Understanding What College Admissions Offices Really Want
I've been saying many of the same things (ad nauseum) for years as the author of this fabulous New York Times Magazine article. At 22 pages long, I wish I could condense it to a few bullet points, but I'd be doing a disservice to those who will take the time to read it. For many, it will be revelatory! Happy reading: "What College Admissions Offices Really Want," by Paul Tough, published in The New York Times Magazine, Sept. 10, 2019.
How to Prepare for College Admissions Interviews
Fewer and fewer colleges and universities are offering prospective students the opportunity to interview. Since this is so rare, high school juniors and seniors really should avail themselves of the opportunity when it's made available to them. While visiting with a College Admissions Rep at a College Fair or for a few minutes in a small group while s/he visits your high school may not provide you with the best circumstances to shine a light on all your achievements and accomplishments, it is better than not making an effort at all. Still, better yet, is a one-on-one Admissions Rep interview appointment. These are sometimes accessible when you visit a college campus for an info session and/or tour, provided you email or call the Admissions Office to request an interview in advance. Individual interviews may also be available to students when they reach out to Admissions Reps prior to a Rep's visit to the student's local area. Admissions Reps are often willing to meet at a local Starbucks or Barnes & Nobles for a 20-30 minute interview. At Access Success, we work with Admissions Reps, who make themselves available to meet with Access Success students in one of our offices for 2 or more hours (or 4-6 student interviews). This fall we anticipate offering interviews with Admissions Reps from:
High Point University
Keene State College
Roger Williams University
Seton Hall University
University of Richmond
Students who are interested in interviewing should arrive for their appointments on time, have a hard-copy resume on hand to share with the Admissions Rep, be familiar with the college's programs of study and other non-academic offerings, and have a handful of specific questions ready to ask. The goal of any admissions interview should be to learn more about a specific school and to highlight all the reasons why you would be an asset to a specific campus community, both in- and outside of the classroom. For more info on how best to prepare for an interview, visit the College Board's website. They provide some good tips.
NACAC 2018 State of College Admissions
Not much has changed since last year's 2017 Report. Here are some highlights: The number of applications received is at an all time high; yields are still down; more schools are going to their wait lists. Legacies don't provide much of a leg up anymore, whereas being a first generation college student does. Colleges continue to increase their international student numbers. Use this link to view the 40-page report in its entirety.
Here's what caught our eye:
College Counseling in Secondary Schools:
Access to college information and counseling in school is a significant benefit to students in the college application process. For many students, particularly those in public schools, college counseling is limited at best. Counselors are few in number, often have large student caseloads, and have additional constraints on the amount of time they can dedicate to college counseling.
• Student-to-Counselor Ratio:
According to US Department of Education data, in 2015-16 each public school counselor (including elementary and secondary) was responsible for 470 students, on average.
• College Counseling Staff:
For the 2017–18 academic year, 33 percent of public schools reported employing at least one counselor (full- or part-time) whose exclusive responsibility was to provide college counseling, compared to 68 percent of private schools.
• Time Available for College Counseling:
Some differences exist between the duties and activities of counselors employed at public schools versus those who work at private schools. On average, public school counselors spent 21 percent of their time on postsecondary counseling in 2017–18 , while their private school counterparts spent 47 percent of their time on college counseling.
To quote the "Changing Landscape of College Admissions" published June 10, 2019 by NORC at The University of Chicago in follow-up to NACAC's annual report:
"Regardless of the cause of the increased volume of annual college applications, the result has been a decrease in acceptance rates at the majority of four-year institutions. Couple the changes in application and admission rate behaviors with the rising cost of college, and families are increasingly seeking assistance navigating college admissions and financial aid processes. Meanwhile, the availability of high school guidance counselors offering this type of assistance is dwindling and varies widely between private and public high schools.... With roughly 91% of high school students in the US attending a public high school, the overwhelming majority have limited access to college counseling assistance. It is not surprising, then, that more families are turning to private counseling. These consultants ... help to demystify the application and admissions process. A recent independent study estimates that 26% of high achieving seniors employed a private college counselor."
