Big Changes for the SAT

The College Board announced significant changes to the SAT. They plan to convert the exam from a paper and pencil test to a full digital administration. The class of 2025, who are currently in ninth grade, will be the first cohort to take the SAT in the new format.

Adam Ingersoll, of Compass Prep, is a leader in the test prep world. He wrote an excellent overview of changes in his blog that I have posted below. He provides a superb overview of what is known and what is unknown at this point in time. Stay tuned as I anticipate that more information will be forthcoming about this change from the College Board.

College is an Inside Job

“Happiness is an inside job”

~William Arthur Ward

Last week I traveled alone to join my family for Christmas and I had some time to think about the current application cycle. This ED/EA round was a wild ride and I was reflecting on the results that I saw at a range of different schools, large and small, public and private, highly selective and less so. Most of my comprehensive clients had at least one good choice as they headed into the holidays and I saw a common theme in their process that I thought would make a good blog post. The quote “Happiness is an inside job” kept playing in my head but I substituted the word “college” for “happiness”. As I thought about these students and their journey over the last year or more, here is what I saw that led to their success:

  1. Self-Reflection– It is critical to step away from the drumbeat of college admissions and think about what one is looking for in their college experience. Students that took the time to think long and hard about what they want to study, what type of climate or location they want to reside in and what their other priorities are have a deeper sense of what they want in a school. If you are a passionate surfer, how important is ocean access? If you anticipate going to medical school, what kind of support do you need as an undergraduate? Do you value the ability to go home for the weekend? Where does cost come into play for you? These are just a few examples of the way that I have seen students triage their priorities for college. As students solidify their priorities, they can lean into their list of schools with more confidence.

2. Finding Hidden Gems-The other critical step that I see families take is when they step away from seeking prestige and start looking at campuses that are hidden gems, quietly excelling at educating their students in ways that do not garner fanfare. I worked with a family this year that had never heard of a school that I recommended. They did the homework and the more that they researched, the more that they fell in love with the college and thought that it could be an excellent fit. When the student received an Early Action acceptance letter in mid-December with a meaningful merit scholarship, they were over the moon. This never would have happened if they hadn’t done the research to learn more about this hidden gem. Letting go of selective admissions and finding schools that meet your needs is a deeply personal step that can reap huge benefits for a student.

3. The Ultimate Stressbuster– If a high school student wants to have peace on the road to college, the ultimate way to eliminate anxiety is to build a list of schools that they love. The essence of this is to find a couple of schools that you love where you have a high probability of admission. This is when stress really leaves the building. I wrote about this in detail in this post. When a student finds a college that is a good fit for them AND they are a high-probability candidate, they can forge ahead with more confidence and less stress.

At the end of the day (or at the end of the year as I write this post) finding a college with a good fit is an inside job. No one can do it for you. It is like trying on clothing to see if it fits. Only you can put on a garment and look in the mirror and decide if you like how it looks and feels. And when I think about the common traits of my full-package clients, they looked inside to see what they really wanted in a school and then did a deep dive to find those colleges that fulfilled their priorities.

The photo below is an awesome cloud line that we saw over the break. I hope you and your loved ones have a healthy and happy 2022.

Reflections on the EA/ED Decisions

I have been thinking about how to write this piece and talk about the part of the admission cycle where colleges release decisions to students that applied either on a binding Early Decision (ED) plan or a non-binding Early Action (EA) plan. I procrastinated because I did not know where to start. Posting the definition of chaos felt like the right starting point, so here goes…

I knew something was off earlier this month. When students started to receive decisions from Auburn, it left college counselors scratching their heads. I did not have any EA applicants at Auburn, but I paid close attention. Auburn had a 115% increase in applications compared to the same point in time last year and they were deferring students that one would expect them to admit. This was a harbinger of things to come.

I had several highly qualified students that applied EA to the University of South Carolina. We had pegged this as a likely school to admit them and we took advantage of the early plan to have an acceptance before Christmas. All of my students were deferred. And at that point, I knew we were in for a wild ride.

