Why Fall Visits Are Important

Most juniors begin college campus tours in the spring and find out that they really should have started earlier. Why the rush? It is virtually impossible to visit 8-10 colleges in a space of 3 spring months, especially when those 3 months are also consumed with test prep, extra-curriculars, and keeping up grades.  Placing this kind of pressure on students is precisely what independent college counselors and savvy parents try to avoid. So let's break it down.

~ Why does my teen need to see so many colleges?  There is nothing better than walking around a campus, sitting in a classroom, listening to students in the cafeteria, checking out the dorms, and speaking with professors to give a prospective student a real sense of what that college is all about.

Yet, this is far from the only reason to see as many schools as possible. In the past three years, college admissions reps are placing increasing importance on "demonstrated interest." Colleges want to see and hear why a prospective student wants to attend. These days, an applicant must prove why a particular college is such a good fit for him/her; students must 'demonstrate' their 'interest' in a personal way.

--- Demonstrating interest:  The insights, impressions, recollections a student feels on a college visit are crucial to expressing substantive demonstrated interest.  The more personal details a student includes in an essay or in email to a college admissions rep, the more genuine that student's interest becomes. It's almost as if the prospective student needs to gather firm evidence to make a solid case to support his/her desire to attend. The application alone is not enough anymore.

How do I select colleges to visit? Because high school counselors typically do not begin the college list process with juniors until January, students and parents are left on their own to do so. College guidebooks are a good start, especially those categorized by state. There are enough colleges within a 2-hour drive from any major city to explore. Criteria to consider include location, size, weather, and academic concentrations.

~ Do I really need to go along on the visits? Yes. Many colleges have activities and discussions specifically for parents. Moreover, parents are most likely to be the note takers and record keepers and writing down as much as possible is critical.

Independent Counselors - Independent college counselors are a tremendous resource for families pulling a list together in a hurry. Counselors know the small, medium and large colleges nearby as well as which schools focus on liberal arts, business, sciences, etc. Counselors also provide families with:

·         specific instructions to streamline college website research

·         key questions to ask on a tour

·         important steps to take before and after the campus visit to build relationships with colleges.

 

Pros and Cons of Applying Early Decision

Every fall, high school seniors finalize their college lists and question if they should apply Early Decision (ED) to a given college.  Parents wonder if there is any advantage to applying early to a school and worry if their child does submit an ED application, will the family lose the opportunity to compare financial aid offers from a number of colleges.  Please note that the deadline for early applications is typically November 1; for some colleges it may be November 15 so it is important to double check deadline dates for all schools on the college list.

Higher Acceptance Rate for Both ED and EA

According to the 2017 edition of NACAC's State of College Admission survey, colleges reported an average increase of 10% in the number of Early Decision applications between fall 2016 and fall 2017. (The 2018 edition of this publication becomes available this November.) The number of acceptances of ED applicants also increased, by 11% for the same time period. Colleges that offer Early Decision reported a higher acceptance rate on average for ED applications relative to all applicants: 62% versus 51%. 

Similarly, the number of applications submitted through Early Action (EA) increased as well, this time by seven percent. For fall 2017, 40% of applications to colleges with Early Action admissions plans were received through EA applications.  The admit rate for EA applicants was 73% on average compared to an admit rate of 66% on average for Regular Decision applicants.

Hence, there is a significant advantage to applying EA to colleges and there is no down side. There is a down side to applying ED regarding financial aid. Early decision is a binding agreement and an acceptance means accepting the school's financial aid award even if a better one may have been offered from another institution. If a student receives an ED acceptance, the student will receive one - and only one - financial aid offer.  Also, early acceptance typically includes a deposit on enrollment. If you back out of the commitment, you lose your spot and your deposit.

