High School 2 College

August 5, 2018

When Should I Apply to College?

The Common App opens for the new application season every August 1st.  That’s the date students entering their senior year in high school can begin to create their college applications, but by August 1st, you should really be toward the END of the college application process, which should have begun the summer going into junior year. (Juniors, are you listening?)

Sometimes I find it’s more effective to explain the schedule to students when I work backwards, like this:

The vast majority of the students I work with apply to most of their schools early action.  (Unlike early decision, early action isn’t binding.  It merely says to the college, “I’m showing you my application early so that you can give me a decision early.”)  Early action deadlines are generally November 1st.

That means EVERYTHING needs to be in by November 1st at the latest — your recommendations, your essays (yes, more than one if the college has a supplemental essay), your list of activities, your transcript, your SAT or ACT scores (which have to be ordered from either the College Board or the ACT and sent to each college directly by that organization), any college credits you’ve earned by taking college-level classes.  EVERYTHING.

So realistically, you should have EVERYTHING in, done, and sent by October 15th at the latest because (1) you want to look eager to the colleges and (2) you don’t want to chance having the Common App website crash as you feverishly work to get everything in the last week in October (and it DOES crash – nearly every year!).  Most importantly, you want to apply by October 15th because the acceptance rate at nearly every college is higher for students who apply early action than for students who apply regular decision.  That’s not to say you won’t get into a college if you wait until the regular deadline between December and February depending on the school, but why not give yourself every advantage?  This article from last year explains that early action acceptance rates are getting higher every year (meaning colleges are taking more students who apply early and fewer students who wait until the regular deadline), and this year is certain to follow that trend.

To get your applications finished by October 15th, you need to have:

  • taken your SATs and/or ACTs as often as you think practical to show your best self
  • asked two teachers for recommendations (ideally, teachers you’ve had junior year in a subject area related to your intended major)
  • written your Common App essay (if you Google “Common App Essay topics 2018,” the list of possible topics comes up) and had your essay reviewed by a teacher or tutor or parent (as long as you don’t let your parents edit your paper for anything other than spelling or grammar – I can always tell when a parent has been too hands-on with an essay)
  • written your supplement essays (many schools require an additional essay or two or three!)
  • created a list of colleges to which you plan to apply, with at least three good-match schools, three safety schools (they’re almost guaranteed to take you unless you commit a felony between when you apply and when they get your application), and three reach schools, which are unlikely to say yes, but hey, you never know
  • visited several schools on your list (but it’s not necessary to visit every school to which you are going to apply)
  • filled out your guidance department’s forms so your counselor knows which schools to send transcripts to (some high schools substitute Naviance for this step, and some schools ask you to fill out information on Naviance AND fill out forms for your guidance department)
  • created a resume, or at least written down all of your extracurricular activities, including paid work, volunteer work, academic honors, and athletics grouped into those categories and in reverse chronological order (a resume makes it MUCH easier to complete the Common App and is useful when you go on interviews)

Look at the calendar.  October 15th is just about two months away.  What are you waiting for?

If you need help with your application or essay, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with me through my website.  I’ve been helping kids get into college for over 30 years, so the process doesn’t intimidate me at all, but it can be very daunting the first time.

Good luck!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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January 21, 2018

College Woes: Quit, Transfer, or Stick It Out?

For the past 30+  years, I’ve helped students prepare for college.  We spend hours getting ready for the ACTs and SATs.  We discuss which colleges to visit and which colleges to apply to.  We write essays and applications.  When the acceptances come in, we sort through them and choose the one best suited for that particular student.  Then she’s off, a college freshman at last.

Yet four years later, surprisingly few of those bright-eyed, fresh-faced students are parading in front of that school’s president, diploma in hand.

Although their friends all seem to be having a blast — just look at those party pictures on Instagram and Facebook! — they are unhappy.  Their roommate is annoying or drunk or worse, their professors don’t have time for them and give boring lectures in large, impersonal halls, the food is boring and fattening, they miss their friends and family, the major they selected turns out to be too hard or just not that interesting and doesn’t seem like it will ever lead to a job, anyway.  Now what?  Quit?  Transfer?  Stick it out?

