UVA is adding the option of applying Early Decision for next year’s class. Next year’s applicants can choose to apply under Early Decision, Early Action, or Regular Decision.
You can see the timeline for all three plans on the application instructions page of our website, but let me point out that we will release the results of the Early Decision review in December. We haven’t been able to do that in about a decade. The application numbers are a bit higher than back then, so the deadline for that first group is moving up to October 15th.
Our review will be consistent throughout the season, as was the case when we just had two options, so there isn’t a time when it’s harder to be admitted. You’ll have to think about the strength of your application and whether you want to commit to UVA up front when deciding on the plan that is best for you.
As always, I’ll be posting our essay prompts in June for those who want to spend some time thinking about their essays over the summer.
Wonderful article by Scott Jaschik on how one high school in Palo Alto—a community not unlike NYC and the metro area—is taking a small but mighty stand against the toxic culture created around college admissions. The conversations taking place at this high school should be and thankfully are taking place at others around the country, and I am hopeful that more and more families will begin to see that there is so much more to the high school and college experience than where you go. It is it time for priorities to shift and for people to start getting real, and it has been time for a while now. Please give this one a read!
Fighting ‘Toxic, Comparison-Driven Culture’
If you live in a certain kind of suburb, you know some of the ways that students and parents boast about getting into the “right” colleges. The casual references to planning for Cambridge or New Haven. The decals or bumper stickers on cars. The constant questions about “where is your son/daughter applying/going?” The process builds the kind of competitive environment that adds to student stress and leaves many feeling inadequate because their college goals don’t include attending the most prestigious of institutions.
Then there is the college map, which at elite high schools is a feature of the end of the school year. A map of the United States shows all the places students will be off to in the fall. Students give permission to have their names linked to the map’s locations, so everyone at elite colleges can learn how many are headed for the Ivies and which ones. At The Campanile, the student newspaper of Palo Alto High School, the map has been an annual tradition. The image above is from a few years ago (and we’ve cropped out the lists of student names and their college destinations). Palo Alto High School, located in the backyard of Stanford University, and attended by children of professors and Silicon Valley executives, year after year sends many students to what are considered the best colleges in the country.
This year, in the wake of the admissions scandal that has focused attention on parents who seem more focused on prestige (at any cost) than finding a good match between student and college, editors of The Campanile decided on a new approach. They killed the map.
“The Post-Paly Plans Map has historically been one of The Campanile’s most highly anticipated pieces. Though its intended purpose was to celebrate the postgraduation plans of every senior, the reality is the map contributes to the toxic, comparison-driven culture at Paly,” wrote the newspaper’s five co-editors in chief in an editorial announcing the decision. (Paly is how they refer to their high school.)
“Our community fosters a college-centric mind-set, which erodes one’s sense of value and can lead to students with less traditional plans feeling judged, embarrassed or underrepresented. This worldview sets the bar for achievement extremely high and punishes anyone who falls short. We believe the burden of improving Paly’s environment falls on the students. If we don’t shift how we talk and think about college, the culture will never improve. This is the reason we decided not to publish the map this year.”
The editors surrounded their editorial with boxes in which some members of this year’s senior class discussed their college choices — and among those sharing their stories were students who turned down more prestigious for less prestigious colleges.
Gila Winefeld wrote, “At Paly, there’s kind of a norm of going to the ‘best,’ most selective college you can get into. Sometimes other factors that can be important like proximity to home and money fall to the wayside, but I realized a lot of those factors were important to me and my family … There were definitely some instances where people, even if they didn’t say it straight to my face, implied that if you’re a good student, why aren’t you going to a ‘better’ college, a ‘better’ school. I had a few different options I was looking at and I had some more prestigious options so a lot of people were very shocked when I told them that I had decided … One person even asked me, ‘Oh, do you not care at all?’”
Several students wrote of their pride at going to community college and the stigma associated with such a choice.
Bryan Kagiri wrote, “Personally, I think community college is a great, great plan. The stigma is that if you aren’t going to a four-year people look down on you. I look at it the opposite way — if you’re going to a two-year that means you’re confident enough that you can help yourself out. I don’t understand why there’s such a negative view on community college, because I think it’s a great idea financially and mentally for a senior.”
