5 Things to Know About Early Decision in a Pandemic

The 2020 Pandemic continues to impact college admission models. As seniors weigh their application options, it is worthwhile to consider how the Early Decision (ED) might help them gain acceptance to the college of their choice.

If you are new to the college admission process, ED is a plan where you apply early to a college, typically by November 1st and you receive an answer from the school in early December. This is a binding application and if admitted, you are obligated to attend. You can only apply to one college under this plan, so students use it as an opportunity to show the love at their first choice school and hopefully increase the chance of receiving an acceptance letter.

One takeaway from the pandemic is that schools will be leaning on their ED plans to try and eliminate some of the uncertainty that they are facing in the COVID-19 era and stabilize their numbers for the class of 2024.

Here are a few things to think about*:

  1. The admit rate for ED is typically higher than the Regular Decision (RD) rate. For example, the RD rate at Colgate University for the class of 2023 was 20.1% but the ED acceptance rate was 46.4%.
  2. Many selective schools fill half of their class in the ED round, making the RD round more selective than it might seem.  The winner in this category last year was Bates College. They took 70.3% of their freshman class in the ED round. Their ED admit rate was 42.4% and their RD rate was 8.7%
  3. Some schools use ED to boost their statistics and lower their admit rate. The biggest discrepancy here is at Colby College. They fill 64.6% of their freshman class from the ED round, with an admit rate of 43.4% but in the RD round only lets in 7.6% of applicants. If you are applying RD it is quite selective.
  4. Many schools include their recruited athletes in the ED round, but that is not indicated in the statistics.
  5. If you are waiting to see where you might be eligible for a merit scholarship, a binding ED application plan might not be the best choice. There will not be an opportunity to compare offers from other schools. When you are accepted, you are required to withdraw all of your other applications.

*All data gratefully sourced from Jennie Kent & Jeff Levy at bigjeducationalconsulting.com

 

August 1st!

 

Screen Shot 2020-07-31 at 12.27.26 PM

August 1st is a significant day in the college admission cycle. The Common Application opens and seniors can view the supplemental essays that they will need to write. At this time of year, I go from counseling to stalking. I have reached out to all my seniors and given them a heads up that we will get underway with the supplements this weekend. If they start now, they will have a solid month to complete all of the writing before senior year begins. If you are a senior, now is the perfect time to get started on your applications. Good luck!

Testing in a Pandemic

“Optional” is not a trick word. It is not a wink that signals a continued institutional preference for the upcoming admissions cycle. This is not a moment for euphemisms or gimmicks; there should be no parsing of intent with this amended testing policy. It is a clear response to an unprecedented moment that requires admission officers to reimagine some of the elements we have historically required as we reassure anxious students about their upcoming applications. Worries about oversubscribed test sites, anxiety regarding limited registration access and the incongruity of test prep during a quarantine can be set aside.”

~Lee Coffin

Vice Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid

Dartmouth College

I love my work and I get great satisfaction in guiding families through the college admission journey. But I have always thought it was a shame that the entire system is so complicated: Common App/Coalition App, ED/EA, FAFSA/CSS-Profile, ACT/SAT/Test-Optional, Merit Scholarships/Need-Based Aid and the list goes on. It is no wonder that people need help. 

There is no layer of the college admissions world that is more fraught with tension than testing and what scores mean. There is substantial data that confirms that standardized tests reflect the socioeconomic background of a student, not their intelligence or aptitude. Many in this field would love to see the testing machine eliminated from consideration and some schools have gone as far as to label themselves test-blind-they will not even look at your test scores. But the reality is that good scores can enhance a profile and I have always encouraged my students (and my biological children) to put their best foot forward with testing. Strong scores will not necessarily get you in but weak scores can keep you out; they are a little bit like the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter. And they can definitely open doors to merit scholarships. As a result I always encourage my students not to be stressed, but to give the test their best possible effort and let the chips land where they land. I also show them the lengthy list of incredible test-optional schools just in case their numbers aren’t what they had hoped, just to assuage any anxiety they may have. 

This year has been no different and I have encouraged my seniors to test this fall, to either establish their first set of scores or improve on what they have already done. I have also pushed my rising juniors to test if they can get a seat in case next spring follows the course that testing took the first half of this year, with multiple cancellations due to COVID-19. 

