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And if they’re getting straight As, it’s time to worry.
Every student will tell you ninth grade classes are a very different experience, with every teacher using a different mix of tests, quizzes, homework, participation, and attendance in calculating grades. Sorting out each teacher’s strategy is a big part of what makes the first few weeks of high school exhausting and exhilarating. Once you crack Mrs. Hudson’s grading approach to The Great Gatsby, it will be much easier to sort out which parts of The Old Man and the Sea you actually have to read to get an A in English 9—if, in fact, you have to read the book at all.
You’d think this strategic approach to grading has a big payoff in college—after all, finding a pattern requires some heavy duty thinking, and that’s what college is all about. The problem occurs when students start to think that getting good grades is the same as good learning—and that isn’t always the case. If you get an A in English just by listening to the class discussion, you’ll never learn to read for meaning. That may be OK in Mrs. Hudson’s 9th grade English class, but what happens in English 101 at State U, when the professor says “For tomorrow, read the first 100 pages, and bring in a 300 word essay on the uses of water as a metaphor”?
You didn’t learn how to learn—you learned how to get good grades—and now, you’re drowning in your first English college class.
The key is for freshmen to focus on learning, not grades. When college admissions officers are asked what students need to get into college, they never—never—start with a discussion of grades and test scores. Instead, they talk about the qualities of what makes a good student: “We look for students who are curious about the world, committed to learning more, creative problem solvers, good communicators—students who know how to ask for help, and create networks of support to give and receive that help.”
And while you might think it’s creative problem solving to get an A in English without reading the book, that’s not really what they’re talking about.
Transcripts with all As look the same, and don’t sort out the grade-centered students from the learning-centered students. That’s why so many colleges ask for letters of recommendation—and why Mrs. Hudson’s approach to teaching shows she’s pretty smart. Which would you rather have her say to your colleges: “Joey got a lot out of class discussion”, or “Joey gave a lot to class discussion?” She’s giving you the choice of getting a good grade, or getting a good grade and being a good learner; what you do with that choice says everything about you, and nothing at all about her.
It’s easy to go through high school using the shortcuts to great grades, and if you do, the medal you get for making the National Honor Society will still be shiny; but what about the mettle you’ll be taking to college? Choose to learn, and the grades will follow. You’ll thank yourself in the end.
What the First Round of College Admissions Decisions Told Us
High school seniors are finally turning their attention back to learning, after a winter of discontent in the world of college admissions that would have made Richard III stand up straight and take notice. Between online application miscues and record applicants at many colleges, it’s understandable if high school juniors look wonder if perhaps admission by lottery number would be less stressful.
As the Class of 2015 begins to build their senior schedules, it’s time to offer some reminders and some reassurance about the college selection process at many (not all) schools, for many (not all) students.
Test Scores Matter Colleges have come a long way to wean themselves from over reliance on test scores. Careful reflection has shown some colleges that test scores are a huge predictor of student success, but many more colleges are finding less value in test scores, especially with so many students studying for the test in ways that don’t reflect a genuine understanding of the knowledge underlying the questions.
With all of that said, colleges that use test scores as part of the admissions process (and many don’t—see http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional for a great list of schools) are sending a clear message this year; test scores aren’t the only thing, but they are a big thing. Record numbers of applicants submitting early applications give colleges plenty of opportunities to admit a class of student with a wide array of interests and talents, but the results of the early admissions season suggest admission will be harder if test taking isn’t one of those skills. Counselors (including me) have often said there’s little difference in a point or two on the ACT or 20 or 30 points on the SAT. If the next group of college decisions in April mirror what December brought us, I don’t know that I can say that for most selective schools anymore.
Test Scores Don’t Matter Having said that, this round of admissions also reminded us that test scores alone aren’t going to be enough for admission. High test scores may yield merit scholarships once a student is admitted, but getting the “Yes!” is going to take more than numbers. Highly selective schools have regularly said they turn down students with perfect test scores whose essays are bland (essays were meh) and whose activities are empty. This last round of admissions suggests that same standard is now being used at many schools where high test scores alone made admission a sure thing.
What Does it Mean? Juniors looking for some kind of clear path would do well to follow much of the long-standing advice counselors have always offered:
It’s always good to dream, but as the saying goes, the wise dreamer has one foot on the clouds, and one foot on the ground—and for some, enough Number Two pencils for another shot at the SAT or ACT.
Ten Things Principals can do to Improve the College-Going Culture in Their Building
Time to Check on Your College Applications
The first college application deadline has come and gone, and seniors are breathing a huge sigh of relief. Most of the August challenges with College Application are long gone, and with more colleges asking for senior year grades, students are turning their attention back to the classroom—and rightly so.
It’s important to take a break when one comes your way, but you also want to make sure the work you’ve done is getting the consideration it deserves. Enjoy your time off, but pull yourself away from PlayStation 6 often enough to take these important actions:
Check your e-mail, especially your spam filter Many colleges (not all) will send you a confirmation e-mail to let you know they have received your application. This same e-mail might also list the parts of your application they haven’t received—this list can include your transcript, a letter of recommendation, or other information they need from you.
If a college says they are missing something, don’t panic. A few documents get lost every year, and colleges understand this—that’s why they’re contacting you to ask for the information. There’s a very good chance you will still be considered for early admission if the documents are sent right away—but you only know that if you read your e-mail. And while you’re there, be sure to check your spam filter; colleges often send e-mails in bulk, and that can signal your computer that the message is spam. This can include e-mails letting you know you’ve been admitted—so check.
Something missing? Call the college If the college says your file is incomplete, the first thing to do is call the college. This may not make sense—after all, if they just e-mailed you, they just checked, right?
Truth is, this electronic check may have occurred a few days before the e-mail was sent, and since bulk e-mails are sent overnight, the e-mail itself may be a day or two old. That’s enough time for your missing items to have been found—so call the college, and know what you really need to re-send. If a teacher letter is missing, contact your teacher; if it’s your transcript, touch base with your counselor. They know what to do.
Move to weekend writing With your first few college apps done, now is the time to map out the rest of your college work. Review the deadlines for the other colleges you’re applying to, then start work on the application with the earliest deadline.
Once that’s done, pull out a calendar, and see how many applications will get done if you complete one per weekend. You really want to keep your weekdays focused on homework and school activities; this next seven weeks are important in your classes, and you want to make sure to have some fun, too. A two hour block of time on Saturday should give you enough time to complete one app per weekend; if that’s not enough, add another two hour block Sunday. Try not to schedule anything for Thanksgiving weekend—that’s family time, and a good chance to catch up if you’re behind—and avoid doing anything after Christmas, where online application centers are crazy busy, when access is tough to get.
Check the early deadlines If you missed out on applying early to a dream school, double check their Web site. Some colleges have moved their early deadlines to allow for students who had technological challenges getting things in on time. If you have the desire, and your recommenders have the time, you may be able to apply early after all.
The challenges facing Common Application may be making the headlines, but many students applying to college with or without Common App are hurting their chances of admission by failing to follow some pretty basic steps:
Send Your Test Scores—Now! Students are already hearing back from colleges that have a rolling admissions plan, and the news is mixed—but not for the usual reasons. Counselors report that some students are being admitted while others are being denied—but many are being told their application can’t be read because the applicant never submitted their ACT or SAT scores.
Students are so afraid a “low” set of test scores will lead to a rejection, they are waiting to see the scores before they send them to the colleges. That strategy has been discussed here many times, but the key to its even questionable success is to make sure to send in at least one set of scores to colleges that require them. Students who got off to a speedy start with their application now have to go to the end of the admissions decision line due to the lack of scores—and that’s no way to begin the application process. Go to your college’s Web site and see if low scores will hurt you; if not, send all of your scores now.
Asking Teachers to Write Your Letters Some students are also having trouble communicating with the teachers who have agreed to write the student’s letter of recommendation. Most students had the good sense to ask for letters last spring, but some are thinking that one conversation in May is all that’s needed to keep your teacher in the college application loop.
If you haven’t talked to your letter writers this fall, you could have twice the trouble of the students who didn’t send scores. Your first challenge is getting your teacher to write the letter in the first place; if you haven’t touched base since last year, there’s a good chance they’ve assumed you don’t need the letter after all. This latency period leads to the second challenge, where reigniting their passion to write your letter could also understandably ignite their frustration with wanting to help you, but now being in a time crunch. So go have that conversation with them, bring armloads of apologies and good chocolate, and be ready to understand why they may turn every color in the rainbow before saying OK—or saying no.
Requesting Transcripts Many high schools now have an online transcript request program, where students log in to the site, enter the name of the college needing the transcript, and hit Send. This process is so easy, many students forget to make their requests until the night before the application is due—but since it only involves hitting a computer button, how hard can it be?
Applying to college should be the good kind of exciting for everyone involved, and you’re driving the bus to your application destination. Use these tips as your GPS to a safe journey—and don’t forget the chocolate.
