Media Monday: Don't be afraid of the dark! A solar eclipse roundup

The countdown begins! It’s just one week until the 2017 solar eclipse hits much of North America midday on August 21. So today we have a roundup of some of the best resources for kids, parents, and educators about this rare event. Some schools around the country have struggled to decide whether kids are better off at school or at home, but everyone seems to agree that the event is an opportunity for incredibly diverse learning to happen around the science, math, and history of eclipses. For this overview I looked at some excellent web and video material for a general understanding of the what and how of it all. Then I look at how to find specific opportunities for students in the Alt Ed solar system: Austin and New York City. And at the end: a couple of my favorite extras.

If you just need a quick, thorough eclipse explainer, Vox comes through with a great five-minute video.

I hope that for this particular Media Monday, educators, parents, and students will consider sharing their eclipse plans, photos, and experiences with us via social media so that we can learn from each other. If New York folks could share via Alt Ed NYC’s Facebook page and Austin folks could share via Alt Ed Austin’s Facebook page, we might end up with some wonderful alternative stories and some tips for the next eclipse!

PBS has put together a clear, easy-to-digest set of materials designed for educators but equally helpful for parents who are looking for activities, basic information, and videos. The site links out to many NASA materials too.

Speaking of NASA: Really, where else would you start your search for all things eclipsical? Comprehensive and authoritative, NASA has created a guide that’s great for those who don’t live near the path of totality, because they are offering so many terrific online options for learning. Kids can see a 3D simulation before the eclipse and then watch NASA’s  livestream on Monday. The site links to several exciting Citizen Science opportunities.

My favorite option for kids (well, and for me!) is probably Science Friday’s Spotlight: The Great American Eclipse. The Spotlight guide is printable, perfectly illustrated, and includes lots of links out to additional great resources.

KQED’s Science team has also put together a terrific set of explainers, and I love Anna Kusmer’s discussion of the citizen science angle of the event. For example, kids can help gather data for the California Academy of Sciences, Life Responds project, which looks at effects of the eclipse on animals and plants. If you have a student who is into this topic, take a look at a news story from a few years ago about how insects, squirrels, and other animals respond to eclipses.

Scientific American’s comprehensive coverage is superb, and best suited to teens and educators. The magazine’s interactive graphic is one that you can geek out over for a long time.

For older grade school kids through high school, National Geographic’s coverage is great fun, and their map is accessible and elegant. Among their offerings are photos taken over a hundred years of eclipse-watching and a great new article on animal reactions to eclipses.

More into the cultural and historical side of things? Take a look at Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings posts about astronomer Maria Mitchell’s thoughts on how to watch an eclipse and her account of the 1869 eclipse, Mabel Loomis Todd’s 19th-century guide to eclipses, and writer Annie Dillard’s essay on how strange and magical an eclipse is. The Atlantic reprinted the full Dillard essay last week. Round it all off with a New York Times story about the big impact of the 1919 Eclipse on the world of science.

To end Eclipse Day 2017: Gather around and watch PBS NOVA’s documentary, Eclipse Over America.

In Austin: Peak eclipse time: 1:10 PM (partial)
Taylor Goldenstein of the Austin American-Statesman has put together a very helpful list of eclipse events in Central Texas. It looks like the Round Rock Public Library is among the best options for viewing and learning fun.

In New York City: Peak eclipse time: 2:44 PM (partial)
The Hayden Planetarium is hosting an all-afternoon event that is sure to be fabulous. And many NYC libraries and museums are participating. Amy Plitt of put together a viewing guide that’s helpful.

More awesome stuff:

Shelley Sperry


Austin’s STEM schools are fueled by kids’ and educators’ natural curiosity

The technology and engineering sectors are producing valuable jobs in Austin and the rest of the nation, and, perhaps as a result, a growing number of parents want to encourage a love of science and mathematics in their children. It makes sense that we’re seeing more and more schools promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) curricula. STEM courses and camps are popular in public and private schools, but as you might expect, the alternative schools in Austin offer some special twists. To learn more, I talked with local innovators who are taking STEM in new directions: Rebeca Guerrero and Dorothy and Kori McLain.

