High School 2 College

June 8, 2016

What Do Colleges Want From Applicants Like Me – Part 2

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:

  • visit the school in person
  • go on a guided tour of the school
  • visit the school’s admission building
  • have an interview, either on or off campus, with an admissions person or alumnus
  • attend an information session at your school (usually through the guidance department) – this one is crucial
  • fill out a card at that school’s booth at a college fair
  • call or email the school to ask a question (must be done by the student, not the parent) – DON’T ask something that’s on the website
  • add that school to your Common App list as soon as possible after August 1st going into senior year (the Common App reports to the school when a student adds its name to their list)
  • join and “like” that school’s Facebook page
  • follow that school on Twitter
  • ask a question about that school on its Facebook page or tweet a question on its Twitter feed
  • attend an Open House or Information Session by that school if it’s within an hour or so of your house (that means you have to check out when and where these sessions are – check the school’s website)
  • go to that school’s website and submit a “send me more info” request
  • open the school’s emails (yes, they can tell if you’ve opened the email)
  • respond to the school’s emails or click on a link they send you (yes, they can track that, too)
  • if the school offers a way to begin your application online or has a way for you to set up a user name and password, so do
  • apply early action if available

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”!

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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November 18, 2014

How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

Dear Students,

I’m sure your parents have told you that when THEY were your age, they applied to two schools, got into one of them, and went to that school.

Well, things are different now.  When the Common App was created, it allowed students to apply to several schools just as easily as they could apply to one. Fill out one application and click.  Sure, you had to pay an admission fee at each school, but in the scheme of things, big deal.  So students applied. Students began to apply to more and more schools.  That meant schools received way more applications than they could accept.  The colleges loved it, because it made them appear more selective as they accepted an ever smaller percentage of the applicants.

Because the schools were now more selective, students panicked and, unsure of their chances of getting into any of these now-selective schools, applied to even more schools, just in case.

Now the colleges are complaining because students are applying to so many schools that the colleges are having a hard time figuring out who is sincere about going.  Sure, they like looking selective (what percentage of applicants are accepted), but their yield is now declining (yield is what percentage of students who are accepted actually choose to go to that school).

No student wants to be the one to try to stop the trend by applying to only a couple of schools.  So the cycle continues of students applying to an increasing number of schools and schools accepting a declining number of students.  (Read this NY Times article on the dilemma from a guidance counselor’s point of view.)

Unfortunately, in an effort to stem the tide, colleges are increasingly adding required “supplemental essays.”  Now nearly every college expects students to write the one major “Common App application essay,” the one they work on in school and that everyone talks about, but also a different supplemental essay for nearly every school.  Apply to 20 colleges and expect to write 21 essays (the Common App essay and a different supplemental essay for each school).   This recent article says that not only don’t schools pay that much attention to the essays, they compete to find the most clever essay topic, in part to ensure you want to go to that school enough to write yet another essay.

So, what’s the bedraggled high school senior to do?  How many colleges should a student apply to?  How many is too few? Is there such a thing as too many?

You’re not going to like my answer.

The answer is – it depends (I told you!).

  • If you are applying undecided, or if you applying to a liberal arts major, like history, psychology, or even math, I agree with this article that 10 – 14 colleges should do it.  You need to choose 3 – 4 colleges that you’d just love to get into.  These are reach schools, schools that might take you if they happen to need a tuba player this year and you play tuba, or schools at which you are in the mid- to bottom of their range, but hey, you want to give it a try because they do take a few people in that GPA and SAT range.  I say go for it, as long as you understand that a “reach” means they’ll probably say no.  No crying allowed if they reject your application.  (Remember that they’re not rejecting YOU, just the application.)
  • Then you need to choose 3 – 5 colleges that will definitely take you, as long as you somehow manage to graduate from high school.  These should be schools that you wouldn’t mind going to, but they don’t have everything on your wish list. Perhaps they’re too small or too close to home or don’t have a football team.  Remember that schools on this list are not only likely to say yes, but likely to offer you a scholarship that you might find difficult to turn down, so, as the previous article says, make sure you would actually like to go to these schools, because you might have to!
  • Lastly, pick 3 – 5 schools that are a good match for your qualifications.  They’re just as likely to say yes as no. They’re not guaranteed acceptances, but you’ve got a pretty good shot at any school on this list.  You should really, really love every school on this list because you’re probably going to attend one of them.  If you can only visit a few schools, visit the ones in this category.