You Can Say 'No' to ED Acceptance

If a student applies for financial aid when he/she submits an ED application, and financial aid officials determine that the family does not qualify for aid, or qualifies for less aid than the family was hoping for, the student can decline the acceptance without penalty provided this is done immediately.  This rarely happens, almost 90% of students accepted through ED do enroll in that institution.

 

College Journey for LD Students

The path to college is nerve-wracking for all students, but it can be especially worrisome for students with learning issues.  Although many LD students want to be like everybody else at college, it is important to recognize that learning difficulties will continue in this new academic setting. The college student must advocate for himself and follow through with the academic supports available at college. 

One of the most important things for LD students to recognize is the amount of structure and support that high school provides. High school students spend roughly six hours a day in class with almost daily contact with teachers who get to know them.  College schedules vary daily and in general, for every hour of class time, college students spend three hours of out of class time preparing assignments and/or studying.  For LD (or ADHD) students, this amount of time may be doubled.  

Time Management is Critical

The most significant challenge that LD students face at college is the balancing act between social life and academic demands. Distractions are endless in college, which only exacerbate the difficulties of time management. All the more reason to find a college where the academic support is easily accessible and strongly encouraged. 

So what should the college search for LD students entail?  Speak with teachers and counselors at your high school who know you and can honestly evaluate the level, and types, of academic supports you will need in college.  Listen to their suggestions and share them with the college counselor at your school so that he/she can sensibly guide you through the admissions process.   

Support Varies College to College

Because the level of support varies from college to college, it is imperative to identify those schools that offer the specific academic supports that you need. This is where the school adviser - or independent counselor -  can, and should, provide the appropriate direction.

Almost all colleges offer accommodations (i.e. extended time; note takers; adaptive software), but to obtain even basic accommodations, students must provide comprehensive documentation of the learning disability.  On every college website, you can find the specified documentation including the requisite educational testing, that each school requires. *Please note that an IEP or 504 is not adequate documentation; colleges want to see a fairly recent psycho-educational evaluation.

The levels of support that various colleges offer are below.  In general, Services are the resources available through the academic services office at no cost to LD students; Programs are exclusively designed for LD students and provide more in-depth and individualized support and often do incur an additional fee.   

Three Tiers of Academic Support at College 

Comprehensive  Support Programs

1.             Frequent meetings with learning specialists to assist students with academic, organizational, and time management skills 

2.             Typically staffed by full-time learning specialists 

3.             May include workshops on study skills, etc. and special orientation. 

4.              Additional fee for support service on top of tuition 

Coordinated Services 

1.             Support office works with students who need help with academics, but staff typically does not include learning specialists. 

2.             Students may seek assistance from staff to help with organizational skills and time management. 

3.             May include workshops on test-taking skills,  and strategies for stress reduction. 

4.           Services are free of charge. 

Basic Support 

1.             Available through the college's Office of Student Disabilities, which also oversees specific accommodations. 

2.           Student must advocate for himself, register with office and provide documentation. The office will not track down, or follow-up with students. 

3.     ·      Services are provided free of charge. 

For further guidance on the college search and admissions process for students with learning differences, please schedule an initial consultation.

Making the Counselor Letter Shine

While a teacher's recommendation may emphasize a student's academic abilities and attitude toward learning, the guidance or college counselor can focus more on the student's personal growth and role within the school community. The counselor should address the student's strength of character and interpersonal skills as well as the student's goals in college.

Details & Examples

The most memorable recommendation letters tell a specific story. Rather than listing everything under the sun, they target key strengths and qualities.  Often, admissions officers are impressed by a student's commitment to developing expertise or cultivating skill in a certain area.  All the more reason why the counselor’s letter should include examples and anecdotes.  Not only do stories help the student come to life and differentiate her from others with similar qualities, but they also show that the counselor has gotten to know the student.  Letters that indicate a relationship with the student carry more weight.

Yet in most high schools, the counselor drafting the letter does not know the student well and that’s where the student must make a greater effort.  In a letter or email, share your ideas with the counselor who will be writing the recommendation letter to accompany your applications.  Try to answer as many of the questions below as possible to provide as much information as possible. Elaborate with details, examples and stories.

