Admissions Panel Reveals Secrets to Getting Admitted…

college-admissions-office-3-1.JPGWell, not really.  Last week my son and I went to hear a panel of college admissions officers speak regarding the college admissions process.  The format was interesting – each officer, rather than speaking specifically about their school, took a generic topic and provided some guidance and advice as it related to that topic.  No message was break-through, some advice rather obvious, but just the same, well worth listening to (especially for my 16 year old).

Following were some highlights that I thought worth mentioning.   For the sake of facilitating my summary, I’m going to write directing the advice to “you” being the teen-ager, not the wise woman.

1.  Preparing for the Interview: Do your homework prior to the interview.  Prior to visiting, understand what an interview means at each school – some are non-evaluative, some are evaluative.  Demonstrate that you have the knowledge about academic and student life by not asking the obvious questions that are easily found in published literature and online.  Ask questions that will give you a sense of how you will fit in – “What type of student does well at your school?” – for example.  Remember the thank you note – while some admissions officers probably don’t keep track, there are others that certainly do.

2.  Defining the “Hook:” One admissions officer from John Hopkins spoke about figuring out your “hook” in the process.  I’m not sure I was totally in sync with this discussion, as many times your “hook” may be totally out of your control.  For example, he spoke very specifically of who they were going to admit off their wait list – a very descriptive set of criteria – such as non-white, female, engineering only …. so the notion that you may be third on the wait list doesn’t carry any weight here – if you have the “hook,” even though you are the four hundredth on the wait list, you will be admitted.  Similarly he also noted that out of 50 majors, there were 5 that were very underrepresented – maybe 20 or less applicants per year.  So of course, if you can figure out which majors they are (he wouldn’t divulge), and if you want to be so bold as to go for it, this may just be your hook for admissions.

3. Social Media:  We, as parents, have all issued the warnings.  Privacy settings mean nothing, admissions officers do look, so be mindful of what gets posted.  Also, establish a professional email.

4.  Teacher Recommendations: The philosophy of “the more, the better” is not necessarily true.  One officer recommended to provide one more recommendation than is required – but that’s it.  Applicants should be sensitive to information overload – and the fact that having a lot more information in a folder than necessary detracts from spending time on more important aspects of the application.  Be direct and be selective.  While it is hard to “coach” those who may write a recommendation for you, the best references are the ones that can speak to a story, how a student approached a certain problem or the energy they bring to the task at hand (as examples).  For this reason, select those who know you best.  A reference talking about the generalities of being a bright, well liked student leader are a dime a dozen.

5.  Summer Vacation: Use your summers to do something that you care about and to learn and define your interests.

6.  The Essay: Much of the same advice in the recommendation section is true here as well.  Writing an essay that can define your passions and the essence of you in a creative way is your best chance of getting noticed.  Case in point – two admissions officers noted their favorite essays.  Both happened to be from engineering applicants.  One essay was on how to construct a sandwich; the other was about how to hit a pistachio nut against the wall without breaking it.  Go figure, but you certainly can’t discount the uniqueness of this approach.

Lastly, and perhaps the best advice, there was a discussion on the value of sanity.  Find the space to center yourself. Don’t lose sight of what’s important to you; define your course and follow it, and try not to get caught up in the craziness of what’s going on around you, and what others are doing or not doing.  I imagine for most of our children, they can do this.  The real question is, can we?!

More News on College Strategies

CollegeCampusMy son, David, and I went to a College Information Night last week sponsored by Chyten Educational Services.  While it certainly was a way for this outfit to raise awareness of their services, it was a very informative evening.  I know I have a maturing son on my hands when he left the meeting telling me that he enjoyed the evening and that there was a lot of good information shared.

Most people in the audience were Juniors – the year of heavy lifting in the college search process – the year students need to treat the college process as a part time job or at least an additional class.  However, if students are disciplined to get out in front of it enough in their sophomore year, from what I’ve heard so far the two best things to do are to:

1.  Write your resume – and let it be a tool that can be built upon over the next 2.5 years.  By starting early with it, and getting things down on paper, students won’t forgot anything, and maybe more importantly it points out where some holes may be that need to be filled in.  It also forces them to assess their key strengths.

2.  Develop the College Roadmap - Identify 2-3 “Reach” schools, 2-3 “Target” Schools (student’s background closely models what college is looking for) and 2-3 “Likely” schools.  I can understand for many (and probably most) it’s hard to know where to begin – there are so many choices out there.  There are a couple of online assessment tools – one at collegeboard.com and another called Naviance, which many High School guidance offices have, which can help start navigating this process.  (Naviance was the one most recommended). By asking certain key questions – size, geography, urban vs. suburban, etc., students can start narrowing down the field.  I imagine it would be a comfort to both student and parent to start Junior year with at least a roadmap of those schools that you know you want to visit and potentially apply to.

Now, I understand that these words of wisdom may only be a parent’s dream.  What kid ever gets started on something before the very last minute?  Not too many, but I will continue to chirp my suggestions.  There have been a few unscheduled homework free afternoons where I’ve suggested taking a stab at that resume.  Any results?  Not yet, but I’ll keep trying!

Tip Hotline for Applying to College

college-admissionsI know some of you have already been through the college admissions process with your children – and from what I hear, it’s an arduous, stressful time for all.  I have a high school sophomore, and Elaine has a junior.  I know junior year is the year of discovery – doing the homework to determine that list of colleges that seem to suit, getting prepared for and taking the SATs, and ACTs.  While my son is a good year away from being in the thick of it, I find myself getting very keyed into any conversations I hear about preparing for college – and I know that we have a great deal to learn from each other – strategies to help us maintain our sanity.

To that end, I’m going to create a category called College Tips.  I know many of you have wisdom to share, and I would love to hear about your insights whether it is through the comments on this blog, or if you would like to be a guest blogger we would welcome it at anytime.

Thus far, following are some tid bits that have been shared with me:

1.  PSATS do matter.  PSATs are typically taken for practice in the fall of sophomore year. In the fall of Junior year, they are taken again, but this time the results are used to identify National Merit Scholars.  With a certain score, students can be eligible for National Merit Scholarships.  If warranted, this makes me think we should invest in a SAT prepatory course prior to PSATs.

2.  Wrap up the SAT spring of Junior year.  Take the last SAT in the spring of Junior year, so it’s behind the student when they have many other stresses upon them Senior fall. One parent told me to sign up my son for SATs every month in the spring – March, April, May, June.  While this may be overkill, most students typically improve every time they take the test, and again, the goal is to be done by the end of Junior year.

3.  Ask teachers and coaches for college recommendations in the spring of Junior year.  The teachers become inundated with requests Senior fall – and it is more likely that a recommendation can be inadvertently overlooked, potentially making an application incomplete – and thereby late.

4.  Spend the summer before Senior year writing one stellar essay. Landing on the right topic and story that differentiates a person takes lots of time and lots of drafts.

5.  Prepare a student resume. My son’s guidance counselor gave him a sample resume and suggested he create his own.  Apparently some colleges do request these resumes, but I also believe it’s a great tool to use early on to help (1) capture activities, honors, etc. that  may be overlooked or forgotten about when it comes down to application crunch time and (2) it helps identify the “holes” that may currently exist so the student can focus on filling in some important gaps.  Community service may be an example of this.

So that’s the start of this category.  As I learn more, I will add to the list.  And I know there’s a lot of wisdom out there to share, so please do!

I believe the art of living consists not so much in complicating simple things as in simplifying things that are not.
Francois Hertel

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