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Excerpts from Who Gets In and Why:
A Year Inside College Admissions by Jeffrey Selingo (Part 2)
I've decided to share some quotes from this new book which was released on Sept. 21st. These insights are from the second half of the book. (See October's post for insights from the first half of the book.) I chose these particular excerpts because they either confirm things I've been saying for years or they're brand new observations based on the changes in admissions in recent years.
On advantages in the admissions process:
"The idea that any student gets a leg up is at the root of nearly every question about the fairness of the admissions process. Among the advantages given to any one group, the hook based on race and ethnicity is probably the most debated one.... along with that given to first-generation students.... Yet they rarely mention the unfairness of two other hooks that are uniquely American, far more prevalent, and perpetuate a culture of privilege and entitlement among students at selective colleges: legacies and athletics.... [which] largely benefit wealthy and white students."
Regarding the reputation of the high school from which you graduate:
"During my time inside admissions offices I quickly discovered that the unit being evaluated was less often the applicant than the applicant's high school. Colleges, in essence, are recruiting and evaluating high schools, not students.... Before admissions decisions are sent to students, most selective colleges sort their applicants pool by high school.... That's when many top colleges conduct a round of 'counselor calls' to give advance notice to certain 'feeder' high schools before decisions are sent to their students.
"For would-be applicants, the high school context in which you're ultimately judged presents a Catch-22. You're helped by applying to colleges that know your high school and counselors, but hindered if you don't stack up well against classmates who are also applying."
On how to make your application stand out:
"One place where applicants could stand out is in their essay, but most are unfortunately mind-numbing similar.... they often focus on the same things: overcoming an athletic injury, dealing with anxiety, depression, or their sexuality, or discovering themselves on a trip, with a fill-in-the-blank country such as Guatemala or Thailand."
"Admissions officers scan essays. When one grabs their attention, they'll have a closer read.... The essays that stick out do so not because of what the applicants write about but how they write it--with an authentic voice that gives the readers a sense of what the student sees, feels, and thinks."
"The best essays are honest slice-of-life stories, both entertaining and serious, that tell admissions officers something they don't learn from another part of the application."
Understanding how to read financial aid letters:
"One analysis of thousands of ... letters found schools used more than 135 unique terms to describe 'Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans'--common loans given to students that accumulate interest while an undergraduate is in school. Twenty-four colleges didn't even include the word 'loan' in their descriptions. Nearly 15 percent of letters included a Parent PLUS loan as an 'award' without ever mentioning that parents need to apply for this loan separately and are responsible for paying it back [with interest]. Perhaps most surprising is that only 40 percent of the letters actually calculate a bottom-line number that students would need to pay."
Choosing a best fit school:
"The bottom line: in your college search worry less about specific name brands and even majors and worry more about acquiring skills and experiences once you're on campus, such as finding an undergraduate research project or landing an internship. Remember: fewer than a third of college graduates work in jobs related to their majors."
Excerpts from Who Gets In and Why:
A Year Inside College Admissions by Jeffrey Selingo (Part 1)
I've decided to share some quotes from this new book which was released on Sept. 21st. Since I'm half way through it, I'll only include snippets from the first half of the book. Next month, I'll follow up with insights from the second half of the book. I chose these particular excerpts because they either confirm things I've been saying for years or they're brand new observations based on the changes in admissions in recent years.
Regarding vetting applicants:
"The reality is that two applicants are rarely, if ever, pitted side by side.... The truth is that competitive institutions ... turn down ten highly qualified applicants for every one or two they accept."
"A rejection then is not about you; it's about what a college needs the year you apply."
On college selectivity:
"Over the last fifty years, half of American colleges and universities have become less selective in their admissions decisions ... as the best prospective students applied to only the same small group of elite schools, ignoring hundreds of lesser-known schools. That's why the most selective institutions -- representing only 20 percent of American colleges -- account for about one third of all applications submitted now."
About Admissions Offices:
"The first thing to realize is that colleges are either 'buyers' or 'sellers.' Sellers are the 'haves' of admissions. They have something to sell that consumers want, typically a brand name that signals prestige in the job market and social circles.... The buyers are the 'have-nots' in terms of admissions -- although they might provide a superior undergraduate education. They lack names that are instantly recognized when the score of sports teams stream across the bottom of ESPN."
"Whether a college is a buyer or a seller matters to applicants for two reasons: First, getting past the gatekeepers at the sellers is becoming increasingly difficult. If students have only sellers on their list, they risk getting rejected from every school they apply to. Second, sellers don't need to buy students with tuition discounts to fill their classrooms."
