Five Tips for Teaching Your Child to Love Reading (and How This Can Help Them Get Into College!)

Summer reading for teens who hate reading

What if I told you helping your child develop a love for reading is one of the best gifts you can give?

It will benefit your child throughout her life—teens who love reading have a better likelihood of getting into the college of their choice. (More on that later.)

One of the first questions I ask college-bound students is, “Tell me about the last book you read for pleasure.” 

Usually, there’s a pause. Then they mention a book that’s clearly from a school reading list like “Catcher in the Rye” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

“Really? For pleasure?” I ask. 

Once I call them out on it, they usually confess that the last one was a Harry Potter novel from several years ago. 

My bolder students will come out and admit that they “hate” reading.

Over the years, about 25 percent of the students I’ve worked with have been avid readers who truly love diving into a good book. 

Those are the students who’ve been admitted to the most selective colleges, like Stanford, Harvard, University of Chicago, MIT, and similar.

What’s interesting is that when I ask parents if their child is a reader, about 75 percent say their teen “used to be” a reader. 

When I then ask them when their child stopped reading, the most common response is: “Sixth grade.”

Why teens stop reading in grade 6.

There are several reasons why teens stop reading:

  • Screen time
  • Pressure to “be cool”
  • Friends don’t read or talk about books
  • Parents stop reading aloud to them

Yes, I did suggest that parents should continue reading aloud even through high school! 

Why parents should read aloud to their children (even when they’re teenagers!)

Reading aloud to your teen is a great way to model reading and expose your teen to an expanded vocabulary and important ideas. 

It goes back to the James Baldwin quote: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

Middle School Reading List

To help your child develop a love of reading in middle school, try offering the following books.

[mk_table style=”style2″ el_class=”mytable”]

6th Inkheart
Cornelia Funke
The Cay
Theodore Taylor
Gary Paulsen
Among the Hidden
Margaret Peterson Haddix and Cliff Nielsen
  Mysterious Benedict Society
Trenton Lee Stewart
7th Chains
Laurie Halse Anderson
Chasing Vermeer
Blue Balliett
  Al Capone Does My Shirts
Gennifer Choldenko
Eoin Colfer
  Code Orange
Caroline B. Cooney
8th The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Red Kayak
Priscilla Cummings
  Hattie Big Sky
Kirby Larson
Scott Westerfeld
  To Be A Slave
Julius Lester


What is your teen reading this summer?

I understand that the school year is busy and your teen has a lot of homework. 

That means summer break is a good time for your teen to read! 

Many studies, including this article from The School Library Journal, have shown that students who don’t read consistently over the summer see their reading abilities stagnate. 

Even worse, this effect grows more prominent as they advance into high school.

Not every child naturally loves reading. Sometimes you might need to help them along, and summer is a great time to do so!

Here are 5 tips to help your child learn to love reading this summer:

  1. Have your teen set a summer reading goal and keep them accountable.
  2. Have your teen choose their own book to read, whether it’s graphic novels, cookbooks, or romance novels about vampires. . .reading is reading.
  3. Encourage your teen to read a book they enjoy for at least thirty minutes a day.
  4. Model reading for your teen. The more they see you reading, the more likely they are to follow your example.
  5. Have your teen sign up for the summer reading challenge at a local library. This could be a fun form of competition and a way to meet other teen readers.

It’s not too late! To help your teen pick out books to read this summer, we’ve compiled this list from several libraries and organized them by grade. 