Applying to College? Time to Triple Check Your College Web Site
There’s been ample coverage of the start of the college application season, and some of the news is shaky. The new version of the Common Application has brought technological challenges to some students who want to apply. Many of their college-bound friends saw the frustrations others were having, and decided to hold off on applying until the Common App kinks were worked out of the new system—but some haven’t been back. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Common Application Outreach Advisory Board.)
This response is causing some understandable concern among the colleges, institutions that really only work well when they have, well, students. With the first round of application deadlines coming up for some colleges, many admissions offices are concerned they may be throwing a party students want to attend, but can’t get there because of a busted GPS.
Seeking to ease everyone’s stress, the colleges you’ve applied to may have changed their application rules since you last looked at their Web site. It’s time for a review, paying close attention to these three key pieces of information:
Did they move their application deadline? One of the simplest things colleges can do at this point is to give students a little more time to submit their applications. This gives students time to smooth out their Common App wrinkles, and it inspires students on the sidelines to get in the game, which now goes into overtime.
When you check this information, read it meticulously. Some colleges are extending the application deadline for everyone, but some are only giving more time for counselors and teachers to send in transcripts and letters of recommendation. This kind of makes sense, since the grown-ups have to send information out for many applications to the same college, but a student only has one application to get in on time at that college. Different deadlines are changing to different dates, and those announcements are coming out at different times. Check early and often.
Did they move their response date? Many colleges guarantee students a quick response if they apply early—for example, a college may encourage you to apply by November 1st by promising to give you an admissions decision by December 15th.
It’s easy to see why it would be harder for colleges to stick to that commitment if they are giving students more time to apply. Some admissions offices may work weekends to catch up, but others just may be too far behind—especially if they have some of the same challenges getting Common Apps out of the system that gave students challenges to students putting the apps in. Pay close attention to this change. If you’re going to hear later rather than sooner, it could have a big impact on when you apply to other colleges.
Check Out the Web Site, Not Your Phone Dialing Skills Seniors who have submitted applications may have many questions for the college, and colleges want to answer them to ease your stress--without raising their stress in the process. That’s why you check the Web site before you call. This important information will be easy to find on the college’s admissions page, and there may even be an online help desk where you can submit questions.
This approach gives the admissions office a chance to focus on reading applications and sending out decisions, something everyone wants them to do. If the Web can’t help you, there will be time to call—but put that thought on hold for now, and take a walk on the Web.Four Things College Juniors Need to Do Now
Advanced Placement season is upon us, which means many juniors are spending every free minute with their nose in a book, reviewing notes, or trying to connect to a Web site while shouting “Can’t you go any faster?”
Given this frenetic level of activity, this probably isn’t the time to be talking about fall—but there are a few autumnal things to put on the smart phone, personal planner, or family fridge. This can easily be done when you’re taking a food break from your AP studies—you are eating regularly, right?—and once August comes, you’ll be glad you planned ahead.
Check Your Senior Schedule The first step towards college is to graduate from high school, and that won’t happen unless you’re taking the classes needed for your diploma. Schedules will be finalized over the summer, and computers make big mistakes sometimes—so it’s time to double check. Look for your schedule when it comes in the mail in August, and think twice about making any last-minute class changes. Senior year is supposed to be challenging.
Testing, Testing The SAT and ACT are both given in May and June, but some juniors just aren’t ready to take on these tests while prepping for AP exams and wrapping up their demanding classes. If you’d like a little space between your tests, you’re in good shape; ACT offers a test in mid-September, and SAT has an early October date.
The challenge here is that you’ll have to register in August for these tests, unless you want to pay big bucks in late registration fees. Make a note to check the SAT and ACT Web sites around August 1.
College Application Deadlines seem to be moving up every year, including many public universities where thousands of students apply. This isn’t a good trend—most students write better essays when they’re in school, not on vacation—but if your top college picks want your application in September, now is the time to know.
The best way to plan out your applications is to make a list, or develop a spreadsheet. Around August 1, check the application deadlines on each college’s Web site, and list your colleges by deadline, earliest first. If your first application isn’t due until October 1, you have all of August to hit the beach; if anything is due in September, mark your calendar for August 20th as the day to start that application, then go back to the pool.
Letters of Recommendation No matter when your applications are due, now is the time to ask your teachers for letters of recommendation. This may not seem like a big deal to you—after all, they can use the same letter for every college you’re applying to—but there’s a good chance you aren’t the only student who wants a letter from this teacher, and teachers get very busy when school starts, doing things like, well, teaching.
It’s true that you’re crazy busy now, but this deserves your time and attention. As soon as mid-May rolls around, talk to the teacher in person and ask if they would be willing to write you a good letter of recommendation. If they agree, thank them, and follow up with an e-mail or note, letting them know when you need it. This is NOT the kind of thing to ask for by phone, e-mail, or text; if you want them to give up their time for you, you need to give up some of your time for them.
Got it? OK, back to Tolstoy, then on to summer.How Many Detroit Graduates Can Go to College for Free? All of Them
It seems the Detroit Chamber of Commerce feels the same way. Two weeks ago, the Chamber announced , a program designed to make college accessible with an approach to paying for college that is comprehensive, yet easy to follow.
Here's how to qualify for the scholarship:
This isn't about high grades, great test scores, where your parents went to school, or if you're a left-handed tuba player. If you want to go to college, you have to get out of high school, make sure Uncle Sam can't pay for your schooling, and be ready to participate in orientation and student success activities that will help you earn a college degree, and a brighter future.
This is one of the most amazing wake-up calls ever for every Detroiter's college dreams. Students looking for technical training for a good job can find it in the high tech labs and workshops of some of the finest colleges in the nation. For those looking to get a Bachelor's degree, this program gives you two free full years to build a strong GPA that could qualify you for one of the many transfer scholarships four-year colleges offer to community college graduates. If you're hoping for a nice college campus with lots of green space and big trees, that's in here, too -- especially if you get to the Oakland Community College campuses in Auburn Hills, Highland Lakes, or Orchard Ridge (I should know -- I teach at OCC).
For the "what if" thinkers in the audience, it's true that the scholarship doesn't include the cost of books and transportation. However, FAFSA-eligible students may qualify for a book voucher, and many colleges have a book rental options that drop textbook prices dramatically. It's true that students will have to find a way to school, but if you can find a ride to something as important as prom, you can find a ride to something as important as college.
We often hear inspiring stories of the citizens of a small town who pool their resources together to send one promising student to college. That's a true testimony to the power of the human heart -- and so is this, times six thousand, in a city whose future just got a lot brighter.
Free college for every single one of Detroit's high school graduates. The beginning of business as usual.
In years past, I haven’t been able to provide much of answer, other than “it depends.” The only time an applicant knows where they stand compared to other applicants is after the admissions deadline has passed—and they can’t do anything to change their status by then.
This answer may be honest, but it doesn’t give juniors much to go on. That’s why I’m delighted that I have a different answer for them this year:
Don’t write boring essays.
This is the second year in a row college admissions officers have told me that application essays, as a group, were pretty disappointing. They use phrases like “they’re writing too safe” and “we appreciate the effort”, but what they mean is clear; they were given celery when they were looking for steak. Yes, there were exceptions—like the rep who told one of my students his essay was so wonderful, it brought him to tears—but as a rule, there’s room for improvement for next year’s class.
And what can juniors do to write better essays? Three things:
Write the way you talk. Admissions officers ask for essays because they can’t speak with you in person. They’d much rather do that, since it’s easier to get more out of a conversation, where you can hear inflection, evaluate body language, and watch the way your eyes light up whenever you talk about Voltaire.
That’s the kind of thing that gets a college’s attention, so that’s what you have to put in your essay. Colleges say they want to hear your voice, so be you—your strongest, clearest, best, grammatically correct you, but you. Third graders recite the Pledge of Allegiance with little enthusiasm or understanding; if the final draft of a college essay sounds like a nine year-old rotely advocating liberty and justice for all, it’s time to start over.
Don’t start too soon. I was stunned when Common Application released next year’s essay topics this past February, benignly giving many juniors eleven months to work on draft after draft after draft—and slowly taking the life out of the words, somewhere in the middle of July.
Students certainly need to write drafts of all essays, but there is such a thing as overkill. Think about your essay responses over the summer, but don’t put anything to paper until the Common App portal opens August 1st. If you’re an athlete in training during August, remember that you’ll have to play your sport *and* go to class when you’re in college; this is a good chance to practice doing both at once.
Show it to only one editor. Another way to have an essay lose your voice is to ask too many people for advice. You may only get a couple of suggestions from each reader, but two fixes from six readers makes twelve changes, all coming from someone else, all in words that aren’t your own.
