Make the Most of Your Holidays

Try These Student Gift Ideas

If you  have someone on your holiday gift list who is a high school senior or someone who is already a college student, I hope you may find some of these holiday gift ideas helpful and relevant for the young adults in your life:
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers, by Sean Covey
  • A cookbook such as: 27 Easy College Cookbook Recipes, by Diana Bricker; or 4 Ingredients: One Pot, OneBowl, by Kim McCosker; or This is A Cookbook: Recipes for Real Life, by Mac and Eli Sussman.
  • How To Be a Straight A  Student, by Cal Newport
  • A gift certificate for Starbucks or an off-campus eatery for a meal or snack away from the dining hall.
  • Tickets to a sporting  event or concert at your child’s favorite college
  • For all those future or current college writing assignments I recommend: The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, by Steven Pinker; or On Writing Well, by William Zinsser.
  • A Gas Gift Card
  • Personalized stationery for thanking the teachers who wrote college application recommendations,  for future graduation gifts, or for internship assignments
  • A phone case with an external battery to extend the life of an iPhone or iPad
  • A loyalty card for a local grocery store
  • A monthly subscription to the digital music service provider, Spotify
  • Snapchat glasses for instant snapchat pictures
  • A Donation to your child’s favorite charity made in his/her name
  • The ABCs of Adulthood, by Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo

High School Students: Make Time to Read Over Your Holiday Break

One of the best ways to prepare for college is to read.  Reading books, blogs, magazines and news articles may contribute to your SAT and ACT test scores since reading improves your comprehension and vocabulary. So, as you look ahead to taking standardized tests in the coming months, reading should be part of your test prep.

When I recently attended an admissions information session at Columbia University, prospective students were told that, as college freshmen, they would be required to read a book a week for each of their courses. Thus, getting into the habit of reading is great preparation for future college classes.

I also encourage you to read just for pleasure and enjoyment. A good book offers a chance to imagine, to learn, and to escape into the world of literature.  Here are some of the books the students I have worked with tell me they especially liked reading:

  • Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  • The House of the Scorpion, by  Nancy Farmer
  • Madame Secretary, by Madeleine Albright
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J .D. Salinger
  • Fathers and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Speak, by Laurie Halse  Anderson
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown,
  • An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
  • The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  • The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Wall
  • The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
  • The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
  • The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Windby William    Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
  • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
  • Seabiscuitby Laura Hillenbrand
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret,  by Brian Selznick
  • Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, by Barack Obama
  • Tracks, by Louise Erdrich
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
You may want to check out other book suggestions at NPR’s Book Concierge.
Have fun over your holiday vacation, but occasionally instead of TV, video games, and snapchat, pick up a good book and enjoy!
Wishing you and your Family a Happy Holiday,
Dr. Heather Ricker-Gilbert

The New SAT & Successful College Placements

The Changing World of the SAT

The newly revised SAT will debut March 5, 2016. The PSAT, when it is administered in high schools in October, 2015 will reflect the new version of the test.  Click here for the full article from Tyler Morning Telegraph published on June 22, 2015.

The new SAT will include a reading and math section with a maximum score of 1600.  There will be an optional essay scored separately.  The SAT which was originally developed as an aptitude test based on critical thinking, will now be more of an achievement test based on the Common Core curricula and evidence-based reading and writing.  The math section will include algebra, problem solving and data analysis, geometry and basic trigonometry.

Current SAT test dates are:  October 3, 2015, November 7, 2015, December 5, 2015, January 23, 2016.

New SAT test dates are: March 5, 2016, May 7, 2016,  June 4, 2016

Many test preparation companies such as Ivybound and Summit Educational Group are suggesting that students either take the old SAT or focus on the ACT, since it is a known quantity.

Upcoming ACT test dates are: September 12, 2015, October 24, 2015, December 12, 2015, and February 6, 2016.

For more insight and advice on the new SAT read:
Prepping for the Future: The Redesigned SAT and the Changing College Admissions Testing Landscape by Summit Educational Group.

Make Time to Read this Summer!