Now, if you’re going to apply to a program where participation is limited, like nursing, or physical therapy, or engineering, it will be harder to get into a school with the same set of qualifications.  For example, you feel fairly certain that you could get into Whatsamatta U if you were going to major in English, but could you get into that school’s engineering program?  Much less certain.  So apply to more schools than you might if you were going to major in psychology or English, where it’s possible to have a few hundred kids in a freshman introductory class (and don’t forget to leave yourself time for all those supplemental essays).

How can you improve your chances of getting into any school on your list?

Show interest!  Go to a college fair and fill out a card (yes, that counts) for any school that even might possibly be on your application list.  Absolutely attend if one of the colleges on your list visits your high school (that’s a must).  Visit the campus if you can (but it’s not fatal if you can’t).  Definitely email the admissions department if you have a question that isn’t addressed on the college’s website (a much better strategy than asking your friends).  Ask for an alumni interview if you can’t get to the campus.  Let them know you’re not just applying because you had a free Saturday afternoon and didn’t mind writing one more essay.

Apply to colleges you’ve researched online, and then take a deep breath while you wait for them to email you.  You’ve done it right if you get a few no’s (that means to did stretch and reach a bit) and several yeses.  Good luck!

Questions?  Comments?  Need help with the Common App or essays?  My contact info and rates are on my website: www.wendysegaltutoring.com .

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Wendy Segal

February 14, 2014

I Got Into Several Colleges – How Do I Decide Which to Attend?

It’s wonderful to have choices!  All your hard work – studying, SATs, application essays – paid off, and you were accepted at more than one college.  Congratulations!

You probably haven’t heard from all of your schools yet since it’s before April, but as you get responses, how should you evaluate your options?

Last week, I explained what’s NOT important.  Now let’s figure out what matters when it comes to choosing among the offers you are getting.

First of all, which schools can you afford?  Very few people pay the “rack rate,” or tuition listed on the schools’ websites and on www.collegeboard.org.  So ask your parents to talk to you honestly about how much they are willing or able to pay toward your college education.  Consider any financial aid packages you’ve been offered.  Take into account the extra expense that comes with a school that is a plane flight away.  Look at how much each school charges for room and board.  (These rates vary by thousands of dollars.  Think about how much it costs to live in the heart of Boston versus how much it costs to live in a rural school.)  Consider whether you’ll need a car at school as a freshman.

Next, take a look at your potential major.  Of course your school offers your major or you wouldn’t have applied.  Now look a little closer.  Go on each school’s website to figure out how many professors there are in your major compared to other majors in that school.  Ask your admissions counselor what percentage of students in last year’s graduating class graduated with your major?  The more professors and the more students, the more money a college invests in that major. More money translates into better lab equipment, more well-known teachers, better library facilities for whatever your major is.

Most importantly, let your heart help you decide if you’d be happy at a particular school.  Your gut feeling doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you.  Could you see yourself at that school?  You might have to visit more than once to really get a sense of a school.  A visit on a rainy day might feel very different from a visit on a sunny day.  If religion is important to you, are religious services readily available?  Even if you never attend, if they hold services regularly, chances are you’ll find co-religionists at that school.  If sports are important to you, visit on a day when there’s a game. Do lots of kids go to the games?  Does the campus get excited about its teams?  Spend a few minutes on the college’s website looking at the clubs they have.  Does it look like there might be any you’d be interested in joining?

I wouldn’t have had the courage to do this at 17, but your parents will surely be willing to ask random people in the cafeteria a few questions, like “Would you recommend your cousin go here?” Or “What’s the worst thing about this school?” Or “How hard is it to meet with a professor?”

