Class of 2023 Admission Results

Decisions are out, and many colleges and universities have released admit rates and final numbers for the class of 2023. Head to College Kickstart for a breakdown and comparison to last year’s numbers at some of the top tier schools in the US. As in years past, schools have seen record application numbers and admit rates are going down.

In our work with applicants, we focus on creating a list that makes sense and doesn’t leave students with an insane amount of apps to complete, or an insane amount of rejections. However, some students do not take our advice. During the last four admissions seasons, we have had multiple students apply to 15+ colleges, most in RD. We did not advise this, but my guess is against the advice of many counselors, students and parents are pressing submit on as many schools as they can. Why? Partly because of how competitive the RD round can be, and they took some risks early, and it did not work out; partly because they can afford it; partly because for some strange reason they think Hail Mary’ing it might just work out. There are probably other reasons, but these are the three we most frequently encounter.

We say this every year, but we hope families begin to realize that this approach does not work. It is a waste of time and money. What’s worse, it creates an insane amount of stress on the student and most often results in more rejections than acceptances, which make students feel terrible because it is very hard, at age 17, to comprehend that a college rejection is really not personal.

In addition to surging application numbers (thank you, Common Application!), the competition is fierce. There’s a chance the profile that might’ve gotten you into your dream school a few years ago won’t hold up in the current admissions landscape…but have hope. There are more colleges and universities in the US and abroad than the top 20-30 schools! And guess what? These schools accept a lot of students, and you might even get money from them, and you will likely be just as happy there as a top ~20 school.

It is time to think outside of the box. The landscape now requires it—even for students with perfect grades and test scores. Those things are commonplace; you need far more than numbers to get into a top tier school. And what you need is what our work with students focuses on. Students have control over a lot in this process but only if they start early to develop what will help them stand out while at the same time broadening their college-knowledge and looking carefully at schools that might not have been on their radar initially.

Another reason to have hope is there are ways to differentiate your profile that actually work. Our students engage in extended research and outreach. Beyond getting close with reps, current students, faculty, and young alumni, our students connect with schools where they are already spending time: online. Connecting with schools via social media, as well as having a strong online presence via LinkedIn, can be beneficial. We believe your digital footprint and the presence of a digital portfolio can help not hurt you in the college application process. The students who take our advice become savvy networkers with the colleges on their list, and it pays off big time.

Anyway, back to the news. Thanks always to College Kickstart for providing all of our admissions-related data needs.

 

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April Action Plan – By Grade

Juniors:

  • If you are still planning to apply to a summer program and have not completed the application, please work on it now. Programs will fill up, so don’t wait to submit apps at the deadline.
  • Many colleges don’t proactively ask for online resources yet, but with a rise in the use of platforms like ZeeMee in college admissions, you may have an interest in creating a digital portfolio (LinkedIn, SoundCloud, personal website, and/or blog). You’ll also want a LinkedIn account up and running when you start college, so now is a good time to get it started.
  • Now is also a good time to do a social media audit. Connecting with colleges on social is a way to demonstrate interest, but only if your profile is squeaky clean. Before you tweet to any of your top schools or like them on FB, follow them on Instagram, etc., review all of your accounts.
  • If you plan to visit schools and interview, prepare. You should always prepare for interviews, even if a school states they are not evaluative.
  • Continue to prepare for standardized tests and think ahead to AP exams.
  • Update your resume.
Sophomores:
  • Have you thought about what major(s) you will mark on your application? You can only have a clearly defined “story” for your college apps once you know what major(s) you will be marking on them. This is a critical part of the process that should begin to think about now. Even if you don’t know an exact major right now, you should be able to articulate what excites you academically and be pursuing those interests through your coursework and outside of it via clubs and other activities. As you approach 11th grade (and through it), you want to begin to narrow your academic interests and hone in on one or two viable options for your apps.
    • Please note: marking undecided is always an option. However, you still need to talk about specific possible majors if undecided is what you choose. When you look at your resume, does a theme jump out at you?
  • Keeping working hard in your classes. Your academic transcript is the most important part of your college application. If you have room for improvement, colleges want to see you improve (upward trend!)!
  • Make a firm plan for preparing for standardized tests and think ahead to AP exams.
  • Also, firm up your summer plans. You should be doing something this summer, and, hopefully, something that helps you explore your academic interests.
  • Continue working on your resume.

