Applying to college can feel like the mix between a sprint and a marathon in the fall. Address one critical part of the process now, to make it easier when you are back in school this fall. Rising high school seniors should use the end of the school year to ask potential recommenders for a letter of recommendation on their behalf in the fall. While it may be too soon to formally request a letter of recommendation from a teacher and provide her with the necessary background information like a resume and your plans for college to write a quality letter, it is still an excellent opportunity to provide recommenders with notice that you would like to ask them to write on your behalf.
At many high schools with large class sizes, teachers may receive dozens of requests to write letters of recommendation. Great letters take time to write. The more notice a teacher has, the more they can plan accordingly and budget their time. If a teacher agrees to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf, ask her what materials she will need to write a strong letter. Many high schools have formal requirements for students to submit information packets to recommenders to help them write a recommendation, but a teacher may rely on specific information from students to write an insightful and compelling letter of recommendation.
The bottom line is, applicants, make the job as easy as possible on those who have agreed to help you, on their own time, get into college!
This Summer, Make Progress With a Foreign Language to Strengthen Your College Applications and Build Valuable Life Skills
There is a reason why colleges ask applicants to list foreign languages that applicants are fluent in, and why admissions officers assess applicants’ foreign language coursework and SAT Subject Test scores: college admissions officers value foreign language skills. Moreover, many colleges have a foreign language requirement for their students and encourage them to study abroad to improve their foreign language abilities.
Colleges recognize that their graduates must be prepared to work in an increasingly global market for talent and ideas. By demonstrating competence in a foreign language before college, an applicant can signal to an admissions officer that she will advance a college’s efforts to prepare its students for the global workplace.
Embarking on the path to becoming fluent in a foreign language may be one of the best things future college students can do in middle and high school. Not only will it strengthen their college applications, becoming fluent also sets students up for success when it comes time to apply to grad school and jobs after college. Many medical schools give preference to applicants who are fluent in Spanish as their hospitals cater to Spanish-speaking populations. Financial services firms, marketing firms, and tech companies also seek applicants able to work in emerging markets like China and Latin America.
Consider foreign languages that will help not just with the college application process, but also with the job market after college. My ability to speak fluent Spanish landed me a coveted Wall Street internship in college that I probably would not have gotten if I did not speak Spanish. Learning Portuguese helped me get a job after college that again, would have been beyond my reach Spanish and Mandarin are particularly useful as Latin America and China are the United States’ two biggest trade partners.
To all of the mothers shuttling their kids to sports practices, finding tutors, and even more importantly, building their children up, reinforcing their confidence, and helping them discover who they are along the way, a very happy Mother’s Day!
As the competition to earn admission to many of the most selective universities in the US skyrockets, we are confronted with the present reality: many students need support to earn admission. Colleges now seek specialists to build a well-rounded class. Student do not need to excel in every field they are involved with. To the parents reading this, remind your children to focus on what matters most in this process: their passions. Not only will this help them stand out, it will provide students a reason for working so hard to earn admission.
As the norm for staying up later and later each night to work on homework becomes more prevalent, remind your children that in college, students take four or five classes a term, and it is not necessary to take six college level classes each semester in high school to get into their dream college.
As students search for some magic bullet and confront the pitfalls of group think, remind them to forge their own path in this process. Admissions officers value unique perspective and want to understand what makes each applicant tick as part of the admissions process. Encourage your child to tailor the college admissions process to their personal growth. This will make the entire process more rewarding and result in more authentic and compelling applications.
Finally, as students are bombarded with homework, sports practices, music lessons, community service commitments, and all the other pressures of being a teenager, help them prioritize what matters the most at each stage in this process. Serve as a sanity check for a stressful process and provide guidance when needed.
Thank you for being your children’s biggest advocates in this process.
For every student that has it all figured out there is one that doesn’t. That is OK. High school is about exploring what inspires our children.
Given how busy our kids are, it may seem challenging to empower them to find their passions. The most important part of helping out kids find them is to give them the time to do so. Be strategic with their time. Before committing to an activity or class that requires a large time commitment, ask why they are signing up for it and if they are genuinely interested in it.
Sometimes identifying a passion requires us to work backwards. Asking where a student sees herself in ten years often yields interesting and unexpected answers. We can work backwards if we have an interest in a destination. Identifying opportunities that are consistent with what a student wants to do later motivates them as it becomes clearer that their efforts are linked to their own unique goal. Often this requires suggestions for something that builds off an existing skill set. A student who loves video games may find coding to make them exciting, while a student that loves playing basketball may see the connection to sports medicine.
