I am writing this from the Delta Lounge at Newark airport on my way to Salt Lake City for Family Weekend at the University of Utah. Other colleges offer three days of events for students to share with their loved ones. At the U, as the University of Utah is typically called, the weekend revolves around one thing and one thing only…football. Their football team is ranked #12 in the country and competed in the Rose Bowl against Penn State last year. They are currently undefeated and they play UCLA tomorrow. I thought it would be useful to take a look at how college football and college admissions intersect.
This is big business for the colleges. Some schools have media contracts that support a significant percentage of their athletic budget.
The saying, “There is no bad press” applies here. College football gets the school’s name out in the mainstream media in a way that would be almost impossible to replicate on their own.
Colleges buy advertising during the game to promote the school.
Many students approach the college search with the goal of attending a school with “game day”. They have seen the ESPN broadcasts from colleges and they want a campus where they can participate in that experience.
When a school does well in the national football arena, their popularity goes viral and the application numbers surge. Think of the University of Tennessee; they were inundated with applications last year.
Look at Coach Prime at University of Colorado Boulder-I think that level of exposure will change the numbers at UC Boulder; my guess is the admit rate will plummet.
I will be cheering on the Utes tomorrow. Good luck to all the teams on game day!
I am deep in the heart of the supplemental essay season and helping my students get as much of this work done before they head back to senior year, so here are some quick thoughts on why the supplements can be easier than the main essay:
They are shorter-The average tends to be from 100-300 words. Some are as short as 50!
They ask more direct questions-The main essay is more open-ended and this can be stressful for students. Supplements are more specific and ask things like why you want to pursue a certain field, what is a meaningful extracurricular or how their college is a good fit for you.
Some are short answer-Some schools ask you to finish a sentence, tell what you did last Thursday or make a list.
They are whimsical, lighthearted and fun-One prompt asks where and what they should eat in your hometown.
Sometimes they aren’t even there!-There are plenty of schools that do not even ask for extra writing.
Greetings from the heart of college application writing season! Most of my students spent July focused on their main essay so that when August 1st rolled around, they could focus on the many different types of supplemental essays that individual colleges often require. My last post focused on five things to know. This post will highlight five things that you should NOT write about:
Do not recite your extracurricular resume. The colleges can see where you spent your time. Use this space to share something that is not already part of your profile.
Do not regurgitate your academic achievements. They can see your GPA, the rigor of your coursework and the letters of recommendation from your teachers and counselor. That is plenty of information.
Do not use this piece to vent about an issue. The overall arc of your writing should lean positive. This is not not a place to unload about something.
Do not use this essay to share about how another person has impacted you. This essay needs to be about YOU, not about someone that has helped shape you.
Do not brag or boast. If you do it right, your profile will speak for itself.
I am late with my July blog post! This is because I am deep in the heart of application season and this means I have LOTS of writing taking place with my 2024 cohort. Most of them have their main essay completed or coming down the final stretch. Their Common Apps are polished and ready to go. So the next thing on the college application timeline…supplemental essays.
Whether you are writing the main essay (and I regularly tell my kids that many colleges are test-optional, rarely are they essay optional), here are some tips to help you get started and help your story shine:
Use the prompts to share a facet of your experience that is not already in your application.
Write from the heart. This is a uniquely personal piece and if you are open and honest, you will allow the admissions reader to have a deeper sense of who is coming to their campus.
This writing takes time. Rarely does anyone write a draft that is ready to send in. This is a process where you continue to revise and edit the piece until you feel like it tells your story .
The main essay is 650 words. This is about one page. Many students feel like this is going to be a dissertation but actually it is a brief piece of writing.
Here is a goal to help keep you on track and help you shape your writing: your essay should be so specifically about you that if the final draft didn’t have your name on it, and it was found somewhere in your community. people would know to return it to you because it was abundantly clear that it was your story.
“This little college thing, this is just a bump in the road”
Dr. Jaime Ryan from “Never Have I Ever”
I enjoyed Mindy Kaling’s Netflix program, “Never Have I Ever” that chronicles a teenager, Devi Vishwakumar, through her high school career. As Devi and her peers approached the college application journey, I thought the show did some great things to highlight different aspects of college admissions. (Spoiler alert, if you haven’t finished the final season, you might want to stop reading). Here are some of the things that they got right:
They profiled Arizona State University. One of the leads in the show, Paxton Hall-Yoshida, attends this school, has a rough start and withdraws. When he wants to go back, he calls the school and starts to explain why he left. They tell him that there is no need to explain and they welcome him back by saying, “Congratulations on being a Sun Devil again”. ASU is well known in higher education as a school that admits all sorts of students and has strong outcomes. They have an 88% acceptance rate and they retain 86% of their first year students. I think it is awesome that they showcased a school like this on the show.