But I am watching the news carefully and reconsidering my advice. Taking a standardized test indoors, in a mask, over a four hour period, with breaks for snacks is the definition of a congregate setting where the virus can spread. The testing environment plays a role in how students score (imagine testing in a classroom when the marching band is practicing right outside!) and the current environment is more stressful than normal.

I wanted to share a piece from the Vice Provost of Enrollment Management at Oregon State University, Jon Boeckenstedt. You have likely never heard of him, but in my field, he is a lion; well-regarded, deeply admired and his word carries great weight. His piece, Please Don’t Test is here. In it, he says that his school does not care if you test. He also cites Lee Coffin, from Dartmouth, who I quote at the beginning of this piece. Lee Coffin has an excellent podcast to demystify college admissions here

A few weeks ago securing a seat at a test site seemed like a good opportunity. But we are in a dynamic world and things change by the day. Now a standardized test might feel like a level of risk that isn’t prudent. Each family must carefully weigh their decision. 

What is a Public Ivy?

 

Screen Shot 2020-07-24 at 8.50.08 PM

Greetings from the rainy, cloudy Jersey Shore. I recently took an early morning walk at the beach on a cloudless day with blue skies and a sea breeze. I was repping a t-shirt from the Public Ivy where my favorite 2017 client is a student. The shirt (pictured above) just says Public Ivy and I wondered as I walked, if people passing me knew what school the graphics represented or what a Public Ivy is and voilà…I had the inspiration for a new post.

“Public Ivy” is a term from the book by Richard Moll, Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities in 1985. Moll traveled around the United States and named the eight schools listed below the “Public Ivies” due to the look and feel of their campuses and the academic excellence that they offer. Moll determined that these schools provide an education equivalent to an Ivy League school, at a more affordable price. The original Public Ivies are:

1. University of Vermont

2. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

3. Miami University of Ohio

4. College of William & Mary

5. University of Virginia

6. University of Texas-Austin

7. University of California

8. University of Michigan

If you want a school with a traditional college feel, a gorgeous campus, research opportunities, traditions and school spirit, all combined with a first-rate education, check out the Public Ivies!

 

Common App Countdown-8 Things to Know

Screen Shot 2020-07-17 at 9.42.21 AM

“A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step” ~Lao Tzu

The Common Application opens in two weeks, on August 1st. If you area rising senior or the parent of a rising senior, here are a few thoughts on how to proceed:

  1. You can fill the actual application part now and it will roll over on August 1st. So if you are a senior, get started. Just opening your account and filling out the basic information will feel good. You will be able to say you started your Common App!
  2. The Common App will close down for a few days at the end of July, typically around the 28th. You will not be able to access your account until August 1st. If you are a parent of a senior and you insist that your student start working on their application at the end of July and they tell you that they cannot log in, they are not lying. All the more reason to start now!
  3. There is a tedious amount of information to input. I recommend that you do this in 30-45 minute increments. You will need information from each parent about their jobs and educational background. You also must put in an extensive amount of information from your own academic profile. This can feel like a lot of busy work but there is no choice but to keep going until you are done.
  4. There is space for ten activities. If you have more than ten, you can see if any of them might fit in the Honors and Awards section. The other option is to lump certain activities together, like volunteer work. If you follow these steps and still have more accomplishments to share, see #7.
  5. You must take the time to write your activities in a meaningful, descriptive way that shows what you have done in the most detail. This is an opportunity to put your best foot forward. The “College Essay Guy”,  Ethan Sawyer, author of the book College Essay Essentials has an excellent guide for letting your activities shine here.
  6. The 2021 offers a 250 word optional supplement to address any impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on your life. This is an excellent opportunity to share any significant experiences you have had since March and write the main essay about a different topic.
  7. The best kept secret on the Common App is the additional information essay. What is this? It is a section of the application where you can share anything else pertinent to your profile that you want, in 650 words or less. So if you have an activity that does not fit in any of the other areas, you can share this information in this section.
  8. The link to the Common App is here. Good Luck!

My First Client

Screen Shot 2020-06-26 at 9.23.12 AM

I was talking with one of my siblings a few weeks ago and a memory flashed in my mind that I had completely forgotten. In the fall of 1990, my brother was entering his senior year of high school. My mother had attempted to help him with his applications but it was not going well. At the time, I was a recent college graduate, living at home. She asked me to take over and help him complete the Common Application.