Academics

·         What are you most proud of in your time in high school?

·         What do you believe your greatest area of academic growth has been?

·         What classes have you enjoyed most in high school and why?

·         What have you chosen to learn on your own?

·         What are you educational/career goals

Activities

·         How have you spent your past two summers?

·         What experiences and/or activities have been most important to you and why?

·         Is there anything in particular that you really want colleges to know about you?

Forge a Bond

Make sure to thank the counselor for his/her time and volunteer to stop by the office to follow up.  The counselor may have some questions for you or you may want to suggest that he or she speak with a coach, or a teacher other than those already writing recommendation letters.  The more you develop a cordial relationship with the counselor, the more likely he/she will be to advocate for you strongly when speaking with college admissions representatives.

 

Three Key Tips for Applications

Finesse the Common Application -  The personal essay and the supplemental essays demonstrate an applicant’s writing style and aptitude.  Yet, the way students phrase their activities, employment, and community service on the Common Application is also important.  To make these sections stand out, use strong ‘action’ verbs (created, managed, produced, organized) and include numbers (how many articles written? meetings led? tournaments captained? shifts worked?).  Wherever possible, emphasize leadership and motivation.

Additional Information Section – Many students will upload a more complete resume on this page of the common app. Alternately, if there is something in the student’s record that needs to be explained, i.e. a semester of weak grades; a medical leave; a disciplinary action; this is the appropriate section to write a brief essay explaining the circumstances.

Campus Visits - Visiting, and re-visiting campuses, can make a huge difference because it "demonstrates interest" in a school and doing so has become increasingly significant.  More importantly, students can feel a college vibe if they spend time with current students, and really look around and soak in the atmosphere.

Overnight  visits can be invaluable because they allow the prospective student a 24-hour experience of being a student at that college. Many colleges arrange overnight visits through the admissions office so it’s worth a phone call.  Schools that do not offer overnights typically offer another type of visit opportunity such as “lunch with a student,” or “sit in on a class.”  Such opportunities are also worthwhile and more importantly, show interest in the college.

With the tremendous emphasis currently placed on “demonstrated interest,” any engagement with the college is strongly recommended. Furthermore, the more an applicant knows about a school, the better equipped he/she is to write an impressive supplemental essay.  Many colleges ask the applicant why he/she wants to attend that school.  Effective essays provide personal details and impressions that show that the applicant has a good understanding of what is unique to that campus.

Tackling the Personal Essay

Next to grades, the personal essay is the key element to a student's college application. Yet, all students struggle with writing it. Unlike analytical papers written for literature and history classes, the personal essay does not follow a rubric, it is not formulaic in any way.  This actually makes it more difficult to write as there is no template or outline to follow.

Self-reflection is crucial

The self reflection that the essay requires of students further exacerbates their apprehension and uncertainty.  Writers need to share specific stories, anecdotes, and experiences. To do this effectively, the student must dig deep and use words that may feel slightly uncomfortable.  They must show that through this introspection they have come to understand themselves. The qualities and experiences unique to the writer help colleges learn more about the applicant and why this student belongs on their campus.

Probably the hardest part of writing this essay is getting enough detail on paper.  Students tend to write in general, vague, even cliché-d terms.  A lot of words that say basically nothing.  My role is to pull those details out because they are always in there.  Once prodded, students recite wonderful, exciting, dramatic stories that come to life on paper.  I encourage as many visuals as possible so the reader can truly “see” and “feel” what the writer is relating.  The more the reader feels, the more effective the essay.

Layering with many drafts

Writing is a process that takes time and perseverance and many drafts. But this is precisely what students heading off to college need to learn.  The essays, research papers, theses, they must compose even as college freshmen will require several drafts, each one adding greater support to the previous draft.  With the personal essay, each layer adds clarity and conviction culminating in a compelling narrative that flows smoothly, but also touches.

