College Waitlist Tips

Some colleges and universities can’t admit all of the students they would like to in regular decision, so many are put on the waitlist. Getting admitted from the waitlist is not easy, but it is possible at some schools. Although I do not suggest being overly optimistic, there are some strategies that have students studnets in the past that I am going to share in this post. Of course, if you want individualized guidance, we can provide it, so please reach out.

First, get familiar with the WL data from past years. 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/). A few other sites to review:

Before getting busy implementing waitlist strategies (below), it is important to deposit at a current top choice school (aka a school where you have been admitted) and get excited about the prospect of attending. Take advantage of admitted student days and other events that connect you with potential future classmates, including joining “Class of 2023” Facebook groups. These forums are often very informative, fun, and can help you take your mind off the waitlist waiting game.

Once you have accepted a spot on the WL, deposited elsewhere, and familiarized yourself with the waitlist data, I suggest considering the strategies below. Not all of them are novel, but without much to lose, why not do all you can so you can look back without any what-ifs?

  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 at school X, like those you’d include in a Why School essay, but only do this if you did not submit an essay of this type when you applied, otherwise you are being redundant and that is not well-received.
    2. A paragraph or two of “extracurricular” updates but only if significant and can be connected to how you will add value to the school where you are deferred. 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 in college can be helpful 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 (if an option) or upload on your applicant portal. Ask whoever you address it to if they have any advice for you as a waitlisted candidate. Keep this line of communication open; do not email updates 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 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.
  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 knows well you or they are a very high-level donor with solid connections to admissions (even then why count on someone else?!?). 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 school X 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. Don’t forget to open all email correspondence from the school, as some schools track opens/clicks as interest.

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 (for example, to inform admissions of 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 your behalf to advocate for you or facilitates the sending of an extra letter of support sent, it’s not viewed as bothersome.

Now… showing up on campus and begging, pleading, showering everyone in the office with gifts, staying for two hours until someone meets with you, or other over the top gimmicks or antics would be looked down upon, so please understand that this type of behavior is not appreciated or welcomed. Ultimately, you want to look back on being waitlisted and feel like you gave it your best shot!

More questions about the WL? Email us!

 

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Transparency in College Admissions: On Being Well-Rounded

Being well-rounded is beneficial in many ways, and might help you connect with people out in the real world, but colleges are looking for students with something unique—specific talents, skills, or developed interests to add to their next class. Students who drill down on their interests early on in high school will be better positioned to tell a clear, focused story in their college applications (and may speed up ‘time to graduation’ in college, too). By doing so, you hand the reader of your file precisely what they are looking for—you make it easy to see your value add.

Think about it this way: You may love all five clubs you joined, as well as the two bands you play in, and of course, enjoy the three sports you play, but how much can you meaningfully contribute to all of these activities?

Sometimes less is more.

In my experience, the answer tends to be not very meaningfully. I suggest that students try to narrow their interests and corresponding activities by the end of 10th grade. Think about how you can engage more meaningfully, and at a higher level, with the set of activities you love the most. Maybe it’s your Relay for Life work or the independent research you are doing with your science teachers, or maybe it is your job as a tutor for elementary school kids. It’s a bonus if the activities you decide to drill down on relate to your potential college major, or support it in some way!

Drilling down on your interests to develop a clear narrative for your college application goes a long way in the admissions process, and is one of the focuses of our college counseling work with high school students, especially in 9th and 10th grade. By 11th grade, you still have some time to narrow. However, as most things go, the earlier you start, the better.

Most importantly, the earlier you start to think about your interests and do the exploration and reflection needed to narrow your focus (or determine a few in the first place) the more likely you are to craft an authentic application that best highlights 1) the time you have spent “figuring” it out and 2) how that time has been meaningful to your personal and academic development. Sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. Often, this is one of those times.

Also remember that colleges seek to build a well-rounded class comprised of students with unique talents and skills, not a class full of generalists. They are not looking for well-rounded students.

Want us to help you drill down on your interests, or figure out how to best develop them in the first place? Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation call. 

 

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Does it Really Matter Where You 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 an article of his in Time. As we gear up for the 2019-2020 admissions season (yes, it is that time of year!), I suggest both students and parents give it a read.
Why?
Because this process is increasingly seen as something that it is not. There are many “shared delusions”: a one-way ticket to greatness, a better life, a magical four years you can only experience at college X, and so on. And it may lead some people to those things, but more often than not, it is not where you go that matters it is what you do when you get there, how you take in, make meaning out of, and navigate those four years. As Stixrud notes: “We become successful by working hard at something that engages us, and by pulling ourselves up when we stumble.”
I would love to know what you think. I love this topic, so feel free to email me your thoughts!
—-
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 regarding 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 “dream” college, with leading me to a school and eventually a career most in line with my skills and vision. 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.

PS – Adam Grant wrote about grades recently, too. Check out What Straight-A Students Get Wrong. Another fantastic read.

 

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A Leadership Program for High School Girls Who Want to Make a Difference

Through mentorship, grants, and leadership training, HERlead inspires young women to begin their journey as the next generation of leaders.

