Make The Best of It

I am “borrowing” this image from an email I received a while ago from Bulldog Drummond; I think I am on this listserv because I also closely follow The YouSchool.

Anyway, time for some real talk now that early application decision releases begin in a few short weeks or less.

In most cases, three things happen with early applications:

-You get in
-You get deferred
-You get denied

If you get in, congrats! Celebrate! For most of you, the process of applying to college is now over. If you get deferred, and I know this sounds negative, in most cases you need to consider this a denial. Very few students get admitted off deferral at top colleges. If you are denied, I actually think this is better than a deferral. Why? Because it makes it much easier to move on and focus on the schools that are next on your list whether that is an ED II school or a select group of RD schools.

Now back to the quote. A deferral or denial is not the end of the world. It simply is what it is. The best thing you can do if you fall into one of these two pools, and remember—you are one of many who do—is to look positively forward toward the other schools on your list and flip any negative feelings you have into energy that you can use to make those apps the best they can be if you are still working on them. There is really no time or need to wallow in a denial or deferral; you can’t change the outcome. What you can control is your reaction to it. Use this time wisely and don’t spend much if any time or energy on thinking about why things did not work out. Instead, think about how you can ensure they will for the schools left on your list!

 

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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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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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November Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

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.
  • Meet with your school counselor and triple check that all early app materials were sent. Share your RD/ED II list and make sure they know to send docs accordingly and far in advance of deadlines.
  • Work on your “interest letter” for your top choice school (or schools!) if you have decided to write one.
  • If you’re applying regular decision (RD) to colleges (or have an ED II school in the mix), you should continue to make progress on your essays in case your early applications are denied or deferred in December. It is very difficult to write your essays and complete your applications from December 15 through January 1, and…
  • It’s always a good idea to submit apps two to four weeks ahead of RD/ED II deadlines as some schools have early RD deadlines for scholarship or interview consideration. Aim to submit all RD/ED II apps by 12/1 for merit consideration, and by 12/21 otherwise.
  • Prepare for interviews! Read our post here for more insight and prep questions.

Juniors:

  • It is test prep time! Get a plan in place and stick to it.
  • 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.
  • Visit colleges in person! Fall is a great time to visit colleges. Please note, there are not many students on college campuses during December/January, so plan accordingly.
  • Some summer program applications will open over the next few months. If you plan on applying to an application-based summer program, put a note on your calendar to check websites for application deadlines and application releases.

Sophomores & Freshmen:

  • Have you started your resume/activity sheet? If not, now is a great time to begin drafting it.
  • 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? Start to take note of what you like and dislike, where you do well and where you are having difficulty.
  • Beyond academics, colleges also look to admit students who take part in meaningful extracurricular activities. You don’t need to join every single club at school (that is a bad idea, actually, please do not do this!), but if you are not involved in any ECs in or out of school, now is the time to get involved. You want to take part in a few things and try to continue with those activities (if you enjoy them) throughout your high school career. One definite “must” is something that allows you to serve others and give back to your community. 
  • One of the biggest factors in strong performance on the verbal portions of the SAT and the ACT is independent reading. Enhancing your skills during high school will not only help you perform better on college entrance exams but also prepare you for success in college and beyond. Regular reading of articles and editorials (e.g., New York TimesWall Street JournalThe Economist) in addition to studying vocabulary lists and signing up for “Word/Article/SAT Question of the Day” can have an impact.

 

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You’ve Submitted Your Early Applications – Now What?

Congrats! Getting your early applications submitted is a huge accomplishment. Hopefully, you can take a weekend or two off from college application work and relax a bit. However, don’t relax too much or completely stop where you are! There’s plenty that can be done after you’ve pressed submit.

