Juniors: Prep Now to Write Your Story for College

My January recommendation for juniors?

Sign up for YouSchool’s new Backstory course. Over four weeks, you will be guided through a series of video exercises with questions and prompts to self-reflect about all the foundational elements of your backstory. From it, you will better you understand how the elements of your backstory have set you on your path in life.

The process works: YouSchool has taken thousands of people through it and knows that if you do the work, you’ll gain a clear sense of what story you’re living in. You are also provided the structure to engage in deep conversations with people you trust (parents, teachers, friends, college counselors!). Backstory is a fantastic way to gear up for personal statement writing.

 

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January Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

  • If you have RD applications due in mid-January that you did not submit, finish those up ASAP. Same goes for 2/1 deadline apps; there is no reason to wait!
  • For RD schools, consider writing interest letters, and make sure your school sends midterm grade reports where required.
  • If you were deferred, work on your deferral letter this month and aim to send it mid-month.
  • Thank everyone who helped you with your college process, and take some time to enjoy what is left of high school.

Juniors:

  • Testing: Once you are in prep-mode it is best to just keep going. The sooner you are finished testing, the sooner you can begin to finalize your college list. If you have a preliminary list, February break is a great time to visits colleges. Plan some visits.
  • Confirm your summer plans. Next summer is a wonderful opportunity to do something really meaningful (and perhaps even fun!) that will help you tell your story to colleges.
  • Open a Common App account. Accounts rollover year-to-year, so there’s no better time than now to open an account and familiarize yourself with the system.
  • Start to think about your senior year schedule. Do you know what you will be taking? Your senior classes should be the most challenging of your four years.
  • Resolve to check your email daily. Why? Colleges communicate with students via email. Most schools track whether you open emails and if you click through them; more engagement is seen as more interest (schools use interest in the admissions process). Make checking and engaging with any college-related email a habit in 2019.
Sophomores & Freshmen:
  • Are you planning to take SAT subject tests in May or June? If so, come up with a prep plan now.
  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. Study hard.
  • Speaking of courses, when do you pick your courses for 11th grade? Keep in mind you want to take a more rigorous course schedule each year.
  • Now is the time to build your story for college! Have you gotten more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Have you thought about what you might want to major in? A great place to start exploring your academic interests is Khan Academy.
  • One way that your “story” is conveyed in your app is through your resume. Work on your resume now.
  • Many 2019 summer program applications will open soon. Begin thinking about your plans for summer 2019 now so you can get ahead of deadlines and work on applications if needed.
  • Replace one hour of social media, Netflix, or TV per week with time on Ted ED. Explore what intrigues you! Maybe it’s the history of cheese, particle physics, or what makes a poem a poem. Whatever you find interesting, take some time to be intentional about learning more in the new year!

 

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Mid Year Report Reminder

Mid Year Reports should be submitted as soon as possible after first semester or trimester grades are available. Your counselor will be asked to provide information like your class rank, some details about GPA, and to provide an updated transcript.

The Common App recommendation system doesn’t send your counselor a reminder to complete this form. It is your responsibility to keep track of this requirement and ensure that the form is completed.

Once you have applied, many schools “portals” will note if you need to provide the mid-year report. You can also check on each schools website, as well as consult this list.

 

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ED II and RD – Quick Checklist

As you finish up apps for 1/1:

  • Have you interviewed everywhere you can interview?
  • Have you followed up/checked in with your regional rep?
  • Have you completed all optional materials (essays, resume uploads, videos, portfolios)?
  • Have you obtained an extra LOR?
  • Have you started to plan out your interest letter research and outreach?
  • Have you been opening up and clicking through the emails the schools on your list send you?
Contact us if you would like to discuss how we can help you get to the 1/1 finish line!

 

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December Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Sorbonne Université

Seniors:

  • Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track the status online to ensure schools received all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Make sure you sent official test scores if required. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.
  • Do the schools on your list require midterm grade reports? Check requirements online and talk to your school counselor about having them sent to colleges as needed. Also, re-share your RD list and make sure they know to send docs accordingly and far in advance of deadlines.
  • It can be very difficult to write your essays and complete your applications from December 15 through January 1 because of the holidays, and…
  • It’s always a good idea to submit apps two to four weeks ahead of RD/ED II deadlines as some schools have earlier than normal deadlines for scholarship or interview consideration.
  • Continue to prepare for interviews.

