Advice & Tips for Mentees

Q: I am a sophomore. Am I supposed to be looking for internships now?
Or is that later on? I was either too young, not a female, not a resident of Boston, or I just don’t qualify because of experience/smarts. And even if I am not supposed to be looking for them now, I know friends who are as old as I am, and have. But my searching is rather fruitless. Do you know a site or two that I can refer to?

A: It’s pretty tough to get an internship as a sophomore because you’re going to have to be pretty spectacular to stand out amongst juniors which most of the internships are for. I know for me, I got an internship with a NASA program that was open to 10th,11th,12th graders. I was one of two 10th graders to get in out of the 30-person group. So you’ve got to be shining to really clinch a good one, which is very possible if you’re spectacular in one area. The best thing is to do some research, and I know its really hard because most programs are instantly eliminate you because of some qualification, I know, it’s a pain – but you can find them, just keep searching “(company/organization name) high school internship program”. The nice thing is you don’t have to filter through searches that don’t match what you like because you’re actively entering companies you like, say Intel, Microsoft, or NIH, etc. Try to get some input from friends around you about where the local and good internships are because high school stuff isn’t really heavily publicized online, most of the ones I found were from people I talked to. That’s why it is SO vital for you to make friends with smart and talented upperclassmen who can hook you up with the right info and maybe even more.

Now you should be looking for internships as a sophomore (arguably even as a freshmen) just to get your feet wet in the process. Don’t undermine how valuable this can be, especially for awesome programs that you’ll know about for your junior year when you’re there – you’ll have the leg up because you already know the requirements and details and deadlines and just being AWARE that it is available boosts you, because 70% of the good applicants don’t even know it exists until after the deadline. So gather info and deadlines and set reminders for the following year. Now you can also work on building the skills they desire to help you get accepted. Basically, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it. There’s tons to learn in the process. Moreover, there are tons of “enrichment programs” rather than “internships” that are also really good for you and your resume – search for these as well. I actually ended up doing a fairly prestigious enrichment program in my state called Governors School my junior summer.

There isn’t really a good database of high school programs/internships (which is what we’re trying to make on our site), but the best approach is googleing the way I said^

Lastly, if you really wanna swing.for the fences and think you’re pretty hot stuff, you can try to pitch a letter, email, or whatever to the program/internship organizers to give you a chance to apply for their “prestigious program” and see what they make of you even if it says the program is only for 11th or 12th graders… exceptions can always be made for awesome students. Don’t eat up a ton of time pushing for that, approach it professionally but firmly, but focus on trying to get into programs designed for your age group.

Q: How do I gauge the academic reputation of universities and define my Safety, Probable, and Reach schools?
Q: How do I gauge the academic reputation of universities and define my Safety, Probable, and Reach schools?

A: The best method is to talk to students and people involved in academia as much as possible as they will also be able to highlight which programs/departments are exceptional in which schools. The easiest, quick and dirty approach, that is useful for a beginner to the process is to use US News & World Reports College Rankings:
http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/data

Q: Where can we find the SAT score range of a University we are interested in?
Q: Where can we find the SAT score range of a University we are interested in?

A: Use the College Board college search tool –> type in the university –> left hand side tab click “Applying” –> click tab “SAT & ACT Scores”: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-search

Q: I can easily be productive when I am sitting down on my desk or in a quiet sit-down environment, but how do you be productive when you’re on the road?
Q: I can easily be productive when I am sitting down on my desk or in a quiet sit-down environment, but how do you be productive when you’re on the road?

A: It’s a tough question because productivity on the road requires an abnormal amount of focus when for most people it’s already so difficult to work at the desk. I personally have a low capacity to work during travel and so I try to avoid it, I either sleep or relax a bit and enjoy the ride, read Qur’an or books, and ensure I’m just highly productive for wherever I go. Travel time could be considered an interesting third category to the other two we suggested in class, trying to separate fun time and work time. I would recommend aiming for a balance between the two and I am also the type that likes to stay productive on the road, but without 100% of my attention I know it’s not possible so I try to balance by just reading something. Not necessarily pulling out my laptop and trying work or do my homework on paper or anything, just something low-intensity or relaxing. For someone like you who travels an hour to every session, I would recommend limiting the level of work intensive stuff you do to just reading.

Q: What is a beneficial language to take? How should I decide on all my options?
Q: What is a beneficial language to take? How should I decide on all my options?