June & July 2019
Submissions are NOW Open for Our Annual $1,000 Scholarship
This scholarship will be awarded to one graduating high school senior (class of 2019) who has worked with Access Success independently at least once during his/her high school career. It is a one-time, non-renewable scholarship that will be paid by August 31st on the recipient's behalf directly to the college or university to which the recipient is enrolled. Scholarship applicants should submit the following materials to Access Success during the months of June & July. The final day of application submissions is July 31st.
Here's what we're looking for in an applicant: honesty, passion, someone who is well-rounded and unafraid to take risks; someone willing to step outside his/her comfort zone.
To be considered for this award you must send all of the following materials together (applicants who submit in dribs and drabs or are missing a required element will not be considered):
These materials may be emailed, dropped off or mailed to:
Access Success LLC
6 East St., Unit B
New Milford, CT 06776
The award recipient will be notified by mid-August and announced publicly in our September newsletter.
How You Spend Your Summers Matters
One of the best ways to make your college application stand out is to keep busy during the summer months. There are several ways in which to do this successfully. Here they are (in no particular order):
Choosing the Right High School Classes
The number one mistake I see students make when it comes to preparing for college admissions, happens in the early high school years. If you want to ensure that you will have every opportunity to gain admission into the university of your choice come senior year, you have to make certain choices about high school courses beginning with freshman year. Enrolling in the most rigorous course of study offered at your high school, provided it is appropriate for you, is the number one hard factor reviewed and considered by Admissions Reps. Often, high school guidance counselors are more concerned with class scheduling than they are with ensuring that individual students are taking the most appropriate classes needed to achieve their college goals. While your choice of electives shouldn't make or break your college admissions chances, they can impact your opportunity to be admitted to elite programs at selective schools. Similarly, not all academic classes carry the same weight; the quality of AP and college courses is not necessarily equal. For example, if you're hoping to study engineering in college, taking AP Stats and AP Psych in lieu of AP Comp Sci, AP Calc and AP Physics is a mistake. Year over year, you should be moving into more challenging classes and excelling at them. Colleges frown upon straight A students who play it safe and never move into more challenging classes. The best way to ensure you're making the best course choices is to have an independent counselor review them each year. High school guidance and college counselors, while well meaning, often have their own agendas, which may not necessarily include what's in the best interest of the individual student.
What's the Deal with Waitlists???
Making a school's waitlist isn't the end of the world, though it won't make you feel as warm and fuzzy as being outright accepted. The good news is that making the waitlist does mean you've been accepted ... and that you stand a chance of being enrolled should other students choose to enroll elsewhere. According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC),, colleges tend to admit anywhere from 14%-26% of waitlisted students. Based on these numbers, it is not in a student's best interest to roll the dice and hold out hope without making an enrollment deposit elsewhere. And this is really the tricky part.... Are you and your family in a position to walk away from a non-refundable deposit at any one school. If you are, then by all means, deposit at your second choice school and indicate that you want to remain on your dream school's waitlist. However, if you know that you cannot afford to leave a deposit on the table at another school, please indicate that you do not want to remain on a school's waitlist so that you free up an opportunity for someone else to potentially gain admission. And if you do decide to stay wait-listed, stay in touch with your designated college admissions rep. Without seeming desperate, remind him/her how eager you are to be admitted to the school and keep him/her updated on your work both inside and outside of the classroom. One important thing to note: students who come off a waitlist do not tend to receive much in the way of merit and need-based aid simply because the school has doled it all out.
Summer Pre-College Programs
If your son/daughter has his/her heart set on attending a very specific college, attending a summer pre-college program at that particular university's campus and offered by that university can absolutely provide a leg up on gaining admissions to that specific school. However, enrolling in a summer pre-college program is no guarantee of admission. This is certainly the case if you're child is attending a program held at a college campus but offered by a third party organization simply renting campus facilities. When investigating summer programs, be sure to pay close attention to who is hosting/sponsoring the program and not simply where it's located.