Shockingly, only a little more than half of students who start college ever finish.  Many students are doomed to fail from the start:  they were just not prepared for the rigor of college-level work.  Every year, I get a panicked email from a previous SAT student asking me to help them through freshman writing (which is fairly easy to do online).  I’m never surprised.  When I see the level of writing on SAT/ACT essays, I know that student will have a tough time in college, no matter what the major is.  No matter how strict your AP Literature teacher is, AP isn’t college.  No matter how well you did on your AP Economics test, it’s not the same as a first-year economics class in any reasonably selective university.

What can you do to help make sure you can handle college-level work?  First of all, take high school work seriously.  If you don’t get it now in math, it’s not going to get easier later. Get a tutor, stay after school for extra help, go on Khan Academy online for free review.  Don’t just blow it off or blame the teacher.  When you get to college, the professor won’t give you a decent grade once you’ve explained that your 11th grade teacher was terrible.  Who cares?  Take responsibility for your own work now.  If you keep getting papers and Social Studies DBQ essays back saying, “Needs more detail,” or “Not organized,” ask to see a paper that got an A for comparison.  Find a writing tutor.  Ask to write the paper again for a better grade.  But it’s not really about the grade — it’s about making sure you know how to write a proper sentence and a well-planned paragraph before you ever sit down in a college class.  I love working with 9th and 10th graders whose parents can already see that their student’s writing isn’t adequate.  THOSE kids have a good chance of having an easier time in college.

Reading more helps.  (You knew I’d say that!)  The more you read, the better your writing.  It’s that simple.

Another suggestion (and I hope this is not too late) is that freshmen should take the easiest classes they can find.  Now is not the time to dive in.  Everything about being away at school is disorienting.  Your friends and family aren’t there.  You look in the mini-fridge and don’t find any food.  You open your drawers and don’t find clean clothes.  You have no idea what will make your professors happy.  No matter how far you go or what you major in, college is not like high school.  Don’t add very challenging courses on top of that.  Give yourself time to get acclimated to the entire college experience before you tackle those very hard classes.  Even an “easy” class will be so different from an easy class in high school that you should give yourself a break.  Starting college off with terrible grades won’t make you feel good about the whole experience — and if you decide to transfer, poor grades will hamper your ability to change schools.

So if you find yourself getting poor grades despite turning in your assignments on time, if you’ve tried your best and you still aren’t getting the grades you expect, should you quit, transfer, or stick it out?

I think quitting should be your last option if the problem is academic.  If you were smart enough to get in, you’re smart enough to manage this.  Try to stick it out.  First, you’ll need determination.  You may have to party less, you may need to go to the library more.  You may need to swallow your pride and go to study groups or the writing center at your school.  You may even need to hire a tutor (perhaps a student who took that class successfully the year before or a graduate student).

Staying in the school you’re in will probably allow you to graduate sooner than if you transfer, so it will save your parents (and you, if you’ve taken out loans) quite a bit of money if you can manage to stay where you are.  When you transfer, you’ll likely have to retake a class or two, especially if you got poor grades.  Some classes you’ve taken in your original school might not have equivalents in your new school.  The new school will likely have different requirements for your majors.

If you really find that the teaching assistants aren’t available or aren’t helpful, if you’ve used the writing center to no avail, if you can’t find a tutor, AND if the problem is more pervasive than just one class, you may want to think about transferring to a school with more support.  That’s not giving in, that’s being sensible.

Don’t transfer because you don’t like your roommate, your dorm, or your cafeteria.  There’s no guarantee any of these will be better in your new school.  Don’t transfer because you miss your family.  You’ll miss them in your new school, too.  But if you can’t manage the work, you might be in the wrong place.  Make a plan, and transfer.  More than a third of students transfer at least once in their college careers.  Choosing a college isn’t an irrevocable decision.  Stick it out if you can; transfer if you can’t. 

And let me know if I can help.

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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August 1, 2017

Before You Click Submit: Everything You Need to Know About the Common App

Every year on August 1st, the Common App opens for business.  The new essay topics are posted and all the site improvements are completed.  The Common App stands ready for your application.

What is the Common App?

