Move Over Testing

Move Over Testing

Testing has been on the way out for some time now, and 2021 just might be the year that we see test blind—even beyond SAT subject tests—become more prevalent. 

So with testing on its way out, what’s in?

  • Being interesting, bold, different, eclectic in your interests and pursuits outside of “school”
  • Excellence in something (or a few things), but real excellence, like wow excellence
  • A deep interest in something (or a few things), but real depth, like wow depth
  • Forging your own path…

But this isn’t anything new.

In the past, the most successful applicants we have gotten to know were those who had competitive grades, competitive scores (maybe even a laundry list of them), and on top of that—for the most selective schools—had an interesting resume that told a clear and compelling story. Some activities were even a bit out-of-the-box, rare/unique, or at best a bit surprising; surprising is wonderful in college admissions because so many applications are just the same. If an applicant took an interest to a depth uncommon for someone in high school, even better. 

At the most selective schools, everyone has awesome grades and test scores. One of the main reasons so many applications don’t stand out has nothing to do with testing or grades, but a student’s resume and activities—their life outside of coursework. Many students feel like they are doing something wrong if they are not doing what everyone around them is, like play multiple sports, joining Science Olympiad or Debate, NHS, Interact/Key Club, and minimally taking part in a bunch of other clubs or “service” opportunities they don’t really care about. They do this instead of pursuing a few activities deeply, especially if those activities are not what their peers are doing. 

If we keep moving toward a test-less or less test-heavy college admissions model, students will hopefully have more time to focus on their interests outside of school. What these interests are, and the depth in which they are genuinely pursued, might become more important than ever before as we see the bar on that front rise. 

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College Board Ends SAT Subject Tests Program & SAT Essay

College Board Ends SAT Subject Tests Program & SAT Essay

Heard this “rumor” a few days ago. We will post on it more as we learn more. Read Compass’ post here for their full run-down, including some helpful (and evolving) Q/A:

Does this mean that my Subject Test registration is canceled?
There will not be any future U.S. administrations of the Subject Tests. International students will have the opportunity to take Subject Tests in May and June 2021 before the program is sunset altogether. Students can work with College Board to change a Subject Test registration to an SAT registration or receive a refund.

When will colleges update their policies to reflect the cancelation of the Subject Tests and Essay?
It may take time for colleges to react to January 19th’s news. Many colleges do not reevaluate testing requirements until after they complete the admission cycle in the spring. Students in the class of 2022 or later should be aware that language about Subject Tests and the Essay on college websites may be outdated for some time. Colleges that currently utilize the Subject Tests and/or the Essay will need to articulate whether those students who have already taken them are encouraged to submit them. 

Why is College Board making this decision now?
The Subject Test and Essay eliminations are sure to be roundly celebrated by students and counselors who see the move for what it is on its face: a few less items to worry about. And those supportive cheers will play conveniently well into the College Board’s couching of this decision as a purely selfless, student-friendly act. 

But it’s not that simple. While the end of Subject Tests removes one discretionary concern from the minds of a narrow band of college applicants (about 10% of college-bound students took Subject Tests each year), it also frees up resources for the College Board to allocate elsewhere. After celebrating the public relations win of today’s news, College Board will continue doubling down on its efforts and investments to push AP further into the center of the industrial enterprise it so heavily influences: create more AP programs, sell more AP exams, and perhaps even encourage colleges to think of AP scores as de facto college admissions measurements.

So was this a compassionate act aimed at simplifying the lives of students? Or was this a pragmatic decision to cut one’s worst losses? It was both. Today’s news represents at once a move away from an unpopular underperformer and a step toward better nourishing a more tolerated product line with greater potential to thrive. Everybody wins, perhaps? It just feels like the College Board wins a little more.

Will the elimination of Subject Tests mean more interest in AP exams?
Yes, likely so, especially within certain niches. Even with zero U.S. colleges requiring Subject Tests, more than 400,000 were still taken by the class of 2020. This energy has to go somewhere. Some of it will flow to heightened interest in APs and more pressure on schools to make AP testing opportunities available to students. While more than 80% of US high schools offer AP classes, there are thousands of high schools that do not. Some of these schools lack the resources to do so, while others have such an abundance of resources that they do not feel the need to bother. The latter group — predominantly highly competitive independent schools — finds the AP framework constricting. Subject Tests served as an option for non-AP students to demonstrate knowledge to colleges. Without that outlet, schools may face renewed questions from parents about APs.