Freshmen:

  • Keeping working hard in your classes. Your academic transcript is the most important part of your college application. If you have room for improvement, colleges want to see you improve (upward trend!).
  • Firm up your summer plans. You should be doing something this summer, and, hopefully, something that helps you explore your academic interests.
  • Think ahead to preparing for AP exams or subject tets if you plan to take them.
  • Continue working on your resume.

 

 

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Course Rigor is Not a Number

Repost from Dean J at UVA, one of the best straight-from-the-admissions-office blogs out there. I’ve always said, aim for all the cores all four years—English, Math, Science, Social Science, and World Language. She agrees! It can be tempting to want to drop language senior year to double up on science if that is your intended major in interest. I think in some cases it is fine, but that might not be a good option in the eyes of all admissions officers. Read her post below (and here):

I often mention the cyclical nature of admission work. There are certain phases that happen every year and certain issues that come up when we talk to families. I want to address the questions we get about rigor in the high school curriculum.

1. All of your core classes are important.

A lot of people focus on the core areas that correspond to their current academic interest. I’ve even had parents wave off certain subjects because their student isn’t interested in them or they don’t come “naturally” to them. I wish they’d stop this. High school is the time to get a broad foundation in several areas and college is the time to specialize. We are most concerned with a student’s work in four core areas (in alpha order, not order of importance): English, Math, Science, Social Science, and World Language.
At UVA, students don’t even declare a major until the end of the second year in the College of Arts and Sciences or the end of the first year in Engineering and Architecture. The Nursing and Kinesiology students are the only ones admitted directly into a program.

2. The number of APs doesn’t drive a decision.

Plenty of people want to know how many AP courses a student should take to be competitive in our process. We don’t approach applications this way. First of all, not everyone goes to a school with APs as an option. Second, some schools limit how many AP courses a student may take. Third, with the number of AP courses offered these days, you can rack up a lot of APs in just one subject. There could be students with big AP numbers who also haven’t take an advanced course in other core areas.

3. Doubling up in one subject at the expense of the core doesn’t “look good.”

There are some students who are so excited about a certain subject that they want to double or even triple up on courses in that area. I don’t think it’s smart to drop core subjects to load up classes in one area. Cover the core and use your electives to explore your interests.
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5 Things to Consider When Working with an Independent College Admissions Consultant

The fundamental role of independent educational consultants is to help students explore college opportunities and find the right place for them to succeed academically and socially.

IECs don’t get students admitted—they help students demonstrate why they deserve to be admitted at appropriately chosen schools. They help students find colleges they might not have heard of—often out of their region—and they help students put their best foot forward.

Here are 5 things families should consider when looking to hire an IEC:

  • Does the IEC belong to a professional association such as IECA with established and rigorous standards for membership?
  • Do they attend professional conferences or training workshops on a regular basis to keep up with regional and national trends and changes in the law?
  • Do not trust any offers of guaranteed admission to a school or a certain minimum dollar value in scholarships.
  • Ensure that the IEC adheres to the ethical guidelines for private counseling established by IECA.
  • Find an IEC that visits college, school, and program campuses and meets with admissions representatives regularly in order to keep up with new trends, academic changes, and evolving campus cultures.

Professional associations include the Independent Educational Consultant’s Association, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, as well as smaller regional associations. As a member of IECA, I also want to share the following documents:

 

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For Families: Ethical Parenting in the College Admissions Process

Parents and other primary caregivers shape their children’s moral development in myriad ways. They also often influence every phase of the college preparation, search, and admissions process.