One of the most popular kids in the school, Paxton Hall-Yoshida, goes to ASU and struggles. That happens! Confident students can go away to college and have a challenging time.
One of the characters, Fabiola, is admitted to Princeton University. She is interested in robotics and learns that Howard University has a program that is exactly what she wants. After careful research, she chooses to forego the more selective school because she feels that Howard has the better program for her. Sometimes the less selective school is a better fit.
Devi’s friend, Eleanor, decides that college is not for her and pursues a career out of high school. College is not the best option right after high school for every teenager.
Devi only applies to colleges in the Ivy League and she is not accepted to any of them. She is only waitlisted at Princeton. This is not an unusual outcome. One of the hardest things to convey to families is the reality of ultra-selective college admissions. Students that apply to selective schools cannot count on being admitted. And I thought it was great that they modeled this reality on “Never Have I Ever”.
So what aspect of the series did I think that they missed the mark? In the end, Devi is in constant contact with the Princeton admissions rep and ultimately gets off the waitlist. I am not saying that this is impossible, but it is highly unlikely (and the fact that Devi is in regular phone contact with her admissions representative is also not something I have ever seen.) Take a look at some data on acceptances from the Princeton waitlist over the last ten years:
% Accepted From Waitlist
As you can see, most years, there is a minuscule chance of Princeton accepting students from the waitlist, specifically a 3.4% chance. If you take away the numbers from 2021, the admit rate drops to 2.4%. So kudos to Mindy Kaling and the crew that produced this fun series. Just remember that the waitlist is usually closer to a no than a yes!
I was recently talking with a friend who is the parent of a student heading to college in August. I had a front row seat to this family’s admissions journey this past year and I got to observe the student weigh their choices and make an (inspired) final decision. This past week, the mother commented on how she thought this process had ended with the deposit on May 1st, but really, the deposit triggered an entire new set of tasks. There is so much to do when you are headed to your first year in college and the checklist can seem endless. I decided to compile a list of things to be on top of as a senior prepares to head to college:
ORIENTATION-Colleges handle orientations differently. In 2023, it is common to attend a multi-day orientation in June or July. These are usually required and dates can fill up fast. There are other schools that have the first year class come in a few days early for orientation. Before you organize summer travel plans, make sure you have your orientation on the calendar.
HOUSING-Even if the school guarantees freshman housing, there can be preference for those who deposit early. Make sure that the paperwork is properly filed to secure housing.
ROOMATES-Make sure you know how your school assigns roommates. Can you request a specific roommate? Is there a social media page to find potential matches? Or does the school prohibit requests and place incoming students with a roommate?
HEALTH FORMS-Colleges have different requirements about vaccines and you need a physical within the past twelve months. Track down the paperwork from the college and make sure you have an appointment with your medical professional.
MODULES-Many colleges require students to complete a mini-course or a series of modules online before they arrive on campus.
COURSE SELECTION-This is the most important thing your student will do and they need to complete this in a timely manner so that they do not get shut out of classes that they want to take.
PLACEMENT TESTING-Some colleges require students to test for math, writing and/or world language placement. If the college has requirements around this, make sure that your student follows through with the necessary steps.
TRANSCRIPTS-Your high school has steps that your student needs to take to arrange for their final transcripts to be sent to the college. They cannot start college without the final transcript from their high school.
AP/IB CREDIT-If your student has AP or IB test scores that earn credit at their college, they will want to send in the official scores.
MEAL PLAN-Many colleges offer choices with their meal plan. It makes sense to look at the cost and select the most efficient plan for your student.
TUITION-When is it due? There is often a hefty charge for late payment, so take note of the due date and take steps to ensure that everything is in order. (This is especially important if you are using loans).
SUMMER ASSIGNMENTS-Yes, it is possible that your student could have academic work to complete over the summer.
TRAVEL-If your college requires air travel to get there, it pays to book early!
In the college admissions world, May 1st concludes the application cycle. This is the deadline when seniors in high school must submit a deposit to the school that they will attend in August. Unless…you are on a waitlist. The waitlist is a tool that colleges use to manage enrollment. They offer students the opportunity to have their application remain under consideration, should the college want to add more students to their incoming class. Here are some things to consider if you know someone that is waiting on the waitlist:
The waitlist is not ranked. You will not be able to ask where you are on the list. When a school has an opening, they will look at their enrolled class and see what type of student they want to add to round out the class and fill institutional priorities. (You can read about institutional priorities in this piece here by the great Rick Clark, from Georgia Tech. He also has his own waitlist post here). Do they need to balance gender ratios? Add more STEM majors? Pull in more students from the Pacific Northwest? They will go to the waitlist to try and fill those goals.
