More About the New York Times Articles

It’s been a busy month around my business. I was quoted in two New York Times articles:

Is Your First Grader College Ready?”

This is an article exploring the push to start planning earlier and earlier. To be clear, I do NOT advocate early test prep or college planning. I do want families to start talking about options and encouraging their children to pursue interests at a young age. At my house our 8 and 14 year olds know they will go to college, but the discussion focuses on options and opportunity not the pressure of getting in. Here is the full article.

When to Take the SAT

This article mentions my family’s experience with the Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP) which you can read about here. The article also mentions the PSAT as an appropriate practice for 9th and 10th graders. The full article is here.

Like the other SAT expert quoted in the article, I do not advocate early test prep. Each year I talk families out of hiring me because it is often counterproductive to begin SAT or ACT prep before a student’s junior year.

I’m a fan of the question of the day problems from both SAT and ACT. Those are fine for middle and high school students. But the practice of taking full-length tests, official or not, and attending prep classes, even the short ones offered at school, tends to backfire.

I’ve seen too many students who have burn out on test prep before they come to me. It is hard to make these juniors focus and work. They’ve done it all before, often multiple times. They no longer have the energy or desire to work on the test. They are like the runner who over trains and arrives at the start line for her marathon exhausted. She put so much effort into training, but didn’t save enough energy for the actual race.

Other students don’t find the early exposure to the test comforting. Instead of desensitizing these students to the stresses of test taking, all the early test prep and practice has done is heighten their anxiety. Picture the person who has recently experienced a trauma, like a car crash. Unexpected loud noises may startle this person while everyone else in the room barely notices the noise. The high-stress, high-anxiety test taker is not calmed by the practice experiences; he or she is even more worried at the real test.


I hope your spring semester if off to a great start. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to listen to The College Prep Podcast. We’ve had some recent episodes that answer the questions I’m getting every week.

How to Select the Right High School Courses (& Avoid Pitfalls)

How Parents Can Raise Teens Who Manage Time Well with Leslie Josel

Easy Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary for the SAT & ACT

You can find the podcast on iTunes. Of course, I’d love your opinions, so if you have time, please leave us a rating and review.


TAMS Early College Program for High School Students

TAMS at Univ of North Texas


Do you have an academically talented high school student who would be better served in a college environment? I recently attended a presentation by Dr. Brent Jones the director of admission for the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS), an early college program for Texas students entering their junior year of high school. If you live outside of Texas you may want to find similar programs in your state (keep reading; I list some).

What is Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS)?

TAMS was created by the Texas legislature as an early college program for academically talented students. The program is located on the campus of the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton.

TAMS takes students entering their junior year of high school and puts them in a college environment. The 400 students in the program live together in McConnell Hall and take college classes through UNT. At the end of two years, students graduate with a high school diploma and a minimum of 57 college credits which may transfer to other universities.

What type of student succeeds at TAMS Early College Program?

The TAMS program is designed for students who are academically and personally ready to accept the challenge of college courses. Most students have shown high achievement through grades and standardized test scores.

Many TAMS students found themselves under-challenged in high school, perhaps even bored. They may not have had a peer group that supported or understood their academic interests. TAMS is a math and science intensive program, so ideal students have an interest in these subjects and have completed Algebra II by the end of their sophomore year.

Successful students will need to have the ability to work independently and the maturity to succeed in a college environment. TAMS provides academic and social support with academic advisors, a counselor for each grade (200 students), and a staff psychologist, but some academically gifted students may not have the maturity to live in the dorms and adapt to being “average” after years of identifying as “the smart student.”

What is the TAMS curriculum?

TAMS students take college courses from UNT professors. Students must take classes in English, Political Science, and History to fulfill graduation requirements. Other requirements in math and science include: biology, chemistry, physics, and math through Calculus II.

A student who spoke at this presentation talked about how he had been #2 in a class of 650 at his high school. He was smart and used to being at the top of the class. But he was also quiet and didn’t really fit-in to the high school social scene. At TAMS he found a group of like-minded peers. He started speaking up in class and now would describe himself as outgoing and confident. But he is also an average student now because everyone in the program is on his level. He likes the challenge and variety of classes, but said it was an adjustment from the curriculum he had in high school.

What does TAMS offer outside the classroom?

TAMS students get the best of both worlds. They can attend university events, use the 25 million dollar campus recreation center, and enjoy the flexibility of a college class schedule at the same time they have TAMS-only dances, field trips, service projects, and clubs.

Students have a lot of freedom, but are still more supervised than a regular college freshman. Students have a resident advisor (RA) who acts as a confidential advisor and helps take students to different TAMS events.

TAMS clubs include many typical high school offerings: yearbook, Model United Nations, film club, student council, business organizations, Bible study, theater, and art. They even have their own prom. What TAMS does not have is competitive sports. Students who intend to play varsity sports in high school may not find the intramural sports club at TAMS to be an acceptable substitute.

How does TAMS make admission decisions?