  • Continue to work on application materials (essays). Many schools require submission of RD apps by 12/1 for merit award consideration. Please plan to submit apps by 12/1 if the schools on your list fall into this category (you can find out by looking on their admission website). Some schools where this is the case include BU, USC, Wake, Vandy, UConn, and Richmond. College Kickstart also has a list here.
  • Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track them 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. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (every day), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.
  • Prepare for interviews. Read my post on interview prep here, and start to practice with a teacher, friend, counselor, or family member.
  • Write an “interest” letter. This letter should fill in any gaps and or address things that you were not able to address in your application. This can be very helpful if a school has no supplemental essays. Consider including:
    1. A paragraph or two on academics if the school did not ask for a “why school” essay.
    2. A paragraph or two on extracurriculars if you were not able to cover these interests in much detail (or at all) in your application. Convey how you plan to contribute to the school via one or two important EC commitments.
    3. A paragraph that talks about the ways you have connected with and continue to get to know the school. This could include campus visits, setting up an informational interview with a local alum/a current student, or continuing to connect with your regional rep via email.
    4. A paragraph that reiterates your interest in the school, and that if admitted, you will attend. *If you are not 100% committed to attending, do not say so in the letter. This is also a given if you are applying ED.

Don’t forget: your grades are also very important! Do your best to maintain your grades/GPA; some schools will ask for midterm grade reports (or even call your counselor to check in on your progress!), and you want them to show consistency or an upward trend, not a downward trend.

 

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How the Harvard Case Highlights What All College Applicants Need to Know

Each summer, Harvard’s Admissions Office profiles a handful of previous applicants in a “casebook” and distributes it to employees. The book is meant to teach staffers how to evaluate candidates. For each applicant, the document details the bullet-pointed factors that rendered the applicant “appealing” and the traits that gave Harvard “pause.” It also provides the outcome for each student.

A recent Crimson article shines a light on some of what came from the casework exploration, none of which comes as much of a surprise to someone in my role. I want to share some of what the Crimson article highlights, but also point out that these findings are not solely applicable to Harvard applicants. Any student applying to a selective college or university should consider these findings because they hold true across many schools.

A clear and impressive academic performance and talent: 

“But stories of successful applicants prove a common truth: Harvard admissions officers are looking for academic superstars who have overcome adversity in their personal lives* and can offer a clear vision of what they would accomplish in Cambridge.

Smarts reigned supreme. In nine of the 11 cases, admissions officers pointed to strong academic performance as a compelling reason for admission. The word “bright” appears eight times in the document.”

*Overcoming adversity plays out in so many different ways. Many applicants have not experienced hardships related to their living conditions, family finances, etc.—but no one’s life is perfect. Everyone has experienced personal failure and moments of weakness and vulnerability. A student’s willingness to dig deep and have the confidence to present these moments is one way to overcome the “hardship” gap if they have not navigated a more traditional hardship.

An extracurricular “niche” (which could be related to the academic narrative):

“While a strong overall candidate, Evelyn [Satmar]’s credentials are not unusual in our applicant pool,” the document reads.

Admissions officers also took note of activities outside the classroom. Reviewers mentioned that at least three candidates failed to find an “extracurricular niche” in high school.

“While the package is appealing, the case lacks the ‘hook’ provided by a special academic or extracurricular talent,” officers wrote of Mandisi.”

And likeability (charisma and lack of ego!):

“Grace was a “strong student” in high school, but nothing exceptional. One reviewer noted her test scores “suggest she won’t be a top engineering student at Harvard” — and predicted she “will have to work hard here.”

However…. “Grace’s teachers, guidance counselor, and alumni interviewer describe her in terms we rarely read,” the document states. “A true ‘1 personal’ — one of the few we see each year.”

And what about “pause” factors reasons—reasons to deny an application. There are plenty of those, but here are a few that are overwhelmingly true at all schools, not just Harvard:

“The document lists “pause factors” for each candidate. These more problematic traits — including less impressive grades, uninspiring extracurriculars, and excessive braggadocio — spurred lengthy deliberations in the Admissions Office, waitlist placements, and calls to a plethora of teachers and counselors.

For other applicants, admissions officers raised more personal concerns — many related to ego.”

Two candidates’ pause factors included “arrogance.” One was placed on the waitlist and never accepted; the other admitted to Harvard only “after many hours of debate.

