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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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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The best time to start planning for college?

Parents of high schoolers frequently ask me when the best time is to begin planning for college. My answer is usually “now!” which often, and more importantly, leads to talking about “how.”

Successful college planning starts with helping students explore their interests and think about what they do best. Starting with strengths encourages students to establish high expectations and create the time and space to work on areas for improvement. One of the keys to having college options is making smart choices early on as it relates to course scheduling, and even how students spend their time outside of school. Knowing how college admissions officers view these choices takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

If you’re interested in learning more about early college planning and how college admissions officers evaluate applications, contact us to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation call.

 

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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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What Colleges are Really Looking for in Applicants

Fairfax, VA – The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) released its ranking of What Colleges Look for in High School Students, based on an annual survey of nearly 2,000 independent educational consultants. While grades and standardized test scores are near the top of these annual rankings, a number of significant changes and surprises are challenging the assumptions about college admissions. Number 1 on the list: A challenging curriculum. New to the list: The family’s ability to pay tuition. The much-discussed social media presence of students? Not so much.

Many students and parents are surprised to hear that the leading criteria universities want to see isn’t grades* (#2) or standardized test scores (#3), but rather evidence that a student took as rigorous a high school curriculum as they could. “Colleges want to know that future students don’t shy away from a challenge,” said IECA’s CEO, Mark Sklarow. “Grades and scores are important, but it is far better to accept a challenge, show some grit, and earn a slightly lower grade if necessary than to breeze through high school with easy courses and straight A’s.”

*(This does not hold true at all schools, especially uber selective schools, where B’s don’t generally fly for normal applicants)

Item #4 in the ranking—the essay—is also the most misunderstood, according to IECA. The essay tends to be more important at smaller and independent colleges. But too many students think the essay is about construction, grammar, and format. The association warns that while these matter (typos and bad grammar should never happen), the essay must show insight into a student’s unique personality or life-shaping experiences. An essay that worked in an English class is unlikely to be one that is appropriate for the college application. “This essay should help the reader—that all-important admission counselor—better appreciate who you are, what shaped you, and what makes you tick,” says Sklarow. “That doesn’t mean a student needs some life-altering trip; rather a simple ongoing volunteer commitment or personal interaction may be worth sharing.”

Two new items ranked on the 2018–19 list from IECA. Debuting at #7 is the family’s ability to pay. While some schools are “need blind” in their admissions decisions, most are not. Increasingly, according to IECA, colleges take into consideration who can contribute to the school’s bottom line. The other new criteria this year was a student’s character and values (#12). Colleges increasingly contemplate what campus life will be like and how a particular applicant will add—or detract—from the campus. Colleges want to see leaders, students with special skills or talents, and those who have been active in campus activities, as well as those whose values fit a college’s view of itself. Colleges also seek diversity, striving for a campus made up of those from varied cultural, social, economic, geographic, religious, and occupational backgrounds (#9).

Much has been written in recent years about two areas: demonstrated interest* (how an applicant demonstrates a genuine desire to attend) and social media (what a student’s online life reveals). The IECA rankings showed these areas to be of less importance than other items.

*(Also not always true. The Common Data (set) confirms it is considered at many schools. It might just be considered LESS at some schools. However, do not be misled; it is still considered)

Sklarow cautioned that “Every college is unique, so each emphasizes something different in its process of reviewing applications. One of the great benefits of hiring an independent educational consultant is their knowledge of such differences, and their ability to share this information with students as they guide them through the application process.”

 

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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.

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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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11TH GRADE: TIME TO START THE COLLEGE SEARCH AND APPLICATION PROCESS


By 10th and 11th-grade college talk should be consistent—especially if you are, or have a student who is—aiming to attend a selective college or university. That said, we start the majority of our work with students, which includes applying to summer programs, narrative development (your “story” for college), developing your college list, and completing the personal statement and resume, in 11th grade. There is no better time to start the process than right now!

Juniors should consider the following:

  • It is test prep time! If you have not started yet, start now.
  • Meet with your school counselor. S/he 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, especially those that relate to your academic interests? Look for leadership opportunities in school and consider activities outside of school as well. Think about ideas for new and different activities, or for how to get more involved in your favorite activity (academic and non-academic).
  • 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 the activities you are involved in support this interest; you should be exploring your interests outside of the classroom/school!
  • Visit colleges in person! Spring is a great time to visit colleges. Talk to students, faculty, and staff, and take notes about classes, clubs, etc. you might want to include in your essays.

Email us or fill out the contact form to schedule a consult and find out how we can support you in your college planning and application process!

 

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