It’s important to work well in a group, but not when it comes to application essays. Find one person who knows you and grammar, give them your essays ahead of time, and set up a time to discuss what you’ve written. Editing by conversation increases the chances your essay will sound like a conversation, and that’s what colleges want. Find something to say; say it in your own voice; don’t practice too much, and all will be well.Making the Most out of a College Fair
With so many colleges at a fair, it’s easy to get intimidated—so plan ahead. Take a pen, a highlighter, an unofficial copy of your transcript, and 5 questions committed to memory that will help you learn more about a college. What you ask is up to you—majors, food, chances for research, cost, social life-- just make sure the answers will help you decide if this place is worth a closer look.
At the fair, get a map of where the booths of the colleges are located. BEFORE you go onto the floor, highlight the colleges you’re interested in (this same list might be on a Web site—even better, since you can research colleges ahead of time.) Once you’re at a booth, you might have to wait to ask questions—this is good! Use this time to listen to what the representative is saying to other students-- since they will most likely be discussing general questions, you can use your time to ask more detailed stuff.
Once it’s your turn, get busy. “Hi, my name is (NO student does this, but you should; it shows confidence, and gives the rep the chance to remember you) and I go to Captain Jack High School.” From here, you want to ask your questions; make eye contact as they answer, and don’t rush them.
If you feel you’re hitting a good vibe, pull out your transcript and say “Just one more question. I’m putting my senior schedule together. Here’s what I’ve taken so far; what other courses would your college like to see me take?” ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NOBODY does this at a college fair, which is why you should. Most of the time, you’ll actually get some great advice (or even a scholarship offer), but don’t be surprised if they don’t know what to say—either way, you’ll be remembered by reps in a very positive way. Thank them for their time, fill out a registration card (that’s important), tell them you hope they come by your school to visit, and move on.
Make quick notes on this college *before* you visit the next booth. You can use your “waiting time” at the next booth to do this, but write at least something down—you don’t want to confuse your colleges.
If you can do about 7-10 colleges and spend time at an information session of interest to you, call it a victory with an after-fair pizza (this is why you bring your parents along—to pay!) You now have some solid information on which colleges are road trip worthy, and some solid information about yourself as well—truly a dynamic duo.
One of the many college fair options is a series of national college fairs operated by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. To find a list of NACAC fairs, visit http://www.nacacnet.org/college-fairs/students-parents/Pages/default.aspxThis Year’s Applicant Pool
1. Applications appear to be at an all-time high at many colleges. This means that getting admitted to these colleges is more difficult than ever before, simply because of the number of students that have applied. Of course, other factors enter into the admissions process--grades, letters of recommendation, test scores, etc.--but since most students who apply to these colleges academically qualify for admission, an increase in the number of applications makes admission that much harder.
2. There is a common reason why colleges deny admission to students. The number one reason selective colleges deny admission to students is simple--they run out of room. If they had more dorm rooms, and more professors, and more classrooms, they would love to take more students--but they cannot do justice to the students they do admit by taking too many, since no one gets a quality education that way--and that’s not fair to anyone.
3. With more applications, and limited space, colleges must create a learning community that is exciting, diverse, and rich with opportunities. How colleges do that is a combination of art and science, a mixture of data (grades and test scores) and insight (personal statements, letters of recommendation, etc. In deciding who gets admitted, these selective colleges will tell you that just about everyone who decides to apply to a selective college qualifies for admission--they would be a great student, benefit the college tremendously, and contribute to the college in many ways. Since you applied to a selective college, those compliments would apply to you.
Given that, it’s impossible to think of any way a letter of denial or waitlist should be interpreted to mean “The college doesn’t like me”, or worse “I am not a good person”. College admissions is about many things, but it is never a judgment about you as a person, or about everything you have accomplished. Most colleges go to great pains to point this out when they send their denial letters; believe me when I tell you that they aren’t just being nice, but that they truly respect and honor everything you have done as a student and as a person, and they are grateful you applied to their college. That might not mean much the minute you open the letter, it will over time--whether the college says yes, no, or maybe, your value and worth as a person is cast in stone, and can be shaken by absolutely no one, be it another person, or an admissions committee.
Now, About the Decisions
When you hear from a college this week, you’ll get one of four kinds of decisions. Each decision has its own possibilities, so let’s go over them:
An offer of admission is the news you’ve been hoping for--and more. In addition to congratulating you, the offer of admissions includes information on housing, orientation, and financial aid. Be sure to read all of it; this information will be of great value to you if you need to decide among several offers of admission.
Colleges may offer you a seat in the freshman class with a requirement--that you participate in a tutoring or student supporAs is the case with other admission offers, offers of conditional admission may also include information on housing, financial aid, etc. Be sure to read all of this information. In addition, there may be a contract included that you’re required to sign, indicating you agree to adhere to the conditions of admission; suffice it to say, you’ll need to return that signed contract to the college by the indicated deadline.t program during your first semester, that your first semester grades are at a certain level, or that you come to campus sometime over the summer to participate in a college readiness program. These offers of admission are becoming more common, and they are not an “either/or” proposition--in other words, if you want to go to that college, you must satisfy the requirements outlined in the offer of admission.
A letter indicating you’ve been waitlisted usually comes all by itself. The letter indicates that the college is still considering your application, but must hear from the admitted students first before they may--again, that’s may--offer you admission.
Again, while it’s a little early to tell, there is a sense that the number of waitlisted letters is expected to be large this year--and that’s when things get tricky. To begin with, every college has its own set of guidelines about waitlists; for example, if all of the admitted soccer players turn down College X, College X may go to the waitlist only for soccer players, whereas College Y may have already put their waitlist together, and will simply start offering admission to the students at the top of the list, whether those students play soccer or not. In either case, your contacting the college doesn’t really move you up on the list that much--unless the college makes up its waitlist order only after they’ve heard from everyone, including the students on the waitlist.
Given the many different ways colleges approach waiting lists, I would suggest you do the following:
* Re-read the letter from the college to see if it gives you any information about the wait-list-- how the order is determined, when it is determined, and what you need to do to stay on it.
* If this information isn't in the letter (and often it isn't), call the college and ask them directly-- tell them you've been waitlisted, and ask them how and when the list is put together. They may give you some suggestions on what to do; if they do, write these suggestions down, since they are basically telling you how to improve your chances of moving up on the list.
* Next, it's decision time. Given the college options you have, do you still feel it's worth pursuing this college as a possible option-- remember, it may only be a possibility. As you think about this, it's *very* important to ask two questions--
1. If a slot doesn't open up at this college, what college will I select?
2. If a slot does open up at this college, what college will I select?
If the answer to these questions is the same, there's no point in pursuing the waitlist; you can either call the college and ask your name be removed from the waitlist, or you can wait and see what happens after May 1st.
* If your decision about which college to attend depends in part on financial aid, remember that the amount of aid available to students who are admitted off of the waitlist is usually limited. That’s not to say there won’t be any, but colleges offer all of their aid to admitted students first; as a result, the aid available to waitlisted students is limited to the amount of aid turned down by admitted students. Since that can vary greatly from year to year, and from college to college, that’s another factor to keep in mind.
* If you decide you want to pursue a slot at the college that's waitlisted you, this is no time to be shy. Contact the college to let them know your continued interest. "I want you to know I am still very interested in attending College X this fall" sends a clear statement of where you stand and if College X is your first choice, you can say that as well (but remember only one first choice.) Some students will collect progress reports to show how they're doing in their high school classes, and others will send in extra letters of recommendation. All of that may help, but it's not a bad idea to ask first before sending too much material in-- remember, you want to show interest, but you don't want to drive them crazy.
The idea here is that you want to show continued interest in the school that is strong, but not too persistent. A couple of contacts between April 1st and May 1st isn't going too far, and one every day really is--so use good judgment.
* Finally, keep in mind that most colleges will not review their waitlist until after May 1st, which is the day you are expected to notify one--and only one--college that you’ll be going there in the fall. If April 30 comes around, and you’re still waiting to hear from a waitlisted school, you’ll want to put in the required May 1st deposit and notification at the college you’ll go to if the waitlist doesn’t work out somewhere else. If the college of your dreams pulls you off the waitlist later on, you’ll need to cancel your admission at the other college in writing--and there’s a good chance you won’t get your deposit back.
Not Offered Admission
News that a college cannot offer you admission also comes in a thin envelope. As I said before, colleges mean it when they say they wish they could offer you admission, and they value your work as a student; it’s just that colleges simply run out of room.
I’m sometimes asked if an admissions decision can be appealed. Just like every
college handles admissions decisions differently, every college handles admissions appeals differently--and remember, colleges do not have to offer any kind of appeal at all. In general, there are some good guidelines to follow:
--Read your letter closely. These letters often explain both the procedures you need to follow to file an appeal, and the things colleges look for in reviewing an appeal. If your letter gives you no indication, call the office of admission and ask what their appeal policy is--and remember that some colleges will not take appeals except in very rare circumstances.