In the following seven guideposts, Making Caring Common explores specifically how parents can guide their teens ethically, reduce excessive achievement pressure, and promote key ethical, social, and emotional capacities in teens in the college admissions process.

1. Keep the focus on your teen

Why? The college admissions process, a key rite of passage in adolescence, can be a wonderful opportunity for parents to get to know their teen in a deeper way—to understand what they are drawn to, hope for, fret about, and value in others and themselves. It is also a vital opportunity for parents to express and model the empathy in their relationship with their teen that supports their teen’s authenticity and is so crucial for teens to develop in their relationships.

Yet our hopes, anxieties, and needs in this process can cause us to misunderstand or subordinate our teen’s needs. We may, for example, tacitly pressure our teen to attend a college to live out our dreams, compensate for our shortcomings, or reproduce our own college experience. When parents compete with other parents or view their teen’s college choice as a public marker of their success as parents, they can both sideline their teens’ needs and flood their teen with fears of shaming them if their college options don’t broadcast success. “The most helpful change that parents and colleges could make in the admissions process,” a high school student told interviewers at the Education Conservancy, is to send the message that “you’re a perfectly good person—maybe even a better person—if you don’t go to one of the top ten colleges.”

During the college admissions process, parents also face their teen’s impending separation from them. The admissions process is often a rite of passage for teens and for parents, a time when parents’ role and center of gravity shifts in ways that can shake loose feelings that can undermine parents’ ability to act in their teens’ best interests. Some parents may cling to their teens more tightly than they should, anxiously asserting what remains of their control of their teens’ life and hampering their teens’ ability to think independently—the infamous “helicopter,” “bulldozer,” or “lawnmower” parents. Other parents, eager for their teen to move on, may prematurely back away.

How? It’s important for parents to undertake the often subtle, difficult work of disentangling their wishes from their teen’s wishes. Because we all have our blind spots, parents can often benefit a great deal from talking to those they respect and trust about the places where their own and their child’s views about colleges conflict, and about how to handle these conflicts.

Parents, too, can be alert to moments when they may be conflating their interests with their teen’s. It should be a red flag for us as parents if we find ourselves peppering admissions staff on college tours while our teen stands idly by, constantly assessing what our teen’s course and activity choices mean for their college applications, find ourselves consumed with poring over commercial college rankings, or feel our self-esteem plummet if a child is rejected at a particular college.

At the outset of the process, parents might ask their teen questions that enable them to better engage in the complex choreography of following and guiding their teen. In the whipped-up, frenzied atmosphere of the college admissions process, parents often need to pause and listen. We might ask our teens whether they feel stress in this process and what is causing it. We might ask whether the process is causing them to compromise their values or making them feel less like themselves, and we might invite feedback on our role: “What role would you like me to play in this process?” “Will you tell me if I’m involved in ways that are making this process harder for you?”

2. Follow your ethical GPS

Why? The college admissions process often tests both parents’ and teens’ ethical character. A small fraction of parents engage in outright unethical practices to give their children advantages: getting psychiatrists to falsely diagnose their teen as having learning differences so their child is granted more time on standardized tests, threatening to sue guidance counselors who write poor recommendations, buying college essays online, or writing anonymous letters to admissions offices that seek to sabotage the admissions chances of other students at their teen’s school. Far more commonly, parents may slip into more subtle forms of dishonesty—allowing their own thinking or voice to intrude in college essays, for example, or looking the other way when hired tutors are over-involved in applications, a trend that appears to be growing (Jaschik, 2017). There’s good reason to believe that many teens lie or at least exaggerate on their college applications, and parents may also either condone or half-consciously overlook these violations. According to several studies, a whopping 80 – 95% of high school students report some form of cheating in the last year, and many of these students view cheating as trivial or don’t see it as a problem at all (Challenge Success, 2012; O’Rourke,  Barnes, Deaton, Fulks, Ryan & Rettinger, 2010; Wangaard & Stephens, 2011). In a survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics (2012), 57% of high-schoolers agreed that, “in the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating.” Some parents also give their children advantages without any consideration of equity or fairness in the college admissions process, such as paying private college counselors $40,000 a year (Berfield & Tergesen, 2007)—practices that also constantly fuel other parents’ anxiety that they are short-changing their own child. Some parents discourage their teen from sharing information and resources with their peers, fearing that their teens might end up competing with those peers for the same colleges.