I hope you noticed that teacher:student ratio isn’t on my list.  The quality of the cafeteria food isn’t on my list.  Where a school ranks on any list isn’t on my list.  The prestige of the school’s reputation isn’t on my list.

Here’s the most important advice I can give you.  It’s just a college.  It’s not an irreversible decision.  You’re only 17.  You can only make the best decision you can right now with the information you have now. If you learn more about yourself in a few years and you feel another school would work better for you, transfer.  Thousand and thousands of kids transfer every year.  Big deal.  Don’t let this decision overwhelm you.

There’s always grad school! <wink>

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com/

February 9, 2014

I’ve Been Accepted! What Doesn’t Matter in Choosing a College (For Juniors, too!)

Congratulations!  You’ve gotten into at least a few of the schools you applied to.  Doesn’t it feel good to be wanted?

Now all the adults you know are asking:  So, where are you going to go?

How should you choose among the schools that said “yes”? 

Every year at this time, most newspapers and magazines publish articles giving advice.   Some advice is better than others.  Juniors, pay attention so you have the best chance at applying to schools you’d actually like to go to.  US News gives this advice.  Please read this article so my comments make sense:

http://www.usnews.com/blogs/professors-guide/2009/3/25/10-things-to-find-out-before-committing-to-a-college.html?s_cid=et-0326

I just have to respond to their suggestions,  some of which are good, but some of which are downright silly.  (In a few days, I’ll write again and give you my own thoughts about how to choose a college, but read this so you know what NOT to do.)

  • They suggest you check into the requirements and how flexible they are Silly.  Some schools have requirements.  Big deal.  Mostly, colleges let you choose from among many courses to fulfill those requirements, and some of those courses turn out to be great.   If you have a fundamental issue with required courses, why did you apply to a school with so many requirements?  (See?  I told juniors should be reading this.)
  • They suggest you should make sure that the school you choose has the major you’re interested in and courses you want to take.  Silly.  Again, did they think you’d apply to a school that doesn’t have the major you want?  It is true that at some enormous universities you may have to wait until you’re an upperclassman to take certain courses.  Not the most important reason to reject a college.
  • They suggest that you note whether a school has a required writing classSilly.  That a school has a required writing class in no way indicates whether you personally will have a professor who is concerned with your writing skills.  The school’s mandating a writing class in no way indicates if you personally will have to write a lot of papers.  (Philosophy, English, Political Science major?  Yes, you will.  Math, Computer Science, Chemistry major?  No, you won’t.)
  • They suggest that that if graduate assistants teach courses, that’s a bad thing.  Silly.  There are great teaching assistants.  One of my son’s most favorite classes was taught by a brilliant graduate assistant.  There are incompetent teaching assistants.  There are also brilliant and mediocre professors at every school.
  • They suggest you check out the student/teacher ratio.  Silly.  In college, I took a Psychology 101 course with 500 kids in it.  I also took a course in the High and Late Middle Ages (loved it!) with 6 kids.  So is the student/teacher ration 250:1?  Of course not.  I have the same objection to class size ratios.  They’re meaningless.
  • They suggest you look at the percentage of students who graduate.  Well, now they’ve finally hit on an important criterion, but one you should have looked at before you applied.  Look at both the 4-year graduation rate and the 6-year graduation rate.  Alone, those statistics aren’t helpful, but compare those numbers to those of other schools you are considering and you might find signficant differences.  You don’t want to go to a school where kids either drop out or transfer out at a greater rate than similar schools.

Don’t pick a school based on any one set of numbers, but do look for anomolies (things that don’t fit the norm).

More advice in a few days.  Please check back!

Wendy Segal

www.wendysegaltutoring.com

February 5, 2011

Advice for High School Seniors: Waiting for the “Congratulations” Email

By now, some of you have heard from a few colleges. (Are there really “fat envelopes” any more or just happy emails?)