Along with the student voices was that of Arne Lim, an alumnus who is mathematics instruction supervisor at the high school. He wrote that the admission scandal is “not a by-product, it is a direct product of believing you have to do whatever you can to get your kid into this school … We hate those [U.S. News and World Report] rankings here, we absolutely abhor those rankings. You will always hear … college is a match, it is not a reward.”
Previous essays in The Campanile make clear that — whatever the sentiments of the editors of the newspaper — others at the school look down on those who deviate from the Ivy path.
“On college shirt day last year, a day that is intended to enable students to show pride for their post-high school plans, a student wore a Foothill College shirt with the words ‘Sorry, Mom’ written on the back. This message exemplifies the shame that many students planning on attending community college may feel due to the Paly’s culture of excessive competition. Students should not be made to feel this way about their college choice,” said one essay.
It continued, “The choice to enroll in a community college is often regarded as inferior in the broader Paly community due to a culture of intense competition. While it is rare for students attending community college to be explicitly shamed, the general attitude when one discloses that they are attending a community college is much less congratulatory than the attitude towards students who announce they will attend a more high-profile school.”
For the editors in chief, the theme of college admissions as a corrupting influence — one they addressed in killing the map — is also something they have written about previously.
“Throughout our time at Paly, we’ve witnessed — and, admittedly, sometimes contributed to — the ugliest parts of this culture. Paly fosters a goal-oriented student mind-set, and we often allowed this mind-set to dictate our own self-worth and our view of our peers. As seniors, we have emerged from the dark cloud of the college admissions process and have witnessed firsthand the way that it erodes one’s sense of value and place,” wrote the editors, Leyton Ho, Waverly Long, Kaylie Nguyen, Ethan Nissim and Ujwal Srivastava.
They added, “Frankly, no one can be blamed for valuing the glitz and glamour of a prestigious institution or high GPA. But there’s more to being human than achievement — we think the drive for traditional measures of validation can force students to miss some of the most valuable lessons and experiences high school can offer.”
New prompts for the short answers, but they don’t require a complete change in approach. As a reminder, UT’s long essay also changed. The long essay is now much more open-ended so you can, in most cases, use your Common App essay.
Long essay (required):
All freshman applicants must submit a required essay, Topic A in ApplyTexas and the UT Austin Required Essay in the Coalition application. Please keep your essay between 500–700 words (typically two to three paragraphs).
Short essays (250-300 words):
Required Short Answer 1:
Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major?
Required Short Answer 2:
Leadership can be demonstrated in many ways. Please share how you have demonstrated leadership in either your school, job, community, and/or within your family responsibilities.
Required Short Answer 3:
Please share how you believe your experiences, perspectives, and/or talents have shaped your ability to contribute to and enrich the learning environment at UT Austin, both in and out of the classroom.
Optional Short Answer:
Please share background on events or special circumstances that may have impacted your high school academic performance.
I wanted to share a post from Josh Rabinovich of Warp Drive Tutors on how to approach summer internships while in high school. Thank you for these insights, Josh!
First, if you have not started looking and the end of the school year is rapidly approaching, you needn’t fear that all of the potentially good internships are taken by now. They are not. In fact, you will find a plethora of availability providing you know where to look and you have something tangible to offer the lab you approach. But to begin, you need to have an understanding of what will be expected of you and what you should expect from an internship.
Of course, the first question is, will you get paid? And the answer is no, not if you want to get something valuable from your experience. Labs are usually run on shoestring budgets, determined by grant funding, and it is tough out there in grant land. So any money that goes out will only go out to that which proves immediately valuable to the lab, and as you have no understanding of DNA ligation and cloning methodologies (though you will by the time your summer is up) you have, sorry to put it this way, no immediate value to the lab. If you do wind up getting paid, it is because they assign you something nobody else wants to do, like cleaning up and organizing the cold room. Do you want to spend your summer cleaning up the cold room? Bleh.
