It’s Ivy Admit Day!

We are coming down the homestretch of the 2020 admissions cycle. This evening the Ivy League schools will release their admission decisions. I thought it would be useful to post a quote that I saw from a lion in the school counseling world, to offer context and comfort in the event that you do not get the answer that you were hoping for. This school counselor said that an admissions representative from an Ivy League school gave a presentation to parents at his high school. This person told the parents, “The process is completely subjective and is designed to serve the colleges”. If you get the answer that you were hoping for this evening, congratulations! And if you did not, remember, the selection process is more about the school than the applicant. I hope you and your loved ones are healthy and finding ways to enjoy social isolation!

College Admissions & COVID-19

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Greetings from our new normal. I have been socially isolating and adjusting to online work as well as settling my family into a new routine that a week ago would have been unimaginable. As we address, the pandemic, I have no doubt that each of you is taking steps to keep your families safe and preparing for what may come.

There have been small bits of information trickling out of the college admissions world. I realize that this is probably not a high-priority item right now, but I wanted to find an efficient way to share this with people and I am going to keep a running feed on this post, with the latest news that I am hearing. When I feel that there are changes or decisions being made that are reasonably informed, I am going to post them here. Keep in mind, this is a dynamic situation. I am going to use my best judgement to share the most accurate information that I can at the time that I have it.

Lastly, if you, or anyone you know, have questions or concerns and would like to address a specific question, please, please, please share my email with them. I am happy to answer any and all questions, simply as a community service; there is no obligation to use me as a paid consultant. My email is louiselarsenconsulting@gmail.com.

3/22/20-The International Baccalaureate has canceled May exams due to the global pandemic. There is an article explaining this in detail here.

3/20/20, 1:50-The College Board has announced a plan for online AP testing this spring. The information is here.

3/20/20, 12:30-I thought it would be great to post a daily update but yesterday it felt a little inauthentic-there is no point in manufacturing news. So I am going to commit to only posting when I feel there is something meaningful to share. The latest news for today is two-fold. More schools than I can list are opting for test-optional applications in the next admissions cycle. To give you some examples, two colleges that have announced this are Case Western and Virginia Tech. The other news is that MIT has announced that they will not require SAT Subject Tests. The link to the announcement is here. I would imagine that in these unprecedented times, we will see more colleges follow suit.

3/18/20- Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR, (full disclosure, I did my graduate work there) has contacted seniors to let them know that they reopened their Common App for any students that have decided that they wish to stay closer to home and would like to apply. If there is a school that is closer to home and you would like them to consider an application from you, even thought the deadline has passed, it does not hurt to ask. In this new normal, they might consider this option.

3/17/20-As if there was not enough stress in the world right now, if you are the parent of a senior, we are entering the final stretch of admissions decisions. If you have a senior, the final (and often most selective) colleges are releasing their decisions in the next two weeks. As you cope with your new normal, try and make some space to soothe or celebrate your senior as they receive answers amidst the stress of a global pandemic.

3/16/20, 4:40 pm- The College Board is finalizing plans to allow students to take AP exams at home in May. There is more information here.

3/16/30, 4 pm-The ACT has rescheduled the April 4th test date to June 13th. If you are registered for the April test, you will receive an email about this change. There is more information here.

3/16/20, 1 pm-The College Board has cancelled the May SAT. You can read about it here.

3/15/20-As far as future test dates, if you are comfortable gambling with a fee to take the SAT or the ACT this spring, I would register now. There was so much confusion yesterday and so many test sites were closed, that I bet there will be a glut of college applicants that will need to reschedule. This is a dynamic situation, so stay tuned.

3/14/20-If you were signed up to take the SAT today and your test center was open, consider yourself lucky. What I am hearing for the rest of the world was that chaos ensued.

3/13/20-Good news for seniors, Oregon State University has moved their deposit deadline from May 1st to June 1st. More colleges are following suit and I think that for the 2020 cycle, this might be a trend.

 

A Valentine For My Seniors!

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I send this piece to my seniors every year. At this point, some know where they are going via Early Decision, some have heard back from all of their schools and are mulling over their choices and others are still waiting to hear from schools in the next few weeks. Wherever you are in the process, I hope this gives you peace!

“I came across a posting on the Grown and Flown Facebook page that caught my eye. A woman wrote about taking her daughter to visit her alma mater and running into a professor that she had studied with when she was an undergraduate. When he learned that her daughter was visiting the college as a prospective student, he gave some sage advice about deciding on a school. His words were so simple and comforting that I thought I would share them with you.

‘Almost any school will give you a good education if you work hard,” he went on. “It just doesn’t matter that much. Pick one because you like the size or the area, or because you can afford it. Then go enjoy it. Study hard and don’t party too much, make some lasting friendships. Just go, and be happy. It doesn’t matter where.’