Juniors:

  • Grades from your junior year are incredibly important to college admissions officers. Study hard. If you need help, seek it out.
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. They will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and the letter will be much more personal if you know each other. Talk about your plans for this year and next year. Let them know about your preliminary college list, any visits you have scheduled, and your testing plan.
  • Now is the time to build your story for college. Have you gotten more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Look for leadership opportunities in school and consider activities outside of school as well.
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in. Explore the admissions and academics pages. Start to think about your major of interest and how your activities support this interest. If you are unsure about your major, keep exploring options. Don’t forget: you should be exploring your interests outside of the classroom/school.
  • Some summer program applications will open over the next few months. Work on summer applications that are now open.
  • If you have not started compiling your resume, start drafting one over the holidays.
  • Think ahead to potentially starting your personal statement.

Sophomores & Freshmen:

  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. How are your classes going? Are there any that have you thinking about possible fields of study (major/minor) in college?
  • Now is the time to build your story for college! Have you gotten more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Have you thought about what you might want to major in? A great place to start exploring is Khan Academy: https://www.khanacademy.org.
  • One way that your “story” is conveyed in your app is through your resume, so start compiling one over the holidays.
  • Many 2019 summer program applications will open soon. Begin thinking about your plans for summer 2019 now so you can get ahead of deadlines and work on applications if needed.
  • Have a dream school? Check out their website to get a sense of what it takes to get admitted. For example, some schools require or highly recommend you take a language all four years of high school and, for certain majors, take a certain level of math. Some schools (although very few) require SAT Subject tests and depending on what classes you are currently taking, you might be able to take some as early as this June. In addition to looking into testing requirements, try to get a sense of what your target schools recommend your high school curriculum look like—then take a look at your curriculum to make sure you’re on track to fulfill these recommendations/requirements.

A few more snaps (credit: Jake) from our recent trip to Paris and Sorbonne Université:

Sorbonne Université
Sorbonne Université + Brittany (cold day!)

 

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Giving Thanks

If you recently applied to college, my guess is that you did not do it alone. When I work with a family, I often am not just working with the applicant, but her parents, other tutors, and sometimes (though not as common), another counselor! Show some gratitude this Thanksgiving holiday by sending a heartfelt thank you to the people that helped you make it happen. People you might want to consider giving thanks to are your parents, guidance counselor, teachers, letter of recommendation writers, anyone else who read your essays/app, and of course, your tutor if applicable, just to name a few!

Oh, and PS, keep working on your ED II or RD apps! Putting in a few hours over the break could be a gamechanger come mid- to end of December. Take my advice; you will thank yourself—and me—later!

 

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November Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

  • Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track the status online to ensure schools received all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Make sure you sent official test scores if required. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily) so you do not miss correspondence from schools.
  • Meet with your school counselor and triple check that all early app materials were sent. Share your RD/ED II list and make sure they know to send docs accordingly and far in advance of deadlines.
  • Work on your “interest letter” for your top choice school (or schools!) if you have decided to write one.
  • If you’re applying regular decision (RD) to colleges (or have an ED II school in the mix), you should continue to make progress on your essays in case your early applications are denied or deferred in December. It is very difficult to write your essays and complete your applications from December 15 through January 1, and…
  • It’s always a good idea to submit apps two to four weeks ahead of RD/ED II deadlines as some schools have early RD deadlines for scholarship or interview consideration. Aim to submit all RD/ED II apps by 12/1 for merit consideration, and by 12/21 otherwise.
  • Prepare for interviews! Read our post here for more insight and prep questions.

Juniors:

  • It is test prep time! Get a plan in place and stick to it.
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. They will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and the letter will be much more personal if you know each other. Talk about your plans for this year and next year. Let them know about your preliminary college list, any visits you have scheduled, and your testing plan.
  • Now is the time to build your story for college. Have you gotten more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Look for leadership opportunities in school and consider activities outside of school as well.
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in. Explore the admissions and academics pages. Start to think about your major of interest and how your activities support this interest. If you are unsure about your major, keep exploring options. Don’t forget: you should be exploring your interests outside of the classroom/school.
  • Visit colleges in person! Fall is a great time to visit colleges. Please note, there are not many students on college campuses during December/January, so plan accordingly.
  • Some summer program applications will open over the next few months. If you plan on applying to an application-based summer program, put a note on your calendar to check websites for application deadlines and application releases.

