I hope some of you find it useful because I see apostrophe errors ALL around me!
I hope some of you find it useful because I see apostrophe errors ALL around me!
For the last several years – and for the foreseeable future – most students apply to college using the Common App.
When I was a student back in the days of Plato, if I wanted to apply to a college, I wrote to get their application, when I received it I filled it out in blue or black ink, I attached all my documentation in the order requested including my parents’ check, I mailed it back to the college, and I waited.
When I first started helping students with the application process over 25 years ago, the student would request an application online, receive a link to that application, print it out at home, fill it out, and mail it in.
Now nearly everyone uses the Common App. You complete one application, enter a dozen or more college names, and click send. Within a day or two, you get a confirmation from each college that your application has been received, and you get periodic updates with invitations to visit, notices about parts of the application received, and, when the spring comes, a link to find out whether you got in or not. The “fat envelope” or “thin envelope” metaphor is an anachronism.
Beware! Don’t let the deceptively simple format fool you into believing you can just dash off the application without much effort required. Each part of the Common App requires a deft hand and a certain technique.
Here are some of my best tips:
You should aim to complete the Common App including the essay by October 15th at the latest, whether you’ll be applying to any schools early decision, early action, or just regular decision. An application sent in October shows the college you’re eager, organized, and serious, and it gives your guidance department time to make sure all of the parts have been submitted well before the deadline.
Good luck, and you know where to find me if you have questions!
As I wrote in Part 1 of this “What Do Colleges Want” essay, colleges want you to be bright, engaged, a leader, talented — and they want you to score well on standardized tests, too (and if you play an unusual sport, that’s a big bonus)!
So what can you do if you’re just a regular student who does pretty well in school, participates in a few activities, has SAT or ACT scores that aren’t too bad — just like all of your friends? If a college has two or three or 10 or 100 students like you, how does it choose whom to admit?
One factor that colleges use to influence admission decisions (and this factor has become increasingly important in the last 3 – 4 years) is demonstrated interest, which means how much you, the student, really care about going to that school.
How do they know if you really care? How do colleges judge demonstrated interest? Well, you’ve got to DEMONSTRATE interest (clever, right?). That means you have to do some or all of these:
Just applying early action alone isn’t sufficient to demonstrate interest. The school needs to know you’ve spent time checking it out. The school needs to know you’re applying not just because it’s easy to click “submit” on the Common App, but because you think you’d be a really good fit for that school for reasons other than it looks like it fits your criteria on paper.
One of the statistics colleges report is “yield,” which means how many of the kids who apply and get accepted actually do attend that school. Your local average college probably has a mediocre yield. Harvard and MIT have yields over 95%, meaning nearly everyone who gets in does go. By accepting students who have demonstrated interest, colleges are more likely to increase their yield. The more effort you put into investigating and engaging with a school, the more likely – the school believes – that you’ll say yes to the school if it says yes to you. And all schools want a high yield.
So if you want to differentiate yourself from others with your same GPA, your same SAT/ACT scores, your same demographic, your same hobbies, exert yourself, get out there, and demonstrate your interest. It might well make the difference between “Sorry, we had so many qualified candidates” and “Welcome, you’re accepted”!
I’m glad you asked, because there are indeed concrete steps you can take to enhance your college application whether you’re in 9th grade dreaming of college, a senior overwhelmed with the process of college applications, or any student (or parent) in between.
First, a little background. When I first started advising students about how to get into a college that would be a great fit for them about 29 years ago, most colleges were looking for the “well-rounded” student. The ideal applicant would get good grades, have high SAT scores, belong to several school clubs, play a sport, and perhaps even dance or sing or play an instrument. The more areas in which a student showed competence, the more attractive the applicant.
About 15 years ago, there was a shift. Colleges decided that they could have a well-rounded freshman class even if each student wasn’t well-rounded. In fact, perhaps a college could build a stellar class if they chose some students who were brilliant academically but had no other activities, some athletes who were stars on the field but didn’t test well and didn’t have wonderful grades, some virtuoso cellists who had played Carnegie Hall but never joined a club or held a job, and so on. Colleges were looking for “passion,” drive, and singular achievement.