High School Reading List

[mk_table style=”style2″ el_class=”mytable”]

9th Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina
and New Orleans
Don Brown
We Were Liars
E. Lockhart
Marcus Sedgwick
Between Shades of Gray
Ruta Sepetys
  Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein
10th Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
The Last Lecture
Randy Pausch
  Into Thin Air
Jon Krakauer
Six of Crows
Leigh Bardugo
  Bone Gap
Laura Ruby
11th I’ll Give You the Sun
Jandy Nelson
Debunk It!: How To Stay Sane in a World of Misinformation
John Grant
  Defy the Stars
Claudia Gray
The May Queen Murders
Sarah Jude
  In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Cat Winters
12th The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
Jeff Hobbs
Enter Title Here
Rahul Kanakia
  American Girls
Alison Umminger
Dirt Bikes, Drones, & Other Ways to Fly
Conrad Wesselhoeft
  Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History
Molly Schiot


Becoming a real reader can improve your teen’s vocabulary, make them a better writer, help them get into college, and enlarge their breadth of understanding of the world around them. 

What books would you add to these lists? Let me know in the comments below. 

Need a little more guidance?

For one-on-one support and other resources to help you or your child get into (or pay) for college click here.

If you’d like to learn more about helping your teen get into college, don’t miss these posts:

How to Save Time When Seeking Money for College
College Essay How-to: Who is someone you admire?
Get In and Get Money: 5 Tips for College-Bound Juniors


10 Colleges with Unique Learning Opportunities during January

Johns Hopkins Homewood

In my recent talk with students in Kigali, Rwanda, they had a lot of questions about the unique features of American colleges and universities. Students were familiar with the brand-name colleges and a few colleges that had visited their school. Beyond that, they were surprised by the variety of college options, locales, and even distinctions among the Ivy League universities. One of the students with an interest in engineering asked about Johns Hopkins University.

Johns Hopkins
Johns Hopkins Homewood campus has a wealth of learning opportunities both on and off-campus.

A cool feature about Johns Hopkins is that it offers a January (“intersession”) term. The January term allows students to travel abroad or delve into an interesting topic that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to take otherwise, because it’s outside their course of study, nontraditional or both. For example, several of the courses offered recently at Johns Hopkins during its January term included Shiatsu sitting, Leading for Social Change, Iranian Intellectual History, travel study in Cuba, and ballroom dance.

Here are several other colleges that offer a January term:

This is a short list to whet your interest. There are numerous other campuses that offer a January term. Which additional colleges/universities did you find?


Why attend Swiss college prep boarding school

Throughout the year, I tour college prep boarding schools. It’s an opportunity for me to learn about schools that could potentially be a fit for my students, meet new colleagues, and stay current on what’s happening in the boarding school community. I have previously worked with students who attended school in Switzerland, so traveling to visit college prep boarding schools there was particularly intriguing. After an intensive week of touring campuses, hearing new languages and accents, driving through mountains, riding on trains and boats, and eating cheese and chocolate to my heart’s content(!), I understood more about why families around the world choose to have their teen attend school in Switzerland.

The Swiss schools that I visited included:

Aiglon College, Brillantmont, Ecole d’Humanité, Le Rosey, Leysin American School, Rosenberg, TASIS, Zuoz

Each school offered a unique experience. In future posts, I will share more about individual school offerings. Overall, the Swiss college-prep boarding schools have much to offer families who may be seeking a premier education in Europe.


Why Swiss schools

In my conversations with students, faculty, administrators, and alumni, there were several common reasons noted for why they chose to attend high school in Switzerland:

Curriculum offers – There were several curriculum options among the Swiss schools. Diploma offerings included International Baccaulaureate, Advanced Placement International Diploma, French Baccalaureate, and British A Level. Depending on a student’s aspirations after high school, these academic programs can meet a range of interests.

Opportunities to travel – Given the proximity of other countries and the cultural freedoms in Europe, students attending Swiss schools had ample opportunities to travel throughout Europe. It was not uncommon to hear students discuss their trips to Italy or France during the weekend or taking service trips to ___ during Spring Break.

Global community – The Swiss schools had incredible diversity among its student body and faculty. (I even met several staff and faculty from Ohio on the campuses . . . O-H!) The students remarked about the advantages for them to live in a community where they interact with and learn about cultures as varied as Russian, Chilean, or Saudi Arabian.

These are global experiences that are not easily matched during high school. I must admit though that I wondered . . . “If students have these kinds of experiences in high school, what does it mean for the types of experiences that will engage them in college?” What are your thoughts about such global experiences during high school?


