High School 2 College

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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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

August 5, 2014

Applying to College: Where Do I Start? When Do I Start?

If you’re going into your senior year of high school in the fall, you probably have a nagging feeling that you should be doing something about college, but I bet the whole concept feels overwhelming.  (If you’re going into your junior year and you’re smart enough to be reading ahead to be well prepared, give yourself a big gold star!)

Where should you start?  Is it too early to begin the college process – or are you already behind?

Let’s think this whole application process through, step by step:

– You want to hear back from colleges as early as possible and get as many yeses as possible, so you want to apply to several schools early action.  That means applying by October of senior year.

– To apply by October, you have to work on your applications, especially the application essays, over the summer before senior year. (That means NOW!)

– To work on the essays over the summer, you have to know which colleges you’ll be applying to more or less by June of junior year.

– To know which schools you want to apply to by June, you have to have visited several  schools in March and April of junior year.  (Most schools discourage tours in early May when finals are in session, and most college students leave campus by mid-May.)

– To know which schools you’d like to visit, you need a list of potential schools by FEBRUARY of junior year.

So are you behind?  Unless you have a solid list of schools to which you intend to apply, I’m afraid you are!

How should you start building that list?  I’m sure your high school guidance counselor has suggested you start with Naviance.  Feh!  The sample on Naviance is just too small.  If someone from your high school got into Big State U, is it because he was a sports star?  Did his parents go there?  Is he a coveted minority?  Was he an expert at the French horn?  You’ll never know from Naviance.

Try the College Board college search.  (Yes, I used to recommend Princeton Review, but they’ve tinkered with it so much in the past few years that you now need a college degree to work their program.)  US News & World Report also has an excellent college search tool. They charge $30 to access it for a year, but it has very specific, very accurate information.  Between US News and the College Board, you’ll have all the college information you need to start building a list.

Think of how far away from home you want to be.  Think of what majors you want your school to have.  Do you care if your school has a big football team?  Is on-campus housing important to you?  How do you feel about Greek life (fraternities and sororities)?

You want your list to be huge at first, maybe 30 – 40 schools.  Include every possibility.  Then start narrowing.  Are religious schools out?  How about urban schools without a campus?  Please don’t eliminate a school just because you haven’t heard of it, and don’t include schools that don’t fit your needs just because your friends are talking about them.  Build a list on your own.

Once you have a list, group your schools geographically.  Can you visit all the New York State schools over a three-day trip?  What about Pennsylvania schools or Boston schools? You’ll probably want to take a few weekends to visit schools, so start looking for weekends that work for your parents.  They’re much more likely to cooperate if you have a plan.  For example, you might say, “Mom, I want to take three trips.  I want to see the Pennsylvania/ Delaware/Maryland schools in one trip, the Boston area schools in another trip, and the New York State schools to the west in a third trip.”  Mom’s bound to be impressed! Then go online and find out when those schools have available tours and/or information sessions.

Don’t forget to make appointments for school tours and information sessions.  The most popular dates fill up quickly.

While you’re online, definitely fill out the “send me more information” page at each school.  That’s how they know you’re  considering them.  Once the schools get specific information from you, they can send you targeted brochures for your interests or major or any scholarships that you might fit.

After you  make your list, go to visit schools.  You don’t have to see every school to which you might apply.  You don’t have to visit your reach schools.  Face it, if you get into Harvard, you’re going.  Who cares what the dorm rooms look like!  Visit the schools that are most likely to admit you.  Visit different categories of schools:  urban, suburban, rural, large, small, northern, southern – whatever your categories are.

Next, start writing your essay.  The Common App is live as of August 1st.  You can read the essay prompts here, so get started now!

Please don’t wait until school starts to begin the essay.  Sure, some English teachers give you time to work on your essay in class, but they don’t have much experience with the new prompts (prompts changed just last year and are radically different from prompt over the past 10 years or so) and they don’t know you particularly well.  Don’t tell me you work best under pressure.  They’ll be plenty of pressure in the coming few months.   A well-thought-out essay may require several drafts.  You may pick one topic, begin writing, and realize the essay is a dud and you’d be better off with a different topic.  You don’t have to polish it up now, but you should most definitely begin right away.  Get off Facebook and start writing!