Admissions officers particularly pondered whether high schoolers’ hubris would hurt them at Harvard — wondering whether applicants could successfully trade standout status for relative anonymity among hundreds of star students.

“What will his transition be like — from big fish in small pond to Harvard — and how will Sergei interact with roommates, classmates, and administrators?” one reviewer wrote.”

You do not need to be applying to Harvard to reap the benefits of these takeaways! We’ve been encouraging applicants to consider these things for as long as we’ve been doing this:

-Perform well in school and on standardized tests. This is the #1 factor. If you don’t have this…the rest is going to matter very little at top schools (unless you are a recruited athlete).

-Develop an academic narrative; even if you have a few interests, dive into them and go above and beyond in pursuing them. Just “doing school” is not very compelling. Get out there and do something!

-Find an extracurricular niche. It might be what you do to go above and beyond regarding your academic interests, or it might be something else completely. Either way, the most interesting candidates have a life outside of school and their excellent grades and test scores. Bonus if this niche is outside of the norm (think deck hockey or urban gardening instead of Model UN or piano).

-Lose the ego. You might be #1 in your class, have tons of leadership roles, and basically be #thebest, but that will all change in college. You are going to be the norm and you will need to adjust to that very quickly. Show some humility and foresight. Arrogance is the absolute most cringe-worthy part of so many college applications! Remove all traces of it (you might need someone to help with this).

Read the full Crimson article here.

 

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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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Building a College List? Look Beyond Rankings

Not a news flash: Getting into the country’s most selective colleges is more fiercely competitive than ever, with many schools reporting a record number of applicants (again). To many, this news is fear-inducing. How will I (or my child) possibly get admitted to a “top” college or university? Answering how is hard. There are no silver bullets in this process, and the reality is most applicants won’t get admitted to the top-top schools. Instead of trying (too hard in many cases) to become the applicant you think one of these uber selective schools will admit, I suggest a path of far less resistance and more authenticty—a path that includes looking at colleges where you have a realistic chance of being admitted.

There are schools outside of the top 30 ranked on US News, and they are excellent. We help families find these schools, and we’ve seen that when they can think outside of the box, they end up with incredible options and look back on the process much more fondly than those that are laser-focused on the same set of schools at which the rest of the world is aiming.

Here are some numbers from an earlier Boston Globe article noting the 20-year admit rate changes at a few of the country’s most popular schools. I’ve been saying this for a few years now, but it is time to start looking outside of the bubble of these and the other “most popular” schools, and these numbers should provide a nudge in doing so. Interested in looking into amazing schools that don’t often find themselves on the most popular list? Check out College That Change Lives as well as this list I have compiled.

 

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October Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

College crunch time for seniors and things are gearing up for juniors, too! Here’s what should be on your radar this month.

Seniors:

  • Have official standardized test scores sent to all of the colleges on your list, if required; please send scores now, so they arrive before deadlines. Not all schools require you send officials anymore. Please review the list here and the links therein to confirm:

https://www.compassprep.com/self-reporting-test-scores/

  • Finalize your essays and application data. Plan on submitting applications well in advance of deadlines.
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor to discuss your applications and have them review your essays and application data. It is always smart to have a different set of eyes help with final reviews.
  • Follow up with the teachers writing your letters of recommendation and let them know if you are submitting apps early. The sooner they submit after you submit, the better.
  • Study for any remaining standardized tests (SAT, ACT, SAT Subjects). Remember to note future test dates on your applications.
  • Take part in interviews when offered. Read more about interviews and how to prep, here.

Juniors:

  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in. While there, 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.
  • When you look at your resume, is it clear what your academic interests are? If yes, then your academic narrative is developed. If not, try to get involved in some activities that make it clear what you are interested in academically. A clear-cut academic narrative is beneficial; if you are undecided, then you should be exploring multiple interests. It is okay to be undecided so long as you are out there working on finding your niche.
  • You should be taking the PSAT in October. If you would like to do some prep (totally optional!), check out these resources:

https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10/practice 

https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/sat/new-sat-tips-planning/new-sat-how-to-prep/a/full-length-psat-nmsqt

  • Will you need SAT Subject Tests? How many and which ones? When might you take them? Have you formally started test prep? Determine your testing plan now.
  • Meet with your school guidance 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.
  • Visit colleges in person if possible! Fall is a great time to visit colleges.