About 7 or 8 years ago, there was another shift. Colleges found that sometimes star athletes, world-class musicians, and brilliant students kept those interests isolated from everything else in their lives, and so didn’t add much to the school environment. Now, colleges are looking for something I call “consistency.” They want to see that your interest or talent pervades your life, that you don’t merely dance or play lacrosse because someone said it would look good on an application. They want to see how you use that interest throughout your life. So if you dance, they want to see that you work part-time in a dance studio helping younger dancers, that you and your friends give free dance performances each Christmas in the local senior center, that you dance in your local dance group, that you’ve organized a dance group for your school. If you play lacrosse, they want to see you get paid for coaching lacrosse, they want to see you spend your summers at a lacrosse training camp, they want to see you volunteer to coach kids in some sport in your nearest inner city Boy’s Club. Your in-school, out-of-school, volunteer, and paid work should all be organized around your interest, talent, or ability.
The best applicants actually DO have a pervasive, enduring interest that shows itself in every aspect of their lives (while those applicants also get good grades and have good scores). But if you know that’s what colleges are looking for, you can give them what they want. Instead of going on your church’s midnight run to give food to the homeless in the city (or in addition to that), be sure you look for volunteer opportunities that complement your “interest.” Better yet, create volunteer opportunities that both reflect your interest and highlight your leadership abilities. Be thoughtful about how you spend your summers. If you’re an athlete, camp or life-guarding is fine, but if you want to be an engineer, perhaps working theater tech for local community theater is better. Choose after school activities wisely. If your strength is academics, you may want to join the prom committee, but the debate club might be a better choice.
In many ways, I’m sorry for this trend. I do think 14- , 15- , 16- , and 17-year old students should be exploring lots of interests. How do you know if the chorus isn’t for you until you try it? Maybe you’ll find that the Model U.N. ignites a passion for public service in you. Maybe not, but you won’t know until you try. So on the one hand, I’m giving you advice I don’t believe. I don’t believe young people should be hyper-focused on one passion. Your “passion” at 15 might bear no resemblance to your “passion” at 17 — and that’s how it should be.
On the other hand, people do pay me for my years of expertise about how to get into their top choice college — and telling students to focus, focus, focus on their grades and one big talent or interest will absolutely differentiate that student from the thousands of other smart, suburban, perfectly likable and capable students who will compete for a limited number of spots at that college. So you need to decide whether your passion or talent is enduring or a passing flirtation, and how important it is for you to tailor your activities (beginning in 9th grade, if possible) based on college acceptance. Or maybe this advice gives you permission to resign from clubs and activities that don’t light your fire in favor of those that feed your passion. Feel free to comment (politely).
Shortly, I’ll write about other aspects of a college application over which students have control so they can give the college what they want. Stay tuned!
You wooed them. They flirted back with glossy pamphlets and flattery. You’ve proposed, they’ve accepted, and you expect to walk arm and arm happily into the sunset — just you and the school of your dreams. Now that you’ve said “I do,” all you have to do is put that sticker on the back of your car, and you and your school will build a 4-year relationship together.
Not so fast.
A few years ago, the New York Times printed this article warning kids not to let their grades slip too far in senior year:
It warns “slackers” that colleges will and regularly do pull offers of admittance if a student’s grades slip too much. You have to submit your year-end grades to the school you’ve chosen, and if the college doesn’t like what it sees, it has a long waiting list of eager students still batting their eyelashes at your school.
I believe the New York Times. Most of the colleges they referenced were large state schools (the kind with affordable tuition) who have too many students to care if you fill that last dorm room or another student does, one more serious about learning and schooling whose grades not only didn’t drop but might have even improved over the past few months.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling recently updated its article on the same topic, confirming that colleges do indeed rescind admissions offers if they must.
If you have a legitimate excuse for why your grades are dropping, contact your college as soon as you realize what’s happening. A legitimate excuse might be a recent serious illness — your own or a parent’s.
If you merely have an advanced case of senioritis, that’s not an excuse.
Remember, colleges don’t see your third quarter grades, but they do see your final transcript. If your grades start to drop, do something!
