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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New Common Application Guidance on Essays/Writing Requirements

News from the Common App:

The Common App is providing a brand new feature! In response to feedback from the counseling community, The Common App created a resource to help applicants and those who support them better understand the writing requirements of our more than 700 member colleges.

The Writing Requirements resource is incorporated into our already popular “Members Live” FAQ, which we continually update as colleges publish their specific institutional questions. Clicking the “Writing Requirements” link for a college will take you to a designated page for that college where you will find the following information for both their First-Year and Transfer applications:

* All required and optional long-answer questions

* All required and optional questions that request a document upload

* The location of these questions (College-Specific Questions or Writing Supplement)

* Minimum and maximum word counts for each question

The listing does not include conditionally required writing questions, such as those triggered by an applicant’s choice of academic program. For that reason, the “My Colleges” tab of the Common App account remains the definitive record of each institution’s requirements. We will update each college’s unique FAQ on a weekly basis to reflect any changes within the “My Colleges” section.

We developed this tool to better support counselors seeking to learn more about writing requirements across our member colleges, as well as students working to budget their application planning time. And to those colleagues who have encouraged the creation of this enhancement, thank you for helping us improve how we serve you and your students.

High School Counselor Training

When my high school counselor informed me that I might not be cut out for a four-year college or university, I was not only crushed but also confused. I grew up in a household with two college educated parents, and in what I look back now on as a very “college-going” culture, so why didn’t my counselor at school believe in me the same way my parents did?

The truth is, it was probably because of my not-so-stellar (but not horrible, geez!) grades, and my less than perfect disciplinary record (I was a free spirit, what can I say…). But what I know now, and what I sensed then, was imperfections and all, there was a four-year college for me!

Interestingly, I was accepted to a few different four-year schools, all of which were considered selective institutions. I ended up attending the University of Vermont, graduated in three years, and then headed to the University of Pennsylvania for graduate study. I earned my master’s degree and then my doctoral degree in higher education, and focused my dissertation on exploring how high schools create college-going cultures. During the same time, I spent approximately seven years working in admissions and student services before transitioning to my current role as an independent educational consultant. Today, I help students—those with good grades, bad grades, arrests and angelic records—determine their academic interests and goals, and the postsecondary path that is the best fit.

What I also know now is that many American high school guidance counselors are not provided in-depth training on the college search and application process in graduate school. A 2012 Harvard report stated, “Although graduate course work varies by state…specific course work in higher education or college counseling is rarely required if even offered.” My guess is this was most likely the case with my high school counselor.

Once in the role, training does not become more readily available if offered at all. High school counselors are often left to their own devices, with few opportunities for professional development, to master what is a very broad base of knowledge. A qualitative study by Savitz-Romer in 2012, found that school-based in-service focuses almost exclusively on instructional topics, providing little relevance to school counselors, and as a result, most school counselors rely on outside professional development opportunities—or worse—they do not attend at all. When you begin to factor in the nuances of standardized testing, financial aid, school choice, application plans, and how Ivy League and other selective school’s admissions really work, it is clear it’s a whole other area of expertise that needs to be developed to guide students through what has become an increasingly confusing and competitive process.

I see IEC’s and high school guidance counselors as partners in the process, and feel strongly we are all on the same team and have the same goals in mind: to best serve our students and support them on their pathway to postsecondary education, whether its technical school, community college, the Ivy League or somewhere in between. Today, I am motivated to help school counselors better understand the college admissions landscape, and best support their students. I’ve developed training modules on selective college admissions, the Common Application, testing timelines, resume/activity sheet creation, and a general crash course for new counselors on all things applying to college. I’m confident IEC’s can benefit from learning about what goes on inside high school counseling offices, and by increasing knowledge sharing, we all seek to improve our ability to serve students.

I’d love to connect with high school counselors who want to learn more about college counseling, and in return, are eager to share their insights with IEC’s.

 

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High-agency working environments motivate students to own the college application process

I help students organize and manage the college application process.

I’m always a bit surprised when a student, even when provided clear instructions from colleges, and on top of those guidelines an outline of what do to complete required tasks crafted specifically for them by me, acts completely helpless.

I introduce organizational tools, send lots of reminders, and provide emotional support during what is a stressful time, but students need to take the initiative and act on it for these supports to be put to best use. In 10 Tips for Developing Student Agency, Tom Vander Ark states, “agency is the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative—the opposite of helplessness.” Hitlin and Elder, in their work on the concept of agency, suggest four overlapping conceptions of agency, the fourth being particularly relevant as it pertains to the college admissions process:

  • Existential agency: The capacity, or free will, for exerting influence on our environments.
  • Programmatic agency: Following rules and routines.
  • Identify agency: What we believe about ourselves and the ways that we wish to be perceived by others.
  • Life-course agency: Actions that we take to affect future outcomes.