Sophomores:

  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. A rigorous but academically fitting course schedule shows intellectual curiosity, a willingness to challenge yourself, and that you are comfortable with hard work. It also shows that you understand your strength and your weaknesses. Your number one priority this year should be your grades!
  • If you haven’t done so already, get involved in activities inside and outside of school. Seek out opportunities to develop leadership roles. Depth, not breadth of experience, is key. Most colleges prefer to see fewer activities, but ones that really interest you, where you are involved in a significant way. Evidence of leadership, initiative, commitment, and meaningful engagement is important. You may also want to consider an internship, research position, job shadowing opportunity or part-time employment in an area that interests you. Starting your own club, website, or community service project is also a great way to get involved. Remember, passions are not necessarily inherent, waiting to be found, but rather they are cultivated.
  • It is a good idea to keep track of all of your activities and both inside and outside of school. If you have not started your resume, please do so now.
  • If you haven’t done so already, schedule a meeting to discuss your high school game plan with your guidance counselor. Your guidance or college counselor will write you a letter of recommendation when it comes time to apply to college, so make an effort to get to know them and for them to get to know you.

Freshmen:

  • Enjoy the start of high school! Have fun and make an effort to do well in school and get involved in extracurriculars. Thinking about trying something new? Go for it.
  • High school can be a lot more challenging academically than high school, and starting off on the right foot academically is important. If you are ever struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your teachers, talk to your parents, and get a tutor if needed.

 

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Preparing for College Admissions Interviews

Not all colleges require interviews. In fact, many don’t offer them. At schools that do, they are not always evaluative or even considered in the admissions process. That said, I still suggest you interview if you can. Why? It is a way to demonstrate interest, learn more about the school, and help the school learn more about you. Sounds worth it to me!

College Kickstart compiled some helpful interview data regarding colleges that require or strongly recommend interviews, and how that interview is used (or not used) in the admissions process. Head over to their website to check it out!

Below, you will find some common interview questions. Practice with a parent or friend. Never go to an interview (even those that are not evaluative) unprepared!

High School Experience

  • Tell me a little bit about your high school.

  • Tell me about the courses you are taking currently.

  • Tell me about your favorite class(s) you have taken. Why was it your favorite?

  • Which class has been your least favorite? Why?

  • Which classes have been the most difficult (or most challenging)?

  • What subjects do you plan on studying at [school]?

  • How have you pursued this interest in school, and outside of school?
  • What is your dream job?

Extracurricular Activities

  • What extracurricular activities are you involved in?

  • When you’re not in class, studying, or doing homework, what do you do with your time (organized activities or things for fun)?

  • How did you get involved/started with ____ activity?

  • Which activity is the most meaningful to you, and which one is the most fun?

  • What extracurricular activities do you hope to continue in college?

  • If you could only continue taking part in one EC, which one would it be and why?

College Expectations

  • What type of environment are you looking for in a college/university?

  • What matters most to you in a college setting?

School Specific

  • How did you become interested in [school]?

  • What do you find appealing about [school]?

  • Why do you think you [school] might be the right fit for you?

  • Do you know any students at [school]? Have you reached out to them to learn more about [school]?

  • If you had an opportunity to tell the Admissions Committee anything about yourself, what would it be? What would you want the Admissions Committee to know about you that may not come across on your application?

  • What have you learned about [school] that seems unusual or surprising?

Miscellaneous

  • Apart from looking at colleges, how have you spent your high school summers?

  • How would your best friend describe you?

  • How would your teachers describe you?

  • If you had a year to do anything you want, what would it be and why?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you wanted to discuss?

 

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