One of the best ways to prepare for the SAT and ACT is by reading books, magazines and newspapers.  Reading improves your comprehension and vocabulary and may contribute to  better test scores. When I attended an admissions information session at Columbia University, prospective students were told that, as college freshmen, they would be required to read a book a week for each of their courses. So getting into the habit of reading is good preparation for future college classes.
I also encourage you to read just for pleasure and enjoyment. A good book offers a change to imagine, to learn and to escape into the world of literature.  Here are some of the books the students I have worked with tell me they especially liked reading:      Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, The House of the Scorpion, by  Nancy Farmer,  Madame Secretary by Madeleine Albright, The Catcher in the Rye, by J .D. Salinger, Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Speak, by Laurie Halse  Anderson, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown,  An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green,  The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak,  The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Wall, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown and The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.

You have probably read Harper Lee’s memorable book To Kill a Mockingbird. You may now want to download a copy of her newly published  book Go Set A Watchman. You may also want to check out the American Library Association’s 2015 list of best fiction for young adults.

Accepted Seniors

Congratulations to CollegeGateways Seniors Who Have Graduated from: 
Bellefonte High School (PA), Concordia International School, (Shanghai, China), Glastonbury High School (CT), East Catholic High School (CT), Portsmouth Abbey School (Rhode Island), State College Area High School (PA), and Tolland High School (CT).They have chosen to attend the following colleges and universities: 

  • Colorado College
  • Denison University
  • Fordham University
  • Harvard University
  • Loyola University Maryland
  • Penn State University
  • Syracuse University
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Delaware
  • University of Illinois
“The best college to attend is the one that looks like an adventure, a place that will take you where you have always wanted to go.” 

–Jay Mathews, educational columnist for The Washington Post and author of Harvard Schmarvard.

Freshmen Reading

To get students engaged in discussions about relevant and diverse topics, many colleges are assigning a book as a common reading project “to start the conversation” during freshman orientation or in classes at the beginning of the semester.

Here is a sample of some of the books freshmen in the class of 2018 were asked to read over the summer by the colleges and universities where they are enrolling:

  • Texas State University: Coming of Age in Mississippi, by Anne Moody
  • Juniata College: It’s Complicated, by dana boyd
  • Bucknell University and Goucher College: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid
  • Georgetown University: All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu
  • Mansfield University of Pennsylvania: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  • Johns Hopkins University: Happier,  by Tal Ben-Shahar
  • Princeton University: The Meaning of Life and Why It Matters, by Susan Wolf
  • Penn State University: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • University of Pennsylvania: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures, by Anne Fadiman
  • Villanova University and Longwood University: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore
  • Stanford University:Physics for Future Presidents:The Science Behind the Headlines, by Richard Muller; Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, by Lauren Redniss; and My Year of Meats, by Ruth Ozeki
  • Colorado College: Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
  • Smith College: Whistling Vivaldi, by Claude Steele
  • University of Wisconsin: I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai
  • Tulane University: Hope Against Hope, by Sarah Carr
  • Providence College: The Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Washington University in St Louis: Covering the Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights, by Kenji Yoskino

Current High School Students: Why You Should Be Reading:

1. Whether you read a paperback, or on your IPad and Kindle, a good book offers you a chance to imagine, to learn, and to escape into other cultures, times and settings.

2. Reading improves your comprehension and vocabulary and may contribute to an improved SAT/ACT score.

3. There is a correlation between leisure reading and academic achievement

4. Reading is good preparation for future college courses in which you may be required to read a new book each week.

Writing Successful Application Essays

College application essays matter. Here is some advice to keep in mind:

  • Your essay should tell your readers, who are admissions officers, something about you beyond the rest of your application materials such as your GPA and SAT scores. Your narrative essay should reveal both your unique perspective and your writing skills.
  • Don’t pick a topic or story that could easily be told by someone else. The most common college essay topics relate to sports or mission trips.
  • Think about what you want your readers to know. What story do you have to tell?  Your essay should not be an epic tale of your life, but provide insight into who you are, and how you make a difference. What are you passionate about? What are the pivotal points in your life thus far? Your essay should reveal one small story or a moment in time.
  • Be sure and capture your reader’s attention immediately with a startling statement, a funny example or an anecdote. Journalists call this a “hook” and speech writers call it an “attention getter.”  Your content should be focused and have a clear theme. Conclude by referring back to your introduction to give your essay a sense of balance. Above all, you want to keep your reader, reading!
  • Avoid writing an essay that will embarrass the reader and don’t try and sell yourself. Just show that admissions officer who you are.
  • Be succinct and make every sentence count. Write, read aloud and rewrite. Proofread and edit. Stay within the required word count. Abraham Lincoln once wrote: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.”

