Watch “Personal Statement” and Access the #WeBelongInCollege Curriculum

Watch “Personal Statement” and Access the #WeBelongInCollege Curriculum

For our educator friends!

The free #WeBelongInCollege curriculum unit amplifies the power of the experience of engaging students in creating their own #WeBelongInCollege stories because it incorporates a screening of the film, PERSONAL STATEMENT. In the film, three high school students share their stories of struggling and persisting through the college process and into college.

You can request a free copy of the film if you want to use the #WeBelongInCollege curriculum unit with your students.

You can request a DVD and/or a streaming link so that your students can watch the film remotely and the curriculum includes a free digital slide presentation making this a great resource for both in-person AND remote, online instruction.  

You can watch the PERSONAL STATEMENT film trailer here.

Additionally, below are resources that you can adapt and use for your own campaign to close the college guidance gap. Some of these were created by Philly School Counselors United for an advocacy campaign in Philadelphia. The resources include:

After You Submit Early College Applications

After You Submit Early College Applications

Add these to your to-do list post-submit!

  • Let your high school counselor know you officially submitted your apps so they get your transcripts and LORs in ASAP.
  • Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, you often are provided a “portal” from each school. You need to check this periodically (and be checking your email every day too!). You track the status of your app to ensure schools receive all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. *Do not expect portals to be updated automatically; give schools some time and do not immediately email if you sent something but it is not reflected in your portal. They don’t like getting emails asking why it is not updated when you just submitted…two days ago.  Expect things to be slow this year as many schools are working in hybrid formats/not everyone is on campus at all schools, etc. 
  • Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily) so you do not miss correspondence from schools. This directly applies to the point above!
  • Continue to learn about the schools on your list (and demonstrate interest) by attending online / virtual events. Tracking interest does not stop once your app is submitted. 
  • Keep track of updates that might be relevant to and positively support your application. Schools benefit from knowing about meaningful awards, new test scores, things like that — not every single tiny thing you’ve done since you pressed submit. 
  • And of course…keep working on essays for ED 2 and RD schools.

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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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October Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

October Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors

  • Keep writing! If you started writing when apps opened this summer, 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 school counselor and 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 (virtually this year), 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 to 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. And if you are applying test-optional, this does not apply to you!

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? Should you take 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! If you need test prep resources, please reach out. 
  • Although we 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 (virtually or in-person if you can), so plan some visits. Schools are offering many online opportunities, so take advantage of them now. Whether you can get to campus or not, take virtual tours via CampusReel, too.
  • 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. Read more here (What is Leadership)!

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.
  • 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 in 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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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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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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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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What Admissions Officers Look For In Essays

What Admissions Officers Look For In Essays

Georgia Tech says it best when it comes to essays! 

What we are looking for…

Essays are evaluated for both content and writing/grammatical skills. So, before submitting your application, you should take the time to edit and review your essay thoroughly. Strong essays:

  • Demonstrate authenticity and thoughtfulness
  • Brings you to life on paper
  • Are excellent in topic, style, and grammar

They also share a few other tips…

  • Get started early. Don’t wait until the last minute to complete your essays!
  • Don’t write what you think we want to read. Write what you want to say!
  • Don’t blow off the essay! We wouldn’t ask you to write it if we didn’t find it to be an important way to get to know you, and what you have to bring to Georgia Tech.

What we have to say…

Excellence in topic, style, and grammar is our Essay Expert’s area of excellence, and where we have been told we add tremendous value in our 1:1 work with students as we help them craft thoughtful, authentic, and effective college essays. 

We are gearing up for a summer busy with college essay support, so students can start senior year with greater peace of mind and less stress. If you are or know a junior 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 me to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation call.  

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June Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

June Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

What a month! We took a break on the blog from June 1-8, and we are now back with our regularly scheduled programming. Please find the June MAP below, and be sure to reach out to us via the contact form is you have specific questions about what you or your student can be working on this month.

Seniors

  • Congrats, grads! If you love graduation speeches as much as me, check out a few of my favorites as you celebrate this amazing accomplishment:
        • George Saunders, Syracuse (takeaway: regretting failures of kindness – be kind)
        • Steve Jobs, Stanford (takeaway: stay hungry, stay foolish, listen to and follow your heart)

Juniors

  • Obtain and review your final transcript (all grades from 9, 10, 11) ASAP after grades post. This is important so you can have your school correct any errors, and so you know exactly what colleges will see when they get your transcript.
  • 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!).
  • As you begin writing essays this month, open a Common App account and begin filling out the base data (Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Activities).
  • 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. 