Of course, pre-college programs carry value outside of whether or not they're hosted by a specific university. Summer programs held on college campuses can provide students with a taste of what they can expect living on their home, away from family, in an environment where academics take priority and they must advocate for themselves. Finding a summer pre-college program in a subject of interest can also be helpful to students trying to narrow their focus in the years leading up to senior year of high school. There are pre-college summer programs available to students of all ages and interested in all disciplines. For example, here's a list of 50 STEM related summer pre-college programs being offered in 2019. Many of these programs are selective and require applications in order to be admitted. And while many such programs can cost thousands of dollars, they do often consider applicants for scholarships and/or provide financial aid to students with families who qualify for need. Some programs are 100% free such as Girls Who Code, a 7 week program with hosting sites in Stamford, NYC & Philadelphia, among other cities throughout the US, for girls entering grades 11 & 12. Summer Discovery offers programs in a range of subjects including business, leadership, acting, social justice, engineering and writing, to name a few for students entering grades 9-12. Programs are located at universities throughout the US, including Pace NYC and Georgetown. The Young Writers Workshop at the University of Virginia offers 2-3 week-long workshops in which professional, published writers provide instruction. Costs associated with this program run between $2,000-$3,000. Peerlift.org is a great resource for exploring these sorts of summer pre-college programs. Overall, colleges and universities like to see high school students make good use of their summer "down" time; summer pre-college programs are an excellent way to do this!
Now that the holidays are over, maybe you find yourself with a little more downtime and an opportunity to catch up on some reading. If you're the parent of a 9th-12th grader, we've got a few suggestions for you:
Parents of 9th-10th graders:
Admissions Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting In by Springer, Reider & Morgan
Getting IN by Standing OUT: The New Rules for Admission to America's Best Colleges by Bedor
Looking Beyond the Ivy League: Finding the College That's Right for You by Pope
Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be, by Bruni
Parents of 11th-12th graders:
Colleges that Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges by Pope
The Best 384 Colleges, 2019 Edition: In-Depth Profiles & Ranking Lists to Help Find the Right College For You by Franek
Fiske Guide to Colleges 2019 by Fiske
Setting Yourself Apart
Whether you're a high school senior approaching second semester or a freshman trying to find something special with which to fill your free time, setting yourself apart is an important factor in boosting your college admissions chances. While not everyone can break the high school 100m record, perform at Carnegie Hall, or win a national award, there are other ways to gain significant recognition. Do you have a hobby or interest that you could expand into a business, maybe start an Etsy store, work some trade shows, do some weekend freelancing? What about starting and maintaining a blog or a youtube channel? If you're interested in a specific field, search for a unique summer internship, selective summer college program, or study abroad opportunity. And if you do stumble onto something unique, new, or exciting after having submitted your college applications, drop an update in an email and send it off to the admissions reps for your state at each of the schools to which you've applied.
Application Errors to Avoid
While mistakes happen to the best of us, having mistakes in your application can work against you. Here are some tips to help you avoid shooting yourself in the foot:
FAFSA and CSS Profile Filings
As the FAFSA and Profile become available on October 1st, here are 5 general things to be mindful of:
1) The FAFSA must be submitted, regardless of the schools to which you apply, in order to qualify for $5500 worth of federal student loans for freshmen, $6500 for sophomores, and $7500 for juniors and seniors and for other government aid such as the Pell and FSEO grants. The CSS Profile is required by 450+ colleges and universities in order to determine aid and scholarships.Check here for a list of Profile schools.
2) Aid is said to be determined on a first come, first serve basis; therefore, it is in your best interest to file these forms sooner, rather than later. Having your forms filed no later than Dec. 30th is wise, though forms can be submitted through June 30, 2019.
3) These forms must be filed every year, for every college-bound or college-enrolled student.
4) While the FAFSA only requires financial information as reported in tax year 2017, the CSS Profile requires both 2017 tax information as well as estimates for 2018.
5) The number one reason students don't receive the aid they rightly qualify for is because their forms were not filled out correctly. Pay close attention to detail when working on your forms and be sure to read the instructions in full for each section and question.
The Value of a Resume
Often students I work with give me grief when I instruct them to get a college application-ready resume together. Why, they ask, is this necessary when they've already had to input all of their extracurricular activities into Naviance's resume builder, as well as into the Common Apps activities list.
First, Naviance's resume builder formats resumes horribly and requires information, as does the CA activities list, that colleges really aren't interested in, such as how many hours per week on average you spend on a particular activity.
Secondly, a well-crafted resume should highlight activities, awards, honors, sports, clubs, organizations, experiences, hobbies, etc. that make you unique and that showcase your special talents and abilities. If you haven't been able to dedicate much time to extracurriculars because you work 20 hours/week to help your family make ends meet, a resume can showcase and explain that in a way that listing work experience on the CA activities list can't.
