10 Things to Know About Getting Into College

As juniors are now getting their college applications together, I’d like to share and encourage all students and parents of those nearing the process to give Eric Hoover’s 10 takeaways (all of which I have also seen be true) a close read.

Admissions decisions aren’t all about you.

When colleges choose applicants, they’re juggling competing goals, like increasing diversity and bringing in more revenue. Admissions officers aren’t looking for students who fit just one description — say, those who’ve earned all A’s or won the most awards. So don’t take rejection personally.

Grades and test scores still carry the most weight.

Colleges often say they want to get to know the real you, but that’s probably true only if your academic accomplishments (and the rigor of courses you’ve taken) pass muster.

You’re more than a number.

After colleges identify a big batch of students with outstanding credentials, differences among them become more important, admissions deans say. Among some of the attributes they tell me they would like to see evidence of (in essays, extracurricular activities, recommendations) are: leadership, risk-taking, emotional intelligence, fire for learning, critical thinking, curiosity, empathy, optimism, grit, perseverance and the ability to overcome obstacles.

Express your authentic self.

Overwhelmed by slick, boastful essays, colleges are eager for what they call “authentic” glimpses of applicants — their experiences, passions and goals. Some deans believe they’ll get deeper insight through alternative formats like videos, pictures, audio files or documents (an Advanced Placement English paper, maybe). A handful of prestigious schools, including Yale, the University of Chicago, Pomona College, Reed College and the University of Rochester, recently introduced this option. As with essays, too much polish is no good, deans say, so you might think twice about hiring a professional videographer. At Yale, about 400 applicants (out of nearly 33,000) for this year’s freshman class sent in something in an alternative format. In at least one case, the submission — a video showing leadership and impact on others — was, the dean told me, a “difference maker.”

Diversity counts.

Are you a first-generation or low-income student? Many colleges are trying to increase access, so it can help to emphasize your background — and how your personal story relates to your achievements — in essays and interviews. Admissions officers are thinking harder about socioeconomic context, such as the quality of an applicant’s high school, to better understand the opportunities they’ve had and the challenges they’ve faced.

But money does matter.

At many colleges, financial circumstances come into play. Being able to pay all or some of the freight is a bonus. And some qualified students of limited means might get rejected for no reason other than lack of money.

Geography is (partly) destiny.

Many selective colleges want students from all over, ideally from all 50 states. Last year’s presidential election illuminated the urban-rural divide, which some colleges have been trying to bridge by paying closer attention to promising applicants from less-populous areas. Generally, a Northeastern college will look more favorably on an applicant from Montana than an equally strong one from the Northeast.

Legacies aren’t a shoo-in.

Legacy status certainly helps, but big-name colleges reject plenty of these applicants. Don’t assume Mom or Dad’s connections alone will get you in.

Do (real) good.

Turning the Tide” urges admissions offices to reward applicants for sustained community service. And some colleges, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are taking a closer look at what applicants have done to help others, be they neighbors or family members. You don’t have to fly to Belize to do good (admissions officers are often skeptical of these fleeting trips). Showing up to tutor someone at the library each week might be even more impressive, and rewarding.

Colleges want to be your first choice.

About one in five colleges allot “considerable importance” to “demonstrated interest,” whereby applicants convey their willingness to attend the college they’re applying to. Open those emails. Connect with admissions officers. Let them know when you visit campus. Only those who are sure about their first choice and don’t need to compare financial aid packages should choose the strongest expression of demonstrated interest: applying early decision, which is binding.

Full article here.

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

The 5 Biggest Differences Between the SAT and ACT Explained

Test prep is not really my thing, but it plays a big role in the college admissions process for many students. That said, be on the lookout for some testing-related guest posts in the coming months! The article below is by Nicholas LaPoma, the owner of Long Island-based Curvebreakers Test Prep.

1. Timing

Possibly the most important difference between the two tests is timing. In short, you get less time per question on the ACT. Check this out:

As you can see, you get much less time to complete any one question on the ACT. One of the most important examples is on the Reading tests. On the SAT you get 13 minutes per passage, on the ACT you get 8 minutes 45 seconds per passage. That is a huge difference! So, if you struggle with timing, the SAT is likely for you.

2. Question Distribution

The SAT and ACT have a vastly different distribution of questions in terms of subject matter. This is especially true in the Math section of the tests, as the ACT has a large amount of Geometry and Trigonometry questions and the SAT does not. The SAT is more Algebra focused.

Further, the ACT is considered an achievement test (What you learned) whereas the SAT is often considered to be a trickier, more aptitude based test (based on skills).  If you hate Algebra, and like straightforward word problems, the ACT Might be for you.