The 2019 HERlead Application is NOW OPEN!

The HERlead Fellowship is a groundbreaking partnership between Vital Voices Global Partnership (“Vital Voices”), the preeminent non-governmental organization whose mission is to search the world for women leaders with a daring vision, then partner with them to make that vision a reality through grants, skill-building training, network expansion, mentorship and guidance – accelerating change on a global scale, and the Ann Taylor, LOFT, and Lou & Grey retail brands, which are operated by AnnTaylor Retail, Inc. (“ANN”), and indirect subsidiary of ascena retail group, inc (“ascena”).

The HERlead Fellowship is designed to equip young women with the leadership skills they need to effect global progress, invest in their communities – to date, more than 246 social impact projects received funding through HERlead Fellowship Grants – and continue their journeys as the next generation of leaders.  Here’s how it works:

WHAT IT IS:
A fellowship to provide leadership training to young women, empowering them to become the next generation of global trailblazers.

WHY PARTICIPATE:
Learn from inspiring women leaders from around the world and participate in Vital Voices’ signature leadership model training program. Attend the HERlead Leadership Forum and become eligible to win a HERlead Grant to put your ideas into action.

WHO SHOULD APPLY:
Girls in the 10th or 11th grade at a high school in the United States, Puerto Rico or Canada.

DATES & DEADLINES:
The HERlead Fellowship Application will open in January, and close Friday, March 8th. The 2019 Leadership Forum will take place June 24-27, 2019 in New York City.

DETAILS:
We are searching the country for young women leaders who are committed to reshaping the world and making positive and sustainable change. We will select 30 applicants to be the 2019 Fellows. If you are selected, you will join an elite group of rising stars, where you will be given the skills, tools, and training needed to realize your full leadership potential.

AS A HERLEAD FELLOW, YOU WILL:
• Participate in the HERlead Leadership Forum, a four-day leadership training program in New York City, from June 24-27, 2019.
• Obtain skills and networks to take on leadership roles in your schools and companies.
• Be mentored by global women leaders who are part of the Vital Voices Global Leadership Network, as well as AnnTaylor Retail Inc. Representatives.

For more information, an Overview of the Program, a Sample Application, Grant Information and HERlead Social Media Tips, see the HERlead TOOL KIT.

After completing the leadership training program, you will return to your community and have the opportunity to use what you learned at the Forum to create a project that will effect change. You are also eligible to receive a HERlead Grant that will further help you turn your ideas into action.

To be considered, you must demonstrate a strong commitment to leadership and potential for creating innovative solutions to problems in your community. You must have a proven track record in your academic work and interest in extracurricular activities. Are you up for the challenge? For questions about the application, please see APPLICATION FAQS.

Want information on amazing extracurricular, leadership and other opportunities for high school students—or suggestions for your student specifically? Contact us!

 

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5 Action Items for High School Juniors

We’ve seen too many students wait until the summer after 11th grade to try to develop and implement the strategies needed to tackle the college application process successfully and with ease. Often, there is just not enough time to do the pre-work that results in the most effective essays, outreach, and positive admissions outcomes.

The best time to start prepping to apply? Now. Seriously!

Juniors, right now you can:

  • Develop relationships with admissions officers and regional reps (the people that make key decisions on your application) as well as current students and faculty (ask us why these connections are so important)
  • Create a testing plan that has you ready for apps due on 11/1 and not taking tests last minute
  • Make the best of campus visits and leverage contacts at colleges on these visits
  • Craft a preliminary college list that maximizes the 5+ application plans colleges now use
  • Open up a Common Application account to get familiar with the system

We hate seeing the second half of junior year go to waste. Email us to discuss what you can do now to always stay a step—or three—ahead of the game.

 

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Three Terms I Agree We Should Stop Using In College Admissions

Brennan Barnard recently wrote about Six Terms to Stop Using in College Admissions, and I could not agree more. However, there are three I want to say a bit more about here: fit, well-rounded, and passion. All three of these are garbage as they are commonly understood and used!

Barnard writes:

“Fit” is one of the most overused terms in college admission, and while the intentions are admirable, it can be misleading. By emphasizing “fit”, educators try to move students and families away from a focus on selectivity, rankings or the notion that admission to college is a prize to be won. However, it can often be misunderstood as suggesting that there will be one school that fits perfectly like a glove, and it can be intimidating to students when this type of fit eludes them.

“Fit” is not applied in the same way across its uses in college admissions. There is no single definition or explanation fo it is is used. From my experience, one applicant might be deemed a better “fit” by admissions because of the high school they attend, or if they have “legacy,” or that they meet some other type of institutional need. Many students and families do not realize that fit goes beyond the numbers and also includes factors that you have no control over. You can look at different factors and deem yourself a perfect “fit” as far as your test scores, GPA, and even as far as how what you’ve taken part in throughout high school demonstrates your understanding of the mission and values of the school you are applying to. But you will never be able to gauge exactly how admissions are using “fit” as they evaluate your application because it varies from student-to-student.