Do not be afraid to tie exploring passions to students’ favorite hobbies, even if they are not academic in nature. I work with a student who is a dedicated surfer. Some may ask how surfing can be tied to a college application. That question misses the mark. Successful college applications can be based on any activity that matters to an applicant. In this case we wanted to demonstrate the positive role that surfing plays for him and others. The student tied surfing to fundraising for a cure for a disease. This student created amazing surf calendars to sell and donates the proceeds to a disease research foundation. He was able to tie surfing to his interest in healthcare. While this student is genuinely interested in healthcare, we can motivate our students to explore their interests by creating a link with career paths to the activities that our kids love to participate in.
Be open minded and work together creatively to explore what excites them. This may involve trial and error, but they will become wiser and stronger as they determine who they are and what they want to become.
High school is incredibly busy with classes, sports, community service, and clubs. Take a moment, and ask if you are developing as a leader. Leadership experience will not only give you the confidence to thrive in college and beyond, but is highly regarded by college admissions officers.
College admissions officers reward leaders, not followers. Admissions officers look for the next generation of student leaders to propel their college forward. Make sure you are demonstrating that you are a strong leader throughout high school. If involved in any service organizations or clubs through high school, try to hold a leadership position. You will be better off starting an organization than joining one as a member.
Make sure you keep track of your accomplishments as a student leader in a notebook. College applications will ask you To list the amount of time spent in each activity. You will also have the opportunity to share any notable accomplishments leading an activity in the applications as well.
As a college counselor, one of the most common things I hear from parents and students alike who are worried about the college admissions office, is their fear of the SAT and ACT due to test anxiety.
The SAT and ACT are challenging tests that require weeks, and sometimes months, of studying. They cause fear in students and parents alike because they know how much is riding on them to earn admission to their dream college.
In the best of circumstances, when a test has little riding on it, it can still make a student nervous and anxious. So imagine, when a student feels that her entire future is riding on it… When students feel like their whole world depends on their performance on one particular Saturday morning, it can cause a test taker to feel a lot of anxiety and even freeze on test day.
We need to ensure that our students are capable of scoring to their full potential. To do so, we need them to be calm and confident on test day.
The best way for students to overcome test anxiety is to feel the necessary foundation is in place so they can score to their full potential. This comes through effective test prep. Knowing that they have the tools at their disposal to spot trap answers, analyze reading comprehension passages in advance of the questions, and break down trigonometry equations, is what calms down a nervous student on test day.
As summer approaches, the best thing a tenth or eleventh grade student can do to reduce their anxiety of taking the SAT or ACT is to dedicate themselves to a test prep program with proven results of increasing scores. The time they invest in test prep will give them the tools to succeed on the test and, perhaps just as important, the confidence to succeed during the test.
Wishing you the utmost success come test day. Before that, wishing you a productive summer.
Put yourself in the position to succeed when it matters.
Justice Department Investigation into College Collusion Over Early Decisions Applications Highlights the Importance of Playing by College Application Rules
This past week, the US Department of Justice announced that it was starting an investigation into whether the agreements colleges have to share information about which applicants are applying early to them violates federal antitrust laws (click here to access a recent article covering the DOJ move in Inside Higher Ed).
The investigation belies the point that matters for prospective applicants: colleges have agreements in place to see if students are applying early decision to more than one college.
Why does this matter for families preparing to go through the college admissions process?
Early Decision is an admission program offered by many colleges. Students apply early, usually by November 1st, and find out within one to two months whether they have been admitted. Many highly selective colleges fill up to half of their spots through early application programs and, depending on the school, applying early may significantly boost an applicant’s odds of admission.
Applying early decision sends the strong message that the particular college is an applicant’s top choice. As part of the program, applicants must agree to only apply early decision to one college, and if accepted are obligated to attend (and withdraw any regular applications submitted elsewhere). For many, applying early pursuant to early decision rules is part of the strategy that students use to earn admission to their dream college.
Many students and parents, aware of the boost that applying early affords at some schools, have asked me in the past, why they cannot apply early decision to multiple schools and then just renege on the ones they do not want to attend after they hear back from all of their early applications.
The fact that there are agreements in place between colleges to report to each other who is applying early is exactly the reason why. Violating the rules will result in a rejection among the schools that share this information.
It is not worth it to break the rules when applying to college. Doing so is likely to result in a rejection. More importantly, doing so deprives students of the chance to learn how to be strategic in a way that makes them stand out. Earning admission is not about breaking the rules or gaming the system, it is about learning how to be strategic and creative to develop a niche and stand out from other high achieving applicants.
Feel free to contact us if you have questions about early decisions admissions programs and to discuss whether there is an early program that is a great fit for you.
April brings the coveted acceptance letters that many students have been chasing throughout high school. For many it also brings heartache in the form of a skinny envelope or distant email that usually begins with something along the lines of “We regret to inform…”.
The anguish is well documented in the news—especially in California, where many of the University of California campuses boast some of the most competitive application processes in the country.
As the number of applicants to highly selective colleges skyrockets, the statistics speak for themselves: five percent acceptance rates that result in the overwhelming majority of students with perfect grades and test scores being rejected from their top choice colleges.