--See if you can find out why you were denied admission in the first place. A conversation with an admissions officer may give the college enough additional information about you to form the basis of an appeal. If the college needs more information, you can ask for specific information on what the college would like to see when you write your appeal--or, in some cases, you can find out if an appeal would not be the best use of your time.
--Generally speaking, colleges will look at an appeal closely if you can provide additional information above and beyond what you included in your original application that shows you are a strong and/or unique student. Seventh semester grades, progress reports from your current classes, additional letters of recommendation, a supporting paragraph or two from your counselor--these kinds of things can make a difference.
-- Remember that a successful appeal depends on a variety of factors--your strength as a student, your continued interest in the college, the number of spaces the college has available, etc. In some cases, continued interest and strong grades may be enough to get you in on appeal--but in some cases, it won’t. An appeal isn’t a sure thing, and the extra energy it requires to put an appeal together--not just yours, but the energy of your counselor, your teachers, and the college--can be high at this busy time of year. Before you start an appeal, be sure to think about your chances of success, and your real interest in the college, and let your answers guide you accordingly.
A Few More Ideas to Consider
You can find additional information on checking your financial aid packages and making sure you finish your senior year with a flourish at
It would be simple enough to say this is going to make getting into college harder--but before we start going all Russian novel about this, let’s get some perspective.
First, this isn’t a surprise. More students are applying to college from the US, and colleges are actively seeking more applicants from overseas, so this isn’t a surprise to colleges…
…and they’re ready to deal with it. While most colleges can’t increase the number of students they admit, a number of colleges have increased the quality of their course offerings, majors, living arrangements, and food to make their institution more desirable. The result? There are more great colleges to choose from than ever before…
…and more competition for students makes you the winner. These great and newly-great schools have to bend over backwards to get you to attend. As a result, more colleges are offering merit-based financial aid—money for college that’s based on your grades and test scores. These two changes mean good students have more quality choices and more financial incentives than parents or siblings—or even last year’s seniors.
“Cool” you say to yourself, “but I’ve always wanted to go to Great Grandad U, and I hear they’re getting more applicants—how does this make it easier for me to get into a specific college that’s had a great rep for years?”
While this increase in applications generally means it will be tougher to get into the highly selective schools, there are still a couple of things to consider. First, a couple of these colleges (like Harvard) have dramatically changed their financial aid policies in order to encourage more people to apply. Early signs suggest the number of applications is way up—but did this change in price have an impact on the quality of the applicants who applied? Since we don’t know the answer to that question, we should wait and see—and not get discouraged.
Second, a new online version of the Common Application was used by U-M and a couple of other prominent schools this year. Common App allows students to complete one basic college application (with occasional extra essays) and send it to hundreds of colleges, many of them highly selective colleges. Because of Common App, it’s likely more students applied to more schools because it was easier—but we don’t know if that increase led to an increase in the number of strong candidates. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, with more choices than ever before, you need to look more closely at colleges than ever before. I’ve seen too many students get flattered by a merit scholarship, only to transfer after a semester because the glitter of the award didn’t let them really see what the college had to offer—and not offer—in terms of classes, activities, and atmosphere. It’s cool to be wanted, but if December finds you looking for a new school because this one didn’t work out, that’s just not a bargain.
Three or four years of living and learning in high school should give you some strong clues about who you are and what you want from a school. Apply those core values –and some common sense-- to the college hunt, and you’ll find a perfect match, no matter what the numbers say.
· Common App has done away with the short essay that was required for all applicants.
· These essay topics are for the first part of the Common Application. If an individual college wants students to write additional essays, those will be found in the Supplement section of Common App.
· The word limit for the new essays has been raised to 650 words, and the essay instructions make it clear that students don’t have to write 650 words—if fine if their essay is complete in less than 650 words, as long as it’s at least 250 words long.
· At the same time, the new maximum of 650 words will be strictly enforced. In the past, some students have written well past the maximum; that won’t be allowed next year.
The new offerings leave out what’s
been the most popular topic among students—“Write an essay on the topic of your
choice.” Students were extremely unhappy when this omission was announced in
the fall, but the Common Application committee charged with developing the new
essay topics made sure the choices would be very broad, allowing students ample
opportunity to tell their individual stories. (Full disclosure: I was on
the selection committee.)
Common Application decided to release the new topics at this time to make sure everyone understood a change was coming—one change of many, as Common App prepares to roll out a new version of the entire application, CA4, on August 1st. The essay topics now give students something to think about when it comes time to start writing college essays…
..and that time is not now. Knowing some juniors may decide this is the
time to start applying, Common Application posted this notice on their Facebook
JUNIORS: Just because you know what our colleges will ask you to write about doesn't mean you should start writing. It's February 6. You have more pressing things to do. You'll have plenty of time to be a college applicant. For now, just be a student.
Truer words were never spoken.
The essays and assignments teachers give juniors are designed to develop the
skills colleges want to see in college essays—skills like analysis, critical
thinking, and evaluation. If students can hone those skills now with a
lab report, a History paper, or an English essay, they will surely apply them
later with a Common App prompt like “describe a place or environment where you
are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it
meaningful to you?”
You want to make sure your essays are engaging, and nothing kills inviting writing like too many rewrites. Several college admissions officers say students are writing essays that are “safe”, writing that has good structure, but doesn’t really tell the reader much about the student. This lack of color will only go up if you agonize over a small essay for up to ten months—make sure you tell your parents that when they suggest you spend Presidents Day cranking out a first draft.
College essays are part of an exciting process, but the glory of the Super Bowl comes only to those who master the nuances of training camp. Common Application has shown you the goal line, but now it’s time for more training; hit the books, write for your classes, and put the college essays on hold.Three Ways to Keep Your Counselor Sane, and Why They Matter to You
Counseling offices around the country are gearing up to send out current grades of seniors, the last large task on the Application Support checklist for the Class of 2013—so can the next class be far behind? As juniors put together and review their college lists, it makes sense to talk about one of the most misunderstood parts of the college application process—testing. Here’s a quick Q and A on the basics—follow this advice, and all the details that drive other students crazy will fall into place for you.
Which test should I take—ACT or
You want to take the test that will best show your academic ability, and the only way to do that is to take each test once, review the scores, and think about the amount of stress you felt when taking each test. In most cases, the test you felt most comfortable with is the one where you had the highest score; take that one a second time before junior year is over, and you’ll be in great shape.
That’s a lot of money to spend
on tests. Can my PSAT and PLAN scores
help me decide which test to take?
They can help some, yes. PLAN is patterned after the ACT, and students usually take it in 10th grade, which was a year ago—so you may know more now that you did then, which impacts your test scores (we hope!) Still, if your 10th grade PLAN scores are much stronger than your 11th grade PSAT scores, that suggests ACT is the test for you. If your PSAT scores beat your PLAN scores, it’s still worth it to take both tests.
Should I send all of my test
scores to a college?
The short answer here is yes. You can send your scores to up to 4 colleges when you sign up to take the SAT or ACT—that’s part of the testing fee. If you wait until after you see your results to send your results, it costs about $10 per college to order them—and every college I know swears that low test scores don’t hurt your chances of admission if you send in a higher set of test scores.
Is that really true?
I can only go by what the colleges tell me. Some say they have a computer sort through your scores, so the admissions committee only sees your highest scores. Other counselors tell me of colleges that do look at low scores—these colleges may say things like “your complete test history gives us a clearer picture of your true abilities.” A vast majority of colleges want to help you get admitted, not hold you back; but if you wonder about test scores, ask about their policy before you send them in.
What’s the worst thing I can do
when it comes to test scores—send too few, or send too many?
Not send any at all. A growing number of students don’t send test scores to colleges until the student sees them—but that takes extra time, extra money, and extra discipline. More students have their applications deferred, delayed, or simply not read because they don’t remember to send the scores in until it’s too late—and counselors can’t send in official test scores for students. If you want to wait, fine—but don’t forget to send them.
Do all colleges require the SAT
No—in fact, almost 850 don’t require them for most of their students. Check the list at www.fairtest.org/university/optional , then call the college to confirm the policy.
What This Year’s Admissions Are Telling High School Juniors
It’s been ten days since seniors shipped off the bulk of their college applications, and it looks like we’re in for another record year. The college app Web site Common Application was processing 4.4 college application forms per second on New Year’s Eve—and this is after more students applied in November through Early Action and Early Decision programs.
High school juniors may not be paying much attention to these numbers, but the wise members of the Class of 2014 would do well to put the “me” in measurements, and think about what this year’s statistics mean to next year’s applicants:
Rigor Early admissions decisions indicate colleges are looking more closely than ever at the amount of challenge students are taking on in their high school schedules. Gone are the days where hard-working students can load up their final semester (or year) with History of Pizza and AP Gangnam; advanced and honors classes in grades 9 through 12 are more an expectation than an extra.
