What Has Not Changed in College Admissions

What Has Not Changed in College Admissions

In his recent Forbes article, The College Admission Precedent, Brendan Barnard asks us to please stop using the word unprecedented when describing the college process this year because it is “an unwelcome and constant reminder of just how uncertain the past months have been, as our world reels in the face of a global pandemic.” I’m not bothered by it, but what I love about his piece is the focus on the constants. Year over year, things really don’t change all that much. A few quotes I pulled that remind us to keep moving forward, take a deep breath, and stay the course:

Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment at Cornell University points out that “the basic timing for college learning and degree-seeking as a life event doesn’t seem to have faced the same kind of profound disruption as other related activities.” He says, “with minor exceptions, we’re still seeing students aiming to complete their high school career on time and begin their college career shortly after, and the same for students progressing from college to career or to graduate and professional schools.” He adds, “even when the mechanisms and the anticipated experience are uncertain or have significantly changed, most—really almost all—students seem committed to their anticipated timeline and progress without interruption.” 

Jeff Schiffman, director of admission at Tulane University agrees. He says, “frankly, the applications themselves were not substantially different from previous years. Yes, we saw more students mentioning ‘caring for younger siblings’ in their extracurricular list, and yes we saw a few times where the “12” was missing from the grades the student played tennis, but overall most applications were not markedly different from previous years.” He adds, “to me, it felt mostly like business as usual.” 

Todd Rinehart, vice chancellor for enrollment at the University of Denver at the current NACAC president points out that, “while much has changed this year in the way colleges and students engage with each other and how college admission officers conduct their work, students can take solace that the application reading and evaluation process is still grounded in the same principles and factors as previous years.” He adds, “admission counselors may be working remotely, but our reading and committee work will continue successfully, providing students full consideration for admission and scholarships. That process will not be jeopardized!”

And my favorite — please please students take this man’s advice and get apps in EARLY:

To that end, Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign highlights another enduring truth about how students apply to college. He says, “it is human nature to apply right before the deadline. Of our Early Action applicants, over half came in within the final two days of our deadline. This has been true for each of the last several years. It doesn’t appear to matter if our deadline is November 1 or November 15, most students will apply within a few days of the deadline.” While unlikely, a change to this precedent would be welcome by many anxious parents and educators!

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Optional Components of the College Application

Optional Components of the College Application

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 CMC, 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? It means you want to go 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. More of “you” to evaluate, assuming the you that you present is in a good light, is usually a good thing.

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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Don’t Worry So Much About Where

Don’t Worry So Much About Where

Like the author of the article I am sharing below — and that I share every year around this time — I was not a perfect student in high school. I similarly credit my “failure” in high school, and rejection by my “dream” college, with leading me to a school that was the best place for me to develop into the student I had the ability to be but couldn’t be as a rebellious teen. Luckily, my parents let me lead in my college admissions process and that also meant accepting the “consequences” of my GPA. I can’t possibly think about where I would be today if it had happened any other way. I never would have learned, what I thought then was the hard way, about what really matters in creating a life (and finding work) with meaning, and becoming an energized and self-directed learner.

Anyway, William Stixrud is the co-author of The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives, with Ned Johnson. Below is an old-ish article in Time that I will never stop posting. I hope you give it a read.

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When my daughter Jora was in high school, she went to a talk I gave on the adolescent brain, during which I pointed out that high school grades don’t predict success very well. On the way home, she said, “Great talk, Dad, but I bet you don’t really believe that bit about grades.” I assured her that I did. To prove it, I offered to pay her $100 if she got a ‘C’ on her next report card — in any subject.

We’ve all heard the familiar anxiety-inducing nostrums: That a screw-up in high school will follow you for the rest of your life. That if you don’t get into Harvard or Yale, you’ll never reach the c-suite. That the path to success is narrow and you’d better not take one false step. I have come to think of this unfounded belief system as what we psychologists call a “shared delusion.”

So why don’t we tell our kids the truth about success? We could start with the fact that only a third of adults hold degrees from four-year colleges. Or that you’ll do equally well in terms of income, job satisfaction and life satisfaction whether you go to an elite private college or a less-selective state university. Or that there are many occupations through which Americans make a living, many of which do not require a college degree.

I am not against being a good student, and there are clear advantages to doing well in school. But you don’t need to be a top student or go to a highly selective college to have a successful and fulfilling life. The path to success is not nearly so narrow as we think. We’ve all heard the stories of the college dropout who went on to found a wildly successful company. I myself was a C+ student in high school who flunked out of graduate school. At one point I went for 20 weeks without turning in a single assignment. (I often tell the underachievers I see in my practice: “Top that!”) Long story short, I managed to do pretty well in life, and I credit my failure in graduate school with leading me to a career more in line with my skill set.

The problem with the stories we’re telling our kids is that they foster fear and competition. This false paradigm affects high-achieving kids, for whom a rigid view of the path to success creates unnecessary anxiety, and low-achieving kids, many of whom conclude at a young age that they will never be successful, and adopt a “why try at all?” attitude. Many of these young people engage in one of the most debilitating forms of self-talk, telling themselves either, “I have to, but I can’t,” or “I have to, but I hate it.”