The weather is warm, the prom is coming, and English is boring, but keep it up for just a little longer. It’s hard to get that sticker off your car window!
It’s not at all too early to be visiting colleges. Think about your schedule by backing up: You probably want to apply to many colleges early action, which means getting the applications submitted by October of Senior year. That means you have to have a good idea of which colleges you’ll be applying to by July or August following Junior year so you can get started on your application essay and have it finished by September. That means you’ve got to visit colleges in the spring of your Junior year in high school BEFORE the students who attend college leave for the summer (so you can get an accurate sense of what sort of kids go there and whether you’d feel at home with them) so you can write your essay(s) over the summer. That means you’ve got to visit before May when colleges have finals week followed by a mass exodus of students from campus. That means you’ve got to visit colleges by March or April. What month is this? Do you still think you’ve got plenty of time to visit colleges?
Here’s some sensible advice:
1. You should plan to visit schools by geography. Many kids from my area of the US do a loop around Pennsylvania (Bucknell, Lafayette, Lehigh, maybe UDelaware), Or they do the Boston area run (Boston College, Boston University, Tufts, Brandeis, Northeastern, maybe Emerson). Or perhaps the New York State trip (SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Cortland, Cornell/Ithaca College, Syracuse). You may want to visit a few colleges in the same general area, but I think you should limit yourself to two or three a day; otherwise, the whole experience can be overwhelming. Make hotel reservations if you think you’ll need them, and ask your parents to take a couple of Mondays or Fridays off work.
2. Sign up online for tours. Some schools print a schedule and you are welcome to go on any tour that’s convenient, but many others require you to sign up in advance. Do that. You’ll get a much, much better sense of the school on a tour than just wandering around on your own.
3, Find out if you can interview with an admissions person. Very often, they’ll have something called an information session or a one-on-one with someone in admissions. If that’s available, take advantage of the opportunity to make a good impression. Whether it’s a real interview or just a meet-and-greet, dress casually but be clean and neat, smile and shake hands, and have a few questions ready (and make sure the answers aren’t on the school’s website). Good questions might be about your major (How easy is it to change majors? How many professors are in that department? How many students graduate with that major? Does the school assign a faculty advisor to you?), about housing (Do they house all freshman together? Are there substance-free houses or theme houses? Do they guarantee housing for sophomores and juniors?), or anything else that interests you.
4. While you’re at the interview or while you’re walking around the science building/ performing arts center/ library/ other building of interest, send your parents to the cafeteria. You can meet them there afterwards. NO parents should go with you on an interview ever, even if the school allows it. Having Mom or Dad go with you to meet the admissions person gives the impression that your parents don’t trust you to handle the interview on your own. Instead, parents should be in the cafeteria, asking students questions that would embarrass their children to hear. Parents, your job is to find a typical student and approach him or her with questions like, “Would you choose this school again? If you had a cousin interested in economics (or whatever major your student is interested in), would you send him here? What’s the worst thing about this school?” You’d be surprised how honest students can be.
5. Take pictures as you go around on tours or write on brochures. Six months from now, you won’t remember which schools had the great dining halls or the up-to-date science labs.
It’s not imperative that you visit every school you will apply to, but you want to take a look at several schools that are on your “probably” list. If you get into Harvard, do you care what the dorms look like? If you only get into a school on the bottom of your safety list, who cares what the student lounges are like – you’re going or you’ll stay home. You might want to see one urban, one suburban, and one rural school. You might want to see a large school and a small school.
I do get that the very idea of visiting schools is intimidating. Sitting down to make a provisional list can seem overwhelming. Start with your guidance counselor. He or she can give you a great starting list if you share what your preferences and goals are. Or start online with collegeboard.org or get the paid subscription offered by US News ($30 for the year and VERY well worth it, in my opinion. Get a list going, plan your visits, coordinate your schedule with your parents, and go. After you visit the first school, you’ll find the next ones much less scary.
If you really feel stuck and don’t know where or how to build a list, I can help. Schedule a session with me and we’ll work it out together.
