Optional Materials in College Admissions

Optional Materials in College Admissions

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
  • Video submissions
  • Portolios (art, maker, etc.)
  • Recommendations (any or extras)

Option to write an optional essay? Write it.

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

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

Option to send a portfolio? If you have a talent that fits the portfolio requirements go for 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? By doing so you are going above and beyond what other applicants will do to demonstrate who they are to admissions. This could be especially important this year as schools go test-optional. It demonstrates a greater commitment to being accepted to the school to which you are applying. And because there is more of “you” for them to evaluate, you typically increase your odds of winning over the admissions committee.

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 if those materials help me get to know them better. I like to see the extra hustle, and colleges do, too.

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5 Action Items for High School Sophomores & Juniors

5 Action Items for High School Sophomores & 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 eventually admissions outcomes.

The best time to start prepping to apply to college is now if you are in grade 11 or 10.

Right now you can:

  • Develop relationships with admissions officers and regional reps (the people that make key decisions on your application) as well as current students and faculty (ask us why these connections are so important)
  • Create a testing plan that has you ready for apps due on 11/1 or 11/15 and not taking tests last minute
  • Make the best of campus visits (virtual and in-person when the time comes!) and leverage contacts at colleges on these visits
  • Craft a preliminary college list that maximizes the 5+ application plans colleges now use
  • Open up a Common Application account to get familiar with the system so by the time you apply you know it like the back of your hand 

Don’t let this time go to waste. Email us to discuss what you can do now to always stay a step—or three—ahead of the game.

 

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September Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

September Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

 

Seniors

  • Welcome to senior year! Your grades this fall are important, but you also need to keep making progress on your apps and complete any remaining testing if applicable. It might feel like a lot to juggle, but you’ve got this! My biggest piece of advice is to keep moving forward.
  • Meet with your school counselor to discuss your counselor letter, finalize your college list, confirm your teacher recommendations, and go over your application strategy. ost early deadlines are November 1 or later, but a few schools have mid-October deadlines. Plan on submitting ALL applications well in advance of deadlines. To me, well in advance means at least 1-3 weeks ahead of time.
  • Keep writing! If you started essays this summer, you should have quite a few completed by this time. Please do not save essay writing (or any part of this process) for the last minute.
  • 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 (even virtually!), 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.
  • Continue to visit colleges virtually and show 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.
  • Remember to send schools your official test scores (ACT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests). Self-reported scores on applications are not official scores.
  • Remember to read the application instructions for the schools on your list.
  • Keep writing essays!

Juniors

  • If your school hosts a college fair or individual college visits (virtually this year in many cases!), please attend and meet the reps from the schools that might be on your list. Be sure to send them a follow-up email thanking them for their time.
  • 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 at least one virtual tour per week!
  • 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. Most colleges prefer to see fewer activities, but in which you are involved in a significant, meaningful way.
  • 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. Talk to them about how the first few weeks of classes go, and if you need to make any adjustments to your schedule.
  • Independent reading matters. Regular reading of articles and editorials (e.g. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist) in addition to studying vocabulary lists and signing up for “Word/Article/SAT Question of the Day” can have a significant positive impact on standardized testing and your writing. Colleges love readers!

 

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Free Online Event: Academic, Testing, and College Prep Strategies for an Unconventional School Year

Free Online Event: Academic, Testing, and College Prep Strategies for an Unconventional School Year

Reminder to join us for an interactive discussion focused on strategies to support students in grades 9-12. Some topics we will cover include:

-What college prep looks like in grades 9-10
-Test prep timing
-Extracurricular planning when most EC’s have moved online
-Researching colleges when you can’t get to campus
-When to apply under test-optional policies
-The COVID 19 essay

Date: August 25, 2020
Time: 8pm Eastern
Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86253772749

Please RSVP at your earliest convenience, and submit your questions for a live Q&A via the RSVP form.

See you on August 25th!

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August Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

August Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

We will be taking a break from the blog for most of August through Labor Day weekend, posting only when very important news calls for it. We are focusing on making sure our seniors start school with most of their app work complete, so if you are a rising senior and have not started, now is the time!

Seniors

  • The Common App refresh is complete. If you opened a Common App account before August 1, please log in to “roll” over the base data. Please add schools to your CA Dashboard and begin filling out the school-specific sections; this is where you can also see supp essays and should be double-checking all prompts as you…
  • Continue to complete essays! And as you do, now is an excellent time to start thinking about your application strategy. Even if you are not finished with testing, you’ll want to complete applications this summer.
  • It might seem like a silly piece of advice, but many students are not aware that every college has a set of application instructions that are not located on the online application. Locate and read them for every school on your list before tackling the application process.
  • Colleges may not open for tours before you submit early applications (in October or earlier). Spend time taking virtual tours and connecting with and learning about colleges in other ways (reaching out to current students and alumni is just one example!).
  • Many colleges don’t proactively ask for online resources, but you may have an interest in creating a digital portfolio (LinkedIn, SoundCloud, GitHub, YouTube channel, personal website, and/or blog) to supplement your other application materials.
  • Touch base with the teachers writing your letters of recommendation. They will be very busy once school starts; be proactive and drop them a note now reiterating your thanks, as well as letting them know when you plan to submit your first apps (this can be far in advance of actual deadlines, for example, in August or September if testing is complete).

