Takeaways From the 2020 Application Season, Part 3 (Last rant)


I know I signed off on my last post but I forgot one last thing that is different this year and it is a byproduct from the United States Department of Justice no less! The Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit claiming that the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC, of which I am a member) had anticompetitive college recruiting restraints. The NACAC Code of Ethics and Professional Practices created a “restraint of trade” among colleges, in their recruitment of students. In order to comply with the DOJ, NACAC changed the wording in their code of ethics. You can read about it in detail here.

What this did was allow colleges to change how they approach students for admission. What I specifically saw this fall was that students that applied to a college under the early action plan (non-binding) received a communication from the college asking them if they would like to convert their application to the early decision plan (binding). This action painted students into a corner. If they declined the option to convert their application would they seal their fate in the early action pool with a rejection letter? Did they like the college enough to commit to the binding plan? Would the college only accept them if the went ED? Were they weak in the EA pool but strong in the ED pool? Was ED the only way to get in? What if they wanted to wait and see how their financial aid or scholarships added up? This was a conundrum that left vulnerable teenagers making hard decisions and it left me shaking my head.

Now, I am off to go trim the tree. I will be back in 2020. See you next year!


Takeaways From the 2020 Application Season, Part 2

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Here are a few more thoughts on the college admissions process as the 2020 application cycle comes to an end:

Test Optional-Two state university systems have been in the national news with regard to standardized testing. The University of Indiana is considering a test-optional policy where each campus could decide whether or not to require standardized tests. Before you get excited about the possibility of applying to IU Bloomington and skipping the ACT or the SAT, the likely change is that their satellite campuses will be the schools that do not require testing, but you never know, maybe IU will follow suit.

There is an article here about a lawsuit filed against the University of California, alleging that the use of standardized testing in admissions is biased and unconstitutional. If the UC system drops the use of the SAT and the ACT for admission to their campuses, there may be a sea change in regard to how other schools use the tests.

Wildcards-There are some schools that I classify as wildcards when I am working with a student and trying to gauge their chance of admission. If a college has had a meaningful change in the past few years in the application structure that they employ, it is difficult to know how they will evaluate students in the current pool. What am I talking about? Schools that adopt binding early decision plans are an example. In the 2018 application cycle, Villanova added a binding early decision choice for their applicants. Their admit rate decreased from 36% in 2017 to 29% in 2018. (And they took 41% of the class in the ED round) Their test scores jumped too; in 2017, 30% of admitted students that took the SAT submitted an EBRW above 700 and 42% submitted a Math score above 700. The year that they implemented early decision, the percentages jumped to 36% and 58% respectively. My guess is that these numbers will continue to grow and the admit rate will decrease.

Boston College announced that this year they will have two rounds of early decision for the first time. I would guess that the BC numbers will have dramatic shifts, much like the statistics from Villanova. Another example of a wildcard situation is if a school adds a test-optional policy, like the University of New Hampshire did this year. It is impossible to know how the number of applications might grow. Or if a school that previously used a proprietary application opts to become a Common Application school. The University of South Carolina joined the Common App this year and it is a safe guess that the number of applications that they receive will increase, making the school more selective. When there is a shift in how colleges structure their application process, the data from previous years does not reflect the change and it is impossible to gauge how a student might fare in the new dynamic.

What the What?-I heard a whole new scenario in the admissions world that left me shaking my head. The University of Chicago now gives three options to the students that they defer in the first round of early decision. Option 1 is to pull their application. Option 2 is to apply in the regular decision round. Option 3, wait for it…have their application considered in the ED2 round?!? If you were just deferred from the ED1 pool in December, why would the school ask you if you want to be in the ED2 category in January? I am not even sure what to say about this. But this is not even the craziest thing I have heard. I will leave the best (craziest) for last.

#notevensurewhattocallthisnewlevelofnonsense- The takeaway from this application season that I cannot even categorize properly is brought to you courtesy of the University of Michigan Wolverines. The students that were deferred in the early action pool were told that the university had “postponed” the decision on their application. This sent many a student into a tailspin since they thought that their application was incomplete, but no, that was not the case. They are using the word postpone in lieu of the word deferral. I suppose it has a gentler tone and if that is all that they did, I would probably not be writing about them. The reason why I am writing about the Wolverines is because they want an expression of continued interest to remain in the regular decision round. This means that you have to write ANOTHER ESSAY if you want to be under consideration for admission! As if that wasn’t bad enough, it is an essay that is similar to the one that they already asked applicants to write. I will put the two essay prompts here, in no particular order and you tell me if you see how you could write two distinct essays from these prompts:

Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?

Describe how your personal educational goals connect to the University of Michigan’s mission and values.

