations (minority, low-income, first-generation).  I truly believe knowledge is power. With that, I have made it a life goal to make sure families are equipped with the right knowledge, at the right time, to make a good decisions about their child’s future.

Starting as early as the 9th grade, there are important things that parents and students can do to facilitate the college planning process. While senior year is the year to sign, seal, and deliver, the freshman year is the time to lay the foundation for a career path, college choice, and scholarships.  9th grade is a great time of exploration. Students should be exploring career options, talents, hobbies, and co-curricular interests.

graduation and books and diplomaAcademic. Make sure students do not fall behind in their Algebra I course.  This course is important to success in other math courses in  both high school and college.  If at all possible, arrange for a couple hours of after school tutoring to make sure they understand the material and to build up their confidence. For Louisiana parents, make sure you understand TOPS requirements and double check your child’s schedule to make sure they are taking the correct courses. 

Parents Career paths signpostshould encourage students to write down a broad list of possible careers and research them.  If they need a little help, they can take a free career aptitude test that gives several possible career options base on personal interest and preferences. With or without incentive 🙂 , students can report back to parents on the results of their career search.  For each possible career option, students should find out the educational requirements, salary range, locations, and potential employers.  Thinking about career paths early on can help narrow down college choices later.

Financial & Social.  While scholarships are appropriate to tackle in the junior year, students can begin to sharpen their competitive edge by joining organizations early.  Scholarship application reviewers like to see that students have attained leadership skills and are well rounded students.  However, the first step in becoming an officer or leader in an organization is to join early and become a dedicated member. Make sure your student diversifies their co-curricular activities by joining one academic, athletic, community service or a special interest group.


Buying for Success: Rethink Your College Supply List

August is near and school supplies will be front and center in all major stores.  Of course, all the usual items (e.g. paper, notebooks, pencils, pens) will be on every college student’s list. However, there a several items that are perfect for studying that most students would not consider putting in their shopping carts. These items are great for keeping study time fun and attention focused.

Dry Erase Board

Dry erase boards help students take a break from the normal pencil and notebook routine.  They are perfect for working math problems, outlining material, learning formulas or re-drawing diagrams.  In addition to studying, erasable boards are great for writing to-do lists or reminders. Small white boards are useful to have handy while seated at a desk, while larger ones that can be posted on the wall are ideal for those students who like to stand and be active.

Photo Credit: Patrick Guarino

Dry Erase Markers

No room to hang a dry erase board? No problem! Improvise and use bathroom and closet mirrors (gain your roommate’s permission) .  Using dry erase markers, write important formulas or vocabulary that you need to commit to memory on mirrored surfaces so that you can review them every time you go into the bathroom or get dressed.

Big Sticky Notes


Photo Credit:


The running theme here is to try other writing products besides pencils and paper.  Instead of a lot of little sticky notes, try big sticky notes!  Large self-adhesive sheets can be posted safely on walls.  Students can use these to create large and colorful outlines, charts and diagrams or big bold reminders. Butcher paper can work just as well.



Photo Credit: Elizabeth Skene

Balance Ball

If you are the fidgety type or you fall asleep quickly in a seated position, you can swap your chair for a balance ball when sitting at your desk.  Trying to stabilize yourself on the ball is enough activity to keep you awake and focused.


Ear Plugs

Ear plugs are great if you like the visuals of studying in a public place but just a little bit of noise.  Ear plugs shut just enough sound out to create your own study vibe.  It is a great alternative to listening to music if it is too distracting.



Play Dough

Play dough is another creative study tool if you can’t keep still during study time.  Moving and shaping the dough in your hand while studying can also improve your concentration and focus.  In addition to study time, play dough is useful in class to replace the nosier, more distracting habit of tapping your pencils on desks.




Who Graduates College? Take a guess!

I read a great New York Times post about how talented, low-income and minority students experience hardships on their path to getting their college degree. While the article highlights the socioeconomic gap that permeates college graduation rates, my message is clear: NO MATTER YOUR BACKGROUND, KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM fills any gap. As I have worked with hundreds of students as college academic coach, I see a pattern in those students who achieve and those students that don’t.  It’s not that they are incapable of doing these things, but no one has ever inform them of the best practices in getting a college education. Why aren’t they communicated is another discussion about whose job is it to REALLY prepare our student for college. There are 5 things students can do to overcome any educational hurdle and obtain a college degree. Unfortunately, these things are not communicated to parents and students and students walk blindly into college.