So now that we have discussed what they will expect from you, let’s look at what you should expect from your internship. If all goes well, you will emerge with two very valuable assets, and these are a) actual lab experience, which will help if you want to work in a lab in college, not to mention help you decide if you want to pursue science, and b) a letter of recommendation. When I say actual lab experience, understand that after a very short amount of time you will be given your own project, which you will be expected to work on independently and keep detailed notes about. What you will not do is “shadow” someone, at least not for very long. Shadowing someone is not helping them, it is just being a pain! So you will be shown some basics, and then given some legit work the lab needs to have done. And if you are working in a molecular lab, you should expect that your work will include handling DNA, and using recombinant DNA protocols. In fact, you might want to make sure these are things you will do in advance.
None of this, of course, is meant to scare you off, just to tell you what you are looking at. So how do you get an internship? Look at the university’s website for the graduate department in whatever discipline interests you, ie cell biology, laser physics etc and then look at the different labs and see which might appeal to you. Email the director of that lab and say you are a high school student and would like to volunteer over the summer (you may have to send this more than once). Also, you will need to have taken an AP course in the general field that lab is involved in, so if you want to get some cloning in, you will want to have taken AP Biology. You may also want to consider that some labs will expect you to put in some pretty hefty hours. Not all, but some definitely will.
Lastly, when do you ask for the letter of recommendation? The answer is, as soon as you have left the lab. Remember, the most important thing a letter reader wants to see in a letter of rec is how well the letter writer knows the person about whom he/she is writing. So if you wait until 3 months later, the person writing the letter will have forgotten almost everything about you and your letter will read “Jane worked in the lab and everyone liked her. She accomplished a lot”. This won’t help you. Try and get the letter as soon as possible after you leave, when the person you worked with will have a clear memory of what you did, and what your success and failures were.
*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*
With AP exams, the SAT/ACT prep, and finals coming up, May is a busy month so the action plan is light. Juniors should be gearing up for essays in addition to finishing up testing!
Consider this process as you would a class from here on out! You’ll need to carve out time for it every week. Starting early means you can be flexible—but this won’t be the case later this summer and once school starts.
Have you pinpointed two teachers to ask for letters of recommendation? Now is an excellent time to decide who to ask.
Some colleges have opened up their on-campus interviews. You should always prepare for interviews, even if a school states they are not evaluative. And optional should not be considered optional!
Open a Common App account. Accounts rollover year-to-year, so there’s no better time than now to open an account and familiarize yourself with the system.
Sophomores & Freshmen:
Firm up summer plans and a tutoring schedule if you plan to start prep for the SAT, ACT or Subject Tests.
Work on your resume!
Recommendation of the Month:
Someone recently reminded me of the power of Ted Talks. I was sent this list a while back. I can’t recommend highly enough taking some time to do a quick search on TED for talks in your areas of interests. They are fascinating, and, great fodder for essays.
*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*
Over the years, I have found that students who take “extra steps” consistently get into their top schools…and many more.
The students we work with who engage in extended research and outreach do extremely well in the college admissions process. Maybe it is because they know the schools they are applying to in ways other students do not; maybe it is because knowing schools well helps them craft smaller, more targeted college lists; or maybe it helps that they have gone above and beyond to get to know a school and see if that school is the best fit for them and vice versa.
Since I am no longer working in admissions, I can’t say for sure. But I can say with confidence that engaging in extended research and outreach can make a substantial difference, both in your applications and outcomes. It also has one other major benefit: it means you can walk away from this process knowing you did everything you could, you pulled out all of the stops, you did not rush the process. And when you walk away feeling proud of the process, in our experience, it makes it easier to accept the outcome, whatever it may be.
Consider the following for the schools on your list. Why? Because all of the above, and, many colleges use demonstrated interest as a factor in their admissions process. When two files are side-by-side, the applicant that has the most touch points with the school will likely be deemed more interested, and that might give them an advantage during file evaluation.
Ways to engage in extended research and outreach (aka network with colleges and get to know them really well):
– Don’t forget your regional reps! They usually read your file, so keep them in the loop throughout your admissions process, from the time you visit through while you are waiting for your decision. Send them an update after campus visits, or to say “nice to meet you” after those visits or college fairs. Keep them posted on new accomplishments or awards after you submit your application. They should be your go-to person in admissions throughput the application process.