Regarding merit aid:
"The U.S. Education Department found that in one year some 40 percent of full-time students at four-year colleges who had less than a B average and scored under a 1000 on the SAT received 'merit scholarships' from their institutions."
On demonstrated interest:
"About one in five schools say demonstrated interest is of 'considerable importance' in their admissions decisions.... That's about the same weight they give to counselor recommendations and essays, and even more consideration than given to teacher recommendations, class rank, and extracurricular activities."
10 Things to Know About Admissions & COVID-19
I recently participated in a webinar with this title. Here's what I learned:
1. Only students in the top 10% of their high schools graduating class will be considered for admission at elite colleges and universities.
2. Colleges will be recruiting students aggressively this application cycle.
3. Families can expect a 59.5% discount on a private school's sticker price.
4. State universities are more likely to offer MERIT scholarships to affluent, in-state students and to out-of-state students. This is not good news for residential, low-income and middle class students.
5. Schools are likely to have longer wait-lists in the 2020-21 application cycle, but more of these wait-listed students should come off the list.
6. Early Decision (contractually binding) admission will climb, so applying in this round can be a real advantage.
7. 1,460 schools have eschewed the use of standardized test scores this year. That being said, above average test scores can only help you. Not reporting scores will not hurt you.
8. Checking a college's financial health can help you determine their generosity with financial aid. A good resource for checking on this is Forbes' 2020 College Financial Health Guide, which is due out this fall.
9. In these COVID times, 1 in 4 students has transferred colleges.
10. The deferral of college freshmen for the 2020-21 college year should not negatively impact those students applying for admissions this year.
What to Stay Away from in a Common App College Essay
Instead of describing what a college essay should do, let's discuss the things it shouldn't do. Admissions Reps prefer it when students stay away from what they fondly refer to as "the 5 D's": divorce, death, disease, depression, dating. While dealing with a parents' divorce, crippling depression, a chronic health issue, the death of a loved one, or your first heartbreak may seem like topics that lend themselves to showcasing characteristics such as perseverance, maturation, resilience and the like, these are generally not topics that Admissions Reps want to read about. Admissions Reps are looking for you to shine a light on something uniquely you that they can't gather from anywhere else in your application. So, if your resume and activities list includes descriptions of the study abroad trip you made your junior year of high school, it's probably not wise to also write your essay about that trip. If you were a varsity athlete for a sport you played all 4 years of high school, you're not going to want to write about your sport, either. The best essays tell something about yourself that is specific to you. When writing your essay, pause and ask yourself, Could someone else be writing about this same experience? If the answer is yes - scoring the winning goal, an athletic injury, the death of a favorite pet, etc. - then your essay won't work. Try to think of experiences you had pre-high school. Colleges will know all about your high school years based on the bulk of your application. Why not tell them something about yourself before high school? If you are going to write about something more recent, make sure it's unique, quirky, and specific to you and only you.
And they're off!
This application cycle we worked with 68 seniors representing 17 different high schools who applied to 125+ colleges and universities. These are the schools to which this year's Access Success students were admitted. Those in bold are where they've chosen to enroll - so far. Many are still taking advantage of the moved Decision Day and will not make their decisions until June 1.
Bard (3), Baylor, Bentley, Boston College (2), Bridgewater State, Bryant (3), Central CT State, Clarkson (3), Clemson, College of the Holy Cross, Cornell, Curry (2), Drexel (5), Duquesne (4), Eastern CT State (3), Emmanuel, Emerson (3), Fairfield, Florida Gulf Coast, Hampshire (2), High Point (4), Iona (3), Johnson and Wales (2), Keene State, Kent State, Lehigh, Marist (2), Marquette, Michigan State (2), Middlebury, Mount Saint Mary, Oklahoma State, The New School, Northeastern, NYU, Oklahoma State, Pace, Penn State (3), Purdue (5), Quinnipiac (4), RIT (5), RPI (2), Roger Williams (5), Rutgers, Sage College of Albany, Sacred Heart, St. Johns (Queens) (4), Seton Hall (4), Skidmore, Southern CT State (3), Springfield, Suffolk, SUNY New Paltz, Temple, Tufts, University of Albany, UCLA, University of Colorado-Boulder (2), UCONN - Storrs (8), UCONN - Stamford (2), UCONN - Waterbury (3), UCLA, University of Maryland, University of Delaware (3), University of Hartford, University of Maine (2), UMASS Amherst (2), University of Miami (2), University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, University of New Hampshire, University of New Haven (4), University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of Oregon, University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh (2), University of Richmond, University of Rhode Island (7), University of South Carolina (3), Valparaiso, University of Vermont (2), University of Virginia (2), Vassar, Villanova, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Western CT State (2), Western New England, Wheaton, and Xavier (2).