Sophomores & Freshmen

    • Work on a purpose project this summer!
    • 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.   

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From The Mouths of College Admission Deans

From The Mouths of College Admission Deans

Brendan Barnard wrote a three-part series where he asked admission leaders to focus on what they wanted students and families to know about applying to college next year. The common theme in their responses was, “WE GET IT!” They know that there has been major disruption and that everyone is learning virtually. They know that sports competitions, musical productions, and internships have been canceled. They are aware that many students will not take standardized tests and that grading policies in high schools are in flux. 

A few important insights/quotes for students and parents to take note of:

On transcripts/grading…

Jim Bock, vice president and dean of admissions at Swarthmore College agrees, saying, “there will be a big asterisk on spring 2020 transcripts for all students and colleges and universities are aware and understanding of that fact.” He adds, “we will work with college counselors to understand and accept the choices individual schools and districts make during these challenging times.

On activities/summer…

Often, students and parents mistakenly believe that they need to build a long list of activities and involvement in the name of admission to college. “More, more, more” is their mantra as they try to do—and be—everything to stand out in the application process. In some communities, daily schedules for high school students become unsustainable, as families rush from one commitment to another—usually leading to sleep-deprived, burnt-out young people (and parents). In other communities, students are working long hours at a job or caring for a younger sibling, and therefore worry that their college application will lack what they perceive as “traditional” extracurricular involvement. This resume building approach to admission is flawed and the current crisis has forced us all to slow down and look critically at what we do. Juan Espinoza, associate vice provost and director of admissions at Virginia Tech, says, “We recognize that organized extracurricular activities will be impossible, but we are impressed, by how students are finding ways to give back to their communities.”

Jim Bock, vice president and dean of admissions at Swarthmore College tells students, “many of you may have a little more time on your hands these days. Rest. Read. Reassess. Ask yourself, ‘Why do I pursue this activity or that program?’” He adds, “many students believe we count activities and that more is better. What we seek is commitment to a few activities, though there is no formula for a successful application.” He advises, “pursue what you want, and find the college that matches, and you will be much more satisfied in the end. You may also have less choice as you care for siblings and families, and there may not be the ability to work. We value all commitments.” Bock encourages students to “think about what has motivated you to do what you do? Would you do it all the same? Why are you doing it? When things return to the new normal (whenever that happens) how do you envision engaging with and impacting your family, your faith community, your school, or your larger community?” He says, “regardless, take care of yourself first and take it slow. There is time for reflection.” 

Some students had grand plans for the summer. Maybe they had been looking forward to being a camp counselor or participating in an internship. Perhaps they were eager to volunteer or work a steady job. Research, travel, spending time with a relative—many summer experiences have been, or likely will be, closed down by the pandemic. Applicants fear that dashed plans will ruin their college dreams. Heath Einstein, dean of admission at Texas Christian University suggests looking at it in a different way. He says, “summer presents an opportunity to be productive even if in different ways. For example, a student might not be able to secure a coveted internship, but they could still plant a garden in their yard or design a smartphone app or read books by authors from marginalized communities.” 

Mary Wagner, assistant vice president for enrollment management at the University of South Carolina explains that “thirst for learning and knowledge is always valuable and appreciated by the admissions committee.” She tells students that given that they are operating in a non-traditional classroom this spring, “consider other opportunities to pursue learning beyond the classroom over the summer,” adding, “you’re probably already doing something that could be considered an internship or research project of sorts. Perhaps you’ve taken on new responsibilities in your home or family. Is there a new skill that you are trying to learn online? Are you working toward a finished project or artifact that can show off what you’ve learned? These can be applied, creative, or reflective in nature. We find that students are pretty imaginative on this front and are self-taught in many areas.” 

Swarthmore’s Bock also points out that, “self-care is critical, and if you are unable to care for yourself, it will be difficult to care for others.” He encourages students to give themselves permission to prioritize their own health in the same way one might put their own oxygen mask on first during an emergency in flight. He says, “finding a way to give back to your team, club, faith community, family will come with time. Taking care of yourself in this crisis is a way to help others. It will take time, but there will be ways for you to share and care for others beyond your computer screen and devices.” 

On essays…

Temple’s Abbott, says, “I would advise to resist against writing about something that has consumed all of us around the world. Know in advance that colleges will fully recognize the impact of what COVID-19 had on your high school experience. Don’t let this one public health crisis (as dramatic as it was!) define you.” 

Source (three linked here). 

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