Back in the old days, when you wanted to apply to ten schools, you had to complete — by hand or by typewriter! — ten different applications with ten different essays.  On some of the applications, they asked for your name above the line.  Some asked for your name below the line.  Some wanted your name written last name first.  Others wanted first name first.  Others asked for your social security number first.  Each application was a major project.

The Common App was designed to streamline that part of the college application process.  The student has to fill out only one application, and with one click he or she can submit an application to any of a few thousand colleges.  Of course, students soon began submitting dozens and dozens of applications because they could.  It became a game, and colleges had no idea which students were sincerely interested in attending their school. Many colleges, then, began requiring supplements (see below).  Now the Common App isn’t as “one-click” easy as it used to be, but more and more colleges prefer the Common App to their own application, and many have even dropped their own application and only accept the Common App.

What is the best way to complete the Common App without going crazy?

It’s a long, long application.  Every year, it gets fine-tuned and a little easier to manage, but it’s still overwhelming to many students.  You’ll have a much easier time of it if you gather this information and have it all in front of you before you even begin:

  • your social security number
  • your parents’ email addresses and cell phone numbers
  • where your parents work
  • what your parents’ job title and profession are (I’m always surprised how many kids don’t know)
  • where your parents went to college (all schools if more than one), what degree(s) they got, what year they got those degrees
  • your guidance counselor’s name, phone number, fax number and email address (Look on your school’s website under the guidance department. Look for something called “school profile.”  That should have everything you need.  Print it out if you can.)
  • when your graduation date will be
  • your SAT/ACT scores and when you took each test (exact date — look online at act.org or collegeboard.org if you don’t remember)
  • your resume

Why do I need a resume before I start the Common App and how do I create one?

A resume lists your activities in an organized, polished way.  There are dozens of ways to format a resume (try Googling “high school resume images” and you’ll see many excellent examples), but they all list your activities in reverse chronological order — from most recent to oldest, back to 9th grade.  Don’t include anything older than 9th grade unless you still are doing that activity.  For example, if you started Taekwondo or dance when you were 11 and still do it, fine, but don’t list soccer if you stopped in 8th grade. Break your activities into 3 categories if you can:  academic achievements, community service, athletics, and/or paid employment are groupings many students use.  Once you’ve got all of your achievements and activities listed with locations and dates on your resume, you’ll fly through the hardest part of the Common App:  the “interests” page.  You’ll also have a professional-looking document to bring with you when you go on college admissions interviews (or summer job or internship interviews once you start college).  You can also give your resume to teachers who promised to write recommendations for you as a way of reminding them of your interests and activities so they can include some in your recommendation.

Any advice about the Common App essay?

Many students begin filling in the Common App before they’ve written the essay.  Why?  I have no idea.  I think they just can’t face the essay and so start the Common App before the essay is done just to feel productive.  They’re not fooling anyone, especially me. Students, finish your essay.  Make sure you’ve shown it to your parents, your tutor, me, or anyone else you think can help you polish it.  It doesn’t have to sound like a 45-year-old dad wrote it — in fact, it shouldn’t — but it should make sense, be engaging, and be spelling- and grammar-error free.  The Common App has brought back the “topic of your choice” topic so there really aren’t any excuses.

When they say the maximum is 650 words, they mean it.  If you write an essay of 651 words, the last word won’t be sent to the colleges.  And you’ll look like a student who either can’t follow the rules or doesn’t care about the rules.  So you’re aiming for an essay that’s between 500 and 600 words, which is about one page to a page-and-a-half typed in size 12 font.  That’s shorter than you might think.

Don’t repeat what’s on your resume or transcript.  The colleges already know that stuff. Write about what makes you different from the kid who sits next to you in math class or the kid on your team.  Think about it this way:  if you dropped your essay in the hallway of your school without your name on it and the principal read it over the loudspeaker, would everyone know it’s yours because the essay is so “you”?  That’s one way good way to come up with a topic.

The other way to think about an essay topic is if that same scenario occurred and the principal read it over the loudspeaker, no one would think it was yours because it reveals something about yourself that’s not obvious.  Maybe you secretly love to iron, or maybe you adore your middle name.  Whatever it is, if you can’t wait to write about it, you’ve found the right topic.