There is no downside to staying on a waitlist. Just make sure that you submit a deposit to a school where you have been admitted by May 1st.
Follow the school’s directions carefully. Do you have to take specific steps to stay on the waitlist? Do you accept by adding yourself or does the college add you? Is there an additional writing piece or other action you need to take? Do they specifically tell you NOT to reach out or submit more letters of recommendation? It is critical to follow the college’s instructions.
Monitor your email and voicemail (and make sure that your voicemail greeting is appropriate). Colleges might call or email you with a time sensitive offer, so this is important.
Colleges will use the waitlist to capture full-pay applicants. Schools have exhausted their financial aid resources in the regular admissions cycle.
The admit rates from the waitlist are often more selective than regular acceptance rates. (And not receiving an offer can feel like another rejection).
The timetable for waitlist movement can vary. Some schools go to their waitlist before May 1st, while others might keep their list open and make offers until the incoming class arrives in August. Some schools will announce in June or July that they will not be going to the waitlist or the waitlist is closed.
If a college contacts you to offer you a spot in their first year class, the school will likely give you a fixed deadline to make a decision, usually 2-3 days. (One institution called a student I worked with and asked them point blank if they would accept a spot if it were offered!)
Colleges offer the waitlist to large groups of students. Sometimes the waitlist can be larger than the incoming class.
Waitlist movement varies from year to year. The past two years, waitlist activity has been scarce but I see many more colleges offering waitlist spots for the class of 2023.
If you have a student that is offered a waitlist spot at a college it is important to know that the waitlist is much closer to being denied than admitted. The most helpful suggestion for students on the waitlist is that they get excited and commit to a school that has admitted them because that is where they are most likely to be in August.
“Communities are built like Legos, one brick at a time. There is no hack.”
~Jenny Anderson, Beyond Mindfulness
*This is a repeat post marks the fourth anniversary since I opened my sweet little office. The offer still stands for the whole month of May…anyone can come talk to me about college…with no charge. If you know a family that could benefit from this, please have them get in touch with me.
A friend posted the most beautiful piece on community in March. It was written by Jenny Anderson and it resonated with me. I have been the recipient of support from my community in ways that are too numerous to mention. I have benefited from the small things, like a class mom organizing a holiday event at school and I have literally been picked up and carried by my community when the unthinkable has happened. When I reflect on community, my first thought goes to the town where I live, but really, I have had the fortune to be a member of many communities. I have my SLU community from college, a professional community that I work with every day, a community of moms that I raised my kids alongside, that love my kids like their own, as I do theirs and I have my ADK/ski community, a group like no other. The essence of the article that touched me spoke about how we have to give to really be part of a community. And it made me question if I have given enough. I know I have received, in ways large and small, but have I really given?
I worked hard this past month to open my new office on May 1st, which is a significant date in the college planning world. May 1st is National Decision Day when seniors must decide where they are going to college. I thought it would be a meaningful day to open my doors. And the beautiful article about community gave me an idea for how I can give to my own community.
The whole month of May, I am available to meet with anyone who would like to talk about the college admissions process, free of charge. I am dead serious. Come talk to me for an hour and bring your questions, no strings attached. My real hope is that after an hour, you have enough information that you don’t need any more help. If this sounds unlikely, keep reading.
Several years ago, when I was in the middle of my certificate program at the University of California, Irvine, I heard a local mom lamenting about college admissions. I offered to come over and speak with her children. I met them on a Sunday morning and spent an hour walking them through the steps of finding a good fit for college. Last month, when I posted the news about my office, this parent reached out to me to thank me and update me on where all of their children ended up. Each one of these kids chose a great school, all quite different from each other, but the right fit for the individual student. An hour can go a long way.
So if you are stressed or confused, or overwhelmed, or maybe you know someone who is, come talk to me. You can send your child, you can come with your child, or maybe you would like to come alone. Or just come see my office and have a Perrier. My seniors are all settled on their schools and my juniors aren’t in application mode yet, so I have time. Consider it a thank you for all of the times that my community has taken care of and supported me and my family. The article about community is here. I look forward to hearing from you!
