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Teacher's iPhone app gives college bound students a push in the right direction

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"Today's students appreciate direction and instruction in small doses," says Trish Portnoy, a West Islip High School Business Education teacher and the creator of an iPhone app to guide college bound students through the admissions process.

The app, College Push, was the result of Portnoy's classroom observations after being tapped to teach a college-planning course at her high school in 2007.

Her students "relied heavily on their smartphones for socializing," Portnoy noted, but she wanted to show them how to use it "as a tool for research, time management and organization" in her college-planning course.

College Push makes this easy to do. "The efficiently designed app" lets students view personal college data anywhere their mobile devices go.

College Push also

• Stores college-related information for easy access (passwords, SAT/ACT scores and favorite college-planning websites, for example)

• Streamlines tasks (such as providing a shortcut to their school counselor's email address and a quick way to export information to counselors, parents and teachers)

• Gives students a snapshot of a selected institution's data profile, including tuition; graduation and retention rates; and average scores of admitted students

• Prompts students with reminders of important "to do" tasks and deadlines

Each prompt, or "Daily Push," as Portnoy dubs it, "correlates with standard milestones and deadlines relating to the college application process."

In the fall, for example, when college admission reps visit high schools, students are reminded to take part and to get on college mailing lists; and just prior to Jan 1, when the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens each year, students are reminded to complete it with their parents as soon as possible.

The "Daily Push" also includes encouragement to participate in school and community activities; suggestions for finding scholarships; tips for the college search process; and resources a student can use to get help with self-assessment, such as personality tests and career interest and aptitude assessments.

Students can customize these reminders, as well. College Push offers them five possible responses to the reminders. The first four, says Portnoy, "will elicit either positive feedback or constructive guidance." The fifth allows students to request the same "Push" for a later date, when the student might be better prepared to address it.

Portnoy adds that her own students were key during the design phase of the app. At their suggestion, College Push colors can be customized to match a student's high school colors, for example.

Her students also helped her select appropriate icons "to easily convey functions to their demographic," Portnoy explains. "Evidently, most of them look at the icons first, then read the descriptive text. Who knew?"

The result is an app with 21st century appeal for today's high school students.

Best of all, anyone can try out College Push free of charge. Most of the features are free, in fact; and for just 99 cents, the in-app can be purchased from the iTunes App Store.

It's the perfect app to give any college bound high school student, who wants to stay organized with instruction in small doses, a push in the right direction.

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