Have you taken the old SAT but you weren’t thrilled with your scores and would like to take the test again? Bad luck! Students who signed up for the January test took the last test of the old variety. Sadly, the new SAT is nothing like the old SAT, but it IS astonishingly like the ACT. Why? Well, the College Board says it’s to align their test more closely with the Common Core, but I think it’s because more students in the U.S. over the past two years took the ACTs than the SATs — and there’s no sign that the trend is slowing down.
I don’t know of one college that doesn’t accept either the SAT or the ACT. There indeed used to be a preference for the SAT among the east coast and west coast colleges and among the most elite schools, but that’s no longer true. Whichever test you feel best reflects your abilities is fine for all American colleges.
For the majority of my students, the ACT is the way to go, at least for the next two years until the College Board works out the kinks in the new SAT. If you do decide to take the new SAT, be aware that you won’t get your scores back until at least May (at least that’s what the College Board is saying now). Furthermore, there are only four practice SATs of the new variety, but there are plenty of old ACTs around to practice on. Disappointingly, the SATs had promised guidance counselors and tutors that there would be several new practice tests prepared by the Khan Academy online tutoring site, but when the College Board received the proposed tests, they scrapped them. No one knows when additional SAT practice tests will be available. Just as disappointingly, the ACT people had promised a new book in January, because the ACTs changed as well. Their changes were subtle, and perhaps no one but a tutor who works with those tests 5 or 6 days a week would notice the changes, but it would have been nice to have new tests. A new book was indeed published in January — but it had the exact same tests as the old book! The ACT people admitted that their new tests weren’t ready, but they needed to put out a new book to fulfill a contractual obligation to a new printer. So if you’re going to take the ACTs, buy the least expensive version of the book you can find as long as it has 5 practice tests.
So you can compare the old SAT, the new/current SAT, and the ACT, I’ve included a handy chart below. Let me know if you have any questions.
|old SAT||new SAT||ACT|
|number of choices in multiple choice question||5||4||4 (most sections)|
|penalty for guessing||yes||no||no|
|questions range from easy to hard||yes||no, except math||no|
|multiple choice sections||9||4||4|
|overall length – multiple choice sections||200 min.||180 min.||175 min.|
|length of shortest section||10 min.||25 min.||35 min.|
|length of longest section||25 min.||65 min.||60 min.|
|sections alternate (random order)||yes||no||no|
|problem solutions in practice book||no||yes||yes|
|old SAT||new SAT||ACT|
|New SAT scores for March will not be back until May|
|Years of practice tests for ACT, but only four practice tests for SAT|
|Optional essay isn’t really optional on either test – many colleges require the essay section|
|Colleges don’t prefer one test over the other|
|old SAT||new SAT||ACT|
|number of math sections||3||2||1|
|focus on geometry||yes||no||no|
|logic questions in math section||yes||no||no|
|calculator permitted||all math sections||some math sections||all math sections|
|essay length||25 min.||50 min.||40 min.|
|essay affects overall combined score||yes||no||no|
|graph/chart analysis||none||always (embedded in reading)||always (separate section)|
|extended science reading||none||always||always|
|unfamiliar vocabulary||yes, separate questions||yes, imbedded in questions||never|
|number of sections||3||1||1|
|old SAT||new SAT||ACT|
|question types||replace sentence sections, find errors in sentences, editing in paragraph||editing in paragraph||editing in paragraph|
|number of sections||2||1||1|
Wendy Segal’s website:
|Follow me on Facebook:|
|Wendy Segal Tutoring|
|Best SAT workbook:|
|The Official SAT Study Guide|
|Best ACT workbook:|
|Best SAT Subject Test workbook:|
|The Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests|
When rumors of a new SAT were swirling, the College Board let it leak that they would be doing away with the fill-in-the-blank vocabulary sentences. And they did. The College Board representatives have held press conferences casting aspersions (look it up!) on so-called “SAT vocabulary,” insisting there would be no such vocabulary on the new test. Instead, they’ll be using words that are more common and useful in typical high school and college reading.
The College Board released four sample tests of the new type. In the first test, you’ll encounter the following words. Of course you know them because they’re not honest-to-goodness vocabulary words. Or do you?