Sophomores & Freshmen:

  • Have you started your resume/activity sheet? If not, now is a great time to begin drafting it.
  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. How are your classes going? Are there any that have you thinking about possible fields of study (major/minor) in college? Start to take note of what you like and dislike, where you do well and where you are having difficulty.
  • Beyond academics, colleges also look to admit students who take part in meaningful extracurricular activities. You don’t need to join every single club at school (that is a bad idea, actually, please do not do this!), but if you are not involved in any ECs in or out of school, now is the time to get involved. You want to take part in a few things and try to continue with those activities (if you enjoy them) throughout your high school career. One definite “must” is something that allows you to serve others and give back to your community. 
  • One of the biggest factors in strong performance on the verbal portions of the SAT and the ACT is independent reading. Enhancing your skills during high school will not only help you perform better on college entrance exams but also prepare you for success in college and beyond. Regular reading of articles and editorials (e.g., New York TimesWall Street JournalThe Economist) in addition to studying vocabulary lists and signing up for “Word/Article/SAT Question of the Day” can have an impact.

 

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You’ve Submitted Your Early Applications – Now What?

Congrats! Getting your early applications submitted is a huge accomplishment. Hopefully, you can take a weekend or two off from college application work and relax a bit. However, don’t relax too much or completely stop where you are! There’s plenty that can be done after you’ve pressed submit.

  • Continue to work on application materials (essays). Many schools require submission of RD apps by 12/1 for merit award consideration. Please plan to submit apps by 12/1 if the schools on your list fall into this category (you can find out by looking on their admission website). Some schools where this is the case include BU, USC, Wake, Vandy, UConn, and Richmond. College Kickstart also has a list here.
  • Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track them online to ensure schools received all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (every day), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.
  • Prepare for interviews. Read my post on interview prep here, and start to practice with a teacher, friend, counselor, or family member.
  • Write an “interest” letter. This letter should fill in any gaps and or address things that you were not able to address in your application. This can be very helpful if a school has no supplemental essays. Consider including:
    1. A paragraph or two on academics if the school did not ask for a “why school” essay.
    2. A paragraph or two on extracurriculars if you were not able to cover these interests in much detail (or at all) in your application. Convey how you plan to contribute to the school via one or two important EC commitments.
    3. A paragraph that talks about the ways you have connected with and continue to get to know the school. This could include campus visits, setting up an informational interview with a local alum/a current student, 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. This is also a given if you are applying ED.

Don’t forget: your grades are also very important! Do your best to maintain your grades/GPA; some schools will ask for midterm grade reports (or even call your counselor to check in on your progress!), and you want them to show consistency or an upward trend, not a downward trend.

 

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How the Harvard Case Highlights What All College Applicants Need to Know

Each summer, Harvard’s Admissions Office profiles a handful of previous applicants in a “casebook” and distributes it to employees. The book is meant to teach staffers how to evaluate candidates. For each applicant, the document details the bullet-pointed factors that rendered the applicant “appealing” and the traits that gave Harvard “pause.” It also provides the outcome for each student.

A recent Crimson article shines a light on some of what came from the casework exploration, none of which comes as much of a surprise to someone in my role. I want to share some of what the Crimson article highlights, but also point out that these findings are not solely applicable to Harvard applicants. Any student applying to a selective college or university should consider these findings because they hold true across many schools.

A clear and impressive academic performance and talent: 

“But stories of successful applicants prove a common truth: Harvard admissions officers are looking for academic superstars who have overcome adversity in their personal lives* and can offer a clear vision of what they would accomplish in Cambridge.

Smarts reigned supreme. In nine of the 11 cases, admissions officers pointed to strong academic performance as a compelling reason for admission. The word “bright” appears eight times in the document.”

