The College List: Balancing Risk

The College List: Balancing Risk

University of Michigan psychologist Clyde Coombs developed an innovative theory of risk. If you are going to make risky investment, you protect yourself by playing it safe in other investments. Successful people do the same thing in their daily lives balancing out risks in their portfolio. When we embrace danger in one domain, we offset our overall level of risk by exercising caution in another domain.

This is a good way to think about building your college list.

Some students like to take a big risk with their top choice school. Not always a good idea, but here’s where making good use of different application plans might be beneficial in balancing that risk. If you know Cornell is an “aspirational” school for you—beyond a reach—I would advise to not apply there ED. However, if a student decided they wanted to go for it (and I could not change their mind!), I would strongly advise they balance that decision by applying EA to a range of schools with different levels of selectivity that they liked. For example, UNC, U-M, Penn State, Ohio State, Richmond, and Clemson. I would also advise applying to all of these EA schools if the ED school choice was a bit more reasonable, say, Wake Forest. It is just a good strategy to apply EA along with ED!

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Start Now: College Counseling for High School Juniors

Start Now: College Counseling for High School Juniors

We’ve seen too many students wait until the summer after 11th grade to try to develop and implement the strategies needed to tackle the college application process successfully and with ease. Often, there is just not enough time to do the pre-work that results in the most effective essays, outreach, and positive admissions outcomes.

The best time to start? Now.

Juniors, right now you can:

  • Develop relationships with admissions officers and regional reps (the people who make key decisions on your application) as well as current students and faculty (we can fill you in on why these connections are so important)
  • Create a testing plan that has you ready for apps due on 10/15 or 11/1 and not cramming last minute
  • Open up a Common App account to get familiar with the system
  • Make the best of campus visits and leverage contacts at colleges on these visits
  • Craft a preliminary college list that maximizes the 5+ application plans colleges now use

We hate seeing the second half of junior year go to waste!

We speak to everyone we ultimately work with for at least 30-minutes free of charge to determine how we can best support you. If we feel like we can’t we will provide referrals.

Contact us today to discuss what you can do now to always stay a step—or three—ahead of the game.

 

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What to do if you’ve been deferred to regular decision

What to do if you’ve been deferred to regular decision

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 schools) at getting admitted RD. However, some schools just defer everyone or almost everyone! A not so nice practice. Most students that fall into this category should move on and focus on other schools.

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!

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 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. 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, contact us.

Other Tips:

–Get your guidance counselor’s support. Have your guidance counselor advocate for you.

-Make sure updated grades/transcript are sent promptly. Your grades should have remained the same or improved, not dipped.

–Get an extra letter of recommendation*. 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 no unless the person really knows you or they have a solid connection to admissions.

–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. 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, lack of 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:

-Visit the school and swing by admissions to reiterate interest. Sit in on a class and take advantage of any admissions events and/or programming you may not have the first time around. Keep in mind that if you already visited and the school is more than a drive or train ride away, this might seem extravagant.

-Use social media to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to follow your top choice schools on Facebook, Instagram, Snap 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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Rejection Often Happens Because of a Lack of Fit

When someone rejects you, it helps to remember that there’s another you.

I’m revisiting a wonderful article by Adam Grant from earlier this year because post-November 1, my mind tends to drift to mid-December—when college admissions decisions from the most selective schools begin releasing. I love the rush of October and seeing students “picture” come together in their applications. What I don’t love is the anxiety that leads up to decision releases and knowing how hard most students take rejection.

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 this process. But what Grants points out that I hope all students and parents can keep in mind is rejection often happens because of a lack of fit; it is not entirely personal or a reflection of your whole self as a student: 

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.

 

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Why to Reconsider Applying to Schools with Under 10% Admit Rates in RD

College admissions can be heartbreaking on many levels, but what’s “the worst” is the number of applicants who think they can get lucky in regular decision—especially at schools with ED II, and who report RD admit rates under 10%. Even for students with a strong resume and “great” numbers, the odds are against you. At the most selective schools, there is not much luck to be had.

You’ll need something special (or a special combination of things) to get a fair look at a top-top school in RD: be at the top of your class with perfect or near-perfect grades, have little/no competition from classmates, be a legacy, and often very important, attend a high school that has an already established pipeline to these schools. You’ll need some awesome essays, too.

It might help to see that a 5% admit rate = 95% rejection rate

I know this sounds negative, and anyone who knows me knows that I am a glass half full type of person, but it’s time to start seeing rejection rates for what they are, especially if your list is full of schools with admit rates under ~25% (meaning the RD rate could dip to under ~10%).

