More Colleges Are Test-Optional

Three weeks ago, Fairtest announced that the number of test-optional colleges and universities has topped 1,000 institutions and now includes 300+ “top tier” schools.  The appeal of going test-optional has apparently ramped up in the past four years, with over 100 colleges jumping aboard the bandwagon in this time period.

A slew of articles followed the announcement, but The Conversation presented an excellent overview of the test-optional movement, its critics and proponents.  For years, critics contended that without standardized tests, colleges would be unable to attract high-achieving students.  Yet, just the opposite has occurred.  At Wake Forest, for example, “the average high school GPA of our incoming freshmen increased after we stopped using standardized test scores as a factor. Our students are better because we look at the whole person, not a test score.”

Grades are Key

Proponents insist that high school grades and overall academic performance are the best predictors of success in college.  High school transcripts are the most revealing portion of the application as they demonstrate grit, ability and accomplishment.  Standardized test scores say nothing about a student’s creativity, passions or community engagement. The article suggests that “nearly 70% of what matters to a young person’s college grades cannot be predicted by academic variables. College admission remains more art than science. Fairness and merit are best served in a holistic review than in a numeric cutoff.”

So the question becomes: should my teen even bother taking the SAT or ACT?  It is always worth taking an exam especially if a student prepares for it.  Let’s remember that while 1,000 schools may be test-optional, 3,500 colleges and universities do accept test scores.  Hence, applicants who plan to submit their scores will have more options.

Some Students Should Not Take a Test

That said, some students may simply be poor test takers regardless of how much they may prepare.  Others may be so anxious about a test that decides college entrance, they perform poorly.  And others may be strong students whose test scores don’t reflect their academic competencies.  From my perspective, each student must weigh the pros and cons and come to a decision he or she can live with. 

A student who is certain about not taking the SAT or ACT must also be realistic about how this decision will limit college options.  A student who is determined to at least try taking an exam can always decide later on whether or not to submit test scores. 

College Steps for Freshmen and Sophomores

High school juniors are now in full swing of their college search.  Yet, college is certainly on the radar of parents (and some students) in earlier grades. 

With the ever-increasing competition, as evidenced by the continually decreasing acceptance rates at colleges, more and more families are beginning the college journey in sophomore year. The extra time is a true bonus on every level, and it can – and should – be used to the student’s advantage.

Here are the steps that your freshman or sophomore can take right now to ease the pressure, and boost applications, later.

NINTH GRADE

  • Visit your guidance counselor to discuss next year’s course selection. You want to take the most advanced classes available at your school, but only if you feel confident that you can handle the academic rigor. 

  • Stay focused on schoolwork. Freshman grades will  appear on your high school transcript so aim to finish the year on an upswing.

  • Participate in after-school activities and clubs. Find the one that interests you most and stick with it.

  • Volunteer for community service events in and out of school.

  • Talk to your teachers about possibly taking an SAT subject test this June.  It’s best to take these as soon as you complete a course so that the subject matter is fresh in your mind.

  • TENTH GRADE

  • Focus on schoolwork. Colleges want to see an upward trend in grades throughout high school.

  • Concentrate your time on one or two extra-curricular activities that you are most passionate about.

  • Consider a summer program that enriches your extra-curricular interests and investigate internships and classes.

  • Plan to start test prep this summer for the SAT or ACT in fall of junior year. 

  • Begin test prep now  for the SAT subject test you plan to take this June. [Many sophomores take one of the History subject tests or the Chemistry SAT.]

  • There is a huge bonus to getting a head start on campus visits. Start a preliminary college list and visit campuses this spring.  [See blogposts from November 30 and January 2 for details on building a college list] 

  • If you do visit colleges this spring, take careful notes and make sure to send an email thank you to the college official who spoke at the information session and to the student tour guide.

Building the College List ~ Part Three

January is typically the first time students, and parents, meet with the college counselor at their high school. This is an important meeting for several reasons so students should come in prepared.

More and more school counselors have a questionnaire for both students and parents to complete.  Don’t rush through this. Really spend time on thoughtful responses and include as many details and anecdotes as possible. The questionnaire becomes a template for the counselor’s recommendation letter which will accompany college applications so the more information he or she has, the more interesting the letter.

In order to make the most of this first meeting, here are other items to bring to the meeting in addition to the completed questionnaire.

Bring a preliminary college list  – Hopefully you’ve used the previous two blogposts to help you comprise a preliminary list of colleges. If you don’t have a list, be ready to share your thoughts as to what you are looking for in terms of size, location, academic major, etc.  These criteria will help the counselor recommend additional schools for you to research and visit.