*Overcoming adversity plays out in so many different ways. Many applicants have not experienced hardships related to their living conditions, family finances, etc.—but no one’s life is perfect. Everyone has experienced personal failure and moments of weakness and vulnerability. A student’s willingness to dig deep and have the confidence to present these moments is one way to overcome the “hardship” gap if they have not navigated a more traditional hardship.

An extracurricular “niche” (which could be related to the academic narrative):

“While a strong overall candidate, Evelyn [Satmar]’s credentials are not unusual in our applicant pool,” the document reads.

Admissions officers also took note of activities outside the classroom. Reviewers mentioned that at least three candidates failed to find an “extracurricular niche” in high school.

“While the package is appealing, the case lacks the ‘hook’ provided by a special academic or extracurricular talent,” officers wrote of Mandisi.”

And likeability (charisma and lack of ego!):

“Grace was a “strong student” in high school, but nothing exceptional. One reviewer noted her test scores “suggest she won’t be a top engineering student at Harvard” — and predicted she “will have to work hard here.”

However…. “Grace’s teachers, guidance counselor, and alumni interviewer describe her in terms we rarely read,” the document states. “A true ‘1 personal’ — one of the few we see each year.”

And what about “pause” factors reasons—reasons to deny an application. There are plenty of those, but here are a few that are overwhelmingly true at all schools, not just Harvard:

“The document lists “pause factors” for each candidate. These more problematic traits — including less impressive grades, uninspiring extracurriculars, and excessive braggadocio — spurred lengthy deliberations in the Admissions Office, waitlist placements, and calls to a plethora of teachers and counselors.

For other applicants, admissions officers raised more personal concerns — many related to ego.”

Two candidates’ pause factors included “arrogance.” One was placed on the waitlist and never accepted; the other admitted to Harvard only “after many hours of debate.

Admissions officers particularly pondered whether high schoolers’ hubris would hurt them at Harvard — wondering whether applicants could successfully trade standout status for relative anonymity among hundreds of star students.

“What will his transition be like — from big fish in small pond to Harvard — and how will Sergei interact with roommates, classmates, and administrators?” one reviewer wrote.”

You do not need to be applying to Harvard to reap the benefits of these takeaways! We’ve been encouraging applicants to consider these things for as long as we’ve been doing this:

-Perform well in school and on standardized tests. This is the #1 factor. If you don’t have this…the rest is going to matter very little at top schools (unless you are a recruited athlete).

-Develop an academic narrative; even if you have a few interests, dive into them and go above and beyond in pursuing them. Just “doing school” is not very compelling. Get out there and do something!

-Find an extracurricular niche. It might be what you do to go above and beyond regarding your academic interests, or it might be something else completely. Either way, the most interesting candidates have a life outside of school and their excellent grades and test scores. Bonus if this niche is outside of the norm (think deck hockey or urban gardening instead of Model UN or piano).

-Lose the ego. You might be #1 in your class, have tons of leadership roles, and basically be #thebest, but that will all change in college. You are going to be the norm and you will need to adjust to that very quickly. Show some humility and foresight. Arrogance is the absolute most cringe-worthy part of so many college applications! Remove all traces of it (you might need someone to help with this).

Read the full Crimson article here.

 

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Last Minute Tips for 11/1 College Deadlines

It is time to press submit (if you haven’t already!)! A few things to keep in mind as you finalize applications:

  • Send official standardized test scores ASAP if the schools on your list require officials. Double check score reporting policies. Some schools require that you send all of your scores and do not participate in score choice.
  • Meet with your high school counselor and have them review all of your applications before you submit. After any final changes, print all of your applications and review them the old-fashioned way (using a pen, on paper). When you press the review/submit button (on the Common App), a PDF is generated, which is very easy to print. You can also generate a PDF in the Coalition App. Printing each app is not environmentally friendly, but worth it. Don’t final review apps on a screen. Print them and read them back to front.
  • Follow up with the teachers writing your letters of recommendation and encourage them to submit their letters now. Don’t forget to say thank you!
  • If you added “Other” recommenders to your applications—for example, a coach, work supervisor, or research mentor—shoot them a friendly reminder, too.
  • Track your application status after you submit. Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track their status online to ensure schools received all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a college is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.

 

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