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College Students: How to Score a Perfect Recommendation

As you consider the next stage in your career, you may find yourself applying to a program that requires recommendations from a professor at your college. Whether for grad school or a prestigious fellowship, recommendations can make the difference between a thick envelope and a night of tears. But how do you get a great recommendation from your professor, especially if you find yourself in a department with lots of students and little one-on-one interaction? There is no mystery to the process. Read what our Ivy League coaches have to say:

1) Get to know your professor ASAP. Whether you’re a freshman or a senior, it is never too early or too late to introduce yourself to the professor after class. Ask an intelligent question to start the conversation. Go to the professor’s office hours to ask about some material. Has the professor published a book or article recently? Learn more about it and bring it up in conversation. You want to show interest in what he or she cares about most. Does the professor have an outside passion — a sport, an art form? You will be surprised how interesting your professor might be and how much you may have in common. Frequent and sustained conversations are the best way to develop that personal relationship.

2) Work with a professor. Does your professor need a research assistant? A lab technician? Find out and volunteer. Professors often need students to help them. Alternatively, your school may require you to choose an adviser for a research paper. This is where #1 comes in. A professor with whom you already have an established relationship will be much more likely to choose you over other students. Once you’re in, do a great job! A professor who knows and appreciates your high-quality work won’t need any convincing to write you a high-quality recommendation.

3) Choose appropriately. Court professors who will be able to provide relevant insights for the type of program you want. If you’re applying to medical school, choose a science professor, not one in comparative literature. If you want to go to business school, choose an economics or business professor. A Ph.D. program in French Language will probably want to hear from a honcho from the French department. You get the idea.

4) Make the Ask. By now you have a close relationship with at least one or two professors who have your back and you know you want them to write you a rec. Approach them in person when they have some free time; office hours or after class work well.  Start by telling them about your plans for the future. Believe us, they’ll be interested. Then ask directly whether they would be willing to help you out by writing a recommendation. They should have no problem saying yes.

5) Manage Expectations. Here is where many students trip up. You need a recommender to describe you in the best possible terms. When a school asks whether you are in the top 10% or 5% of students the professor has ever taught, he needs to be able to say “best I ever taught.”  Ask your professor respectfully whether she would be comfortable recommending you in those highest possible terms. Explain that this is what is necessary to gain admission to highly competitive programs. If the answer is no, then move on; you need a different recommender.

In addition, it is your responsibility to help the professor craft a great recommendation. From your own planning, you should have a clear message about you that you wish each recommender to communicate to the program. Perhaps you need the professor to affirm that your grades do not adequately reflect your aptitude. Maybe you need the professor to simply speak about why your research is exceptional. Make sure you share with the professor what the goal of the recommendation is and how the professor can best help you achieve that. And give your professor plenty of time to complete it.

A great recommendation can rocket your candidacy to the top of the list. Don’t lose out on the opportunity this presents. To speak with one of our advisers about planning your application, contact today.

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How to use your college vacation wisely

Congratulations, collegian! After a semester of hard work, you’ve earned a well-deserved rest. Enjoy the holidays, spend time with family and old friends, and don’t drink too much eggnog.

Many of our students have been asking whether there is anything they can do over the break to make sure they get off to a strong start in the spring semester. The answer is a definite YES. Here are three easy steps our Ivy League coaches recommend to make sure you get back to campus ready to rock:

1) Know what courses you are taking. We’re all for shopping period, but make sure that you have mapped out what courses you need to take for your major and general graduation requirements well in advance. The power of shopping period is to let you test out a few fun courses you’d like to add to your schedule. It is not supposed to be a time to add and drop classes with abandon. There is nothing worse than falling behind at the beginning of the semester, and nothing better than having a firm plan in hand to guide you.

2) Order your books. You can always return or sell them if you don’t end up needing them. The prepared student arrives at lecture on day 1 with books in hand. The prepared student who wants to save money can rent books or order them used — from your college bookstore is ok, but you’re likely to find better deals online. Try,, or Don’t be intimidated by the release of new textbook editions — email your professor and ask whether you can order a previous version (which can go for up to a 90% discount). You’ll be surprised at how often the answer is yes.

Want to unload old textbooks from last semester? See what they’ll pay you at

3) Do Due Diligence. You should have a good sense of which spring courses will pose the most challenge to you. Get ahead of the curve by talking to friends who have already taken that class about  what the hardest topics are. Ask to borrow their notes, as well as any old quizzes or exams they kept. By gathering as many resources as possible at the beginning, you will know what is coming and set yourself up for success.

4) Relax. Really. Your brain needs a rest. Spend at least a few days vegging and doing your favorite activities with people you like. Read, watch tv, clear your mind and enjoy. When you go back to campus you’re not going to want to miss a beat. Recharge now so you don’t have to.

Happy holidays from The Newcastle Tutors family!

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Free College Essay, SAT and ACT Webinars

Attention high school students!

Preparing to apply to college? Want to hear free, expert advise from our Ivy League coaches?

Sign up for a Free Webinar today!

See the full schedule here.

Email with any questions.

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How to Rock Your Finals

No doubt this is a tough time of the semester, with final exams often counting for 50% or more of a course grade. Whether your finals are five days or two weeks away, don’t despair. It’s never too late to have that aha! moment on a tough concept or to cut through confusion you may have had earlier in the semester. Here are some steps you can take to make sure your fall term ends on a high note.