A: So one point about languages is that it is unarguably better pursued in depth than breadth. Consistency in one language let’s say 4 or 5 years (enough to take some standardized tests like the SAT Subject or AP in that language) is significantly better than 1) a few years without taking those exams 2) one or two years of a single language 3) one or two years of a couple of languages (the reason being that it is clear you don’t learn anything that will stick and be useful later on)
Spanish is a widely-offered, widely-spoken language in this country and can be useful to have on your tongue both for admissions and real life. All languages have some appreciable elegance behind them, but from a functional standpoint Latin is least useful and though it “can be helpful for learning SAT words”, pursuing it in any real depth (which as I’ve said is what colleges want to see) has little to no function.
The other languages are all great to pursue from a uniqueness standpoint, something that can make you stand out in the pool, but be mindful that they are more difficult to learn, find resources, and practice in real life. Employees with a capacity in languages like Japanese, German, and Chinese, have proven to be extremely valuable assets for companies and businesses (good if you want to pursue industry).
A final note about languages is that, in truth, it does little to ‘boost you up’ so to speak in the admissions panels eyes if you’re fluent in your own language. If I’m Chinese or mum and dad speak Chinese, even if I am American, and I take these SAT or AP exams in Chinese or even Chinese classes, it doesn’t do much more than say “well okay he/she can speak their native language, which most people can do, and is something they were probably raised into, not something they went through the struggle of learning to attain”. This highlights the importance of learning a language, simply because there are few other tests of patience in longevity learning as foreign languages.
My input is to pick among the more functional for the future and/or unique languages with a plan for how you will stick to it for several years. If you can’t meet that plan it is best to go with something slightly less challenging and common, but for which you will have lots of resources, like Spanish.
With Arabic as an option, I’d say in terms of your deen, uniqueness, business use, resources, eloquence, and challenge, it’s a very good option. If it’s not native, it’s very tough, but if you are native, consider what I said above.

Q: This year I signed up for AP European History. It takes up a lot of time instead of doing sports. So my question which is more beneficial, fall soccer or AP European history?
Q: This year I signed up for AP European History. It takes up a lot of time instead of doing sports. So my question which is more beneficial, fall soccer or AP European history?

A: This is a prime example of a tough question that as you can imagine is very situational. With decisions like this it always boils down to what are you most passionate about. If you think you would be losing out on a ton of fun with soccer and even slightly resenting Euro b/c of that, you should probably choose soccer. If you’re excited about what you’ll learn to take in Euro and can forgo some soccer fun, go with Euro. These are the obvious scenarios but can’t be neglected.

Let’s say then we look at the benefit in the college admission process. Nobody can argue that the ideal would be to do both, which I’d encourage, while recognizing that if you prove to be unable to handle it, drop one. Don’t think for a second that’s it’s impossible to do both, you just have to believe you can and be ready to put in the work, using the strategies we’ve showed you.
My view is that Euro is more beneficial, unless you were like captain or 2nd captain which may require more time (and if I wasn’t planning on majoring in a liberal art in college, I def would pick soccer then), but is a noteworthy and valuable leadership & experience. Let’s say you were just a regular player on the team. How many students around the country can do that for their high school team, as opposed to handling the rigor of that 4th or 5th AP class? In which realm do YOU think you will stand out more in?

As we’ve all stated time and time again, your experiences in academics and in life, ones that showcase your passions, are more valuable than any class you or the million other students around the world can take.

Q: Do you have input on how to get proper funding for my program/club/team? Sponsorship? (in regards to FIRST Robotics)
Q: Do you have input on how to get proper funding for my program/club/team? Sponsorship? (in regards to FIRST Robotics)

A: You want get funds by big name sponsors because they will give you the most money and that’s the way the successful teams win, because they start with plenty of funding. True in high school, true throughout life. Start by making a “Sponsorship Package” that you can present to companies that make these kind of investments in community outreach programs. It’s the presentation factor again: because you spent the time making it, they know you are serious and worth their money, and all of these places are really willing to give for the most part. FIRST team’s get a lot of funding from Northrop Grumman, Lockheed, NASA, SAIC, Exxon, etc. The way they get those funds is by presenting themselves, their previous work, and their needs precisely and properly. It helps to have contacts in these companies but you don’t need to have them. Google ” education outreach” or ” community outreach”, http://www.northropgrumman.com/corporate-responsibility/corporate-citizenship/education-outreach.html, and you’ll find a website and contact for someone to email or call. Present you and your team properly, as serious contenders, and state exactly what you are looking for. Funding is the kind that doesn’t just come to you, you have to actively pursue it.

You should target efforts towards likely donors, but not limit yourself to them. You should understand that when it comes to these high school teams and clubs, you’re usually not asking for a ton of money and so anyone can really donate. People who are invested in this type of thing, like family friends or family who are engineers, would be happy to help out even a bit. Or even lead you in the direction of giving companies. For example, my mum worked for Verizon and she led me to the right contacts for their foundation that could sponsor my Science Olympiad team. Definitely look at other FIRST team’s websites and see who is funding them and even considering emailing their teams and just ask them what they did to get sponsors. Look at “Example Sponsorship Package.pdf” in Mentees Resources on the website, but know this is very advanced as it is a college team, however, you want to strive for something like this, especially the stratifying of sponsorship levels.

