Conquer the Common App: Additional Information Section Advice

Georgia Tech’s admissions blog is quickly becoming one of my new favorites. You can read the full post “WHAT THE…?!,” but I wanted to include just the end of it below. Many applicants want to try to include information in the Additional Info section of the Common App (and other apps), but it is not always appropriate. That section is not there to explain something they won’t care much about (why you dropped a club senior year that is not a significant part of your profile), or to include an extra essay or piece of creative writing (you can do this on many portals AFTER you apply), or to paste in your full resume (warning: this never works with the simple formatting of the CA and other apps so please do not do this). See part of Rick Clark‘s article below for what I agree is appropriate:

Significant Life Events

You had mono as a junior and missed the first two months of school. Your parents’ divorce was finalized in the summer before senior year but the end of eleventh grade was filled with turmoil. You moved three times during high school due to a parent’s job transfer, promotion, or loss. These are just some of the examples we see in this section. Readers appreciate the perspective you can provide and they will make notes or highlight pertinent pieces they believe are relevant to their review and admissions decision, especially as it relates to overcoming challenges, persevering, or demonstrating tenacity/grit. In some cases, this information may lead them to add to or revise their notes from prior sections.

Academic Context

Readers want to know if your schedule choices were impacted during high school. Are some courses only offered at certain times? Was a class you had hoped to take canceled due to low enrollment? If you moved multiple times during high school, readers will see that on your transcript, but you also have an opportunity to tell them what impact that may have had. If your move precluded you from being able to take a certain course or begin on a particular curricular track upon arriving at your new school, feel free to elaborate in this space.

Additional Activities

There are times when the activity section is too limited in space for you to demonstrate the extent to which you contributed. Often this surrounds a business you started, a fundraiser you need to provide more details about, or additional levels of achievement from an activity you listed earlier in the application. Remember, this is “additional” for you—and to an extent it is additional for admission committees. HINT: Put your strongest, most compelling information FIRST in the activity section. Do not intentionally bleed over into additional information unless it is absolutely essential to convey the depth of your work or time.

Still unsure?

Ask your school counselor for their advice. See what their experience has been in the past with students who have used this section. You can also simply call or email the school you are applying to and ask them for their advice.

This is a section about necessary whys or what else—not the place for another essay. Instead, readers evaluate this section looking for pieces of information that provide valuable context (inside or outside the classroom) that you cannot convey elsewhere. Do not over think it! If you believe you have something noteworthy to add, then use this section. Readers will incorporate what they deem helpful and dismiss what they do not. It is as simple as that. It will not hurt you if you do not complete this section (again, most students do not), or if you include something that is deemed irrelevant.

It is called “extra” or “special” because it is not standard. Readers will not combine those two words in their head and assume any applicant completing this section is “extra special.”

 

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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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Top-Tier, Test Optional Colleges & Universities

Nationwide, many colleges and universities are reexamining their admissions policies and de-emphasizing test scores. More than 1,000 accredited, four-year colleges and universities now make decisions about all or many applicants without considering ACT or SAT test scores. Half of the U.S. News “Top 100” liberal arts colleges are on FairTest’s list of test-optional schools.

Some of the most highly rated test-optional liberal arts colleges include Bates, Bowdoin, Furman, Holy Cross, Pitzer, Sewanee, Smith, Wesleyan, and Whitman. And among leading national universities, American, Brandeis, UChicago, GWU, and Wake Forest are all test-optional.

FairTest.org is the leading advocate of the test-optional movement. There are many reasons for the test-optional surge, according to FairTest. Schaeffer explained, “Studies show that an applicant’s high school record – grades plus course rigor – predicts undergraduate success better than any standardized exam. By going test-optional, colleges increase diversity without any loss in academic quality. Eliminating testing requirements is a ‘win-win’ for both students and schools.”

“College and university leaders are sending a clear message,” Schaeffer concluded. “Test scores are not needed to make sound educational decisions. It’s time for K-12 policymakers to pay attention and back off their testing obsession for public schools.”