Sometimes [insert uber-selective school here] just needs a new library, or full-pays, or more women from Idaho, or a flute player. So…

Don’t take it personally if you don’t fall into that tiny, tiny pool; you are, I promise, still enough.

 

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Tips for 11/15 and 12/1 Deadlines

It is time to press submit (if you haven’t already!)! A few things to keep in mind as you finalize applications:

  • Have official standardized test scores sent ASAP. If you are waiting on recent test scores, you do have the option of submitting apps with the future date noted, but make sure you remember to send official scores when they are released. Double-check score reporting policies. Some schools require you to send all of your scores and do not participate in score choice. Some schools don’t require that you send official scores at all (at the time you apply). You can review the list of colleges that do not require official test scores at the time you apply here: https://www.compassprep.com/self-reporting-test-scores/
  • Meet with your high school counselor and have them review all of your applications before you submit them. After any final changes, print all of your applications and review them the old-fashioned way (using a pen, on paper). When you press the review/submit button (on the Common App) a PDF is generated, which is very easy to print. This is not environmentally friendly, but worth it. Don’t final review apps on a screen. Print them and read them backward.
  • Follow up with the teachers writing your letters of recommendation and encourage them to submit their letters on time. Don’t forget to say thank you!
  • If you added “Other” recommenders to your applications—for example, a coach, work supervisor, or research mentor—shoot them a friendly reminder, too.

And though not exactly related to submitting your apps, don’t forget to:

  • Study for any remaining standardized tests (SAT, ACT, SAT Subjects).
  • Interview where possible. Check to see if the schools on your list (even those you are applying to in the regular decision round) have priority interview deadlines.
  • Write interest letters or follow-up emails to top choice schools.

 

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What Colleges Want

The following was taken directly from the JHU website, but it’s so applicable to any selective college/university, that I wanted to share it:

Academic Character 

How do you demonstrate your academic passions? What is important to you? To get a good idea of where your academic spirit lies, we’ll look at your transcripts and testing, but also your teacher and counselor recommendations.

Impact and Initiative

Our undergraduates contribute to our campus and our community. We urge students to think about how they can make a difference through service, leadership, and innovation. The admissions committee looks closely at applicants’ extracurricular activities and recommendations to assess commitments outside the classroom.

Personal Contributions

How do you engage with your community—academically, personally, and socially? What personal qualities do you possess that would make you a good fit for our campus? We’re looking for students who are eager to follow their interests at the college level and are enthusiastic about joining the campus community.

So what does all of this boil down to? Colleges seek students who are actively engaged participants in life! Everyone has time to:

  • Pursue their academic/intellectual interests outside of classes
  • Make an impact by meaningfully engaging in and giving back to their community

You don’t need that much time to make it happen. Ask us how!

 

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October Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

If you are working with us, you get a personalized action plan each month (and you can skip this post!). Here’s an overview by grade:

Seniors

  • Keep writing! You should have quite a few applications completed by this time. Please do not save essay writing (or any part of this process) for the last minute. Submit applications as soon as possible.
  • Talk to your letter of recommendation writers and make sure they are aware of your early deadlines.
  • Continue connecting with students, faculty, and staff. Remember to interview where applicable and take lots of notes. The information you gather is often perfect material for supplemental “Why School” essays and interest letters after you apply!
  • If your school hosts a college fair or individual college visits, please attend and meet the reps from the schools on your list. If you have already met them, it is still beneficial to stop by and say hello to demonstrate interest.
  • Prep for interviews. Remember, if the schools on your list have on-campus or local interviews that are candidate-initiated, you must schedule them. Check the schools on your list. All of this information is provided on schools’ admissions websites.
  • Have standardized test scores sent to all of the colleges on your list, if required; please send scores now, so they arrive before deadlines. Some schools no longer require you send officials, so please review each school’s application instructions to confirm. You can also review the list here: https://www.compassprep.com/self-reporting-test-scores/  *there is no penalty if you send them and they are not required at the time you apply. Many students send them to all of the schools on their list. 