If you’re a junior, put together a strong schedule when you pick your senior classes in the next month or so. This reliance on rigor isn’t likely to go away; in fact, you may want to talk to your counselor about beefing up your schedule for this year if you can. Yes, it is that serious.
Interest More colleges are giving preference to applicants who show a serious interest in the school. Some colleges evaluate this demonstrated interest in the number of times you visited campus, your attendance at the program the college hosted in your town, and the conversation you had with their admissions representative at the local college night.
If you’re a junior, think about ways to show a college how much the school means to you. Colleges don’t want you to go into debt to visit their campus 12 times, and they certainly don’t want you flooding their e-mails with updates on what you ate for breakfast. Still, a campus visit or two, combined with attendance at events they hold in your city and state, are a good start.
Selectivity Record application numbers are leading to the creation of a new category of colleges. These super competitive schools admit a very small percentage of students (less than 10 percent), making the selective colleges that admit 25 percent of their applicants seem downright easy to get into—and somehow less desirable. (Yeah—that is crazy.)
If you’re a junior, build a list of colleges that includes a mix of selectivity. Applying to 20 colleges that each admits 6 percent of their students doesn’t give you a 120 percent chance of being admitted by one of them. Make sure you have 3 or 4 colleges on your list that will have the room and good sense to admit you; chances are these same schools will offer you a merit scholarship as well, and that’s never a bad thing.
Timeliness Once upon a time, all colleges contacted a student if the college needed the student’s test scores or teacher recommendation. With so many applicants (especially early applicants), colleges don’t always have the time to send these reminders—and with so many other complete applications to choose from, they don’t have to, either.
If you’re a junior, make sure your materials are submitted at least a week before the deadline, and check e-mail every day (including the junk folder) in case a college needs something. This is especially true for test scores, which is the single biggest hold-up in reviewing an application; send them when you take them, and you’ll know they are there for sure.
It’s easy to understand how students will be disappointed if a college says “we’ll see” rather than “yes”—but it’s important not to dwell on that disappointment. Students should view a deferral as an opportunity to tell the college more about themselves and their college plans; in many cases, students who provide the appropriate amount of additional material will be viewed as more interested in attending the college, a factor that can make a difference when a college makes a final decision.
So what does the appropriate amount of new information look like? Follow these steps:
Read the admissions decision carefully. Once you know you’ve been deferred, go back and read the letter a second time; it may include instructions on how to submit additional material. Many colleges will ask you to e-mail them or return an enclosed postcard to indicate you’re still interested in the college; make sure to do that right away. Other colleges will ask for specific information, like your first semester or trimester grades; if that’s the case, tell your high school immediately, so they can send the grades and other materials the minute they’re available.
Bring the college up to date. Unless the letter tells you not to send anything else (and a few colleges say that), the time to contact the college is now. Send them a short note or e-mail that:
It’s been about two months since you submitted your application, and you’ve been doing more than just checking your e-mail for college notices. Writing the college shows them you are still actively engaged in learning and living; it also shows them you still feel their college is a good match for you, even after having eight more weeks to think about it. This may seem pretty basic, but very few students do this—and that’s all the more reason for you to get busy.
Look ahead. Once you’ve sent this information, you’ll want to plan on sending a second update in February, once your next grades are available; if you have another teacher who can write a strong letter of recommendation, this is a good time to send that as well (don’t ask right now—the holidays are coming!) One last note around March 10th should very briefly restate your interest in the school—after that, it’s up to them.
Review your college list. If you were counting on being admitted to your Early college, now is the time to double-check your college list, and make sure you’re applying to at least two or three other colleges where your grades and test scores are at or higher than the college’s averages. It’s hard to get a deferral from a college now, but it will be much harder to get accepted into any college later; keep your options open by seeing the good in what other colleges have to offer.
Some Last Minute Details After December 1
There’s a good chance some December ACT seniors last took the ACT in June, when they didn’t have to download a picture—so now is the time to let them know. It’s probably a good idea to tell all juniors as well; some juniors take the December ACT so they can get an item analysis of their test (this is also available with the April and June tests), so make sure they’ve sent in a picture…
…and if you’re a December SAT test-taker, relax; SAT will require downloaded pictures beginning with the March 2013 test administration, so you just have to take photo ID to your December test site.
Money for College While students are hurrying up to make one deadline, parents have to slow down to make a different deadline. The FAFSA is the primary financial aid form nearly every family has to complete as they begin their quest for college cash, but it can’t be submitted until January 1. For now, parents can go to the FAFSA Web site to get the PIN they need; they should do this with their senior, since the student has a different PIN.
After writing their PINs down in a safe place, the whole family should take a look at the updated US Government financial aid Web site, www.studentaid.gov The Department of Education reduced about 15 financial aid Web sites into this new streamlined presentation, and it’s great; the introduction to financial aid is a must-read, as are the articles about managing student loans and scholarship scams. There’s plenty of December reading to prepare you to file the FAFSA on New Year’s Day.
You’ve Made the List, Now Check it Twice This is also the right time for counselors to find that 25th hour in the day and review the college plans of every one of their seniors. Many counselors are reporting students have put together very aggressive college lists this year; while it’s great to boldly apply where others many not attend, it’s also possible students have no “sure fire” schools on their list.
The time to fix this problem is before it becomes a problem. Counselors, close the office door, review every senior’s list, and make sure they have a “go to” school they’re happy with. Students, it’s time to print out a copy of your college list, then write these words in big letters at the bottom: “Safe enough? Yes or No?” Hand that to your counselor while they’re on the phone; If they turn green, it’s time for a quick call, text, e-mail, or meeting, to develop a Plan B. It isn’t easy to find the time for all this, but it’s easier than finding a college in April that has lots of openings and financial aid.
Making it Through the Holidays
“Hombre”, says you, “you clearly don’t know my parents, or my Uncle Bob.”
Amgios and amigas, it’s time for a siesta. Here are the three keys to thriving (not just surviving) this holiday season:
Treat Uncle Bob Like You, and He, Are Adults If you’re smart enough to go to college, you’re smart enough to sort out how Uncle Bob operates—and that’s the key to success. Once he’s through updating you on his thriving business and gloating about the political party of his choice, he’s going to put a large piece of turkey on his fork, and ask “So, how’s the college hunt going?”
You’re now thinking this is the end. You haven’t heard from the college that was supposed to decide in October, and your other colleges are small schools Uncle Bob hasn’t heard of—heck, you hadn’t even heard of them until last year.
And this, my friend, makes for a wonderful foundation for your response.
“Well, Uncle Bob, I applied to Eastnorthern State U, and thought of you when I answered the essays, since you’ve told me how much you love the school. I guess everybody’s uncle feels that way, because the college is weeks behind in admissions decisions, but I should hear by Super Bowl.
“I know Mom has told you about my other schools, where some of the students major in the History of Haiku and take classes like Fruit Leather in a Modern Society. I won’t hear from them until spring, but if I decide to attend one of them, I’ll be sure to bring a flare gun with me to campus, in case they try to force feed me tofu.”
At this point, Uncle Bob will look at you, chuckle a little, and then go back to talking about the glory, or evils, of Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Welcome to adulthood.
Your Applications and Black Saturday The next holiday hurdle is the Saturday after Thanksgiving (or Christmas or…) when even the adults are ready for a break from each other. This is typically the time when your parents—who love you—will say, “Honey, Uncle Bob is going out to lunch with us. Don’t you think this would be a good time to work on your college essays?”
This requires preparation. You put together a spreadsheet ahead of time with the name of every college you’re applying to, the date each application is due, and the date you will work on that application. Print out a copy and keep it in your back pocket, saving it for this moment, when you open it with a modest flourish, hand it to your parents, and say;
“I’ve got it covered. Have a great lunch.”
And as you put your earphones back on to fall under the spell of Justin Gaga, you will see your parents weep with amazement and joy. Their widdle baby is all growed up.
Remember the Reason for the Season You have parents who love you, an Uncle Bob who is the loveable kind of crazy, and a world of possibilities awaiting you in college. If ever there was a time for gratitude, it is now.
Colleges would love to put you up for two weeks to really get to know every applicant—but if they did that, you’d be 45 before they admitted you. The essay takes the place of that two weeks—write it so that when they read it, they feel like you just left the room, and your chair is still warm.
Finding Some College Calm After the Storm
College-bound seniors in the Eastern US saw more than their college plans take a bump this week, as Hurricane Sandy hit land three days before the November 1st early application deadline for many colleges. Recognizing most of these students had other things to think about—and realizing they may not have power to receive college applications anyway—many colleges have extended the deadline. Students need to check individual college Web sites for the details; Common Application can’t post new deadlines without causing havoc to the entire system, and some colleges are extending the deadline only to those students who were impacted by the storm—so the details matter.