Can you define these 29 words (all from Sample Test 1)?
Aren’t you glad they took out vocabulary? Ah, you might be thinking. The College Board said they’d be using words in context. I’ll be able to figure out the meaning from the words and concepts around them. Well, if they ask you if the author’s tone is sardonic or magnanimous, even if you understood the reading, you might not get the right answer because neither of those words would be used in context. At least with the old/current SAT, you could learn a strategy for solving those fill-in-the-blank sentences. With the new test, no such luck.
So don’t throw away your vocabulary books. (By the way, one of the BEST vocabulary books, especially for students who already have a reasonably broad lexicon (again, look it up), is Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis. It’s a rather ancient book (I was assigned chapters from it when I was in 7th grade, when phones were still attached to the wall with curly wires!), but year after year, the vocabulary in that book still shows up on SATs. Furthermore, the author’s dry wit makes expanding one’s vocabulary almost fun!
If you plan on taking the new SAT, which will be offered starting in March 2016, it’s more important than ever to read, read, read. You might put a sticky-note inside the front cover to note words that are unfamiliar to you (or even more likely, that are a little familiar to you but you couldn’t define).
Pay particular attention to common words used in an unusual way. (For example, as in the list above, grave normally means a hole in the ground for a dead body, but what does it mean when you say someone gave the student a grave warning?)
And lastly, don’t let your grammar get sloppy. Grammar is now part of the reading section of the SATs. So if you are a stellar reader but think it’s okay to say, “Between you and I, Tom has less girlfriends than Ted,” you’ll ruin your critical reading score. (You caught both errors in that sentence, right?)
If you have any questions or need help, contact me at http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com or at email@example.com or on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Wendy-Segal-Tutoring-Highschool2college-202183139820161/timeline/
Here’s my best advice for you to get ready for the big move:
1. GET A SHOT! I can’t say it loudly enough. Get a meningitis shot. The old ones lasted 5 years. They now have vaccines that last 10 years. If you’re not sure if you’ve had one, ask your doctor – or just get another one. Hardly anyone gets meningitis, but it’s often fatal if you do. Why take a chance? One girl did — read about it here.
Please, please don’t put it off. Make an appointment now because they sometimes run out of vaccine.
2. Start saving Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons. They come in the mail. Save them. The store doesn’t mind your using expired coupons. Bed, Bath, and Beyond has a good selection of college stuff starting early in August. Marsha, a wise friend of mine, gave me the following advice and she was right: Buy everything you think you might possibly need, but don’t open it until you get to college. If you don’t need it in your particular dorm room, your parents can always take it back to the store and return it if they keep the receipt.
3. Start making a backpack of all the stuff you’ll need the minute you arrive at college:
There’s lots more stuff you will need, but these are things you might need right away to put your room in order and will certainly get lost if you pack them with the other junk.
4. Get a new laptop. If yours is more than 4 or 5 years old, you might want a new one. You probably won’t need a printer (they’re handy but take up precious desktop room and every school has convenient places to print out papers), but you will need a laptop to bring to class, to submit assignments, and to drag to the library or to a friend’s dorm room for a group project.
5. Ask what cell phone carrier works best at your school. I know from my son that if you don’t have Verizon at Cornell, you don’t have reception. If you know someone at the school you’ll be going to, ask about who’s got the best reception. If you don’t know anyone there, find a facebook group of last year’s freshmen and ask them. While you’re at it, try to get your parents to pay for unlimited text messages. You’ll need it!
6. Expect to feel out of place for a little while. I have to confess — I cried through most of my freshman year. I didn’t want to live home again, I just wanted my life the way it was back in high school with all my comfortable friends, with clean clothes that appeared regularly in my room, with free food in the fridge. I thought everyone else was having a blast, and I was the only one feeling sad, lonely, uncomfortable, sick of hearing my roommate’s music. I saw everyone’s happy faces going to class and I felt even more alone. Little did I know that many of them were smiling on the outside and feeling exactly the same as I did on the inside. I think if I knew that – and if I knew then how certainly this feeling would pass by springtime – I wouldn’t have felt quite so confused. So I’m telling you now: It’s not only okay to feel disassociated your first few months at college, it’s normal. Really.
