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!
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!
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?
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:
Saint Michael’s College
The College of New Jersey
Montclair State University
Saint Peter’s College
Sacred Heart University
Catholic University of America
University of Richmond
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!
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.
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!
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.