This thoughtful response to a most difficult time is cause to be grateful, but it should also inspire some reflection. Counselors and students are reporting a record frenzy of early applications this year, as students are more eager than ever to hear back from colleges, and colleges are anxious to rein in early applicants to build solid classes, improve their percentage of admitted students who end up attending, or—I’m sorry to say—move up in the college rankings. While part of this rush is based on thoughtful engagement, there is a sense among counselors that more of it is based on fear; students afraid they will have no college choices if they wait; colleges offering “snap” applications that waive essays because they are afraid students will pass them by; parents who worry students will see their grades drop if they keep applying to college, so it’s just best to get it over with now.
It certainly makes sense to seek shelter from real storms, but it’s best to take a different approach to depressions that are created by man-made hot air. Some colleges admit a large number of students who apply early, but that’s assuming the student presents a well-produced application in time for a November review. Many colleges don’t offer early deadlines, and no college will offer admission to an applicant who sends in a final application that’s really a second draft. Sandy reminds us that speed can kick up all kind of unwanted results; find your pace, and stay with it.
Speed is also the culprit when students respond to “special” applications where a college only wants your signature—because what most really want is your name. It’s a small number of colleges that offer these easy apps for the benefit of the student; far too many want more students to apply simply so they can deny more students, and raise their status as a “selective” college. Unless you have the time to investigate this college app the way you would investigate a new smartphone app, the best option to select with a snap app is Delete. College costs time, money, and energy, and it’s best to use all three wisely, even if you are going to live forever.
Parents who want the process “over” have a point—students can’t always do well in school when they want to do well with college applications. That’s why it’s best for students to set aside two hours each day of the weekend to work on their remaining apps, and spend the rest of their time focusing on school, work, and life in general. Rushed essays written at 10 on Tuesday night don’t sound inspired; they sound as tense and as tired as their authors are after a full day of school. Applying to college deserves your best effort, and you deserve a break; the weekend writing rule gives you a chance to do both, while your application fears are left blowing in the wind.
Have You Cleaned Up Your Facebook Page Yet?
There are three key technology rules when it comes to applying to college:
1. If at all possible, use the college’s online application, and ask their tech support for help the minute you run into a problem.
2. Create a new e-mail account just for the messages that will be went to and from colleges.
3. Clean up any and all social media pages you have.
Students understand the first two with no problem. College applications need to be clear, clean, and thorough, so it’s important to make sure you’re uploading your college essays, not your prom pictures.
Ditto for a new e-mail account. E-mail be old school to you, but this is how most colleges contact you, even once you enroll. This makes it easy to keep track of college contacts, and it’s probably all for the best colleges not know your personal e-mail address is email@example.com
But try and talk the plusses of Web site maintenance, and students are convinced their counselor roamed the Earth with dinosaurs. The insist colleges don’t care about social media accounts, and are too busy to check them—to prove it, students wil ask colleges if they look, and the colleges will say no.
Fair enough—except when I asked a college if they looked, their answer was “Do you really think I’d tell you if we did?”
Play it safe. Rough language, risky pictures—even having an account under another name—can hurt you and anyone else who’s in those questionable photos with you. Once you’ve tidied up yours, ask your friends to take anything off their pages that makes you look iffy. After that, search for yourself on the Web, and see what’s there. You might not need to address it or be able to do anything about it, but it’s better for you to know before the colleges do.
And even if the colleges don’t look, they sometimes find out in very remote ways that can do serious damage…
(Based on a true story that happened somewhere else.)
Joanna thought she was all that
She knew she was a winner
A 3.9, a 32
The gal was no beginner.
Took five APs and tutored, too
Her homework was a snap
Spent most nights on the Facebook page
Just dishin’ out some smack
She posted pix of homecoming
Her folks would see as knockouts
But dog, they’d never seen them, since
Her FB page was blocked out
You can’t imagine her surprise
When her counselor said “Yo lady”
I got a call from East Coast U
The news will make you crazy!
The U was ready to admit
When in arrive their intern
‘The buzz is all on Facebook, man
These pics will make your hands burn.’
The intern loaded up the page
Of some homecoming hijinx
And in the photo, there was you—
Which made our rep do eye blinks.
“They saw your picture once or twice
And thought they’d overlook it
But then they read your FB smack
And that’s what really cooked it.
Your essays were all erudite
And very nicely tailored
But then they saw the real you
Has language like a sailor.
They read your app and loved you, girl,
It’s you they were admittin’
But now they said they just can’t take
A profane party kitten.”
So dudes and dudettes, hear me out
Few colleges go lookin’
But if FB vibes come their way
That just can’t be mistooken
Your full ride dough, your dream admit
Are goin’ down the tank, sir
And all because you tried to be
A bad-selfed Facebook gangsta.
I Heard it Through the Grapevine Your College Apps Aren’t Going Well
Since I’m from Detroit, it’s only natural for Motown songs to come to mind on big occasions. On my daughter’s birthday, “Isn’t She Lovely” comes to mind. When a heavy snow closes school, the whole family joins in a chorus of “How Sweet It Is”.
And when my students start filling out college applications, it’s tough to get “Ball of Confusion” out of my head.
You might think the room should start spinning in September, when every magazine publishes its version of “Colleges So Great, No One Gets Admitted To Them”—but it’s easy to talk parents and students through this message, because they bring their concerns to my office and we talk about them.
The real challenge for a college counselor is how to help students whose first sense of application panic comes on a fall Saturday morning, when they bring a pen or laptop to the breakfast table, throw a last handful of Cocoa Doodles in their mouth, decide it’s time to take on that first application—and they freeze on the line that says “Name.”
In other words, they are coming out of the “College is Crazy” hype, and thinking about what they really want out of college for the first time in a long time, or for the first time ever.
I’m sorry I can’t be at the breakfast tables of each of my students when there’s nowhere to run to—if I could be there, I would tell them to go to their room.
Most students balk at filling out college applications because they view it as the first step towards leaving home. That’s easy to see; this is the place where you listen to your music, text message long after your parents have gone to bed, do a little homework, and think about your life. The world outside has changed and challenged you, sometimes in ways you didn’t like or didn’t completely master—but at the end of the day, you came home to sort out what it all meant, and looked forward to what came next. Giving this place up won’t be easy.
The good news is the colleges that are right for you will feel just like home. It may be in the dorm rooms, it may be at the library (hey, it happens), it may be the whole campus—but somewhere at those colleges, there is a spot waiting for you to reflect on the challenges of life, wonder about the possible, and text your BFFs til dawn. Once you think about college as your next home, completing the applications will be as easy as taking the written exam for your driver’s license, because both are just the paperwork that leads to a greater sense of freedom. In the end, going to college isn’t about leaving home—it’s about taking home with you.
The second thing I would do is replace students’ earbuds with soundproof headphones. Some students hit the brakes because of outside opinions about their college choices. The application to a college a student loves often heads to the shredder when a well-meaning neighbor asks “Where is that college?”, or Uncle Bob reports the college is nowhere to be found in the recently published rankings. If it turns out no other student at the local high school is applying to this college, this can become a trifecta for trauma.
When this happens, I encourage students to make the mature choice and be selfish. By fall, college-bound students know who they are and what they want in a college—with all the research they’ve done and the campuses they’ve visited, if college selection were a term paper, they’d have about 25 sources to quote and 3000 file cards to synthesize by now. Knowing what you know about college and yourself, it’s important to keep the well-meaning insights of others in perspective—some may know you, some may know colleges, but very few (except your parents) will know both as well as you do. Everyone on your first grade soccer team got a trophy for participating, and choosing colleges works the same way—with self-knowledge and college knowledge, everyone gets a best college, even if what’s best for you is different than what’s best for everyone else.
At this time of year, it’s easy for seniors to think it’s gonna take a miracle to get into college. You’ve worked too hard to believe in things that you don’t understand—instead, remember what home means to you, stay focused on what you’ve learned about college and yourself, and your college applications will go flying out the door so quickly, you’ll realize the miracle is you.
So pick up the pen, and pass the Cocoa Doodles. You can do this.
July is Latin for “Don’t Think About College”—Really!
Now that report cards are out, it’s time for high school students to make the most of the Fourth of July and make their own declaration of independence from anything that has to do with applying to college. Summer vacation may have been designed to help out with the crops, but now it offers most of us a chance to recharge, do something different, and remember there’s more to the world than the next bell, the next text, or the next test prep class.
Since July is coming fast, I’ll squeeze in this list of summer reminders for you to share today or tomorrow—but once Sunday comes, all college bets are off:
Common App is on Break, Too You aren’t the only ones who need to rest, which is why the Common Application online application is closing for all of July, and all accounts created last year will be deleted. Members of the Class of 2013 probably don’t have Common App accounts now, but if you do, it’s gone as of today, so plan a little time to start again come August. In case your parents want to know, yes, the essay prompts for the Common App essay are the same next year—but if you want to find them in July, you’re on your own, dude—I’m serious about resting.
