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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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.