I continued to see strong students deferred at every type of school, reach, target and likely, public and private. Schools like the University of Vermont, were deferring qualified candidates and telling them that if they wanted to be considered in the Regular Decision round, they needed to submit another writing piece. This is an entirely new approach in the UVM admissions playbook.

The selective colleges with binding Early Decision plans always have low acceptance rates, but when large state schools like Auburn, South Carolina and Vermont are deferring students that in other years were likely to have been accepted, it left me shaking my head.

I saw plenty of acceptances too! It was not all doom and gloom. But it was difficult to make sense of who was admitted, deferred or denied. I feel like the colleges might have been overwhelmed with applications and this was reflected in the decisions they made.

By the end of the day on December 16th, I breathed a sigh of relief when the last of my comprehensive students received an early acceptance. If you have a senior applying to college and you think they should expand their list, it might be a good year to let them go ahead and send out a few more applications. I would imagine that this chaotic landscape will continue into the spring.

December Stress Antidote

It’s that time of year again. December starts the next phase of the admissions cycle. The most selective schools in the country release their first round of Early Decision letters. This is where the rubber meets the road. If you have a senior in high school that you care about, be aware that this month can be quite stressful, even if they did not apply ED.

My first year of counseling seniors, I looked far and wide for some sage advice to temper the pressure and anxiety that I see in school. I could not find what I was looking for so I sat down and wrote what I wanted to say and I have posted it every year since. So if there is a senior in your life that you care about, please share this with them.

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.

The First Acceptance!

“I am thrilled that I have just received my first acceptance to college! I’m extremely grateful for all the things you have done to help me achieve this goal! While I understand that this is not the end of the college admissions process and that I’ll be submitting my other applications…I still feel as though a gigantic weight was taken off my back. “

There is nothing like the first college acceptance that a senior receives. It doesn’t matter who they are, if the college is highly selective or not, it NEVER gets old. I received the email above from a student over the Thanksgiving holiday. Their relief and excitement was palpable.

If you have a high school senior in your life, December is where things heat up. The Early Decision answers are released, January deadlines loom and the pressure kicks in. I LOVE it when a senior gets a “yes” before Thanksgiving, the dynamic shifts and they know they are going to college next August. Good luck to your student as they enter this next stage of the admissions cycle!

Discovering Gold in College Admissions

“The Road to College is a Journey of Self-Discovery*”

Happy November 1st! If you are the parent of a senior that is submitting early applications with an 11/1 deadline, I am sure you have been busy! 

The quote above came to mind as I was working with a last minute senior that reached out to me last week for some help with their writing. They had a prompt that asked them to describe a community that they are a part of and their place within that community. 

As they considered this question, they had a meaningful revelation; their family had relocated during high school and they changed schools. Their athletic pursuits had allowed them to form a new community almost immediately. They realized that their athletics, which in this case is really a lifetime sport, will always allow them to connect with others and they took great comfort in this discovery as they considered the prompt. 

The other community they considered writing about was their job at a busy Jersey Shore restaurant with “ocean views and overpriced cocktails”. They wanted to talk about their place in the community  of dishwashers, chefs, hostesses, managers, waitstaff, bussers and runners. It is a cross-section of backgrounds, ages, education levels and race. But they all work together in a tightly choreographed routine to facilitate smooth restaurant operations.

So what did I advise? They should write about the restaurant community. It will show the college an entirely fresh context; their ability to get along with a diverse group of people and work together. This is a quality that colleges want to bring to their campuses. I have no doubt the athletic piece could have been quite good, but the schools aren’t going to learn as much about the applicant and they can already see the student’s deep involvement with their sport in other parts of the Common App.

I shared the quote about the journey to college as one of self-discovery with the student. The revelation that they had about their sport is their own treasure, a gem that they can take out into the world.