Bring a resume – this can be a simple draft of achievements both in, and outside, school as well as community service, summer experiences and employment.  The counselor may not know that you are captain of your basketball team, president of the photography club or treasurer on the student council. If you play on several athletic teams, mention the position you play and any awards you’ve gotten over the years. If you’ve competed in competitions, even if you never won, include the when and where for the contests.

If you are unsure if a given activity or interest merits a place on your resume, put it down and ask the counselor if it is indeed appropriate. You want the counselor to know as much about you as possible, but you also want his/her advice as to what your final resume will include.

Be forthcoming – Remember, the purpose of this meeting is for the counselor to get to know you and to understand what you’re looking for in your college experience. Try to give as much information as you can even if you’re not 100% sure of what type of college you think is perfect for you. Are you excited about going to the football games? Might you consider joining a fraternity? Do you want to be surrounded by creative people? Musicians? Artists?

If your counselor asks a question you weren’t expecting, respond with “I’m not sure, let me think about it and get back to you.”  Make sure he/she knows that you want to keep a dialogue going especially after you’ve visited a few campuses. And always give the counselor feedback on your college visits.

Be open-minded - The counselor may suggest colleges you've never heard of or didn't consider as serious contenders. Ask the counselor to explain why he/she believes this school would be a good fit for you. Then take the time to research the college online and if possible, plan a visit to really understand if the counselor is right.

Do not rule out any school just because of the name. If the location is not appropriate, that's one thing, but you may be pleasantly surprised when you investigate other people's ideas, particularly if the person is a college expert.

 

How Colleges Use Social Media

For years, counselors have been advising students to clean up their social media when they embark on their college journey as more and more admissions offices are scouring the channels.  A recent NACAC article in the Journal of College Admission (NACAC) examines colleges' ever-expanding use of social media to market themselves. Colleges have jumped on the social media bandwagon to attract and inform prospective students.

Social Media Impacts College Choice

During their college search, students tend to use college websites and review sites (Chegg, Niche) to gather information, but as students hone their lists, they turn to social media to get a sense of campus life. The NACAC report found that two in five students use social media to decide which school to attend. Hence social media is not as impactful for increasing student awareness as it is for influencing college choice.

According to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, US teens use social media as follows: 76% use Instagram; 75% Snapchat; 66% Facebook; and 47% Twitter.  Furthermore, 63% of students use social media to research a college they're interested in and 60% have followed or 'liked' a college they consider.

Visit is "Golden Nugget"

For most colleges, the campus visit is the "golden nugget," concedes one admissions official. "It makes a huge difference in the decision to apply."  Instagram, where a college features a lot of photos of the campus and of current students, helps prospective students see themselves on that campus. And the student-run blog is a way for prospective students to hear about what life is life as a student - the classes, culture and how they fit."

Lately, colleges are experimenting more with video to appeal to "this generation's visual nature," states another college official. "Facebook Live video sessions and 360 shots give an enhanced view of the campus and have high click-through rates."  Such visuals are particularly valuable to prospective students who are unable to visit college campuses.


 


 

The Power of LinkedIn for Young Professionals

Guest Blog: Sarah Sax, founder of Write for the Job

The rumors are true. Your future employer will Google you, and the HR manager will scour your online profiles. So, I ask you this: is your digital footprint telling the right professional story? While most people focus on presenting their best foot forward on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (all of which are important), don’t underestimate the power of Linkedin. 

The Adler Group said 85% of hires in 2016 started from some form of networking. Linkedin is the ultimate networking social media platform with more than 400 million users in its database.  Recruiters and HR professionals look at the professional networking site to discover new talent. If your profile is set up properly, Linkedin’s algorithm enables your profile to gain visibility with recruiters and hiring managers who are looking for your exact skillset. 

Beyond the resume component where you list previous positions and accomplishments, Linkedin provides the space to make your 60-second elevator pitch in the “bio” section. This can be the perfect place to show your personality before landing an in-person interview. It can entice people to message you to connect. 

To reinforce your bio and resume sections, ask a previous supervisor or coworker to write a brief recommendation for your work output and work ethic. These are valuable testimonials to how you contribute in the workplace – every company wants a team player. 

If you’re thinking about transitioning into a new position, take a look at how you can utilize Linkedin in your job search. The site features more than 3 million active job listings. 

Ultimately, your Linkedin profile shapes your professional brand whether or not you’re looking for a new position. Be sure that you are telling the right story and putting your best foot forward in 2018.

Sarah Sax is the founder of Write For The Job, a professional services company that weaves your personal story into your professional materials to uniquely explain how your expertise and skillset will yield tangible results for your current or future company.

 

 

Building the College List ~ Part Two

Part One of this blogpost (November 30) outlined the essential factors students should consider as they embark on their college search.  Now that those broad strokes have been taken, let's look more closely at how to evaluate the academics at colleges.

