How to Request a Letter of Recommendation | Who to Ask and What to Say

getting into college

Do you need a glowing recommendation for your scholarship or college application? Learn how to request a letter of recommendation that will impress the application committee in this guest post by New Milford, NJ tutor Matthew H...


Let’s face it, finding a teacher or professor to write a strong letter of recommendation is not exactly easy. It can be awkward to ask someone we respect and admire to help us in some way without appearing opportunistic or desperate. Regardless if you’re going to college, trying to get into graduate school, or applying for some position that needs a vouch on your behalf, these are some tips that will help you get the best possible letter of recommendation.

It’s Not About the Name

First off, you cannot ask just anyone for a letter of recommendation. A stranger will have little insight as to what makes you a good candidate for whatever it is that you are applying. Someone who knows you or your work very well, like a teacher you’ve taken a class with, is obviously the best choice. You might be tempted to have your high school principal or college dean or the company CEO write a letter on your behalf, however, unless you actually know that person really well, that title doesn’t amount to very much. You could have a world-famous professor write you a letter of recommendation, but if he’s never taught you or has no idea what you could bring to the position, then the letter will be bland and unimpressive. In fact, admissions boards will be able to tell right away how sincere a recommender is being, and if there’s a weak connection, then you don’t have the strongest argument to be accepted.

Establish a Strong Relationship

A teacher or supervisor you’ve directly worked with is the best choice because they’ll be able to provide specific details as to why you should be accepted into a college or nonacademic position. If you’re a college student, make sure you actively participate in class discussions, especially if you’re going to ask a professor of a large lecture. Get to know them well by attending office hours or speaking with them after class. They’ll feel more at ease with you and be better equipped to write on your strengths if they have that connection. If you’re in high school, then chances are you have a relatively small class size and the teacher probably knows you fairly well. Still, make every effort to answer questions and do extra work to show them how motivated and serious you are. In the work force, do not hesitate to go out of your way to make small talk with your colleagues and bosses; that face time helps them relate to you better. Caution: there’s a fine line between sucking up and showing interest. Be sincere with whatever you do and say. Do not wait until the last minute to build a relationship, either, because that will feel forced and contrived. Once you have established a genuine relationship, asking for the actual recommendation won’t feel so awkward, because it will be a natural extension of the rapport that you’ve built on with your recommender.

Provide Your Recommender With All of the Necessary Information

Once you’ve secured the recommender (and many times you need more than one), give them whatever directions are important for the specific program or role for which you are applying. For example, if you are applying to doctoral programs, provide your recommender with the complete list of schools that you are applying to, including the deadlines for each one. It may help to list them in order of which due date comes first. Also send information about any specific faculty member you would like to work with and specializations that may be of interest. While you should trust and have faith in your recommender’s abilities to highlight your best attributes, help them by being specific as to what is most crucial to the application at hand. Update them regularly with any changes to the process, so they will be able to submit everything in a timely fashion. Be sure to thank them!

Applications are an intricate process that relies on multiple factors to reach a decision. Knowing how to request a letter of recommendation is just one aspect that can create a compelling application, regardless if it’s academic or professional. No matter the outcome, following the steps above at least ensures that your recommenders have done the best they can to represent you well. If you do not receive the position you were hoping for, you might be able to learn from the experience and make a stronger case the next time around. Either way, start making those good connections for the future!

MatthewHMatthew H. teaches a variety of subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ. He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here! 



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5 of the Best GRE Prep Books to Help You Ace the Test

gre-book-e1365566961180Applying for grad school? Here are five of the best GRE prep books to check out, as recommended by online tutor Marcus S...


As someone headed to grad school, you’ve likely been focusing on your major for the last couple of years or working in the real world for even longer. In either case, you probably need to freshen up your skills in one or more areas covered on the GRE. Finding a quality tutor is the best way to prepare for the test, but you should also spend time studying on your own. An experienced tutor will be able to help you with questions you have from any GRE prep book, but before you invest your money, your time, and your future in a study guide, make sure you choose from one of the best GRE prep books. Here are my recommendations:

1. The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test

The Official Guide to the GRE is published by ETS, the makers of the GRE, so it offers perks that no one else can match, including four real GRE practice tests. However, the creators of the GRE aren’t going to give you the best tips or tricks to hack their own test, so this book is ideally used in combination with one of the other test prep guides listed below. If you’re tight for cash, as many soon-to-be grad students are, you might consider using the free practice questions and study materials offered by ETS on their website, along with a top-notch tutor and another book.