Top 3 Must-haves at Hamilton College

New students at Hamilton College get 2 things – an adviser and a reference librarian. These two people

Hamilton College
Hamilton College

are important to the Hamilton student’s success because Hamilton is a school with no course requirements. In short, students can take courses that interest them. Students must, however, take 3 writing-intensives which is similar to most other colleges. A student described the open course selection well when she stated, “Open is good, but you have to have some foresight.” The adviser certainly helps in that area. The reference librarian, of course, is important because Hamilton students will spend a lot of time conducting research and studying in the library.

Although the student body is academic-minded, the weekends on campus offer numerous options for fun and hanging out with friends. The “barn” on-campus features late-night, “dry” entertainment, like casino night or live music. After a good time at the barn, the on-campus diner serves breakfast from midnight to 3 am! Nothing quite like eating pancakes at 2 am. . . they always taste better then!

Now, what do you think are the Top 3 must-haves at Hamilton College? 🙂

Comparison of US education to other countries – Education Olympics INFOGRAPHIC

I recently spent a week in Delaware and Pennsylvania visiting colleges along with a group of international counselors from all around the world. We are all members of the Overseas Association of College Admission Counseling (OACAC). [My other OACAC group is the Ohio Association of College Admission Counseling.] My conversations with the other counselors are always informative. The message that comes through in each discussion is that college admissions are no longer about American students competing with American students for a seat at the “college-of-your-dreams” table. American students are competing squarely with students from India, China, Singapore, Jordan, Ghana, Nigeria, and many other countries.

This infographic is a great visual reminder that K-12 education in the US has been far outpaced by other countries. As long as we continue to fall behind in K-12, we will see the international student population continue to rise, particularly at the selective colleges and universities in the US

The Education Olympics [Infographic]

Education in other countries is outpacing the US
Education in other countries is outpacing the US

via Education Olympics: How Does America Rank Compare To Other Countries? INFOGRAPHIC.

It’s not too late to keep students sharp through this summer

It’s already July, about the half-way mark for summer break. (Yes, I’m counting down for my 3 to go back to school…the sooner, the better!) There’s still time for students to make the most of their summer with learning. I like these 4 tips from a CNN blog because they are easy to incorporate into current summer plans:

Learn something new . . .  It doesn’t have to be out of a textbook. Swimming or SCUBA or horseback riding lessons, practicing a language while driving to your vacation destination – it all counts.

Leverage learning on vacation . . .And while the theme park is fine, consider visiting a national park as well.  Why?  Because people have to learn something about it to get the most out of the visit.

Read . . . [See our July newsletter for suggestions]

Up your game(s) . . . .It’s ironic that many of the games that are lower-tech are often better for learning.

via Keeping students sharp through summer – Schools of Thought – Blogs.

So, tell the truth . . . how are you progressing on your summer goals?



Top tier colleges may get record applications but so What?

Admission into the most selective universities became a bit more difficult this year. If you’re planning to apply to one of the highly selective colleges in the next year or two, keep in mind that there are hundreds of great colleges out there. The national admissions rate is about 65%.

Nevertheless, this low acceptance rate can be intimidating:

Harvard College. For every 100 students that applied to America’s most prestigious school, 94 were rejected. This year Harvard had the country’s lowest acceptance rate reported so far — just 5.9 percent, offering admission to 2,032 students of the 34,302 who applied. Last year the rate was 6.2 percent. The college ramped up financial aid, offering help to 60 percent of the students admitted to the Class of 2016, meaning the average family pays just $12,000 per year for tuition, room, board, and fees, the campus newspaper reports.

Princeton University. With 26,664 applications and admission offered to 2,095 students, Princeton’s acceptance rate was a record low 7.86 percent, compared to 8.5 percent last year, according to its website. Of the students admitted, 726 are students who applied by early action in December.