You can find FairTest’s frequently updated directory of test-optional, 4-year schools list online at https://www.fairtest.org/university/optional.

A list of test-optional schools ranked in the top tiers by U.S. News & World Report is posted at http://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/Optional-Schools-in-U.S.News-Top-Tiers.pdf.

Every year, we help students apply to and gain admission to many of the top tier test-optional schools on these lists. Contact us to learn more about how to maximize your chance of admission to a selective test-optional college.

 

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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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2018-19 Merit Scholarship Deadlines

Although most regular decision deadlines are 1/1 or 1/15, to be eligible for merit scholarships, many schools require you submit your application much earlier. College Kickstart compiled a list of some of the most popular schools with early merit scholarship deadlines. A few of the schools you’ll need to submit by 12/1 include:

  • Boston University
  • Claremont McKenna
  • Clemson
  • College of Charleston
  • UConn
  • Richmond
  • USC
  • Wake Forest
  • Vanderbilt

Some schools set their merit deadline as their “early” deadline, so those are due even sooner (between 10/15 in 11/15 in many cases). Visit College Kickstart for their full list.

 

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Three Essential College Wellness Guides for Parents

Repost from Marica Morris M.D. from Psychology Today. A must-read for parents during back-to-school!

Antonia breaks into tears as soon as I close the door of my office at the college counseling center where I work as a psychiatrist. It is near the end of the first semester of her freshman year. “I was an all A student in high school, and now I’m going into finals with 3 Cs and an F. How will I explain this to my parents?”

Antonia continues. “I never expected college to turn out this way. I roomed with my best friend, but she got a boyfriend and ignored me. I tried to focus on my studies, but I could not organize my time well. In high school, my father used to make my study schedule. What set me back even more is that I decided to stop an antidepressant that I started last year, even though I promised my parents I would find a psychiatrist on campus and continue the medication. I felt okay at first but over time I felt sadder and had trouble sleeping and concentrating. Now that I’m failing a class, I don’t know how to deal with it. I’ve never failed anything in my life.”

I hear many stories like Antonia’s. Too many freshmen experience setbacks due to mental health problems, lack of psychological readiness, and poor organization skills. Is there a way we could prevent the struggle of freshmen or intervene early when problems occur? In 2018, two books and an online guide/podcast came out offering parents the tools to prepare their children for college challenges: The Campus Cure (Rowman and Littlefield), Your Kid’s Gonna be Okay (Beyond BookSmart, Inc.), and Prepare to Leave the Nest (Debby Fogelman, Psychologist, a professional corporation).

I wrote The Campus Cure: A Parent’s Guide to Mental Health and Wellness for College Students as a toolkit for parents to recognize and respond to the growing problems and pressures on campus such as depression and anxiety, loneliness and perfectionism. With stress and anxiety as the top two factors negatively impacting academic performance, it is critical for parents to advocate for their children and help them get the support and mental health services they need. In the previous example, Antonia’s academic struggles are exacerbated by her untreated depression. I want parents like Antonia’s to feel empowered to ask, “Have you met with your psychiatrist? How did it go? Do you mind if we touch base with your psychiatrist as you are adjusting to school?” Through stories and studies, I show steps parents can take to enhance their children’s wellness that include: (1) providing additional support through phone calls and visits when things aren’t going well; (2) having their children sign a FERPA waiver form so parents can check end of semester grades and speak with academic advisors if needed; (3) asking their children to sign a HIPAA release form so parents can speak with their mental health care provider. The book also presents ways parents can respond to more urgent problems, like suicidal behaviors, substance abuse, and psychosis. With appropriate parent intervention, students can recover and succeed.