You have all worked hard to compile a list with a range of schools that suit you for a variety of reasons. We have talked at length about loving your list. Your applications were submitted a long time ago. So as we come down the final stretch, take the words above to heart. And when all of the colleges have released their decisions, if you have a hard choice to make, read the paragraph above one more time. You are going to soar in college…you’ve got this! Happy Valentines Day.”

Another Blog Post for Sophomores!

 

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The recent post that I wrote, 3 Things a Sophomore Should be Doing for College Admissions, generated a lot of activity on my blog and several parents reached out with questions. As I was speaking with them, I remembered that I wrote another piece for sophomores that I thought would be useful to repost. Enjoy!

 

Parents often ask me when they should start visiting colleges with their children and my answer is as soon as you can. This is especially true if you are traveling in another part of the country and have some time to go explore a campus. A couple of years ago a client of mine was on vacation and weather rerouted them to Detroit for an extended layover. This savvy mom took her kids to see the University of Michigan and fast-forward 4 years, one of her kids is finishing her sophomore year in Ann Arbor! Here are my reasons for getting your sophomore on a college campus:

1. They Will Get Excited-When a high school student steps on a college campus, they get to peek over the horizon and see what is coming down the road. They will see the dining hall with all-you-can-eat ice cream, incredible gyms, the freedom to select courses that correspond with their interests and hopefully a sense of the freedom and fun that comes with college. They will also have a luxurious amount of time to think about colleges without having to make any decisions.

2. They Will Get Motivated-They say seeing is believing. School counselors, teachers and parents can talk until they are blue in the face about academic achievement but sometimes it sounds like the parents talking in the Peanuts movies. If your child steps foot on a campus that gets them a little bit excited (see #1) all of a sudden they have a tangible reason to focus on their academics. An excited student becomes a motivated student and they will understand why they need to work hard.

3. Athletics and Other Commitments-Obligations with athletics, clubs, youth groups, scouts, volunteer work, paid work, theater and music commitments is just a starting list of the many types of activities that the average college-bound kid has. When you look at the calendar and account for your child’s other commitments, you will see that trying to schedule a college visit can be complicated.

4. The List Needs to be Established Before Senior Year-When a kid starts high school, a parent might think they have four years to figure out the college question, but they really do not. If a student wants to return senior year with their applications complete, they must know where they are applying. In order to know where they want to apply, they need to have seen some campuses. Families can use senior year to continue to visit schools and many of my clients opt to add or delete schools from their list during senior year, but if you want a strong working list of schools, you ought to visit colleges well before 12th grade.

5. College Semesters Are Short-Once you have gone over your student’s schedule of obligations (see #3) and overlay your calendar on top of the college calendar, you might be in for a shock. Colleges tend to be in session from late August until early December and mid-January to early May. That is it. If you want your son or daughter to see a school when it is in session, you have a limited number of weeks. And to quote Gwyeth Smith, the school counselor profiled in Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges-and Find Themselves, “seeing a college campus that is not in session is like trying to buy a house that you have driven by but not gone inside”.

I always tell my students that nothing is stressful when you have enough time. The stress starts to build when deadlines loom and time runs short. Carolyn Pippen was an admissions counselor at Vanderbilt. She wrote an excellent piece in 2014, “Lessons From a Departing Admissions Counselor“. The takeaway is this quote, “The calmest and most organized students fare the best in this process.” One way to stay calm and organized is to see some colleges in 10th grade!

 

3 Things a Sophomore Should be Doing for College Admissions

 

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I recently ran into a mother I know that is the parent of a sophomore. We were chatting about the college admissions process and it gave me inspiration for a blog post. Here are three things a sophomore should be doing to prepare for college admissions:

PSAT-I often sit down for initial visits with juniors and I ask them if they have PSAT scores from their sophomore year. This elicits a sly grin and they announce a set of test scores from their sophomore year that if it was their SAT from their senior year, I would suggest we start compiling a list of schools from the test-optional category. Then I ask them, “When you took the SAT, did you try to do your best?” And they look at me like I have two heads and say, “No, I did not take it seriously.” My suggestion for all sophomores is that they sit down and apply themselves when they take this test. Why? Because their scores will give us a general idea of where we stand as we start to look at schools. I am not suggesting that anyone do any prep or add an inkling of stress. Just sit down and give it your best effort. This score will provide an important gauge as we start to build a working list of schools.

ACADEMICS-Make sure that you are taking a level of rigor that stretches and challenges you and that you are doing your best academic work. The most important part of your application is your academic transcript, not only the grades you receive but the courses that you take will be evaluated. Keep this in mind as you choose courses for junior year. Ideally, you want to increase the level of rigor each year and improve your academic performance as well.

COLLEGE VISITS-Should a sophomore visit colleges? Absolutely! I am not suggesting that you go out of your way to do this. What I do tell families is that if you are taking a trip, and there is a school in the vicinity of your travels, you should try and make time to see it. You should also see colleges that are closer to home to compare and contrast a small school versus a large school, an urban campus versus a more rural one and private schools versus public options in your area. Ideally, a sophomore should have a sense of what they are looking for in terms of size, location and region/climate as they enter their junior year. I wrote more about this in another blog post titled “5 Reasons 10th Graders Should Visit Colleges“.