3. No-Calculator Math

A similar but important consideration is how one will handle no-calculator Math. Many students are used to punching every question and operation into their calculator and are totally reliant upon the calculator for basic multiplication and division. These students will struggle on the no-calculator portion of the SAT, as you may have to do long division. Some schools do not allow students to use calculators until a certain grade level – those students will be better equipped to tackle this section.  If you really struggle with no-calc, the ACT might be for you.

4. Science Section

As you probably know, the ACT contains a science-based section. This is actually a reading / chart reading / graph reading task, so it often correlates well with reading score. That means that the ACT is mostly based on reading skill, whereas the SAT is mostly based on Math skill.

As indicated above, the Science section actually makes the ACT a more reading based exam, where the SAT is a more math based exam.

5. Question Difficulty

The SAT is typically considered an aptitude test. It is based on your skills in each area that is tested. The acronym SAT initially stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test, proving the point. The SAT is unable to move away from its roots and become a totally achievement based exam, so many students “feel” that the questions are more tricky or difficult. If you like more straightforward questions, the ACT may be a better test for you. We find little difference when preparing students for the exams, but some students in particular find one test more appealing than the other for this reason.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

Class of 2022 Waitlist Admit Rates and Notification Dates

More on the waitlist, this time admit rates and notification dates from College Kickstart.

The landscape doesn’t look much different than last year, or the year before. How the waitlist plays out depends a lot on yield. Yield in college admissions is the percent of students who choose to enroll in a particular college or university after having been offered admission. Some schools do a much better job of predicting yield than others. These schools have a high yield, and will not go very deep if onto the waitlist at all. The schools that have not done a good job at predicting yield will head to the waitlist to fill seats as needed.

Unfortunately, students can hang on the waitlist well into the summer, which drags out a process that for most should be finished on or around May 1. For all the waitlisted students out there, we feel your pain, but there are some things you can do to keep yourself busy. Check out our post on what to do if you are waitlisted.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

Federal Student Aid Webinars

The Department of Education Federal Student Aid (FSA) is offering free webinars about financial aid. The first one takes place on April 19 about comparing financial aid offers is very timely since families must deposit by May 1.

For students and parents:

Tips for Understanding and Comparing Financial Aid Offers (April 19 4–5 p.m. ET)

Common Mistakes when Filling Out the FAFSA Form (April 26 4–5 p.m. ET)

Registration fills up quickly so sign up today!

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

Spring Break! And Podcasts

We’re going offline for a bit, but will be back in mid-April. We’ll be catching up on half-read books and missed podcasts.

Speaking of podcasts, a recent TED Radio Hour episode Turning Kids Into Grown-Ups is well worth a listen. Julie Lythcott-Haims (author of How to Raise an Adult) is one of the people featured, and provides some important commentary on kids mental health and wellness, the development of agency, chores (yes, chores!), and of course, the hyper-focus on what the top name-brand schools demand from high school students today. Her reminder, and one that we wholeheartedly support: you don’t need to go to one of these schools to be happy and successful in life! Happy and successful people went to state schools, community college, no college and everything in between.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

 

College Waitlist Data

The Princeton Review pulled from the Common Data Set for students who began freshman year in the fall of 2017 to create a table highlighting:

  • how many students were offered a spot on the waitlist
  • how many students accepted their spot on the waitlist
  • how many got in from the waitlist and the resulting admit rate from the waitlist

Check it out here. For waitlist tips, read our recent post!

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

It’s Time to Tell Your Kids It Doesn’t Matter Where They Go To College

William Stixrud is the co-author of The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives, with Ned Johnson. Below is his recent article in Time. As we gear up for the 2018-2019 admissions season, I suggest both students and parents give it a read!!!
—-
When my daughter Jora was in high school, she went to a talk I gave on the adolescent brain, during which I pointed out that high school grades don’t predict success very well. On the way home she said, “Great talk, Dad, but I bet you don’t really believe that bit about grades.” I assured her that I did. To prove it, I offered to pay her $100 if she got a ‘C’ on her next report card — in any subject.

We’ve all heard the familiar anxiety-inducing nostrums: That a screw-up in high school will follow you for the rest of your life. That if you don’t get into Harvard or Yale, you’ll never reach the c-suite. That the path to success is narrow and you’d better not take one false step. I have come to think of this unfounded belief system as what we psychologists call a “shared delusion.”

So why don’t we tell our kids the truth about success? We could start with the fact that only a third of adults hold degrees from four-year colleges. Or that you’ll do equally well in terms of income, job satisfaction and life satisfaction whether you go to an elite private college or a less-selective state university. Or that there are there are many occupations through which Americans make a living, many of which do not require a college degree.