graduation hat and money

  1. Get involved in a bridge or transition program.  These programs are effective for so many reasons and many have proven to help retain and graduate more students from marginalize populations.
  2. Identify a peer, faculty, and staff mentor and foster a relationship.  Many low-income students are also the first to go to college in their immediate family, which means there are not as many people in their network to properly help them get adjusted to college.  However, establishing a mentoring relationships with faculty and staff can fill this gap.  Having a person of accountability and someone that can give you unbiased advice can help students remain focus and on track after theyencounter normal bumps and hurdles of college life.
  3. Utilize all campus resources especially academic support. This a biggie.  Tutorial services can be wrongfully thought of as remedial for some students.  However, students who use academic support services have higher grades than those that do not.
  4. Get involved in professional and social organizations.  Students who are social engaged on campus have a higher retention and graduation rate than those who just go to class and go home.
  5. Ask for help. With all the un-student friendly bureaucracy of college, a simple academic or financial aid issue can quickly snowball into a major problem.  Many times students feel helpless and don’t know who or where to turn. Simply asking for help or direction can make a huge difference.


Laugh and Learn: Kevin Hart Summarizes My College Success Tips in 3 Minutes


While looking at Jimmy Fallon’s clips from his first week as host of The Tonight Show on YouTube, I was randomly led to watch suggested videos that featured Kevin Hart.  I stumbled up on this gem of an interview Kevin and Sway from November 2013.  Kevin has quickly become one of my most favorite entertainers.  Not because I can look at all of his stand-up DVD’s all day, everyday and still laugh like I’ve never seen them before, but also it is because I respect his hustle and his passion.  I knew that he was more than a funny man on stage, when I noticed he produced nearly every comedy special he debuted. 

Watching the Sway interview took my respect level for Kevin up several notches.  It is a gift to not only make people laugh but to also make them listen.  He summarized my whole philosophy of college success in 3 minutes and 5 seconds.  So maybe instead of shaking today’s students to reality, I should just play this clip. 

Here are the video highlights: 


 “I’m a CEO. I run my own company. I run Hart Beat Productions. I’m a businessman.  I create. I produce. I fund.  I understand finances.  I own my standup material. “

The Lesson: Be a multi-faceted student.  Get out of your comfort zone and embrace as many campus opportunities that you can: act, sing, dance, debate, lead, research.  Employers are looking for well-rounded, versitile individuals who are not afraid to try new things. For your first job, your college experience will serve as your job experience. 


“I literally educated myself.”

The Lesson: A teacher is not required for learning to take place. It is my daily battle to get college students to understand that. With patience and effort, students can become their own teacher or tutor.  Most importantly, everything you need to learn in college will NOT be found in the confines of a course or a degree plan.  There are so many things students have to learn for their own personal growth that no one is going to single them out to make them learn.


“I am smart enough to surround myself with people who understand my vision.”

The Lesson: While everyone will have different visions, still surround yourself with people who absolutely want to be successful.  Many college students who lose focus and suffer academically often do so because their friends or their roommates do not study or go to class. Students have to be aware of the people they surround themselves with and actively search for friends, classmates, faculty and professional staff who will encourage personal accountability. 


“You don’t get there by accident, you can’t get to be a mogul without being aggressive, without not asking, or taking advantage of relationships and people around you.”

The Lesson: Simply saying “I’m going to graduate.” is not going to make it happen.  So many students are just drifting into college just expecting a diploma to be placed in their hand.  Those students who rise to the top and get heavily recruited by companies are those who have a fight, a drive and a desire to compete. Their desire to succeed over rides any fear or intimidation associated with getting help.  Top students are not afraid to raise their hand in class, meet with the professor, get tutored or do anything to get their questions answered.  


“I’m a sponge. I don’t care who you are. I feel like everybody has a piece of information I can use. There are times to listen and times to ask questions. 

The Lesson: The wisest students realize how much they do not know and take action to increase their knowledge in all areas. However, students need a level of maturity to realize that “I don’t know everything and that I should listen to those who have a little more insight on this college thing.”  Those students who seek advice AND listen can sprint to the graduation finish line with less scars, bumps and bruises because they were able to avoid mistakes others have experienced.

 View the Full Interview Here

Credit: YouTube/SwaysUniverse

College Exit Strategies: Five Academic Resolutions for the New Year

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Stuart Miles /

Spring is here! It’s another chance to improve your GPA, adopt new habits and to make up for the excessive fun the fall semester brought.

As a learning consultant, I see many students wanting a fresh academic start this semester.  Some want to improve their GPA to get into their major college, some want to get off academic probation, while others want to reduce their stress.  No matter their goal, I suggest five resolutions they should adopt for a great semester:

  1. Find your motivation.  What’s going to push you to power through the semester? Be specific. Once you find it, write down. Keep it as a reminder when things get tough.