Geologists rock on at Copernicus.

Geologists rock on at Copernicus.

It’s important to be able to take a radio apart, and not get scolded!
—Rebeca Guerrero, Copernicus STEM, Language and Arts Academy

Rebeca Guerrero’s warm and supportive preschool, Copernicus STEM, Language and Arts Academy, has served children age 18 months to 5 years for the past two years.

Rebeca is a scientist herself, with a decade of experience as a microbiologist. When she realized that most young people today leave high school and head for college believing that science is too hard to master, and only for the smartest kids, she knew she had to try to make some changes. Rebeca’s own mother encouraged her to take an interest in the world and to ask questions and explore when she was very young. “As someone who used to take radios apart for fun, with my mother’s help, it was a shocking revelation that so many students are intimidated by science.”  

Invertebrates are awesome. (Copernicus)

Invertebrates are awesome. (Copernicus)

Rebeca moved into teaching and then, when her son was born a few years ago, decided to open her own preschool, allowing them to spend time together, playing and learning with other children. In the fall of 2015, Copernicus Academy started with four students, soon grew to 20, and today has about 50. The preschool combines STEM-focused play with learning in English and Spanish.

“Most of our kids speak English at home, but we have also had children who speak Korean and Farsi.” Parents at Copernicus understand the value of a bilingual education, says Rebeca, but “more than anything, families are looking for a place where kids can grow and feel supported emotionally.” With that supportive base, Copernicus educators pursue play-based learning with intention, making sure the students have experiences that spark a love of the natural world. For example, kids might spend a month learning about the solar system, including Earth’s rotation, the moon’s phases, integrating art and reading into their projects.

On an average day, you might find kids at Copernicus perfecting catapults made out of spoons, cooperating, experimenting, and showing off what they’ve done by launching pompoms. The usual routine includes time in the sun room or outside, snacks, small-group play, centers, and circle time. The staff joins in games and activities, asking questions but never telling the children what or how to play. And then there’s the music: “We sing and have dance parties every day,” says Rebeca. “We want to make sure that later in life they will say: ‘Science is not boring, it’s fun! Science is not for someone else—science is for me.’”


LTSA students on a NASA field trip.

LTSA students on a NASA field trip.

Everything is connected in our studies at LTSA,
like everything in our world is connected and integrated.

—Dorothy McLain, Lake Travis Stem Academy

At Lake Travis Stem Academy (LTSA), founder Kori McLain was not only inspired by her mother, she recruited her. Dorothy McLain spent most of her career as a college educator specializing in English composition and literature. Now she and Kori and the rest of the LTSA team are preparing about 25 students in Kindergarten through 9th grade for the 21st century, with a curriculum integrating STEM, critical thinking, and experiential learning. LTSA is now working on a partnership with UT High School that will allow older students to continue on at Lake Travis while benefitting from the resources the larger school can offer.

Dorothy has always believed in an interdisciplinary approach to learning. “It’s important to become well-rounded,” she says, citing a recent project in which middle-schoolers learned about the history, economics, politics, and culture of the Great Depression by writing and staging a three-act musical play.

Inspiration. (LTSA)

Inspiration. (LTSA)

“We are both experiential and project-based,” Dorothy explains. Students are engaged in hands-on, real-world activities that give them the opportunity to collaborate with each other and with outside experts to come up with solutions to problems or answer questions. At the end of each unit, instead of a traditional exam, students present their findings to the rest of the school and to the experts who have helped them. “They’re able to share their ideas with the rest of the community and have to think on their feet when the audience asks surprising questions!”

“We learn more from our failures than our successes,” adds Kori. If a model airplane a team has created doesn’t fly, then it’s back to the drawing board for more experiments. Just like in real life.

The overarching goals at both Copernicus and LTSA are to free the natural curiosity in each student and to keep them engaged and asking why? “They all see things around them and want to know more,” says Dorothy. “After that initial curiosity is aroused, we can then go deeper, encouraging them to think, ask more questions, and stay excited about learning.”