– When you receive email from colleges, open it and click through. Many schools track whether you open their emails or not and if you click through. Open them!
– Reach out to faculty in your department of interest. Faculty members are busy and so not always the most accessible, but it can’t hurt to try. Your #1 reason for applying to any school should be academics. Reaching out to individuals in your intended major is a great way to learn more about what your academic life at school X might entail. You might also want to try reaching out to a specific research center or institute of interest. If you email faculty, copy their department or program coordinator. The emails of the individuals in these roles are often available online. If you are planning a trip to campus and it is a bit short notice, reaching out to the department or program coordinator will be your best bet for an on-campus meeting. Again, these interactions and the information gained from them could be helpful when it comes time to write your essays or interest letters (see below) and will certainly serve you well as a talking point in an interview. A quick email sample (but please, make it your own!):
My name is [enter name] and I’m a [year] at [high school full name]. I will be visiting [college] on [date] and I want to learn more about the [enter program or major name] while on my visit. Would it be possible to meet with you or someone else within the department (or even a current student) while I am on campus that day? If not, anyone you can connect me with via email would be excellent.
Thank you so much,
*Don’t forget to send thank you emails to everyone that you speak with—even if by email only.
– Make peer and local connections. Do you have friends at the schools on your list? Talk to them about their experiences, meet up with them on your visit to campus (if possible), and use them as a resource to get to know more about the school (especially about aspects you can’t glean from the website or official tours).
You can also check (via an easy Google search) to see if the college/university has a local alumni group; if so, reach out to them and ask to be connected with someone for an informal informational interview—a great option if you do not know anyone at the school that is a current student. Use this meeting as an opportunity to learn more about the school, and to demonstrate your interest in attending. Some regional groups host events and attending one that interests you (for example, a talk by a professor), if you can get an invitation, could be a great learning experience—and an excellent addition to a supplemental essay or interest letter.
– Write an interest letter (email) after you apply. This letter should contain information you were not able to present in the required application materials (resume, essay, etc.). It is a beneficial way to show a school a little extra love and reiterate your interest. Citing the contacts you established above (if you haven’t already discussed them at length in previous materials), can work well in these letters. An interest letter should be sent after you apply, and can also include any relevant updates since the time you applied, such as awards, etc. Many schools allow you to upload additional information on your “portal page” after you apply, so this letter could be uploaded there; if not, you can email it to your regional rep and CC the general admissions email. Please note: some schools explicitly state they do not welcome additional materials. Do not send interest letters to these schools.
– Take advantage of virtual tours and local college fairs/college nights. Not everyone can get to campus, and even if you can, school’s virtual tours sometimes offer perspectives in-person tours do not. You can also tour colleges from the perspective of actual students by taking tours via CampusReel.org. If a school is attending a fair near you, and you know you won’t be able to get to campus in person, go meet your rep at the fair/college night.
*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*
I start a conversation with, “I am not one of those helicopter parents, but…”
I read my child’s emails and respond to them.
I fill out the visit form for my kid in the admission office lobby.
I unintentionally enter my email when I fill out my child’s application.
my question during the information session begins with, “My son would like to know if…”
my child is only considering universities at least 2000 miles away from me.
my child’s Common Application lists his birthdate as 10/21/1972.
I would like to see the residence hall I will be staying in.
I rub every statue on a college campus for “good luck,” even if it’s not a tradition to do so.
I have been banned from contributing to College Confidential.
I buy a sticker from every college tour “just in case!”
I consider changing my child’s name to something that sounds like the college’s founder.
I call colleges when my student is in sixth grade to ask advice on course schedules and extracurriculars.
I have accidentally signed my child’s name on a document at work because it’s become a habit.
I have any admission office’s phone number saved in my contacts.
I text my child a talking point during their interview.
I post on Facebook, “We submitted our college applications!”
my child’s college essay sounds like it was written by a 45-year-old.
I call the admission office pretending to be my child and get their login information for the portal to find out “my” decision.