Finally, a personal resume says something about your style and personality simply in how it's crafted. How did you use color, a particular font, complete sentences or bullet points? In what order did you list particular activities? Did you highlight those things that were most important to you or that you were most successful in achieving?
A few things to keep in mind when developing your resume:
1) This is not a job resume! It should not include sections titled "Education" or "References." Admissions Readers will already know your educational history as it's included in several other places in your application. And none of them will be contacting former employers, friends, and/or anyone else listed in a References section. Leave these off.
2) If any of the schools to which you're applying do NOT prompt you to attach or upload your resume prior to submitting your application, you should send an email to the regional rep at those schools letting him/her know that you're excited about having just submitted your application and that you're attaching your resume for their perusal as you were not prompted to do so in the CA.
3) Always, always, ALWAYS have someone proofread your resume before sending it out!
Understanding Demonstrated and Informed Interest
The National Association for College Admission Counseling recently released their annual State of College Admission report. One of its major findings relates specifically to the roles that demonstrated interest and informed interest play in the admissions process. To better understand what these things are and how they work, here's a true tale based on the experience of one of the students I worked with last year.
This particular student was accepted to almost every college to which she applied, including several selective universities such as Boston University, NYU, and Marist College. So we found it somewhat odd that she wasn't accepted or even waitlisted at Fordham University. At the time, she asked me, "How is it that I got into NYU and not Fordham?" and I had no response, because I honestly had no idea how that could have happened.... And then the 2017 State of College Admission report was released and explained two things: many schools pay close attention to the other schools to which an applicant is applying, and then the schools pay even closer attention to how much contact the applicant has actually had with their school. So, in the case of my student, Fordham would have noted the applicant's interest in several other top-notch, highly competitive, selective universities and would have considered this, while researching to see if the applicant had toured the Fordham campus (and if so, how many times), attended an info session, made herself known at college fairs, emailed or otherwise reached out to her Fordham Admissions Rep, coach, or some other representative. They might have even looked to see how many times she opened an email sent by the university. All of these things translate to high interest on the part of the applicant. And since she didn't do any of these things, Fordham assumed it was because they were her safety school and as such, determined that if she were to receive acceptances at any of the other schools on her list, they'd take precedence, and so Fordham chose not to "waste" an admission on a candidate they were pretty sure wasn't going to attend their school.
Similarly, colleges may assume the same of students whose essay supplements are vague and non-specific. This is what's meant by informed interest. If a supplement asks you to reflect on why you want to be at a specific school, you had better know something about a particular program, professor, or area of study that makes the college unique and fascinates you. And you better be able to write convincingly, passionately, and effectively about it, because if your response is generic or one that's clearly been copied and pasted a dozen times, you'll score few points for informed interest and will likely be denied admission.
In the end, every school should be made to feel as if they're your number one choice. If they sense that they're not, then you won't be their choice ... at all!
Why the new name?
We are now officially Access Success LLC! Why the new name after 5 successful years as Independent College Counseling Services? To begin with, our new name is an acronym that better reflects all of the many services we provide.
While most know about our college counseling services, few know about the full slate of K-12 tutoring we provide and the homeschool programs we offer. In fact, we've grown so much that we've needed to move to a larger space in the downtown New Milford area. Our new offices are located at 6 East St., Unit B.
Even more exciting, we've partnered with Art Experience and the incredibly talented Julie Czerenda to offer a variety of collaborative homeschool, extracurricular and summer classes. Case in point, this summer's "The Monster Within" - an art & literature course for students 13+ that can be included on a transcript as a .5 credit course. And slated for homeschoolers this coming academic year: "History through Humanities" a 3 credit cross-curricular course focusing on the art, history, and literature of the medieval period through to the Renaissance. Also on tap: AP English Language & Composition, AP English Literature, and a current events/communication/public speaking class.
In addition to these academic offerings, we're expanding our tutoring services to provide more K-6 tutoring in all subjects and grades 9-12 tutoring in English, history, math and social sciences. And of course, we'll continue to offer and host the seminars, programs and workshops most helpful to those engaged in the college process. Our 6-week full SAT Prep program kicks off on July 14th and leads up to the August 25th exam date.