Shelley Sperry

College admissions for alternative schooled, homeschooled, and unschooled applicants (Part 2)

Guest contributor Antonio Buehler, founder of Abrome and a highly experienced college admissions consultant, returns to the blog today with Part 2 of his extensive guide to college admissions for unconventionally educated students. You can learn more about Antonio and read Part 1 of this essay here.

Four-year Colleges vs. Community Colleges

University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley

Community colleges are a fabulous higher education alternative for both traditional and non-traditional applicants who are concerned about the costs of college or the distance from home, or who may not be able to gain immediate access to more selective universities. Unfortunately, many people (especially in more affluent communities [and charter school networks]) seem to look down on community colleges as an option because they do not carry with them an air of exclusivity. However, while many applicants and parents may find themselves on the outside looking in after the college admissions season, for many top state universities, community college is an excellent end-around into school, with many offering automatic admission based on GPA.[2] Community colleges have particular leverage among many elite public universities, such as Berkeley and UCLA, where upwards of 20 percent of the undergraduates come from community colleges. Although the percentage of community college transfers at the University of Texas at Austin is lower than at the California schools, over 40 percent of transfer students into UT-Austin come from community colleges.[3]

When to Apply

Sooner is always better than later in the admissions game. While some recommend holding off until Regular Decision (historically January 1st or 15th) so that applicants can build up their bona fides, it is extremely rare for someone to add anything to their application in a couple of extra months that will seriously move the admissions committee. The cost of delaying until Regular Decision is missing out on the opportunity to apply Early Decision, Early Action, or Restricted Early Action. And the chances of admission at most schools are substantially higher for those who apply early rather than later.

Many counselors and consultants also advise applicants with financial need to apply Regular Decision because they believe that applying early locks them into a school with no opportunity to compare financial aid offers. This is also a misplaced argument. First, those with the most financial need are most likely to benefit from the free room, board, and tuition that is offered by the most selective colleges with the most generous financial aid (e.g., Harvard, Princeton, Stanford). Second, all schools allow their applicants out of a binding admission if they can demonstrate that they cannot afford to attend. Third, many schools are need blind during early admissions, but become need aware later in the admissions process, meaning those with need are even more disadvantaged by waiting to apply.

It is also worth noting that many applicants can have multiple bites of the early admissions apple. Early Decision (ED) limits applicants to applying to only one school, and they must enroll if accepted (or forgo college altogether unless they can be released from their commitment due to financial or other exigent circumstances). Some of the more exclusive universities that have ED include Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as some of the most exclusive liberal arts colleges, such as Amherst and Williams. However, some schools also have an Early Decision Round 2, which allows people who fail to earn admission to their first-choice ED school to apply to another ED school. Although this is no longer an “early” admission, it is binding. More exclusive schools with an ED Round 2 include NYU, Pomona, Swarthmore, Tufts, Vanderbilt, and Wellesley.

Instead of Early Decision, applicants can choose to apply Early Action (EA), which does not bind them to the school should they gain admission. This allows them to apply with an increased likelihood of admission (although not as much of an advantage as ED) without taking away other potential college options. Some of the more selective schools with an EA round include CalTech, Chicago, Georgetown, and Notre Dame. Finally, a small number of schools offer Restrictive Early Action (REA), where applicants can apply early and get a non-binding response but can only apply to one school early. This means that they can apply to either a bunch of EA schools, or one REA school, but not a mixture of the two. The four most selective universities in the country happen to offer REA: Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

Crafting a Story

Another tremendous advantage of applying as a non-traditional applicant is that it is remarkably easy to come across as interesting, accomplished, and intellectually curious to the admissions committee. Most conventionally schooled students simply do not have time to be interesting, accomplished, or intellectually curious. They are stuck in required classes in school for 5 to 7 hours per day for 180 days per year for 13 years of their lives, in addition to all of the hours they spend on expected extracurricular activities and sports, required service hours, and the many more hours of homework and studying needed to finish at the top of their class. There is a reason why most high achievers are perpetually exhausted: there is not sufficient time to sleep, especially for those who come from feeder high schools and the schools that wish they were feeder schools.

