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.

 

Why College Fairs Are Important

Juniors returning from campus trips want to keep the momentum going and continue visiting colleges closer to home on weekends. For those who cannot make any further excursions, college fairs can be the next best option.  Many high schools have college fairs in April; the NACAC National Fair is in NYC on Sunday, April 7. Here's how to make the most of them.

Let your son/daughter take the lead - College fairs are meant to be an opportunity for students to confer with admissions reps. Parents, no matter how well-meaning, interfere with that valuable time and may be viewed by the reps as “helicopter parents.” If you have a question or two that you want your student to ask, write it down, and ask him/her to jot down the response.

Head straight to your first choice(s) - Every college fair provides a map of the colleges represented. Because the lines grow quickly, begin with those where you may wait a few minutes to introduce yourself. The less popular schools tend to have shorter lines anyway so you can save those for later.

Be open-minded, explore options.  It’s only natural to stop at the colleges you’ve heard of, and those already on your list. Yet, college fairs are precisely the place to expand your thinking and to explore alternatives to the few colleges you might already be considering. Widen your net and take a chance on a college rep whose table is quiet. He or she may truly surprise you!

Don’t be shy.  While it can be difficult to simply walk up to someone and start asking questionsthe reps do want to meet you. It helps to have some prepared questions, but do not ask questions whose answers you can easily find on the college website. In other words, don’t ask how many majors a school offers or if it has club lacrosse. Do ask questions that may be more nuanced – “can you explain how I can get involved in research as a freshman?” or “tell me the most unique feature about X College” or “how would you describe the quintessential X University student?”

Write it down. Keep a college notebook with the details that you’ve gleaned and the name of the person you met. Don’t be embarrassed to request a business card (sometimes they’re right on the table) and make sure to send an email thank you to the rep with whom you spoke. When application time comes in the fall, you may interject those details in the supplemental questions on your application. And if you plan to visit a particular college after the fair, email your contact person and let him/her know when you will be on campus.

Always fill out the ‘contact card’ - Most college reps give you a card to fill out. These are an expression of your “demonstrated interest” so always hand them back. Many schools monitor how many contacts you’ve made with their college so every connection counts.

 

Back From College Visits, Now What?

The answer is really in two parts: part one addresses how to assess the individual visits, and part two entails the steps with which students should follow-up.

Assessment – Here’s where I advise parents to keep their comments/opinions to a minimum (ideally, to themselves).  Most students don’t want to hear how impressed Dad was with the Economics professor who suggested stopping by the Career Center or how touched Mom was to hear how warmly the tour guide spoke of her roommates. Alert! It is your son/daughter who is spending the next four years at college so it is crucial that your son/daughter process the information, campus vibe and student sentiments on his/her own.

Instead, ask the questions that will help your student form an opinion. For example:

·         what stood out to you at X University?

·         what did you hear at Y College that surprised you?

·         what turned you off at W College? Why?

·         can you see yourself at Z University?

Have your student jot down responses in a notebook as well as details that he/she may have noticed. Was there something on this campus that you didn’t see elsewhere? Did you hear stories/anecdotes from students that resonated with you? Did it sound like there was too much emphasis on sports or Greek Life? Did students on campus look happy or stressed?

Next Steps – First, and foremost, make sure your student sends an email thank you to both the college rep who presented the information session and the student tour guide. If you do not have this information, call the admissions office and ask who spoke on the day/time that you were there and the name of the tour guide who followed.

*Students: In the email to the college rep, ask for the name/contact info for a current student majoring in your intended major. Even if you are clueless what you want to study in college, ask to contact someone in a subject area that interests you. Simply asking for some student contacts shows that you are genuinely interested in this college and want to learn more about the nitty gritty of being a student there.

Request a meeting with your teen’s college counselor to review the trip. He or she can help guide the conversation to important points and provide some expertise about the colleges visited. Having an independent third party asking questions can be very helpful.

The college journey is evolutionary, not linear. Priorities change and different realities set in with each visit. What was once on the top of the school list can fall to the bottom of the list, and new options come onto the horizon. But at every step of the way, make sure to allow your teen to take the lead, it is his/her ride!

