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Spring Academic Conference Season is HERE

It’s spring-time, and academic conference season is BLOOMING. Academic conferences exist all over the world in nearly every field you can imagine. Every academic major has a conference aligned with it and usually a professional association or university that hosts them. Conference presentation and attendance is no longer something only for faculty or working professionals/researchers –high school students (even middle school!), college students and graduate students can and should join in and take advantage of the “virtual” opportunity.


When you attend an academic conference, you gain:  exposure to advanced research topics and trends, the ability to learn from some of the most forward-thinking scholars and faculty in your targeted field, networking opportunities with peer students/applicants, newfound inspiration, access to opportunities that exist outside of just your school or your area, and valuable advice/informed input on your own research pathway, paper, project or presentation.

Almost all of the U.S. top colleges have their own version of an Annual Undergraduate Research Conference.
All too often we hear from college students who didn’t know these existed on their campus until senior year —they could have been presenting and attending since freshman year!

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Here are some spring 2021 undergraduate research conferences (all virtual this year):

  • UMichigan’s is April 9, 2021
  • Stanford’s is April 10-11, 2021 (but you don’t need to be a Stanford student to present or attend–right now they have students from 38 colleges set to present virtually this year).
  • Penn State University’s is April 24, 2021
  • NYU’s is this May 6-7, 2021

What about conferences for high school students, working professionals or current graduate students?
Don’t worry, there are plenty for you too, and often conference registration discounts if you’re in school. In years past, committing to attending an academic conference often meant a hefty registration free, a possible flight, a hotel stay and meals while traveling. But, the 2021 spring conference season flipped almost all academic conferences to virtual (with plentiful sessions recorded!) so you have unique access to a huge list of 2021 academic conferences that can boost your credentials, exposure to your field, depth of knowledge, and networking opportunities. 

Case in point: In my role as Top Tier Senior Private Counselor, I recently urged an international high school student to attend an Ivy League faculty member’s international conference presentation on Zoom –she enjoyed a one-on-one chat after the session where she was free to ask questions about the lecture, connect with the faculty member about his institution and discuss research topics and trends.

Another student, who is applying to PhD programs this fall, was pleasantly surprised that her research paper proposal (abstract) was accepted for presentation at a prestigious international virtual conference in her field this spring. It will be a terrific boost for her resume, and the chair of the session happens to be a faculty member at her top targeted university.

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With that…. here are five 2021 academic conferences (all virtual) that might appeal to you this spring: (high school students typically can secure the “undergrad” rate, but you often have to email the conference contact to request this)

  1. American Chemical Society’s Annual Meeting: April 5-10, 2021
    This STEM conference does a great service for students (high school students included) as they separate out their “student-focused programming.” These include sessions such as “Enabling environmentally friendly plastics” and “Goals and activities of the Warriors Chemistry Club: COVID-19 edition” (eyes on you, students seeking to launch a Chemistry Club at your school!).  ($29 online registration fee for all 5 days, though you only need to attend the sessions you want to.)
  2. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Conference on Soft Robotics hosted by Yale University: April 12-16, 2021 
    Presenters from Yale, Facebook, UC San Diego, Columbia, and more are planned. They also have optional included workshops on topics such as material intelligence and interventional robotics, as well as a robotics competition you can observe and two informative “speed networking” sessions you can partake in. ($25 online registration fee)
  3. Society for Affective Science Annual Conference (co-sponsored by Harvard, Tufts, and the Society for the Improvement for Psychological Science): April 13-16, 2021
    There are faculty presenters from UC Berkeley, Stanford, UC Davis, Harvard, UMichigan, Vanderbilt, and more. This 2021 conference examines topics on psychology, neuropsychology, family dynamics, and speech and brain patterns. ($50 online registration fee)
  4. Society for Military History’s 87th Annual Meeting: May 20-23, 2021
    There is an in-person option in Norfolk, VA and also a virtual option to attend. They have not yet posted the virtual registration rate, but will soon. Their on-site rates indicate that the virtual registration rate would be on par with the other conferences listed here.
  5. Society for Freshwater Science Annual Meeting: May 23-27, 2021
    This is their first ever virtual conference and sessions topics are set to cover: freshwater science ecological changes in arctic lakes and rivers, inequitable waterscapes, environmental justice, “herstory in freshwater sciences,” and more. There are also added (included) e-workshops on “writing for aquatic scientists” (including students), and my personal favorite “Trash Talk,” on the ecology of trash in freshwater. ($30 online registration fee)

These are 5 low cost options that could make a BIG impact on your spring, and perhaps your summer and eventual college, graduate school and/or research pathway as well.