1)      Study with a friend. Over the past fifteen or so weeks you must have made at least one friend in the class. Hopefully he or she is smart! Trade notes, go over difficult concepts together, and answer each other’s questions. One of the best strategies to try with a friend is to create difficult test questions to stump each other. Then, answer the questions and review them together.

2)      Attend review sessions. The professor (if you’re lucky) or the TA is having these for a reason. Make sure you come prepared with specific questions to ask. The best way to take advantage of this resource is to start studying before the review session so that you can use it to clarify any misunderstandings. A review session is not the time for you to learn new material.

3)      Practice problems. The most effective studying comes from active practicing. Passive reading is necessary to take in the information for your course, but the best way to study is to practice as many answers as you can. By practicing old homework questions, quizzes, the midterm, and any practice exams the professor has posted, your brain will integrate the information you have read and create stronger connections in your memory. The best predictor of what your final will contain is previous quizzes and tests!

4)      Seek help. Nobody expects you to sit by yourself and suffer. If you’ve tried and tried but just can’t figure something out, reach out to someone who can make it happen. Whether you ask a professor holding office hours, an older friend studying this major, or even your mom’s friend, people are usually happy to help. And of course, our expert coaches at Newcastle Tutors are standing by to provide you with the best one-on-one college online tutoring around. Whether you need help with a final paper, engineering tutoring, math tutoring, organic chemistry tutoring, finance tutoring, – whatever – we are here for you.

Good luck with finals, and see you in the new year!

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Confronting the SAT Cheating Scandal

Don’t miss today’s Huffington Post, where Newcastle founder Matthew Kandel gives his take on the recent SAT cheating scandal in Long Island.

Like us on Facebook to receive the latest news and updates on Newcastle in the news.

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Tips for College Applicants with Disabilities

See what Newcastle founder Matthew Kandel had to say on the topic in a U.S. News and World Report article from today.

If you’re a student or a parent of a student with disabilities and want to learn more about how Newcastle Tutors can help you, contact us today!

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When applying to college, debt free is the way to be

Kiplinger has put together a list of the ten private colleges from which students graduate with the least debt. While finances should certainly not be your only consideration when choosing a college or graduate school, they are a factor that you cannot ignore. Our coaches are concerned by reports that many students graduate burdened by a crushing debt load, only to face a weak job market. If you’re concerned about the same thing, consider one of these ten schools:

The Lowest Student Graduation Debt

1)      Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

2)      Berea College, Berea, KY

3)      Williams College, Williamstown, MA

4)      Yale University, New Haven, CT

5)      Scripps College, Claremont, CA

6)      Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

7)      Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA

8)      Pomona College, Claremont, CA

9)      California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA

10)   Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA

It’s no coincidence that these ten colleges also happen to be among the most competitive in the nation. Our statistics tutors remind you that Kiplinger’s research only reflects averages. What any individual’s financial situation looks like will differ from peers, regardless of the college. Many schools offer significant merit scholarships that can help finance a college education. And don’t ignore the great public education that can be had for less at your state’s public universities.

Like us on Facebook to receive more Financial Aid news and tips!

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Congrats to our SAT Takers!

You did it!

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SAT Prep Week: Vocabulary


For many high school seniors, this weekend will be the last chance to improve those all-important SAT scores. So how should you prepare with so little time remaining? This week we’ll focus on practical steps you can take to boost your performance and use these critical last few days most effectively.

Here are some ways you can improve your vocabulary this week:

1)     Focus on words in the practice exams. In your Official SAT Study Guide, you probably came across words you didn’t know, especially in the fill-in and reading response questions. Did you go back after the practice test and learn them? No? Well then do that. The best predictor for what future words will appear on the exam is the words that have appeared in the past.


2)      Make flash cards. This is a great active learning strategy to ingest lots of vocabulary pretty quickly. Writing the cards will create muscle memory and help you remember the words later on. Draw a picture of the concept on the back of the card with the definition and you’ll do even better. Test yourself, test a friend, and have your mom test you, too. Practice at lunch, on the bus, and whenever you have a free moment between classes.


3)      Try the Frayer Model. Proven to drastically deepen your vocabulary knowledge, the Frayer Model asks you to specify a word’s definition, describe its characteristics, provide specific examples of it in action, and identify non-examples – things that do not fit the concept. Don’t type this one up – writing it by hand will provide you with the all-important muscle memory.  Not sure what the Frayer Model looks like? Like us on Facebook to get a FREE template from our page and see other exclusive content.


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College Essay Tips


Here are some key ingredients to any college or grad school application essay:

  1. No matter what the subject, the essay must reveal your characteristics and qualities.  Write about what makes you specifically stand out.  For example, describe an event that happened at your school or in your life during which many other people were present, but from which you gained a unique perspective or takeaway.
  2. The qualities and accomplishments you showcase in your essay should, if possible, be tailored to the college to which you are applying.  If you are applying to art school, it’s wise to discuss your background and experience with art and aesthetics.  The same is true for business, engineering, journalism, etc.
  3. Look toward the future.  Colleges understand you are a high school student, so while you should certainly highlight your past accomplishments, you should outline your goals for the future and what you intend to accomplish at their institution.
  4. Answer the question.  What distinguishes your answer from other answers?
  5. Of course, pay close attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  Poor editing will tarnish your otherwise impeccable essay.

We specialize in college applications, so don’t hesitate to ask us any questions!

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