On the other hand, non-traditionally schooled applicants are able to lead remarkable, interesting lives. It is not a given that they will, especially for those who attend schools where they have little to no say over how they spend their time, or for homeschoolers who are forced to work though boxed or online curriculum. But when young people have the freedom and time to take learning down pathways that meet their needs, they get to engage in the type of deep, meaningful, and enduring learning experiences that turn them from just another applicant with good numbers into someone who captures the attention of the admissions committee as well as future classmates. When those experiences are coupled with a level of intellectual vitality that rarely survives the K–12 schooling process (because of the coercive nature of schooling), colleges are eager to offer admission and bring these applicants onto campus.

It is not sufficient to have a great story, however. An applicant must also be able to tell a great story, and that is where the college essays and recommendations come in. Telling that story in a way that will move an admissions committee that reads tens of thousands of applications is challenging. It is why a select number of college admissions consultants charge over $20,000 to their clients. But non-traditionally schooled applicants typically have ample essay fodder to work with, and they typically have a sense of purpose or a mission in life that allows them to string that essay fodder into a powerful and compelling personal story.

Decision Time

The University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin

Almost as stressful as the application process is the decision process once the offers begin to roll in (if an applicant is not bound by an Early Decision offer of admission). Non-traditional applicants have a tremendous advantage over their traditionally schooled peers in picking a college and in taking advantage of the resources available to them at the next level. This is because traditional school applicants have been fighting to get to the top of their high school class, because ranking ahead of peers is deemed necessary to success, and now they are moving on to 13th grade with a vision of climbing to the top of their college class as well. To too many traditionally schooled students, education is about satisfying teachers and competing against peers, as opposed to learning.

Non-traditionally schooled young people have more likely seen education as a collection of experiences that have allowed them to understand themselves and to grow as intellectuals and humanitarians. Education to them is an opportunity, not a competition, and because of that perceived opportunity they are more likely to choose the college that is the best fit for them, as opposed to obsessing over college rankings. They are also more likely to take advantage of the many opportunities at college that they can use to continue to grow, as opposed to being worried about going down the same path as all of their pre-med and Goldman Sachs–bound peers.

Good luck to all the non-traditionally schooled young people out there who are heading into the college admissions season. You have tremendous advantages in the admissions game, but more importantly, you will have tremendous opportunities to make the most of your college experience.

Great educations aren’t passive experiences; they’re active ones.”
—Frank Bruni

Far more significant than where you go to school, however, is why and how.”
—William Deresiewicz

      2. For example, the University of Virginia is one of the most prestigious public schools, often considered a “public Ivy,” and offers Virginia community college graduates who meet very reasonable standards a guaranteed admission into UVA.

     3. Conversation with UT-Austin admissions office, August 1, 2017.

Antonio Buehler

The #1 predictor of success: Concentration

Guest blogger Susan Phariss, founder of Brain Fitness Strategies, believes that it’s possible to change the brain and profoundly improve the future at a level most people never imagine. She specializes in helping bright kids who struggle with sensory, reading, and anxiety issues. Using neurodevelopmental movements, she helps kids get rid of the blocks that prevent them from reaching their full, thriving, happy potential.

I was shocked when I read a study reporting that the ability to concentrate is the #1 predictor of success in life. The Duke University study was conducted in New Zealand with over 1,000 kids. They studied the kids for eight years and then did a follow-up when they were 32 years old. What they found is that the ability to concentrate is a stronger predictor of success than IQ or socio-economic status. It predicted health, career success, and financial success.

As a neurodevelopment specialist, I often work with kids who have really poor concentration. An example would be my past client, Micah. When we started working with him, his mom said it took four hours to do his schoolwork every night—and he was in elementary school! Mom or dad had to stay with him the whole four hours—and no one else in the house could have fun while Micah was doing homework, as it would distract him even further

After doing our brain exercises for three months, Micah’s mom reported he was down to just 40 minutes to get his homework done. Then, after eight months, she said he was a straight-A student and never brought homework home anymore—he always got his work done at school!