Also, you should be making a comprehensive list of everything you’ve done in high school.

List:

  • academic achievements (pins, awards, honors)
  • after school clubs
  • sports
  • paid jobs (even babysitting)
  • volunteer jobs
  • community service

You need the name of the activity, the group you did it for or with, the dates, and perhaps a 5-word description.

Once you complete your list, show it to your parents.  You’re bound to have forgotten something!

After you really complete your list, make a resume.  Look online for samples.  The most important thing about a resume is that it is error-free. Have someone else review it.  Now you have something to bring with you on interviews, and completing college applications is SO much easier when you already have completed a resume.  Trust me!

If you follow all these suggestions, you should be busy until school starts (sorry about that!).

Need more help or advice?  Feel free to book some time with me (http://meetme.so/WendySegalTutoring ).

Good luck!

 

 

best college

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

June 2, 2014

Applying to College: The Common Application Changes and Advice

Back in the caveman days when I was applying to college, a student picked out 2 or 3 or even 4 colleges, wrote out each application as nearly as possible, got a large manilla envelope, mailed it in to the admissions department, and waited patiently for a thin or thick envelope in return.

Now kids apply to several colleges electronically, mostly via one application which is sent to many college with a few clicks.  Or at least that’s students and parents who haven’t waded into the college application process believe.

Here’s where they’re wrong:

  • Most colleges do accept the Common App, but not all do.  Some use their own application and some offer the Universal Application, a Common App alternative.
  • Students still have to send away for transcripts for any college-level classes they’ve taken in high school (like College Spanish, for example, or SUPA English), and have them sent to each college to which they apply (and each transcript comes with a fee).
  • Students have to send each SAT and ACT they want the colleges to see to each college – again, with a fee for each test and each college.  Just listing your scores on the application isn’t enough.
  • Students now apply to 12 – 14 colleges because they can complete just one form (at about $70 per application).  Because so many kids apply to so many colleges, each subsequent student has to do the same or risk not being accepted to a selection of schools. Colleges encourage this volume of applications because they’ll have more students to decline.  Sure, they have more students from which to choose, but just as importantly, they’ll have lots of students to turn down.  The more students they decline, the more selective the school appears to be, and therefore the more desirable.
  • About two-thirds of the colleges add a supplemental essay (or two or three or four!) to “personalize” the application.  Some colleges have boring, predictable essays, like “Why do you want to go to our college?” or “Why do you want to major in what you want to major in?” but others try to be creative with their supplemental essays, like “If you could have dinner with any person living, dead, or fictional, who would it be and why?” or “What’s your favorite word and why?”  Of course, there’s THE college application essay, the one that’s going to go to all colleges, but don’t forget about all the supplements you’ll have to write.

Last year, the Common App people changed the Common App substantially.  Some of the changes made the application a little easier to manage technically.  Other changes made the application much less appealing.  (I wasn’t the only one who found the changes frustrating.  Read this article from last year’s NBC news.)  Among the changes I object to:

The student used to be able to download a copy of the blank Common App.  The student could use this template to gather all the information necessary before sitting down to input that information.  Because the application website is timed,  it makes sense to have all the data on hand before you start.  (Do you know your guidance counselor’s fax number?  Do you know what year your father graduated from college?)  Last year, they decided that no hard copy would be available.  NEWS: there is now a paper copy of the Common App which your guidance counselor can download for those students who want to fill it out in advance of typing in the information online.  (I can also download it for my students.  I’m not sure if students will be able to download it on their own.)
The Common Application essay used to be general, with the last option being “an essay of your choice.”  They took that away.  The current options are narrow and geared primarily for students who have a story to tell.  If I my own sons were high school juniors, I’d certainly have them working on those essays over the summer.  (Take a look at the essay topics.)  No matter how busy you are during the summer, it’s likely that you’ll be busier in September and October.  You can’t create an account on the Common App website until August 1, but you can certainly start on the essay.