I stepped in and everything that I suggested, he had an answer for why it did not need to be completed in that exact way, or at that exact time. But for every excuse he had, I provided an answer for him and in the end, I prevailed and we pushed on with the writing. What I remember so vividly is the machine we were using. It was a state of the art typewriter that allowed you to type one line at a time, that appeared on a digital screen, and you could make corrections while it was on the screen. Once you hit enter, it appeared on the paper and you could not change anything. But I remember thinking that this thing was amazing, and a huge aid in trying to create an error-free (paper) application. I have no idea what he wrote about, I just remember the verbal parries that culminated in me getting him to complete and mail his applications as well as the machine. It looks like a relic now, but at the time, I felt so lucky that we had such a deluxe set up to write.

He got multiple acceptance letters, some great scholarships and graduated from college, with a job! It is ironic that years later I was drawn to this work professionally. Maybe my mother saw something back in 1990!

 

June 1st, The New May 1st

 

IMG_5323Welcome to the June 1st, which is the new May 1st. In the pre-COVID era, I always wrote a May 1st post because that was the National Deposit Day, the due date for seniors to place a deposit at the college they plan to attend. This year many colleges pushed the deadline back to give families time to sort through their choices, amid the pandemic. If you are a senior or the parent of a senior, I know the past three months have been surreal. Whether you made your deposit in April or are just pushing the submit button today, congratulations!

When seniors deposit on May 1, they usually have almost four months until they head off to school. This year, they have less than three months. The average university is starting in the middle of August, so if you are a senior, you are leaving in about 10 weeks. I wrote a post a few years ago about all the things that a senior needs to go to get ready to leave for college, “May 1st Commitment is Just the Beginning!”. I think in the pandemic era, there are a few more things to think about:

Your Health-Evaluate your health, along with your parents and your healthcare providers to determine the best way to stay safe. Do you need extra PPE, disinfectant or hand-sanitizer? Is there a risk factor that you need a single? Take stock now and get prepared so when you arrive on campus you have the support that you need in place.

Flu Shots-Colleges are taking steps to mitigate the spread of COVID on campuses and one requirement that I am hearing more and more is that flu shots will be required. My guess is that schools will facilitate this but talk to your healthcare provider to see how early they anticipate providing the vaccine in case your college expects you to be vaccinated before you arrive.

Campus Closure Plan-Talk about a plan in the event that your campus has to close. Determine how your family will manage this if colleges send their students home again, especially if you are traveling a significant distance to go to school. This past March, many students were on spring break when their colleges told them not to come back. All of their personal items were still on campus. If you need to leave your campus, make a list of what you need to bring with you for an extended stay at home.

Plan B-Have a conversation around what you will do if your school determines that they will not have courses face-to-face this fall. Do you want to forge ahead and take classes online? If not, what else might you be able to do to fill your time in a productive or meaningful way if you are not comfortable learning online?

These are a few of my thoughts. I am attending webinars weekly to stay informed. If I learn more or think of another issue, I will be sure to add it to the list!

 

 

How Did the University of California Vote on the SAT/ACT? :)

The smiley face was a give away! They voted to eliminate the standardized tests for California students by 2025. You can read about it in the LA Times, here.

Why am I so excited about this? Because this could change the landscape for college admission. When a big system like the University of California makes a definitive move like this, others may follow. And ideally, standardized tests will disappear from the application process, removing some of the angst from the stressful process of applying to college. Kudos to the UC Regents!

5 Things to Know About Test-Optional Colleges

IMG_5232

 

“As I’ve argued elsewhere, submitting SAT and ACT scores routinely increases students’ chances of being admitted to college, receiving more financial aid and placing out of remedial and introductory courses — even at test-optional universities. The use of the term “optional” is irresponsible because it obscures the very real benefits students can gain from preparing for the test and submitting their scores.”