Here are a couple of favorite activities to boost concentration that you can do at home with your child:

Peacock Feather

The first activity is balancing a peacock feather. Place the tip of the feather on a finger or anywhere on the hand, stand the feather straight up, look at the top, and then let go of the feather with the other hand. As the feather starts leaning, follow the feather with your hand, keeping it underneath the feather.

Your job as a parent is to remind them, “Look at the top! Look at the top! Look at the top!” Once they grasp that they can balance it longer by staying focused on the top, you can stop reminding them—and start timing them.

I recommend keeping a success chart of how long the peacock feather was balanced in each hand. This keeps them motivated to beat their old record every time they practice, building their concentration through play!

When they can balance the peacock feather consistently for 60 seconds, challenge them with balancing a yardstick! The yardstick moves much faster and will be more challenging, building even more concentration.

You can pick up a peacock feather at Michael’s or most arts and crafts stores. Be sure it is approximately 36 inches long (like the yardstick). I buy mine in bulk online here.


I love juggling as a neurodevelopmental exercise so much that Paul and I wrote an e-book about it! There are lots of studies (like this one and this one) reporting how juggling grows new brain cells (both gray matter and white matter), and that it grows it mostly in the visual processing center of your brain.

My favorite prop for teaching new jugglers is colorful juggling rings! They are easier than beanbags because you don’t have to control your wrist angle.

Have your child practice throwing it up and down with one hand, with a first goal of 10 throws in a row with no drops. Then try the other hand. Then throw from hand to hand 10 times without a drop. When they are comfortable with catching and throwing to themselves, then you can start having them pass with you! My e-book has the rest of the steps for learning how to juggle three objects successfully.

Passing juggling props between two or more people builds their ability to collaborate. It also builds creativity, eye-hand coordination, reading skills—the list of benefits is long!

I buy my juggling rings online here.

For more tips on teaching your child to juggle, Alt Ed Austin readers can download a free copy of the juggling instructions from my e-book, Have a Ball Learning, from my website. It’s a step-by-step guide on teaching your child to juggle—even if you can’t! It also includes activities for kids who don’t have the coordination to juggle yet, plus other games you can play with them that build focus and concentration.

But don’t take my word for it—let your child try it and let them tell you!

Susan Phariss

College admissions for alternative schooled, homeschooled, and unschooled applicants (Part 1)

Antonio Buehler is the founder of Abrome, a private K–12 school located in West Austin between West Lake Hills and Bee Cave. Antonio has over 13 years of college admissions experience as an admissions consultant where about 75 percent of his former clients gained admission into a Top 10 school, and about 50 percent of those who applied to Harvard and/or Stanford were accepted. Antonio previously volunteered for the West Point admissions office and currently serves as an alumni interviewer for Stanford University.

Antonio no longer provides admissions consulting services, but as a guest contributor to the Alt Ed Austin blog, he is here to explain the college admissions process from an alternative school perspective. This is Part 1 of his two-part guide, and it’s packed with helpful information for aspiring college students who’ve educated themselves in unconventional ways. Visit the Abrome website to learn more about Antonio and Emancipated Learning, and come back here tomorrow for Part 2.

Today, the Common Application goes live, and with it the college admissions season is once again here. And today, hundreds of thousands of rising high school seniors begin transitioning from the thrill of imagining themselves in a variety of university settings as they flip through college websites and view books to the anxiety of filling out applications and wondering if they will get into a college that is prestigious enough for their parents to place a sticker of that college on the back of the family car(s). While students who were able to opt out of traditional (public and private) schools so that they could go to a progressive alternative school, be homeschooled, or unschool themselves were able to avoid much of the stress associated with the ever-present college admissions arms race that has fully permeated the high school experience, they are often less sure of the next steps forward because they do not have a clear understanding of the application process or how they measure up against other college applicants. This essay serves as a brief primer for these applicants moving forward.

Start Early

Harvard University

Harvard University

Ideally you (or your children) are not applying this year, and instead are planning to apply several years down the road. Those who begin earlier rather than later have significant advantages because they can be more thoughtful about building an interesting and relevant transcript, conduct meaningful research of their target schools, prepare for standardized tests, manage potential recommenders, and endlessly edit their essays until they near perfection. Additionally, those who understand that the college admissions process is a game can turn the game on its head by leading a remarkable life over a period of several years, as opposed to trying to package themselves in the 11th hour (see “It’s a Game” below). Some of this advice will be geared toward those who start earlier, but even those who wait until the summer before applications are due to dive in can benefit from a better understanding of the admissions process and what they can bring to it.