There are many compelling reasons why parents shouldn’t let adults’ thinking and voices seep into college applications or allow teens to misrepresent themselves in other ways. Allowing these misrepresentations sends the message that ethical standards can be ignored if they’re inconvenient and that success doesn’t need to be earned. Adolescence is also a time when teens are both developing strong moral convictions and high ideals and are prone to deep cynicism. They can be razor-sharp alert to hypocrisy and often long for adults who are North Stars, who they can deeply respect and trust (Coles, 1986; Erikson,1968). When parents allow teens to misrepresent themselves, and especially when parents actively participate in that misrepresentation, they can stoke that cynicism and erode that trust. “I know kids,” says Denise Pope from Challenge Success at Stanford University, “who are absolutely mortified when their parents cheat the system. They’re embarrassed and ashamed” (Miller, 2013). Letting teens misrepresent themselves can also send the message to teens that there is something wrong with them: Why else, teens might ask themselves, would my parents write my essay or allow me to misrepresent myself? (Miller, 2013). Misrepresentations can be self-defeating in another sense: They can land teens in the wrong college. When parents or teens try to justify misrepresentations by claiming that “everyone is doing it” or “the system is corrupt,” they also create a very slippery ethical slope that can simply reinforce teens’ conformist tendencies and deprive them of a key lesson in moral leadership— that morality often means going against the herd.

How? Rather than dismissing misrepresentations as trivial or finding ways to overlook them, we as parents ought to be willing to ask ourselves hard, fundamental questions about who we want to be and what we want to model for our children. We can consider whether getting into a particular college is really more important than compromising our teen’s or our own integrity. We can consider with our teens the exceptional cases when dishonesty is warranted in the service of a higher principle—when it means, for example, protecting someone’s life or advancing a vital cause—and discuss whether misrepresenting oneself to get into a college one prefers really qualifies as one of these cases. We can remind ourselves and talk to teens about why authenticity and honesty are critical—especially in this era of “fake news”—and about the necessity of acting in ways that we want to be precedents for others. Just as important, we can explore with teens why they might feel pressured to cheat or misrepresent themselves—do they fear disappointing or shaming themselves or us?—and think through with teens what role we might play in alleviating that pressure.

3.  Use the admissions process as an opportunity for ethical education

Why? Far too often, the college admissions process is eye-opening for young people in all the wrong ways. It’s a powerful introduction to the values of adult society, and many young people are morally troubled, sometimes deeply so, by what they experience. Many students across a wide range of communities are acutely aware that the deck is stacked, that there are vast differences in students’ access to counselors, tutors, and other admissions resources, and that college is simply unaffordable for staggering numbers of families. Many students bridle at the unfairness of favoring certain students in admissions, such as donor and legacy students, full pay students, and athletes. Many also struggle with how much they can embellish their applications and “play the game” without compromising their own authenticity and integrity.

How? It’s clearly critical to create greater equity and fairness in the college admissions system. Talking about these ethical concerns is not a substitute for that. But these types of ethical questions and concerns provide powerful opportunities for helping students take multiple perspectives and develop more mature ethical understandings. Parents can engage their teens in thinking about why well-intentioned people create and participate in unfair systems and to consider the crucial question of how one participates ethically in systems that one may view as unethical in significant respects. Is it ever ok to cheat in a system that one views as cheating you? Parents and teens might explore the many inequities in this process. Why do they exist? What might be done to remedy them? How can one effect change? They might analyze from various vantage points—including from the perspective of college admissions staff or financial aid officers—the case for and against favoring athletes and children of donors and legacies. Students might be asked to imagine an admissions process that they view as fair and high-integrity and to consider who and what needs to change for this system to exist. All of these conversations, of course, need to be guided by key ethical principles, for example, honesty and fairness are important to strive for in all our interactions and honesty should only be compromised when it is outweighed by other ethical considerations, such as protecting others or oneself from serious harm. Parents might also speak directly with students about the reality that there is in, in fact, a certain “game to be played” in this process, but discuss with students both how to play this game—presenting themselves in ways that are likely to be attractive to college admissions offices—while also presenting themselves authentically. It’s a difficult skill that they are likely to need in various settings throughout life.

