The importance of the SAT and ACT has long been a subject of debate among prospective students, parents, and college counselors who fervently search for the secret to unlocking admission at a top university. With more and more students scoring better and better on standardized tests, colleges are beginning to put less emphasis on the standardized tests which keep anxious high school students up at night, and more emphasis on the extracurriculars which paint a more realistic picture of a student’s merits.
This is corroborated by Brown University’s recent decision to end the requirement for applicants to submit their standardized testing essay scores. Now, with all Ivy League universities dropping the SAT and ACT writing requirements, students are left to wonder whether they should take the essay, and how much time to spend on studying for standardized tests.
The truth is that the dropping of the essay requirements on standardized tests is an indicator that colleges want to see students in a more holistic light. Standardized test scores are now qualifiers that ensure your ability to compete in the main event rather than golden tickets to admission. It is important, for example, that a student has a high SAT/ACT score when applying to an Ivy League university, but it certainly won’t be on admissions officers minds when deciding whether to admit that individual.
A good tutoring service is essential to students who want to familiarize themselves with standardized tests and meet a specific score. However, a student with a 34 on the ACT versus a student with a 36 has an almost equal shot at getting into a top tier school. Once a student has cleared the bar and scored well on the test—as most students in top high schools do—it is up to their extracurriculars to do the heavy lifting and earn them admission.
Each year, Stanford selects three books for its incoming class to read. This year’s list encompasses a theme of globality and migration.
Stanford’s 2018 list can be found here.
Great readers become great writers, and applicants seeking to earn admission to Stanford and other selective colleges will be required to write essays that show perspective.
Simply focusing on the essays when evaluating this year’s list would miss a bigger point: colleges are looking for students with appreciation for other parts of the world. We live in an interconnected world. Colleges are looking for the next generation of problem solvers who can apply their education to address serious issues at home and abroad. It is part of the reason there is a foreign language requirement and that colleges take into consideration community service as part of the admissions process.
In short, colleges are looking for students with demonstrated aptitude to contributing to a global marketplace of ideas and solutions for tough problems at home and abroad. Tailor high school experiences to demonstrate an openness to different cultures and ideas. Continue with foreign language studies that reinforce this. Most importantly, not just for the applications, but for your personal development, expose yourself to different people, places, ideas, and issues, so you can gain a perspective to address them in the years to come.
As a college counselor, I have lost track of how many times I have been asked, “How do I get into Stanford?” or that a student needs help getting into Harvard, or some other insanely selective school that only accepts 5% of its applicants. These are fair questions, but I think they miss the point. Yes, these colleges have incredible reputations and afford their students spectacular opportunities to learn. But before our students stay up all night, every night, working tirelessly to get in: ask if these schools are the right fit.
A parent forwarded me an article about the most popular class at Yale, which teaches students how to be happy (hint: read the article—it is very insightful). I think it is fantastic that a school like Yale teaches students about happiness, and equally depressing that we have gotten to the point that we do not know how to be happy. Many of the students who are in the class probably have worked since they were in diapers to get into Yale, only to realize when they arrive there that the status alone is not enough to make them happy.
It is not just an Ivy League problem. According to a recent survey by the American College Health Association, 52 percent of students reported feeling hopeless, while 39 percent suffered from such severe depression that they had found it difficult to function at some point during the previous year.
This is not acceptable.
We must work with our kids to ensure that they attend a school that is healthy for them and build them up to enjoy it when they get there. Factors relevant for mental health include location, proximity to home, weather, competition and class difficulty, access to resources and activities that excite and motivate students, and an ability to fit in.
There is no perfect school for any one of our students. A student can achieve her goals wherever she attends so long as she is happy. Not every day of college will be a happy day, and that is OK. Finals are stressful. Living with a stranger in a dorm room smaller than a closet can be stressful. But learning how to overcome these challenges and smile along the way is a priceless part of a college education.
There is no right answer to “What college will make me/my child happy?” In high school, focus on developing passions that will guide our students when they arrive at college. Prioritize our students’ well-being and have honest conversations about which colleges and programs are the best fit.
Wishing your entire family happiness and enjoyment along the way.
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.