Can I take an AP instead of a Subject Test?
Some colleges recommend that students provide standardized test scores such as Subject Tests or APs. However, the content and expectations on the AP test are different.  Students should consider whether an AP test — especially when unconnected from an AP course — makes sense.

Currently, students can search the AP ledger at https://apcourseaudit.inflexion.org/ledger/ to find local schools offering the exams that might be able to accommodate test-takers from other schools. The deadline to register for a May exam was pushed back to March 12th this year due to the pandemic. 

Is the SAT Essay eliminated entirely?
The SAT Essay will still be available for students to add on to their SAT through the June 2021 administration. The Essay may survive beyond June for state-funded School Day testing. College Board is contracted to deliver the Essay as part of its SAT program in some states. As an admission tool, students should consider the Essay as canceled.

Will my March SAT w/ Essay registration be canceled?
No, the Essay is still alive through the June 2021 test date. Students should contact College Board if they wish to have their reservations switched to the SAT w/o Essay and the difference in fees refunded.

Will colleges look at SAT Essay and ACT Writing scores that students have already taken?
Admission offices have not yet said if they will ignore prior essay scores or scores that are part of state-mandated testing. Compass does not expect that essay scores will have a role to play for the class of 2022 and beyond.

Will ACT eliminate the Writing test?
ACT may not want to be seen as immediately following College Board’s lead, but it faces the same reality — an essay test that was already struggling prior to the pandemic. ACT’s business is even more dependent on state-funded testing, so we expect that it will need time to consult with its partners before announcing a decision. Compass’s recommendation is for U.S. students to skip any optional Writing test.

 

Resume/Activity Sheets: Where Less Is Always More

Resume/Activity Sheets: Where Less Is Always More

The resumes we see tend to take two forms: the students who does it all, but nothing very deeply or well, and the students who does very little (to varying degrees of depth and rigor). 

You don’t need to do it all, but you do need to do something, or a few things, really well or to an extent that goes beyond that of your peers. And if you can’t help but spread yourself a bit thin, you can still craft a narrow application (ask us how!). 

Colleges look for students with something unique, a specific talent, skill, or interest to add to their next class. Students who drill down on an interest or two early on in high school will be better positioned to tell a clear, focused story in their applications. By doing so, they hand the reader of their file exactly what they are looking for—they make it easy to see the value you will add on campus.

This might mean doing a lot of exploration early in high school and this is okay. However, don’t be afraid to find something you like, drill down on it, and not do too much else extracurricularly. You don’t want a resume that reads like a laundry list anyway.

Here’s what a few top colleges have to say on the subject via Niche:

  • “You [should] demonstrate a deep commitment to and genuine appreciation for what you spend your time doing. The joy you take in the pursuits that really matter to you – rather than a resume padded with a long list of activities – will strengthen your candidacy.” –Yale’s advice on Activities
  • “When we evaluate an applicant’s activity list, we’re not looking for a specific number of involvements or even specific types.  We are much more interested in seeing an applicant follow their passions and show dedication over time to a few specific involvements rather than spreading themselves too thin.” –USC Admissions Blog
  • “We are looking for students who will contribute their talents, interests, perspectives, and distinct voices to our community… We are more interested in your focus on a few activities over time (such as work, care for parents and siblings, service, or athletics), rather than membership in a long list of clubs—although we understand that some students can balance an assortment of activities.” –Swarthmore College, “What We Look for in a Swattie”
  • “You’re joining a team. And because we’re recruiting a team of people who will work together, we want a variety of strengths and talents that, together, will form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. So, not every talented student needs to be talented in the same way.” – UNC-Chapel Hill, “Who We Want”

The question I ask a lot when thinking about activities: How much can you meaningfully contribute to more than a few activities? Narrowing down your interests and corresponding activities can provide the time and space needed to engage more meaningfully and at a higher level in the one or two things you love the most. It’s a bonus if these activities relate to your potential college major, or support it in some way!

Remember, colleges seek to build a well-rounded class comprised of students with unique talents and skills, not a class full of generalists.