“College admissions is not a race to be run or a prize to be won, but a match to be made!”

Summer Readings

Why High School Students Should Read This Summer

  1. There is a correlation between leisure reading habits and academic         achievement
  2. A good book, whether on your  IPad, Kindle or a paperback, offers    you a chance to imagine, to learn, and to escape into other cultures,  times and settings.
  3. Reading improves your comprehension and vocabulary and may  contribute to an improved SAT scores
  4. Reading is good preparation for future college courses where you may  be required to read a new book each week for many of your classes.

What Some Colleges Are Asking Members of their 2013 Freshman Class to read:

  • American University – Notes from No Man’s Land:American Essays, 
  • by Eula Biss
  • Brown University and Penn State University- Beautiful Souls, by Eyal Press
  • Bucknell University- Hamlet’s Blackberry, by William Powers
  • Columbia University – The Iliad, by Homer
  • Dartmouth College – Strange As This Weather Had Been, by Ann Pancake
  • Duke University – Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
  • Elon University – Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, by Conor Grennan
  • Miami University of Ohio – Reality is Broken:Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, by Jane McGonigal
  • Purdue University – No Impact Man, by Colin Beavan
  • Smith College – My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayer
  • Tulane University – The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age  of Colorblindness, by Elizabeth Alexander
  • University of Wisconsin – A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
  • Cornell University- When The Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Ostuka
  • Adelphi University – Behind The Beautiful Flowers, by Katherine Boo
  • University Of Pennsylvania – The Books of Rhymes:The Poetics of Hip Hop, by Adam Bradley

Some of the Favorite Books Suggested by CollegeGateways Students With Whom I Work:

  • Rebecca, by Daphne duMaurier- A story of suspense as the new mistress of Manderley is haunted by her predecessor
  • House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer – A winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, this book, set in Mexico, is about a strangely conceived boy and his turbulent life.
  • To Kill A Mockingbird, by  Harper Lee – Fifty years ago this book, set in the South during the Depression, is an  American classic about a lawyer and his family confronting a moral crisis in their segregated town.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas- A romantic adventure full of mystery and  intrigue set in France during the time of Napoleon.
  • The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak – A  World War II novel about the influence of books and a young girl in Germany who steals and shares them with others
  • Looking for Alaska by  John Green – The realistic and humorous story of rebellious teenagers attending boarding school in Alabama
  • Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut  -The story of a science fiction writer and his strange and varied encounters with characters he finds in New York City.
  • Speak, by Laurie Halse  Anderson – A traumatic event has a devastating effect on a young girl’s  first year of high school
  • Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand – The engaging take of thoroughbred horse racing and the unlikely champion horse that because a racing legend during the Depression.
  • Things Fall Apart,  by Chinua Achebe – The moving story about how change impacts the life of a chief’s son in Nigeria.
In addition to reading, summer is a good time for rising juniors and seniors to research potential colleges:  Here are some websites you may wish to explore:  candid, but balanced student reviews  lists main scholarships available at specific colleges information on honors programs  extensive data and good information, although not on all colleges an excellent site for athletes to get information on the recruiting process and post their athletic resume and videos for review   new virtual tour site featuring 400 colleges informative, student friendly site  find out more about possible majors


Recently,  I toured James Madison University, a public institution in Harrisonburg, Virginia. With 18,000 undergraduates, 30% of whom are from out-of state JMU has strong majors in speech pathology, the performing arts, education, and a highly ranked business college.   JMU offers  DI sports teams, and lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation in the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding the University. There is a very friendly and cordial atmosphere at James Madison and tremendous school spirit.
Samantha Blake, a JMU student from Amston, Connecticut told me that she has had great interactions with James Madison faculty and loves her major, which is communications.
Dakota Gagliardi, from Tolland, Connecticut, an elementary education major and member of the Honors Program states:” I LOVE JMU!  It is an incredible school with so many opportunities.   Every professor I have had has opened my eyes to new ideas and has helped me grow as a student, and a person.  I am so fortunate to be attending one of the best universities in the country.”
The acceptance rate is approximately 55% and James Madison will hold Admissions Open Houses this fall on October 19 and November 9, 2013.
I welcome soon-to-be high school juniors who are beginning to think about the college assessment and selection process to contact me at:   It is not too soon to get started on your journey toward high education.
The new version of the Common Application will be online August 1. Let’s talk about essay ideas and how to make a winning case for college admissions. Call or text me.