High School 2 College

May 27, 2016

What Do Colleges Want From Applicants Like Me – Part 1

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!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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May 9, 2016

College Acceptance: Can They Really Take It Away?

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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/education/edlife/rescind22.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=slackers%20beware&st=cse

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!  

  • Talk to your high school teachers about extra credit.  Offer to do anything to raise your grade.
  • Talk to your guidance counselor about strategies to pull up  your grades now.  If they know you’re trying, they may be willing to go to bat for you with the college if it pulls your acceptance.
  • Get a tutor for finals or state exams (like Regents exams).  Don’t wait – if you need to pass that math or physics regents exam, get a tutor.  It’s not a long-term commitment, and the money you spend now may save heartache and embarrassment later.
  • Contact your college admissions department with a contrite explanation and a promise to do better.  Tell them BEFORE they get the bad news to show you’re responsible and willing to correct your missteps.
  • Get off facebook.  Recent studies have shown that FB users in college have grades a full GPA point below non-users.  Once your final grades are in, you’ll have all the time you want to catch up on your favorite social media.

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!

 

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