Your Kid’s Gonna be Okay: Building the Executive Function Skills Your Child Needs in the Age of Attention by Michael Delman, M.Ed. is a great book for parents of middle and high school students to teach their kids the self-regulation skills necessary to meet academic goals. Rather than parents micromanaging their student’s lives, this book encourages parents to cultivate motivation, teach time management, and keep their kids’ attention on school in the face of multiple social media distractions. Chapter 2, “Winning Approaches: How Parents Can Facilitate Change,” does an excellent job explaining how parents should not expect instant change. Rather, we need to patiently work through the five stages of change, starting with emotional support and empowerment. Michael Delman, CEO of the Executive Function coaching company Beyond BookSmart, uses anecdotes as well as educational research to present techniques for parents to promote time management and the self-reflection necessary for learning. Antonia would have been better off having developed organization and prioritization skills prior to coming to college. With this guide, parents can teach their children the skills necessary for success in college and beyond.

Prepare to Leave the Nest, a written program, and podcast by Debby Fogelman, MA, PsyD is a great psychoeducational guide to getting emotionally ready for college. Calling on her years of experience as a therapist and referring to the psychological literature, she provides parents and their college students essential psychological tools to face the academic and social stress present in today’s hypercompetitive college environment. I recommend parents and their college seniors read or listen to the ten articles and discuss their responses. Having psychological awareness is critical in dealing with the obstacles many freshmen like Antonia face – poor grades, a roommate problem, feelings of failure. In articles with titles such as “Why do I feel inadequate?” Dr. Fogelman presents the idea that we all need positive self-esteem to deal with the highs and lows of college life. Too often, college students base their self-worth solely on their GPA. Like Antonia, their self-esteem declines when they do poorly in school or have relationship problems. Dr. Fogelman offers great tips on how to manage academic anxiety and how to end the self-defeating behaviors that hurt relationships.

While we as parents cannot control the course of our college students’ careers, we can set our children on the path for academic success and emotional wellness with these three 2018 guides. The Campus Cure is a book for parents of college students and high school upperclassmen that shows how parents can play a critical role in preventing, responding to, and getting treatment for the common problems and pressures college students experience. Your Kid’s Gonna Be Okay is a book for parents of teenagers and young adults that gives parents the tools to teach their children the executive function skills necessary for college success. Prepare to Leave the Nest is a great read/podcast for parents and their college-bound high school students to have the psychological readiness to find success and satisfaction on campus. The authors of these guides speak not only as professionals but also as parents who recognize the need for creative approaches to meet the challenges of twenty-first century parenting.

 

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8 Tips for Summer College Visits

It’s ideal to tour colleges in the fall or spring, but it is often hard to get away during those times with crazy sports and extracurricular schedules, standardized testing, family trips and so on. When school’s out for summer, many students and parents have much more time to get to college campuses. If you are planning to visit campuses this summer, keep in mind:

  1. Not all schools offer Saturday info sessions and tours. Try to visit when you can go on a tour and attend an info session. All of this information can be found online on schools respective admissions websites.
  2. Interview. Fewer people tour in the summer, which means fewer people are on campus interviewing. Use this to your advantage. Do not miss out on the opportunity to interview on campus if you have had time to adequately prepare. Everyone should prepare for admissions interviews!!! You only get one chance to make a first impression—and though interviews are not the most important component of your app, a killer one can certainly help.
  3. Attend a class. Some schools have very active summer sessions, while others do not. There may not be a formal class visit program offered through admissions during the summer months, but you can still reach out to a faculty member and ask if it is okay to sit in on their class. You can also call and check with your department of interest (for example, the Math Department if you intend to major in math) and see if they can hook you up with permission to sit in on a class.
  4. Connect with and possibly meet with someone from your department of interest. Colleges are open in the summer, even if they don’t look too busy. Call or email your department of interest a few weeks ahead of time. Someone from the department may help you out with sitting in on a class, as well as be willing to speak to you personally or steer you in the direction of any other departmental opportunities that might be available during your visit.
  5. Check the calendar of events. Some college campuses are dead in the summer, while others have a lot going on beyond summer session classes. If there is something going on that interests you, try to check it out. This information could make a nice addition to a why school essay.
  6. Take pictures, take notes, and get the names, emails, and numbers of everyone you meet. Send thank you emails, or a handwritten note to your interviewer. In many cases, you’ll need this info if you end up applying.
  7. Don’t forget to check out the surrounding city, town, or suburb. Keep in mind, in some areas, folks head out of town for the summer. If it feels dead, ask around to find out if this is the case or if it’s like that all of the time.
  8. Remember, campuses located in Florida are not always as hot as they are in the summer, and those in Minnesota are not always as hot as they are in the summer (it gets REALLY cold there!!!). Keep in mind the “normal” temp of the school and that how a campus feels in the summer might not be how it feels when you will be there studying.