Can you even tell which one is the initial prompt and which one is to express continued interest? I am torn between having my students boycott this nonsense and having them  write for Michigan, just so they can turn them down in April.

Apologies for my rant. The level of irritation that I feel about this is a sign that I need to step back and go enjoy the holidays. I am signing off for a few days of R&R. I will be back after Christmas. (Probably working on the expression of continued interest for Michigan.) If you have a senior in your life, enjoy your last holiday with them at home as a high school student. If they are still working on applications, good luck. In 131 days, deposits are due, so hang in there, it will be over before you know it. Peace and love to all in 2020.

Takeaways From the 2020 Application Season, Part 1

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The 2020 application season is winding down. The December SAT scores came out today and several schools released EA and ED letters in the past 48 hours. So it is a busy time in the application cycle. If you have a senior, they are probably starting their December break as I write this and I bet you have felt lots of energy around the college admissions process during the past month as answers start to arrive in the early round. I wanted to share a few thoughts as the 2020 application season wraps up, in no particular order. I started this a few days ago and so many other thoughts have come to mind, that I am going to do this in two parts, so stay tuned!

Life After Varsity Blues-One of the questions that stood out was how things might be different after the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal that has sent parents to jail for committing fraud in their efforts to have their children admitted to selective universities. So has anything changed? From my humble perch, I do not see anything different; the only thing that has likely changed is that coaches that are going to have more accountability to ensure that their athletic recruits are legitimate. 

The New ED: Early Denial- The early round continues to be challenging. This year I have seen more outright denials in the Early Decision round. This is a painful sting for applicants, but in the long run, I think it is for the best. In the past, there have been schools with binding, early decision that deferred students to the regular decision round and then put them on the waitlist. School counselors and IECs have lamented this scenario and implored colleges to make a decision and that seems to be happening. This is a harsh reality for applicants but it allows them to cut their ties with the school and move on to colleges that are excited to have them on their campuses. 

Stock Market Parallels- Those boring pamphlets that the SEC makes brokerage houses send their clients that say “Past performance is not a guarantee of future earnings” or something to that effect, rings true here. Schools that have zigged, in the past, zagged this year and others that zagged, decided to zig this year. What do I mean by this? Schools that used to accept an academic profile in the early action round might pivot and decide to send the type of student that they used to admit to the regular pool. Other schools that used to give out significant amounts of merit aid in the early round decide to hold off on the scholarships until the spring. We try to make the best plan with the information that we have, but sometimes when decisions come out, we learn that schools have pivoted and changed how they decide to build their class. 

Stay tuned for Part 2!

December 1st Stress Antidote

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Years ago, I heard The comedian Gilbert Gottfried say, “A good bit always works”. In that spirit, the piece below is a repeat from December 1, 2018. Things are about to pick up speed in the cycle of college admissions and many families have shared that this piece helped them. If you have a senior in your life, I hope it helps you too!

December 1st is an important day in college admissions because, in exactly five months, every senior must place a deposit at the school that they will attend in the fall. The National Deposit Deadline is May 1st, so seniors are starting to make a turn toward the home stretch.

One of the best people writing regularly about college admissions is the Director of Admissions at Georgia Tech, Rick Clark. It doesn’t matter if you are considering applying to Georgia Tech or not. His blog can help any family that is on the college admissions journey. His latest piece, Preparation Day, speaks to the December 1st phenomena. It’s a real thing!

We are entering a new stage as the early decision schools start to send their acceptances, denials, and deferrals in December. There is an accelerated level of anxiety in many schools as these decisions are released. I wrote the piece below for the very first group of seniors that I worked with, and it still rings true. I hope it is helpful as we begin the final leg of the college admissions process. Enjoy!

As early application results come in, I have noticed a heightened state among college-bound seniors as they wait for results from the schools where they applied. I searched my archives of articles to find something that might help students take stock and maintain perspective, but none of the articles said what I wanted to say, so here are my two cents. Keep your eye on your own ball. Do not pay attention to the admissions chatter. Think about what you are looking for in a college and what you want your life to look like after the 45 months that you will spend at college. Consider your strengths and weaknesses as a student as well as how you learn best. Continue to explore areas of study and career paths that interest you. Make a list of things you would like to accomplish in college like studying abroad or completing an internship. Explore the websites of ALL the colleges where you are applying and see if anything jumps out at you. College admission is just the beginning. The kids that “win” at the college game (if there even is such a thing) are the students that arrive on campus with a sense of purpose, use their four years well and graduate on time. In precisely five months you will be submitting a deposit to the lucky school that gets to have you for the next four years. Use this time to ponder what you want in a college so that when your choices are on the table, you have a deeper sense of what you want in a school.