I am not against being a good student, and there are clear advantages to doing well in school. But you don’t need to be a top student or go to a highly selective college to have a successful and fulfilling life. The path to success is not nearly so narrow as we think. We’ve all heard the stories of the college dropout who went on to found a wildly successful company. I myself was a C+ student in high school who flunked out of graduate school. At one point I went for 20 weeks without turning in a single assignment. (I often tell the underachievers I see in my practice: “Top that!”) Long story short, I managed to do pretty well in life, and I credit my failure in graduate school with leading me to a career more in line with my skill set.

The problem with the stories we’re telling our kids is that they foster fear and competition. This false paradigm affects high-achieving kids, for whom a rigid view of the path to success creates unnecessary anxiety, and low-achieving kids, many of whom conclude at a young age that they will never be successful, and adopt a “why try at all?” attitude. Many of these young people engage in one of the most debilitating forms of self-talk, telling themselves either, “I have to, but I can’t,” or “I have to, but I hate it.”

Why do we encourage our children to embrace this delusional view of what it takes to be successful?

I’ve asked various school administrators why they don’t just tell kids the truth about college — that where you go makes very little difference later in life.

They’ll shrug and say, “Even if we did, no one would believe it.” One confided to me, “We would get angry calls and letters from parents who believe that, if their children understood the truth, they would not work hard in school and would have second-class lives.”

Many adults worry that if their kids knew that grades in school aren’t highly predictive of success in life, they’d lose their motivation to apply themselves and aim high. In fact, the opposite is true. In my 32 years of working with kids as a psychologist, I’ve seen that simply telling kids the truth — giving them an accurate model of reality, including the advantages of being a good student — increases their flexibility and drive. It motivates kids with high aspirations to shift their emphasis from achieving for its own sake to educating themselves so that they can make an important contribution. An accurate model of reality also encourages less-motivated students to think more broadly about their options and energizes them to pursue education and self-development even if they aren’t top achievers.

Children are much more energized when they envision a future that is in line with their own values than when they dutifully do whatever they believe they have to do to live up to their parents’ or teachers’ or college admissions boards’ expectations. We don’t inspire our kids through fear. We inspire them by helping them to focus on getting better at something, rather than being the best, and by encouraging them to immerse themselves in something they love.

So if you want your kids to succeed in life, don’t perpetuate a fear-based understanding of success. Start with the assumption that your children want their lives to work. Then tell them the truth: That we become successful by working hard at something that engages us, and by pulling ourselves up when we stumble.


Like the author, I was not a perfect student in high school (although I did not flunk out of college or graduate school). However, I similarly credit my “failure” in high school, and not getting into my supposed dream college, with leading me to a school and eventually a career most in line with my skill sets. I am incredibly thankful for the unwavering support of my parents along the way, especially during high school when I was a rebellious and often not very pleasant to be around teen.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

Why You Should Look Beyond The Usual Suspects When Applying To College

Not a news flash: Getting into the country’s most selective colleges is more fiercely competitive than ever, with many schools reporting a record number of applicants (again). To many, this news is fear-inducing. How will I (or my child) possibly get admitted to a “top” college or university? Answering how is hard. There are no silver bullets in this process, and the reality is most applicants won’t get admitted to the top-top schools. Instead of trying (too hard in many cases) to become the applicant you think one of these uber selective schools will admit, I suggest a path of far less resistance and more authenticty—a path that includes looking at colleges where you have a realistic chance of being admitted.

There are schools outside of the top 30 ranked on US News, and they are excellent. We help families find these schools, and we’ve seen that when they can think outside of the box, they end up with incredible options and look back on the process much more fondly than those that are laser-focused on the same set of schools at which the rest of the world is aiming.

Here are some numbers from a recent Boston Globe article noting the 20-year admit rate changes at a few of the country’s most popular schools. I’ve been saying this for a few years now, but it is time to start looking outside of the bubble of these and the other “most popular” schools, and these numbers should provide a nudge in doing so.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

College Rejection? Don’t Forget…

We don’t love how students feel when they get rejection letters (or put on the waitlist!), but we do love Bill Murray. Remember: where you go to college doesn’t define you or the course of your life. Rejection stings, but it will pass, and you will move on. Don’t forget to take time to enjoy your last few months of high school, and look forward to wherever you might be heading this fall.

How to Get Off The Waitlist

Some colleges and universities just can’t admit all of the students they’d like to in regular decision. The result? Often, placement on the waitlist. Getting admitted from the waitlist is not easy, but it is possible at some schools.

After accepting a spot on the WL, many students just “sit” there—rarely do students continue to communicate with the school and go above and beyond in showing them they are their number one choice. The “sitting” method makes sense for many students, and especially students at schools that take very few students from the WL. But, for students who want to increase their likelihood of being admitted, “working” the waitlist can do exactly that—work!

