Tag: college application

College Essay Writing Season is in Full Swing

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Now that the Fourth of July is behind us, forward-thinking families are beginning to prepare for the coming school year. That means pulling out summer reading lists; encouraging kids to sharpen their math skills; and, for those whose children are rising high school seniors, starting to think about the college essay. It’s definitely not too early.

Here’s why.

Senior year of high school is an exceedingly busy time for students. Clearing time during the fall semester to develop a thoughtfully crafted Common Application Essay—the notorious 650-word personal piece of writing that students hope will wow college admissions officers and secure them a spot at their dream college—suddenly becomes an enormous challenge in the midst of all the other academic, college-related, and social obligations students face during senior year.

Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland Adoptd Easier, Cheaper Application

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Applying to college is annoying, difficult, and expensive. Fortunately, a group of colleges and universities have banded together to find a better way.

Applying to College? You May Want to Delete Your Facebook Account

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imagesA life without Facebook might seem incomprehensible to some, but high school seniors applying to college would be wise to consider it, if only temporarily. As cited in the Huffington Post, more than 80 percent of college admissions officers use Facebook and other social media sites to get a second look at an applicant. Unless the applicant’s a recruited athlete, whose Facebook or Twitter profile might get a coach’s cursory glance at any point of high school, now is the time when a student’s Facebook profile may come under scrutiny.

Of course, deleting a social media account may seem like overkill. Why not just delete any potentially negative content? Or even change the account name so that the profile is harder to find? These steps may be sufficient, but I wouldn’t take the chance. After all, if admissions officers find the hopeful college applicant on Facebook, they won’t necessarily encounter the best representation of the student, nor the one so thoughtfully put together in the application; they may see a much more limited side, one that tends to encourage flash judgments, rather than careful review.

Strangers in the Night: Drama of the Alumni Interview

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Emily went to an alumni interview the other night with an alum from her first choice college.  Alumni interviews are a great opportunity for the student to make a winning impression on someone who may be able to pass along a good word to the college’s admission office.  But at a Starbucks?  At 7 o’clock at night?  Twenty miles from our home?  Alone with a guy in his 50s?  I don’t know — it just sounded kind of sketchy to me.

She hopped into our beat-up old minivan, drove around the beltway, Mapquest directions in hand, and didn’t think a thing of it.  It all seemed perfectly normal to her, in her world where new things are happening all the time.  She reported that the meeting was “fun” and “good” and that the guy was really nice.  He has kids her age, and loved his school experience at that college, and I think they probably just had an easy, pleasant conversation.  It sounded like the interview they had both expected, and hoped for.   

A friend of Emily’s went to an interview yesterday, but with an admissions officer, and on the college campus where the other girl wants to go.  Her friend got really dressed up.  So, we talked last night about skirt-suits, and her need for one, like her friend has.  In the back of my mind, I wondered whether she should have dressed differently, more formally, for her alumni interview (rather than wearing what she had worn to school that day).  But then, as I pictured the meeting that she described, I realized that what she had worn was perfectly her — her everyday self.  I was pleased that she had not dressed up, and that the interviewer might see her as she really is.  That is, after all, the purpose of the exercise.

College Board describes the many different types of interviews colleges might offer, if they offer any at all.  Depending on the school, prospective students might interview on campus with an admissions officer, with an enrolled student, or with an alum.  Also, high schools frequently host admissions representatives from colleges, who will meet with seniors in groups or one-on-one.  I think the interview is really a gift, for both sides.  Whether the student is meeting on- or off-campus, with a staff member or volunteer, it is a chance for a personal connection, human interaction, something that helps student and university flesh out the profile of the other to help make that all-important decision about fit.  So, I end up being glad that my 17-year-old daughter drove around the beltway, by herself, to meet a stranger in the night. (Forgive the drama.)  It is just another moment in this journey toward independence, self-definition, and hopefully happiness.        

