college admissions Dr. Michele Hernandez Middle School

Get An Early Start On College Admissions: Middle School Edition

We are often asked if middle school is too early to start thinking about college admissions. Though some would argue that thinking about college while in middle school could lead to additional stress for students, we would argue that the earlier students start thinking ahead, the less stressful the process will be. For example, forecasting out math and science tracks ahead of time means that you can still do something about level of course rigor early on. It is more stressful to find out in 11th grade that you have no chance of competing in the top college admissions pool because you didn’t accelerate in math back when you could have in 6th grade through an honors track.

On the extracurricular side, keep in mind that most talents kids develop in high school start in elementary or middle school. Few kids pick up the trombone in 9th grade and become gifted musicians out of the blue. Talents like art, singing, instrumental prowess tend to start in elementary or middle school. Same could be said about math competitions, science fairs or athletic prowess. 

Any athlete knows that starting early with skill building and fitting in your “10,000 hours” is what helps kids stand out later and develop expertise.


“How can my kids in 7th and 8th grade get a head start on high school?” is another question we are asked day in and day out.   

The most important track at most high schools is math and science, even if a student’s primary interests are in the humanities. Students should figure out how to jump ahead a year or two in math/science by taking courses like Pre-Algebra and Algebra online through places like Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth or Northwestern’s CTD. Likewise, for science – some high schools let students skip Earth Science and jump to Honors Biology in 9th grade. Many of our advanced students have been accelerating in math for years.

Let us break it down for you. Here are our top tips for leveraging your time in middle school to set yourself up for high school success


  1. Take extra math and science courses so that you can aim to reach a higher math level like Algebra II/Trig by 9th grade or even Pre-Calculus. For science, aim to jump over courses like Earth Science so you can reach Honors Biology if your school offers it.
  2. Read an hour a day from higher level books and magazines like The Atlantic, Time, Scientific American, National Geographic, and The Concord Review so you build up your reading skills. In the long run, reading is the best way to improve your academic performance. Work with us to get your personalized reading lists grade by grade and be a part of our unique vocabulary program. 
  3. Get involved in activities/sports/music/hobbies so that you can carry this leadership and skill set with you to high school.
  4. Be active in your classes, get to know your teachers as these teachers often communicate with high school teachers and recommend kids who stand out for honors track.
  5. Get organized – keep a whiteboard and map out assignments. Start an assignment notebook vs only using technology. Make early habits that will set you up for success.
  6. Take a “real” SAT before high school to get an idea of where you stand. Any standardized tests you take while in 7th or 8th grade do NOT go on your permanent record so you can get a good baseline score and address any weak areas.
  7. Get inspired and read about other kids doing extraordinary things. We love the documentary, I Am Greta, about Greta Thunberg as she launches a global movement on climate change. What do you care about?
  8. Learn to code. Even if you aren’t a computer science kid, coding is something even business school applicants are required to have. Take a coding class during the summer.  And, if you love to play video games, learn to create video games.
high school students Middle School Top Tips writing

Get Published This Winter

Students often tell us they dream of being published, but are resigned to waiting until graduate school when they are working with distinguished faculty members. We (gently!) guide our students in understanding that technically you don’t always need a mentor or manager or faculty member to supervise your work or your writing, or comment on your photography or art or poetry -or your literature review, to get published.


You can secure a publication solo IF you know where to look and how to prepare.

If you’re engaged in your classes and actively writing, you likely have papers and Word files collecting virtual dust on your laptop. Bring them back to life, get them read, get them out!

As the great Sylvia Plath once said, “Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.”


Check out these 5 ideas on where to pursue publication ASAP:

  1. West Virginia Press has a call for submissions for their print anthology (a BOOK) called “Essential Voices: A Covid-19 Anthology.” They are seeking poems, stories, recipes, or works of art “that reflect upon the experience of COVID and COVID related issues in your life.” (open to all ages, due 1/15/21)
  2. The Architectural League of NY is asking some pretty insightful questions this month: “At a time in which our relationships to both private spaces and the public realm have been thrown open to question, what lessons can we learn from looking carefully at the world around us? How can we better understand the places where we live—the histories that have shaped them; the social, economic, and political mechanisms that make them function as they do today; the communities they structure; their possibilities for the future?” They are seeking submissions of photographs, videos, or drawings accompanied by short written observations “about the spaces around you, with the goal of creating a visual archive that captures the relationship between society and the built environment in this unprecedented time.” (open to all ages, due 12/31/20)
  3.  The Sunlight Press is a nonprofit literary arts journal for “new and established voices.” They are seeking nonfiction personal essays, fiction, poetry, book reviews, artist reflections of their work with photos of their art, and photograph submissions (open to all ages, submit after 1/4/21)
  4. Girls Right the World is a literary journal seeking female-identifying writers and artists (ages 14–21), to submit work for consideration in their fifth annual issue. Submissions can include poetry, prose, and visual art of any style or theme. (open to all ages, due 12/31/20)
  5. And  –for students in grades 5-12 who love astronomy and space, NASA has a ‘Scientist for a Day Essay Contest’ asking writers to focus on which moon they’d travel to and how/why (grades 5-12, due 2/12/21) 


The neat thing about securing a publication is that it stays with you for life –on your Common App, in your graduate school applications, in your resume, and on your LinkedIn profile. More eyes on your published work means more eyes on you, more networking opportunities, and more engagement with peer scholars and top researchers. Seeking more personalized ideas and assistance with preparing your submissions to publication outlets, peer reviewed journals and conferences? Let us help!

high school students Middle School Top Tips writing

Writing Guidance for Winter Break

Most students think of winter break as a time to relax — sleeping in, visiting with family, enjoying eggnog, watching movies, and enjoying a stress-free holiday season. As we tell our students, however, winter break is also the perfect time to review their academic progress throughout the past semester. How are they doing in their courses? Are there particular skills that they need to develop or subjects in which they need some help?

Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen that writing is a consistent weak area for students. Each year offers more rigorous writing challenges in the form of English essays, history papers, and science lab reports. Students frequently find they do not have the skills to face these new tasks comfortably. Discomfort oftentimes leads to that nasty ‘p’ word — procrastination — which we hope to avoid.


A few years ago, having fielded numerous requests from parents and students for writing help, we launched our Writing Guidance Program. The aim of the program: to help students master the writing process during middle and high school, improving their work in their current courses and setting them up for success in future years.

Since we launched the program, we’ve worked with students on many types of writing. We’ve offered guidance on school assignments and independent projects, teaching students how to outline five-paragraph essays and working with them to map out long-term research plans. We’ve developed personalized lessons for students on topics like identifying strong evidence and improving the fluidity of their prose. We’ve even helped students to improve the analytical skills that underlie strong writing, showing them how to close read poetry, how to investigate historical data, and how to interpret camera angles and set designs in film.


As a result of our work, many of our students have seen improvements not just in their grades at school, but also in their comfort with writing projects. Students have celebrated with us when they do well on an in-class essay or a research project, and they’ve also reached out to let us know that — even months after our work together — they are still successfully using the techniques we taught them.

H’s grades just came back, and I wanted to share the great news: A for English! Thank you so much for your amazing help.” – P.W., Writing Guidance Program parent

Working on their writing now also gives students the chance to become more concise, fluent writers before college. As their comfort with writing increases, their ideas become more engaging, their arguments improve, and they feel more confident in their creative powers.


There are many ways to improve your writing. One of the best ways is to READ, READ, READ, as strong reading and writing habits almost always go hand-in-hand. (We’ve listed some other suggestions here.)

As for students who are struggling with writing and want some more targeted guidance: consider reaching out to us to see if we can help. Who knows? Maybe your stress-free winter break can become a stress-free second semester, too.

college admissions high school students Insider Tips Middle School

Positive Thinking: Being the Boss of Your Thoughts

By: Mimi Doe

“What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.”
-Henry David Thoreau

You are what you think. Henry David Thoreau, who walked the same paths here in Concord, Massachusetts that I am lucky enough to walk, reminds us that what a man (or woman) thinks of himself (herself) is what he/she will experience. Wow! Mind blowing. You mean we get to pick how we feel and what we experience in our lives? Yes, thoughts are that powerful.

Thoreau’s mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, also walked the same streets in Concord that I walk to go to the bank or mail a letter at the post office.  He too had something to say about how our thoughts impact our lives.