  2. Become an accountant of your time. Write down all tests, assignments, projects and social events on a monthly calendar. Put all classes and work hours on a weekly planner. Identify gaps in between classes and designate them as study time. Monitor your time wasters like sleeping in, watching TV or playing video games. Prioritize your time commitments by their contributions to your semester goals.

  3. Take advantage of your/your parents’ investments. There is a good reason why textbooks cost as much as they do (at least for the purpose of this blog).  They are extremely valuable as they are a primary source of information. It contains more things than your professor can teach in a single lecture or a single semester. So make sure you both buy AND use your textbook this semester in every class for every exam.  Do this even against your professor’s advice of textbooks being unnecessary for the course.

  4. Be a professional student.  Pretend someone was paying you 70k per year to complete your degree.  If being a student was a salaried position, what would you do? How would you act? The same way you would (should) treat your dream job, is the same way you should handle college.  Set your “work” hours to be up and ready by 8AM.  No sleeping in until your first class of the day.  Fill in your 40-50 hours per week with everything related to academics: class, work-study, office hours, studying, study groups, and tutoring.  If you really commit to doing these thing between the hours of 8:00AM-4:30PM, then the rest of the day is yours.  Use your evenings to reward yourself.

  5. Get rid of the Drake mentality. “No new friends”? “No help…that’s all me”? That may work in the music industry (I doubt it), but that mentality definitely won’t work when you’re trying to improve your academic situation. Make sure you use your resources before you desperately need them.  Go get tutoring even if you don’t think the material is difficult.  Visit your professors and teaching assistants to discuss your initial course concerns. Begin a study group to begin studying weeks before the first test. Yes, you may have to take an exam by yourself, but that doesn’t mean that you have to prepare for it alone.

Raising College Grads: Home is where SMART starts! Part 2

Student With Diploma Shows Graduation

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

In Raising College Grads…Part 1, (Read Here) I discussed how many college success skills are developed or strengthen outside of the classroom during their k-12 years.  Skills like reading comprehension (not just reading),  writing, and critical thinking take time and consistency to develop. “Smartness” and college success just doesn’t happen.  It takes a lot of behind the scenes work.  I heard all the time growing up that I was smart, like it was this unattainable thing that everyone couldn’t reach.  Well, that’s not my philosophy.  Being “smart” is not something nature or genetics hands to anyone on a platter. It has to be nurtured consistently.

Below are some simple strategies parents can use to increase their child’s potential for academic success in K-12 and beyond.

  1. Subscribe to positive magazines to help encourage reading such as Jet, Ebony, Time, and National Geographic. Reading can give students broad knowledge that will help them, in general, learn easier. Reading expands the vocabulary and builds imagination needed to think critically. Students also become well-rounded when exposed to current events and cultural issues.
  2. Make TV viewing educational. Ask your children to write and read aloud a summary of what they have just watch. Check for details like characters’ names, descriptions, and events.  A critical level in higher order thinking is the ability to summarize details and pick out main ideas. This is also a top college study strategy. (This may take some incentive).
  3. Choose a word of the week that the family must spell, define and use in a daily conversation. Expanding your child’s vocabulary will make reading comprehension, writing and standardized testing easier.

Stay tuned for more strategies that you can use to increase your child’s potential for success!

Raising College Grads: Home is where SMART starts! Part 1

family_reading“That school does nothing for my child!”  “That teacher doesn’t teach my baby anything.”  “This school district is terrible.” “We have the worst education system in the nation”.  

If I had a nickel for every time I have heard those phrases I would be at least a thousand-aire :).  Yes, a formal education is necessary.  However, students CAN NOT learn everything in 8 hours per day for 9 months per year, for 12 years. Impossible! Yes, I’m all for education reform (not the one that in the news…but a real change). But while all the change is taking place (whenever it happens) your child still has to become educated.  Jobs and colleges will not accept excuses for why a student does not have the qualifications to compete. While parents feel helpless and restricted in providing quality education for their children because of finances or locale, the real TRUTH is: Everything your child needs to compete academically with the best is at home! 

The ultimate goal of K-12 education is not to pass a standardized test but to become a productive adult that can solve real life problems and make wise decisions.  Most real life problems occur outside of the classroom. Therefore, the most important lessons students can learn are at home and in extracurricular activities.  No, i’m not a parent, but I am a child who succeeded despite coming from a minority, low-income and first-generation household and a “medium”-quality school district.  The things that I was exposed to at home over-compensated for any lack that I may have experience in my K-12 education.

In “Raising College Grads: Home Is Where SMART starts! Part 2” I will give several tips and strategies that parents can considered in making sure their child is academically prepared for college.