Duke Announces Gap Year Program

This week, the Duke Admissions Office announced the launch of the Duke Gap Year Program, allowing students to apply for up to $15,000 in funding for a gap year program of their choice.
Students will have the flexibility to apply to any gap year program that appeals to them; students approved for funding by the Duke Gap Year Program will receive between $5000 and $15,000 to help them participate in programs and opportunities that may not have otherwise been affordable. A brief application will be available in early 2019, where students can describe their gap year program, their personal goals for the year, and the benefit they will receive from the funding.Students admitted through the Early and Regular Decision processes will be eligible to apply.More information can be found at dukegapyear.duke.edu.

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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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The best time to start planning for college?

Parents of high schoolers frequently ask me when the best time is to begin planning for college. My answer is usually “now!” which often, and more importantly, leads to talking about “how.”

Successful college planning starts with helping students explore their interests and think about what they do best. Starting with strengths encourages students to establish high expectations and create the time and space to work on areas for improvement. One of the keys to having college options is making smart choices early on as it relates to course scheduling, and even how students spend their time outside of school. Knowing how college admissions officers view these choices takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

If you’re interested in learning more about early college planning and how college admissions officers evaluate applications, contact us to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation call.

 

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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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Last Minute Tips for 11/1 College Deadlines

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

  • Send official standardized test scores ASAP if the schools on your list require officials. Double check score reporting policies. Some schools require that you send all of your scores and do not participate in score choice.
  • Meet with your high school counselor and have them review all of your applications before you submit. 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. You can also generate a PDF in the Coalition App. Printing each app is not environmentally friendly, but worth it. Don’t final review apps on a screen. Print them and read them back to front.
  • Follow up with the teachers writing your letters of recommendation and encourage them to submit their letters now. 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.
  • Track your application status after you submit. Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track their status online to ensure schools received all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a college is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.

 

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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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Colleges with Notable Admission Rate Changes for the Class of 2022

A few days ago, this post went out from a beta site by mistake! We apologize, and you can find the “real” post below.

My favorite data site (heck, one of my favorite college admissions sites generally!), College Kickstart, has compiled a list of colleges with the most notable admit rate changes. There are lots of falling admits to report, and many are at some of the most popular schools (at least among the students I work with). Many of the UC’s are represented, as well as some smaller schools like Scripps, Colgate, and Hamilton.

Review the list here!

 

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