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January Action Plan – By Grade

January Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

  • If you have RD applications due in mid-January that you did not submit, finish those up ASAP. The same goes for 2/1 deadline apps; there is no reason to wait!
  • The process of applying to college is not over after you press submit, so keep checking those online portals! Some schools require a mid-term grade report as noted on the application instructions (found online). It can be helpful to generate that list and let your school counselor know so it is sent as soon as grades are released. Also, many schools require it even after you have been admitted. 
  • Grades are still important. Even one grade below your “normal” can be cause for concern; we’ve had students receive letters from schools after they had been admitted for a grade that “dipped” too far, threatening their admission could be taken away. Avoid this by maintaining your GPA.
  • If you were deferred, work on your deferral letter this month and aim to send it mid-month.
  • Thank everyone who helped you with your college process (especially your parents!), and take some time to enjoy what is left of high school between now and the rest of your admissions results.

Juniors:

  • Testing. Once you are in prep-mode it is best to just keep going. The sooner you are finished testing, the sooner you can begin to finalize your college list. If you have a preliminary list, February break is a great time to visits colleges. Plan some visits.
  • Confirm your summer plans. Next summer is a wonderful opportunity to do something really meaningful (and perhaps even fun!) that will help you tell your story to colleges.
  • Start to think about your senior year schedule. Do you know what you will be taking? Your senior classes should be the most challenging of your four years.
  • Resolve to check your email daily. Why? Colleges communicate with students via email. Most schools track whether you open emails and if you click through them; more engagement is seen as more interest (schools use interest in the admissions process). Make checking and engaging with any college-related email a habit in 2021.

Sophomores & Freshmen:

  • Are you planning to take SAT subject tests in May or June? If so, come up with a prep plan now.
  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. Study hard.
  • Speaking of courses, when do you pick your courses for 11th grade? Keep in mind you want to take a more rigorous course schedule each year.
  • 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 your academic interests is Khan Academy.
  • One way that your “story” is conveyed in your app is through your resume. Work on your resume now.
  • Many 2021 summer program applications will open soon. Begin thinking about your plans for summer 2021 now so you can get ahead of deadlines and work on applications if needed.
  • Replace one hour of social media, Netflix, or TV per week with time on Ted ED. Explore what intrigues you! Maybe it’s the history of cheese, particle physics, or what makes a poem a poem. Whatever you find interesting, take some time to be intentional about learning more in the new year!

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Peer Guidance Program: Go Beyond the College Tour!

Peer Guidance Program: Go Beyond the College Tour!

Given campus visit restrictions, students are finding it more challenging than ever before to get a sense of what a college is really like. Prospective applicants want (and need!) information they can’t always get online, and that they would often get by sitting in on classes, going on overnight visits, or even meeting with current students on campus through sports teams, affinity groups, or clubs they hope to join if admitted.

Whether students get to campus or not, we know from experience that they can craft smaller, more targeted college lists that reflect a deep knowledge of schools beyond rankings when they talk to current students and young alumni. Talking to peers is also the single best way to learn more about the social aspects of college and what it is like (realistically!) to follow a certain major path.

With that, we’ve launched a new Peer Guide program!

We have a small pool of college students who are available to meet with high school students and help guide them on all things their school, major, and college life in general. Here’s how it works:

Reach out letting us know the specific school or major you want peer guidance on, and we will let you know if guides are available and share their bio(s). *Please note, as we are piloting this program, we might not have a guide available for your college or major of interest; if one becomes available later, we will let you know

-You choose a guide(s) and let us know how much time you want with them (one hour is typically sufficient). Time with the guide is purchased in one-hour blocks, and we ask that you use the time with your guide within three months

-We intro the student and guide, and they take it from there! This is not a formal mentorship program, and students and guides will schedule their time together directly. *Please note, this is a near-peer, student-to-student program. Guides do not meet with or communicate with parents

We have guides from many popular schools including:

  • Michigan
  • Dartmouth
  • Duke
  • Tulane
  • Stanford
  • Princeton
  • Harvard
  • GWU
  • Georgetown
  • Cornell
  • Notre Dame
  • Northeastern
  • and more!

Email us if you are interested in learning more!

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Steps for Deferred College Applicants

Every year we work with a handful of deferred students on turning those defers into admits. Reach out to us if you want individualized, 1:1 guidance!

Some colleges and universities can’t admit all of the students they would like to via early decision or early action (“ED” or “EA”), so they defer some and evaluate them again during regular decision (“RD”). These candidates have a shot (albeit small at many top-top schools) at getting admitted RD. However, some schools just defer everyone or almost everyone! A not so nice practice. Most students who fall into this category should move on and focus on other schools. If you are not sure which category you fall into, reach out to us. 

If you’d like some general guidance on working the deferral, you’ll find it below. But first, a few notes before doing anything to “work” a deferral:

1. Stay positive for RD, or preferably, early decision II (“ED II”), and keep moving forward on other apps! Those are much more important now.