Ask Yourself:  Do you have a favorite subject or long-time passion, or do you enjoy many subjects and don't feel ready to choose a major yet?

Some students know what course of study they wish to pursue in college, but most apply as "undecided" and rather begin their freshman year exploring options. If you already know what you will major in, your website research will be narrowed to that department and everything it offers. Some colleges have separate webpages for each of their individual schools (engineering, business, arts & sciences, etc.) and it is important to look for your intended major here so that you understand the requirements of each particular school. [Key tip: make sure you are looking at the undergraduate departments, not the graduate program.]

For students who are not yet certain, it is especially important to review all of the majors and minors a college offers to insure that there is more than one that appeals to you. Here too, it is advisable to explore the majors/minors within each school. You may find areas you never considered studying and decide to investigate these further.

In either case, take notes on what appeals to you as you surf the websites and jot down questions. Then open the conversation with that department by emailing your questions to the department chair or even a specific professor. In your email, ask if the person can put you in touch with a couple of students majoring in that field so that you can ask some first-hand questions of current students. Do not be afraid that you are bothering these "important" people; you will be pleasantly surprised how many of them reply directly. If they cannot respond, they will forward your query to someone who will.

Ask Yourself:  What type of learning environment is best suited for you? Do you prefer smaller classes with lots of discussion time or do you work better in a lecture setting taking lots of notes?

Most colleges list on their website the student to faculty ratio; the smaller the ratio, the greater number of small classes. Many schools will also include the percentage of classes under 20 which also gives a good sense of class sizes in general.

Aside from class size, you may wonder about your classmates themselves. One benefit of being in a "better" school is being surrounded by strong and motivated students who make discussions more interesting and collaborative projects more successful. Furthermore, since professors must often tailor the level of their classes to the students in them, chances are better that you'll enjoy a more challenging curriculum with brighter classmates.

Pay Attention To:  the "extras."  Some colleges have an Honors College within them for top students which is worth investigating. Other schools have a "first year experience" with a broad variety of courses that may be particularly helpful for students who need to figure out their prospective major. The variety and strength of the internship opportunities and even study abroad programs can also tell you a great deal of what a college has to offer.

 Stay Tuned ~ next week's blogpost, Part Three, will offer good ideas for making the most of your meeting with the college counselor at your high school. This can be particularly important if you are in a large high school where the college counselors are responsible for hundreds of students. You want the school counselor to get to know you!

What Can Deferred Applicants Do?

According to the 2017 edition of NACAC's State of College Admission survey, colleges with Early Decision policies reported a higher acceptance rate for their ED applicants as compared to all applicants – 60% versus 48% overall.  And nearly half of the most selective colleges (those whose acceptance rate is less than 50%) offered an ED option.  Similarly, the admit rate for Early Action (EA) was 71% on average compared to an admit rate of 65% on average for Regular Decision applicants. 

Of course, the above statistics are averages for colleges and universities across the country.  The table below shows how different the numbers are at the Ivies (and others) where the highest admit rate for early applicants is roughly 28% (Dartmouth) and the highest admit rate for Regular Decision applicants is nearly 11% (Cornell).

Early Acceptance 2x.png

If a student is not accepted during the ED or EA round, he/she is either rejected outright or “deferred” to the Regular Decision pool of applicants. While this may be encouraging for students who theoretically still have a chance at acceptance, the number of deferred applicants who ultimately are admitted is very low.  Many top tier universities, unfortunately, are guilty of deferring far too many early applicants.  

Early Deferral 2x.png

Nevertheless, deferred students often prefer to remain optimistic and try to increase their chances of acceptance. Here’s what a student can do:  ask the high school counselor to call the admissions office to learn if there is anything you can do (i.e. an alumni interview, another recommendation letter). More importantly, the counselor should inform the office that you will definitely enroll should you be accepted in the spring.  The counselor can also find out if writing a deferral letter may work in your favor. But if the college specifically asks deferred students not to write a letter, don’t.

In case the counselor gives you the green light to draft a letter, keep it short (no more than 250 words) and write about how this institution can help you grow your interests and achieve your goals.  What does this school offer that others don’t? How will you take advantage of their courses, internship and/or research opportunities?  Choose one area about yourself and describe how you fit into this particular campus.  It’s up to you to give this top-choice school another reason to take you.

Building the College List ~ Part One

The college list is like a piece of art, a work in progress, constantly modified throughout the college search and beyond. While some high school counselors draft a preliminary list for juniors, most students will be on their own to begin, and then continuously develop, their own list of schools. 