Because of all the changes – and the increased number of colleges accepting the Common App – the website crashed very frequently last year.  If you were one of the students who waited for the deadline day to apply, you likely weren’t able to apply to many colleges on your list.

My advice?  

  • Write your Common App essay over the summer. (Yes, I absolutely can help with the essay writing process! )
  • Create a resume over the summer (or at least list all of your academic honors, your sports, your community service, your extra-curricular activities, and your paid jobs (yes, babysitting counts).
  • Ask your guidance counselor to print out a copy of the Common App for you now, before the guidance counselors are gone for the summer.
  • Go on Common App website as soon as you can after August 1st to create an account.

As always, I’ll keep an eye on the news and let you know if there are any updates on the college application process.

Let me know if I can help or answer questions for you.1527059_691929960832285_1905266631_n

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

 

August 1, 2013

How To Write a Resume for College and Quick Info BEFORE You Start the New Common Ap

The new Common Ap is available online.

Because it’s VERY hard to change something once it’s saved, I strongly, STRONGLY suggest you don’t start filling in anything right away. Complete ONLY your name (you should probably use your middle name or initial if you have one) and address to create an account.

Look at the crazy requirements for a password:  You need upper and lower case letters, at least one number, and at least one non-letter/non-number.  Please make your password something you don’t mind your parents knowing since you probably want them to have a copy of your password for safe keeping.

Then scroll through questions and collect answers (your parents’ year of graduation and degree, your guidance counselor’s fax number) before you sit down to fill out the Common Ap.

You’ll make your life MUCH easier if you write a resume BEFORE you fill out the Common Ap. You’ll thank me when you sit down to fill in all of your awards, achievements, activities, and jobs.

Don’t rely on the Naviance template to write a resume.  It might not highlight your particular strengths.  Your resume will stand out more if you create it from my suggestions, below.

Your resume should not be longer than one page no matter how accomplished you are.  Even businessmen in the middle of their careers use a one-page resume.  It’s just arrogance to make it longer.  Adjust the font or the spacing, but keep it to one page.

To write a resume, first make a list of ALL of your activities and achievements from the beginning of 9th grade till now. Include after-school clubs, sports, interests, non-school clubs and groups (like taekwondo or boy scouts), community service, awards (including honor roll), paid jobs (even babysitting).  Now put next to each item the grade that you did each thing (for example 9 – 12).  If you plan to do it this coming year, you can include 12th grade.

Now put these activities in categories.  Common categories are academic achievement, athletics, extracurricular activities, employment.  You’re aiming for about 3 categories that will include everything on your list.

Within each category, list items from most recent (things you’ll still be doing senior year) to least recent.  If you only did it in 9th grade and your resume is getting long, you might delete it (whatever “it” is).

Now you’re ready to write your resume.  In a block centered on the top of the sheet goes your name, address (your parents’ address), your phone (cell or house phone, whichever you want colleges to use), and email address (something professional, like your name – not something you concocted in middle school like “sportzstud” or “sparkleprincess”).

Next, in bold and/or capital letters, goes your first category.  Items in that category are listed next.  Then your next category, followed by items.  Remember – keep it to one page only.

Save, print, look for spelling errors and consistent spacing.  Let someone else look it over because it’s hard to catch your own mistakes. Correct and print again.

Now you have a resume to give to teachers who are writing a recommendation for you or that you can bring with you on interviews.

Let me know if you have any questions about the Common Ap or about writing a resume.  I can provide you with a sample or two if you’d like.

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

March 8, 2013

Major Changes in Common App Coming This Summer: What To Do Now To Prepare

The makers of the Common Application, known familiarly as “the Common App,” last week announced big changes that will first affect current high school juniors, and then – at least until the Committee gets the urge to tweak it again – all younger students in turn.

For those who are unfamiliar with the college application “game” (and by “game,” I mean something akin to medieval torture), the Common App was designed to allow applicants to fill in their basic information (name, address, interests, grades, scores) once rather than over and over for each college application.  Moreover, the Common App allows the student to write one mighty, well-crafted, heavily reviewed and edited masterpiece essay that all schools (at least all schools that accept the Common App) will accept.  It should have been a boon to those applying to many colleges, as most students now do.  (My older son applied to 12 colleges; my younger son applied to 14!)  Sadly, while it is a great help to guidance counselors who used to have to mail hard copies of transcripts and recommendations to all those colleges, the Common App has not been much help to the average bedraggled college applicant.