My last blog “Seven Things to Think About if Your Senior is Still Deciding” was directed towards students that are still deciding which college to attend in August. You can read it here. I thought about a few more things that a student might factor in to their decision. Here goes:
Gender ratio-Many colleges strive for a 50-50 gender balance but not all of them achieve it. Typically, the number skews a little heavier towards women, while at schools that focus on stem, there are more men than women. Do some research online to see what the gender balance is at each school and make sure you are comfortable with it.
Housing-Is there a requirement to live on campus? Does the school guarantee housing all four years or not at all? If you need to live off campus, what is the housing market like? Are the options affordable or expensive and hard to find? This information can help you predict future costs so there are no surprises.
Four-year graduation & sophomore retention rates-Look online to see how many first-year students return for their sophomore year and how many of these people graduate in four years. Ideally, a cohort that is making timely progress toward finishing in eight semesters will be a peer group that will help you do the same.
Post-graduation outcomes-Where are the students six months after they finish? Most schools have data on this and you can find out if the graduates are employed or attending graduate school.
Travel logistics-What is it like to get to and from this school? Is it a manageable ride on a train or several hours to the nearest airport and then two flights home? There are colleges in urban centers that provide multiple options for travel and others (Virginia Tech, St. Lawrence, etc.) that you might need a car to get back and forth. Give some consideration to what that will look like for you.
If you are the parent of a college-bound senior, they have about one week to submit a deposit to the college that they will attend. When a student is still deciding at this late date, it can be unnerving for a parent. I was in this position several years ago with my oldest. (The decision was made about 48 hours before the deadline. I know of what I speak!) Here are some suggestions to help you sort out your options:
1) $$$-Take paper to pencil and write down room/board/tuition for each school and add up the cost of attendance. Do not include books or personal expenses. Once you have that princely sum, subtract any scholarships or grants. Do not include loans in this number. If travel to and from this school requires airfare, add what you think the travel costs will be for freshman year. The next step is to take this number and multiply by 4. If you anticipate tuition going up, please factor that into your four-year costs. Do this for each college that your child is considering attending. When your family sees the four-year expenses at each institution, it will provide some important data that could impact the decision. I wrote a piece called “Co$t Concern$” that illustrates this.
2) Merit Scholarships-If your child received a merit scholarship from a school, read the fine print. Is it for four years, eight continuous semesters or one year? What GPA do they need to maintain to keep the scholarship? I have seen everything from a 2.8 to a 3.5. What else is in the disclosure? This is important information to know so that there are no surprises down the road.
3) Distance-Revisit the idea of distance. After the pandemic, many families have shifted their thoughts on distance. It is easy for a 10th or 11th grader to believe that they want to go to college on the other side of the country. It is an entirely different thing to actually do that. They will be making this move in about four months. As this becomes reality, they might have a change of heart. Evaluate this aspect and make sure that your child is comfortable with going away.
4) Major-If your child thinks they know what they want to study, take a deep look at the program that each school offers. This may impact the final decision. Do business majors have to study abroad? Can engineering majors study abroad? How math-based is the economics degree? Does the school offer 4+1 Masters Degrees that appeal to your student? Most schools will post a course sequence for majors. Take a look and see if the curriculum appeals to your child.
5) Mum is the word-When your child returns from a visit, or you are traveling home from an accepted students day together, say nothing. I have no doubt that you will have opinions, possibly strong opinions, you might even feel panicked at the prospect of your child at this school. But I beg you to say nothing and be aware of your body language too; just remain neutral. If your student wants to talk, you should listen, otherwise, say nothing. Allow 24-48 hours for the dust to settle and then talk about it.
6) Boundaries-If your child is still deciding where to attend college in late April, it might be all you think about. You might be mulling the choices over in your head 24/7 and have pros and cons lists lying all over your house. Do not bombard them with your thoughts, which are going around your head like a ticker tape. I suggest that you do not talk about this except at designated times. Use this time to take your senior out to dinner and limit your conversations about college to those specific times.
7) One last word on this phase of the college admissions process; at some point in their college career, your child is likely to have a rough patch. They are going to have a moment when they look in the mirror and think that College A was not the correct choice and that they should have attended College B. It is imperative that your child owns this decision and that is why you need to stay neutral and let them evaluate their choices after a visit, without your input. If you feel like your child is really going down the wrong road, after you have given them time and space to evaluate their options, then you can speak up and offer them guidance.
My May webinar is on Monday, May 1st at 8 pm ET. The title is “Parenting Through the College Admissions Process: Dos and Don’ts”. The zoom link is here and anyone is welcome to attend. I will share some current events in college admissions as well as my Do’s and Don’ts. This part will be recorded. The second half will just be me talking live about my own experience and how I had to follow my own advice and it will not be recorded. 🙂