As you can see, there are many new and exciting things happening, but one thing always remains the same: our commitment to providing our clients, students, parents and families with the best possible academic support, educational opportunities, and college information in a cost effective, timely, and straightforward manner.
Are all financial aid awards REALLY negotiable?
Well, the short answer to this question is: you won't know until you try! There's literally no reason NOT to attempt a financial aid negotiation ... and not just for your first year. Aid is something that should be negotiated year-after-year. The most important thing when attempting an aid negotiation is figuring out what it is you may qualify for and who to contact. If your FAFSA calculated a very low EFC, its worth bringing to the attention of the school's financial aid office and asking them to explain their award in relation to your EFC, especially if they only offered you loans without offering you federal grant money. The financial aid office should also be your point of contact if your prior-prior year taxes (used when filling out the FAFSA) do not accurately reflect your current financial situation. Additionally, if you have a legitimate change of circumstances - e.g., unexpected medical expenses, recent divorce, death of a parent, newly unemployed, recent care of an elderly relative, etc. - you should bring such to the attention of the financial aid office. In these situations, you should expect to have to fill out a specific school form or write a letter to the financial aid office and be able to document whatever changes you're claiming. This typically requires providing the school with copies of your most recent tax returns including all schedules, W-2s, 1099s, medical bills, EOBs, termination letters, etc. Appeals for additional federal dollars are best made by a parent, not by the student.
If your EFC is on the high side and you do not have legitimate circumstance changes as outlined above, making an appeal to the financial aid office for additional federal aid is not recommended. Instead, I suggest appealing any scholarship offers. These appeals should be made in writing and addressed to the Admissions Office, preferably to the regional rep you would have become familiar with during the application process. When requesting to be reconsidered for scholarships or for an increase to an already proffered scholarship, it helps if you can provide reasons for why you deserve more scholarship dollars. For example, if you've won an award, helped a sports team to a championship, broken a school record, been involved in a significant community service project, etc. since submitting your initial admissions application, include those details in your scholarship appeal letter. These sorts of appeals meet with greater success when initiated by the student, not by the parent.
Regardless of which approach you take, appeals should always be typed and snail mailed. Be sure not just to include your name, but more importantly, your assigned school student ID number. Take note of the date on which you mail your appeal - the earlier the better and certainly no later than early April for incoming freshman, and as soon as possible for upperclassmen. If you don't receive a reply within 7-10 days, follow up with a phone call.
Most importantly, if your making any sort of appeal, do so before making any sort of deposit - tuition, housing or otherwise. Once you make a deposit, the school has no incentive to negotiate as you've already indicated your intent to enroll. And remember: you have nothing to lose. Schools don't retract initial offers of aid simply because you've asked to have your need reconsidered. The worst that can happen is that you ask for more money and your told you can't have it.
How should a college-hopeful spend his/her summer?
Not binging Netflix, gaming, or sitting by the pool ... unless you're the lifeguard. Summers are a great time of year to work on building your resume. Colleges like to see that high school students spent their summers doing something engaging that they're passionate about. Whether that means attending a summer camp for your 6th consecutive year, volunteering for a favorite not-for-profit to which you've been involved for years, working for an employer to whom you have some allegiance, participating in a college summer program, taking part in an international service learning or study abroad program, or enrolling in an online or community college class to help advance your academic record, doing something productive is far more desirable than taking the summer "off." Just be aware of a few guiding factors:
1) Hopping from one volunteer job to another, just to be able to list a whole bunch of service roles on your resume, will look suspicious. There's a word for this. It's called "padding." Don't do it!
2) Any job that you're truly committed to is worthwhile - interning at a hospital doesn't look any better or worse than a steady gig as a busboy ... unless you're looking to apply to a highly selective pre-med program.
3) Spending a couple of weeks backpacking through Europe or driving across the US with your buddies isn't the same as an educational or service-related study abroad experience.
4) Doing something you love and are serious about is always a safe bet.
