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Columbia University

10 Elite College Entrance Secrets For the Rest Of Us

This week’s college admission cheating scandal has a lot of people in social media, online and at water coolers at work talking about all the extraneous steps wealthy parents take to ensure their children get admitted into the best schools.

Whether the uber rich are donating buildings to get their kids into elite schools, or bribing athletic coaches and testing proctors, as this scandal reveals, their actions are a sad reminder to families without extraordinary means that the odds are stacked against them and they are left to figure it out themselves on how to get into the top elite schools.

Bellyitch asked double Ivy League Grad, Test prep and Educational Consultant, K. Mason Schecter, owner of Schecter Academic & Admissions Services, who scored in the 99% of the SAT, ACT, SAT, GMAT and LSAT on the very first try to provide his best insider tips and secrets for parents who are not rich and who might not be able to afford an expensive private tutor or course.

K. Mason Schecter of Schecter Academic & Admissions Services, who scored in the 99% of the SAT, ACT, SAT, GMAT and LSAT on the very first try

Most of Schecter’s clients come to him for standardized test prep for the SAT, ISEE, PSAT, SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT, and/or school application essay assistance, or both.

He says the recent scandal reminds him of a joke about diversity at American colleges.

On a campus tour a parent asks a dean about his school’s diversity. The dean says, ‘Our school is incredibly diverse! We’ve got rich white kids, rich black kids, rich Asian kids…’ I can’t fix that problem, but I can suggest some useful resources.

Here are ten things you need to consider if you want to legitimately get your child in an Ivy League or other competitive school.

1. Practice Entrance Exams on Paper Tests.

While a lot of test prep programs offer digital and online courses and tests, Schecter says practicing on paper is better for preparing for the SAT, ACTs and other high school and private school admissions exams.

While “the GRE and GMAT are fully digital, and the LSAT will become fully digital in 2019, the SAT and ACT are still paper tests, and students should prepare for them using paper,” Schecter explains. “That paper test booklet is your best friend on test day and like any other friend, you need to

spend time with it and get comfortable with it, or else it’s not going to help you very much when you need it.”

He says all of his SAT and ACT students, regardless of location, train with paper tests and pencils.

“Online instruction is fine, but online tests are not,” he adds.

In the end, there is no real formula for scoring perfectly on the SAT

“But there is a process,” he says. “Approach standardized tests like a sport. Learn the skills, get a good coach, and practice, practice, practice.”

2. Read Lots of Books

Get your kids to read books, Schecter advises.

There is no short cutting it because as we’ve seen promoted many times before, reading helps increase reaching comprehension, vocabulary and verbal aptitude easily!

[How We Got Our Son To Read Series Chapter Books]

“I had professor in graduate school who told us that our brains need to be fed, and books are meals,” Schecter jokes. “Articles and videos are snacks – you don’t want your brain to live on snacks.”

[10 Ways to Encourage Healthy Reading Habits with Your Child]

3. Use the Khan Academy

There are a lot of online resources but one that has been around for a long time and has consistently prepared children for school, and exams is the Khan Academy.

Khan Academy “offers course work and study aids for nearly the entire school curriculum from kindergarten through high school, completely free.”

[Spring Break: 48 Online Tech and Kids Learning Programs]

Khan Academy – in partnership with The College Board – also offers excellent SAT prep material as well as official tests direct from the source, Schecter adds.

4. Check Out Johns Hopkins Essays That Worked Page

For getting the best essay, Schecter says you cannot go wrong with another free resource from Johns Hopkins University from its “Essays that Worked” page on the college’s website .

“It is one of the best free resources for essay assistance,” he adds but cautions that the gold is not in the sample essays but in the comments left by the admissions officials as to why they felt the essay worked. “The reviewers reveal exactly what they find attractive.”


5. Wait until 10th Grade to Start Doing Practice Tests

A lot of hard core parents presume that their kid needs to be doing practice tests from middle school, but that is uneccessary, Schecter says.

“The SAT and ACT tests do not require years of prep,” Schecter reminds us. “I don’t see any reason to introduce the focus on such exams before tenth grade at the earliest.”

[SAT & ACT Test Prep Tips for Your Teens]

Instead, “encourage your kids to keep up their grades, read books, and pursue the activities that your child seems most likely to stick with throughout high school (and beyond).

“Ninth grade is a tough transitional year for many students.”

6. Practice Learning How to Spot the Wrong Answers, Not the Correct One.

Conventional wisdom would have most thinking their job while taking a test is to find the right answer.

Not so, says Schecter:

It’s helpful to understand how the tests are structured. Multiple choice tests have one simple rule: for every question, all but one of the answers are WRONG.