Is there anything else I should do before I start the Common App?

Yes!  Glad you asked.  Many colleges require a supplement to the Common App in which you tell the college what your intended major is and whether any of your relatives attended that school.  Unfortunately, many of those supplements include an essay.  They’re usually shorter than the Common App essay, but there can be more than one supplement essay per school!

Don’t leave the supplement essays till the end.  Colleges care about those essays as much as they care about the Common App essay — or more so.  Go on each school’s website or on the Common App website and print out the essay topic for each supplement essay you have to write.  With just a little adjusting of each essay, you may find that one essay will suffice for more than one school.  For example, more than one school may ask why you want to go to that school or why you’ve chosen that major or what your favorite activity is.  Or you may decide that a particular school’s supplement essay is so odd that you’d rather drop that school from your list in favor of a similar school with an easier supplement.  It’s better to make that decision before you pay the application fee!

Any last words of advice before I begin to apply to college?

Based on more than 30 years of helping students apply to colleges, I have this advice. Not everyone follows it. Some who don’t forever regret not listening to me.  Here it is:

Don’t apply to your favorite school first!  

Have you ever sent an email and THEN realized you spelled something wrong or sent it to the wrong person?  Well, the same happens all the time with college applications.  I can’t tell you how often students find mistakes in their applications or realize they should have written something differently AFTER they hit “submit.”  So wise students send applications to their safest safety school first (they’ll take you even if you mess up), then a middle-difficulty school, and only then to their dream school.  Another benefit of following this method is that your safety school is likely to send an acceptance sooner, and once you get even one “yes,” the rest of your senior year should be a breeze.

Feel free to check out my website for more information and advice:  www.wendysegaltutoring.com .

Good luck!

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November 9, 2016

6 Ways NOT To Choose a College

Choosing a college is a lot like choosing a husband or wife — there’s no single right way to find the perfect spouse, but there are a lot of wrong ways to go about it.  And the ideal mate (or college) for your best friend might be completely wrong for you.

Ideally, each student should attend a college that offers that student an excellent education in a field that interests him or her in a place that feels just right among people whom that student can feel challenged by but comfortable with and taught by professors who are knowledgeable, on top of their field but approachable and interested in each student’s progress.  How hard can that be?

To accomplish such an “easy” task, there are dozens of books, too many articles, and several ranking sites about how to choose a college.

Since I wouldn’t give the same advice to two different people, I’m not going to tell you how to pick the college that would be perfect for you.

But I can tell you some really awful ways to choose a college.  So please DON’T do any of these:

Only look at colleges you’ve heard of.  You probably have heard of about 20 colleges.  Your parents have probably heard of about 20 colleges.  Even if your lists don’t overlap, that’s 40 colleges out of the thousands in the United States.  Just because you haven’t heard of a school doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a stellar reputation among those in your field.  And just because you have heard of a college doesn’t mean it deserves its notoriety or that it’s necessarily a better fit for you.

Decide you want a really big college (or a really small college) without looking at one first.  Some big schools feel really big.  Kids generally feel lost, disconnected, not focused.  But some really big schools do a great job of making kids within a certain major or within a certain housing unit feel like they belong, like the faculty cares about their progress, like they have pride in their school.  The same with small schools.  Some have limited choices.  Others are creative and open to designing the perfect curriculum for you.  You don’t have to visit every school you apply to, but you shouldn’t make a blanket decision about a type of college without visiting a school of that type and a school of the opposite type.

Pick a school based on the dorms or the cafeteria or the weather.  If the freshman dorms are cramped,  remember that you won’t be a freshman forever.  If the senior housing is nothing special, you might be living off campus by then anyway. Don’t decide whether you like a school based on the unimportant externals.  Don’t decide you don’t want to go to school in Connecticut or Massachusetts because it’s colder there.  It’s not.  Don’t decide you want to go further south because you like the warm weather.  You’ll be in classrooms, your dorm, and the library most of the time anyway.  If your campus is lovely but you can never take the classes you like because seniors get priority and the classes are filled before you can register, you’ve picked a pleasant vacation spot but a crummy school.