2. Gruber’s Complete GRE Guide

Dr. Gary Gruber has spent his career tackling tests (when he wasn’t working on his Ph.D. in astrophysics — seriously!). In his Complete GRE Guide he shows you how to apply his Gruber Method of test-taking, which is a way of looking at each question with critical-thinking skills. The Gruber Guide is meant to help you on the entire GRE, but is known for its wisdom on quantitative questions. If math is your weakness, this is one of the best GRE prep books for you.

3. GRE For Dummies

You’re no dummy, but sometimes the GRE can make you feel like one. Some test prep creators think boring you to death is the way to approach an exam, but this book uses the Dummies series’ signature light-heartedness to keep you relaxed, alert, and dare we say, entertained, as you study. GRE for Dummies breaks down a complex test into bite-sized chunks of knowledge, which go down easy but add up to a healthy meal of test preparation.

4. Barron’s GRE

As one of the leaders in test prep, Barron’s offers practice questions as close as you can get to the real thing. Barron’s GRE also includes a CD with two full-length GRE practice tests, as well as access to tons of resources online, plus an iPad app for mobile studying.

5. 5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems

With 33 chapters, a vocabulary list appendix, and 1800 practice questions, you can see why this book weighs five pounds. You can also be sure there’s quality as well as quantity, because the 5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems is authored by Manhattan Prep. Among those 1800 questions, which is the most in any GRE prep book, you’ll find 200 that focus on the most difficult level of GRE questions. If you’re looking for a great score and not just a decent one, your mental exercise program should start with 5 lb. curls of this book.

Preparing for the Graduate Record Examinations isn’t like studying for a college exam. Similar to the SAT, the GRE is designed to test a wide range of abilities, not the knowledge of a specific subject, and you have to approach it in a certain way. But the GRE isn’t the SAT. You’re on your way to grad school, and the GRE is going to make sure you are serious about it. These books and an expert tutor will keep you on the right path. Good luck!

MarcusSMarcus S. tutors online in a variety of subjects. He has been trained and certified to teach classes and give individual tutoring to students in the SAT, GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for the Princeton Review. Learn more about Marcus here!



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How to Instantly Impress on Your College Applications


Getting involved in activities is a great way to amp up your college application. Here, New York, NY tutor Lauren P. explains how to take it up a notch further…

You’ve likely heard before that demonstrating long-term commitment and leadership in a couple of extracurricular activities, instead of experimenting with something new every semester, can increase your chances of getting into college. Don’t wait around to be voted Vice President or Treasurer of an overcrowded school club. Prove your leadership skills by starting a club today.

Impress Colleges by Demonstrating Leadership

While scholars and athletes may have a greater chance of getting into some colleges, this is not all schools look for in candidates. Like it or not, the institution of higher education is about more than student learning. Colleges improve their ranking when they can boast prestigious alumni. You can demonstrate your ability to become one of these celebrated alumni through the extracurricular activities you include on your college applications. In addition to the activities you are already committed to, what better way is there to exhibit leadership than to write “Club President & Founder” on your application?

Turn Weaknesses Into Strengths

How do you decide what club to start? Found a club that makes the most of your skills and interests, while transforming your weaknesses into strengths. If you are too nervous to be in charge or speak in front of a group, organize your club to suit your leadership style. You could recruit a friend or classmate to be your spokesperson, for example, while you manage from behind the scenes. Read the club ideas below to help you brainstorm your own:

  • If you are a math wiz, start a peer tutoring initiative or a “college placement” club to challenge yourself and others to higher levels of math.
  • If you struggle academically, make it clear on your college application that your academic weaknesses actually fuel your leadership potential and passion to help others in the community. For example, you could start an early intervention club to tutor elementary students who may be falling through the cracks.
  • Are you an aspiring athlete? Coach a weekly sports camp for kids, start a charity kickball league with your peers, or offer volunteer fitness training to the elderly or even your own parents and teachers!
  • Did you forgo AP courses to pursue your love of art, film, or other elective classes? Use your college application to prove you are serious about these pursuits. Found a club dedicated to art, photography, gospel, film, chess, video game design, romance novels, etc. The sky is the limit!

Despite your class schedule, grades, or test scores, your college application can scream leadership potential with the right activities. Simply found a club that allows you (and your peers) to spend more time doing what you love!