Want a more personalized list of conferences and our tips and tricks on how to take full advantage of academic conference presentation, attendance and e-networking this year?  Get in touch, whether for grad or undergrad–we’d love to work with you!

Admissions college admissions Ivy Admissions Ivy League Admissions Political Science Top Tips

Colleges with Strong Political Science Programs

Political science remains one of the most popular college majors each year. And for good reason. Students who study political science have the opportunity to hone their debate and public speaking skills while also becoming strong writers and critical thinkers. In today’s political climate, this major feels as timely as ever. If you have volunteered for a political campaign, listen to podcasts like Pod Save America, or watch PBS NewsHour instead of reality tv, this may be the major for you. Political science is a social science discipline with qualitative (case studies, historical analysis) and quantitative (game theory, statistics) components. At most colleges, political science/government courses not only address current events, but also delve into political theory, international relations, international law, and other subfields. After graduation, political science majors often go on to graduate school in law, business, journalism, or public policy or move to D.C. to work at think tanks, consulting firms, news organizations, or the government itself. Entry-level job titles for political science majors might include “legislative assistant,” “policy analyst,” or “public relations specialist.”


Using data compiled from sources such as U.S. News and World Report, Rugg’s Recommendations, and Niche, we have gathered information about the strongest political science programs for undergraduates in the United States, organized by region:


  • Harvard: It comes as no surprise that Harvard, with notable alumni including eight U.S. presidents, boasts one of the best government programs in the country. The Government Department at Harvard also offers four optional programs of study as part of the degree: Data Science, Tech Science, Public Policy, and Political Economy. Students who opt into one of these themed programs take specialized courses and may participate in additional co-curricular programming. Harvard offers the opportunity to conduct research for academic credit and students benefit from career chats with alumni—perfect for post-grad networking.
  • Columbia: Political science majors at Columbia develop depth by specializing in one of the following subfields: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory. In addition to courses and seminars in these subfields, students also must complete a research methods course. One thing that makes Columbia stand out from other programs is its practical, skill-based interdisciplinary majors: Economics-Political Science and Political Science-Statistics. Interested juniors may also apply for the B.A./M.A. Program for Columbia Undergraduates. Of course, Columbia’s location in New York City is another huge perk for political science majors who want to pursue professional internships alongside their degree.
  • Dartmouth: Dartmouth’s idyllic location in rural New Hampshire might not seem like a natural place for a political powerhouse, but Dartmouth’s Department of Government has produced an impressive number of distinguished alumni in the field, including U.S. Cabinet members, members of Congress, Governors, ambassadors, and diplomats. The Government major at Dartmouth is divided into four main subfields: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory/Public Law. The department also offers three Modified Government Majors: Government with Economics, Government with Philosophy, and Government, Philosophy, and Economics. A hallmark of Dartmouth’s Government major is its off-campus program offerings. The London program focuses on international relations and comparative politics and the Washington, D.C. program offers research opportunities and an internship in legislative and executive offices. The Russia program  offers interdisciplinary courses in government and energy policy, in partnership with the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia. During election years, Dartmouth is a frequent stop on the campaign trail and has hosted a number of presidential debates.