Expect your guidance counselor or parents to help you choose a school.  As well as your parents know you, they aren’t you.  You’re the one who has to live at that school for four years (at least).  You’re the one who has to take those classes, interact with those students, learn from those professors.  Don’t be lazy.  Do some work yourself as you build a list of colleges to apply to.  Visit colleges when you can.  Look carefully at dozens of college websites.  (They all look good initially.  You can only differentiate between them when you’ve seen many.) Don’t stop at the admissions page of the college websites.  Poke around on the “majors” pages.  See what research the professors are doing.  See what sub-majors each school offers within your general area of interest. Count how many professors each college has in your major.  Look at the online course catalog to see whether you’d really like to take the required classes in your field.  Email the admissions office if your questions can’t be answered by the website — or email a department or professor directly.  By all means show your list to your guidance counselor; guidance counselors have excellent resources at their disposal and know which schools are well liked by previous students. But they may not know you well enough to know whether you like to get friendly with your professors or would prefer to talk to a teaching assistant, or whether you’d prefer a school where the university provides a lot of entertainment or you’re expected to explore the surrounding town or city on your own. Do your own background research as best you can.  Parents are (sorry, moms and dads) a bit less reliable, especially when it comes to advising their oldest child.  A school that was up-and-coming and quite selective 30 years ago might be much less prestigious now (or more to the point, may not be right for their child), and a school that was no great shakes 30 years ago might be truly amazing now.  (I remember when I was in college that Syracuse was a safety school for many solid B students.  Colleges change over time – for better or worse.)

Rely on the ranking reports.  As this New York Times article explains, there are many college ranking lists, most from prestigious institutions.  Each emphasizes different aspects of college statistics from future earnings of students to student satisfaction to peer review to percentage of applicants who are accepted and more.  And the lists disagree with each other quite a bit.  There really aren’t any indisputably “top schools,” even within a particular field.  If you check several lists, you’ll get an idea of whether a particular school generally is toward the top, middle, or bottom of the list of similar schools, but choosing a school because it’s ranked #10 over a school ranked #12 is like ordering vanilla ice cream because it’s more popular when you really love pistachio.

Wait until senior year in high school to start thinking seriously about which colleges you’d like to know more about.  To return to my previous analogy,  you wouldn’t plan a wedding and then a month before the wedding start looking for a potential mate, would you?  Then why plan to go to college but not concern yourself with which colleges might be a good fit until just a month or two before you need to submit applications?

Choosing the place you’ll spend four very important years takes a bit of time, planning, and work.  It’s not crazy to start gathering information at the end of 10th grade.  Think about it:  If you want to apply in the beginning of senior year, you’ll have to be looking at colleges by the end of junior year.  And to look at colleges in the spring of junior year, you need to have a reasonable list by the winter of junior year.  And to have a reasonable list by the winter of junior year, you need to start doing some serious thinking and research — NOW.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please send me a message through my website (which has plenty of good information including a link to schedule time with me): www.wendysegaltutoring.com  .

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June 29, 2016

Applying to College: Common App Tips That Make a Difference

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:

  1. Buy manilla folders and plenty of printer paper before you begin.  You’ll save the trees next year.  This year, you’ll be doing a ton of printing.  BEST TIP:  Print out every page you do, every essay you write, every confirmation you get.  Use one folder for your Common App copy, and a different folder for each college you apply to.  On the outside of each folder, list the name of the college, your user name, and your password.  (No one is going to break into your bedroom to find out your college application password.)  Each school asks for (or assigns) a different user name, and each has different rules about length of password and what it has to include.  You’ll never remember in May which one required a symbol and which one required a capital letter.  Write it down now.  Believe me.  You’ll thank me.
  2. Be honest.  If you lie about any part of the application, someone is bound to find out — and colleges talk to each other.  It’s not worth it to lie on the Common App.  If you can’t get into a certain school without stretching the truth, you probably don’t belong there.
  3. Wait until August 15 before Senior year to begin completing the Common App.  The new class’ application is online each year on August 1st, but very often there are corrections and glitches to be fixed so wait a week or two to prevent having to enter everything again. The Common App now allows students to “roll over” basic information from year to year, but your life might change and you could forget to update that piece.  Why not wait until the application is available for the year you intend to apply?
  4. Enter your name the way it is on your passport or school records.  If you’re James on your school records but you enter Jimmy, colleges won’t be able to match up your application with your transcript.  Stay consistent.
  5. After you enter your name, collect the information you need before you enter anything else.  The Common App website will time you out if you’re not careful.  While you’re texting your mother to find out what her college degree was in, you’ve been timed out of the website.  Collect this info before you begin:
    • Name of address of place where each parent works
    • What your parents’ job titles are
    • What college (if any) your parent graduated from (if he/she didn’t graduate, you can leave that blank on the Common App — it will boost your chances of getting into college if neither of your parents graduated from college)
    • When each parent graduated, what degree he or she received (AA/BA/BS/MBA and so on), and in what year
    • The name of your guidance counselor (correct spelling), his or her phone number with extension, and email address
    • Your SAT and ACT and Subject Test scores so far – and the dates you took each (if you forgot your user name or password, NOW is the time to get a new one)
  6. Next, select all of the colleges you might apply to.  Go ahead and choose way more than you think you might eventually apply to.  When you add a college name, that college gets notified of your interest, which helps if you decide you do want to apply to that school.  (See my blog post last month on demonstrated interest.)
  7.  Make a resume before you enter any activities on the Common App.  It’s a good idea to make a formal resume.  You  might need it when you get called into a college interview.  The teachers whom you’ve asked to write a recommendation for you might ask for it.  You can use it for summer jobs while you’re in college.  But most of all, writing a resume helps you to collect and organize your activities.  I usually prefer three categories in reverse chronological order (most recent to oldest — but nothing older than 9th grade).  Categories might be:  academic honors, extra-curricular activities, volunteer activities, athletics.  If you get stuck writing a resume, there are lots of samples online.  Google “student resumes” and you’ll have plenty to choose from.
  8. Have an honest conversation with your parents about financial aid.  Will they be applying for loans or financial aid?  You’ve got a better chance of getting into nearly every college if you click “no” for the “are you going to apply for financial aid” question (there are many articles that say so, like this one), but if you need help, you need help — and you won’t be alone.  Most families need some financial assistance to send their children to college.  On the one hand, if you don’t think you’ll get any aid, you might want to put “no aid” to boost your chances of getting in.  On the other hand, don’t decide you wouldn’t qualify because you live in a nice house or because your parents both work.  If you need financial aid, ask for it.
  9. Print out all of the supplementary essays of all of the schools you might apply to before you begin writing.  Of course you’ve heard of the Common App essay.  But many schools also ask for a supplementary essay or two.  They’re not throw-away statements.  They count.  Spend time on them.  But very often, you can make one essay work for several schools with a bit of tweaking, so print out all of the topics before you begin.  You’ll see which ones ask “Why do you want to go here,” “Why do you want the major you want,” “What can you add to our school,” and which are quirkier.
  10. Begin your Common App essay.  Try a few of the topics to see which is easiest to write.  It’s perfectly okay – even recommended – to start one, put it aside, come back to it in a week, then start a different one.  While the maximum number of words is 650 (about half as long as this blog post is so far), you should aim at 500 – 600.  It’s fine to write a much longer essay initially as long as you edit it down to 500 – 600 words.  I’ve helped dozens, maybe scores of kids write college essays, and I always find the more I edit them down, the better they get.  They’re less repetitive, they highlight important information, they choose words more wisely.

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!

 

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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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 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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April 6, 2015

Am I Really Going To Have To Pay $71,000 A YEAR For College?

I nearly fell off my chair when I read this article in the Washington Post about NYU.  The headline runs, “What Happens When You Find Out A Year Of College Costs $71,000?”  Yes, it seems that that’s the sticker price for NYU including travel costs.  And that’s for this coming year.  Imagine what college will cost by the time your student is ready to attend!

Are you destined to sell your house and car and youngest child just so the oldest can go to college?  Not if you follow my advice.

1.  Financial aid is available at nearly every college. You might be surprised to learn that many middle-class families living in nice suburbs who own a car and a four bedroom house do actually qualify for aid.  But you’ll never know how much you qualify for if you don’t ask.  The first step in asking is filling out the FAFSA.  You can read about this form, which should be completed as soon after January 1st as possible (which means you should fill out your taxes as soon as possible), on several websites, including the FAFSA website and the College Board website, which also has a video tutorial.