Be a Contributing Member of Your Community

Every college wants students who contribute to the community. This is why most college applications ask for volunteer experience. Community service comes in many forms, so choose the type and cause you are passionate about. Come up with ideas based on the activities below:

  • Do you like cooking or baking? Bake away and recruit other chefs for a bake sale or potluck fundraiser for the Red Cross.
  • Are you an athlete? Organize a charitable sporting event with teachers vs. students or seniors vs. freshman to donate to a children’s hospital.
  • Are you a nature-lover? Host a volunteer outing to plant trees, clean up litter, or plant a community garden.
  • Are you a budding artist or politician? Design posters and catchy slogans to get people excited about donating change, clothes, food, etc. to help the homeless.

Once you decide on the cause you want to support, become a leader by committing to a specific number of activities or hours every week or month. If your school already has a community service club, start a separate club dedicated to your cause of choice. If your school won’t allow you to found a new club, become a leader in the existing club by organizing fundraisers, volunteer outings, and awareness campaigns.

Make Summer Vacation Count

Often there is an entire section of the college application dedicated to how you spent your summer. You do not want to leave this blank. This can be as simple as planning a volunteer day with friends or family. Pick up trash, host a fundraiser, or visit a local food pantry or animal shelter. Apply for a job, explore cultural excursions, and continue your club and community service activities over the summer. Filling your college application with extracurricular and summer activities that exhibit leadership and commitment is easy, and can absolutely increase your chances of getting into college. Get started today!

LaurenPLauren tutors in various subjects in New York, NY. She has her Master’s Degree in Education (with a concentration in students with learning disabilities), and is a certified NYC Special Education teacher. Learn more about Lauren here!



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Are Advanced Placement (AP) Courses Worth It?


Are AP courses really that important? Find out in this guest post by Grand Rapids, MI tutor Elizabeth S...


One major question that comes into play when choosing classes for the school year is this: are Advanced Placement (AP) courses worth it? 

Of course, there is no easy answer to this question. Many people will answer: “Yes. Advanced Placement classes are definitely worth it! If you get good scores on the tests, you can waive those basic classes in college!” Others will respond: “No way! They are just harder versions of the normal class, and not all colleges and universities offer or recognize the classes that your class would cover. Besides, that test costs extra money!”

After hearing these answers, one might be more conflicted than before. When I was in high school, I signed up for many advanced placement courses, and even in some with no intention of taking the tests. The experience, for me, was worth it for many different reasons.

Challenging Yourself

Number one: AP courses are more challenging and in-depth than regular classes.

I found that in these classes, I was more interested and motivated to participate, because the coursework was more challenging. In the class, we weren’t just glossing over the basics; we learned the basics and then applied those to the subject at hand. The demonstrations used were interesting because the teachers had to make sure we understood what they were teaching us.

Learning to Meet Higher Expectations

Number two: The expectations were much higher than regular classes.

One thing that I have learned throughout my life and teaching career is that if someone has high expectations for a person and/or group, people usually try to reach those expectations. In advanced placement classes, this was proven for me every day. The attitude of, if one is in these classes he or she should be doing well in them, puts a lot of pressure on students to live up to that standard. While it was tough, I came out with more than the knowledge of the subject I was learning, but with knowledge of better time management and study skills.

Connecting With Peers

Number three: A lot of my friends were doing it as well.

Who doesn’t like taking classes with their friends? Not only was the coursework more interesting, I always had people I could talk to about it who weren’t my teacher.

Preparing for College

Number four: I was more prepared for the intensity of college courses because my AP teachers treated the classes in much the same way as my college professors did.

That being said, I will leave you with this advice: if you’re wondering if AP courses are worth it, it really depends on you as a student. If you want to be more challenged in high school, then by all means take the classes. You don’t have to take the tests to still get many benefits of taking an AP class. If, however, you are not prepared or do not feel prepared, then you may want to stay in regular classes.

Advanced Placement classes have the potential to do a lot of good for students who are ready for the extra challenges. These classes will not only give you a deeper understanding of the subjects you are taking, but they will prepare you for the courses you will take in your journey through higher education.

ElizabethElizabeth S. tutors in various subjects in Grand Rapids, MI. She graduated from Grand Valley State University with a two majors in English/Language Arts and Education, plus two minors in French and Elementary Distributed.  Learn more about Elizabeth here! 