Here’s what went wrong with the Common App:  Each college, in its quest to appear unique, takes advantage of the opportunity to require a supplement, which includes questions on legacy (family members who attended that college), major, and, of course, another essay or two – or three.  These supplements, over the past few years, have gotten longer and more complicated, and have substantially eroded any benefit the common app had to high school kids.

So what are these big changes?

1.  The activity essay is gone.  Too bad.  I rather liked that one.  It asked students to expand upon a particular after-school activity that they do and explain why it is important to them in under 150 words.  Gone.

2.  The three submission areas – application, supplement, and fee – have been consolidated into two submissions, with the supplement now part of the application.  Sort of (read on).

3.  The supplement ESSAYS are now a distinct submission, which means you can submit your application now and finish the essays later, as long as the whole thing is done before the deadline.  Sort of cancels the benefit of combining three submissions into two, doesn’t it?  We’re now back to three submissions  for each college, and three chances to fail to complete your application by only submitting one or two of the three required submissions.

4.  Download-able, paper versions of the forms have been eliminated.  I’ve always advised students to print out a blank copy of the Common App and complete that in pencil before completing the form online.  The Common App times out if you take too long between answers.  So while you look up your guidance counselor’s fax number or while you call your dad at work to find out what year he graduated from college, you’re timed out.  You did hit “save,” right?  Well, maybe it saved, and maybe it didn’t.  The best strategy is to fill out the application hard copy, and then you can type in your answers all at once.

TIP:  Print out a hard copy of the application NOW before they delete it this summer.  It will be a little different from the version you fill out online, but the questions will be the same.

5.  You can no longer upload the Common App main essay.  You can either type it directly onto the form (not a good idea – too easy to overlook a typo), or you can select, save, and paste (much safer).  Still, it’s an annoying extra step.

6.  The Common App essay topics have changed drastically.  There is no longer a “topic of your choice” choice.  There are only five choices (click here and scroll down), and you have to pick one.

TIP:  It may seem early to you, but there’s no harm in starting to think about the topics NOW.  You might try writing an essay for each topic, or at least two or three.  Write a few essays and put them aside for a month or two.  Coming at them after a break will give you a fresh perspective.  Are they still interesting and relevant?  Would your best friend’s mom or your aunt find it interesting?  Keep thinking, and you’ll be ready to tackle the essay in earnest over the summer.

7.  The length of the Common App essay has changed.  For many years, it was a maximum of 500 words.  Three or four years ago, they changed it to a minimum of 250 words with no upper limit.  Bad idea.  The upper limit of 500 words came back quickly.  The new limit will be a minimum of 250 words and a new upper limit of 650 words.  650 is a maximum, not a suggested target.  A 500-word essay might fit your needs better.  Wordier is not necessarily smarter or more clever or more engaging. And they will cut you off at 650.  Not 651.  You don’t want them to think you don’t know how to follow directions, do you?

8.  A new optional “additional information” essay has been added.  Some colleges used to include this in their supplement, but it will now be part of the standard Common App.  If you truly have nothing else to say, don’t feel you need to fill this section up with trivial information.  But if you need to explain bad grades (did you move from town to town?) or excessive absences (did you have to take care of an ailing parent?) or a lack of activities (were you required to babysit younger siblings so your parents could work?), use this space to explain what might look like a serious negative on your application.

9.  The arts supplement will be hosted off-site, and the athletic supplement will be discontinued.

10.  You will be able to edit your application (but not the essay) after your first submission.  So, if you notice you made a mistake after you submit one application, you can correct it before the next application.  HOORAY!  The inability to correct a mistake has always been my primary objection to the Common App.  Can I say it again?  HOORAY!!

There are other minor changes, but these are the big changes that were announced recently.

If you need help on the applications or essays over the summer or in the fall, you know where to find me!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

July 23, 2011

The Summer is Half Over – Don’t Waste More Time, High School Students!