It’s a Game

College admissions is not a meritocracy; it is a game. Sadly, it is a game that weighs heavily on applicants and parents, and it is often seen as a decision that can make or break one’s future prospects. Even more sad is that college admissions decisions have little to do with merit, and much to do with class and privilege. It is essential for applicants to recognize that the college admissions process is not fair, and that the decisions that colleges make in favor or against an applicant have absolutely no bearing on the academic or personal worth of that applicant. Easier said than done. But when an applicant recognizes that college admissions is a game, and they know the rules of the game (and how to hack it), they are more likely to be successful at the game. And an applicant who opts out of traditional schooling has a huge leg up in the admissions game.

Building a Transcript

Stanford University

Stanford University

Hopefully, most young people who are alternatively schooled, homeschooled, or unschooled know that a high school degree is largely worthless. No reputable college or university in the United States requires a high school degree. However, all colleges will want to see a transcript, and this is one area of several where non-traditionally schooled applicants have a sizeable advantage. The time and effort that typical high school students put into their transcripts usually end with a verification that they are hitting all graduation requirements (e.g., 4 math credits, 4 science credits, 4 ELA credits) and a quick calculation to determine which honors and AP classes they should take to boost their GPA relative to their peers. But young people who are responsible for their educational pathways have the opportunity to walk admissions committees through a unique journey that was tailored to the applicant’s needs, goals, and interests. The best way to do this is to celebrate how the applicant spent their time engaged in deep, meaningful, and enduring learning experiences, without trying to conform it to a standard academic transcript (e.g., 4 math credits, 4 science credits, 4 ELA credits).

Additionally, letter grades or percentages are meaningless on a non-traditional transcript unless it shows anything less than a perfect GPA, which would hurt an applicant. Those who opt out of the traditional schooling system should never introduce the rank ordering aspects of grading that pull applicants down. [1]

Standardized Testing

Another benefit of opting out of traditional schooling is that young people get to avoid the relentless testing that is required in the classroom and for the state (e.g., Texas STAAR, New York Regents). Testing serves as a means for lazy politicians, bureaucrats, administrators, and teachers to assess and sort students, at the expense of students. Hopefully, the first time any young person takes a test is if they opt into it for their own benefit, such as taking the PSAT or an AP exam. However, one of the very few downsides to a non-traditional education is that many colleges will lean more heavily on standardized test scores during the admissions process. While the SAT or ACT most often serves as a disqualifier for top private colleges and universities (and as an automatic qualifier for many lower-ranked private or state schools), non-traditional applicants may have a more difficult time overcoming a poor SAT or ACT score than a traditionally schooled applicant who has a perfect GPA and ranks at the top of their class might.

The good news for non-traditional applicants is they should have ample time to prepare for the tests without being burdened by the unnecessary time requirements associated with traditional schooling (e.g., compulsory attendance, mandatory classes, homework, studying, testing). And for those who do not perform well on standardized tests even with plenty of prep, there are now over 900 colleges and universities that do not rely on or require standardized tests in the application process.

It is worth noting that the most exclusive schools also require or “recommend” applicants submit SAT subject tests with their application. Non-traditional applicants should treat SAT subject tests as required if a school “recommends” them, and as recommended if a school “considers” them. Similar to the SAT and ACT, these tests can hurt an applicant’s prospects if the scores are low, but are unlikely to substantially help since so many applicants score in the high 700s or 800 on these tests.

Building a College List

Yale University

Yale University

Traditionally schooled applicants typically have an easier time than non-traditional applicants in zeroing in on schools to apply to because (1) they are more likely to focus on college rankings as a guide for constructing their list, and (2) based on their class rank and GPA at their particular school, combined with their standardized test scores, they can lean on their guidance counselor or Naviance to help them identify the highest-ranked schools where they have a chance of admission. Unfortunately, this approach results in a high volume of applications to a wide range of schools, lower-quality applications, excessively high rates of anxiety, and very often a failure to identify best-fit colleges.