West Coast:

  • Stanford: Stanford’s political science program includes a Bachelor of Arts degree or the option to pursue a Bachelor of Arts with Honors (part of the Political Science Honors program). To complete this degree, students take introductory courses and then focus on two of five tracks: Data Science; Elections, Representation, and Governance; International Relations; Justice and Law; or Political Economy and Development. Students are encouraged to pursue research with Stanford professors through the Summer Research College where undergraduates spend ten weeks working with a faculty mentor and receive a $5,000 stipend.
  • UCLA: UCLA’s political science program includes lecture series, departmental workshops, faculty talks, and unique opportunities to study in Washington D.C. at the Center for American Politics and Public Policy (CAPPP) or at the University of California Center Sacramento. Upper division political science courses are organized into six fields: (1) political theory, (2) international relations, (3) American politics, (4) comparative politics, (5) methods and models, and (6) Race, Ethnicity and politics. Students may apply to the department honor program if they have fulfilled certain requirements and maintain a 3.5 GPA in upper division political science courses.
  • UC Berkeley: There are approximately 45 faculty, 1,000 undergraduate students and 125 PhD students in the Berkeley political science department. In addition to more traditional subfields, such as American politics or international relations, the department offers a more diverse array of courses in topics such as formal theory, public policy, political behavior, and public law. Junior year, political science majors attend faculty-led seminars to develop their research and writing skills. Student may also take advantage of the many complementary centers and institutes on campus, such as the Citrin Center for Public Opinion​, Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy, Institute of Governmental Studies, Institute of Industrial Relations, and the Center on the Politics of Development. According to the department website, “The Political Science major is concerned with exploring the exercise of power in its myriad forms and consequences. Students in the major are encouraged to explore such central issues as the ethical problems attendant to the exercise of power; the history of important political ideas, such as “liberty”, “justice”, “community”, and “morality”; the impact of historical, economic, and social forces on the operation of politics; the functioning and distinctive features of the US political system; the diversity of political systems found among national and the significance of these differences; the interaction among international actors and the causes of war and peace.”

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  • Washington University of St. Louis: The WashU department of political science has a particular strength in political theory and environmentalism. Within the department, there are two majors offered: Political Science and Environmental Policy. Students may also select up to two subfield concentrations in American politics, comparative politics, international politics, political methodology, or political theory. Students may use AP credit to place out of an introductory course and eligible majors may choose to write a senior thesis, guided by a faculty advisor. The Department of Political Science offers several awards in recognition of special scholarly achievement by undergraduate students and many complete internships in political and community organizations. For students who are considering Law School after graduation, they may wish to pursue a minor in Legal Studies, an interdisciplinary academic program about law. High achieving political science majors can apply for research assistantships, support for honor theses, and conference travel through the Murray Weidenbaum Center Scholars Program. The department regularly hosts events such as political theory workshops and speaker series.
  • University of Michigan: The University of Michigan is the perfect choice for students who want to conduct high-level political science undergraduate research. Through supervised study, research fellowships, and honors theses, students have many chances to dive into a specific subfield of political science and prepare for graduate study. Students may also pursue internships and service learning to gain more hands-on skills to prepare for careers in law, journalism, policy development, business, or other governmental and non-governmental organizations. Classes are organized into five topical areas: American Politics, Comparative Politics, World Politics, Political Theory, and Research Methods.
  • University of Chicago: The University of Chicago has always been on the cutting edge of research in the field of political science and holds its students to a very high standard. The political science major requires twelve political science courses and a substantial research paper (either a BA Thesis or a Long Paper). All students must take three out of four introductory courses (Introduction to Political Theory, Introduction to American Politics, Introduction to Comparative Politics, Introduction to International Relations) as well as a research methods course. The political science department has designed workshops in American politics, comparative politics, East Asia, nations and nationalism, organizations and state building, political theory, Middle East politics, and international relations. Other workshops at the University of Chicago include American Politics, East Asia: Politics, Economy, and Society, Historical Capitalisms, and Political Economy. These workshops function as forums for discussion and debate and a place where students can meet classmates who share their interests.