Do I sound like your mother?  Right.  That’s because I am a mother.  But I’m also a teacher, a tutor, and a college adviser, and I spend a good part of each year getting kids into college.  Do you want to go to college some day?  Then follow this advice that students from each grade can use right now:

Grades 8 – 10:  Read.  Read.  Don’t stop – read some more.  Reading the back of the cereal box is better than reading nothing. Reading Sports Illustrated or Seventeen is better than the cereal box.  Reading TIME or Newsweek is WAY better than reading Sports Illustrated or Seventeen.  TIME and Newsweek are written on the college level unlike most other magazines.  The articles are varied and interesting, but the real value is in the letters to the editor (called “inbox” in TIME).  When they print a letter, they also print the writer’s name and home town.  No one wants to look like a dope in front of his neighbors, so the grammar and vocabulary in every letter are gorgeous.   The letters, and the back page essay which is a perfect length for SAT practice, are written with an agenda and a tone.  No one writes to Newsweek because there was nothing good on TV.  Letter writers write to a magazine editor because they have a viewpoint, a slant, an opinion; your job as a reader is to figure out why the writer is REALLY writing.  You’ll seldom be asked to read this type of writing in school – extended essay or persuasive opinion – so get comfortable with it on your own.  Go online and get a subscription.  It’s much less expensive than buying individual copies.

If you have finished your summer reading and want more, look for books outside your usual area of interest.  Each genre has a jargon.  Reading a mystery isn’t like reading a fantasy.  Reading science fiction isn’t like reading a romance or a biography.  Or if you’ve read a book before that you liked, read more by that same author.  Or read a harder book  that has more of what you liked about that other book.  If you like chick-lit or romances, read Vanity Fair by Thackery or Jane Eyre by Bronte.  If you like Dave Barry, read some Thurber or O. Henry short stories.  If you email me what you like, I’ll give you a few suggestions that will bump up your reading skills while you’re being entertained.

And keep reading this blog for an advance look on what you’ll need to do as you get closer to senior year in high school.

Grade 11:  Read and follow the advice above for 10th graders.  Incoming Juniors should also be thinking about the PSATs that are coming up in October.  Most students should just go in and take the test when it’s given.  (Don’t worry, your guidance counselor will sign you up and tell you where to go and when.)  There’s a free booklet in the guidance department in which the College Board gives you advice about taking the test and a few sample questions.  If, however, you’re the kind of student who panics before every test and gets ill before important tests, it may pay for you to find a tutor and have a few sessions to get ready.  (You can take a course, although they’re so seldom useful.  But I covered that already in another blog.)  The only other type of student who should get pre-PSAT tutoring is one who regularly scores very, very well on standardized tests.  The National Merit Scholarship is derived from PSAT scores, so if you’re likely to qualify, get tutoring before the PSATs to increase your chances of getting a scholarship.  The PSATs are a bit easier than the SATs, mostly because the PSATs are shorter, but the questions are identical, so PSAT tutoring will give you a head start on SAT preparation.

Grade 12:  Read and follow the advice for 10th graders – when you take a break from college applications.

By now, you should have a list of colleges that interest you.  If not, read my blog entry from last year on how to build a list of colleges based on online resources.  Go visit some.  You don’t have to visit all the schools you apply to, but you should have an idea if you like small or large schools, rural, suburban, or urban schools, religious schools or secular schools, and so on.

If you are going to visit, interview with an admissions officer if it’s offered.  (Read this blog post for suggestions on what you should be looking for during a college visit, and visit this blog post for thoughts on how to make a good impression when you’re on an interview.)

You should be writing your college essay this summer. Start now.  Don’t wait for your English teacher to mention it.  Take advantage of college early action programs by having your application and essay prepared before you start classes in September. (But please read this advice first.)

Lastly, don’t forget that you’ll be taking the SATs or ACTs again in a few months.  Decide which test to focus on, and get busy improving those areas in which you are weakest.  Let me know if you need some help.

You’ll have plenty of time to relax next year in science class (just kidding!), but right now you should GET BUSY!