4. Be authentic

Why? Many parents fail to have authentic, honest conversations with their teens during the college admissions process, diminishing their role as trusted guides and mentors and eroding their capacity to support their teen in expressing themselves authentically. We have talked to many young people in middle- and upper-class communities who report that their parents, for example, say that getting into a highly selective college doesn’t matter in one sentence but then badger them about grades or SAT prep in the next. One parent we spoke to told us without a hint of irony: “My husband doesn’t care whether our daughter goes to a high-status college. It’s fine with him if she goes to Swarthmore (a highly competitive and high-status school).” Other students report that their parents play down high-status colleges only because at some level their parents know that they live in a neighborhood and attend schools that will do the muscling for them. “My parents don’t have to say anything about how important it is [that I go to a high-status college] and I’m still going to feel a lot of pressure in my community to go to one of those places,” a 17-year-old from a town outside Boston says. “The only reason they can tell themselves they’re not pressuring me is that there’s already huge pressure on me.” Still other students view their parents as showing their hand when they protest too loudly about other parents’ intense focus on selective colleges. As one high school student wrote in U.S. News and World Report: “My mom delights in anecdotes about the ridiculous activities of ‘psycho moms,’ her name for mothers who are overly anxious about where their children will attend college. This is how she assures herself that she is not as crackers as these women” (Karlin, 2005). Some parents themselves are aware of their hypocrisy: “We tell our children one day that we just want them to go to a college where they’ll be happy,” a Boston parent tells us, “and the next day we tell them they should go to the best college they can get in to.”

How? As parents, many of us need to reckon with these conflicting feelings and talk to others both about these feelings and about how to discuss them authentically with our teen. We also can try to understand what’s “in the water,” scanning the many school and community factors that may be influencing our teen’s college considerations so that we can talk to our teens in ways that acknowledge these realities. In addition, we can simply ask our teen to alert us if they think we’re sending mixed messages.

Finally, many parents may underestimate what a relief it would be to their teen and the extent to which it would support their teen’s maturity and secure their respect if they stopped dodging and spoke honestly, including at times sharing their own irrational feelings. For example, while it’s important for parents to try to manage their disappointment when their teen is rejected at a college, if parents are visibly disappointed in the presence of their teen, it might help teens a great deal if parents explained why. A parent might explain that they always wanted to attend that college or that they were too caught up in the status of that college and that they recognize that these are their issues to work out.

 

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Transparency in College Admissions: Optional Components of the College Application

I am going to keep this one short and sweet since a number of the posts in my “college transparency” series have been quite long. If you want to maximize your chances of acceptance, don’t consider any optional components of a college application optional. Here are some common optional components:

  • Essays
  • Interviews
  • Videos submissions
  • Letter of recommendation (any or extras)

Option to write an optional essay? Write it.

Option to Interview? Sign up (then prepare for it…more on that here and here).

Option to create and send a video introduction, for example, like U Chicago and Bowdoin offer? Do it.

Option to send an extra letter of recommendation, or to send one at all if optional (many schools require zero LORs, so if you can submit one as an option….)? Request one and have it sent.

Why submit optional materials? Because by doing so you are going above and beyond what other applicants will do to demonstrate who they are as well as their commitment to being accepted to the school to which you are applying. You are giving yourself the opportunity to let the admissions committee get to know more about you. And because there is more of “you” for them to evaluate, assuming the you that you present is in a good light, you increase your odds of winning over the admissions committee.