What to do when you're deferred
So all your applications have been submitted and you've come to find out that instead of being accepted, you've been deferred. What exactly does that mean and what should you be doing to increase your chances of being accepted in the next round of application reviews? Where as being accepted or denied is straight forward - you're either "in" or "out" - being deferred means that your application will be reconsidered and a decision will be rendered at a later date. While this can be disconcerting, it's still hopeful. Often schools will defer student applications because they'd like to learn more about the applicant prior to making a final decision. In some cases, this means that they want to see first semester senior year grades or are interested in hearing more about your involvement in extracurriculars. For this reason, when you've been deferred it's in your best interest to keep in touch with the College Admissions Rep for your area ... but only when you have something new, impressive or exciting to share and only if the instructions in your deferral letter allow for such. So while joining a new club isn't worthy of an update, placing in a scholastic competition or a prominent sporting event or winning an art award is something to write your Rep about. Just make sure you don't overdue it. Reps aren't going to want to hear from you repeatedly, just once or twice when you have something important to tell them that enhances your admission candidacy. The best thing to do is to meet with a guidance or college counselor to have him/her help you craft a letter or email update and ALWAYS be sure it comes from the student, NOT the parent.
To Test or Not to Test ... That is the Question
January is often the time when parents of sophomores and juniors begin inquiring as to when and how often their children should sit for standardized tests and exactly which ones. While there are currently 990 test optional colleges/universities to choose from and "test flexible" schools appear to be gaining in popularity, there are still a majority of schools that require tests. And homeschooled students will always be required to demonstrate proficiency via standardized tests.
Prior to the redesign of the SATs in March of 2016, I would have advised students to have taken both the SAT and the ACT at least once, and then, having seen which test yielded better results, to repeat that particular one at least once, if not twice. Since the redesign of the SAT made it almost identical to the ACT, there really is no longer a reason to take both tests. For that reason, I recommend choosing one test and sticking with it. This means taking the test a minimum of two times, possibly repeating it a third time. My recommendation is that students take either the ACT or SAT for the first time in March or April of junior year and then for a second time the August before entering senior year. Some feel that it's necessary to take the exam three times, in which case, I'd suggest sitting for a final exam in fall of senior year, but be wary of application deadlines. If applying Early Decision or Early Admission, you may need to take that third exam in October as the November and December dates may be too late.
Aside from the ACT and/or SAT, students should be mindful of taking SAT Subject Tests. Some of these tests are required for specific majors at certain colleges/universities. For example, many engineering schools require applicants to have taken a number of SAT Subject Tests in math and/or the sciences. For this reason, it behooves students to sit for specific tests at the time they've completed the corresponding course work. Typically, students should schedule a Subject Test in May or June of the school year in which they've completed an equivalent class. So should a student take AP Chemistry in his/her sophomore year, s/he should sit for the SAT Chemistry exam in May or June of his/her sophomore year. The following is a list of SAT Subject Tests: Literature, U.S. History, World History, Mathematics I, Mathematics II, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Latin and Hebrew.
When Should Your College Search Begin
If you are the parent of a 9th, 10th or 11th grader, NOW is the time to begin planning for college. Students do not need to know what it is they want to study in college in order to start searching for schools of interest. There are plenty of online search engines to assist you in the first stages of your search; all of which will filter results based on the selection criteria you enter. The College Board, Fastweb! and Scholarships.com, among many other sites, offer such search engines. I strongly recommend using the search engine available in Naviance. Naviance is a 3rd party college planning software solution used by a majority of US high schools to provide students with college planning assessment tools. Check with your student's guidance department or college counseling office to gain access to Naviance's many features, including its college search engine. Keep in mind that each school's counselors determine what functionality will be available to both students and parents. If you're interested in using Naviance for something specific and that functionality does not appear to be available, request it of your child's guidance department.
This is just one way to begin the college process. Other things you will need to take into consideration are your student's eligibility to gain admission to his/her schools of interest. The best way to determine that is to meet with someone who knows the college admissions process inside and out, and who can provide you with details on how best to position yourself as an ideal admissions candidate. Whether a private college counselor like myself or a school counselor, this person should have only your best interest at heart and will need to make him/herself available to get to know you as both a student and a person. College counselors, if approached early enough in the process, should be able to advise you as to the best classes to take over your 4 years of high school, which clubs and activities to engage in, when and what standardized tests to take, what schools to consider, and more. The right counselor can set up any student for college success ... provided the counselor is asked to do so early in the process, ideally in a student's 9th or 10th grade year.
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