Making the Most of Campus Visits

In last week’s blogpost, I explained the importance of the college campus visit and how it impacts “demonstrated interest.”  How can your son or daughter make the most of these trips?  The answer, simply put, is pay attention to everything you see and hear; ask smart questions; take notes; and maintain connections.  Here’s how.

Visit colleges on your preliminary list – this may seem obvious, but many families do not yet have a college list in place and make a trip to a college nearby just to begin the process.  If your son/daughter has not yet met with the high school’s college counselor, make an appointment to speak with a guidance counselor to get some idea of which colleges make sense based on your student’s grades, and PSAT scores (if available).  For students who do have a preliminary list, try to visit one “reach” school, and one “target” school to start.  Leave the “safety” schools for later in the process.  If you have time to visit several colleges, aim to see more “targets” than “reaches.”

Keep the number of trips reasonable – The campus visit is not a quick tour, especially these days when so much emphasis is placed on students finding the “best fit.”  Prospective students need time to soak up the atmosphere on a given campus, to really look at the college students and to sense if this campus “feels right.”  If your son/daughter feels enthusiastic being on this campus and can easily envision sitting in classes, and hanging out with, these college students, then he/she is closer to making a solid match.

Three Colleges A Week

Ideally, students should spend several hours at any one college so planning out the trips in a manageable way is important.  If a college is in a city, or even a small town, spend time exploring the downtown area also.  For these reasons, I recommend touring no more than three colleges in a week.

Pay close attention – to everything you see and hear and take notes. (Key Pointer: parents, this will inevitably become your job so make sure to write down your son/daughter’s thoughts and reactions.) During the information session, an admissions representative will recite a script about everything the college offers academically, socially, etc. Listen for what appeals to your son/daughter (and you!), and what does not. Most importantly, listen for features you have not heard from admissions representatives at other colleges as these are the aspects that make this school different.

Ask the Tour Guide

On the campus tour, a student guide will recite a script also, but here is the opportunity to go beyond the script.  Try to get an honest answer to: what is the one thing about “X” College that has disappointed you?  What is the number of students in your largest class and how many of these sized classes have you taken?  What are the most popular clubs and organizations?  What are the traditions that make this college unique?

Demonstrating Interest

Spring break is the traditional time for college tours and there is nothing better than walking around a campus, sitting in an actual class, listening to students in the cafeteria and speaking with professors to give a prospective student a real sense of what that college is all about.  But to today’s college admissions landscape, the campus visit is also the most important way to show “demonstrated interest.” 

These days, more and more colleges are placing greater weight on “demonstrated interest” as they review applications.  Colleges want to see and hear why  a prospective student wants to attend. An applicant must prove why a particular college is such a good fit for him/her so students must 'demonstrate' their 'interest' in a personal way.

So how exactly can students show their interest?

Demonstrating interest:  The insights, impressions, recollections a student feels on a college visit are crucial to expressing substantive interest.  The more personal details a student includes in an essay or email, 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.

But demonstrated interest can also include joining the mailing list on the college's website, ‘liking’ a college on Facebook, or reading student (or Admissions) blogs on the school website.  The more engaged a prospective student becomes with a college, the better.  Of course, the ultimate best way to show how much a student wants to attend a given school is to apply Early Decision.

A recent Forbes article reports that colleges are using data mining including tracking email open rates, link clicks, website visits, and social media engagement to gauge interest on the part of prospective students.  Colleges use these data to track the applicant’s enthusiasm about a particular school.  For many colleges, particularly smaller ones, demonstrated interest can be a predictor of yield - the likelihood that students will attend the college if they are accepted.

“As the admissions process becomes more digital, it makes sense that data analytics would play an increasing role in the admissions office determining the depth of a student’s interest,” says Peter Zimmermann, a past Stanford admissions official quoted in the article.  Yet, many colleges don’t like to bring attention to how much data analysis they’re really doing. 

“Because colleges are not transparent about their use of data mining,” the piece goes on to say, “applicants may want to err on the side of caution. Demonstrate your interest to the college through all avenues; you never know how or when they are tracking your interest but they very well could be.”