Q: My school doesn't have honors or AP classes that I want, they only have AP Calc and AP Physics for seniors and AP Health for juniors. Everything else is regular class and pretty much everything they gave me I've already taken in Syria. I told my counselor and she's trying to get me a few block exchanges with another close by school. So if that doesn’t work out what am I supposed to do for school, since I already know almost all this?
Q: My school doesn’t have honors or AP classes that I want, they only have AP Calc and AP Physics for seniors and AP Health for juniors. Everything else is regular class and pretty much everything they gave me I’ve already taken in Syria. I told my counselor and she’s trying to get me a few block exchanges with another close by school. So if that doesn’t work out what am I supposed to do for school, since I already know almost all this?

A: 1) Understand that colleges will only judge you based on the context of the school you are coming from. So if that school doesn’t have a lot of advanced classes, they won’t judge you negatively because of that. They will take that into consideration when stacking you up against students from schools that had all these advanced classes.

2) However, this can have wonderful benefits if you manage to extend yourself beyond the parameters of your school for classes, like extension schools or dual-enrollment with a local college. These look very good to universities (particularly dual-enrollment) because it shows you’ve experienced legit college work and you WANT to learn more, not just feel like you HAVE to.

Important Side Note: Think of this almost as an advantage, rather than a disadvantage. You’d be surprised at how many students are so terribly discouraged by this when they shouldn’t be. We all know students, even ourselves, that were exceptional within their own environments, but then they get to college and realize how much it was their environment that made them successful. Upper universities are all about that: selecting the BEST students from wherever they came from in the country and even the world. They pick the #1’s, 2’s, and 3’s of individual schools, even if your school is a super gifted and talented school where everyone is amazing, they still only pick the top from that school.

3) Unfortunately, there are tons of downsides to dual or extension schools, such as travel time and cost. I recommend that if your family is strapped for money don’t take this route. It’s just not worth the financial burden on your family, when there are better alternatives for sure. Moreover, if the travel time takes up another space in your schedule, I’d really recommend against this, because that’s like saying this one slightly advanced class is worth more than two regular ones, which is rarely the case. So the ideal route is to avoid these downsides as much as possible.

4) As you probably figured, the single BEST way to tackle this is to commit yourself to saying “okay, I’m going to self-study AP XYZ and take the exam for it in May”. This is extremely ideal and difficult to do, but walaahi if you do it, you can claim mastery over your education, which has more value in the long run than anything else. You can even find online classes that will provide you that useful structure to make the difference in keeping you motivated (see Mentees Resources – Useful Links Compilation). All the material to learn from these classes is in these online courses and just prep for a legitimate standardized exam, be it the AP exam or SAT Subject Tests. This can come off very well on the college application, primarily when you have good scores to back up the work you actually did was legit, but even without, it speaks so much to your character as a striving student.

5) The first and most practical thing to do is talk to your counselor about taking the senior or junior classes (the classes that are for grades ahead of you). Getting ahead is extremely good and honestly, your counselors just want to limit the amount of work they have to do, so they don’t want to be flexible because they’re kind of lazy and feel culpable if you can’t handle the coursework of harder classes. They just don’t want to be to blame if you crack under the “difficulty”, which is no big deal, you just drop down classes if that’s the case. This is the case for whatever class you want to take and for life in general, administrative people don’t want to have to do extra work for the exceptions, so they will do all they can to fit everyone into the nice status quo. But don’t let them. You have to be firm. Basically demand that you be put in these classes and you may even have to say “I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer, because this kind of inflexibility is limiting my education and academic potential”. There is no arguing this, they know this is true. They may even look kindly upon this strong desire to break the norm and excel, and even see it as good recommendation material.

6) Since you need to get ready for this Pre-Calculus placement math test, the best resource for material REVIEW is definitely the SparkCharts of the topic like Algebra I and Algebra II for you. These are located in Mentees Resources on the website.

Q: How do A-levels stack up to AP Subjects? Do they have the same value?
Q: How do A-levels stack up to AP Subjects? Do they have the same value?

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Q: Can you give me a balanced list of universities with Safety, Probable, and Reach?
Q: Can you give me a balanced list of universities with Safety, Probable, and Reach?

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Q: How should I plan out my approach to the SAT, SAT Subjects, and ACT?
Q: How should I plan out my approach to the SAT, SAT Subjects, and ACT?