'reach'  'target'  'safety'

It is important to maintain a realistic attitude when researching colleges. All students should have a handful of each type of school: "reach, target, safety." Because the final list will have this variety in terms of selectivity, the preliminary list should also include colleges across a spectrum.  This is the first in a three-part series on how to explore colleges to generate a strategic and sensible college list that best fits the student.

ESSENTIAL FACTORS:  Some of the essential factors for selecting colleges are location, size, academic majors, campus life, and of course, the student's current academic record. 

Location – how far from home do you really want to go? If you’ve had enough of northern winters, do you want to spend the next four years in sunnier climes?  

Size - do you want to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond?  If you're in a small high school and want the feel of a lot more people around you, consider visiting some of the larger universities (at least 25,000 undergrads), but also visit colleges with 10 to 12,000 undergrads in order to compare. If you're in a large public high school and prefer smaller classes and greater access to professors, consider visiting smaller colleges (4,000 undergrads or fewer).

Academics - If you have some idea of what you'd like to study, checking the list of majors and minors is important. Many universities will have schools specific to areas of study (business, education, communications, engineering, etc.). If you have no idea whatsoever what to major in, review the majors at the liberal arts colleges.

[Part Two of this series will cover the specific criteria with which to gauge academic majors and minors as well as the quality of academic programs]

College Search Resources –  Below are a few websites to help with the initial search.

  • bigfuture.collegeboard.org
  • niche.com
  • cappex.com
  • unigo.com

Fewer International Students Applying to US Colleges

For many years, US colleges and universities sought out international students and highlighted their presence on campuses. Yet recently, global competition for college students has been increasing and more colleges outside the US are seeking to attract students.

US is Now #4

At this year’s annual conference, NACAC reported that European student enrollments are on a sharp rise in Canada and the UK.  As the cost of tuition at US universities continues to rise, international students are finding that non-US colleges offer a better value.  In fact, amongst all international students, the US is now #4 behind Canada, the UK and Australia.

Furthermore, more and more US applicants are also turning to Canadian institutions. The University of Toronto, for example, saw an 80% increase in US applications alongside an increase in international students.  US applications at McGill University were up 25% and up 50% at Ryerson University (in downtown Toronto) last year.

 According to NACAC, “international students are looking beyond the US due to the current political climate and other factors.”  Immigration denials was a big factor leading to a downturn in applications from China and Asia.  Amongst European students, New Zealand is also becoming more popular as well as Dutch universities which saw an 150% increase in applications.

Changing Recruitment Strategy

Nevertheless, US colleges are not discouraged and say they will modify their recruitment methods. “Many are thinking about spring travel abroad, adding interviews to gauge interest, more communication that campus is safe” and that international students are welcomed.  Colleges also will turn to recruiting international students who are already in the US attending high school here.

"What Colleges Want in an Applicant? (Everything)

The above-titled, recent article in the New York Times is a genuine representation of today's college admissions process  - "a maddening mishmash of competing objectives, " as the subhead states. Yet, the piece points out that "only 13% of four-year colleges accept fewer than half of their applicants."  Hence, casting a wide net is always in the student's best interest.

Many colleges rely on "holistic" evaluations where an applicant's personality and character are assessed in addition to the numbers (grades and test scores). At Trinity College, admissions officers now look for "evidence of 13 characteristics - including curiosity, empathy, openness to change, and ability to overcome adversity" as they review applications.  How do admissions readers judge? From information included in essays and recommendation letters, which make these components especially important.  

Even More Student Info

Yet because of the increasing number of applications each year, some admissions offices seek even more information about applicants.  At Olin College of Engineering applicants are selected to compete in a two-day audition. They work in small groups to complete a tabletop design challenge and later more complex tasks (i.e. designing a new campus building). Evaluators observe how students collaborate and communicate with one another. "This allows us to see them in motion, in an educational moment," explains Olin's dean of admissions. 

Some colleges are exploring alternative ways to measure student potential. One asks applicants to demonstrate their "emotional intelligence" to highlight their ability to work with others, and another wants students to display "their fire for learning."  The new Coalition application, accepted by more than 130 campuses, features a virtual "college locker" where students can upload videos and written works throughout their high school years and then include them in college applications.  

Yale's dean of admissions is pleased with such options: "Now, we have the ability to get to know a student better from a different type of submission."  He goes on to describe one high school senior who submitted a four-minute video documenting his Eagle Scout project in which he was involved in constructing a veterans memorial. 

More work, More worry

While all of the above may ease the job of admissions officers, what does it mean for the 17-year old completing a college application?  More work, more worry. Now students have to make sure their recommendation letters say just the right things about them. And the ever-daunting personal essay now looms even larger as it takes on more weight with admissions readers.  Do Yale applicants now have to become filmmakers to be considered? College officials seek to make their own lives easier without any regard to how it impacts the poor teens who are at their mercy.