Wendy Segal   http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

November 9, 2010

More Advice about the College Application

Of course, you’ve read my previous blog post about applying to college.  I’ve read a lot of articles lately that echo my advice in that post.

One question I’m asked frequently is how many applications a student should submit.

The answer is 12 – 14.

I know you were expecting a long “it depends” answer, but the truth is that more and more kids are submitting more and more applications because it’s hard to figure out why a college might take someone when someone else’s credentials seem better.  (See this NY Times article about admissions numbers at certain schools.)  So you can submit fewer or more, but I think 12 – 14 will ensure you a good selection to choose from.  Pick 3 – 4 safety schools (if you’re still breathing when they get your application, you’re in).  Pick 3 – 4 reach schools (you don’t have a chance, but what if a miracle happens?).  Pick 6 – 8 schools you’ve got a pretty good shot at.  You don’t have to visit 14 schools.  Wait to see where you get in, and then visit — or revisit — your top 3 choices.

But some of you still have questions.

First of all, let me state unequivocally that I can’t stand the Common Ap.  Hear me loud and clear:

Don’t use the Common Ap if the college allows you another choice.

Yes, the Common Ap allows you to apply to several schools at once, and yes, your guidance counselor will encourage you to  use the Common Ap because it’s easier for him to deal with one type of application than many varieties of application, not all of which work with Naviance or allow him to submit your transcript and other information electronically.

Too bad. You have to complete the application that’s most likely to get you into the school of your choice, even if it’s inconvenient for your guidance counselor or your teacher or your parents.

I admit that my method is more work.  But this isn’t the time to be lazy.   Get a bunch of manila folders, take a deep breath, and do what I tell you.

Here’s what you should do:

1.  Go to the Common Ap and download and print out the application (go to “Download Forms on the top, then “Student Application,” the third one down).  Don’t do anything online yet!

2.  Fill out the Common Ap in pencil so you have all the information you need in front of you.

3. This is critical:  Go to each school’s website. Click on “Admissions.”  See which application each school will accept.  My preference, in order, is:

There are other applications as well, as this New York Times article explains.  It sets out the pros and cons of a variety of applications, but it agrees with me that the Common Ap is frequently just not the best choice.

When you’re at the school’s website, print out the school’s application AND any application instructions. This is where the manila folders come in handy. Make a folder for each school’s application information, including the user name and password you chose for that school. Some schools encourage you to send extra materials, like resumes, videos, and newspaper clippings.  Other school frown on anything extra.  Not every school wants two teacher recommendations.  On the Common Ap, every school gets the same information, even if the college prefers more, less, or different information.

Why annoy the people whom you’re trying to flatter?

Most importantly, you can’t customize or change anything on the Common Ap. Once you’ve submitted it to a school, you can’t change anything, even if you found a mistake.  (Yes, I know there are ways to get around that, but if you’re going to do an application twice, you’re not saving any time or effort, are you?)  You don’t really want to hear my Common Ap horror stories.

Once you decide on an application (I hope it’s the school’s own application or the Universal Application), you may have still have questions. This New York Times article reviews some common confusions kids have with applications.

Then there’s the essay.  As  you’ll find out as you wade through the applications, there’s really no such thing as THE essay.  It’s likely, in fact, that  you’ll write 3 – 6 essays or more before you finish. The Washington Post’s article about the variety of essay questions explores out some of the more “unusual” questions.

And I’m sure you’ll want to review my blog post about the essay.

Do you have even MORE questions?  Do you see the comment section right below this blog?  Feel free to ask!

Wendy Segal

September 2, 2010

Read This Before You Apply to College

It’s not as easy as you might think.

You’ve filled out your share of forms over the years.  You finished your essay and you’re ready to start filling out college applications.  Should be a snap, right?

Not so fast! Here are a few suggestions to make the whole process a little more orderly.

I’ve got to give you this most important piece of advice right now up front before I forget and before you lose interest.  It’s not obvious but you need to know:  Don’t send in the application for your favorite school first. Even if you are applying to only one school early action or early decision, don’t send it in first.