Also, for many AdComs, not submitting optional materials looks lazy. If I have applicant A and applicant B on the table, and all things are equal but A submits extra materials and B does not, there is a higher likelihood I am going with A. I like to see the extra hustle, and colleges do, too.

 

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GenHERation Discovery Days 2019

This one is for the girls!

GenHERation Discovery Days 2019 are immersive summer day trips that provide high school and college women with the opportunity to visit more than 50 of the most innovative companies in America.

WHO?

  • High school and college women

WHAT?

  • Visit the most innovative companies in America
  • Engage with female executives
  • Participate in skill-building simulations
  • Earn exclusive rewards and scholarships

WHERE/WHEN?

Dallas: Monday, June 24, 2019

  • Capital One, Pizza Hut, Fossil, and EY

Austin: Wednesday, June 26, 2019

  • NFP, Google, and IBM

Seattle: Monday, July 8-Tuesday, July 9, 2019

  • Seattle Mariners, Getty Images, Expedia, Amazon, and Nordstrom

Los Angeles: Wednesday, July 10-Thursday, July 11, 2019

  • AllSaints, CBS, Los Angeles Lakers, Netflix, and EY

San Francisco: Monday, July 15-Tuesday, July 16, 2019

  • Zynga, IBM, Twitter, Pixar, Salesforce, Facebook, Lucasfilm, and EY

Chicago: Thursday, July 18, 2019

  • EY Executive Round Table

Charlotte: Monday, July 22-Tuesday, July 23, 2019

  • John M Belk Endowment, Atrium Health, Red Ventures, NASCAR Hall of Fame, and NFP

Washington, D.C.: Wednesday, July 24-Thursday, July 25, 2019

  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NASA, Capital One, National Geographic, and EY

New York City: Wednesday, July 31, 2019

  • Google, Viacom, Bloomingdale’s, and EY

Philadelphia: Tuesday, August 6, 2019

  • Urban Outffiters, DLL, Hartford Funds, and Philadelphia 76ers

WHY?

  • The only experience that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at your favorite companies
  • Meet the most powerful female leaders in America
  • Explore different career paths
  • Share your resume with top companies across the country
  • Jump-start you career
  • Our last three summer tours were recognized as the largest career exploration trips in the United States and celebrated by Former First Lady Michelle Obama

Learn how GenHERation member Clayton B. got an internship with the Oprah Winfrey Network through Discovery Days here. Check out this Fast Company article to learn how Ariana S. received her first job on our Discovery Days bus.

Tickets sell out fast, buy them HERE!

College Rejection or Waitlist? Try Practicing Gratitude

It is already March—time flies when you are applying to college! Although an exciting time for many students and parents, others feel a significant amount of disappointment, anger, and confusion as admissions decisions roll out. Many of these feelings stem from rejections or waitlist responses from our country’s most selective schools, but it does not have to be this way.

I hope students who are at the end of their journey take some time in March to reflect and see the positives—personal growth, self-actualization, maybe even becoming a better writer—in light of waitlists, rejections, or other perceived failures. Just making it through this process—and high school today—is no joke, so I suggest starting there as a place to see how far you have come! The students I work with are so accomplished, every single one of them, and they have a lot to feel proud of daily. Sometimes it just takes a moment or ten of honest reflection to see and internalize all of the good. It also helps to remember that a college rejection is not personal. Your file and profile was rejected, not who you are as a person/human.

It is also critical to keep in mind that where you go to college does not determine your happiness, your success in life, or set your future path in stone. This has been true since before Frank Bruni told us so. What is more important is much more personal—like how hard you work and how you treat others. To me, that is what will take you far in life.

So try practicing gratitude during this time, even though it may feel hard. Lynn Goldberg at Tiny Buddha has some great tips for getting started:

1. Keep a gratitude journal.

Make gratitude a daily habit. Every day, jot down ten great things that happened to you or that you are grateful for. Keeping your focus on the positive will really make a difference.