2.  Student loans can help.  Some loans come from the government (see this site) or from the college itself.

3.  Private scholarships can help.  Online sites like fastweb can help you find scholarships targeted at specific groups of students.  Are you a female Armenian engineering student?  I bet there’s a scholarship just waiting for you!  Don’t forget to contact your high school’s guidance department.  They’ll have the inside track on scholarships given by local businesses and families, and you’ll be competing against a much smaller pool of applicants. Warning:  legitimate scholarships never ask you to pay money up front for a chance at a scholarship.  Beware of scams!

4. Merit scholarships are given by colleges to entice certain students to attend, especially students whom they predict will have lots of choices.  If your student is a great athlete, a talented artist, or an inspired musician, many schools will help you afford their tuition by giving you a merit scholarship.  Some schools give scholarships entirely based on SAT scores, so if your student is a good test-taker, it might make sense to pay some money for private tutoring now in the hopes of getting a big hunk of money off the bill later.

You have to be strategic about applying to schools, though.  The more selective a school (the harder it is to get into), the less likely it is that they have to convince you to attend.  Harvard and MIT don’t have to beg people to attend.  A school whose average GPA is 3.4, though, might be willing to cut the tuition bill in half – or more – for a student whose GPA is 3.9 or 4.0. That means, frankly, if you’re hoping for merit money, especially for academic achievement, it’s unlikely that you’ll get that from your first choice school.  If you’re willing to attend a school that’s further down on your list, however, you might find private college even more affordable than a public university.

5.  Your own state’s universities are usually a bargain.  In New York, SUNY schools vary greatly in their selectivity. Geneseo, Binghamton, and Stony Brook rival the most elite private schools in many ways.  Other SUNY schools have outstanding reputations for engineering, environmental studies, teacher preparation, and more.

6.  Check out other states’ universities.  These colleges are my favorites for all-around bang for the buck.  You may find the best of both worlds at another state’s school.  Many states encourage out-of-state students to attend so their own students can meet a more diverse group of fellow students.  Many state universities have campuses a few hours from home, international students, a broad array of majors, worldwide reputations for excellence, and a football team to boot!  The University of Virginia and the University of Michigan are world-class institutions, for example. Students at Penn State and the University of Delaware have great experiences.  Most states have schools worth checking out, and while you’ll pay more as an out-of-state student, those tuitions don’t come close to those of private universities.

7.  Start local and transfer.  Another smart strategy for some is to attend a local community college for a year or two and then transfer to the college of your dreams.  You might give up that dorm experience, but you’ll cut your college bill in half. And some SUNY schools have campuses where you can attend community college and live on campus!  When employers see that you’ve graduated from a certain school, none ever ask, “Did you go there all four years?”

My strongest suggestion for paying for college is this:  Parents, talk honestly with your student about what your family can afford to pay.  Tell your students, “We can pay $15,000 (or whatever) a year for school.  Apply any place you like, and if they can offer us enough in aid and scholarships, you can attend.  If they can’t, at least you know you got in.”

If you have any questions, I’ll try my best to help.

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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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

October 15, 2014

I Want To Apply To College – How Do I Find Reliable Information?

This year or next year, you’ll be applying to college.  There are thousands of colleges and universities in the United States. How can you find out which ones might be the right ones for you?

There are definitely some wrong ways to go about gathering information about prospective colleges:

Only applying to colleges that you’ve heard of.  WRONG.  There are hundreds of amazing schools you’ve never heard of that could be perfect for you.  There are huge schools in the south, on the west coast, near the ocean, in the mountains, in some major cities.  There are small schools a short drive away.  There are more than just 2 or 3 state schools – and there are more than just 2 or 3 states.

Asking your friends or your friends’ parents which schools they’re applying to. WRONG.  What might suit a friend of yours might be a disaster for you, even if you two loved all the same things in high school.  The college years are times of exploration, growth, and change.  Start that journey now!

Applying to schools that email you with offers of waived application fees.  WRONG.  College is going to cost you or your parents thousands, probably tens of thousands or more, and you’re going to live there for four years.  Saving $75 shouldn’t even be on your list of criteria.