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The 4 Most Common Admissions Essay Topics (and How to Approach Them)


Are you getting your college applications ready? In most cases, you’ll need a copy of your transcript, letters of recommendation, and the often-dreaded admissions essay. To make the process a little easier, read on as Ann Arbor, MI teacher Elaina R. shares some of the most common admissions essay topics you might run into…


College admissions essays act as the human element in the otherwise statistic-driven admissions process. Where test scores and GPAs could easily be evaluated by an algorithm, someone has to actually sit down and read your essay. The goal of the college admissions essay is simple: getting to know the person behind the statistics. If you do a good job, the admissions officer gets a little glimpse of your personality that tips the scales in your favor.

Colleges tend to use the same types of essay topics and prompts each year. Knowing what to expect, and remembering to focus on yourself – not your nervous college applicant self, but your real, quirky, interesting self – gives you a good shot at writing an essay worth remembering.

1. A Defining Experience

“Describe an experience that changed your life.” “Tell us about an experience that defines who you are.” This is probably the most common essay topic. While some students have a truly life-changing experience that they want to write about, many others are left wondering whether they should write about winning softball regionals or going to Disney World.

If you are one of the many students without a crazy story to tell, spend some time brainstorming about who you are and what it is you want the admissions committee to know. Small-scale stories can be just as effective as large-scale ones. My own college admissions essay was about a haircut, but I used it to show how I had grown as a person and overcome adversity. It got me into a great school.

2. A Hobby or Interest

When faced with the “Write about your favorite hobby” prompt, many students’ first inclination is to write about an extracurricular already displayed prominently on their application. The admissions officer already know that you are captain of the football team if it says so on your extracurriculars list. That doesn’t mean that you can’t write about the football team (or debate team or drama club), but it does mean you should take a second look first.

Make a list of all of the hobbies and activities you enjoy. Remember, the admissions officer is going to read hundreds of essays about sports, but how many essays will be about baking artisan bread or collecting preserved beetles? Those are the essays admissions officers are more likely to remember.

3. The Role Model Essay

Don’t write about how Albert Einstein is your role model just to impress the admissions officer. Since the goal is getting to know you better, picking a famous historical figure for the wrong reasons could backfire. If Albert Einstein is genuinely your role model and you’ve read dozens of books on him, it will show. If he isn’t, that will show as well.

Make a list of people who have inspired you or made a difference in your life. Your role model could turn out to be your grandmother, a grocery store clerk, or even a fictional character.

4. Why Our University?

Even this question is about you. Admissions officers do not want you to rattle off statistics about their university. They work in the admissions office and probably know all of the statistics already. They know that the school is great; what they want to know is what you would do if you got in.

Do some research on your specific areas of interest within the school. That includes academic departments, professors who have worked in your field, and classes that sound interesting. Look into activities as well – a cappella groups, intramural sports, charitable organizations, and so on. Tell the admissions officer exactly what your life at their school would look like.

No matter what the essay topic is, when writing a college admissions essay, always focus on you. The college admissions committee wants to know who you are and what you have to say. Be honest, be creative, and above all, be yourself.

ElainaElaina R. is a writer, editor, singer, and voice teacher based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her book Slaying Your Admissions Essay Dragon shows how to write application essays that are actually fun to read. Elaina has served as an editor for several notable books as well, including NFL great Adrian Peterson’s autobiography Don’t Dis My Abilities. Learn more about Elaina here!


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College Planning: Managing the College Application Process

Tips And Advice On College Planning And Admissions

It’s never early to start your college planning! Here are some tips for middle and high school students to get on the right track, from online tutor Natalie S

College planning is a big deal. It’s a lot of work, it’s time consuming, and there are many steps involved in picking the best place to get your college degree. But if you put in the time, it’s also very rewarding. College is your first opportunity to enter the real world on your own, and it gives you the chance to build your education around valuable classes that interest you and benefit your future professional endeavors.

Check out the steps below, and you will be on your way to making your college planning process simple and successful!

Middle School Students:

  1. Keep up the good study habits and the good grades. Universities do not typically view your middle school grades, but there are still many important things that young students can do to prep for college. If you begin to struggle in a class, seek out additional help from a tutor. Your tutor can offer extra support and he or she can also help you keep track of your grades. Your middle school grades lay a strong foundation for your high school classes.
  2. Start to volunteer at charities that interest you, and continue to dedicate a certain amount of time per month to participating in these activities. You will be able to highlight this charitable work on all of your college applications and even your future resumes.
  3. Be diversified! Take up an instrument or join a sports team or school club.
  4. Start learning a foreign language. Most colleges like to see at least three years of a foreign language on an application.
  5. Develop a rapport with your teachers. If you gain the respect of your teachers, and they know you are working hard to achieve your goals, they will be more than willing to answer your questions, help you plan, and even write your recommendation letters when you need them in the future.