  • George Washington University: Political science is one of GW’s most popular majors, with more than 800 students. Core focus areas include American politics, comparative politics, international relations, political theory, public policy, and research methods. The undergraduate major focuses on writing-intensive coursework and opportunities to practice producing research papers, book reviews, thought papers, and political theory writing. Students are also encouraged to participate in the Politics and Values Program, attend conferences hosted by the Pi Sigma Alpha Honors Society, and engage with GW’s many centers and institutes (for instance the Institute of Public Policy, the Institute for International Economic Policy, and the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication). Many students take advantage of GW’s location in Washington, D.C. to intern for credit on Capitol Hill, at the White House and with local nongovernmental organizations, embassies, think tanks, and other agencies. Large classes and smaller seminars within the department focus on topics that include “The Internet and Politics,” “Supreme Court Decision-Making” and “Ethnic Politics in Eastern and Central Europe.”
  • Georgetown: Georgetown offers two majors within the department of Government: Government and Political Economy. As a major, you can take classes in four subfields: American Government; Comparative Government; International Relations; and Political Theory. Undergraduates also benefit from the jointly appointed faculty and shared programming with Georgetown’s other schools with strong ties to politics and policy: the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, the McCourt School of Public Policy, and the Georgetown Law Center. Due to Georgetown’s location in Washington, D.C., students often spend their free time engaging in political life and pursuing internships to gain real-world experience.
  • Naval Academy: Midshipmen who pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in political science can take courses in three sub-fields: American Politics, Comparative Politics, and International Relations. They are also taught quantitative methods for social sciences and have opportunities to specialize in a particular area of study, such as national security or violent conflict, through clusters of courses, a capstone seminar, and independent research projects. To complement their foreign language requirement, students often pursue summer internship programs sponsored by the department that allow them to work abroad or at agencies such as the State Department and Office of Naval Intelligence. Beyond their courses, students in the political science department can also take part in the annual Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, Navy Debate, Model United Nations, or Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society.

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  • Duke: The political science major at Duke fosters critical thinking, writing and communication skills, and a foundation in data analysis, including quantitative skills. Many students choose to double major with complementary programs, such as history, economics, or statistics. Within the department, students may pursue one of the two certificate programs: Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, and Decisions Sciences. Courses are organized into six fields of study: Political Economy (PE), Political Behavior and Identities (BI), Political Institutions (PI), Political Methodology (M), Political Theory (N), and Security, Peace and Conflict (SPC). Students also have access to Duke’s unique Focus Program, which provides clusters of courses designed around an interdisciplinary theme, such as the cognitive sciences, ethics and global citizenship, genomics, knowledge in the service of society, and global health. Approximately one third of political science majors and minors participate in global education.
  • UNC Chapel Hill: Political science is one of the most popular majors at UNC and one of the top 15 political science departments in the country. It is also one of the most adaptable programs and provides students the flexibility to craft their own area of expertise by the time they graduate. Within the department, students can engage in a variety of courses across four concentrations: American politics; international politics; law, ethics, and politics. It is also possible to “build-your-own” thematic concentration. The Department of Political Science also organizes social events to develop a community of students who share similar interests. Students can attend speaker series, film screenings, or events through Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honor society, open to students who meet certain academic criteria. For students who want to conduct political science research, UNC would be a great fit, and many undergraduate courses include a research component. Political science majors are also encouraged to pursue directed research with a faculty advisor or apply for the Honors Program, which culminates in a senior thesis.
  • Vanderbilt: Political science majors at Vanderbilt have opportunities to participate in independent studies, selected topics seminars, the honors program, and a wide range of internships. Since the average class size is close to thirty, students get to know their professors and often participate in the governance of the department through the Undergraduate Political Science Association. Vanderbilt also houses a number of research centers that complement the political science major, including the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions and the Research on Individuals, Politics & Society Lab. Faculty research interests include political behavior in North and South America, race relations and public policy, American and comparative judicial institutions, the foundations of human rights, feminist and formal political theory, and international law.  