Yale University. The New Haven, Conn., undergraduate college had a record-high applicant pool of 28,975 and chose just 1,975 for a 6.8 percent acceptance rate. Last year, 27,283 applied and Yale admitted 7.4 percent, according to the school’s website.

Cornell University. Cornell is “considerably” more selective this year, with 16.2 percent of applicants getting in compared with 18 percent in 2011, according to Lee H. Melvin, Cornell’s associate vice provost for enrollment in an online story on the school’s website. Four percent more applications were received this year over last for a total of 37,812, and 6,123 were admitted.

Johns Hopkins University. With 20,496 students seeking admission — a 5 percent increase over last year — a new record of applicants was set at the Baltimore school. Just 17.7 percent or 3,071 students were admitted, down from 18. 3 percent in 2011.

via Top Tier Colleges Get Record Applications, Increase Selectivity – CollegeBound – Education Week.

What is more interesting to note about these acceptance rates is that there are so many applicants that are “disqualified” even prior to submitting their applications. Each of these colleges is members of the Common Application. Because it’s rather “easy” to add college, many students will apply to colleges that are not even a fit, just for the sake of ease. This is especially true when students start to get anxious about their own admissions chances when they hear where classmates have been accepting or not!

How Student Disqualify Themselves before they Apply

Some applicants are more easily denied than others. For students who are applying for the sake of applying, please double-check whether your application even meets the minimum criteria for reading. Here are some common ways that students disqualify themselves and add to these abnormally high application numbers:

  • Not taking the required tests, such as an SAT Subject Test
  • Submitting poorly written essays or one that’s not written by the student
  • Asking a recommender that doesn’t know them well and/or doesn’t write well
  • Not visiting the campus or contacting the college, even when “demonstrated interest” matters
  • Not meeting all the course requirements for admissions to the Freshman class (watch out for removing courses from your senior year schedule)

When students submit their application before checking the specific admissions criteria, they make it easy on the admissions readers but hard on other qualified candidates.

Good principals make a difference in any school

The recent headline about how effective principals make a difference in high poverty schools really resonated with me. My elementary school in Memphis, Tennessee would have been considered on of those high poverty schools, based on the high percentage of low-income families.

Joseph K. Carr, the principal at my elementary school, saved my life. He was known as a disciplinarian and no student wanted to get in trouble under Mr. Carr’s watch. We feared and respected him. His words of encouragement to all the students were “If not you, then who?” He challenged us all to reach our highest potential. Those words set me on my educational journey.

A new study on principal effectiveness focused on high poverty schools and found that:

. . . . high-quality principals—as determined by a value-added model that includes student achievement and school characteristics—had a large positive impact on their students’ achievement: “A principal in the top 16 percent of the quality distribution…will lead annually to student gains that are .05 standard deviations or more higher than average for all students in the school emphasis is the authors’.”

They also tended to be associated with teacher turnover in the lowest-performing grades in their schools—indicating, perhaps, that these principals are trying to replace low-performing teachers with more-effective ones.

via Study: Good Principals Make a Difference in High-Poverty Schools – Inside School Research – Education Week.

Based on my observations of schools over the past 15 years, I would argue that strong leadership makes a difference in any school, whether it is high poverty, low-poverty, independent, parochial, or other. The leadership sets the tone and culture of the school. A school is only as strong as its principal.

What difference has your principal made?

How physical activity and school performance work together

One of the suggestions I may to all my students on test day, whether they are taking the SAT, SSAT, ACT or even an achievement test at school, is to exercise the morning of the exam. During the weeks when my kids would have achievement tests at school, they would have oatmeal for breakfast then walk to school.

Earlier research  studies found that exercising prior to an exam enhanced performance. Now a recent study among students aged 6 to 18 showed the difference that exercise/physical activity during the school day has on academics. This study is quite timely as many schools have eliminated physical education or athletic offerings to emphasize other academic enrichment:

The researchers point out that when children participate in sports, they often have better behavior within the classroom and are better able to pay attention to academics. Past studies have suggested that as physical activity increases, school performance and performance on the job improve; but some studies have been inconclusive. . . . The studies were varied in size, duration, and population. The sizes of the study populations ranged from 53 to 12.000 participants, and the age ranged from six through 18 years. The children’s physical activity levels and academic achievements were followed for as little as eight weeks to over five years.