If you’ve gotten into your early decision college, congratulations!  You worked hard for so many years in your classes.  You survived your SATs and ACTs.  You slogged through the applications, essays, resumes, and interviews.

But many of you are still waiting. You might have heard from a college or two , but the ones you really care about won’t let you know until mid- to late-March. Some hold back until April 1st.  Is that a cruel April Fools joke – or the beginning of the best spring ever?

Now what? Now you wait.  While you’re waiting, read some advice I’ve collected over the years to pass on to students like you.

First of all, don’t forget to have your guidance counselor send your mid-year report card to all of the colleges to which you applied.  If you’ve done something noteworthy since you applied, send it along to the colleges unless they’ve asked you not to.  (You should read their application page or instructions very carefully to see which schools welcome updates and which “seal” your application once the deadline passes.  If you can’t tell, call or email the admissions office.)

Next, read this article from Forbes.com about what colleges look for in an application and how many really qualified kids don’t get in.

It’s important to know that if a college says “no,” it’s not saying that you aren’t an appropriate candidate for the school.  It’s not saying you’re not smart enough, or pretty enough, or athletic enough.  The “sorry to inform you” email merely means they’ve got enough smart, pretty, athletic kids from New York, or they wanted to round out their orchestra with a French horn player but you play the oboe, or they already have too many psychology majors.  (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

According to this New York Times article, we should have pity on the poor colleges who have to choose.  Admissions counselors have too many qualified applicants for too few spots.  The author interviews admissions counselors who talk a little about their work load at this time of year and how they make decisions. (Juniors, pay attention!)

So when a college finally says yes, you can relax, right?

Not so fast.

First of all, the colleges that said yes want you to say yes back to them. As this New York Times article says, now is the time that colleges really turn on the charm.   Among the factors that determine which colleges are ranked close to the top and which are ranked farther down the list is a statistic called “yield,” the number of students who actually enroll from among the ranks of those who were accepted.  Harvard’s yield is very high — almost everyone who gets into Harvard goes there.  Your safety school probably has a lower yield — nearly everyone who applies will get in, but not many will wind up going to that school.  Yield makes a school look sought after, so now that the college said yes, it will do everything it can to get you to enroll.  That can make it hard to decide.  (If you need a little help sorting out the pros and cons of specific schools, feel free to email me with questions.)

With all those colleges wooing you, you might think you’ve really made it and you can finally relax. I don’t want to be a party-pooper or a buzz-kill, but you should read this LA Times article about how UCLA and other schools do withdraw acceptances from students whose grades slip too much.  And this New York Times article, entitled “Slackers, Beware” echoes the same warning.

If your grades had been all A’s and you drop down to a B+/A- , you’re probably fine.  But if your A’s are now C’s — or heaven forbid, D’s — you need to know that colleges can and do change their minds about letting you enroll.

But that won’t happen to any of MY students, right?  So take a deep breath, laugh at the juniors who are slaving away, and keep up the good work while you wait.

When you DO hear from schools, please don’t forget to let me know where you applied and which schools said no and which said yes.  I use that information to help next year’s students, just like I used the information from previous years to help you.  Thanks!

Wendy Segal

May 13, 2010

Is SAT Tutoring Worth It? A Confession from Princeton Review

This week, Princeton Review announced that is going to cease making claims about how much your scores will go up if you take its test prep program.  It’s about time. I feel very strongly that test prep classes are a shameful waste of time and money for most students. Read on for my reasons.

Parents occasionally ask me if SAT tutoring is actually helpful.  I’m not sure what people expect me to say.  After all, tutoring is what I do. I supposed they want to be able to justify the expense to themselves.

Whether or not any particular family feels that test prep is worthwhile depends on several factors.  Ask yourself:

What type of prep are you considering?