After you send in your first application, you’ll notice an error.  I promise.  You’ll find a typo, or you’ll realize you should have put your afterschool activities in a different order.  You’ll decide to use your other email address or you’ll hear from a friend that colleges really don’t like when you go over 500 words and yours is 525.  It has been my experience over the past 23 years that you’ll want to change or fix or adjust SOMETHING on your application as soon as you hit “send.”

So don’t send your first application to your favorite school! (Don’t make me say it again.) Send your first application to a safety school, even if the deadline isn’t for several months.  Send your next application to another school you don’t have your heart set on.

Now, you have my permission to send your third application to the school of your dreams.

Now that I got that out of the way, here are some step-by-step instructions:

Go to https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/default.aspx and click on “download forms.”  Print out the application (student form).

  1. Complete the entire common ap in pencil first. The website has a timeout feature, and while you’re looking up your guidance counselor’s fax number, the website will time out on you.  It’s much easier to manage if you  have all the answers (where and when did your parents get their college degrees?  what’s your school’s CEEB number?  what’s your social security number?  what’s your father’s email address?) right in front of you when you sit down to type in the application.  Whether you use the common ap or a college’s own application, you’ll need the answers to those same questions.
  2. Print out blank copies of any applications you might be completing. What are those essays?  Can you use your common ap essay for all of them or do you have to write another essay?
  3. Write supplemental essays. If you don’t have any, you’re unusually lucky, but most kids have to write supplemental essays.  If you’re submitting the common ap for a school, don’t forget to check if that school has a supplement.  They’ll want to know why you want to go there (save their brochures and praise what they’re already proud of), or what you can bring to the school (thirst for learning and sharing experiences with others who aren’t like you) or why you consider their school a good choice (gee, if they need a 17-year old to tell them why their school is good…).
  4. Write your activities essay. The common ap requires an essay of no more than 150 words (a medium-sized paragraph) about an activity you do after school.  They’re really asking which of the activities, sports, jobs, or clubs is most meaningful to you – and why.  Don’t tell them you love baseball (or football or hockey or lacrosse) because you get to show your stuff while learning teamwork.  They know that already.  Think of a different angle if you can.  Or pick a different activity.  Community service activities are great to highlight here.
  5. Fill out the activities section carefully. Include everything you can think of and put them in the order that matters to you most.  Actually, although that’s what the application says, you should put them in the order that will most interest the admissions people.  They love activities that you’ve participated in for years.  If you’re a black belt at a martial art, say that early!  If you are an eagle or gold star scout, say that early!  If you’ve been dancing since you were four, say that early!  And where they ask if you’d like to continue that activity in college, the answer should almost always be “yes,” even if you’re not sure.  Warning: if you list an activity you never really did, they will find out. And if they find out after you’ve been accepted, they will pull your admission.  Don’t lie or even exaggerate.
  6. Complete the application on line. Save after every page you complete.  Print after every page.  I know, it’s a waste of paper.  Too bad.  You can reuse those papers once you get into college, but right now you need a copy of everything you submit. Print every page and have someone (moms and dads are good for this job) look it over before you click “send.” If they say they didn’t get it, you can fax in your copy.  And then print out the entire completed application in the end.  Save each application at least until you get online confirmation that they got it all.
  7. Don’t forget to print out blank teacher recommendation forms. Find out from your guidance department if they want you to deal with teacher recommendations yourself or they can manage that part for you.  If you’re on your own, make sure you give the teachers who are doing your applications a stamped envelope addressed to each school and the form with a sticky note on it with the deadline.
  8. If you don’t need financial aid, your application will be looked on more favorably. Even if the school says it’s need blind, they need to take kids who can pay their own way.  If you need financial aid, don’t be afraid to say so, but if you won’t be applying for financial aid (merit aid is different), that’s a plus. Read this NY Times article for more discussion on this topic.
These are just the basics. If you have specific questions, feel free to post a comment to this blog and I’ll try to answer as clearly as I can.
Sometimes I think they make the applications so difficult so they can make sure you’re really ready for all the forms and procedures you’ll be responsible for in college.

Good luck!

Wendy Segal

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