Test-Optional Admissions and the Importance of Essays

Test-Optional Admissions and the Importance of Essays

When a college goes test-optional, the most important factors in admissions decisions are a student’s academic record (including courses taken, grades attained, and class standing if applicable) followed by application essays.

Other factors considered include leadership potential, extracurricular activities, special talents, and the ability to contribute positively to the campus community.

We have always considered essays a very important component of a student’s application, and the one they have the most creative control over. We hope students put some extra thought and effort into them this year whether they are applying test-optional or not! Why? There is no other component of the application where you have a better opportunity to showcase who you are and what you are all about to AdComs than the personal statement, and to an extent, supplemental essays. The Common Application also added a new short essay this year regarding COVID, so be on the lookout for tips from us on how to approach it.

Below you will find 10 tips from one of our essay experts, Emma, that will help you write the most effective personal statement, aka the Common Application essay. As 11th grade winds down (so right now!) or early summer is the best time to tackle this important essay.

Be on the lookout for future posts with tips on supplemental essays, the new Common Application COVID prompt, and how to use this summer to round out your academic and extracurricular narrative.

  • Don’t worry about the prompts. It’s helpful to read through the prompts to see if doing so sparks any ideas; however, there is no need to stress about writing an essay that exactly “answers” a prompt. Your goal is to write the best essay you can about whatever you decide is best to write about. Working with students 1:1, we totally disregard the prompts and usually find that their essay still easily fits under one of the questions. And, if not, there is often an open-ended prompt such as: “Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.”
  • Do open with a scene. A strong opening scene draws the reader into your essay. Admissions officers and their first-round readers have hundreds of applications to get through—make yours stand out from the first sentence. Intrigue them or scare them or make them laugh. Make them want to keep reading.
  • Do focus on a single story. You only have 650 words. Perhaps that sounds like a lot to you: it’s not. There is no reason you should worry about filling it up. Through our process, you will find out how to generate enough detail to write an essay about any story. Nor should you worry about cramming as much as possible into the personal statement. Remember that colleges have all of your application data and that trying to do too much in the essay will only end up making your essay feel rushed and scattered.
  • Do make sure that your story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. You can tell your story out of order—for instance, opening with a scene from a stressful moment in order to build suspense before jumping back into chronology—but you always want to make sure your story has each of these elements. Skipping any single one will confuse your reader and make your story feel incomplete (because it is!).
  • And yet don’t get bogged down in detail. We usually find students have trouble generating enough detail. But sometimes we get a student who is unable to summarize effectively, too. Having too much detail can make your story confusing and also mean that your reader will have trouble understanding what the most significant elements are. It usually also means you don’t have room for reflection—the most important element in the essay!
  • Do present yourself in a positive light. We actively encourage you to tell a story that showcases your vulnerabilities, failures, weaknesses, and mistakes. However, either your narrative or your reflection (or some combination of the two), needs to ultimately redeem you so that your essay, in the end, shows you to be someone who is actively working to improve—to rectify mistakes, move past failures, or strengthen weakness. Your essay should be honest, but its main purpose is to make you seem like someone admissions officers want to see at their colleges! Make sure you come off well.
  • Don’t use huge thesaurus words. Again: you aren’t trying to impress the admissions officers! You are trying to show them who you are—and you are trying to make them like you. Using big words can mean using words you don’t quite know how to use, and that will show. Even if you do know how to use them, unless your essay is about how much you love long words or languages, using the big, 25-cent words can make you sound pretentious and overly formal. The language should sound like you and be relatively casual—not curse-word, talking-with-friends casual, but maybe talking-with-your-grandmother casual.
  • Do use vivid, interesting words and varied sentence structure. Being casual doesn’t mean the writing shouldn’t be good or interesting! Do push yourself to use words you might not use in your everyday speech, and do mix up the sentence structure to keep the writing varied and exciting. Do feel free to include words from your personal vocabulary—words from the language you speak at home or from a regional dialect or words you’ve made up. That can add a lot of texture and personality to an essay. Just make sure you define the words for your reader if the meaning isn’t clear from context.
  • But don’t use emotional language: I was happy; I was sad. Instead, let an action depict the emotional state. That is, instead of saying “I was happy,” you might write, “I couldn’t help skipping a few steps down the street after hearing the news.” And, instead of saying “She was sad,” you might write, “Her shoulders slumped, and she cradled her head in her hands.” You can’t see emotion, and you always want to give the reader something to see.
  • And don’t use cliche—i.e. common, predictable, overused—language. Cliche language includes (but is definitely not limited to!) phrases like:
    • I need to be true to myself.
    • Time heals all wounds.
    • Every cloud has a silver lining.
    • Good things come to those who wait.
    • I learned more from them than they did from me.
    • Every rose has its thorn.
    • You win some, you lose some.
    • Little did I know.