High School Students:

Once you begin your freshman year of high school, you want to really start planning for college. I know it sounds a little premature to start preparing for something four years in advance, however, where college is concerned, early planning can only benefit you.

  1. Be engaged and active in your school community. There are tons of ways to do this. Play a sport, try out an instrument, be in the school play, and get involved in the associated student body. Try a lot of different activities at least once. Your participation in a range of activities shows that you are cultured, that you are willing to try out different things, and that you want to be involved in bettering your school. These are all positive things that make you very appealing to colleges.
  2. Keep a list of awards, honors, and recognitions that you’ve received, so you have it all cataloged when you begin to apply to college. It’s easy to forget these types of things after four years, so it’s important to record them as they happen.
  3. Stay on top of your schoolwork. This is very important. Everyone has bad days and forgets their homework or bombs on a test. This is not something to freak out about. However, it’s easier to recover from one of those bad days and not have it affect your overall GPA if you are consistently diligent and hardworking the rest of the year.
  4. Start to think about your major. Some colleges require you to list your desired major when you apply. You have all four years to decide this and you can always change your mind, however, it’s a good idea to begin to consider what subjects you are most interested in and what types of careers you’d like to learn more about.
  5. Take AP classes ONLY in the subjects you excel in most. Don’t take every AP course just because you think it will look good on your transcripts. These courses are difficult and time-consuming, and it is hard to manage more than two at a time. If you take too many and fall behind, they can have a negative impact on your overall GPA.
  6. Start researching colleges early, and make your list of prospective schools. Begin to visit campuses.
  7. During your sophomore and junior years, begin to prep for the SAT. Take the PSAT, enroll in SAT prep courses, or better yet, get one-on-one help with a tutor. When you are ready, take the SAT, SAT IIs, and the ACT exams.
  8. During your junior year, start calling prospective colleges and ask them any questions you may have. Talk to a counselor or college representative, and ask what they look for in candidates. You can then begin to tailor your application to these criteria. This will also help you narrow down your list.
  9. In your junior and senior years, begin to research scholarships. Make a list of scholarships you qualify for and include the date of the deadline, and additional materials you need to complete (essay, transcripts, letter of recommendation, etc.). Tip: Here’s a great guide to scholarships from Public Health Online.
  10. In the first half of your senior year, secure at least two letters of recommendation from your teachers. Ask a teacher who knows your strengths personally and academically. Just remember, it takes a lot of time and energy for teachers to write recommendation letters, so consider sending a thank you note or find some other way to show your appreciation when they are completed.
  11. Senior Year: After January 1st, submit a FAFSA to request government tuition aid.
  12. At the start of your senior year, start to apply to your prospective schools. You should plan to have all of your applications completed and sent before the holiday break. Generally, students should apply to four to six schools: one safety, one reach, and two to four schools they will probably (but not definitely) get into. Make sure every school is a school you would be happy to attend, and pay attention to the deadlines!

Once You’ve Been Accepted:

  1. Apply for qualifying scholarships. 
  2. Compare the schools you have been accepted into. Also, compare any costs or financial aid you’ve been awarded. Then, make your final decision. (Tip: Confused about financial aid packages? Here’s a fantastic guide to financial aid from Accredited Schools Online.)
  3. Notify your chosen school. Congrats!
  4. If needed, research various student loans, so you can find the one that is right for you.
  5. If you feel like being social, try and organize a meet-up with other accepted students in your area!

With this easy checklist, college planning is simple and exciting instead of overwhelming and daunting. Don’t forget—the earlier you start to plan, the easier and more successful you will be at applying and getting accepted into your college of choice!

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors online in English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and Test Prep. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!

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How to Write a Stellar College Admission Essay

Tips On Writing A Great College Admission Essay Ready to write your college admission essay? This is your chance to share a little about yourself, and impress the admission board! Read on as online tutor Natalie S. shares her tips…

Undeniably, the hardest and most time-consuming part about applying to college is the essay portion of the application. This part of the process is what I spend most of the fall working on with my students. The essay topics tend to be questions that force students to think outside the box, and they all require students to employ different writing tactics and styles they are not generally accustomed to using.

However daunting it may initially seem, writing a college essay is not that difficult. Just like in math class, there is a formula to make writing your college admissions essay simple and even fun.