Summer Classes are for Learning Many of you will spend part of July in a classroom, participating in classes or programs that offer you learning opportunities you didn’t have during the regular school year. While many colleges applications place some value on these extra school experiences, the key to getting the most out of these activities is to focus on what you can learn. It’s one thing to list a summer class on a college application; it’s another thing to be able to write about how that experience changed your life in a college essay; it’s something more to know that experience changed the way you live your life in the way you approach college once you’re admitted. Life is more than a list, and colleges know that—jump into the summer learning pond you’ve built for yourself and swim for the center of the experience.
Ditto for Summer Volunteering The hours you put in at the local soup kitchen will look the same no matter what you do when you’re there, so the last time you should think about yourself is when you make sure your apron is tied on tightly at the start of your shift. The economy is getting better, but the waiting list of the needy extends for years; use your hours to knock months off that list, and the world will take notice, including the world of colleges.
Summer College Visits? Maybe If you’re travelling this summer, your parents may have plans to visit the college near Aunt Midge’s cottage. Summer isn’t the best time to visit a college, but you can still get a feel for the place by taking the tour and walking around. Go in July if you must, but plan on coming back for another visit when the campus is in high gear—and that can be after you’re admitted.
Relax, but Don’t Release July really should be a time to see new things and think new thoughts, but some of the school rules about focus, caution, and responsibility apply. Since going to college requires you to be in one piece once you get there, I offer this link for your consideration, with my wishes for a safe, calm summer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjc_0JBlRgE&feature=relmfu
More on Letters
As you consider who you should ask to write your letters, you might want to keep these general rules in mind:
There will be some other logistics to work out in the fall about envelopes, forms, and online applications, but that’s later—right now, ask away!
Juniors, It's Time to Ask for Letters
If you are a regular reader of College is Yours 2.0— and you should be by now—you’d know juniors are encouraged to ask teachers for letters of recommendation in spring of the junior year.
See those flowers? Hear those birds? See all of those seniors trying to decide if they can sneak six chickens into school next week? Welcome to spring!
Now is indeed the time to ask your teachers of choice if they would be willing to write you a good letter of recommendation. There are two key words here, and the first one is “good.” Any teacher can write you a basic letter of recommendation, but basic isn’t the approach you want for letters. You’re looking for at least good, someone who knows you beyond your promptness with homework and past the legibility (or otherwise) of your handwriting.
What you really want is someone who can tell their version of your life—what inspires you, what challenges you, what you think about, what breakthroughs you’ve had, and what all of that will mean to a college if they admit you. If this sounds like more than a recitation of grades and extra curriculars, you’re right—those things are important, but those get listed in other parts of your college application.
The letter of recommendation is like your teacher having lunch with the admissions committee, and all they’re going to talk about is you; a few of your achievements and extra curriculars may get mentioned in passing, but what the admissions committee really wants to hear is the stories about what it means to learn and live with you. The goal is simple-- when everyone gets up from the table, you want the teachers’ stories about you to linger and inspire. So which teachers know you so well that they can do that for you?
The second key word here is “willing.” Teachers are busy folks who see teaching as a commitment to you— that’s why they write not just good letters, but great letters. At the same time, they need a few additional resources to write a great letter—and one of the key resources is time.
By asking your teachers now to prepare letters for your fall application, you are giving them the time they need to organize their thoughts and their schedules to write the best letters they possibly can. Even if teachers tell you they don’t start writing letters until the fall, it’s good to ask now; this way, they can tell other students “sorry, I’m full” if they get more requests for letters than they can reasonably handle.
Of course, there’s the other side to this—and it has to do with timeliness. You may not need the letters now, but when teachers see you asking this soon, they may just need to take a nap to recover. Very, very few students are considerate or organized enough to ask at this stage of the game; the fact that you can do both is a sign to your teachers that you mean business and are ready to do business, and that can get you in the right frame of mind to meet application deadlines in the fall. This is big step for them, but it is for you too—so do your best Neil Armstrong, and take the giaant leap.
What Does This Year Mean? Business as Usual
Record high applications led to record low acceptance rates at colleges throughout the country, and strong students who expected a bushel basket of acceptance letters often ended up with a peck of yeses and a pound of wait-list offers, or maybes.
The first college application deadline is months away for the Class of 2013, but after seeing what happened to this year’s applicants, two big questions loom large for the parents of next year’s college hopefuls. What does it all mean, and why is college admissions such a mystery?
The answer to the second question is easy. It isn’t a mystery.
I know, I know—college admissions officials say they aren’t looking for a minimum test score or grade point average, not everyone has to do community service, and essays and interviews may or may not strengthen a student’s application file.
But just because that answer doesn’t produce a formula predicting a student’s chances for admission, it doesn’t mean the process a mystery. In fact, it is a process very familiar to anyone in the business world.
Consider this. An executive picks up a ringing phone and hears someone sobbing on the line. “I don’t understand” the voice says, choking back tears, “I had superb scores, my letters were impeccable, and you yourself said my interview was great. What went wrong?”
This certainly is the conversation hundreds of college admissions executives recently had with students who didn’t get admitted to college, but it’s also the conversation thousands of business executives have had with applicants who didn’t get the administrative assistant’s job at their company.
An applicant had wonderful reference letters, did stellar work on the typing test, and showed great timing with the joke they made in the interview, but they still didn’t get the job.
Anyone on a hiring committee knows how awkward these calls can be, because nothing you say is all that comforting--even the truth. “We were very impressed by your energy and your skills, and it was really a tough decision. But we were flooded with more applicants than ever before, and while you would have been very successful here, we simply didn’t have room to accommodate every strong candidate.”
Read that to the nearest high school senior, and see if it rings a bell.
Comparisons between the business world and college admissions have their limits, especially when it comes to measuring success.
Still, anyone who’s ever had to look a bright young face in the eye and say “What would you bring to this company?” should be able to relate to the messy mix of college admissions decisions in a heartbeat and respect it for what it is; an effort to make the best decision for an applicant, using qualities that can and can’t be measured, while meeting the ever-changing needs of the institution itself.
Champions of the campaign to make schools more like businesses, take note. The college admissions office long ago took a page from your human resources playbook—and unlike HR, they get calls from parents of unsuccessful applicants. That alone deserves some recognition.
Finally, it’s interesting to note most of the prolonged head scratching and chest-thumping that happened this year came from the parents of high school seniors, and not the students themselves. The students who received the bad news have already fallen in love with another college they wisely applied to last fall, and they are looking forward to building a bright future there come this September.
That right there should tell you what it all really means for next year’s aspiring applicants.
Choosing a College? Now is the Time
It’s getting down to the wire for choosing a college. This Tuesday is the day you have to tell one college you’ll be coming in the fall—but like all ideas that are simple (“just hold on to the football and run that way”), the road to writing “I’m coming” in an e-mail can have many twists and turns:
May 1 means May 1 With a record number of applicants, there are plenty of students who will be happy to be called off the waitlist Wednesday morning, so there’s really no wiggle room here. Since most colleges also want a deposit along with your e-mail/postcard/letter, there is a very slight chance they’ll give you an extension if you don’t have the cash—but then again, you’ve had at least a month to work that out. Call the admissions office if money is an issue, but start searching your couch for spare change-- most likely, Tuesday really is the end.
One deposit means one deposit Colleges patiently wait until May 1 to make all kinds of plans to make their students happy—and if you’ve told them “yes”, that includes you. But if this is one of two colleges you’ve told “yes” to; if you later decide “yes” really means “no”, and if 20 students decide to do this to the college you really end up attending, both colleges can be out millions of dollars, leading them to cancel classes, lay off teachers, and cancel the gourmet food service contract, making their students rather un-happy. I’m betting you don’t want to pay $40,000 for a college where the class size is 100 and lunch consists of variations of Mystery Meat. Neither does anyone else—make one deposit, and start looking at swatches for your prom colors (note to guys—at least pretend to be interested).
Waitlisted? It’s OK to deposit somewhere else If a college has told you “maybe”, you need to treat May 1st as if you weren’t going to be called off a waitlist-- use the options you currently have, and decide what to do. If that means depositing at another college, they will understand if you call them in two weeks to tell them you’ve been liberated from collegiate limbo by the school of your dreams. If that means you’re not going to go to college, see your school counselor now. This is a great choice if you have a plan, but if you’re only doing this to punish the school that put you on hold, they will not be feeling your pain—only you will. Choose carefully.
Not going to a college that said yes? Tell them Before you head off to Burgers Is Us to celebrate your college choice, be sure to contact the other colleges that offered you admission to let them know you won’t be coming. Your note/e-mail doesn’t have to be elaborate—“Thank you for your offer of admission, but I plan on attending another college”—but these fourteen words could give life to a waitlisted student hoping to have their own college celebration. Do something nice for someone you’ll never meet—move the process along by telling the colleges your space is available.