~Yoon S. Choi, Inside Higher Education

The test-optional movement has gained momentum, as colleges try and adjust to the impact of COVID-19. The pandemic precluded the administration of the March 19th SAT in many locations and all SAT/ACT test dates in April and May were cancelled. The College Board eliminated the June test and the ACT set up alternative test dates for June and July. (And those are looking less viable as summer looms). While the ACT and the College Board adjusted, colleges took measures to try and alleviate stress for students and create options for applicants that might not have the opportunity to sit for the test. One of those steps was to become either test-optional or test-blind. Another was to eliminate the required or recommended SAT Subject Area Tests. Here are a few thoughts on this development:

  1. Test-Optional is not test-blind. Amidst all of these changes, it is important to note the difference between test-optional and test-blind. A school that announces that they are test blind, like Loyola New Orleans, is not going to include any standardized testing as part of the student’s file. Here is an excerpt from their admissions website:
    “Loyola has adopted a test blind admissions process. This means that we do not require a standardized test score for our admission application and we will not consider a test score, should a student choose to submit one. In test-blind admissions, the SAT or ACT score is not considered for admission or merit scholarship decisions. This will allow the admission process to be more focused on GPA, academic rigor, student involvement and the student’s personal statement. Read our test blind FAQs to learn more about our admissions process. “If you are applying to a school that is test-blind, students with test scores do not have any advantage. Standardized test are not part of the application at a test-blind school. This is an important distinction.

2. Test-optional does not mean that test scores do not matter. Test-optional schools will still look at students that have scores and if the results are good, those students might  have an edge. Cornell University has offered a test-optional plan for 2021 but on their website it says:

         “As appears to be true at test-optional colleges and universities, we anticipate that                     many students who will have had reasonable and uninterrupted opportunities to take the ACT and/or SAT during 2020 administrations will continue to submit results, and those results will continue to demonstrate preparation for college-level work.”

Students with good test scores will have an advantage at test-optional schools. This should not be a surprise. The colleges have made an effort to alleviate stress by offering a test-optional plan in these unprecedented times but the reality is that strong test scores will always be well-received.

3. Athletes might need scores at a test-optional school. Cornell explicitly states on their website that while they are offering a one year relief from requiring test scores, as a member of the Ivy League, athletes will still be obligated to submit test scores. If you are a recruited athlete, you need to communicate with your school to determine if standardized test scores are required.

4. Merit scholarships are often based on test scores. If you are applying to colleges and counting on being considered for merit scholarships, you will want to reach out to individual institutions to determine if standardized tests must be submitted to be awarded a scholarship or if they will evaluate your profile for an award without test scores.

5. The University of California system has been exploring the elimination of the ACT/SAT. If this happens we might see a turn of the tide where the standardized testing machine goes the way of the dinosaur. Lynn O’Shaughnessy writes about this here and you can also read about it here, in Inside Higher Education.

I applaud the colleges for turning on a dime and taking steps to allay stress for students. I will wrap this up with another quote from the article that I cited at the beginning of this post, from Yoon S. Choi’s piece in Inside Higher Education, “Words Matter“.

 “…we shouldn’t keep calling the test “optional” when we know a good score will increase students’ chances of getting into college, paying for college and graduating on time.

What is the takeaway here? We can only do as much as we can but I am advising my students to make every effort to sit for the SAT or the ACT in the fall and try to earn the best score that they can.

 

Why is May 1st Significant in College Admissions?

93D728BF-52DF-4EDD-815E-CFC042C50997

May 1st means several things to me and in the Stay-At-Home/Pandemic era, it just feels good to turn a page in the calendar. But, May 1st has traditionally been the National Decision Day for high school seniors to commit to the college that they will attend in the fall. This year many schools have extended the deposit date to accommodate the uncertain times, so if you know a senior, they might not have made a final decision because the schools that they are considering have moved the date to June 1st or beyond. And for me personally, it is the day that I opened my office last year. I took a sweet, compact room and tried to create a cozy, comfortable space to meet with students and help them on the road to college. (And yes, I can say I have a corner office!)

3A048095-45F2-4630-AE6E-4F600579B66D

Above is where I started and below is where I finished.

372A4495-67FC-4053-B3CB-9DC12D5A2DE2

Last May, I was inspired to take the month and offer free meetings in my new office. May is typically a quiet month in the consulting world; my seniors are settled and my juniors are gearing up to work on applications. Last year I wrote about this in a post called “Community”. These complimentary consultations were so well received that I decided to make this an August Consulting tradition, where anyone can schedule an hour to come in (or for now, schedule a call or a zoom meeting) during the month of May. The journey to college has always required families to engage in the process and now more than ever, the questions seem to multiply. So, ideally I would love to welcome you to my office, but for now, please reach out and schedule a time to speak or “meet” virtually. We are in challenging times and these meetings are a small thing that I can do to be of service.

If you have a senior that has made a decision, congratulations!