Here are six easy tips for writing a college admission essay that is sure to get noticed by your dream school!

  1. Start early. Most college applications are due between November and January, so start writing your essay over the summer. This will give you time to try different ideas out and see which one works best for you.

  1. Tell a story. The college admissions’ representatives have to read hundreds – maybe even thousands – of essays each. If you want to catch their eye, don’t just relay the facts about your life-changing trip to Bolivia; take the readers on a journey with you. Engage them; make them want to experience what you did. If you can grab their attention, you’ll grab a spot at their university.

  1. Take breaks. After you’ve written a draft, set your essay aside for a few days. Relax, put it out of your mind, and then come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. You’ll have better ideas and be less stressed out about the essay in general if you pause and look at your essay in stages instead of all at once.

  1. Just be you. Be true to yourself and include the details that make you stand out. The whole point of the college admission essay is to give you the opportunity to express yourself and your personality to the admissions team. The more unique information you can give, the better.

  1. Be confident in your essay topic. Remember that you have a lot to offer. You’ve worked hard to get to this point in your life, and you have a unique point of view. Don’t qualify your essay or weaken your opinions because you’re unsure if the colleges want to hear your view about your chosen topic. Write with conviction, and even if the admissions offices disagree with your opinion, they will respect you as a person.

  2. Work with a tutor! Tutors know what colleges are looking for when they read essays, and they can give you valuable feedback if you’re stuck. They may also give you motivation if you’re discouraged. Better still, a tutor is yet another set of proofreading eyes that can help you spot errors or weak paragraphs. Working with a tutor can help turn a good college admissions essay into a great essay.

Need more guidance? Below are examples of some of the most common essay questions.

Option #1: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Option #2: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Option #3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Option #4: Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

If you break down the daunting task of writing a college admission essay into these simple steps, suddenly it’s not so challenging. Just remember to relax, be true to yourself, and be confident in showing the world  (and your chosen college) just how unique and special you are. Good luck!

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors online in English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and Test Prep. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!



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Top Tips for Becoming a New Fish in a College Pond

4075547422_112bac81a8_bNervous about college? Don’t be! Check out these top tips from San Diego and online tutor Sarah F. for surviving the transition and adjusting to college life:


It’s that special time of year when high school seniors are stepping into their last summer before college. While move-in day and orientations are still a little ways off, it’s important to start thinking about adjusting to college life sooner than later.

There are a thousand and one things a college freshmen will have to worry about – dorm life, stadium-style seating in classrooms, schedules, parking, and the dreaded but mostly inevitable “freshman 15.”

Of course, every student’s experience will vary from school to school, but looking back on the experiences of my friends and my own trials and triumphs, I decided to put together a brief list of helpful, handy tips:

  1. Be polite to your roommates. Even if they seem to be possessed. If they are doing something you don’t like, such as watching ‘80s TV shows in the middle of the night, politely ask them to turn it down or to turn it off. You’ll be surprised how much smoother relations will go if you ask for things politely.
  2. Get to know your professors. Even if you are one student out of 300 in a classroom (yes, this does happen). Make the effort to see them during their office hours or to meet with the Graduate Assistant. Not only does it prove that you are serious about your studies, it makes a personal connection with your professor, who may be able to open doors for you that you never knew were closed.
  3. Try to find the list of your textbooks on your course pages online prior to the first class meeting. You will want plenty of time between ordering textbooks and your classes starting, as professors will not wait for you to get the books. Usually your professors will post which textbooks they want along with their syllabus well in advance of the semester or quarter starting. I don’t recommend printing the syllabus, which is the course outline, just yet as they are subject to change (as a former professor myself, I can attest to that).
  4. Use websites like, or eBay to find your textbooks. Professors will likely ask for the latest and greatest editions, but let’s be honest – you’re a poor college kid and books are expensive. Ask your professor if earlier editions are acceptable and save yourself a lot of money. Look into options for renting your books, which is also significantly cheaper. And especially don’t forget the LIBRARY!
  5. When contacting your professors, be as professional in your emails as possible. There is nothing more annoying to a professor than receiving an email from a student asking why their grade is so low, when the email is written like a text between friends. Professors are not your friends. They demand and deserve respect, particularly when you are inquiring about a grade. If they ask for a certain subject line in an email, use it, otherwise your communication will be lost to the great netherworld of the internet.