Student’s actions, or inaction, affect future outcomes—and this is especially true as it pertains to applying to college. They need to write their essays, fill in their applications, and submit them on time—they need to own their role in the process!

I hope the relationships I create with my students during the college counseling process result in a high-agency working environment, motivating them to take ownership of the process, while at the same time knowing they have a caring adult to support them every step of the way.

Getting in to college is not the same as good to go to college

Lisa Damour’s NYT’s article “Getting In to College Doesn’t Mean Students Are Ready to Go” is a must read for parents of high school students. It points out some sad and scary truths about high school and college students today, but I see it more positively as a call to action.

I love that most of the students I work with are well-prepared for college life—academic and otherwise—but there are always a few that I fear for as they start freshmen year. They are the ones that end up contacting me near the end of their first semester.  Some of them need more academic support, which is easy to provide. Others are just unable to find their way socially and settle into living on their own for the first time. This second bunch also often thinks this means the college or university they attend is not the best fit; I tend to disagree. Although there are some students who for one reason or another are strong candidates for transfer, the problem is usually not the school—it’s them. Issues lingering beneath the surface throughout high school emerge and often result, sadly, in situations like Damour explains in her article.

What Damour describes is just one of the reasons I am a huge fan of gap years, but as she notes, and I have seen in my work with college applicants, getting students to think about delaying the start of college is not easy:

“Of course, the biggest barrier may well be the teenager’s own resistance to delaying enrollment. High school seniors who have secured and celebrated college admission are rarely eager to push the pause button. The drive for autonomy practically defines adolescence and it’s no small feat to bar that door.”

For the reluctant student (and often parents, too), I do see some alternatives to delaying the start of college. Recently, I have been working alongside mental health professionals and mindfulness educators on how best to get information out to students and parents on the importance of pre-college counseling, post-admission. Typically, once a student has decided where they are going to college, I do not hear much from them, except around early summer, when I (hopefully, because I love cards!) get a graduation announcement or thank you note in the mail. Today, I know that needs to change. The benefit of continuing the counseling relationship and providing services up until students leave for college, and even into the start of their freshmen year, is just too important to overlook.

I see pre-college counseling in the form of mindfulness and resilience training as a vital step in ensuring students about to head off to college are equipped with the tools they need to successfully navigate the transition to and thrive in college. And, if a student is really not ready to leave home in the fall, it is often uncovered or made very clear during targeted pre-college counseling activities (if not already brought to light through the college application process). Taking steps to gear up for college post-admission may reveal a student is not good to go. Those that are will only be better prepared to face the challenges that come with the high school-college transition, armed with the tools and mindset they need to thrive during the next phase of their educational journey.

What’s Worse Than Waiting to Hear From Colleges?

….getting asked about it!

Later this month and throughout April, colleges and universities will notify students about their regular decision applications. Students will either be admitted, denied, or placed on the dreaded waitlist (although we have helped quite a few student get off the WL and into their dream school, ask us how!). Needless to say, it is a stressful time for all seniors who did not commit to a school after the release of early round results.

As we approach decision dates, consider giving this post (with video) from the Wall Street Journal a read!

University of California Seeks Cap on Out-of-State Students

From Inside Higher Ed: The University of California System on Monday announced a proposal to limit undergraduate enrollment from out of state, systemwide, to 20 percent, The Los Angeles Times reported. The proposal would allow the three campuses already over 20 percent—Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego—to keep their out-of-state levels. The remaining campuses would be allowed to grow to 20 percent but not exceed it, but only if the proposed systemwide cap is not hit. The university system has significantly increased out-of-state enrollment in the last decade, to 16.5 percent across the system, citing state appropriations cuts that have increased the need for other sources of revenue, such as the higher tuition rates paid by non-Californians.

The Times reported that faculty leaders oppose the university plan and fear that such limits could result in the system losing both top students and revenue that it needs.

The UC Board of Regents will take up the proposal next week.

International SAT Date Changes

The SAT is offered internationally several times a year. Unfortunately, the following changes to the international testing schedule were recently announced:

  • In June 2017, only the SAT Subject Tests will be administered internationally. The SAT will not be administered in June.
  • In the 2017–18 and 2018–19 school years, the SAT will be available internationally in October, December, March, and May. SAT Subject Tests will be available in October, November, December, May, and June.
  • Country-specific scheduling changes will be announced in spring 2017.

Learn more about international test dates and registration here.