Today She Hit Send: Early Decision Is No Light Decision

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She hit “send”!  Early decision applications are due either November 1, or November 15, generally.  Some are accepted as late as December 1, depending on the school.  This weekend, Emily hit the button, launching months (or years, depending upon how you look at it) of effort, and her entire personal supply of hopes and dreams.  The full-sized poster of her first-choice school is taped to her bedroom wall.  It will stay there as a monument to this finger-crossing, breath-holding, slightly obsessive process that will hold us all in animated suspense until December 15 – the day of reckoning.    

They say that ED (early decision) applicants have a statistical advantage over regular decision applicants.  Given the fact that it’s a one-way promise from the student to the college for a period of time, that seems only fair and fitting.  These kids really put themselves out there.  She has literally had to make her commitment that if the college accepts her, she will enroll, and withdraw all other applications to all other colleges and universities.  Hitting send in this case is like saying “I love you” first.  She is vulnerable to rejection, but remarkably not focused on that.  She really just wants them to say, “We love you, too.” 

In this vortex of senior year, the early decision event seems like a significant undercurrent.  Although many of Emily’s friends have been recruited to colleges to play sports already, this is the first wave in the storm where the students are taking the initiative.  Unlike sports recruits, who are wooed and lured by colleges, the ED applicants, like Emily, are the first who have thrown themselves into the turbulence.  What courage.  Now the count-down begins…  45 days until one piece of her future is revealed.     

The List: Apply to at Least One Dream School

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My daughter has spent untold hours in her room over the last two weeks of summer.  She’s not hiding, or pouting, or avoiding the rest of the family.  She is working on “the list.”  Emily is a rising senior in high school, and the reality of the college application process has hit her like a pie in the face, kind of sweet, but certainly messy. 

High school has been great for Emily.  She’s done a lot of terrific growing up.  We think she’s pretty mature for her age, makes good decisions in social situations (something not all parents of 17-year-olds think), and has a star-bright future.  Her junior year grades, however, were not what she was hoping for.  This sad fact has an impact on “the list,” the colleges where she plans to apply.  

I have had to check myself in conversations with her about my emotional reaction to her list, but finally I couldn’t bear it.  I had to tell her–I think she is smarter than the schools she is planning to apply to!  I know she needs to be realistic, but it can’t all boil down to GPA, can it?  We are all transfixed by the computer screen when we look at Naviance–the software program that compares Emily’s GPA and SAT scores to those of other graduates from her high school, and charts how those kids fared in the application process at specific colleges and universities–accepted, rejected, deferred.  But, it cannot be this formulaic, can it?

Oh sure, there are some good choices on the list.  A few selective liberal arts schools–proper “reaches.”  But then it all falls apart.  I thought, somehow, that the list would flow something like:  three or four “reaches,” three or four “as-likely-as-nots,” two “safeties.”  Well, Emily has a couple reaches, and then whoosh.  She falls off the ledge!  I know this is not the time in her life for me to tell her what to do, but come on!  Ramp it up a little!  Speaking hypothetically, if she doesn’t get into the so-called reaches, then we must assumed she is going to end up at one of the others on the list–a less brilliant outcome than perhaps we had hoped for.

Our younger daughter, Grace, put it to me straight, though.  She said, “Mom, you just don’t want to tell your friends if she goes to one of those schools.”  Is that it?  I don’t think so.  I mean, I’m sure that’s true, but only a tiny, shameful little bit of the truth.  The bigger part of the truth is that I don’t see a fit for Emily on her list–a place where she will likely get in that deserves her, all that she is.  The list has to get better–it has to change so that it holds a picture we can smile at when we look in the middle.  Sure, we’d be happy if she got into her first choice, but there is a reason we call them “reaches.”  Her list has got to grow so that when we picture her at number 4 or 5 or 6 down the line, we can still feel good, she can still feel good.  I don’t know how to say this to her without sounding critical.  It may be impossible.  But I have to try.  Maybe she doesn’t see herself the way I do–better.          