Of course, your essay might have one of these messages at its heart. Maybe you did learn more from the kid you tutored than they learned from you. Maybe you did find the “silver lining” in a terrible situation. Both of these could make for great essays. But you want to verbalize that realization in your own unique and surprising way.

Unsure what to write about? We can help. Contact us! 

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May Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

May Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Year-to-year things change slightly in college admissions, but nothing like this year! We are available at your convenience to talk about testing changes and how COVID-19 is impacting the college admissions landscape. We are monitoring how changes may impact the upcoming application process and will be posting relevant updates on the blog. Please let us know if you have any questions about researching and connecting with schools online, taking virtual tours, or thinking about alternate summer options if you were planning on attending an on-campus or travel program. Happy to answer questions via the contact form

Seniors:

    • Waitlisted at your top choice school? Read our waitlist guidance, and reach out if you’d like us to help you craft your WL letter and a personalized waitlist strategy.

    • Today is the national decision day. However, many schools have pushed their deposit deadlines much later. You can find a comprehensive list here via ACCEPT Group.

    • If you are having trouble deciding where to deposit because you have not been able to visit campuses, attend admitted student events, or talk to current students, please reach out as we have resources to share (including student contacts) that might help!

Juniors:

  • Now is a great time to begin brainstorming for your personal statement (aka the Common App essay). Thinking about working with someone to ensure your essays tell your unique story?

    Our goal is not only to help you write essays you are proud of and that showcase who you really are to colleges but also to help you improve as a storyteller, so you can arrive at college confident and ready to tackle your writing requirements. Contact us to learn more about our essay process; our students are starting essays now!!!

  • If your summer plans have changed, or are now up in the air, consider a ‘purpose project’—a project 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). A purpose project is connected to a deeper purpose and has tangible outcomes. Past projects from students include writing a book, completing a literature review or book challenge, creating a trailer for a documentary (and 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. 
  • Have you pinpointed two teachers to ask for letters of recommendation? Now is an excellent time to decide who to ask.

If you have some extra time:

  • Open a Common App account! Accounts roll over year-to-year, so there’s no better time than now to open an account and familiarize yourself with the system. 

  • Take the lead in bringing your school clubs together online (if they are not already). For example, if you are a member of the history club at your high school, suggest to the broader group a once-weekly meeting via Zoom. Members could take turns assigning readings for discussion. The Learning Network (NYT) is a great place to start; check out the current events conversation section. Other options might include: a book club, movie night + discussion, taking a class together on edX or Coursera, or even organizing a fundraiser (many online options for this!) to benefit a local hospital or relief group.

Sophomores and Freshmen:

  • Update your resume. 
  • If your summer plans have changed, or are now up in the air, consider a ‘purpose project’—a project 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). A purpose project is connected to a deeper purpose and has tangible outcomes. Past projects from students include writing a book, completing a literature review or book challenge, creating a trailer for a documentary (and 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. 

If you have some extra time:

  • Take the lead in bringing your school clubs together online (if they are not already). For example, if you are a member of the history club at your high school, suggest to the broader group a once-weekly meeting via Zoom. Members could take turns assigning readings for discussion. The Learning Network (NYT) is a great place to start; check out the current events conversation section. Other options might include: a book club, movie night + discussion, taking a class together on edX or Coursera, or even organizing a fundraiser (many online options for this!) to benefit a local hospital or relief group.

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Why You Should Read the Georgia Tech Blog (Even if You Will Never Apply There)

Because Rick Clarke and the rest of the admissions team are magic. I don’t know any of them personally FYI — but I sure wish I did. If you don’t, please read the GTech Admissions blog — and this post by Katie Mattli!