2. Practice present moment awareness.

The habit of being fully present and not wishing for something in the future or the past—but just being grateful for what is—can really shift your perspective. Catch yourself when that moment escapes you, and gently remind yourself to come back.

3. Think bigger than yourself.

Become involved in a cause that is important to you. As you become aware of other people who are less fortunate than you, you will start to feel a deeper appreciation for what you do have. Many of us have so much.

4. Share the love with your family and friends.

Cultivate an appreciation for others and let them regularly know that you are grateful for them and for what they do for you—whether it be helping with homework or always inviting you out to do something fun. Focusing on the positive will make people want to keep doing it, and help you realize you should be doing the same.

5. Replace complaints with gratitude.

When you find yourself focusing on what you believe you’re lacking—I wish my car were nicer, I had more money, or I got into a “better” college—replace it with thoughts of what you are thankful for.

To all the college applicants out there who know where they are headed at the end of the summer, this advice applies to you, too. And to everyone else still waiting to hear, still waiting to decide, or who is going to tough it out on the waitlist this spring and into summer, stay positive and remember:

“Personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a checklist of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications are not your life.” (JK Rowling)

I will be posting more thoughts from Rowling about “failure” later this month, from one of my favorite tiny books, Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.

 

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Transparency in College Admissions: Essays

Some college and universities do not require any essays to submit an application. These schools do not care about essays.

Some college and universities only require a personal statement, but do not require any supplemental essays to apply. These schools care about essays.

Some college and universities require a personal statement and supplemental essays to apply. These schools really care about essays.

So, essays—aka your voice and personal story, not just your “numbers”—do matter if the schools you are applying to require essays as part of their application. Within these schools, there might be varying degrees of weight put on essays; some schools weight them with greater importance than others. Pro tip: instead of trying to figure who cares about them a lot and who cares about them a little, if they request them, consider them important and put effort into them.

Now, whether they are required or not, they do not matter as much as two other application components: your grades and your test scores (if applying to colleges that require test scores). If you are not in the ballpark with these two components, your essays won’t matter that much. Beautiful prose won’t negate a transcript of subpar grades or test scores that are far below a college’s average scores.

Given the importance of essays, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you write the personal statement, taken straight from the FAQ we give our clients:

I am student body president/lacrosse team captain/editor of my school paper/founder of the Computer Science Club/president of the biggest community service effort at my school/insert something else super impressive here—I’m obviously going to write about that for my personal statement (PS), right?

Not necessarily. The reader needs to walk away from the essay having learned something about you that he/she can’t glean from the rest of your application material, and we will actively discourage you from writing about any academic or extracurricular accomplishments that are already clearly communicated from your resume or the activities section of your application. There will be plenty of other ways to highlight these aspects of your profile, including your application data, resume, interviews, and supplemental essays and/or interest letters, where applicable. If you want to write about being student body president etc. because being president precipitated some serious personal crisis—then, yes, you might write about that. But if you want to write about being student body president because you think it looks “impressive” to colleges, we will steer you away. They will already be impressed by seeing it on your resume!

Should my PS relate to my intellectual interests and potential major?

Again, not necessarily. Cultural, literary or academic references (e.g., an intellectual or academic interest, connection to future major of study, etc.) can add to an essay, but if you have a compelling personal story, they are usually not needed.

What do you mean when you say “show, don’t tell” or talk about “concrete” versus “abstract” language?

A personal essay like the PS should be written more like a short story or a novel than an academic essay. This means it should include vivid, descriptive, and concrete language. When I use the word concrete, I am talking about using specific details. An example of a specific and concrete sentence is: “I woke up at 6am to my phone blaring ‘Come as You Are’ by Nirvana. I’d had the same alarm for six years, and I still loved it.” This is an exciting opening with interesting details that create a sense of a unique voice and personality and makes me want to keep reading.