2. Consider ED II if you are currently not. Not all schools have ED II; check your Common App to see if ED II is offered at any schools on your list. Why? because….

3. The RD round is tough and this year’s early numbers (at top-top schools where numbers are NOT down) demonstrate it might be even tougher than before; it is smart to get familiar with the ED I and RD numbers and understand why ED II can present a significant advantage over RD. Read this chart by Jeff Levy and Jeannie Kent. Pay particular attention to the percentage of the class filled by early plans.

4. Don’t make the same mistakes again (or again, and again…). You should be very open to doing a thorough evaluation of what might have gone wrong with your early app(s). With fresh eyes, you might find a few things you would change. Or, with the feedback from someone else, see that you missed the mark. If you’d like an expert evaluation of your deferred app, our “redo report,” contact us.

Other Tips:

–Get your guidance counselor’s support. Have your guidance counselor advocate for you (call) and reach out to your regional rep (or whoever their contact is in the admissions office). Make sure updated grades/transcripts are sent promptly. Your grades should have remained the same or improved, not dipped.

-If you applied test-optional, consider taking and/or sending scores. Colleges have always valued competitive scores and this year is likely no different.

–Get an extra letter of recommendation if the school notes you are allowed to send one*. This letter could be written by a teacher, coach, or someone else close to you who can speak to your background, performance, and potential.

*Side note on alumni letters and letters from well-known or famous people. Many students ask if these are helpful to send, and the answer is usually no. And…some schools explicitly state not to send any extras.

–Make contacts locally and talk to students and alumni. Reach out to local alumni chapters and ask if there is anyone willing to meet with you for an informal informational interview. Use this meeting as an opportunity to learn more about the school, and demonstrate your interest in attending. Information learned in these meetings are beneficial to include in your deferral letter.

-Connect with your regional rep and consider sending a deferral letter (aka a letter of continued interest). You should have connected with them prior to applying, so this email won’t be out of the blue. Ask if they have any specific advice for deferred candidates. Are reasons for the deferral that you can address in the coming months (grades, test scores or lack thereof, lack of demonstrating interest, or understanding the mission and values of the school)? If you had an interview and established a good relationship with your interviewer, you can also reach out to them to see if they have any tips. A deferral letter should contain information updating the school on what you’ve been up to both inside and outside of the classroom since the time you applied as a way to show your fit for the school, how you will add value, etc. It should not be a list of your accomplishments or a brag sheet. Contact us if you would like some help with your deferral letter.

Secondary Efforts:

-Use social media to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to follow your top choice schools on Facebook, Instagram, or other social channels. Most schools also have LinkedIn pages you can follow. These touchpoints likely won’t help significantly, but can’t hurt as a way to demonstrate interest.

 

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What Has Not Changed in College Admissions

What Has Not Changed in College Admissions

In his recent Forbes article, The College Admission Precedent, Brendan Barnard asks us to please stop using the word unprecedented when describing the college process this year because it is “an unwelcome and constant reminder of just how uncertain the past months have been, as our world reels in the face of a global pandemic.” I’m not bothered by it, but what I love about his piece is the focus on the constants. Year over year, things really don’t change all that much. A few quotes I pulled that remind us to keep moving forward, take a deep breath, and stay the course:

Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment at Cornell University points out that “the basic timing for college learning and degree-seeking as a life event doesn’t seem to have faced the same kind of profound disruption as other related activities.” He says, “with minor exceptions, we’re still seeing students aiming to complete their high school career on time and begin their college career shortly after, and the same for students progressing from college to career or to graduate and professional schools.” He adds, “even when the mechanisms and the anticipated experience are uncertain or have significantly changed, most—really almost all—students seem committed to their anticipated timeline and progress without interruption.” 

Jeff Schiffman, director of admission at Tulane University agrees. He says, “frankly, the applications themselves were not substantially different from previous years. Yes, we saw more students mentioning ‘caring for younger siblings’ in their extracurricular list, and yes we saw a few times where the “12” was missing from the grades the student played tennis, but overall most applications were not markedly different from previous years.” He adds, “to me, it felt mostly like business as usual.” 

Todd Rinehart, vice chancellor for enrollment at the University of Denver at the current NACAC president points out that, “while much has changed this year in the way colleges and students engage with each other and how college admission officers conduct their work, students can take solace that the application reading and evaluation process is still grounded in the same principles and factors as previous years.” He adds, “admission counselors may be working remotely, but our reading and committee work will continue successfully, providing students full consideration for admission and scholarships. That process will not be jeopardized!”