Why is this useful? Because it changes your job. You don’t have to understand the ‘right’ answer, you just have to locate it – and your first move isn’t to seek what’s right, but to eliminate what’s wrong. There’s an old saying about the difficulty of finding a needle in a haystack. If you search for the needle, then it is difficult. Don’t search – burn!

Burn the hay, and the only thing left is your needle.

And now I will reveal one of the great secrets of standardized tests – verbal questions are not complicated. They nearly always ask what the passage says. That’s it! No thinking. Just find the words the question references.


7. Unmotivated Children Must Take “In-Class” Prep Courses

Have your children who are less motivated and less likely to follow through requirements on an online test prep or private tutor enroll in an in-person class.

“For unmotivated students who need someone to MAKE them practice, classes at a testing center are often the right choice,” Schecter reccommends “Why? Because, testing centers make students take practice tests on site. There’s no escape!”

In test prep, the largest providers are The Princeton Review and Kaplan Test Prep. “Both primarily provide prep classes, and if you’re looking for a class neither is a bad choice,” he says.

Schecter also recommends that more motivated students get tutors because it’s more efficient, more effective and often less expensive than testing center courses. The students get far.

[How to Know If Your Child Is Gifted]

And in this digital age, a tutor could be half way across the world. Schecter himself has clients in Asia and all over America and tutors kids both in person and online for private school admissions, test and essay prep, and tailors his program for each child.

“My goal is to provide exactly what each student needs, no more and no less,” he says. “Some students require a great deal of assistance, whereas others require very little – so my services are always tailored to the needs of my clients.”

8. Challenge Children with Poor Work Ethic

It is common to see parents pushing their children to achieve a success they envision for themselves, for bragging rights and for all the wrong reasons.

That never works, Schecter says. Instead he advises:

First, I have to say this is probably one of the greatest mysteries of parenting – and one that I can’t claim to have solved. Given that, I think it’s critical for kids to have skin in the game.

There has to be something of value for them.

Emotions power actions.

If you see a person running, they’re probably running either toward (with passion) or away (with fear) from something.

At some point, kids have to learn that to get what you want, you have to do what you don’t.

Can you dig it?

9. Strive For Balance 

We know the stereotype and hear the stories about competitive parenting in Asian countries, cultures and among Asian and foreign immigrant households and the exaggeration on academics while American households may recommend taking a more relaxed approach, while lagging behind the world in reading and math.

The answer lies in the middle.

Schecter offers the activity of jogging to provide a workable analogy.

[Tips For Raising Great Teens Without Piling On the Pressure]

“If you’re jogging and you’re bored, then you’re not pushing hard enough, whereas if you’re gasping and stumbling then you need to pull it back,” he adds. “That’s where you find the balancing point – between boredom and overwork.”

10. Advanced courses still matter.

Recently, there have been reports that some of the selective admissions grade and high schools were moving away from weighted Advanced Placement, Honors and International Baccalaureate (“IB”) courses.

Schecter says they’re still relevant. Don’t give up on them.

“I favor students taking the most challenging course track that they can handle, regardless of what those courses are called,” he recommends. “Colleges review a student’s curriculum in the same way. The names don’t matter.”

Private tutors range in price and Schecter charges from free to $100- $200 per hour, but at the top range, they’re paying for someone who has been teaching the SAT since 1987 while an Undergrad at Columbia University, who went to the University of Pennsylvania‘s prestigious Wharton School of Business school and worked as a banker and consultant before returning to test prep because he loves “helping others work through a very stressful transition that should really be more joyous.”

You get what you pay for and the results speak for themselves.

Readers can chat with him about reality of testing and college admissions during a free consultation!

And if getting private tutoring is not in the cards or budget for you, start with the very solid tips that he’s shared with out readers here and go from there!

Good luck Parents!

Share this post and ping us in Social Media @ Bellyitch on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to let us know your thoughts!

Jay Jay Ghatt

Seasonal Affective Disorder: 6 Ways to Fight The Fall/Post Summer Blues From Setting In

For many people the end of summertime means back to school and back to the grind. Companies launch into their 4th quarter which means the summer slack off season is done and it’s time to get serious as we close out the end of the year. Between the dip in temperatures, shorter days, work and family demands, it’s no wonder people feel sad to part with summer. We connected with Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Neuropsychologist and Teaching Faculty at Columbia University in New York City to explain why people get the post summer blues.

We also offer some things to do to boost the mood as we say goodbye to summer and hello to fall.