If applicant A and applicant B are held equal across data points, but the school you are applying to needs a flute player, and A plays the flute, A might be deemed a better fit and admitted over B. If applicant A and applicant B are not held equal across data points (let’s say A is a less stellar student all around), but the school you are applying to needs a flute player, and A plays the flute, A might be deemed a better fit and admitted over B. This second scenario touches Barnard’s point: you never really know exactly what “fit” is at any given point in time, and some students miss out on possibly being a fit at certain schools because they deem themselves not a fit based on a few data points alone. “Fit” is a garbage term on many levels and is one that can be confusing.

On being well-rounded, he notes:

“Well-rounded” is another term that is misused in college admission. The perception is that colleges and universities are looking for applicants who have a bit of everything. Assumedly, students should have a balance of excellent grades and test scores with a perfect spread of activities and involvement in a wide range of areas. These “wonder children” should be able to sing, dance, play soccer while holding their fiddle and volunteer using multiple languages, right? Wrong says Heath Einstein, dean of admission at Texas Christian University. He explains that “colleges do not seek well-rounded people; we want angular individuals who create a well-rounded class.” So, let’s allow the overscheduling and pressure of resume building in the name of well-roundedness to pass with 2018.

Well-rounded has not been something a student should strive for in a long time—even in the time of “holistic” admissions (another garbage and misleading term). But let’s be more specific: well-rounded student is the term that needs to go. Colleges want students who beyond the grades and test scores they look for are more narrow, not broad. We tend to see specialists win over generalists. Like Einstein says above, colleges seek out well-rounded classes—this is true. But they do not seek out well-rounded students. Well-rounded classes are made up of individuals with areas of expertise, unique value-adds, not a bunch of people who are just “good” at the laundry list of things on their resumes.

Lastly, on one of those most overused terms out there:

“Passion” is a word that makes high school students cringe. When they hear college admission offices talk about finding or demonstrating passion, they are often paralyzed by the perception that they must know what they will do with their life, or that they need to have identified their one big thing. The pressure to know and achieve is stifling and we need to think about involvement or engagement in different terms.  Courtney Skerritt, director of college counseling at The Hockaday School agrees, saying, “I’m reading ‘Enough as She Is’ by Rachel Simmons and she does an amazing job outlining what is wrong with using the word ‘passion’ with teenagers and how, instead, we should have conversations about ‘purpose’”. Skerritt adds, “Simmons’ work struck me, as this conversation has been happening with girls at Hockaday for over 100 years and with focus through our Institute for Social Impact. Students are craving an engagement in their future, but in ways that don’t make them feel like they have to figure it all out today.”

Most high school students are not passionate about anything (or anything that a college would find appealing). What a loaded and silly word as it pertains to college. Full-disclosure: in the past, I used it because I thought that was the goal, but I have known for a while now that I was wrong. Colleges want to see students who have developed interests. That is it. They do not have to be full-blown passions or life’s work. I mean, let’s be real, most adults don’t even have passions. I also know that beyond it being an inaccurate representation of what colleges seek in applicants it can be hurtful to throw around so lightly.

Students should aim to get out into the world and explore their interests whether they turn into a passion one day or not. That is what makes an interesting applicant: a student who has the motivation and curiosity to get out into the world and learn about what they like even if that means they eventually learn they do not like it so much. Now, bonus points if by around grade 10-11 you have found something you enjoy and you can narrow your focus to explore it more deeply, but if not, just keep exploring 1 or 2 things and don’t worry about being a well-rounded applicant.

 

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Will Your 11th Grader Be Away This Summer?

Who you are doesn’t change between the second half of junior year and the time you apply to college, so why wait any longer to write your personal statement?

If your 11th grader is away at camp, traveling, or at a summer program this summer, you will want them to have this crucial component of their application completed before they go. Trust me, coming back home in August with no parts of the college application complete can make for an insane end to summer vacation and time-crunched fall. It does not have to be this way.

For the past couple of years, we have had a small group of students write their personal statement over their winter break or shortly after the new year. The result: far less stress on the college application journey because one of the most important parts of their application was already complete. Same amazing writing we always help students produce, even less stress. That is what we are all about!

This year we are formally offering weekend-long 1:1 personal statement bootcamps for motivated, summer-time-crunched, or any juniors who simply want to get ahead in addition to our standard 1:1 essay expert service and comprehensive college counseling packages, which include essay work.

Space is limited for winter 2019. Contact us today to discuss scheduling! Your student will thank us later when they are confidently ahead of the game.

 

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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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One Weekend = Finish Your Personal Statement

Who you are doesn’t change between the second half of junior year and the time you apply to college, so why wait any longer to write your personal statement?

For the past couple of years, we had a small group of students write their personal statements over their winter break or shortly after the new year. The result: far less stress later in the year because one of the most important parts of their application was already complete. Same amazing writing we always help students produce, even less stress. That is what we are all about!

This year we are formally offering weekend-long personal statement bootcamps for motivated, spring/summer-time-crunched, or any juniors who simply want to get ahead.

Space is limited for winter 2019. Contact us today to discuss scheduling!