And my favorite — please please students take this man’s advice and get apps in EARLY:

To that end, Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign highlights another enduring truth about how students apply to college. He says, “it is human nature to apply right before the deadline. Of our Early Action applicants, over half came in within the final two days of our deadline. This has been true for each of the last several years. It doesn’t appear to matter if our deadline is November 1 or November 15, most students will apply within a few days of the deadline.” While unlikely, a change to this precedent would be welcome by many anxious parents and educators!

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Optional Components of the College Application

Optional Components of the College Application

If you want to maximize your chances of acceptance, don’t consider any optional components of a college application optional. Here are some common optional components:

  • Essays
  • Interviews
  • Videos submissions
  • Letter of recommendation (any or extras)

Option to write an optional essay? Write it.

Option to Interview? Sign up (then prepare for it…more on that here and here).

Option to create and send a video introduction, for example, like CMC, U Chicago and Bowdoin offer? Do it.

Option to send an extra letter of recommendation, or to send one at all if optional (many schools require zero LORs, so if you can submit one as an option….)? Request one and have it sent.

Why submit optional materials? It means you want to go above and beyond what other applicants will do to demonstrate who they are as well as their commitment to being accepted to the school to which you are applying. You are giving yourself the opportunity to let the admissions committee get to know more about you. More of “you” to evaluate, assuming the you that you present is in a good light, is usually a good thing.

Also, for many AdComs, not submitting optional materials looks lazy. If I have applicant A and applicant B on the table, and all things are equal but A submits extra materials and B does not, there is a higher likelihood I am going with A. I like to see the extra hustle, and colleges do, too.

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Our Early Admit List!

Our Early Admit List!

Our students rock! We are grateful they chose to have us along for the ride, and this year, an extraordinarily tough year, we are so so proud of the work they put in. Their efforts do not go unnoticed by colleges, either. Although we are believers that the journey is just as sweet as the reward, we are celebrating the reward (acceptances) in this post. 

Below you will find some of the schools our students have been admitted to so far:

Boston College
Boston University
Carnegie Mellon
Coastal Carolina
Columbia University
Cornell 
Drexel
Duke
Embry Riddle
Fairfield
Fordham
Georgetown
Grand Valley State
Hope College
Indiana University
Knox College
Lehigh
Loyola Marymount (CA)
Michigan State
New York University
Northeastern 
Oakland University
Ohio State University
Ole Miss
Pace University
Penn State
Providence College
Rollins College
Southern Methodist University
Temple University
Texas Christian University
Tufts
Tulane
Union
University of Arizona
University of Delaware
University of Georgia
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Miami
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of South Carolina
University of Tampa
University of Tennessee
University of Texas, Austin
University of Vermont
West Virginia University
William and Mary
Xavier University

…and many more on the way for the class of 2021 (college class of 2025)!

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Rejection and Lack of Fit

Rejection and Lack of Fit

With the amount I post on how to deal with failure, rejection, and disappointment, you’d think all of your students rack up a long list of denials! That’s not the case, and since this blog is widely read outside of our client base, I post what’s on my mind around this process broadly. I know this time of year is tough on families with high hopes in this process, so I post about the tough parts.

A want to share a wonderful article by Adam Grant.  As someone who has been rejected an appropriate amount, How to Bounce Back From Rejection is something I believe I know well. However, it is not something you can really teach or prepare a student for when it comes to the college process. There will be some disappointment and it hurts. Sometimes it comes before you submit apps, for example, hearing that you don’t have a competitive profile for a certain school. But often it comes later, once that sentiment is cemented by a deferral or rejection.

What Grants points out that I hope all students can keep in mind is rejection often happens because of a lack of fit. In college admissions, you don’t control what a school decides is the fit they need at any given moment in the process. It is not entirely personal or a reflection of your whole self as a student, person, friend, classmate, son, daughter, etc. Students, please remember:

We are more than the bullet points on our resumes. We are better than the sentences we string together into a word salad under the magnifying glass of an interview. No one is rejecting us. They are rejecting a sample of our work, sometimes only after seeing it through a foggy lens.

And I hope parents also do not take a college rejection personally. I know many of you who were/are deep in the process; where your student goes to college has nothing to do with and says nothing about your success as a parent.

“When someone rejects you, it helps to remember that there’s another you.” Hang in there!

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