I create a “more important title” for a volunteer group my daughter is on so it sounds better for college applications.
I hand out my business cards at the college fair on behalf of my son because he is too busy and couldn’t attend.
I am more concerned than my child is about that “dreaded” B-.
I hand-write thank you notes to admission officers in obvious dad language and sign it from my son even though no 17-year-old boy writes like that.
I ask for advance notice of the admission decisions to “mentally prepare” my child.
the phrase, “This is their decision!” is immediately followed by, “But I think they really want…”
my child receives an admission decision from a college he didn’t know he applied to.
the college counselor recognizes my number…on their cell phone…on Christmas morning.
colleges mistakenly address all mailing flyers to me, and not my child.
every sentence my child says in college counseling meetings starts with “well, my dad wants me to…”
I spend more time on Google Docs working on my child’s college essay than my child does.
I have an excel file listing all the people who might write recommendations on my child’s behalf.
I’ve directed my child into the extracurricular activities most preferred by elite colleges since they could walk.
I show up uninvited to meetings my student has scheduled with their college counselor.
I don’t allow my student to take any ownership of their college process.
I ask more questions on a campus tour than my student.
I compare college lists/decisions at cocktail parties with other parents.
I buy a college sweatshirt in my size.
Did you find yourself feeling a little uneasy as you read this list? Did some of these warning signs hit a bit too close to home?
Okay, so some of these are just for fun, but many aren’t a joke. Head to Forbes to read Brennan Barnard’s full article. In it, he provides some thoughtful commentary as well as an amazing reading list, which includes one of my favorites:
The landscape doesn’t look much different than last year, or the year before, or the year before. How the waitlist plays out depends a lot on yield. Yield in college admissions is the percent of students who choose to enroll in a particular college or university after having been offered admission. Some schools do a much better job of predicting yield than others. These schools have a high yield, and will not go very deep if onto the waitlist at all. The schools that have not done as good a job predicting yield will head to the waitlist to fill seats as needed.
Unfortunately, students can “hang” on the waitlist well into the summer, which drags out a process that for most should be finished on or around May 1. For all the waitlisted students out there, we feel your pain, but there are some things you can do to keep yourself busy. Check out our post on what to do if you are waitlisted. And give this one a read, too.
*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*
The first SAT Subject Test date is less than a month away. The Subject Tests — sometimes referred to as “SAT 2s” — are often required for admission to top-tier universities, but they are much less discussed in education circles and online. Because of this, we get lots of questions about what’s on them, how are they used, and how to prepare for them.
Noodle Pro, Nick Bacarella, has developed an SAT Subject Test series exclusively for the Noodle Pros blog. In this series, students will learn everything they need to know about these subject-specific cousins of the regular SAT. Within the series, Nick tackles each subject test individually to familiarize students with the content and test structure.
UT has a new Essay A prompt and we like it. It is very open-ended and allows students to talk about something outside of their “home environment” (although we encouraged students to think about that broadly) and get creative if they want. It also means, in most cases, you can plan ahead and use your Common App and/or Coalition essay. There really is no reason to write a different personal statement if you don’t have to—all personals statements should be “your story.”
The new prompt:
Tell us your story. What unique opportunities or challenges have you experienced throughout your high school career that have shaped who you are today?
The old prompt:
What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.
UT has yet to officially update their admissions site as of early April, but I’ve confirmed this is the new Essay A prompt. They also anticipate changing all or some of the three short answer prompts. It’s almost certain that they will keep some variation of the “diversity” short answer that they introduced and almost immediately retracted in early August 2018. I have a feeling they will throw out the Academics short answer since there would be a lot of overlap with this new prompt.
Although some people disagree, and at some less selective schools they are unimportant, essays matters at selective schools. Our students start brainstorming for the personal statement in May and June, and that same brainstorming also rolls into brainstorming for supplemental essays, which we start as they are released over the summer. Because we emphasize a process that is as low stress as possible, our students head back to school in the fall with a majority of their essays written and apps completed.
To learn more about our essay process, and to see if we would be a good fit to work together, contact us for a free consult.
*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*