BEING SEEN—THIS ONE IS FOR THE JUNIORS

As I was falling asleep last night, my head was buzzing with the conundrum of painting a picture of our campus for students in this new climate.  How do I make connections? How do I share a story without the campus backdrop that tells so much without words? How do I help them see us?

Then in the dark, staring at the ceiling, I remembered: we ask students to do this every year. Every time they begin a college application, they are essentially trying to make colleges see them through their only medium: words.  At my fingertips, I have social platforms, pictures, phones, websites, webinars… a whole slew of tools beyond the written word to paint the campus story for prospective and admitted students.  If I only had words, I would have to intentionally craft a careful and thoughtful message.

So, this blog is filled with application tips and thoughts, dedicated to all those soon-to-be seniors who will only be using words to be seen in the admission process.

Head to the GTech blog to read the rest!

 

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Why Did Yale Choose You

Why Did Yale Choose You

Although I did smirk reading the subtitle Embracing Average, I really enjoyed Alexandra Gers’ reflection in the Yale News on her application file and why Yale chose her. Anyway, what stood out to me was this:

When I flipped the page, it was kind of like being slapped in the face. “She didn’t strike me as thoughtful, introspective or determined.” Repeatedly. “I couldn’t figure out what she was passionate about.”

For high school students targeting (or preparing to target) selective colleges and universities, take note:

  • Thoughtful
  • Introspective
  • Determined
  • A clearly defined passion (I don’t love the word passion so let’s call this “interest”)

 

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10 Do’s and Don’ts for Writing the Personal Statement (aka The Common App Essay)

10 Do’s and Don’ts for Writing the Personal Statement (aka The Common App Essay)

Our essay experts know best. Check out these 10 tips from Emma that will help you write the most effective personal statement. End of 11th grade or early summer is the best time to tackle this important essay, so start coming up with a plan now! Interested in working with Emma? Contact us 

  • Don’t worry about the prompts. It’s helpful to read through the prompts to see if doing so sparks any ideas; however, there is no need to stress about writing an essay that exactly “answers” a prompt. Your goal is to write the best essay you can about whatever you decide is best to write about. Working with students 1:1, we totally disregard the prompts and usually find that their essay still easily fits under one of the questions. And, if not, there is often an open-ended prompt such as: “Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.”
  • Do open with a scene. A strong opening scene draws the reader into your essay. Admissions officers and their first-round readers have hundreds of applications to get through—make yours stand out from the first sentence. Intrigue them or scare them or make them laugh. Make them want to keep reading.
  • Do focus on a single story. You only have 650 words. Perhaps that sounds like a lot to you: it’s not. There is no reason you should worry about filling it up. Through our process, you will find out how to generate enough detail to write an essay about any story. Nor should you worry about cramming as much as possible into the personal statement. Remember that colleges have all of your application data and that trying to do too much in the essay will only end up making your essay feel rushed and scattered.
  • Do make sure that your story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. You can tell your story out of order—for instance, opening with a scene from a stressful moment in order to build suspense before jumping back into chronology—but you always want to make sure your story has each of these elements. Skipping any single one will confuse your reader and make your story feel incomplete (because it is!).
  • And yet don’t get bogged down in detail. We usually find students have trouble generating enough detail. But sometimes we get a student who is unable to summarize effectively, too. Having too much detail can make your story confusing and also mean that your reader will have trouble understanding what the most significant elements are. It usually also means you don’t have room for reflection—the most important element in the essay!
  • Do present yourself in a positive light. We actively encourage you to tell a story that showcases your vulnerabilities, failures, weaknesses, and mistakes. However, either your narrative or your reflection (or some combination of the two), needs to ultimately redeem you so that your essay, in the end, shows you to be someone who is actively working to improve—to rectify mistakes, move past failures, or strengthen weakness. Your essay should be honest, but its main purpose is to make you seem like someone admissions officers want to see at their colleges! Make sure you come off well.
  • Don’t use huge thesaurus words. Again: you aren’t trying to impress the admissions officers! You are trying to show them who you are—and you are trying to make them like you. Using big words can mean using words you don’t quite know how to use, and that will show. Even if you do know how to use them, unless your essay is about how much you love long words or languages, using the big, 25-cent words can make you sound pretentious and overly formal. The language should sound like you and be relatively casual—not curse-word, talking-with-friends casual, but maybe talking-with-your-grandmother casual.
  • Do use vivid, interesting words and varied sentence structure. Being casual doesn’t mean the writing shouldn’t be good or interesting! Do push yourself to use words you might not use in your everyday speech, and do mix up the sentence structure to keep the writing varied and exciting. Do feel free to include words from your personal vocabulary—words from the language you speak at home or from a regional dialect or words you’ve made up. That can add a lot of texture and personality to an essay. Just make sure you define the words for your reader if the meaning isn’t clear from context.
  • But don’t use emotional language: I was happy; I was sad. Instead, let an action depict the emotional state. That is, instead of saying “I was happy,” you might write, “I couldn’t help skipping a few steps down the street after hearing the news.” And, instead of saying “She was sad,” you might write, “Her shoulders slumped, and she cradled her head in her hands.” You can’t see an emotion, and you always want to give the reader something to see.
  • And don’t use cliche—i.e. common, predictable, overused—language. Cliche language includes (but is definitely not limited to!) phrases like:
    • I need to be true to myself.
    • Time heals all wounds.
    • Every cloud has a silver lining.
    • Good things come to those who wait.
    • I learned more from them than they did from me.
    • Every rose has its thorn.
    • You win some, you lose some.
    • Little did I know.