Hopefully these five tips will help you as you’re adjusting to college and catching your bearings in the wonderful new pond that you or your college-bound child are about to enter. College is a wonderful experience and countless adventures await you both academically and socially. There are numerous ways to broaden your mind at college, but it is only possible with good effort and a little common sense.

SarahFSarah F. tutors various academic subjects in San Diego, CA, as well as through online lessons. She has been working as an educator for the last eleven years, and has been professionally employed as an educator since August of 2012. Learn more about Sarah here! 



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Should I Get an MFA? | Pros & Cons for Attending the Best MFA Programs

5667593412_670d0e4e00_bThe decision to go back to school, especially for actors, is a tough one. Read on as graduate student Jasmine B. gives you the inside scoop in a candid detailing of the pros and cons…


After undergrad, I hit an unexpected wall. After nearly a year of working a low-wage, part time job, I secured a seven month touring gig and thought I was finally going to get to use all of those hard earned skills of my undergraduate training, I was going straight to the top!


During the tour, I struggled. I couldn’t get myself into a warm-up routine that adequately prepared me for each show, and I felt absent from most of the performances. I needed a better foundation and to learn how to harness my few moments of clarity, precision, and inner life into more than just moments.

The decision to pursue acting in one of the best MFA programs stems differently for everyone, but just in case you’re thinking about it – here are some of the pros and cons of going back to school as an actor, from my point of view. I needed to be a better actor. I needed to go back to school.

The Clock is Ticking…

For the next 2-4 years, you’re out of commission save summer and winter breaks. You’ll likely sign a contract with your school that prohibits you from booking outside work, and that means exposure to the opportunities that may or may not come with that work.

…Or So You Think.

Two to four years is really not a lot of time. When I graduate my school’s name and my skill set will open doors that I could never open myself, or at best, would probably take me four years to try to open. My resume isn’t worse off because of time taken to go back to school – it’s better.

You Already Have a Life…

When I entered my first year of graduate school, I had a whole set of obligations that didn’t involve school. I in no way wanted to give any of that up.

But It Could Be So Much Richer.

However, I had to in order to improve. Improve what? Improve my overall quality of life, including the way I valued my work, my life, and those around me. I’m glad I made some small sacrifices for the improved life I have now, and the life I will have in the future.

No One Wants to Relearn Something They Already Paid For…

My first semester at Juilliard, I went through a myriad of responses to the training. At first, my inflated, I-already-have-a-four-year-degree-in-this ego led me to these thoughts:

“I know that already!”
“Why are we repeating this thing I learned in high school?”
“I’m gonna punch myself in the face, this is obvious.”

Soon humility kicked in:
“Oh, I never knew that.”
“I forgot about that.”
“This is why they call it a craft.”

An actor never stops learning. Anyone who wants to master their craft must return to the basics every once in a while. Just as a dancer returns to the barre, or soldiers to their basic training and PT, we must return to the training.

Speaking of Paid For… I Don’t Need Any More Debt!

Okay. This one’s for real. I refuse to lie to you: this battle is one you have to make sure you’re ready to take on. It’s completely okay if you cannot or choose not to. Debt is not a thing to consider lightly.

Most likely, if you’re an independent sans support, you will be hit with some serious debt. If you’ve saved, have a wealthy benefactor, generous family members, or a loving spouse, thank your stars. Most graduates of the best MFA programs can count on up to a decade of repayment, of up to and beyond $100,000. No, I’m not kidding.

But Scholarships and Grants are More Plentiful than You Think

I’ve heard that Yale is heaven-sent in this regard, and Juilliard’s financial aid department gives everything they’ve got in order to make sure you can attend. I was an independent student with not a penny to my name and they’re making it happen. Grants are great allies in the fight for financial aid, as well as private scholarships, contests, and work-study programs.

Here are Some More PROS for the MFA Journey…

  • The Environment

You have the opportunity to do what every artist dreams of: work on your craft. That’s it. You won’t have to wait tables, or work a dead-end job that keeps you from your true calling. You get to wake up and get to work on your craft. Not only do you get to do that, but you get to work on it with like-minded individuals; people with similar dedication, spirit, and work ethic who know how to help, motivate, and inspire you to do your best work. Talk about an artist’s dream!

  • Connections, Connections, Connections!

What I wouldn’t give five years ago to know some of the people I know now on a first-name basis! In addition to people of current influence, my classmates, drama family, and drama alumni network is a group of people to be reckoned with.

  • Educational Outreach

Want to be a teacher of the arts? This is a must-have.