6 Ways to Show Demonstrated Interest

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Several recent meetings with parents have brought up the concept of demonstrated interest. What is it and does it matter? Demonstrated interest is a factor that some colleges consider when they are evaluating a student’s file. Colleges want to determine if the applicant is likely to come. Most schools are fighting to protect their yield (% of admitted students that enroll), so when they are deciding whether to admit a student, they factor in the likelihood of a student accepting a spot. They look to see if a student has been on campus or if it is a “cold” application. Here are six ways to demonstrate interest:

1. Visit a college and register for their information session and campus tour. If you are visiting colleges and miss a tour due to traffic, detours or any other type of unforeseen circumstance, it is still worth your time to stop in at the admissions office, share your information and request brochures and a campus map. 

2. Check the school’s website to see if they plan to visit your area. Admissions officers plan visits to metropolitan areas and book a hotel conference room to present information about their school and meet students that are interested. A tip here, check the school’s website at the end of the summer to see if a college is coming to your area, so you get it on your calendar and you don’t lose a valuable opportunity to meet with admissions officers.

3. Communicate with the guidance department at your school to see if a representative from a college where you are applying will be visiting your school. This is an excellent way to demonstrate interest and the person that you meet will likely do the first read of your application. 

4. Reach out to your regional admissions officer to express your interest in the school and ask any specific questions that you may have. 

5. Check local college’s websites to see if they are hosting a college fair. This is another way to make contact with locally with admissions officers from distant colleges. You can fill out a card with your information and keep in touch with the representative that you meet. 

6. Open emails that colleges send you. Some schools track whether or not you have interacted with their correspondence.

Good luck!

An Exciting Milestone!

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It is an exciting waypoint in the admissions cycle for me when I sit down to make my application grid. Every year, I create a table for each student, of where they are applying, what plan they are applying under and the tentative notification date that the college will inform applicants of their decision. When I do this, I have been working on applications and essays for four to five months and it is satisfying to turn the page and look ahead. Most of my seniors have completed and submitted their applications, or are about to do so. Sitting down to create this document feels like a major milestone as we turn the corner and start looking for responses from colleges. 

~Good luck to the class of 2020!

Scandal, Part 4

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There is news on the Varsity Blues front. Felicity Huffman’s case is making its way through the courts and she is due to be sentenced on September 13th. The prosecutor has recommended that she serve one month in jail as well as pay a fine. Her counsel is asking for community service and a fine. She has submitted all sorts of documentation to advocate for leniency. But the quotes from her and her husband made my jaw drop. William H. Macy wrote:

“Motherhood has, from the very beginning, frightened Felicity and she has not carried being a mom easily. She’s struggled to find the balance between what the experts say and her common sense.”

Felicity Huffman wrote:

“I find motherhood to be bewildering. From the moment my children were born, I worried that they got me as a mother. I so desperately wanted to do it right and was so deathly afraid of doing it wrong.”

I am not even sure where to begin here. Maybe they should get points for their honesty but from where I sit, to use this as an excuse for their transgressions is tone-deaf.

The reason that college admission is so chaotic is because, at the end of the day, we all want our children to be “okay”. What does this mean? I think if we knew that our kids would be able to sustain employment, raise their families, own a home, educate their own children and occasionally take a vacation, they would breathe a sigh of relief. But we all know that is an increasingly elusive goal. A recent article about college admissions in the Washington Post said that these days, a college education doesn’t get you ahead, you need it to not go backwards. So parents scramble, trying to decipher a code to shepherd their offspring toward some sort of future that will provide a decent quality of life. But, the truth is that in these changing times, that is increasingly elusive. So, parents latch on to the idea that acceptance at an elite college is a guarantee of some sort of future for their children. And this means AP or Honors courses and test prep in high school, all the way back to being selected for the gifted and talented program in first grade. Parents on all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum are seeking to get an edge for their children that will allow them to thrive in life. You see it with middle-class families that spend money on enrichment experiences for their children, with music lessons, private training sessions for athletics or tutoring. But you also see it among impoverished parents too. Google “mother goes to jail for enrolling child in school” and you will see cases where parents used addresses where they did not actually live to have their children attend better schools and they were sentenced to prison.

I sit with families and try to help them as best I can through this process. They are worried about how to guide their children. They are stressed about standardized testing and course selection, how their kids should spend their summers, what school offers the best opportunity and can their sons or daughters gain acceptance? And once they have sorted that out, they have to negotiate the minefield of college cost; FAFSA and CSS/Profile, merit-based scholarships and loans, both student and parent. It is a labyrinth and it is overwhelming. So I appreciate the Huffman/Macy family’s honesty about being frightened but the truth is, they are not unique. I think that we are all, to quote Macy, “frightened” and we all “struggle” and it shocks me that they would put that forth as an excuse.