Juniors

  • If you look at your resume, are your academic interests clear? If yes, then your academic narrative is developed. A clear-cut academic narrative is beneficial; if you are undecided, then you should be exploring multiple interests. It is okay to be undecided as long as you are actively working on finding your niche. Please keep in mind that colleges aren’t looking for you to have it all 100% figured out; they are more concerned that you have interests and that you act on them (they want to see that you are intellectually curious and act on that curiosity!).
  • Now is the time to plan the rest of junior year in terms of testing. When will you take the ACT or SAT? Will you need SAT Subject Tests? How many and which ones? When might you take them? Have you started formal test prep? Now is the time to start!
  • Although I do not suggest formally prepping for the PSAT, if you would like to get a sense of what is on the test, you can read more here: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10/practice
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. S/he will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and it’s a much more personal letter 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.
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in, and explore the admissions and academics pages. Start to think about your major(s) of interest and how the activities you are involved in support these interests. If possible, we want to determine what major(s) options you will list on your applications sooner rather than later so you can best prepare yourself for talking about these interests in your apps. If you need suggestions for activities based on your interests (for example, Coursera courses, independent projects, etc.), let us know—we help with this!
  • Fall is a great time to visit colleges, so plan a few trips if you can. If you can sit in on a class, meet with faculty or current students, or schedule other experiences while on campus, please do. All of this falls under what I call “extended research and outreach,” and can be beneficial in the college search and application process. Also, whether you can get to campus or not, take virtual tours via CampusReel!
  • Do you have a plan in place to get more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Look for leadership opportunities in school clubs and activities outside of school too. Remember, leadership is far more than leading a school club or sports team.

Sophomores and Freshmen

  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. A rigorous course schedule shows intellectual curiosity, a willingness to challenge yourself, and that you are comfortable with hard work. Your number one priority this year should be your grades!
  • If you haven’t done so already, get involved in activities in your area(s) of interest both 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 in which you are involved in a significant, meaningful way. Evidence of leadership, initiative, commitment, and meaningful engagement is important. Avoid the laundry list resume.
  • 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 can show initiative, dedication, and leadership. If you are interested in creating an opportunity for yourself that is not available at your school or through a formal program, contact us, because we can help!
  • Many schools allow 10th graders to take a practice PSAT.  The experience of taking the PSAT as a sophomore will give you a sense of what to expect on future exams. However, you don’t need to prep for it.
  • 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 you apply to college, so make an effort to get to know them and for them to get to know you.

 

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College Admissions Truths

Great piece by Valerie Strauss in the Washingon Post the other day. Check it out here. From it, here are some truths about college admission, as offered by college admission deans, via “The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together,”:

  • “College admission is NOT about finding the one ‘right’ college for you, but discovering the many — across multiple levels of selectivity — that will welcome you and challenge you to grow as a student and a person.” — Bill Conley, vice president for enrollment management, Bucknell University
  • “Even directors of admission get rejected. As a high school senior, I was denied admission to my first choice college. Now, I am the director of admission at the university I attended. Point being: Things have a way of working themselves out. Just like the John Lennon quote, ‘Everything will be all right in the end; If it’s not all right, it’s not the end,’ you are going to have ups and downs and might have to deal with some stinging rejections. These are rejections of your application, not of you as a person. But these things happen with a purpose. There’s more than one ‘perfect school’ for you, and even if it doesn’t seem apparent at this very moment, eventually, things will be all right.” — Jeff Schiffman, director of admission, Tulane University
  • “Families hold significantly more power in their college search and student’s success than they typically imagine possible.” — Candace Boeninger, associate vice provost for strategic enrollment management and director of undergraduate admissions, Ohio University
  • “No one is entitled to enroll at the selective institution of their choice. Your hard work and ability increase your college options but not your ability to choose exactly where you will go. It is a process where you can do absolutely everything right and not get what you want. For some students (and parents), it’s the first time that happens.” — Mike Sexton, vice president for enrollment management, Santa Clara University
  • “Every institution has different resources and priorities, so every process will be different. Trying to boil it down to a one-size-fits-all will you leave you frustrated, and probably looking like a generic applicant.” — Santiago Ybarra, director of admission, Pitzer College
  • “We enjoy ADMITTING students. I am not a Dean of Denial and there is no Denial Committee. I am a Dean of Admission and lead an ADMISSION Committee. We look for reasons to admit students, as opposed to reasons to deny them.” — Kent Rinehart, dean of admission, Marist College
  • “Students do want to find great places that will help them be successful in the next phase of their educational journeys. Colleges do want to find students who will thrive on their campuses. We all get a bit blinded by side issues of selectivity, perceived prestige and fine distinctions of quality.” — Matt Malatesta, vice president for admissions, financial aid and enrollment, Union College
  • “Selectivity has nothing to do with the quality of education.” — Heidi Simon, senior associate director of admission, University of Kansas
  • “We need to tell students: That their social and emotional well-being in a postsecondary education environment is as important as being ready for the rigors of the educational or classroom challenges. That they are not defined by an acceptance letter, T-shirt or bumper sticker. That wherever they go, they will be successful and happy and they will be supported.” — Jody Glassman, director of university admissions, Florida International University
  • “The vast majority of colleges admit more than half of their applicant pools. Their graduates go on to live happy, successful and fulfilling lives — even when they don’t attend the handful of highly selective colleges frequently cited in the media.” — Mary Wagner, assistant vice president for enrollment management, executive director of admission, University of South Carolina
  • “Much of the admission decision rests on factors beyond the student’s control by the time the application is submitted.” — Heath Einstein, dean of admission, Texas Christian University
  • “The various rankings will do more harm — making you overlook a great school — than any good you might expect after a well-researched college search process.” — Andy Borst, director of admissions, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • “College admission offices strive to support and serve a diverse and talented array of prospective students while fulfilling institutional expectations and strategic priorities. It is in the hope of serving both student and institution that admission offices navigate the complexities, challenges and incongruent priorities of these two extremely important but often disparate masters. Finding mutually successful outcomes both has become the all-consuming, challenging and increasingly difficult work of admission professionals today.” — Mike Steidel, dean of admission, Carnegie Mellon University
  • “ ‘Fit’ works both ways — students and colleges should both be true to their identities and goals when making decisions about whom they should admit (colleges) and where they should enroll (students).” — Brian Troyer, dean of admissions, Marquette University
  • “Most public colleges and universities have a greater responsibility to in-state students because of the state funding that is received. Therefore, we charge a tuition premium for an out-of-state resident.” — Clark Brigger, assistant vice president for undergraduate education and executive director for undergraduate admissions, Pennsylvania State University
  • “You can only attend one institution, and applying to more than 20 means a lot of extra work on the back end, for the student/family, trying to determine the best fit. We understand that many students are in search of the best deal (gift aid) from a university, but you can also use our net-price calculators to obtain an idea of how much you might be eligible to receive.” — John Ambrose, interim executive director of admissions, Michigan State University
  • “There are three key steps — students decide where to apply; colleges make admission offers; and students have control again in the end when they decide where to enroll. And when one considers that students have significant ownership of their curriculum and the grades they earn, they actually have great influence on all three stages of the admission process.” — Todd Rinehart, vice chancellor for enrollment, University of Denver
  • “Families should be more focused on the rooms they walk into every day, i.e. their kitchens, living rooms, classrooms, than admission committee rooms they’ll never enter. Admission decisions are not fair. They are neither a value judgment, an assessment of parenting acumen, or a prediction of future success.” — Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admission, Georgia Institute of Technology

 

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College Admissions Interviews: Alumni Interview Protocols

Alumni interview season is upon us, so I wanted to get a post up for seniors looking to get a sense of what’s in store for 2019-2020.

For many students, college admissions interviews are fear-inducing. And though there is some decent prep material online, you can often go right to the source for clarity on what the process entails. There is no reason to fear your alumni interview because many schools have their protocols and the guidance/instructions they give your interviewer available for you to review online—including possible interview questions.

Knowing the questions you might be asked is one thing but thoroughly preparing is another completely. You do not need to spend hours preparing answers to hundreds of questions to thoroughly prepare for alumni or any other college admissions interview. Canned responses sound unnatural. In my experience, taking the less stressful approach bodes well for students: they do not waste hours preparing, which can detract from other important tasks (homework, community engagement, writing admissions essays) and because they have not overprepared, they will sound far more natural and “themselves” therefore  win over an interviewer.

Remember, so much of a college admissions interview (and this entire process!) is about likeability—rehashing your resume word-for-word does not make you likable, but being able to hold a conversation and do so with ease does! Getting to the point of doing so with ease is the hardest part for high school students (who have not interviewed all that much, typically), but over-preparing won’t help. Resist the urge.

Below, I’ve compiled a few of the alumni interview links for some popular, selective schools. Take some time to read over the information provided, but do not obsess over it.

You can find a general list of potential interview questions in one of my older posts, but contact us if you want individualized help preparing for your college interviews—alumni or otherwise—or want access to additional materials. We’ve helped hundreds of students ace their interviews and gain acceptance to their first-choice colleges and universities—don’t miss an opportunity to shine in person!

 

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