 

Important Summer Steps for Rising Juniors & Seniors

Rising seniors should have begun their Common Application by now to reduce the pressure later.  Ideally, rising juniors should know which standardized test – the ACT or the SAT – they plan to take in the fall or winter.  Summer is the best time to jumpstart the college roadtrip and take the important steps necessary to reduce the stress of the fall semester.

Seniors:

  • Finalize your college list – At the very least, review your school list and decide which colleges to visit in the fall. Some schools already have their ‘open house’ and ‘special session’ fall visit schedule online. Have a final list ready to review with the college advisor at your high school in September and ask him/her to suggest additional options.

  • Continue test prep for fall SAT/ACT and/or SAT Subject Tests – Many students hope to improve upon their scores by focusing on test prep over the summer and re-taking exams in the fall. Some students consider taking an SAT subject test, or two, in order to enhance their college applications. This is recommended even if the colleges to which you will apply do not require subject tests.

  • Application Essays – July is the perfect time to complete the personal essay for the Common Application. In August, the supplemental essay prompts for individual schools will be available and students will get busy drafting those. While many students have summer jobs/internships or are taking summer classes, there is time on weekends and evenings to begin composing the personal essay – the main college essay.

Juniors:

  • Begin Sat/ACT test prep – Whether or not the student has taken the PSAT and/or PLAN, it is advisable to take a diagnostic SAT and ACT over the summer to determine which exam makes the most sense. If it is possible, students should begin practicing for a fall test. This leaves ample time for re-testing in the winter and/or spring.

  • Start perusing the college guidebook - Parents can pick up any of the college guide books on bookstore shelves and start a preliminary list based on location, size, and possible majors (liberal arts vs. sciences). For parents who want to take the next step, use the guidebook to identify colleges of interest and spend time on each school’s website.

  • Website Research – You can spend hours on college websites as they are chock full of information. One piece of information that can help discern if the college is a real possibility or a long shot, is the 'student profile' for the incoming class. This includes the SAT and ACT scores; GPA range; and a slew of demographics. If your student’s current GPA falls close, it may be worthy of consideration.

  • Start planning fall college visits – Starting campus tours in the fall gives students a huge headstart and takes the pressure off of the spring when exams, school work, and extra-curriculars ramp up. The more schools students visit, the more focused they become.

ReadySetCollege has a unique approach to executing these steps more effectively than families and high school counselors can alone. Contact Franca today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why It's Become So Hard To Get In

Students often fear the college journey because they’ve heard so much negative hype around it.  Especially now when the admissions world has become so competitive, students often feel that the deck is stacked against them.  One of my missions as a counselor is to instill in students a sense of confidence and assurance that many, many colleges will be thrilled to welcome them onto their campuses.

It is important to maintain realistic expectations as students embark on their college roadtrip.  Understanding how college admissions departments operate may help to balance those expectations. Here’s a look at why it’s so difficult to predict outcomes.

·         Admissions committees make decisions.  Depending upon the size of the college, one or two admissions counselors may review a student’s application, or an entire committee will convene to review and discuss an applicant. Committees include not only admissions counselors, but the admissions director, faculty and sometimes additional administrative staff. The committee at each individual college will evaluate an application differently depending upon the criteria that are most relevant to each school.

·         Admissions department are not only admitting students to that college. They are also admitting students to specific academic disciplines. Popular majors, such as business, may have a lot more competition than a less popular major. This is one reason a straight A student applying to a popular major may not be not be accepted, but a B student is admitted to a less popular major.

 Admissions decisions are very subjective. When admissions committees receive thousands of applications with similar grades and test scores, other factors become critical when making decisions. What is important to one decision maker could be less important to another. Some admissions decision makers may feel a connection with a student and want to take a chance on the student while another committee member may decide not to admit. Lastly, admissions committees can change every year. Therefore, someone who was admitted for admissions this year may not have been admitted the previous year. There is often no rhyme or reason why one college accepts a student and another college rejects the same student.

