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Highly Selective Universities Share Their Insight

What do admissions officers really look for in a letter of recommendation?

Recommendation Insights
Rutgers Prep Upper School faculty members have an even clearer idea of how to help our students stand out in the competitive college admissions landscape thanks to a presentation which featured Admissions Officers from The George Washington University, the University of Pennsylvania, & Princeton University. The Admissions Officers “pulled back the curtain” from their long years of experience, and candidly shared with faculty members in an on campus workshop. The program included analysis of anonymized letters from past admissions cycles – of both the very helpful and less helpful varieties – which were distributed and discussed.

After the workshop, our Dean of Faculty shared, “I loved the session! I have been a teacher long enough that I think knew many of the things that they talked about, but I still liked being reminded. I really appreciated the advice that the counselors had to give, and just being face-to-face with the very people who read every word (apparently) of what we so painstakingly write was a very helpful thing. So this big bad thing called college admissions that we always talk about became more humane, more plausible, and ultimately more do-able. It was also empowering to know how much the admissions people rely on our knowledge of our students in making their decisions. I think I will see the face of each one of those people in my mind the next time I start writing a recommendation letter.“

The members of the Rutgers Prep faculty are proud to support and facilitate the development of our students as life-long learners, and welcome the opportunity to share their insight as a part of the college process. Workshops like this one provide our faculty with powerful and specific tools to compose compelling communications. These tools also help us ensure that admissions representatives are able to translate our unique perspectives into an appreciation of what each of our students will bring to their next learning community.

Rutgers Prep Math Students Star in Video

The Rutgers Prep community has a well-deserved reputation for being one which honors and celebrates the promise and possibilities of mathematics. This comes through in our Lower School in a consistent focus on problem solving and math in daily life, and in our Middle School through a curriculum which takes the students from Pre-algebra to Algebra and on to Geometry. By the time students have moved up to our Upper School, they are well-prepared to try their hand at the Moody’s Mega Math (or M3) Challenge, an annual applied math contest in which high school students throughout the US use mathematical modeling to devise solutions to relevant everyday issues.

According to the M3’s website, this year’s students “used publicly available information and data on consumer driving habits and emerging automotive industry technologies to build mathematical models categorizing the car usage habits of drivers in the US. They then used their models to evaluate car-sharing business options, taking into account new technologies that are close to entering the mainstream including self-driving cars and vehicles that run entirely on alternative fuel or renewable energy, and then predicted which option would garner the most participation in a given city.”

Students who commit to participating in the M3 Challenge have often heard stories from teams that have gone before. “Moody’s Mega Math Challenge was perfect to bring us as students into the world of Applied Math. We used all the skills we’ve learned in school to solve problems in the real physical world,” said Ty Gardner ‘16 (Princeton ‘20). Rithvik Kondai ‘16 (WashU ‘20) added, “Yes, I was finally able to use a lot of the knowledge that I have gained through my years in high school math and apply it to a real world example!” Janvi Shukla ‘17 shared, “It was really interesting to have to create our own functions in this challenge.”

Math Department Chair Jalaj Desai believes that students should definitely seize opportunities to apply their knowledge in preparation for real life. “I have observed that students who are exposed to the interesting and practical applications of mathematics used in the M3 challenge often find a new interest in a subject that they may previously have seen as more abstract,” Desai shared.

Moody’s Mega Math challenge is the brainchild of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), which serves and advances the disciplines of applied mathematics and computational science by publishing a variety of books and peer-reviewed research journals, by conducting conferences, and by hosting activity groups in various areas of mathematics.

This summer SIAM and the Moody’s Foundation plan to launch a mathematical modeling video series on the seven steps to modeling, an instructional treatment of their math modeling handbook. When Math Department Chair Jalaj Desai spoke with Moody’s representatives about his goal of opening up these opportunities to more and more students, they were immediately interested. When 97 Rutgers Prep students signed up for a Saturday morning math modeling pilot, Moody’s Problem Development Committee decided to put Rutgers Prep students at the heart of their planned video series.

The RPS Mathematics Department’s vision is to see more students taking interest in applied mathematics; similarly, M3 Challenge’s mission is also to increase the presence of mathematical modeling in education. So a joint effort between the two programs is integral to actualizing both communities’ goals. The first tangible outcome of this planning is a trailer for the video series; we think that the video producers and our students did a terrific job.

We look forward to continuing to partner with the Moody’s Foundation and SIAM as we work towards the common goal of greater access to these exciting and applicable math opportunities.

New Schedule to Provide Greater Flexibility

Rutgers Prep is in a state of constant innovation. One example of our commitment to continual improvement can be found in our plan to roll out a new daily schedule in our Middle and Upper Schools in the coming academic year.

After reviewing the current schedule and talking about what we would ideally want from a new schedule, we drafted three different possible models and established a goal of having a new schedule in place for the 2016-17 school year. The schedule that was ultimately chosen was approved by a committee of faculty members from both the Middle School and Upper School faculty. Schedule Committee Chair Mark Nastus reports going into the process with a sense of confidence, “I thought that the faculty would do a good job of working through the pros and cons of each model, and I trusted that they would pick the model that would best serve our community. And I think it will be great to have the Middle and Upper schools more closely connected!”

Because this will be the first time that Rutgers Prep’s Middle and Upper School schedules have been completely aligned, some of the most obvious benefits of the new schedule will be greater opportunities for cross-divisional collaboration on the part of our faculty. There will also be more opportunities for student-to-student connection and mentoring across the divisions, which we are very much looking forward to taking advantage of. And we expect that as a result of their immersion in the shared schedule, Middle School students will have an increased level of comfort when making the transition of becoming Upper School students.

The Middle School will in turn be able to offer some supplemental opportunities beyond their traditional academic program, including STEAM-focused programming and opportunities for community service. The new schedule maintains the Middle School PE and sports block at the end of the day. Robert Marotto, Middle School Principal, shared, “The new schedule gives us time to try new activities while preserving academic classes that the students already value and enjoy. We’re excited to plan our school days in the new schedule.”

Band, Madrigals, and Orchestra will not conflict with the Upper School academic program, which means that students who were unable to continue with music due to scheduling constraints will now no longer be faced with having to choose between music and another desired subject.

Upper School Principal Joe Chodl says, “The new schedule is a rotating schedule with some longer class bands, which we hope will help moderate the pace of the school day and give students and faculty an opportunity to engage subjects in greater depth and breadth. In some ways, the time management skills that students will be encouraged to develop as a result of the new schedule are similar to the time management skills they’ll need to be successful in college.”

In the Upper School, we’re going from seven periods to eight, but every student will have at least one study hall period… again as a way to protect against stress. Students in the Upper School will have daily unscheduled community time which we are confident they’ll make good use of in true Argonaut fashion.

“Our schedule design is driven largely by student choice, so while we cannot anticipate fully how this will play out until our students have made their course selections, I am confident that this schedule will help us reduce conflicts in students’ course rosters, which of course would be a great thing. Because we offer such a rich diversity of classes, there will likely always be some conflicts, but even if we’re just looking at the dedicated time for music it’s clear that students will be able to access more of the wonderful classes our faculty offer,” said Mr. Domanski, the Academic Dean in charge of Upper School scheduling and registration.

We are looking forward to what we think will be a positive change for the Rutgers Prep community.