Students apply to TAMS during their 10th grade year. 200 students will be accepted. Decisions are made based on academic credentials, maturity, motivation, behavior, and career interests. To apply students must submit:

  • Report cards from grades 7-10
  • SAT scores
  • Evaluations / recommendation from math, science, and English teachers and a school official such as a counselor or principal.
  • Application

Applicants may be invited to interview for admission. Scores and grades are important, but so are personality factors.

Is early college a good idea?

As with most college programs—it depends.

Financially the TAMS program is a good deal if you compare it to the cost of earning college credits elsewhere. Families pay a $1300 program fee plus housing and personal expenses and in return get transferable college credits. (Financial aid is available and one third of TAMS students receive some aid.)

Academically TAMS offers students opportunities to work with professors, engage in research, and participate in hands-on learning that isn’t possible for most high school students. Courses are more advanced and the availability of options is unparalleled, even from the largest high school offerings.

Socially TAMS is right for the right student. Many top students won’t want to leave their families and peers to “begin college” in 11th grade. Others would miss out on sports or other extracurricular opportunities if they left high school to attend TAMS. For the student who is mature enough to leave home, TAMS can provide an ideal social environment. TAMS may be perfect for the student who was bored in high school, didn’t have peers he or she could identify with, or felt like he or she didn’t fit-in because of academic talents.

Questions to Consider

Perhaps the biggest question for families considering TAMS or any early college program is maturity. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Can your child get up and get to class on time without your prompting?
  • Will he or she complete assignments in a timely fashion without parental supervision?
  • Given the choice would your child go to class instead of sleeping in, goofing off, or playing video games?
  • Has your child been away from home for a week or more? If so, was he or she so homesick that you worry about longer periods of time away from home?
  • Do you generally trust your child to make the right decisions when faced with situations involving alcohol, sex, drugs, or other personally challenging dilemmas?
  • Is your child able to effectively advocate for him or herself when dealing with teachers and school officials?
  • Will your child be able to manage his or her personal grooming, nutrition, and health needs? (not looking for perfection, just the ability to take care of day to day needs)
  • Does your child have any needs that you feel may not be adequately addressed? (learning differences, medical, physical, or psychological needs.)
  • Are you ready to have your 11th grader live on a college campus? (Students may go home on weekends, but they live on campus Mon – Fri.)

If you think your child would benefit from an early college program, I encourage you to explore the options in your area. Many universities offer early college enrollment programs allowing students to complete high school education while earning college credits.

TAMS offers families a couple opportunities to become more familiar with the program. The Summer Mathematics Institute for younger students provides initial exposure to the campus and academic programs. For families of students grades 7-10 who want to learn more about the program, TAMS offers a Preview Day and campus Spend-A-Days. Visit the TAMS website to learn more.

Other Early College Programs

If you want to learn more about other programs check out this starter list of other early college possibilities. This is NOT a comprehensive list, so please search for programs in your particular area.

Advanced Academy of Georgia

Boston University Academy in Massachusetts

Early College at Guilford College in North Carolina

Early College at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia

Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics, and Computing at Northwest Missouri State

National Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at the University of Iowa

Resident Honors Program at University of Southern California

Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities at Lamar University

UW Academy at the University of Washington


Early college programs may or may not be right for your family, but the more information you have, the better decisions you will be able to make.

Are The National Youth Leadership Forum Programs Worth It?

Based on the questions in my in-box, I guess it is that time of year again—time for letters notifying students of their nomination for National Youth Leadership Forum programs and the summer experiences you can elect to join.

First, National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) programs are legitimate.  This is not a scam, but this program is no more recognized than other organized summer-camp program.  The letter makes it seem as if NYLF is the only way your child can receive this type of recognition and enrichment.  I’ve had many students over the years attend the summer programs and I think they can be great enrichment experiences for students, but I would encourage you to shop around.

Just so you understand the nomination process—teachers, counselors, and deans are sent nomination forms.  Many list top students and send them back to National Youth Leadership Forum. Some programs also get mailing lists from the SAT, PSAT, ACT, PLAN, etc.  Once they have compiled names they send their promotional materials to the student telling them they have been nominated for the program.

Yes, it is a nice to recognize top students.  However, I feel as if the marketing materials overstate the prestige.  Hundreds of students at each high school are nominated to participate; it is not an exclusive opportunity.

Colleges like to see students develop their interests.  National Youth Leadership Forum programs are one way to do this.  Unfortunately, the programs are often limited to a week to 10 days and cost more than many other camps.  Personally, I like to see students participate in programs that also enhance their knowledge of the college experience and/ or show their own creativity and willingness to develop their interests independent of an organized program.

You might want to compare the National Youth Leadership Forum offerings to the programs offered by different colleges.  If one can participate in a two-week college program for the same price, he or she will also gain an appreciation for dorm and college life.

Another great summer opportunity is to create your own opportunities, which shows even greater initiative.

I can’t say whether the National Youth Leadership Forum program is right for your family.  I have known students in the past who have participated and loved it.  I do think there are other less expensive options that will provide extra enrichment and experience in the field.  Understand that this is just one of many options for your student.

[Update: We discuss the National Youth Leadership Forum programs and other options on the January 26, 2015 episode of The College Prep Podcast.  The discussion begins around 22:20 minutes.  You can listen on iTunes (episode 27) or online here.]