Juniors & Sophomores 

  • Work on a purpose project. A purpose project is one that you design and implement (with our help if you’d like!), which taps into your interests and talents (the things you love, that bring you joy, that you want to study in college, or that you feel could best help your school, community, or the world); it is connected to a deeper purpose and has tangible outcomes that you set. Past projects from students include writing a children’s book, completing a literature review or book challenge, creating a trailer for a documentary (and founding a non-profit, a school club, an app), spearheading an innovative volunteer event, fundraising for an organization in a creative way (selling artwork, an Etsy shop, etc.), and hosting a yearly beach clean-up. The possibilities are endless, and colleges love seeing students take part in meaningful, self-directed work. There is still time to design and begin to implement one. Reach out to us if you have questions or want support!
  • Now is the time to plan for testing. When will you take the ACT or SAT? Will you need SAT Subject Tests? Please contact us if you would like suggestions for tutors and other prep resources, or with your testing plan if you already have one in place and have not shared it with me yet.
  • This year, make a plan to get more involved with 1-2 main extracurricular activities (bonus if these support your academic interests). Look for leadership opportunities, but also keep in mind demonstrating leadership goes beyond formally leading a club or team.
  • Start to think about your major of interest (and how the activities you are involved in support it!). You 100% should be exploring your academic interests outside of your coursework.
  • Begin to visit the websites of the schools on your list. Explore the admissions and departmental/academic pages. Attend virtual tours and information sessions; there are so many options, start now!

Freshmen

  • Relax. Enjoy the final month of summer before high school begins!

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New Schools Added to the Common App!

New Schools Added to the Common App!

So many schools are now on the Common App for the 2020-2021 application year! We love knowing students will have fewer apps to fill out. You can find the full list of new members here — some popular new adds include:

Loyola U., Chicago
Auburn
Clemson
Coastal Carolina
U. Georgia
U. of Louisville
U. of South Florida

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Common Application Offline for Refresh: July 28-31

Common Application Offline for Refresh: July 28-31

Rising Seniors Take Note:

This year, the 2019-2020 Common App for first-year applicants will be offline from July 28-31, 2020 in preparation for the launch of the 2020-2021 application on August 1. 

You will not be able to access the app at this time. We suggest logging back in on August 1 and rolling over your account. 

Questions? Email us!

 

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Thoughtful, Authentic, Effective College Essays

Thoughtful, Authentic, Effective College Essays

The college essay is fairly simple to write but often made more complicated than it needs to be. The goal? Clear, concise, effective. Nothing fancy, nothing that should take more than a few weeks, max. 

Effective essays: 

  • Demonstrate authenticity and thoughtfulness
  • Bring the writer to life on paper (but are not an explanation of their whole life)
  • Are excellent in topic, style, and grammar

We are gearing up for a summer busy with college essay support, so our students can start senior year with peace of mind, less stress, and having already completed most of their essays

If you know a rising senior who would benefit from our guidance and who might want to work with one of our two essay experts (both Harvard grads who teach writing), contact us to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation.

 

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How To Approach the Common & Coalition App Coronavirus / COVID-19 Essay

How To Approach the Common & Coalition App Coronavirus / COVID-19 Essay

This year, both applications have added an optional 250-word essay to address the impact COVID-19 has had on you. The prompt for the Common App is as follows (and you can find the Coalition prompt here): 

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces. Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N

If you check “yes,” you will see: Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

Of course, everyone has been affected by the pandemic: many students were not able to complete an internship, attend a summer program, or retake the ACT—and of course, almost all students ended up having to attend classes virtually for the spring semester. Colleges know the pandemic has limited options for every student in many ways! If these normal limitations represent the extent of your experience with COVID-19, we encourage you to skip this essay. AdComs will be reading so many of these essays that an unexceptional one will do little to bolster your application.

If you feel you’ve had an exceptional experience, however, read on for examples of some circumstances that might be acceptable to talk about in this essay. Although this list is not exhaustive, it should give you a sense of what AdComs might expect to read in this new space. 

Circumstances that might warrant an essay: 

  • Illness: You were very sick; a close family member was very sick; or, in the worst-case scenario, someone close to you passed away. 
  • Relocation: You were forced to live elsewhere during this time because you lived in an area with a very high infection rate, because a family member fell sick, or to support a family member with a compromised immune system. 
  • Family Circumstances: A family member lost their job or was furloughed and this affected your family’s situation in a profound way (where you lived, access to basic needs, etc.). 
  • Education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces: Any of the above happened, which resulted in a profound impact on your ability to learn during this time; for instance, you were not able to attend school during this time because you needed to work to support your family or you had no, or very limited, access to a computer with reliable internet. 
  • Future plans: If the pandemic prompted you to rethink your plans for college (you now, for example, want to focus your studies on healthcare policy or ed-tech), it would be acceptable to talk about that impact in this essay. 
  • Exceptional Acts of Service: If the pandemic inspired you to perform an extraordinary act (or acts) of service, ones that had a real impact in either your local community or further away (via online tutoring, for example), admissions officers would want to hear about that, too. 

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Our Favorite (and Free!) Online Courses for High School Students

Our Favorite (and Free!) Online Courses for High School Students

I have been pushing free classes via edX and Coursera for a while now. They are the perfect way for students to build their academic narrative, which is a must when applying to selective colleges. If you did not jump on this suggestion already, this summer is certainly the time.

Below are some of my favorites from both platforms. Click on the course title for a direct link!

English/Writing

Creative Writing Specialization, Wesleyan

Writing in the Sciences, Stanford

Write Your First Novel, Michigan State

Business/Psychology/Leadership

Leading People and Teams Specialization, U-Michigan

The Art and Science of Relationships, U Toronto

The Art of Negotiation, UC Irvine

New Models of Business In Society, UVA

Arts/Fashion

Circular Fashion: Design, Science and Value in a Sustainable Clothing Industry, Wageningen

Inspiring and Motivating Arts and Culture Teams, Michigan

Hollywood: History, Industry, Art, Penn

Weird/Wonderful

Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology, Smithsonian

Tangible Things: Discovering History Through Artworks, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens, and the Stuff Around You, Harvard.

The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture, Smithsonian

 

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