“A man is what he thinks about all day long.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Fully take that in. “A woman is what she thinks about all day long.” It’s a powerful statement and one that can guide your life through high school and beyond.  What are you experiencing today?  What do you think of yourself? When you make a mistake what are your thoughts about what happened? When you are happy what are you thinking? First thing in the morning as you prepare for school what’s on your mind?  What you expect of yourself, how you think about yourself, what your ongoing mental script tells you, can determine your fate and definitely can influence what you experience and how you see the world.

So, yes, your thoughts have power over what you experience day-to-day. No, you can’t imagine yourself as president of the United States and quantum physics will zap you right into the White House that moment. It doesn’t work quite like that, but it is a magical, powerful, always available resource as close as your next thought.

Why not, just for today, think positively about what it is you might experience as you open the door to your high school and start your journey down the hall.

“Things go my way today.” 

“I move easily between classes today.” 

 “I have enough energy to get done what I need to do today.”  

“I experience peace in between the busyness of what my life looks like.” 

“I feel calm in math class.” 

“Lunch is a happy time to connect with someone new.” 

“Wow, look how clean the floors are.”

“I feel great in my new boots.”

positive thinking: believe in yourself

It can be that simple. Be the boss of your thoughts. Pay attention to your thoughts today and when you have negative thoughts such as, “I’m so anxious I can barely get through this test” or “I am not a good test taker,” re-write that script to be, “I took concrete steps to learn the material for the test on Wednesday.” “I am fully prepared and ready for the test.” The best remedy for conquering negative self talk can be preparation. One of our SAT/ACT tutors Amy helps kids ‘over prepare’, that’s how she puts it, for standardized tests.  Why? Because that preparedness replaces negative self talk with a script that looks more like, “I scored a 760 on my practice test and had plenty of time to check for mistakes, I am ready.”  “I know this material and have the pacing down.”  “I’m prepared and ready for this.”  “I’ve done it once, I can do it again.”

If you don’t like what you’ve been experiencing in life lately, change your thoughts. Instead of, “Ugh, another rainy day, I hate the rain,” try “It’s raining and I’m grateful I have an umbrella.” I challenge you to give it a try. Thoughts are things and you have the power to transform your physical world by taking control of your mental world.  One thought can ignite other thoughts, and cause an avalanche of similar thoughts that can change your life.

“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.” — Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius didn’t live in Concord, Massachusetts but he was studied by Emerson and Thoreau no doubt. He was Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and his wisdom lives on to inform us.

When students tell me they want to change the world, I cheer.  I stand up in my office and applaud them if we are speaking on the phone.  But, I always say, you can’t change the world without first changing yourself.

There was an article in Forbes Magazine recently written by Bruce Kasanoff.  He writes that to change the world with your thoughts, you must think with coherent intention. He goes on to give readers a plan:

This means you must…

  • Think the same thing every day
  • Fully believe in your thoughts
  • Match your actions to your thoughts, and more importantly…
  • Conduct your life in a manner that is entirely congruent with your thoughts

Remember that your thoughts become your beliefs and your life is a mirror of these thoughts and beliefs. Want to change something? Begin changing your thoughts about it. Your life is your greatest masterpiece.


high school students Insider Tips Middle School

Makerspaces: What Are They and Are They Right For Me?

If you fancy yourself any of the following:

  • Tech-savvy
  • Creative
  • Artistic
  • A Gamer, Coder, or Developer
  • Crafty
  • Visionary
  • Leader

And, even if you don’t, this idea is too cool to not dig into a bit further…


Have you heard of “makerspaces?” You should familiarize yourself with the word, particularly if you are interested in engineering, computer science, technology, science, digital creativity (including art), or electronics.

In short, a makerspace is a designated ‘workshop’ where people with common interests can convene, brainstorm, and create varied projects. It simply requires the following: an idea, and a motivated team committed to creatively transforming an existing space into a space where you can exchange skills and execute projects. The definition is intentionally broad, because a makerspace can be created to include, explore, and expand a wide range of student interests.

At its core, a makerspace is a breeding ground for ideas and creativity. You can build a makerspace anywhere, and any space can serve as a makerspace as long as you have four walls, some tools, eager students, and plenty of ideas. You don’t have to be a math prodigy who dreams of MIT to execute on a project in a makerspace. It’s an inherently creative space, not an inherently technological one.