I hope your student has made important self-discoveries in this process and has their own nugget of gold to take with them. And I hope they have great success with their decisions in the coming months!

*I take no credit for this quote, I read it somewhere a long time ago.

7 Deadline Tips

Last year, a family reached out to me on the first Saturday in February. The mother and daughter were in deep distress. They had submitted an application with a February 1st deadline late in the evening of January 31st. There had been a glitch with the actual submission and it appeared that the essay had not been included. The admission office was not open on a Saturday and they were so upset that they could not resolve this problem. All I could do was tell them to call the school on Monday to determine if the file was complete or not. They had a stressful 48 hours while they waited to speak with admissions.

As I hung up with them, I reflected on the importance of submitting applications ahead of the deadline. Nothing is stressful when you have ample time. Anxiety and panic creep in when time starts to run out. Mistakes are made, judgement can be flawed and this leads to the exact situation where this family found themselves. Here are some tips to avoid this dilemma:

1. Make your own internal deadline at least 72 hours ahead of the school deadline. If you have a February 1st deadline, plan to submit your application by January 28th. This will allow flexibility if you come down with a stomach bug, a power outage or any other issue that arises.

2. Set a designated hour for the parent and child to complete this work together. Make sure you have eaten, have a quiet, uninterrupted space to work on this and a functioning credit card on hand. This part of the process is tedious and sometimes questions pop-up, that despite your best efforts, might require more writing.

3. When you finish, have a plan to celebrate this milestone. The physical application submission is no small feat. Schedule a trip to your favorite ice cream spot or some other way that you can acknowledge this important step.

4. Double-check that your transcript requests are en route from your high school.

5. If you are submitting ACT or SAT scores, send those after you complete the applications.

6. I suggest that you establish your internal deadline between Sunday and Thursday. This will give you the option to call the admissions office if you experience any sort of issue or have a question. For my students this year that have November 1st deadlines, I am suggesting that they submit their applications no later than Wednesday, October 28th. This will allow for unforeseen issues AND the ability to contact the admission office if necessary.

7. Establish and carefully monitor your portals. It is incumbent on the student to determine that their file is complete. If an application is still missing pieces after a week or so, an applicant needs to be proactive and take steps to ensure that the college has everything they need.

I felt terrible for the family that called me that morning last February. It all worked out in the end for this student but their weekend was ruined and it could have been avoided with a timely submission.

FAF$A TIME!

Happy October 1st! The FAFSA opens today so I thought it would be an appropriate time to talk about college costs. And I received a call over the weekend that provides a perfect introduction to what families need to think about as their children build college lists and where finances intersect with that process.

This past Saturday night I got a call from a mother with twin daughters that are seniors. Most people come to me by word of mouth so I asked her where she got my name and I was surprised to learn that she found me on google. We started to talk and a picture began to emerge that had red flags all over it.

This woman was a single mother in New York City. She worked two jobs and she did not have any support from the girls’ father. She started to talk to me about their list and that is where I got concerned. Her daughters were good students that were looking at schools all over the country, from public colleges in the University of California system, to small private schools, and everything in between, with no consideration to cost.

I asked her some general questions about what her tax return looked like and I started to walk her through some of the specifics of financial aid formulas. When a parent like this is looking at schools, it is critical to seek out colleges that are going to meet 100% of demonstrated need. This is complicated for this woman because those schools typically will require not only the FAFSA but the CSS/Profile. And the Profile schools will require BOTH parents to fill out the paperwork. This becomes a problem when the other parent is unwilling to cooperate or brings assets to the table that will eliminate aid but does not want to contribute to their child’s education. There are a small slice of schools that meet 100% of demonstrated need with just the Profile filled out by the custodial parent. These are colleges that would offer incredible aid to her bright daughters. The challenge is finding those schools and helping the girls (who have California dreams) discover some options within this niche, that could be good fits for them.