  • class
  • small group
  • private
  • on line
  • webcam

By far, the most effective type of help is private one-on-one tutoring. That’s the only kind of tutoring I do, in person if at all possible and via webcam if I’m working with someone long distance. Classes benefit nearly no one.  If you’re very smart and just need a little technique, you’ll be bored to death.  If you need some serious remediation (help), you won’t be able to get the help you need because the class teacher has to cover certain material whether you understand or not.  And most teenagers are just not going to ask the teacher to explain subject-verb agreement or how to find the next number in a series if the rest of the class is rolling its collective eyes and sighing loudly.

What kind of help do you need?

  • grammar only
  • reading skills
  • test strategy
  • timing/pacing
  • writing essays
  • confidence
  • someone to force you to spend time looking at the test

Very few people are equally good are teaching reading comprehension, grammar, and math.  Some SAT prep centers have the same teachers teach math, reading, and writing. For two years, I taught an SAT class for a local program.  They gave me a manual of how to answer questions.  It said, “Explain problem #1 in the first math section as follows….”  If a kid had a question after that, I was sunk.  I’m not good at math.  My husband is great at math, but he can’t tell a direct object from an indefinite article.  So I only teach what I’m really good at, but I can help you find an outstanding teacher to help you with those subjects I’m not good at.

Furthermore, when I taught that SAT course, like most teachers I taught it twice a year — once in the spring and then again the following fall.  Now I may have up to 34 students a season.  So I teach the SATs 34 times in the spring, and another 34 times in the fall.  I’ve been doing that for 23 years.  I could do the math, but I already admitted I’m not good at that.

How much time do you have before the test?

  • days
  • weeks
  • months
  • years

If you only have days left, see my blog (here and here) for advice on some last-minute things you can do.  If you have a few weeks, get thee to a tutor! If you have months, you can make substantial progress toward your goal of a high score with the right tutor, especially if you’re willing do a little reading or a few math problems on your own.  If you have years, congratulations!  You’re in an excellent position to achieve top scores.  Read, read, read – read magazines, novels, history books.  Pay attention in math class.  When you get an essay back from a teacher, see that teacher privately after it is graded to ask for specific suggestions on how you could improve next time.  And check in with someone knowledgeable (like me!) about what classes to take, what activities to do, and what summer programs to take to ensure you that colleges will be begging you to go there, waving fists full of money at you.

How much time are you willing to devote to test prep?

  • I signed up for the test
  • I own a book – isn’t that enough?
  • an hour a week
  • 30 minutes daily
  • I’m devoting my life to the SATs

No.  Don’t spend more than an hour or two a week.  Surprised, right?Well, this is only a test.   Actually, it’s a test to see how well you can take this test.  The SATs won’t determine where you go to college.  They won’t tell you if you’ll have a satisfying job, an attractive spouse, healthy children.  The SATs don’t determine much of anything — and I make my living from the SATs.  But colleges do look at scores.  And employers, especially those employing graduates right out of college, can and do ask for SAT scores.  So you want to do as well as you can without going crazy.

Here’s what a really good tutor can do for you.  You need a tutor if you want to:

  • Gain familiarity with the SATs or ACTs
  • Find out which test or tests you should be taking to maximize your chances of getting looked at by a good school
  • Get comfortable and confident going into the test
  • Learn and practice test-taking strategies, including how to answer each type of question, when and how to guess, and how to get a sense of timing during the test
  • Build your reading, writing, and grammar (and/or math) skills, for the test as well as for all future studies
  • Learn how to structure and write a decent essay
  • Get some advice about which colleges might suit you
  • Figure out some possible college majors based on your abilities and interests so you can look for colleges with those majors
  • Plan and write an amazing college essay

Is test prep worth it?  It depends on what you want and what type you get.  Is finding a tutor who can help you through the entire college application and admission process (including those tests) worth it?  That’s what most of my students and their parents tell me.

Wendy Segal

April 2, 2010

Did You Hear? It’s Harder Than Ever to Get into College — and What to Do About It.

The record low acceptance rates of selective colleges this year are all over the news and all over the internet.  Everyone who knows a teenager has heard of kids who have stellar grades, high SATs, many activities, community service, and sparkling personalities who not only didn’t get into their early decision school, they didn’t get into several schools they thought were fairly safe bets.