Why do we encourage our children to embrace this delusional view of what it takes to be successful?

I’ve asked various school administrators why they don’t just tell kids the truth about college — that where you go makes very little difference later in life.

They’ll shrug and say, “Even if we did, no one would believe it.” One confided to me, “We would get angry calls and letters from parents who believe that, if their children understood the truth, they would not work hard in school and would have second-class lives.”

Many adults worry that if their kids knew that grades in school aren’t highly predictive of success in life, they’d lose their motivation to apply themselves and aim high. In fact, the opposite is true. In my 32 years of working with kids as a psychologist, I’ve seen that simply telling kids the truth — giving them an accurate model of reality, including the advantages of being a good student — increases their flexibility and drive. It motivates kids with high aspirations to shift their emphasis from achieving for its own sake to educating themselves so that they can make an important contribution. An accurate model of reality also encourages less-motivated students to think more broadly about their options and energizes them to pursue education and self-development even if they aren’t top achievers.

Children are much more energized when they envision a future that is in line with their own values than when they dutifully do whatever they believe they have to do to live up to their parents’ or teachers’ or college admissions boards’ expectations. We don’t inspire our kids through fear. We inspire them by helping them to focus on getting better at something, rather than being the best, and by encouraging them to immerse themselves in something they love.

So if you want your kids to succeed in life, don’t perpetuate a fear-based understanding of success. Start with the assumption that your children want their lives to work. Then tell them the truth: That we become successful by working hard at something that engages us, and by pulling ourselves up when we stumble.

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The College Conversation

The College Conversation

There’s a new-ish college book that I actually like! It just so happens to be authored by Penn’s Eric Furda and longtime higher ed writer, Jacques Steinberg (if you studied high ed you’ve read his stuff; excellent!). 

November Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

November Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors

  • Keep writing apps, and make sure you are aware of early merit deadlines. Many are earlier than the RD deadline. Please do not save essay writing (or any part of this process) for the last minute. Submit applications as soon as possible!
  • 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 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!
  • Keep learning about the schools on your list. 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 RD 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. 
  • 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!
  • 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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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:

Launching in October –> Peer Guides!

Launching in October –> Peer Guides!

Given campus visit restrictions, students are finding it more challenging than ever before to get a sense of what a college is really like. Prospective applicants want (and need!) information they can’t always get online, and that they would often get by sitting in on classes, going on overnight visits, or even meeting with current students on campus through sports teams, affinity groups, or clubs they hope to join if admitted.

Whether students get to campus or not, we know from experience that they can craft smaller, more targeted college lists that reflect a deep knowledge of schools beyond rankings when they talk to current students and young alumni. Talking to peers is also the single best way to learn more about the social aspects of college and what it is like (realistically!) to follow a certain major path.

With that, we are soft-launching a new program in October: Peer Guides!

We have a small pool of college students who are available to meet with high school students and help guide them on all things their school, major, and college life in general. Here’s how it works:

Reach out letting us know the specific school or major you want peer guidance on, and we will let you know if guides are available and share their bio(s). *Please note, as we are piloting this program, we might not have a guide available for your college or major of interest; if one becomes available later, we will let you know

-You choose a guide(s) and let us know how much time you want with them (one hour is typically sufficient). Time with the guide is purchased in one-hour blocks, and we ask that you use the time with your guide within three months

-We intro the student and guide, and they take it from there! This is not a formal mentorship program, and students and guides will schedule their time together directly. *Please note, this is a near-peer, student-to-student program. Guides do not meet with or communicate with parents

Email us if you are interested in learning more!

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HOME: Hopkins Online Multicultural Experience

HOME: Hopkins Online Multicultural Experience

When Johns Hopkins was founded as the nation’s first research university, we were charged with a bold mission: Create new knowledge for the world. We believe that bringing together a community of people from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences is fundamental in our pursuit.

The goal of HOME is to connect African American, Black, Latinx, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, and multiracial high school seniors to the people, organizations, and resources that unite our multicultural community.

To support safety and public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are hosting our annual HOME (Hopkins Online Multicultural Experience) program virtually.

HOME Application

This application is required to be considered for the virtual HOME and HOME + Impact Program and all applicants must be rising seniors. To apply, please fill out the application below. Please indicate if you are applying for HOME or HOME + Impact based on your schedule and personal preferences.

Applicants must upload their high school transcript at the bottom of this form in order for their application to be considered complete.

The deadline to apply is September 21. However, applications are reviewed on a rolling basis throughout the summer and early fall, so we encourage students to apply as soon as possible. If you have any questions, please email home.program@jhu.edu.

Space is limited for the program, and acceptance or non-acceptance into HOME or HOME + Impact is not an indicator of admissibility to Johns Hopkins University. Your application to Johns Hopkins University will not be negatively impacted in the event that you were unable to attend either HOME program.

September Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

September Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

 

Seniors

  • Welcome to senior year! Your grades this fall are important, but you also need to keep making progress on your apps and complete any remaining testing if applicable. It might feel like a lot to juggle, but you’ve got this! My biggest piece of advice is to keep moving forward.
  • Meet with your school counselor to discuss your counselor letter, finalize your college list, confirm your teacher recommendations, and go over your application strategy. ost early deadlines are November 1 or later, but a few schools have mid-October deadlines. Plan on submitting ALL applications well in advance of deadlines. To me, well in advance means at least 1-3 weeks ahead of time.
  • Keep writing! If you started essays this summer, you should have quite a few completed by this time. Please do not save essay writing (or any part of this process) for the last minute.
  • Talk to your letter of recommendation writers and make sure they are aware of your early deadlines.
  • Continue connecting with students, faculty, and staff. Remember to interview where applicable and take lots of notes. The information you gather is often perfect material for supplemental “Why School” essays and interest letters after you apply!
  • If your school hosts a college fair or individual college visits (even virtually!), 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.
  • Continue to visit colleges virtually and show 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.
  • Remember to send schools your official test scores (ACT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests). Self-reported scores on applications are not official scores.
  • Remember to read the application instructions for the schools on your list.
  • Keep writing essays!

Juniors

  • If your school hosts a college fair or individual college visits (virtually this year in many cases!), please attend and meet the reps from the schools that might be on your list. Be sure to send them a follow-up email thanking them for their time.
  • Now is the time to plan the rest of junior year in terms of testing. When will you take the ACT or SAT? Will you need SAT Subject Tests? How many and which ones? When might you take them? Have you started formal test prep? Now is the time to start!
  • Although I do not suggest formally prepping for the PSAT, if you would like to get a sense of what is on the test, you can read more here: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10/practice
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. S/he will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and it’s a much more personal letter if you know each other. Talk about your plans for this year and next year; let them know about your preliminary college list, any visits you have scheduled, and your testing plan.
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in, and explore the admissions and academics pages. Start to think about your major(s) of interest and how the activities you are involved in support these interests. If possible, we want to determine what major(s) options you will list on your applications sooner rather than later so you can best prepare yourself for talking about these interests in your apps. If you need suggestions for activities based on your interests (for example, Coursera courses, independent projects, etc.), let us know—we help with this!
  • Fall is a great time to visit colleges, so plan at least one virtual tour per week!
  • Do you have a plan in place to get more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Look for leadership opportunities in school clubs and activities outside of school too. Remember, leadership is far more than leading a school club or sports team.

Sophomores and Freshmen

  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. A rigorous course schedule shows intellectual curiosity, a willingness to challenge yourself, and that you are comfortable with hard work. Your number one priority this year should be your grades!
  • If you haven’t done so already, get involved in activities in your area(s) of interest both inside and outside of school. Most colleges prefer to see fewer activities, but in which you are involved in a significant, meaningful way.
  • Many schools allow 10th graders to take a practice PSAT.  The experience of taking the PSAT as a sophomore will give you a sense of what to expect on future exams. However, you don’t need to prep for it.
  • Schedule a meeting to discuss your high school game plan with your guidance counselor. Talk to them about how the first few weeks of classes go, and if you need to make any adjustments to your schedule.
  • Independent reading matters. Regular reading of articles and editorials (e.g. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist) in addition to studying vocabulary lists and signing up for “Word/Article/SAT Question of the Day” can have a significant positive impact on standardized testing and your writing. Colleges love readers!

 

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Common Application Adds Student & Counselor Question on COVID-19

Common Application Adds Student & Counselor Question on COVID-19

Next year, on the 2020-2021 application, Common App will provide students who need it with a dedicated space to elaborate on the impact of the pandemic, both personally and academically. The goal of a “common” space for this information is to provide consistent questions and language that colleges and universities can use to review applications.

Below is the question applicants will see:

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
  • Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

The question will be optional and will appear in the Additional Information section of the application. The response length will be limited to 250 words.

The question will be accompanied by a more detailed FAQ to help students consider the kinds of impacts they may wish to report, including illness and loss, housing and employment disruptions, and shifting family obligations. **Please note, this is not a space to discuss all impacts of COVID — everyone has been impacted by it, but not all impacts speak to what schools are looking for here**

The new language will not replace the current Additional Information question inviting students to discuss circumstances and qualifications not reflected elsewhere in the application. That question, along with its 650-word limit, will remain.

Counselors will also find space in their Common App counselor forms to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on their school communities. The following optional question will be located within the School Profile section.

Your school may have made adjustments due to community disruptions such as COVID–19 or natural disasters. If you have not already addressed those changes in your uploaded school profile or elsewhere, you can elaborate here. Colleges are especially interested in understanding changes to:

  • Grading scales and policies
  • Graduation requirements
  • Instructional methods
  • Schedules and course offerings
  • Testing requirements
  • Your academic calendar
  • Other extenuating circumstances

This new question will be a text-entry response with a 500-word limit. Counselors may choose to use the space to offer details or to direct admission officers elsewhere to find the information, such as an uploaded school profile or web page url. Counselors will be able to provide this information only once, and it will populate the forms for all their students.

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