Enhance Teacher Recommendation Letters

Juniors!  If you have not already done so, it’s definitely time to request teacher recommendation(s) that will accompany your college applications.   Students are sometimes tempted to leave this part of the process until the fall of their senior year, but that leaves very little time for teachers to complete the recommendations, particularly when confronted with application deadlines as early as October 15th.

Tips to keep in mind:

·         The best recommendation is not necessarily from the teacher who gave you the best grades. Often, a stronger recommendation comes from the teacher in whose class you’ve struggled.  This teacher can address your academic drive and perseverance, qualities that admissions readers love to see.

·         Ideally, recommendations will come from teachers of your “core” academic subjects. Yet, if you feel that another teacher has gotten to know you well and can write about qualities that other teachers will not, by all means. Furthermore, you may want to check with the colleges that you are interested in to see if they require recommendations from specific teachers for some specific majors.

·         Whenever possible, provide your recommenders with “memorable moments.”  These are papers, projects, presentations, labs that you are particularly proud of and you would like the teacher to highlight in his/her letter.  The more details and anecdotes a teacher can include, the richer the recommendation becomes.

“Making Learning Better for Others”

“The teachers are usually the only ones who can offer a perspective of the student’s behavior in class,” notes Peter Osgood, admissions director at Harvey Mudd College.  “I want to know  – how creative, how determined, how playful, how focused, how they make learning better for others, are they quiet, but offer pearls of wisdom?”

The ideal teacher recommendation will fully describe the student’s performance, participation and attitude towards learning and towards his peers.  Colleges want to see that the student knows how to be an engaged learner.

 

Why Hiring an Independent College Counselor Is Still a Safe Bet

Despite the recent scandal around unscrupulous college advisers, the vast majority of independent counselors are ethical and responsible supporters of students on their college journeys.  It is important to remember that an independent adviser does have much to offer that the high school counselor does not.

Last year, a NACAC article  explored the advantages of having an independent educational consultant (IEC) and the school counselor collaborating in the best interests of the student.

There's been a three-fold increase in the number of independent counselors across the country in the past five years. This is partly due to the overload of students that school counselors must manage. As the article states: "with school budgets being cut right and left [school counselors] don't have time."  Furthermore, while the cost of going to college continues to go up every year, the cost of hiring an IEC has remained stable.

Available 24/7

Every family comes to the college admissions journey with expectations and concerns, and lots of questions.  The number one value that an IEC provides is the availability to answer questions anytime and to offer as much customized guidance as each individual student requires. I tell my families that I am available 24/7 and both students and parents have my cell phone number to reach me evenings, weekends, holidays. The school counselor obviously cannot provide this level of commitment and may have very limited office hours especially in a large school.

Nevertheless, the school counselor is the student's best ally and I emphasize this to all of my students.  Only the school counselor knows the senior class: where are the student's classmates applying? given this school's track record, what are the student's chances of acceptance to the colleges on his/her list? The school counselor is privy to "inside information" that can be crucial.  If both counselors work together, the student gets the best of both worlds.

Get the Best of Both Worlds

By keeping in touch and talking directly to one another, the IEC and the school counselor can not only avoid duplicating efforts, but they can share their expertise and knowledge base about colleges. IECs build relationships with college admissions personnel just as school counselors do. Hence the addition of the IEC's connections to the school counselor's network can only benefit the student. In addition, because the IEC gets to know the student on a more personal level, the consultant can share insights that help define the colleges that are truly a best fit for the student.

Achieve Results

Because IECs have experience working with schools, parents should ask a prospective consultant how he or she has handled this in the past and how the parent should broach the topic with the school counselor. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that both counselors sincerely want what's best for your teen and will do whatever it takes to achieve the best results.