ACT Releases June Site List and Policies

ACT Releases June Site List and Policies

The ACT finally released its list of testing sites that will be closed for the June 13 test date. Head to Applerouth for the full download.

A helpful tip +note at the end:

Students waiting to test should continue to prepare, though in a modified fashion. Continue to review relevant prep materials, though clearly with less intensity than if you were preparing for June. Students will have more time to prepare for the next official test, and research shows that students who put in more time preparing for these tests end up with higher scores.

Each subsequent test date should allow a larger portion of students across the country to complete their admissions tests. June was always going to be tough. The July ACT should allow more students to test, and the August SAT should accommodate even more students. By the fall, the vast majority of high schools and colleges in most markets across the country will likely have students on campus. At that time, administering these tests should be significantly easier. Continue to plan for your best testing outcome, even if you’ll have to wait longer than initially anticipated.

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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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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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Test Optional Does Not Mean Test Blind

Test Optional Does Not Mean Test Blind

Important article via Applerouth on the move to test-optional at many schools. This mirrors what we have been discussing with clients. In short, test scores can and will still matter for most clients. Read the full article here–and some highlights:

While test scores are no longer required to complete an application, the vast majority of test-optional schools still welcome test scores and value strong scores in the admissions process

Test-optional admissions policies were already on the rise before COVID-19 led to test cancellations this spring. For many colleges, adopting a test-optional admissions policy can be beneficial. Test-optional schools tend to see the following changes in their admissions patterns:

These factors have been at work for years!

Whether you are looking at a school that is temporarily test-optional for the coming year or one that has a permanent test-optional policy in place, the same wisdom applies: test-optional does not mean test-blind. Sometimes students think that if a school is test-optional, test scores will no longer play a major role in admissions. This is a misconception. 

Test-optional admission opens a lane for students who do not test as well or have limited access to testing and supportive resources, like test prep, while continuing to value strong test scores. There are effectively two admissions tracks with slightly different criteria. Students who do not submit scores will be evaluated on the rest of their application, including grades and extracurricular involvement, but they lack the additional evidence that test scores can provide in a competitive admissions environment.

As we move toward a landscape with more test-optional schools, be careful not to conflate test-optional with test-blind. Testing continues to play an important role for many students applying to test-optional schools and will do so for the foreseeable future. It’s only natural: in the midst of heavy competition, applicants will take every opportunity to distinguish themselves.

 

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