Of course, your essay might have one of these messages at its heart. Maybe you did learn more from the kid you tutored than they learned from you. Maybe you did find the “silver lining” in a terrible situation. Both of these could make for great essays. But you want to verbalize that realization in your own unique and surprising way.

 

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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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December Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors

• Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to periodically check your school-specific portals. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.

• Do the schools on your list require midterm grade reports? Check requirements online and talk to your school counselor about having them sent to colleges as needed. Also, re-share your RD list and make sure they know to send docs accordingly and far in advance of deadlines.

• It is difficult to write essays and complete applications between December 15 through January 1 because of the holidays, and…

• It’s always a good idea to submit apps ahead of deadlines. Aim to complete all RD/ED II apps by 12/15 so you are not in a time-crunch over the holidays and beat the RD app submission rush! Don’t forget to send official test scores, as required, to RD schools.

Juniors

• Keep updating your resume.

• Summer program applications will open over the next few months (some are open now!). If you plan on applying to an application-based summer program, get a timeline in place that utilizes your holiday vacation schedule. There is no better time than now to start summer program apps if they have been released. Not interested in a formal summer program? Consider working with us on a purpose project!

• Start to think more about your major (or majors!) of interest and how your activities support this interest. Don’t forget: you should be exploring your interests outside of the classroom/school. But what if I do not know what my interests are?!?!

Interests are not necessarily inherent, waiting to be found—they need to be cultivated. You have to get out into the world and work to determine them, and this can take time. We believe this is why it is important to start exploring early in high school. Explore through after-school programs, clubs at your school, a summer job, free classes online, by reading books, academic journals, or even watching Ted Talks. What we are getting at is, to really determine your interests, which might someday turn into your focus of study in college—or who knows, maybe even your passions later in life—you have to put some thought into it and do the work!

• Plan Winter/Spring college visits. Please note, there are not many students on college campuses during December/January, so plan accordingly.

Sophomores & Freshmen

• An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. How are your classes going? Review interim grade reports, and take stock of where you have room to improve.

• Beyond academics, colleges look to admit students who take part in meaningful extracurricular activities, and summer is a great time to do something fun and meaningful that possibly explores what you might study in college. You might want to consider a purpose project!

• As we excitedly approach the holiday season, think about how you might be able to help out those in need. The holidays can be a tough time for many families, and high schools and community centers often have food drives, toy drives, coat drives, etc. where you could give some of your time (or food or coats or toys!). Get involved, give back!

• Enjoy the holidays and winter break! Take some time to relax.

 

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November Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

  • Send official test scores to schools that require you to send official test scores. To submit official scores, you must pay and have them sent through either the ACT or College Board. Please do not send official AP score reports to colleges; colleges do not ask for official score reports from AP exams until you are admitted/you decide to attend a school.
  • Many schools require submission of RD apps by 12/1 for merit award consideration. Please do not press pause once ED/EA apps are submitted. Some of these schools include BU, USC, Wake, Vandy, UConn, Clemson, and Richmond. College Kickstart has a list here outlining schools with 2019-20 Merit Scholarship Deadlines, but you will need to check the admissions website of the schools on your list to be 100% sure.
  • Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, you often are provided a “portal” from each school. Track the status of your app 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 (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from schools. If you have any questions about what you see on your portal, please reach out to the school directly and ASAP.
  • Work on your “interest letter” for your top choice school (or schools!) if you have decided to write one.
  • Prepare for interviews!