Live the lesson In following these four pieces of advice, you will show the ability to meet deadlines, tell the truth when no one is watching, walk away from disappointment with a better sense of self, and help out someone when there’s nothing in it for you.
And you thought college was just about Frisbees and staying out late on a school night.
Understanding Financial Aid Awards
Award letters can be a little dense, and no two are structured the same way, so comparing apples to apples can be challenging. Since paying for a college education is like buying a new car every year for four consecutive years, understanding what you’re getting into is a must. Here’s how:
Start the hunt again. If your choices really don’t thrill you, wait until May 5th. That’s when colleges discover they have unexpected openings—and of course they’ll want to fill them. Getting financial aid might be a challenge, but you never know—call the admissions office, or look at the Space Availability Report at www.nacacnet.org – but remember, that may mean you risk having no school at all next fall.
Three College Admission Trends That Seem Here to Stay
Hollywood might think is being released this Friday, but college-bound families know the craving for meaty college messages has been on for three months. Early returns suggest applicants will be seeing an increase in three trends that could make April fools out of student and counselor alike, unless we plan ahead. Here's what to expect when decisions come out next week:
The U.S. birth rate may suggest a decline in the number of high school graduates, but colleges are still receiving record numbers of applications. Two years ago, the University of Michigan received 32,000 applications, and that number jumped to 40,000 last year when U-M joined the easier-to-complete Common Application. Predictions of a flat 2011-2012 may fall flat themselves, if the reports of increased applications at other Common App colleges are any indication.
Since colleges aren't getting any bigger, more applications mean more rejection notices, including no's to students who would have been sure bet admits two years ago. There's a good chance one or two seniors you know will get caught in the surprise; to support them, be ready to talk about the number of applicants again this year, confident you can say it was a record-breaking year.
Increased applications also means more students will be hearing "maybe" on a day when they had hoped to hear "yes." More than one student has told me that being on the waitlist of a college is actually worse than being denied, since you have no idea if your name is going to be taken off the list, *and* you still have to make plans as if you weren't going to be admitted. It's a good thing senior prom doesn't work this way; imagine how a student would feel on the dance floor when their partner points to someone across the room and says "There's my first choice."
Waitlists may not be new, but their function took a big turn a couple of years ago, when more Duke applicants were than admitted. Now most colleges use the waitlist as both an economic necessity and a kind of beauty prize for applicants who would have been admitted just a couple of years ago.
Students know this, but still hope against hope they'll be called off one of the six waitlists they may be on. Make sure they come back from their journey to the World of What If long enough to put a deposit in at a school they will love, just in case all six "could be" schools turn in to "could have been" schools.
If you think all of next week's action will involve only seniors, think again. Hundreds of juniors will see the solemn faces and quiet tears of their role models and decide they know how to make sure this doesn't happen to them -- they'll just apply earlier. Even the most morose senior would tell them this logic is faulty, if they were asked. But it's likely juniors won't be asking anyone about this "discovery;" they'll just act on it on their own.
The college application process is certainly starting sooner, but there are very few reasons to apply to a college in the summer, and many good reasons not to. Mayan predictions aside, make sure the temptation to apply in July doesn't lead to the end of a junior's college world; steer them to a counselor, who can explain why it's better to wait.March 19 The Best Advice When a College Says No
Last week's column invited you to test your college knowledge. The eight questions may seem to be pretty obscure, but the answers-- and the ideas behind the answers—give high school students something to consider as they build their college lists, and think about the purpose of college in the first place….
…and here they are:
1. What one skill must every graduate of the University of Chicago possess? Like many colleges, Chicago requires all students to pass a swim test. Some say this requirement makes sure alumni are more likely to give money to their alma mater than drown; others incorrectly assume this mandate is based on a gift given by the parents of a deceased student who drowned while pledging to a fraternity. Chicago says it’s just a long standing requirement for graduation.
What you should consider Some colleges have graduation requirements, including specific core academic courses all students must take, while others have no core requirements at all. Make sure you know the expectations of every college on your list, and think about how much flexibility you want or need in your college experience—and remember, less structure isn’t always a good thing for everyone.
2. Colorado College and Cornell College offer something few other colleges can. What is this special quality? Students at these two colleges take only one class at a time. Each class lasts a little over three weeks; after a day or two to rest and reflect on what that class offered, students begin the next class.
What you should consider This “one at a time” approach can be a huge help to students who want to focus their energies on one subject, and it certainly keeps homework plans organized. This is one reason why some colleges offer a “4-1-4” calendar, where you can focus on one class in an intense January term, while taking 15-week classes in the fall and spring.
On the other hand, some students need more time to let ideas sink in; if that’s you, you’ll probably want to look at colleges that have a traditional 15 or 16-week calendar, rather than an intense study period, or perhaps even a 10-week quarter system. Give this some thought as you build your college options.
3. Berea College and Cooper Union are attractive to students for the same reason. What is it? Berea and Cooper Union are both tuition free. While there are other costs to consider (room and board, which may be covered for students showing financial need), the idea of a private college being tuition free for all students makes everyone stop and think twice about what they might be able to afford.
What you should consider Be careful not to let the sticker price be the deal breaker for any college. Private colleges often have additional sources of income that can make them as affordable as public colleges, and since every college now has a net price calculator, it’s easier than ever to get some idea how much a college will really cost you. Additional information can be found at College Navigator, and by calling the financial aid office of any college. Like everything else in education, the only bad question is the one that goes unasked—if you don’t know, make the call.
4. The One O’clock Lab Band is one of the most prestigious college jazz bands in the nation. Where is it located? Hepcats on either coast will be amazed to know The University of North Texas hosts this elite musical group, which has been nominated for six Grammys. This is just one of a number of jazz bands at UNT, which has a music program most people look right past, since it’s not a conservatory or housed at a large university.
What you should consider Make sure you ask around about college options. I’ve been a college counselor for 26 years, but I found out about UNT from the owner of a local music store. There can be a wealth of college information from artists, musicians, teachers, business professionals and more—again, all you have to do is ask, or check on the web sites of various professional associations. Your counselor can help you make sure you aren’t just getting the personal advice of an alumna/ae who is crazy about their college, but it’s still better to find out and learn how to sort out strong advice from weak.
These are three colleges listed in the excellent guide by Lauren Pope. A distinguished education journalist, Pope spent a long and productive retirement telling students and parents what to really look for in a college. He wrote a book praising the exceptional work of a few dozen colleges where student learning clearly came first.
are smaller and focused on the liberal arts -- but read the book even if this isn't what you think you're looking for in a college. You'll develop an outlook on the real purpose of college that will let you see qualities -- both good and bad -- in any college you wouldn't be able to see without the book. CTCL is key to personalizing a college search -- well, after reading as well. (You can get a taste of this perspective by viewing the .)
No matter where you head to college, ask ahead about study abroad opportunities. Many colleges offer study abroad as an option, but may be part of a college consortium that offers joint programs. This could expand the number of places to visit, but limit the number of students from your college that can attend. Also, ask if study abroad is covered in the tuition costs, and if participating will put you behind schedule for graduating in four years. The travel may be worth the extra time and money, but the time to know that is now.
You don't have to be a National Merit finalist to earn great college scholarships -- many colleges will offer big financial incentives to students based solely on grades and/or test scores. is a great place to begin this search -- just double check with each college to make sure the offers will apply after next year.
Most students don't know test optional colleges even exist, while others think these colleges must be only so-so at best. The not only proves they're real, but they're also really good -- and Lawrence is still taking applications for next fall! It's probably still wise to take the tests, but a look at the list should easy any test stress -- no matter how you score, great colleges want to hear from you.
February 22 So you Think you Know Your Colleges?
This is the time of year most juniors begin their college search, the quest to find the next school experience that will help them realize their career goals, expand their understanding of what the world is all about, and make sure they have something to do on Friday nights.
This is a pretty big step, and there are many factors to take into consideration when putting a college list together—location, quality of academic programs, cost, size, distance from home, and more. Students can get a good start on their college search by using an online college tool like the ones on College Board to create a list of colleges based on personal interests…
…but before you create the list, this little quiz can help expand your understanding of all of the possibilities that are out there. Some of the answers are well-known, and others are harder to find, but all of them point out new ways to look at what college is all about, and offer approaches to the college hunt that can help you personalize your search.
A college search can help you make sense of the menu, but the answers to these questions can help you decide what you’re hungry for. See how many you can do without research, and post your answers to my blog on Huffington Post—on Monday, I’ll come back with the answers, and why they could be important to your college choice.
1. What one skill must every graduate of the University of Chicago possess?
2. Colorado College and Cornell College offer something few other colleges can. What is this special quality?