Yes, great grades and test scores do not earn students a spot at their dream schools, whether it is Stanford or UCLA. Students must do something to stand out of the warehouses of applications that are submitted to coveted colleges each year.
While the competition may seem daunting, there is a silver lining to it. Students are no longer expected to be well rounded in everything as colleges have enough applicants to construct a well-rounded class with specialists with different passions and skills. Your child can focus on what she truly cares about and avoid the temptation of being involved in too many activities that do not matter in this process.
Students can show their ability to make a difference in their community, write essays that demonstrate the perspective they will bring with them to college, and dedicate themselves to pursuing what matters most to them… whichever means they choose to express their passion, following their own path will enable them to stand out and increase their odds of admission.
Following others into routine activities will likely lead your child to blend in with the tens of thousands of other high-achieving applicants and make it much more difficult to get in.
As we approach the summer, treat it as an opportunity for your child to explore her passions and do something that demonstrates her ability to pursue them.
To read the latest article from San Jose’s The Mercury News highlighting how the college admissions process is changing, click here.
Feel free to contact us to discuss personal plans for your child to make this summer count and to make her much more than a GPA or test score to college admissions officers.
Summer—it is just around the corner. We may idealize it as a time for sleeping in, playing outside, and freedom from homework. While that sounds nice, it is also a great opportunity to encourage your child to develop skills, passions, and interests that will add to her personal growth and set her apart from the thousands of other talented college applicants. Now the time sign up for activities that enable your child to grow as a person. Consider the following possibilities for summer:
A summer internship in an area your child is interested in strengthens her application by demonstrating dedication and passion. For example, your child may be interested in becoming an Engineer. What better way to develop her academic and professional interests and to stand out in the college application process than with a guided summer research project like those offered at Southern California Science Academy. Summer participants are mentored by an expert in a student’s field of interest and present their written findings the following school year. Find similar programs in your community based on your child’s interests.
2. Summer school
Summer is a great time to take a class at local four-year or community college. Your child can use summer school to accelerate her studies in a field, alleviate some of the pressure of her course load during the school year, or delve further into a field that interests her. By doing well in a college class, your child will demonstrate her ability to handle college level coursework, which is what admissions officers look for first and foremost in applicants.
3. Service or interest organizations
Whatever cause or interest your child is passionate about, encourage her to assume a leadership position in it. Leading a community service organization will connect your child to something bigger than she is, while she develops coveted leadership experience. College admissions officers seek leaders with demonstrated experience and success to propel their student-run organizations forward.
4. International experience
Colleges seek applicants who are able to work abroad and with people from all over the world. As a result, many selective colleges, require applicants to study a foreign language in high school, and after they enroll, demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language to graduate from college. Your family could consider an international experience that fits your child’s interests and foreign language studies to demonstrate her international awareness and ability to meet any foreign language requirements. For example, an applicant studying Spanish that is interested in medicine could volunteer with a medical mission in Mexico over the summer. The experience would strengthen her Spanish language skills, demonstrate her interest in a particular field (medicine), and highlight the applicant’s commitment to service—all important components of the college application that admissions officers value.
The most important part of the college application process is to stay true to the skills, passions, and interests that make your child unique. By encouraging your child to excel in what matters most to her, she will develop the skills and leadership that college admissions officers covet.
Congratulations! Your child is in. Until now, college has been a sellers’ market. Everything your child has done in the application process was to convince selective colleges to admit her. Now, it is a buyer’s market as colleges compete to get your child to enroll. As the joy of earning admission gives way to the anxiety of figuring out how to pay for college, consider the following to reduce the cost of your child’s college education:
1. Determine if the college is offering your child real financial aid
Colleges will send financial aid packages either with their admission offers or in the following days. Colleges classify loans as “financial aid.” These loans are not aid, as they will leave your family or child with debt. Identify in the financial aid package any loan offers. Your goal is to reduce the cost of your child’s college education by converting these loans to merit scholarships and/or need-based grants that do not need to be repaid.
2. Negotiate larger merit scholarships
The size of a merit scholarship your child has received is not set in stone. Colleges can match scholarships from colleges that are similar with respect to ranking and admission requirements to entice your child to enroll. Your child should adopt a hard bargaining position, schedule a call with her designated admissions officer, and tell that admissions officer that she requires a larger scholarship that matches other scholarships she has received to enroll at that college. As an admitted student, your child has the leverage to negotiate.
3. Ask for more need-based grants
With a college education costing as much as $120,000 for a public university and over $280,000 for a private university, who doesn’t demonstrate a need for help with paying for college? If your child’s financial aid package does not reflect your family’s ability to pay for that college, call your child’s assigned financial aid officer, explain your family’s financial situation, and ask for a reevaluation of grant award it has offered. Financial aid officers may require additional documentation for a reevaluation, but filling out supplemental aid applications may result in additional grants.