1. Ease into the routine.

A lot of people expect to hit the ground running immediately after Labor Day. Allow yourself a solid two weeks to a full month to get back into the swing of your fall routine. You can’t expect to go from a more relaxed summer mindset into a rushed pace. “A lot of people make the mistake of going from summer ease to fall hustle and they end up running themselves down leading to a cold. You want to get a realistic handle on the fall routine and make decisions about how much to take on. Planning ahead helps,” explains Dr. Hafeez.

2. Go outside and play anyway!

The fall means a break in humidity and beautiful crisp air. It’s common to go from 80-degree temperatures to mid 60’s within a month. You can still enjoy your deck, barbecuing, reading in a lounge chair, having a catch in the yard, or going for a walk in nature. “Get outdoors and avoid spending weekends in hibernation which only makes people feel lethargic and depressed,” advises Dr. Hafeez who has been featured on national TV talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder.

3. Get things done that you put off during summer.

Before the weather takes a turn for the cold and holiday hustle ensues, take advantage of the cooler fall temperatures by tending to things like, auto repairs, home projects, pet care, medical visits, and financial assessments. “When we make a decision to accomplish things we’ve put off and then follow through, we feel more in control and this reduces stress,” explains Dr. Hafeez. Something as simple as taking a few hours to tidy up the yard, clean out the garage, get rid of clothes can elevate the mood.

4. Recap the summer with a look back at photos and gratitude.

At the end of each season it’s such a great ritual to do a recap. Look back into your social media feeds for the photos posted and memories made. Consider creating a summer photo album with highlights from vacations, pool days, family barbecues, weddings and any other fun that was had.

5. Start brainstorming next summer’s vacation and must-do activities.

“You really want to move into a forward-thinking mindset instead of longing for the past. This summer is over and another one will come. Brainstorming with the family on where to go next, is a fun way to get excited about what’s ahead. When we think about possibilities it elevates our mood so grab an issue of a travel magazine and get inspired,” suggests Dr. Hafeez.

6. When in doubt, get a makeover!

Nothing elevates the mood more than a day of primping and prepping. When we are putting the summer clothes away and pulling out the fall clothes we get to edit our wardrobes and make a list of the new things we want to add. Shopping for new clothes isn’t just limited to the kids heading back to school. A new hair color or style can also mark the start of a new season in a fun new way. “Self-care isn’t limited to meditation, juicing and massages. Finding that perfect fall jacket, shoes, new shades of cosmetics can do a lot to lift spirits,” Dr. Hafeez shares.

Good luck!

Kentucky Judge Who Refuses to Hear Gay Adoption Cases Faces Removal Petition


Gay rights groups have petitioned to unseat a Kentucky family court judge who announced last  month that he will no longer hear adoption cases involving “homosexual parties”.

Judge W. Mitchell Nance sits in Barren and Metcalfe counties and said his decision to recuse himself going forward from all adoptions involving gay people is because he believes allowing a gay person to adopt could never be in the child’s best interest.

Nance recusal is based on a judicial ethics rule that says a judge must disqualify himself when he has a personal bias or prejudice.

“If he can’t do the job, he shouldn’t have the job,” Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign told USA Today. 

But Christian and conservative organizations are backing Nance

But Martin Cothran, an analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, which opposes gay marriage, said in an email to the paper that “we fully support the decision of Judge Nance to recuse himself from these kinds of cases.

“If we are going to let liberal judges write their personal biases and prejudices into law, as we have done on issues of marriage and sexuality, then in the interest of fairness we are going to have to allow judges whose personal biases and prejudices are different to recuse themselves from such cases,” Cothran said.

Cothran fought for a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Kentucky until the Supreme Court overturned it.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, together with the Fairness Campaign, the ACLU of Kentucky and University of Louisville law professor Sam Marcosson are asking the Judicial Conduct Commission to remove Judge W. Mitchell Nance from office.

Marcosson says Nance is refusing to to hear cases involving an entire class of litigants and therefore violates the state Code of Judicial Conduct by “eroding confidence in the judiciary and failing to perform judicial duties impartially and diligently.”

If the Judicial Conduct Commission finds a judge has violated rules, it may issue an admonition, a reprimand or a censure, or suspend or remove the judge from office.

All 50 states, including Kentucky, allow adoptions by gay parents after Mississippi’s ban was struck down last year. Researchers at Columbia University found that 75 of 79 scholarly studies found that such children face no disadvantages compared to those raised by heterosexual couples.

h/t USA Today

A Pesticide linked to Kids’ Brain and Nervous System Damage Just Got Ok’d for Use Again


Here is more reason to buy organic if you can afford it.

Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday reversed an Obama administration recommendation to ban a pesticide linked to nervous system damage in children, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Newly installed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt signed an order that would allow farmers to continue using chlorpyrifos, which is sprayed on more than a dozen crops, including tree nuts, soybeans, corn, wheat, apples and citrus, writer Geoffrey Mohan pens.

For over 15 years, Chlorpyrifos has been banned from consumer products and residential use because the science suggest that it can hamper children’s cognitive development. A UC Berkeley study found that 7-year-old children in the Salinas Valley who were exposed to high levels during pregnancy had slightly lower IQ scores than their peers. A Columbia University study showed similar effects at lower exposure.

In 2015, former President Barack Obama’s administration vowed to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for residue of that chemical on food, essentially ending its use indefinitely.

But Pruitt undid that yesterday.

A nonprofit group called Pesticide Action Network said the USDA buckled under pressure from corporations like DowAgroSciences which makes 5 to 10 million pounds of chlorpyrifos, which are used each year on crops across the nation.  The chemical is an organophosphate, a class of chemicals originally designed as a nerve agent weapon.


“The new administration’s agency ignored their own findings that all exposures to chlorpyrifos on foods, in drinking water, and from pesticide drift into schools, homes and playgrounds are unsafe,” Schafer said.

The USDA says the science is inconclusive and removing the ban frees up farms to not interrupt their crop seasons.

“This frees American farmers from significant trade disruptions that could have been caused by an unnecessary, unilateral revocation of chlorpyrifos tolerances in the United States,” said Sheryl Kunickis, director of the USDA’s Office of Pest Management Policy. “It is also great news for consumers, who will continue to have access to a full range of both domestic and imported fruits and vegetables.”

Again, like I said.

More reason to buy organic if you can afford it. If not, wash your fruits and vegetables  thoroughly before eating.


STUDY: Smoke While Pregnant and Your Kid May Become Schizophrenic


A study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), New York State Psychiatric Institute and colleagues in Finland reports an association between smoking during pregnancy and increased risk for schizophrenia in children.

Results show that a higher maternal nicotine level in the mother’s blood was associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia among their offspring.

Findings are published online in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The paper evaluated nearly 1,000 cases of schizophrenia and matched controls among offspring born in Finland from 1983-1998 who were ascertained from the country’s national registry.

Heavy maternal nicotine exposure was associated with a 38-percent increased odds of schizophrenia.

The findings persisted after adjusting for factors, including maternal and parental psychiatric history, socioeconomic status, and maternal age.

“To our knowledge, this is the first biomarker-based study to show a relationship between fetal nicotine exposure and schizophrenia,” said Alan Brown, MD, MPH, senior author and Mailman School professor of Epidemiology and professor of Psychiatry at CUMC.

“We employed a nationwide sample with the highest number of schizophrenia cases to date in a study of this type.”

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Study: Pregnancy increases Stroke Risk in Young Women, Not Older Ones


Doctors have long warned women that getting pregnant later in life can raise the risk of stroke, but a study Monday suggested that actually, only young women face this increasing risk.

The findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Neurology compared stroke rates among pregnant and non-pregnant women of different age groups.

Previous studies have focused on the rate of stroke among pregnant women of different ages — finding stroke is more common among older women — but have not included a non-pregnant, aged-matched control group for comparison.

“Despite stroke being a rare event in young women, 18 percent of all strokes in women younger than 35 years were associated with pregnancy,” said the study led by Eliza Miller of Columbia University.

“In contrast, among older women of childbearing age, 1.4 percent of strokes were associated with pregnancy.”

The findings are based on data on women hospitalized due to strokes in the state of New York from 2003 to 2012.

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STUDY: Excessive weight gain During Pregnancy Could Lead to Lifelong Obesity

Gaining excessive weight during pregnancy can lead to obesity issues throughout life for women who are already at risk, according to a new study.

Researchers found that putting on too much weight while pregnant can cause excess body fat and pounds that remain, as reported by AJMC.

Columbia University researchers evaluated about 300 women, all of whom were African-American or Dominican, between the years of 1998 and 2013. The study group was at risk of becoming obese due to socioeconomic factors and unhealthy dietary patterns, according to the authors.

The participants had an average body mass index (BMI) of 25.6 prior to being pregnant, just slightly above the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention guidelines for being overweight. Five percent of participants were underweight, 53 percent were at a healthy weight, 20 percent were overweight, and 22 percent were obese.

The study suggests that 64 percent of these women put on more weight than the 15 to 20 pounds recommended by health officials. The women were then monitored for seven years after giving birth.

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