An example of a non-concrete sentence on the same topic is: “I like to wake up early.” This sentence doesn’t give me any details and doesn’t have much personality; I feel like anyone could have written in it. I’m less inclined to keep reading and already less disposed to like the essay.

An example of an abstract sentence is: “I need to be true to myself.” The use of a conventional idiom makes the sentence boring and vague—what does it mean for you to be true to yourself, in whatever context you’re discussing? I’m not sure. Again, I get the sense anyone could have written it.

A strong PS will need to strike a balance between concrete and abstract (but not cliché) language—between action and narrative (concrete) and reflection on that action (abstract).

And a few general tips for supplements:

What do I write my supplements about?

As with the personal statement, the best supplemental essays (or “supps” as we call them) provide the admissions committee with new insight into who you are. This doesn’t mean you won’t mention anything that’s also on your resume; in fact, you often will be explicitly asked to do so. However, supps are not merely an opportunity to rehash your resume or the activities section of the Common Application. They are a place to go beyond the facts of what you did and when—a place to provide insight into your motivations for pursuing an interest, to discuss obstacles you’ve faced in the process, or even, potentially, to talk about why you quit. So, like the PS, they can be personal when at all possible. The supplemental essays are, above all, a chance for you to ‘supplement’ your personal statement with more information into who you are and what makes you tick. In addition, many provide the perfect platform to highlight your knowledge of—and demonstrated interest in—the school, which never hurts.

Since most are shorter than the personal statement, they will be much easier to write, right?

Many students believe short essays are easier to write than long essays, but in reality, they are much harder because they require you to choose your details wisely; you can’t say everything you might want to say. We suggest you write long essays first not only because they tend to be easier to write, but also because you can recycle long essays whenever possible, and cut them down to work for shorter essays on the same or a similar prompt.

To conclude, essays matter. They are one area of your application that you have complete creative control over, and where you have the opportunity to possibly “wow” the admissions committee. No committee is typically wowed by a perfect GPA or set of perfect test scores—those are not uncommon anymore!

If you want 1:1 guidance to brainstorm for and then write the best personal statement and supplements possible, contact us for a free 30-minute consultation.

 

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A Note on the College Admissions Cheating Scheme

The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and its members (like us!) are committed to helping families find the most appropriate colleges for their students and assist families in navigating the application process. Following a comprehensive code of ethics, IECA members are professionals who understand and adhere to high ethical standards in all their interactions with clients and institutions and are compensated by and work exclusively on behalf of their client families.

In response to the breaking news of an FBI probe and Justice Department charges for 50 people—college officials from elite institutions, wealthy parents, coaches, and others—in a long-running admissions bribery scheme, IECA CEO Mark Sklarow said, “The charges presented today exemplify the intense anxiety that even some wealthy parents feel about their children being admitted to their preferred colleges.”

All parents and students should keep the following advice in mind as they begin their college search.

  • The college search and application process should be a fun and exciting time for students and their families. If anyone in any setting is exerting pressure or causing undue anxiety and pressure, be cautious. If you are told someone has “inside” information, can pull strings, provide shortcuts to admission, or give you a special advantage (for a fee or otherwise), you are being misled.
  • There are many great postsecondary options for every student, and no student should be made to feel that they must become something they are not to get accepted. The “best” school is the school that fits a student academically, socially, and financially. Being and presenting one’s authentic self and demonstrating one’s own talents and abilities is a way of ensuring the right college fit. This is central to what an ethical independent educational consultant does.
  • The vast majority of admissions officers, school counselors, and IECs are ethical and compassionate professionals who dedicate their careers to advising students and families.

If you decide to seek help with the college search and application process outside of the school setting, ensure that you hire someone who is a member of a professional organization, such as IECA or NACAC, that requires them to abide by the highest ethical standards. A fully vetted independent educational consultant (IEC) will be solely concerned about an individual student’s well-being and helping to gain admission to a school where they will thrive and succeed on their own merits.

 

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