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Summer is the right time to tackle the Common Application and main essay

July 9th, 2019

We have officially entered into the “dog days of summer,” typically the most sweltering stretch of this season. For high school seniors, this is the perfect opportunity to spend a few hours in air conditioning and get a head start on college applications.

Don’t wait until school starts, when you’ll be overwhelmed with new classes and activities. Follow the steps below to get a jump start on college applications now.

  • If you haven’t yet done so, set up your account(s) at www.commonapp.org and/or http://www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org/
    • Be generous with details as you list and describe activities, work experiences and academic honors.
    • If space in Activities and Honors sections seems insufficient to explain fully, the “Additional Information” portion of the writing section is a great place for supporting details.
    • Everything you’ve put time and energy into during your high school years, summers included, is worth describing.
  • Your main essay should provide insight into who you are and complement the balance of your application
    • Think of yourself as a Hollywood screenwriter telling a story packed with vivid details!  The story should help readers understand how you think, and what makes you tick.
    • Brainstorm topics and make notes about how best to develop ideas before beginning to draft prose.
  • Caution:  supplements currently showing up in Common App are for the admission cycle just completed, so should not be tackled; after the Common App refreshes August 1, new supplements for your application cycle will begin to appear
    • In the meantime, some college admission websites will feature their essay and short answer questions for the upcoming cycle’s supplement, so you may have a chance to begin work on these.
    • When responding to supplement questions asking, “Why this college?” respond with concrete details demonstrating your depth of knowledge and understanding about the institution.  Discuss areas of study, down to course names and faculty research interests.  Mention extracurricular organizations by name.  Show colleges where you’ll plug in, where you’ll make a difference.  One more tip: avoid references to reputation, beauty of campus, special shops nearby since these are widely understood as mere space-fillers.

Rising seniors will start the academic year right if their Common Application (and/or others they’re submitting) are largely complete by the start of fall term.  Use the summer to move application and essay work forward, and we promise you’ll be glad you did.

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Kindness: one key to success for college admission

May 14th, 2019

Earlier this month, I toured several boarding schools on the east coast. The visits were great and I was particularly struck by the last school visited, where students displayed an uncommon degree of kindness and compassion.  This was manifested in part by their warm descriptions of not only teachers, but staff members performing important but less prestigious work on campus.  Students’ smiles were huge as they described these individuals’ roles in their lives and I left wondering why that isn’t the norm.

The admissions scandals are bringing up important conversations among parents, teachers and students. How can we improve the system so that we are considering the best fit for each individual instead of ignoring core values just to get into the most selective schools?

My trip sparked ideas about character development and made me think about the second “Turning the Tide” report released earlier this spring. Turning the Tide stems from the Making Caring Common campaign based at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, focusing on character building in schools, at home, and during the admissions process. It is a great read for people of all ages and I hope it provokes thought about which values are really important to become a good citizen, which in turn will lead you on the right path through the college admissions process … and through life.

Article linked below from Making Caring Common Project, published in March 2019

Our new report calls on parents and high schools to put young people’s character and well-being at the center of a healthier, more sane college admissions process.

Three years in the making, Turning the Tide II: How Parents and High Schools Can Cultivate Ethical Character and Reduce Distress in The College Admissions Process, offers guidelines for high schools and parents in promoting ethical character. It also describes how Tsome high schools and colleges are working to promote greater ethical engagement among high school students, level the playing field for economically disadvantaged students, and reduce excessive achievement pressure. The report also includes a pioneering statement from admissions deans seeking to advance Turning the Tide’s goals.

Read more at Making Caring Common Project>>

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National College Decision Day is almost here! Seniors, are you ready?

April 2nd, 2019

Seniors know that May 1st is designated as National College Decision Day: the deadline to submit an enrollment deposit to attend the university of one’s choice.  That’s right – after a long and thorough search process, seniors are down to roughly four weeks remaining to decide where they’ll spend the next four years of their lives. This is a very exciting time, yet it can also be stressful because there is a lot to consider.

In the article linked below from Forbes.com, the author, who is also a professor, lists four important things to consider when choosing a college.  Whether you are just beginning or a senior in the final phase of the college search, I hope today’s article will help you focus further on what is truly important to you in a school.

I look forward to hearing from seniors about choices very soon.

Article linked below from Forbes.com, published on February 19, 2016, by Chad Orzel

Four Important Things To Consider When Choosing A College

The college admissions process goes year-round these days, but the activity and the associated stress level peaks twice a year: once in the fall, when high-school students have to decide what schools they want to apply to, and again in late winter/early spring when those same students are forced to make a decision about what college to attend. The process and the pressure on students has intensified considerably since my high-school days back in the 1980’s (after the dinosaurs but before the giant armored sloths), and as a faculty member, I’ve talked to dozens of students (and parents) over the years who are going through the process, many of them teetering on the edge of panic.

Having gone through this a lot– this is my fifteenth year as a professor– I have a well-worn set of advice I give to anxious high-school seniors on campus visits. Having previously offered a bunch of academic advice in blog form– why small colleges are great for students planning to study science, what students should do to prepare for studying science in college, why non-science students need to take science, and why science students need to take non-science classes— I might as well offer some general advice on the choice of college.

Read more at Forbes >>

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Admission decisions: What to do when you are wait-listed

March 19th, 2019

The Ides of March, notorious for the demise of Julius Caesar, will now also be remembered for the unveiling of one of the most stupendous college admission scams of all time.  Many clients were in touch over the last week, sharing gratitude for collaboration that highlights ethical conduct and the life lesson that such work together provides students.  My heartfelt thanks go to each of you who took time to reach out.

The Ides of March also herald the final round of admission decisions.  Colleges are releasing Regular Decision results and by April 1 all decisions should be on the table.  While I hope there will be much cause for jubilation, this year has been inordinately competitive, and many students across the nation are receiving at least some disappointing news.  Please continue to keep me posted on what you’re hearing and thinking.

Today’s article link will help you know how to handle the most mystifying of colleges’ decisions:  the wait-list offer.  If you’ve been wait-listed by colleges that interest you, please take time to digest the article, take a deep breath and, whatever the ultimate admission outcomes, congratulate yourself for having put your best effort into the process. 

The strengths that each of you will bring to college are impressive, and an admission disappointment will not render them any less so.  Onward and upward!  My best wishes are with each student as admission decisions roll in.

Article referenced below on April 13, 2017 from US News, written by Jordan Friedman

BEING WAIT-LISTED FROM college can be disappointing for high schoolers applying to their dream schools.

Camila Alvarez was devastated when she was wait-listed by her first choice, George Washington University, last spring. She knew that for wait-listed applicants at many schools, the odds of getting in are slim.

But even after accepting her spot on the waitlist and submitting a deposit elsewhere, Alvarez didn’t give up. She updated the admissions office about her improved GPA and new leadership roles in clubs, and also had a phone interview. To her surprise, she got in by early June, says the current freshman.

The 91 ranked colleges that reported these data to U.S. News in an annual survey admitted anywhere from zero to 100 percent of wait-listed applicants. But the average was about 1 in 5, the data show.

Read more at US News >>

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