 

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March Action Plan – Juniors

The college process is in full swing! Here are a few things to have on your radar and work through this month:

  • You should be meeting with your counselor at school to talk about your college list, testing plan, and letters of recommendation.
  • If possible, fit in a few more college visits. Are you going to sit in on a class? Do you want to try to meet with someone in your intended department of interest (major, minor, etc.)? Not all schools offer formal pathways to these opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them happen.
  • Some colleges open up their on-campus interviews this spring. If you plan to interview, please prepare. You should always prepare for interviews, even if a school states they are not evaluative.
  • Do you know what major(s) you will mark on your application or is your strategy to go ‘undecided’? This is a critical part of the process that should be determined now.
  • Keep focusing on your grades, test prep, and strengthening your narrative through your extracurricular activities! By this time, you should have a plan for the summer and that plan should support your “story” for college.

 

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Reality Therapy. The Importance of Honesty in College Admissions

I’ve wanted to share an opinion piece by Jim Jump posted this past November, in which he discusses balancing loyalty (being a cheerleader) and truth (being an honest source of information) in college advising. A few excerpts are below, but I suggest reading the full article here. His “talk” is one I am familiar with:

Recently I met with the top student in my junior class. He has Ivy ambitions, and in a perfect world there would be no question that he would be admitted, but the college admission world, especially at the top of the food chain, is far from perfect. He is unhooked, so I felt obligated to give him the talk I give every one of my students applying to the Ivies and comparably selective colleges and universities.

In a hyperselective environment, where fewer than one in 10 applicants are admitted, no one’s credentials assure admission. Superb grades and scores are, to borrow phrasing from logic, necessary but not sufficient. Colleges and universities use the admission process to help achieve institutional goals and priorities, goals and priorities that may not be publicly stated. As a result an offer of admission is partly merit, partly meeting institutional needs and partly luck.

That message is not easy to hear for a student who’s done everything right and excelled in every environment they have been in.

Seeing highly qualified students get denied from schools that a few years ago they would have likely been admitted is tough. That said, when it comes time for these “talks,” I also like to remind students (and their parents) that where you go to college is not the single defining factor of your life; what is far more important is what you do while you are there (wherever “there” is), the relationships you build, and the person you become. In the end, those things lead to a successful, happy life, not the name of the school on your diploma.

 

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February Action Plan – Juniors

Lots on the to-do list this month, juniors! Here are a few things we think should be on your radar:

  • Now is the time to visit colleges! Are you going to sit in on a class? Do you want to try to meet with someone in your intended department of interest (major, minor, etc.)? Not all schools offer formal pathways to these opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them happen. After all campus visits, even if you just sit in on a general info session and take a tour, send your regional rep and any admission representatives you met while on campus a follow-up/thank you email.
  • Some colleges open up their on-campus interviews this spring. If you plan to visit campus and interview, please prepare. You should always prepare for interviews, even if a school states they are not evaluative.
  • Many applications for summer activities/programs are now live. Next summer is a wonderful opportunity to do something really meaningful, perhaps even fun, that will help you tell your story for college! Make your plans now.
  • Meet with your college counselor and get a game-plan in place for spring/summer.
  • Start working on your resume. Some summer programs, internships, and interviewers will ask for this, so it’s useful to have handy.
  • Do you know what major(s) you will mark on your application? Do you have a clearly defined “story” for your college apps? If not, this is a critical part of the process that should be determined now.
  • 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.

 

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