Relying solely on information from Naviance.  WRONG.  Naviance saves guidance counselors a lot of time and effort and assures them that your transcripts get to your college choices safely, but their scattergrams and other charts gather information from too narrow a pool of applicants to be your primary source of information.  That kid with your GPA and SAT who got into your first choice school — Does he play an instrument?  Does he play a sport?  Did his parents go to college?  Is he from an underrepresented minority group?  There’s no way to tell from Naviance.

Basing your choice on information on college complaint sites.  WRONG.  Websites like “College Confidential” encourage students to express their frustrations with their schools, so by far most of the posts will be negative.  If 98% of kids love a school and 2% hate the school and post on College Confidential, does that mean you’ll be unhappy there?  Probably not. There are better barometers of how students regard a school.  (Read on!)

So how should you go about building a list of schools to consider?

Ask your guidance counselor.  SMART.  Your guidance counselor knows you (more than you think, sometimes), knows what schools you might qualify for based on your grades and scores, knows what schools might be a good fit for your extra-curricular interests, and knows where other students with similar qualities have been admitted.  Ask your guidance counselor for a list of colleges that might work for you.  That list is a great place to start.

Complete the survey on collegeboard.org.  SMART.  With an enormous base of students and excellent data collection, the College Board has very accurate information.  Their college search tool will help you generate a list of schools that you can consider.  If a school shows up on their list and your guidance counselor’s list, you definitely want to check it out carefully. (Be sure to look at all schools on the list they generate.  In the past, they’ve put the colleges that pay to be on the top first, like Google does.)  IMPORTANT:  The College Board website can tell you what percentage of freshman go back for sophomore year, a critical statistic to determine what students really think of a school.

Pay for the listings on US News & World Report.  SMART.  Their “Compass” program not only tells you whether a school has junior year abroad, but how many kids actually go.  It not only tells you whether they have a certain sport at that school, but what percentage of kids are in sports there.  It provides a level of information not available anywhere else.  It does cost $30 for the year, but I’ve always found that money well spent.

Go to college fairs.  SMART.  In northern Westchester, there’s one in October and one in the spring each year.  The spring one is just right for high school juniors (and their parents) and the October one is great for seniors who haven’t yet made a list of colleges.  The first thing you’ll notice at a college fair is the huge number of schools present, most of which you’ve never heard of.  Go in with a plan.  Ask each school whether they have a certain major, or ask how many students are in your major, or ask how many kids go on to grad school, or ask if they require freshman writing class.  And don’t forget to collect free pens, bookmarks, key chains, candy, and other giveaways at every table as you fill out “send me more information” cards.

Attend college visits at your high school.  VERY SMART.  Your guidance department keeps a list of which colleges will be visiting your high school and when.  Sometimes, you can even find the list on your school’s website.  At a college fair, the college representative might be an admissions person, or she might be an alumna, or she might be a parent of a local student.  When the college comes to your high school during the day, it’s nearly always a college admissions person, often the man or woman who will be reading your application and deciding whether or not to accept you.  You can’t miss that opportunity!  You want to show the colleges interest by going to the campus, but that’s not always possible.  If they’ve taken the trouble to come to you and you don’t even take half an hour out of your day to meet them, that’s not showing yourself to your best advantage.  Yes, you’ll have to miss a class, but you’ll get a pass from guidance.  Even if you’re not sure you have any interest in that school, go.  Very often other students who have shown up have questions you never even thought to ask.  I’ve heard students ask, “Do you house freshman together?”  Would you have thought to ask that?  Or “If your SAT II Subject tests aren’t great, should you send them anyway?”  Take advantage of the small group and ask whatever you can think of — but please don’t ask information that you can easily find on their website.  Go to these meetings prepared with at least the basics.

The goal is to come up with a nice long list of colleges so you can have plenty of schools to choose from when it comes time to visit schools and then apply.  It’s not crazy to have 20 – 40 schools on your initial list!

I hope this information has been helpful, but if you have questions, don’t hesitate to email me!  Contact info is on my website: http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com .

Good luck!

Wendy Segal

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