I hope I haven’t made you too nervous. I just want you to be as prepared as you can be. Keep in touch with your old friends, your family — and me!
I recently posted advice about visiting colleges and then saw this article in Forbes magazine from one dad who went on some tours with his daughter. His advice was right on the money. Spring break is the best time to visit colleges, but if you didn’t get to visit then, or if you need to see a few more schools, the early fall is an excellent time to visit schools.
I don’t believe that you need to see every school your student will apply to. After all, if she gets into Harvard, she’s going, right? And if she only gets into her bottom safety school, who cares what the dorms are like?
Of course, colleges are looking for good grades, good scores, good community service, a good essay, and good recommendations. But they’re also looking for something called “demonstrated interest.” They want to know that you didn’t just send them an application because it was easy to click one more “send” from the Common App. They want to know that you’re actually interested in attending that school. So visiting a college fair and filling out a name-and-address card is one way to show demonstrated interest. And when a representative from a college on your list visits your student’s guidance department, have him attend because that’s a strong way to show demonstrated interest. Emailing the admissions department with a question that isn’t answered on their website also shows demonstrated interest. But one of the clearest way to show interest is to visit the college on a tour.
It makes sense to visit at least one smaller school from your list and at least one large school, at least one urban school if you have any on your list and at least one suburban or rural school, and so on. Here’s some more practical advice:
1. You should plan to visit schools by geography. Many kids from my area of the U.S. do a loop around Pennsylvania (Bucknell, Lafayette, Lehigh, maybe UDelaware), Or they do the Boston area run (Boston College, Boston University, Tufts, Brandeis, Northeastern, maybe Emerson). Or perhaps the New York State trip (SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Cortland, Cornell/Ithaca College, Syracuse). You may want to visit several colleges in the same general area, but I think you should limit yourself to two or three a day; otherwise, the whole experience can be overwhelming. Make hotel reservations if you think you’ll need them.
2. Sign up online for tours. Some schools print a schedule and you just go on any tour that’s convenient, but many require you to sign up in advance. Do that. You’ll get a much, much better sense of the school on a tour than just wandering around on your own.
3, Find out if you can interview with an admissions person. Very often, they’ll have something called an information session or a one-on-one with someone in admissions. Whether it’s a real interview or just a meet-and-greet, dress casually but be clean and neat, smile and shake hands, and have a few questions ready (and make sure the answers aren’t on the school’s website). Good questions might be about your major (How easy is it to change majors? How many professors are in that department? How many students graduate with that major? Does the school assign a faculty advisor to you?); about housing (Do they house all freshman together? Are there substance-free houses or theme houses? Do they guarantee housing for sophomores and juniors?); or anything else that interests you.
4. While you’re at the interview or while you’re walking around the science building/ performing arts center/ library/ other building of interest, send your parents to the cafeteria. You can meet them there afterwards. NO parents should go with you on an interview ever, even if the school allows it. That gives the impression that your parents don’t trust you to handle the interview on your own. Instead, parents should be in the cafeteria, asking students questions that would embarrass their children to hear. Parents, find a random student and ask questions like, “Would you choose this school again? If you had a cousin interested in economics (or whatever major your student is interested in), would you send him here? What’s the worst thing about this school?” You’d be surprised how honest students can be. If the worst thing is the freshman dorm, big deal. But if the worst thing is that the professors are inaccessible or the administration doesn’t care about the students or required classes are often closed out (too many students), you may want to move on to the next school on your list.
5. Take pictures as you go around on tours or write on brochures. Six months from now, you won’t remember which schools had the great dining halls or the well-stocked labs.
Yes, you can see schools in the summer, but it’s not the same without students there. If you’re going into your Junior year in high school, ask your parents to save some work vacation days for spring college visits. If you’re a Senior in high school, plan to visit schools as early in September as you can. You probably want to be applying to some schools early action – which means your applications must be completely done and submitted by mid-October.
Let me know if you have any questions about visiting colleges or any other aspect of applying to school