Why Fall Visits Are So 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 an actual class, listening to students in the cafeteria, checking out the dorms, 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 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.

~ 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 connections to colleges.

 

 

 

Key Advice for a Unique 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.

Pros and Cons of Early Applications

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.

Higher Acceptance Rate for Both ED and EA

According to the 2016 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 2015 and fall 2016.  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 2016, 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 aide 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.

 

Enriching the Counselor's Recommendation Letter

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. What are your strengths? accomplishments? struggles?  What are the most important things you want colleges to know about you?  Elaborate with details, examples, and stories. Don’t worry if the letter gets long, the more information you provide, the richer the counselor letter becomes.

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.

Why It's So Hard to Get In

Students often fear the college admissions process because they’ve heard so much negative hype around it.  They know how competitive the admissions world has become and sometimes 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.

Three Key Tips for College Applications

Finesse the Common Application -  While the essays demonstrate an applicant’s writing style and aptitude, the way students phrase their activities, employment, and community service is also important. Strive to use strong ‘action’ verbs here, and to emphasize leadership and motivation even in the ‘Activities’ section.

Campus Visits - Visiting, and re-visiting campuses, can make a huge difference. Most importantly, students can only feel a college vibe if they walk around, spend time with current students, 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.

Digital Persona -  As if students don’t have enough hoops to jump through, now they must also be conscious of their digital persona. For years, we have been telling students to clean up their Facebook pages but today’s social media has expanded their online presence exponentially. And as Big Brother-esque as it may sound, admissions offices are watching.

So how can students use social media to boost, rather than hinder, their college applications?

Online features that present a positive impression are:

An appealing Twitter page that suggests cultural engagement and intellectual curiosity

·       Mature personal blog posts

·       News articles about a student’s academic or athletic accomplishments

·       Mentions of volunteer work on the organization’s website and social media

·       Facebook Groups and Facebook Likes

Making the Teacher Recommendation Letter Shine

Students really can have input into the recommendation letters that teachers and school counselors write.  The better a teacher knows the student, the richer the letter.  "The best letters tell stories that offer insight. Stories that reveal something not revealed elsewhere in the application, states an admissions officer in the NACAC Journal of College Admission. "She tells students to think about what information will enhance their application, consider who can address it, and give the letter writer some guidance about what they hope the letter will address."

Here are some tips for students to keep me mind:

  • The best recommendation is not necessarily from the teacher who gave you the best grades. Often, a stronger letter comes from the teacher in whose class you've struggled. This writer can address your academic drive and perseverance, qualities that admissions readers love to see.
  • Ideally, recommendations will come from the 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 ask for a letter.  Furthermore, you may want to check with the colleges that you are interested in to see if they require recommendations from specific teachers for specific majors.
  • Whenever possible, provide your recommenders with a student resume. This is a list of the clubs and organizations you have joined in high school as well as leadership roles in these clubs, academic honors, volunteer experiences, and employment. This enables a teacher to put their classroom experience with you into the overall context of your academic and extracurricular life.

Please read the journal article mentioned above, it offers terrific insights!

 

Gender Advantage at Some Colleges

Yes, sometimes it matters if you’re a boy or a girl.  There have been more women than men applying to, and attending, four-year colleges for the past 30 years.

Most colleges and universities strive to maintain as much gender equivalence as possible to insure a truly co-educational experience. An imbalanced ratio of men to women can impact the entire campus culture. That said, some colleges do have significantly higher acceptance rates for women than for men, and vice versa. 

For example, at schools with a strong engineering or hard science program, men generally apply in much larger number than women, hence giving women a competitive edge. At the highly selective, MIT, the acceptance rate for women is twice as high and at Harvey Mudd College, which only offers majors in engineering and the sciences, women are admitted 2.5 times more often.

According to a recent survey completed by The Washington Post, there are measurable gaps favoring men at some colleges and women at others. Below are partial lists for these institutions.

National Universities with a gender gap favoring men:

·         William and Mary (28 percent women, 42 percent men) 14 points

·         Pepperdine (31 percent women, 44 percent men) 13 points

·         George Washington (41 percent women, 48 percent men) 7 points

·         Brandeis (33 percent women, 39 percent men) 6 points

·         Wake Forest (32 percent women, 38 percent men) 6 points

·         Tufts (15 percent women, 20 percent men) 5 points

·         Brown (7 percent women, 11 percent men) 4 points

·         Stony Brook (39 percent women, 43 percent men) 4 points

·         Vanderbilt (11 percent women, 15 percent men) 4 points

National Universities with a gender gap favoring women:

·         Worcester Polytechnic Institute (54 percent women, 40 percent men) 14 points

·         Clark (60 percent women, 46 percent men) 14 points

·         Georgia Tech (41 percent women, 30 percent men) 11 points

·         Caltech (16 percent women, 6 percent men) 10 points

·         Purdue (65 percent women, 55 percent men) 10 points

·         American (49 percent women, 41 percent men) 8 points

·         California-Davis (44 percent women, 36 percent men) 8 points

·         Lehigh (39 percent women, 31 percent men) 8 points

·         Vermont (77 percent W, 69 percent men) 8 points

·         Wisconsin-Madison (61 percent women, 53 percent men) 8 points

·         Delaware (71 percent women, 64 percent men) 7 points

·         Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (63 percent women, 56 percent men) 7 points

·         MIT (13 percent women, 6 percent men) 7 points

·         Texas at Austin (43 percent women, 36 percent men) 7 points

·         Carnegie Mellon (28 percent women, 22 percent men) 6 points

·         Penn State (53 percent women, 47 percent men) 6 points

·         Boston U. (37 percent women, 32 percent men) 5 points

National Liberal Arts Colleges with a gender gap favoring men:

·         Vassar (19 percent women, 34 percent men) 15 points

·         Wheaton of Illinois (64 percent women, 77 percent men) 13 points

·         Davidson (19 percent women, 26 percent men) 7 points

·         Bates (23 percent women, 28 percent men) 5 points

·         Pomona (10 percent women, 15 percent men) 5 points

·         Bowdoin (13 percent women, 17 percent men) 4 points

·         Carleton (21 percent women, 25 percent men) 4 points

·         Reed (37 percent women, 41 percent men) 4 points

·         Richmond (30 percent women, 34 percent men) 4 points

·         Haverford (23 percent women, 26 percent men) 3 points

National Liberal Arts Colleges with a gender gap favoring women:

·         Harvey Mudd College (23 percent women, 10 percent men) 13 points

·         Earlham (70 percent women, 59 percent men) 11 points

          Allegheny (76 percent women, 67 percent men) 9 points

·         Wheaton of Mass. (73 percent women, 64 percent men) 9 points

·         Furman (72 percent women, 64 percent men) 8 points

·         Connecticut College (40 percent women, 34 percent men) 6 points

·         Lafayette (33 percent women, 27 percent men) 6 points

·         Dickinson (50 percent women, 45 percent men) 5 points

·         Hobart & William Smith (50 percent women, 45 percent men) 5 points

·         Muhlenberg (55 percent women, 50 percent men) 5 points

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Steps for Juniors and Seniors

Rising seniors truly should begin their Common Application in July to reduce the pressure later.  Ideally, rising juniors should know by now 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.

Starting 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.