If you have a sophomore, I hope this helps you get started!

 

Three Goals for 2030

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I bet your first glance at this post had you thinking that I had made an error and put a “3” where I should have put a “2”, but actually, I am writing about the goals that I have for college admissions for the next decade. Brennan Barnard is the director of college counseling at the Derryfield School in New Hampshire. He writes for Forbes magazine about college admissions. He wrote an end of the year three-part series, here, here and here. One of the pieces addressed the changes in college admissions over the past decade. It inspired me to write about the changes that I would like to see in the next decade. There are several things that could happen that would streamline the application process, add transparency and ideally create more access for first-generation students. Here are the changes that I would love to see take place so that when we close this new decade, things are simpler for families that want to pursue post-secondary education. 

TESTING- The standardized testing machine needs an overhaul. The College Board and the ACT are big businesses that generate billions of dollars a year in revenue from individual families, school districts and colleges that buy student data from them. I hope that in the next decade these tests are eliminated or at least play a more minor role in college admissions. (And I hope that subject tests are entirely eliminated too.)

The testing experience is expensive and stressful. Families need to determine which test their student should take or whether to take both? Then there is the question of test prep and how much they need to invest in that. Should they take the test with or without the writing part? And who should take Subject Tests and when? And if the Subject Test are “suggested” are their scores good enough to send or should they hold off? There has been meaningful research published that demonstrates that grades are as good an indicator of college success as standardized test scores. Change is in the air, as I wrote about the lawsuit around standardized testing in California here.  In 2030, I would be thrilled to have the SAT and the ACT be a thing of the past or at least play a diminished role in admissions. 

FINANCIAL AID/COST- One of the first words that you will hear in the financial aid arena is to determine your Expected Family Contribution. You can do this on the College Board website, here. Most families are shocked at what the colleges determine they can pay. The numbers are so draconian that maybe you could live on the amount that is left after you pay for college for a year, but it is entirely unsustainable for four years (or more if you have more than one child). At some point, there will be a car repair or a medical bill or some other expense that arises and you will have to choose between paying for college or covering the expense. 

The problem is that the government sets the formulas and anyone in college admissions will tell you that the numbers are not realistic. Most people cannot dunk a basketball. But imagine if there was a government formula that took random measurements of your body and then determined that yes, you should be able to dunk a basketball. You would be left shaking your head because there is no way that you can dunk a basketball. This is how the EFC works-you are handed a number you cannot afford and told that you can afford it. And since the government establishes the EFC, when you call your college to say that your EFC is unaffordable and that you actually need to be able to turn on your utilities and put food on the table, the schools point to the EFC and say that is what you should be able to pay. I want a system in place that will take a realistic measure of what families can afford and put packages on the table that limit student loan debt so that we no longer hear about people that have six-figure debt from their undergraduate degrees. 

APPLICATION PROCESS- The application process needs to be streamlined from platforms to deadlines. Right now there are multiple applications like the Common Application and the Coalition Application and there are colleges that still use their own proprietary system. Within these distinct platforms, individual schools can ask for writing pieces to supplement the Common App or the Coalition. Some schools are Common App exclusive and some are Coalition exclusive. Some schools take them both and some take neither. And the deadlines start in October and go into February. In addition to this, there are multiple categories for applications, ED1, ED2, ED3 (thank you Colgate), EA1, EA2, Regular Decision, Priority and Rolling. In the middle of the application season, this complexity keeps people like me on my toes, trying to ensure that we do not miss anything. I would imagine it is more stressful for the average family that is attempting to negotiate this process. Creating a uniform system with consistent deadlines would go a long way to help students submit applications. 

Truthfully? I would love to see the whole thing simplified to the point where no one needs help from someone like me. I would welcome a system that is so transparent that consultants like me become a thing of the past and students and their families can embark on this process with hope and joy, not stressed and overwhelmed. What would you like to see change?

 

College Visits in 2019

One of my professional goals is to work on the next level of certification in my field and become a CEP (Certified Educational Planner). There are multiple requirements to accomplish this and one of them is to visit seventy-five colleges in a five year period. I set a goal to try and start seeing fifteen colleges a year and in 2019 I managed to do it! I toured a wide range of schools, from the ultra-selective (Hello Princeton) to hidden gems (I am looking at you, Caldwell University). Here is my 2019 list of schools in the order that I visited their campuses:

 

Skidmore College

Williams College

Amherst College

Saint Michael’s College

Princeton University

The College of New Jersey

Caldwell University

Montclair State University

Saint Peter’s College

Drew University

Kean University

Sacred Heart University

Fairfield University

Catholic University of America

University of Richmond