Non-traditional applicants can more easily overcome the aforementioned challenges because they are more likely to “understand thyself” thanks to years of self-directed learning (or less-coercive schooling) and reflection, and therefore are more likely to be drawn to colleges based on what opportunities and experiences the colleges can provide the applicant in accordance with their needs, as opposed to being drawn to colleges based on their rank. This process will still lead many of these non-traditional applicants to elite, private research universities such as Harvard and Stanford, but others may find that the flagship state school or even starting out at a local community college may be more advantageous for them, while many others may be drawn to liberal arts colleges that are less selective than the elite research universities but that arguably provide the best college education of all.

From a strategic perspective, fewer schools are better than many in the college applications game. By focusing on only the most selective schools as opposed to the best-fit schools, many applicants are driven to apply to upwards of two dozen colleges that may each have single- or low-double-digit acceptance rates. In doing so, they undermine their chances by stretching themselves thin on supplemental essays, applying to schools that their applications will not resonate with, and failing to help recommenders (especially optional recommenders) tailor their letters to a targeted group of schools. Applying to a bunch of schools also costs a lot of money.

Many counselors and consultants recommend applying to 6–10 schools, but we would recommend applying to no more than 5 schools. We have advised applicants to only apply to schools they would be thrilled to attend because of what they could make of the experience, whether it is Harvard, Stanford, State Flagship University, or Directional State U. We highly recommend against applying to “safety” schools as something to fall back to if best-fit schools do not work out. We also recommend against applying to any schools that do not require supplemental essays beyond what is required in the Common Application or Coalition Application, unless the applicant feels that the school is a great fit for their needs. Schools that do not have additional essay prompts often benefit from having large numbers of lazier applicants apply because of the marginal effort required (an application fee), making it more difficult for a non-traditional applicant to drive home their unique story to the admissions committee. [The author of this essay applied to only three universities: West Point for college, Stanford and Harvard for business school, and Harvard for education school. The author has never been rejected and attributes much of this success to being able to submit a near perfect application on the factors that he was able to control or have considerable influence over (e.g., essays, recommendations).]

[Join us back here on the blog tomorrow for more advice from Antonio in Part 2. —Ed.]

     1. Grading also undermines the learning process. Any school that grades its students fails its students. There is never a reason for an alternative school to engage in this destructive practice.

Antonio Buehler

I scream, you scream, we all scream for screen time (and some page time, too)

Summer has really been behaving like summer lately, hasn’t it? Heat, humidity, a whoosh of thunderstorms tossed in for good measure. Good summer weather makes me want to walk by the river, look at the birds, and even do a little kayaking. But oppressive summer weather whispers in my ear: Let’s go inside and watch a movie.

I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming  and Wonder Woman, and I can’t wait for Thor: Ragnorok, but it’s a relief to switch things up now and then, and get away from the usual blockbusters. When I watched some great trailers for upcoming films for kids and families, I was excited to see several based on classic children’s literature: Goodbye Christopher Robin, out in October, will tell the story of how A. A. Milne created Winnie the Pooh. Ferdinand, a Christmas 2017 release, will animate and stretch the wonderful little tale of a flower-loving bull to almost 2 hours! And two highly anticipated films based on much-loved books arrive next year: Mary Poppins Returns and A Wrinkle in Time.

I certainly remember being inspired to seek out books after watching great (and maybe not-so-great) movie adaptations, ranging from The Wizard of Oz to Jaws to Frankenstein. So here, to encourage some cozy family time in air-conditioned comfort, is a list of movies for kids ages 7 to 12 that might inspire them to head for the library to get the full story. I’ll follow up with a list for teens soon. The films are linked to their descriptions at Common Sense Media to help you determine whether they’re right for you and your kids.

Classic Must-See and Must-Read:

Animators Bring Books to Life:

Laugh ’til You Cry

The Scary Stuff (Beware!):

Get Your Heart Warmed

Shelley Sperry