The Washington Post reports on this year’s admission rates.  The Huffington Post’s article, “Application Rates Up, Acceptance Rates Down” says a lot. The New York Times admissions blog has a chart so you can see how tiny your chance was of getting into your top choice school.

Why am I telling you this?

First of all, if you are currently a college student, you should be grateful that you got in when you did.  Another year or two and you might not have made it to the school you’re in now.  Basically, the incoming freshmen at your school are probably more impressive candidates than you were.  If your parents went to a selective college, chances are they couldn’t get in to that same school now.

Second, if you are a high school senior and you didn’t get into the schools you expected to get into, it’s not your fault.  You’re in extremely good company.  Getting a “we regret to inform you” email (why do all the articles talk about a thin or fat envelope when everyone is notified by email?) doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have been a huge success at that dream school.  It certainly doesn’t mean you won’t get a good education.  Those who got into every school they applied to probably didn’t reach high enough for that dream school.

Third, if you are a high school senior and you did get into your dream school, be humble.  Don’t brag, don’t gloat.  It might be that you’re male and they needed more males this year.  It might be that you play the French horn and your friend plays the trombone, and they happen to need French horn players more this year.  Of course you worked hard, but so did most of those who didn’t get in.

But mostly I want to address the high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. There ARE things you can do to improve your chance of getting in. It may seem insincere, but if you want to get in, you have to:

  • Maintain good grades from freshman year through the middle of senior year. Colleges don’t see quarterly grades, only year-end grades, so if you’re starting to slip – even in 9th grade – reach out for help.  Stay after school to talk to your teacher, study with a friend, ask your parents and guidance counselor for help, hire a tutor.
  • Prepare for the SATs. Don’t wait until the end of junior year or -heaven forbid – the beginning of senior year.  Start preparing now.  You don’t need an SAT book or a course.  In fact, the best thing you can do to prepare is pay attention in math class and READ.  Read a magazine, read the newspaper, read a novel – even a trashy one.  Just read. Magazines like TIME and Newsweek are wonderful for vocabulary and reading comprehension.
  • Take the right classes. Colleges are concerned with grades for sure, but they care deeply about the rigor of your classes.  That means if the school offers an honors class, take it.  You don’t need to take ALL honors or AP classes, but you should be taking on as much challenge as you can handle.  I encourage students to give the honors class a try.  Warn your guidance counselor that you might need to slip back to the regular level class so he or she can schedule your classes so you can switch to a lower level without disrupting all of your other classes.
  • Find a passion and work it. If you like dance, you should be dancing in school productions, you should be dancing in a dance school, you should be volunteering to put on a dance show at your local senior center or nursing home, you should be teaching elementary kids to dance after school.  If you like math, join the math team, tutor lower level students in math, volunteer to help struggling elementary school students in math, teach seniors computer skills for free at a senior center.  Schools are looking for something they call consistency — they want to see you involved on every level in your area of interest.
  • Don’t waste your summers. Travelling and camp are fun but they won’t get you into college.  Take some courses.  Many colleges have summer programs where you can live on campus and take college courses for credit.  Volunteer. Work – not at K-Mart, but in your area of interest.

If you got into a good school, congratulations! If you got into any old school, you might just love it.  And if you don’t, you can join the thousands each year who transfer.  If you still have a year or more before you have to worry about college applications, there’s much you can do now to make your college admission quest successful.

Wendy Segal

March 27, 2010

Did You Get In? Where Are You Going?

Can adults discuss anything else with you?  It must feel like you had no life before college applications.   Here’s some advice for those who got in — and those who didn’t.

First, a word to those who didn’t get into the school of their dreams.  All is not lost.  In fact, some very notable people were rejected from college. Smile and read this article from the Wall Street Journal before you declare that all is lost.