Before getting busy implementing waitlist strategies, it is important that students deposit at their current top choice school (so a school where they have been admitted), and get excited about the prospect of attending. They should take advantage of admitted student days and other events that help students connect with their potential future classmates, including joining Class of 2022 Facebook groups. These forums are often very informative and fun and can help students take their minds off their waitlist status.

I also suggest getting familiar with the available waitlist data. How many students are offered spots on the WL? How many accept their spot, and more importantly, how many does school X ultimately admit? Some of these numbers are dismal, but it is best to know what you are up against rather than sit hopefully in the dark. Look at the Common Data Set first (http://www.commondataset.org/). College Kickstart also provides very useful waitlist data from many top institutions and presents it clearly and concisely, typically in tables.

Once a student has accepted their spot on the WL, deposited elsewhere, and familiarized themselves with the waitlist data, I suggest considering the strategies below. Not all of them here are new, but some of my students have tested the ones that are a bit outside of the box, and they work!

  1. Write a waitlist letter. This letter should contain information updating the school on what you’ve been up to both inside and outside of the classroom since the time you applied. Consider including:
    1. A paragraph or two of “academic” updates. Spend some time talking about coursework and school projects, and make connections to future courses of study. You can even drop in related courses you’d like to take from the college/university you are writing to, like those you’d include in a Why School essay if you did not submit an essay of this type when you applied.
    2. A paragraph or two of “extracurricular” updates. This includes school and non-school clubs, service commitments, and/or other leadership experiences you can highlight. Like the academic paragraph(s), making connections to similar opportunities you plan to undertake at the college/university you are writing to would be nice additions. For example, if you talk about a new project you spearheaded as VP of your school’s Interact Club, you may want to include that you hope to lead a similar project within a specific club or group at school X. Being very specific is important.
    3. A paragraph that talks about the additional ways you have connected with and continued to get to know school X since you applied. This could include setting up an informational interview with a local alum, a current student, reaching out to your local regional alumni group (more on this below), or continuing to connect with your regional rep via email.
    4. A paragraph that reiterates your interest in the school, and that if admitted, you will attend. *If you are not 100% committed to attending, do not say so in the letter.
  2. Send your waitlist letter to your regional rep. Ask them if they have any advice for you as a waitlisted candidate. Keep this line of communication open; do not email them every week, but stay in touch to continue to demonstrate interest.
  3. Ask your guidance counselor to call the admissions office and advocate for you, as well as provide any additional information they may have that will support your candidacy.  Ask them to back up what they say on the phone in an email, too, if they have time and are willing! Make sure they send updated grades/transcript promptly. Your grades should have remained the same or gotten better, not dipped. If your grades have gone down, this will not work in your favor.
  4. Obtain and have an extra letter of recommendation sent, but only if the school welcomes extra LORs (some schools explicitly state on their WL docs they do not welcome or want extra LORs). A teacher, coach, or someone else close to you who can speak to your potential contributions to the university could draft this letter. *Side note on alumni letters­ and letters from well-known and or famous people. Many students ask if these are helpful to send, and the answer is no unless the person really knows you or they are a very high-level donor with solid connections to admissions. If you think that a big name vouching for you will help, it generally doesn’t as a stand-alone factor, and officers can see through these often brief and less than meaningful notes.
  5. If you did not already, visit the school and swing by admissions to reiterate interest. Sit in on a class, stay overnight, take advantage of any admissions events/programming, and try to meet with students/faculty in your intended area of study.

Consider the following strategies in addition to the tried and true tips above:

  1. Check if the college/university has a local alumni group (Google search) and if so, reach out to them and ask if there is anyone willing to meet with you for an informal informational interview. Use this meeting as an opportunity to learn more about the school, and demonstrate your interest in attending.
  2. Use social media to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to follow your WL school on FB, Instagram, Snap or other social channels, or Tweet to them your desire to attend.

I’m often asked if I think doing everything on this list is too much, and I do not—all of these strategies are acceptable forms of demonstrating interest even when combined. Accepting your spot on the WL is a standard, required communication. Sending a waitlist letter, and even a follow-up email after a few weeks if a student has something additional to add that is worthy of sending (for example, an award at school, National Merit, a promotion at work, or admission to a selective internship/summer program) is not communication overkill. When a counselor calls a school on the student’s behalf to advocate for them or helps them have an extra letter of support sent, it’s not viewed as bothering the school. Even if a student shows up on a campus visit and drops by admissions and says hello, they are not going to get penalized.

Now… showing up and begging, pleading, showering everyone in the office with gifts, staying for two hours until someone will meet with them, or other over the top gimmicks or antics would be looked down upon, so make sure students know this type of behavior is not appreciated or welcomed. Ultimately, students should look back on being waitlisted and feel like they gave it their best shot!

More questions about the WL? Email us!

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*