Do any of these programs pique your interest? If so, now is the time to take action to become a more competitive applicant by the time you apply senior year. Colleges are looking for scholars and the more you can do to pursue your academic interests in high school, the easier it will be for an admissions committee to understand your potential contribution to their academic community. Need help with your essays? Work with one of our senior counselors for expert guidance as you craft a compelling narrative that reflects your academic journey. Or, for more comprehensive counseling, contact us today about Application Boot Camp or our exclusive College Admissions Private Counseling Program.

college admissions Standardized Testing Top Tips

Extending Test-Optional Policies

Every day things seem to shift and change in the college admissions landscape. Add in a pandemic and things become even murkier. As you know from reading our blog posts, the test-optional narrative isn’t a free pass if you are aiming high. We still recommend that our students prep for and take the ACT or SAT and APs! We will keep you posted on the 2021-2022 standardized testing policies for many of the top tier colleges and universities.


Keep in mind there is a difference between test optional and NOT ACCEPTING tests like the UC schools– we will follow the news for you and keep you updated.


Amherst Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Barnard Collegetest-optional for Fall/Spring 2022 and Fall/Spring 2023 admission
Baylor Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Boston Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022
Boston Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 and Spring 2023
Brown Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Bucknell Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022/2023/2024
Butler UniversityScores no longer required
CalTechtest-optional for Fall 2022
Colgate Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
College of Charlestontest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Cornell Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 – varies by school
Dartmouth Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022
Davidson CollegeScores no longer required
Elon Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Emory Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Fordham Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Harvard Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Harvey Mudd Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022
Haverford Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Loyola Marymount Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Macalester CollegeScores no longer required
Middlebury Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Northwestern Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Notre Dame Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Oberlin Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Penn Statetest-optional for Fall 2022
Rice Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Rutgers Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Santa Clara Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Scripps CollegeScores no longer required
Swarthmore Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022
Syracuse Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Trinity UniversityScores no longer required
Tufts Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Tulane Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
UC Schoolsscores will not be considered through Fall 2024
UMass Amhersttest-optional for Fall/Spring 2022 and Fall/Spring 2023 admission
University of ConnecticutScores no longer required
University of OregonScores no longer required
University of Pennsylvaniatest-optional for Fall 2022
University of Pittsburghtest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
University of Southern Californiatest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
University of Utahtest-optional for Fall 2022
University of Virginiatest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
University of WashingtonScores no longer required
University of Wisconsintest-optional for Fall 2022
Vassar Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Williams Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Yale Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Breaking News SAT Subject Tests Top Tips

SAT Subject Tests Discontinued, Effective Immediately

The College Board announced today (January 19, 2021) that effective immediately, the SAT subject tests will be discontinued for students in the U.S. and they will be phased out for international students this summer after the May, June test dates.

This decision is the culmination of the slow and steady erosion of the subject tests, exacerbated by the pandemic and test center closures over the course of the last year. Even prior to the pandemic top universities including MIT, CalTech, and Yale had made decisions to no longer even consider these scores in their admissions processes.

The reaction from students, as you might expect, has been highly enthusiastic. Within minutes of the College Board’s announcement, Top Tier students were sending us links to the national news story.


In light of this dramatic announcement, we encourage our students to recommit to your study plan for your upcoming AP exams, (along with your SAT and ACT work and grades). This change will lead admissions officers to put even more emphasis on results of AP exams in upcoming admissions cycles. We also believe that post-pandemic, you’ll see top colleges and universities reinstating the required SAT or ACT for the next admissions season. So, sophomores shouldn’t throw out their subject test books quite yet.

Did you miss the sign up for AP exams? The late registration for exams is March 12th, so get on that now. Remember that you don’t have to take an AP course to sign up for the exam and you can self-study for these exams. We know that some high schools discourage their students from signing up for AP exams but this change in the SAT subject test policy may lead them to reconsider their position. Lobby for yourself!


We also know that many of you were counting on high subject test scores to help you stand out in the crowded college admissions landscape. Without subject tests available, another way you can boost your candidacy includes taking college courses for credit. Earning strong grades in these courses illustrates your readiness for college work and is yet another data point in your evaluation. Especially if you will be applying to colleges without a robust slate of AP tests, college courses are crucial to help you stand out.


Beyond just your grades and scores, colleges are increasingly inspired by students who engage with important issues and who advocate for others. Carve out a space for yourself as a leader and find creative ways to take a stand on issues that are important to you.  Civic engagement is key!

So, recycle those subject test prep books if you are a junior and then get to work! We are here to help you make sense of it all.

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!