I was traveling when I took her call, and about to go out of cell range, so we made a date to speak during the week, between her two jobs, to help her sort this out and get her daughters pointed in the right direction. She asked me what I owed her for the call and I told her nothing and that our call on Tuesday would be of no charge. College funding is complicated and this hardworking mother needs help.

Every family has a unique financial situation that impacts how colleges will evaluate their ability to pay. Whether you are a straight W2 earner, own an LLC, have real estate with significant equity in your home or own a share of your grandmother’s lake house, or any other possible financial scenario, you should use the calculator below to determine your Expected Family Contribution and run net price calculators at any school your child is considering.

I suggest that families introduce college cost to the conversation early and often!

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/paying-your-share/expected-family-contribution-calculator?noload=Y

The Joy of College

This past Saturday I had a conversation with the parent of one of my students. This rising senior finished not only their Common Application and essay, but all of the supplemental writing that they need to do for the schools where they are applying. The parent told me about a casual conversation they had with the mom of a senior, who could not believe that my student had completed all of their application work. The other parent was stressed and concerned, as their child had not started any of the work. And it got me thinking about how much anxiety there is around this whole complex process of applying to college.

The very next day, I got a complete anxiety antidote. One of my biological children transferred to a public college in the state where I live and the drop off was on Sunday. We packed up the car and drove about ninety minutes. I wore a flowered dress but in a cute nod to the school, my husband sported a collared shirt in the school colors.

From the moment we approached the school gates, every last person, from security at the entrance, to my child’s RA, radiated enthusiasm. The organizational logistics were impeccable. (And since the new president is a female graduate of West Point, I was not surprised!) At each stage of the entry process, we had clear instructions for our next steps and if we had questions, there were people available to answer them.

The anxiety antidote hit me as we waited in line at the student center for the appointed time to check in. I could see that every type of car known to mankind was pulling in. There were luxury SUVs and ancient cars with rust, cracked windshields that were in need of a muffler. I saw an incredible level of racial and ethnic diversity. I heard other languages as well as parents that had learned English as a second language.

But here is the thing-the joy and pride was palpable. It felt like a college graduation. There was hardly a person that did not have on a shirt from the college. Parents, students, siblings, grandparents etc., all wore swag from the bookstore. My husband looked like a genius in his golf shirt and I felt like a fool in my flowered dress that had not one element of the school colors.

I stood in line, taking this all in and I was humbled. In the world where I live, the question is not, “Are you going to college?”, but “Where are you going to college?” And on this campus, there is a demographic where just arriving at college is a huge accomplishment. Indeed, when we arrived at my son’s suite, one of the other mothers congratulated me on my son enrolling at a four year institution. I spent several hours on campus and the words of Ted Fiske, the author of the famed Fiske Guide to Colleges echoed in my head: “The American system of higher education is a real treasure”.

So if you have a rising senior and you are feeling anxiety around this process, I realize my blog post will not get the actual application work done, but perhaps it can lend some context and perspective as you coax your child to work on their applications. If you would like to read more of the calm, soothing words of Mr. Fiske, my post, “Thoughts From Mr. Fiske (Or Calm in the Heart of the Application Season)” is here. Good luck!

It’s August 1st!

Happy August 1st! This is the day the Common Application opens for the 2022 admissions cycle. It’s an exciting month in the college world. Rising seniors can log in and see the supplemental essay prompts for the schools where they are applying. Recent high school graduates are preparing to head to their campuses later this month, signing up for classes, making lists, and shopping for dorm room supples. I thought I would use this special date to announce some changes at August Consulting.

Moving forward, I am separating all of my personal and professional social media on Facebook and Instagram. If you would like to follow along, you can join me on FB at August Consulting or on IG at august.consulting. I plan to use these sites to share timely information and resources as the admissions cycle progresses as well as news on prescient issues in college planning. If you have an adolescent in your house, come join me! I am working on several exciting projects right now that I hope to announce shortly. Right now, I am digging in to writing with my seniors. I hope your August is off to a great start!