  • Showcase

Agents. Managers. Casting higher-ups. Directors.
All of the best MFA programs put on a Showcase – and if a reputable graduate school builds it, they will come.

With All of This Said…

Know that an MFA program is not for everyone. There are studio programs that allow for more time to yourself and less money out of your pocket. There are ways to make working a 9-5 and studying acting work! There are plenty of ways to work as an actor, and not one way is better than the other. Choose what feels right and makes the most sense for you. Good luck, and happy acting!

Jasmine B.Jasmine B. teaches speaking voice, stage performance, and acting in New York City. She’s studied acting from a young age, graduating from the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts, and Wright State University’s Professional Actor Training Program. She currently serves as an educational outreach fellow for the Juilliard School.  Learn more about Jasmine here!


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College Admissions 101: 9 Things That Give You an Edge

Tips For College Admission Test TakingAre you starting to think about your dream college or university? Getting to college isn’t just about perfect grades. Check out these nine tips from online tutor Natalie S. to stand out from the crowd…

Applying to college can sometimes be a daunting and scary process. There are so many things to consider when choosing the right schools, and on top of that there’s four years of prep work to do in order to even begin applying!

We know what colleges look for in prospective students, and we can help you stand out among all of the other applicants.

Check out the nine things below that can give you an edge and help you get accepted into the college of your choice:

1) Strong GPA. Since universities thrive on academic excellence, make sure you keep your GPA in tip-top shape. Try to consistently close each quarter with As and Bs in all of your subjects. Colleges expect that you will be stronger in some subjects over others, however, it’s important to try to keep your overall GPA above a 3.5. Seek out help from a tutor if you need additional assistance in a particular subject. Sometimes, it’s easy to get sucked into taking the higher-level courses, but in the end, if they end up being too advanced, you may get lower grades. While it looks great on paper to participate in honors and AP courses, it’s not worth the risk if they consistently lower your overall GPA.

2) Charity Work. Get involved in your local community and give back to those in need. Are you an animal lover? Volunteer at an animal shelter. Love to read? Help out at your local library. By partaking in charity work, you show colleges that you are committed to bettering the world for the future and that you’ll be an asset to their campus life.

3) Leadership Skills. Whether you serve as student body president or a team captain, colleges love to see their prospective students act as leaders in their communities. Find an extracurricular activity or cause that you are passionate about and get involved in organizing and leading others. What was once a simple hobby could become your ticket into college!

4) Good SAT/ACT scores. Twenty years ago, your SAT score was the only major test score that universities looked at when they selected students. Now, students have the chance to shine in other exams too. Take the SAT and the ACT, and submit both scores to colleges. Even better, take the SAT and ACT more than once. Many schools superscore (i.e. take your highest score in each section of the SAT and add them together to find a new, giant score), so taking the SAT and ACT multiple times could increase your overall score. If you need help preparing for either test, don’t forget to seek out a tutor. There are all kinds of programs and many qualified tutors who specialize in helping students on these types of exams.

5) In Fact, Take ALL of the Tests. The College Board also offers SAT 2 subject tests that allow students to shine in their favorite subjects. Take these tests to show colleges that you’re passionate enough about math to voluntarily go above and beyond and test yourself on it.

6) School Spirit. Get involved with your high school! Colleges want students who are passionate about the school that they attend and who will participate in campus activities. Prove this by joining school clubs, teams, or charity organizations that fit your interests.

7) Musical, Bilingual, and Artistic Involvement. The fine and performing arts have begun carrying more weight for getting into college. Show your diversity by playing an instrument, learning another language, or letting your artistic side shine. These are talents that can help you stand out from other applicants.

8) Passion and Personality. Most importantly, make sure all of the activities you’re involved in give you the ability to express your passion and personality. Pursue things that make you feel positive and productive. Avoid engaging in activities that don’t really excite or interest you because you will generally not excel at them, and they will not end up being a benefit to you when applying to colleges.

9) Progression. Did you get a C in Spanish? Worried this will ruin your perfect GPA? Don’t fret; universities know that students have to progress in their problem areas. A bad grade isn’t a death sentence; it’s an opportunity to show universities that you’re willing to fight for your success. And, of course, don’t forget to find a tutor if you need help with a problem subject!

Getting into college may seem like a scary process, but once you break it down into manageable steps, it can be an exciting journey that ends with you at the college of your choice. Good luck!

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors online in English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and Test Prep. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!



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