We are constantly telling students: if it doesn’t exist, then build it. If there is a club you would love to be a part of at school that does not yet exist, then start it yourself. Don’t join three other existing clubs just to take up your time. Get the proper paperwork together and create that space where you can explore your academic or intellectual interests. It’s quality, not quantity that matters.

The makerspace is the same idea, but with an actual tangible project to work on. We love this TEDx Talk given by Jamie Leben, President of the Loveland makerspace, on makerspaces and their incredible potential. He compares makerspaces to an exercise gym but for your mind. Or, like a co-working space but with tools.



Articulate Your Mission

Before even gathering like-minded students together to launch a marketspace, identify and articulate your specific goals for the makerspace. What do you want to experience in this group effort? Then, gather those who may be interested and brainstorm a group mission. The group’s goals will likely stem from everyone’s individual projects, so ask each other: what do you want to create?

Some project examples might be:

  • Create an LED light strip from scratch, perhaps for use in your next 3D art installation project
  • Build a rocket and then schedule a launch for the school community to observe
  • Create a simple electric propeller car
  • Build a Raspberry Pi cluster
  • Create an open-source electronics platform, like Arduino
  • Anything you want!

Get Creative With Materials

As we stated above, all you need are interested students, a space, and some materials. It’s important to consider if your school has any resources they might be willing to lend to the makerspace (even temporarily, as a makerspace might only be set up for a certain time each week) for students to use. You might need to start with some creative fundraising, but keep in mind that makerspaces can be anything—you can start with some art supplies, recycled paper goods, building materials, X-Acto knives, and a borrowed laptop. Maybe someone has a bunch of Legos, a drone, or a Go-Pro camera lying around at home that they can contribute. You can also purchase high-tech tools like 3D printers now for as low as $150. In reality, all you need is a mobile cart to store your materials.

Find a Space

Perhaps the art studio is empty after 3pm, or there is a huge closet at school that is currently going un-utilized. Be creative with your space—it doesn’t need to be big, and it certainly doesn’t need to be permanent! Talk to teachers, staff, and other students. Your school or spaces surrounding your school might be vaster than you think.

Find a Faculty Mentor

Having someone on staff at your school who is invested in helping you get this idea off the ground is always an essential and wonderful ingredient. Typically, in order to create a new club or space at school, you’ll need the sign-off from a faculty member who has agreed to oversee the club’s weekly or bi-weekly workings. Schedule meetings with your teachers who you think might be interested in helping you with this project. They can use the space to complete some of their own projects as well!

Spread the Word

Find other students who might be interested in creating or executing a project. It can start with just one or two of you. If you want to see a makerspace in action, take a look at the impressive Longhorn Maker Studios,—a makerspace at University of Texas-Austin—this makerspace at Duke, or The Won’dry at Vanderbilt to get an idea of what a truly decked out makerspace can look like. Students have access to myriad types of technology, including 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser and plasma cutters, and more. UT Austin students use this makerspace to experiment and create prototypes for classes.


How do Colleges View Makerspaces?

This is a great question—how do you convey information about your makerspace on your application and how might colleges view this endeavor? Think of a makerspace as a club that you started. You will include your mission, utilize the additional information section to post links to projects (perhaps creating a website about your makerspace is a good project for a student interested in coding!), and you might even get an essay out of the experience. Colleges always want to know about how you spend your time, particularly if it involves getting something off the ground. It shows motivation, initiative, vision, organization, and commitment. Makerspaces can be particularly valuable for quiet leaders who might not have the desire to take over an existing club or take on a visible position at school.

Remember that you don’t have to have one particular project in mind to create a makerspace, but it can help guide you in terms of start-up materials, and a general vision to get you going. From one project often springs other ideas, and allowing for that expansion of vision and creativity is exactly the makerspace spirit.

Let us know if you need any feedback or guidance on your makerspace ideas. It can seem daunting but in reality, the simpler the better. Start with one space and one idea—you’ll be surprised just how many others are interested in executing on their ideas too, but who just did not previously have the physical or mental space to express and explore the questions that they had.