Wait listed? What next?
Because colleges are operating in a time of stress and unknowns, we are anticipating that wait-lists will be used more so this year than in past years, simply because college yields are bound to be impacted by COVID-19. It's anticipated that fewer students will be comfortable moving as far from home as they may have been a month ago. It is also anticipated that the economic downturn caused by the virus will cause families to be more circumspect about how and where they spend their tuition dollars.
After Decision Day on May 1 - or in some cases on June 1 as several schools have extended this date - colleges will determine how many slots remain in their incoming freshman class. Wait-lists are typically not ranked, and students are admitted off the list based on a college's needs. For example, if fewer international relations majors enrolled than expected, the university might go to the wait-list and admit students who indicated they want to study international relations or global studies. The more popular the major, the less likely your chances of coming off the wait-list.
Here are 3 suggestions for what to do if you've been wait-listed:
1. Be sure to notify the school that you want to remain on their wait-list. If they don't receive a response from you, they will remove your name from the list. It is a common courtesy to also inform them in the event that you DON'T wish to remain on the list.
2. Enroll and deposit at another school. Because the percentages of coming of a wait-list are historically low, it is always recommended to secure your place at one of the schools to which you were accepted. Be aware that deposits or portions of deposits are typically non-refundable. If you do gain admission from a school to which you were wait-listed, and you choose to attend there, you will need to inform the school where you deposited of your change of plans.
3. Continue to show demonstrated interest in your wait-listed school. The easiest way to do this is to reach out to your regional Admissions Rep in an email. Be sure to state your continued interest in the school, why it remains your number one choice, and how you would be an asset to their community. Also communicate any updates regarding your activities, academics, and the like. Given that most things have been canceled or indefinitely postponed, this last item might be difficult to include, but you should feel free to mention your disappointment at not being able to participate in the school's spring musical or your spring sport. You could also mention how you're overcoming the challenges of distance learning.
What are the benefits of attending a Community College?
In a world where the cost of college is steadily increasing, community college can be a great way to save money and lower the amount of student debt one would have accumulated upon graduation. Community colleges generally charge less for classes and can save students anywhere from $500-$1500 PER CLASS. That’s a huge savings! Additionally, students who attend community colleges can still qualify for financial aid and scholarships, lowering the cost of school even more.
Attending community college can improve the transcripts of students who may have struggled academically in high school. In turn, this can also increase their opportunities for earning more scholarships and generating greater options for completing a four year degree program. Community college can also be good for students who are unsure of a major and want to explore a variety of subjects before narrowing their focus.
Finally, attending community college doesn’t restrict a student to earning a two year associates degree. Many students choose to enroll at a four year institution after 2 years of community college. In this way, families avoid four years of cost prohibitive tuition, and students are still able to attain a four year degree. At the end of the day, all a potential employer looks for is where you earned your most recent degree, not how many years you spent at a particular institution.
In summary, exploring community college can:
New Trends in College Admissions
New Admissions Rules
Under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) has removed a number of provisions to their Code of Ethics that are sure to impact future admissions practices - specifically having to do with offering student incentives, student recruitment and poaching, and soliciting transfer applicants, among other things. Having spoken with admissions reps during their visits over the past month, I can confidently say that these changes will impact the admissions landscape moving forward. For more info about these changes, visit Inside Higher Ed. For a better understanding of college admissions trends in general, you can sign up to receive a pdf of the "2019 Survey of College and University Admissions Officers" here. It provides statistics related to many topics, such as: recruitment, out-of-state admissions, student debt, affirmative action, admissions at public universities, waiting lists, and much more.
Changes Coming to the ACT
Beginning in Sept. 2020, the ACT will be making significant changes to keep in close competition with the College Board and the SAT. Here's a summary of their proposed changes:
1) Students will be able to take the multiple choice section of the ACT online and will be able to access their scores within 2 business days.
2) Single-section re-testing will be permitted. This means that a student with solid science and math scores, only interested in improving his/her English and Reading scores, will no longer need to retake the entire exam, but rather just targeted sections.
3) The ACTs will now allow for superscoring whereby students can submit their highest score in each individual section - English, Math, Reading, Science - from multiple tests.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.