The Drama of the SAT II

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To the parents of the rising junior: Congratulations! Your child has just finished sophomore year. You probably have a fair sense of his or her academic style and capacity at this point, and hopefully you are both feeling good. Two years down, two to go, right? 

Now let me invite you to dip your toe into the cool stream of college admissions vernacular. It’s coming your way soon, so you might as well get started! There are terms you may already know, and some that may be unfamiliar. Everyone knows about the SATs, and PSATs, but not everyone has heard about the SAT IIs – or SAT subject tests. (These should not be confused with the AP Exams, or CLEP Exams, all of which are administered by College Board. More on those later…) The SAT IIs are one-hour multiple choice tests, in specific subject areas:  Literature, US History, World History, Mathematics Level 1, Mathematics Level 2, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, French, French with Listening, Chinese with Listening, German, German with Listening, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Japanese with Listening, Korean with Listening, Latin, Spanish, Spanish with Listening. Not all schools require the SAT subject tests, but most of the highly selective colleges and universities require one, two, or three subject tests in addition to the SAT. You cannot earn college credit with the subject tests, but they certainly can make your application more competitive, assuming you’ve done well.

Here’s a twist: Your child cannot figure out which SAT subject tests he or she will need to take until he or she determines where s/he wants to go. Different colleges and universities have different requirements, and you have to figure it out one by one. Now, it is true that you probably want to take your subject tests in the areas where you are academically strongest.  But you will have to figure out if your dream college requires physics or chemistry, even if you are gunning for a liberal arts degree.

My very brilliant child took two subject tests last Saturday. She will score somewhere between 200 and 800. Naturally, we are expecting 800s, but you never know. She figured out that she should take World History and Chemistry this spring, after her sophomore year, when the information was freshest in her mind. Good idea. Now I hope she figures out the rest of this testing mess. To AP or not to AP? In the same subject as the subject test? What is the CLEP, and how is it different from the AP? You can earn college credit through the AP and the CLEP, so how are they different, and are these tests like the SAT and SAT subject tests, just more data for college admissions officers to consider when her application hits their desk? When she figures it all out, I will be sure to pass it on. 

It’s Not All About Resume Building

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A woman at the gym struck up conversation the other day. She recognized me from our girls’ high school, although her daughter is a few years older than ours. She asked, with real compassion, “So, how’s the college thing going?” There is this shared experience among parents, an empathy that transcends the chitchat, around this topic. Her daughter is already in college, a freshman at Penn, she told me with a suppressed smile of pride on her cheek. Our girls are in junior and sophomore years, so we are just beginning the journey.

This mother said to me, “I know you haven’t asked me for any advice, and maybe you don’t want it, but here is the most important thing anyone ever said to me about the college process, and I wish they had said it sooner. Colleges are looking at what your child IS, not what she ISN’T.”  She said, “We parents are so caught up in what they don’t have, what they haven’t done, that we really lose sight of how great our kids are! It’s such a shame.” We went our ways, and as I started up on the treadmill, I really was captured by what she had said. Of all the pieces of advice one parent can share with another about this process—make sure you start looking at schools in junior year; have her take the SAT at least three times; you should make sure she applies to at least two reaches and at least two safeties; try to pick a favorite and apply early decision—her advice seemed the best, so simple and honest.

In this race that our children are engaged in, it is easy to have the focus shift from what is there to what is not, from all the great things they have done and promise to do to gaps in the resume. We must work hard, for our children’s sake, to keep this from happening. For all the good they will gain at the great colleges they are sure to attend, we could really undermine the glory by not being their cheerleaders, their greatest fans. One huge element of success in this world is the confidence to do things you’ve never done before. They don’t teach that in high school, or college. We teach it at home. So, the next time someone asks you how the college thing is going, I hope your first thought is about what your child IS, not about what she is not.

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