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Q: What process should I use in determining good research project ideas, especially for Science Fair?
Q: What process should I use in determining good research project ideas, especially for Science Fair?

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Q: Don’t colleges look down upon taking the SAT a bunch of times? If so, is it a bad idea for me to take the test as a 9th or 10th grader?
Q: Don’t colleges look down upon taking the SAT a bunch of times? If so, is it a bad idea for me to take the test as a 9th or 10th grader?

A: First, admissions people recognize the date which the test is taken, so even if they do see all your scores, they realize and think “oh he’s just a 9th grader” and “oh she’s just a 10th grader”. They want to see how capable you are, which is going to be indicated by the highest scores. The objection universities had for the new Score Choice system (which you may not have had when applying) is that they didn’t want rich kids who could pay to take it every testing date have an advantage or students take an excessive number of tests. The ones that do use highest section or highest test date do so because (1) they don’t want to sit there looking at a ton of scores and (2) they want to you see your capability as a graduating senior, they don’t really care about how you did in 9th grade. This is reflected in the way we know they judge grades: if you improved significantly over the course of 4 years, that’s almost as valuable as getting straight A’s all 4 years, a phenomenon I’m sure you know of. Many colleges now are highest section on Score Choice: http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/sat-score-use-practices-list.pdf

  • MIT – highest section
  • Harvard – highest section
  • Yale – all
  • Stanford – all
  • Princeton – highest section
  • Cornell – all
  • Brown – highest section
  • Columbia – all
  • Johns Hopkins – highest section
  • University of Pennsylvania – all
  • Dartmouth – highest section
  • Rice – all
  • Urbana – highest section
  • University of Chicago – highest section
  • University of Michigan – highest section
  • Northwestern – highest section
  • Duke – highest section
  • Northeastern – highest section
  • Boston University – highest section
  • Tufts – all
  • UMass Amherst and UMass Boston – highest section
  • Suffolk – highest section
  • Mass College of Pharmacy – highest section

Q: I have a scholarship interview (XYZ Foundation) and it's a full scholarship to any of its partner schools. I am trying to study Engineering and there is really only one that has a Major for Engineering and the rest have Engineering under 'Pre-Professional Program'. Any advice or tips on how I should dress, talk (about) or act, it would be helpful.
Q: I have a scholarship interview (XYZ Foundation) and it’s a full scholarship to any of its partner schools. I am trying to study Engineering and there is really only one that has a Major for Engineering and the rest have Engineering under “Pre-Professional Program”. Any advice or tips on how I should dress, talk (about) or act, it would be helpful.

A: The most important thing is you go in confident. The best thing you can do is to practice in front of a mirror or with your older siblings or parents. You need to do your research if you don’t know what the program is about, you HAVE to be fluent in talking about the program and what they are looking for, otherwise they can easily tell you don’t really care as much as others who took the time out to read about their program and get excited. I’m thinking dress professionally for something like this, by both name and nature of the program and “Pre-Professional Programs”. I’m thinking black pants, tucked in button-down shirt, maybe a tie, no rolled up sleeves. Smell good, psychological trump card. Smile frequently and just show them that you are passionate about whatever you want to pursue in college. Do your best to present yourself as a quality investment on their part. Think about it, they’re pumping FULL tuition into you, they want to ensure stellar results, so give them no room for doubt. This is best achieved by enthusiasm and showing them you can make things happen via activities/clubs/leadership roles you’ve taken in the past.

When it comes to the differences concerning the one that has an engineering major and the ones that have “pre-professional” labels, I wouldn’t worry about the differences too much. If you get the scholarship, then you can look into it more, but right now, you know the interview is coming up and you know the opportunity sounds like one you’d be interested in, so let’s not linger over the details, let’s just try to get it on the table first before we get ahead of ourselves. As a high school student, you’re not going to go in for a technical interview on your engineering capability, or your ability in any field for that matter. It is highly unlikely that any interview you experience in high school, be it for college or scholarship or whatever, will be technical. They want to see how passionate you are, how much you know about the program and how you feel you can contribute, what kind of a thinker and talker you are (i.e. are you confident, can you work in a team, can you lead), and any technical skills or experiences will just support your argument for being good in your field of interest. Honestly, the people running these programs don’t think a whole lot of you guys as high-schoolers. They aren’t thinking about what kind of research or projects you’ve contributed to, because they know that’s unrealistic for most students, other than the few exceptions (who have a leg up IF they’re smart about their presentation). They just want to see a LOT of potential. You don’t have to be superman who has done everything, but you do have to show promise, be unique, and be genuine.

Of course, pray istikharaa, make du’a before, say bismillah, and remember Allah (swt) knows best. Whatever happens, happens. He’s got your back for the long run.