Juniors:

  • Keep updating your resume and preparing for standardized tests.
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in. Explore the admissions and academics pages. Start to think about your major (or majors!) of interest and how your activities support this interest. Don’t forget: you should be exploring your interests outside of the classroom/school. But what if I do not know what my interests are?!
    • Interests are not necessarily inherent, waiting to be found—they need to be cultivated. We believe this is why it is important to start exploring early in high school. Explore through after-school programs, clubs at your school, a summer job, free classes online, by reading books, academic journals, or even watching Ted Talks. What we are getting at is, to really determine your interests, which might someday turn into your focus of study in college—or who knows, maybe even your passions later in life—you have to put some thought into it and do the work!
  • 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, check deadlines now so you can plan ahead.

Sophomores and Freshmen:

  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. How are your classes going?
  • 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, let’s discuss what might make the most sense for you at this time. You want to take part in a few things and try to continue with those activities (if you enjoy them) throughout high school. One definite “must” is something that allows you to serve others and give back to your community.
  • As we excitedly approach the holiday season, think about how you might be able to help out those in need. The holidays can be a tough time for many families, and high schools and community centers often have food drives, toy drives, coat drives, etc. where you could give some of your time (or food or coats or toys!). Get involved, give back!
  • Some summer program applications will open over the next few months. If you plan on applying to an application-based summer program, check deadlines now so you can plan ahead.
  • Independent reading can play into how well you do on the SAT or ACT. 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 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 an impact.

 

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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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August Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

The school year is almost here! Enjoy the final few weeks of summer. And, if you are a rising senior and want to make the most of August (this means completing applications!) contact us! We can help you head back to school with a long list of college application items checked off your to-do list.

Here’s what should be on your radar this month:

Seniors

  • The Common App refresh is complete. If you have not done so already, register for the Common App (www.commonapp.org) and other school-specific applications as per your list (for example, the University of California), and fill them out.
  • Continue to complete essays!!! Senior year fall grades count. The more you complete before you go back to school, the more time you should have for your coursework.
  • Continue to visit colleges and connect 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!
  • Begin to finalize your college list. It’s important to know which colleges you’ll be applying to so you can a) work on essays and b) finalize application strategy (when you will apply and where). Will you be applying early action? Early decision? Do you have an ED II school in the mix (you should instead of relying on RD)? If you still have tests to take in August, September, or October, confirm your EA schools and work on those apps.
  • 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 September if testing is complete). 

Juniors

  • If you haven’t done so already, schedule a meeting to discuss your 11th-grade game plan with your guidance counselor. Your counselor will write you a letter of recommendation for college, so make an effort to get to know them and for them to get to know you.
  • This year, try to get more involved with 1-2 main extracurricular activities (bonus if these support your academic interest). Look for leadership opportunities, but also keep in mind demonstrating leadership goes beyond leading a club or team. Consider activities outside of school as well.
  • 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? Please contact us if you would like suggestions for tutors and other prep resources. Now is the time to start test prep!
  • Once you have some test scores, come up with a preliminary college list, so you can…
  • Begin to 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 the activities you are involved in support it. You 100% should be exploring your academic interests outside of your coursework.
  • Fall is a great time to visit colleges and engage in extended research and outreach. Over the years, I have found that students who take these “extra steps” consistently get into their top schools…and many more.

Sophomores & Freshmen

  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor for the majority of colleges. A rigorous course schedule that is in line with your strengths can help demonstrate 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 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 ones that really interest you, where you are involved in a significant way. Evidence of leadership, initiative, commitment, and meaningful engagement is important. 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 are also lovely options, but keep in mind you don’t need to do it all.
  • Schedule a meeting to discuss your high school game plan with your counselor. Your counselor will write you a letter of recommendation when it comes time to apply to college, so make an effort to get to know them and for them to get to know you.
  • One of the most significant factors in a 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 it will also prepare you for success in college and beyond. 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.
  • 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, don’t feel like you need to study for this test. It is just practice!
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