If you’re on a waiting list, step right up and contact the college you want to attend.  Tell them of any new accomplishments, new jobs, new community service — anything that might help.  Get an extra recommendation.  Have your guidance counselor call the school for you to put in a good word.  Colleges want to take kids who actually want to go there (it increases their “yield,” the percentage of kids who attend from the pool the college accepted).  Don’t get crazy — sending a shoe box filled with heart-shaped candies won’t help — but a well-worded letter from you and another teacher might just do the trick.

For those who got in to a school they really want to attend, read on:

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 an 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 whether 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.

Now colleges – even the smaller private colleges – are more skittish than ever for an obvious reason — the economy.  Heed USA Today’s warning from last year — it’s still true this year.  This article points out that colleges were so worried about the economy this past admissions season that many accepted more students than usual with the expectation that some would not be able to afford school and would drop out.  If that doesn’t happen, schools may be culling their admitted student lists for those who just don’t measure up.

Their advice is good:  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 counselors about strategies to pull it out now.  If they know you’re trying, they may be willing to go to bat for you with the college if they pull your acceptance.
  • Get a tutor for finals or state 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 the 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.

The weather is warm, the prom is coming, and math is boring, but keep it up for just a little longer.  It’s hard to get that sticker off your car window!

Wendy Segal

February 2, 2010

What To Do While You Wait To Hear

This is a rough time for high school seniors. (Don’t close this post yet, juniors. You’ll be here in exactly one year, and it’s good to know what to expect.)   There’s the flurry of panicked and pressured activity in the fall to get those early decision applications in.  Then there’s the second burst of activity for all those regular decision applications.  By now, you’ve probably heard from your early decision schools.  And you may have even heard from some rolling admission schools.

Now what? Now you wait.  While you’re waiting, read some advice I’ve collected over the years to pass on to students like you.

First of all, read this article from Forbes.com about what colleges look for in an application and how many really qualified kids don’t get in.

It’s important to know that if a college says “no,” it’s not saying that you aren’t an appropriate candidate for the school.  It’s not saying you’re not smart enough, or pretty enough, or athletic enough.  The “sorry to inform you” email merely means they’ve got enough smart, pretty, athletic kids from New York, or they wanted to round out their orchestra with a French horn player but you play the oboe, or they already have too many psychology majors.

According to this New York Times article, we should have pity on the poor colleges who have to choose.  Admissions counselors have too many qualified applicants for too few spots.  The author interviews admissions counselors who talk a little about their work load at this time of year and how they make decisions. (Juniors, pay attention!)

So when a college finally says yes, you can relax, right?

Not so fast.

First of all, the colleges that said yes want you to say yes back to them. As this New York Times article says, now is the time that colleges really turn on the charm.   Among the factors that determine which colleges are ranked close to the top and which are ranked farther down the list is a statistic called “yield,” the number of students who actually enroll from among the ranks of those who were accepted.  Harvard’s yield is very high — almost everyone who gets into Harvard goes there.  Your safety school probably has a lower yield — nearly everyone who applies will get in, but not many will wind up going to that school.  Yield makes a school look sought after, so now that the college said yes, it will do everything it can to get you to enroll.  That can make it hard to decide.  (If you need a little help sorting out the pros and cons of specific schools, feel free to email me with questions.)

With all those colleges wooing you, you might think you’ve really made it and you can finally relax. I don’t want to be a party-pooper or a buzz-kill, but you should read this LA Times article about how UCLA and other schools do withdraw acceptances from students whose grades slip too much.  And this New York Times article, entitled “Slackers, Beware” echoes the same warning.

If your grades had been all A’s and you drop down to a B+/A- , you’re probably fine.  But if your A’s are now C’s — or heaven forbid, D’s — you need to know that colleges can and do change their minds about letting you enroll.

But that won’t happen to any of MY students, right?  So take a deep breath, laugh at the juniors who are slaving away, and keep up the good work while you wait.

When you DO hear from schools, please don’t forget to let me know where you applied and which schools said no and which said yes.  I use that information to help next year’s students, just like I used the information from previous years to help you.  Thanks!

Wendy Segal

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