The researchers found evidence that physical activity improves academics. They noted, “Evidence from the studies included in the present systematic review•suggests that there is a significant positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance…”

via Kids: Physical Activity and School Performance – The Doctor.

Academic enrichment is still important. However, this meta-analyis shows that physical activity is still an important feature of the school day that can support academic achievement. Our school policies may be better modified by extending the school day to keep physical activities or adjusting other non-priority programs.

Does your school still offer physical education? If so, has there been other programs eliminated to still maintain the academic quality.

Salisbury, Indian Mountain, and Hotchkiss integrate world-class athletics and academic rigor

In Day 2 of my western Connecticut prep school campus visits, I’m admittedly overwhelmed by the diversity of program offerings in this region. Connecticut is not a big state but is dense with prep schools. Today I visited Salisbury School, Indian Mountain School, and The Hotchkiss School.


Salisbury serves 300 male students from around the world. The science center included a wonderful library, a physics lab, a chemistry lab, and a separate biology lab. My tour guide expressed that he wasn’t too keen on attending an all-boys school but realized that girls would be a distraction. Besides that, the school hosts dance each week so he’s still able to intermingle with girls socially.

The first stop on my tour was the boathouse, which is a sight to behold. It’s big, clean, and houses all the boats rowed by their world-class rowing program. An administrator proudly stated that “We grow rowers!” highlighting that many young men join the team with little to no experience. However, many advances to D1 level crew teams. The other athletic facilities were just as impressive . . . squash courts, hockey rink, lacrosse fields. Not to mention that their football team is strong in its division.

Salisbury understands boys, how to teach, how to engage, and how to nurture them both academically and socially.


There are 85 guitarists among the 180 students in the upper school. 140 musicians overall!There are 85 guitarists among the 180 students in the upper school. 140 musicians overall!
There are 85 guitarists among the 180 students in the upper school. 140 musicians overall!

Indian Mountain School is a junior boarding school that I was excited to visit in person. In my prior conversations with administrators, I sensed that it was a special place for students to develop into their own. The lower school has students in grades PK-4, while the upper school ushers students in grades 5-9 through early adolescence. Students will typically board in grades 7th, 8th, and 9th. For the teachers, administrators, and other staff, this really is a life commitment/decision. The responsibility is even greater in supporting these youth.

The team of adults who work there, live on campus, coach, and organize activities provide all the support services imaginable. The support services are balanced with student leadership opportunities. Students are given just as many opportunities to take risks. Each class experiences an outdoor adventure that bonds them in unforgettable ways. The overall thrust of the community was character development.

An administrator shared a quote in his office, which speaks to the character and quality of Indian Mountain School: “In all things, a lesson.”


The flags adorning the Hotchkiss dining hall showcase the 69 countries represented on campus.
The flags adorning the Hotchkiss dining hall showcase the 69 countries represented on campus.

Hotchkiss is a school that you have to see to believe. Admittedly, I was overwhelmed by its campus size, facilities, and student involvement. A surprise day-off was announced prior to my arrival, so, as you can imagine, the students were happy and taking advantage of the many opportunities to order food, leave campus, or play games on the field.

The students I met were involved in so many activities – athletics, theatre, community service, as well as AP coursework. There are about 500+ students at Hotchkiss but its size rivaled most small colleges I’ve visited. An administrator described it as a “small school within a large school.”

From the science center to the fine arts offerings to the radio station to the Olympic-sized swimming pools to the school-owned farm, students have unlimited opportunities to explore and discover their interests. The academic rigor at Hotchkiss is well-known so students must learn fairly quickly how to balance their coursework with all these other enticing offerings.