I often get questions from students and parents who wonder why a strong personal statement is so important. After all, their students have good grades in solid courses (that is, academic core courses such as math, science, English, foreign language, social studies). They probably have AP or IB courses or took some classes at the community college.
The essay is important for at least two reasons.
First, students self-select what schools to apply to. They apply to those schools that interest them for any number of reasons and those schools where they have a chance, even a small one, of getting accepted. If your student with great grades and solid classes is applying to University Z, that means many other students, with similar grades, test scores and classes, are applying there as well. The competition then, is strong. What makes a student stand out is what they show the admissions committee about themselves – and that comes from the essay and the activities list.
Second, colleges have merit scholarships they offer to their best and brightest incoming freshman. The competition for those dollars is fierce. If everyone who is eligible has a 4.0 GPA, 2000 combined or better on the SAT or 31 or better on the ACT, how do they choose who will receive the scholarship? That’s right, they look at the other qualities a student has that makes them stand out among their peers.
Sometimes those other qualities may be so compelling and well-told that they can make a difference for a student with slightly lower scores or grades. (More so for admissions than for merit scholarships.)
So, when your student (or you!) sit down to write your college essays and activities list, take the time to make it the best you can.
If you want helpful tips, join one of my webinars for students or parents. Details can be found here.
It’s started – that crazy time of year when seniors like you begin applying for college, or for those who started this summer, complete their college application.
Why do I say it’s a crazy time? Because senior year is typically (and hopefully) filled with difficult classes, leadership in clubs and organizations both in and outside of high school, and writing essays about yourself for college and scholarship applications. If a student (you!) are trying to do all of those things well, it takes a lot of time.
My recommendation to stay sane: stay organized! It’s likely you are applying to several colleges. (I recommend applying to three to five.) Create a space in your room to hold all of your college materials. It could be one file drawer, a box with folders, a color-coded notebook. I like to call this “area” your App HQ.
On your computer, create an electronic App HQ, a folder clearly marked “college applications” with separate folders for each college with all of your essay drafts and student activities’ lists inside. This way, when you are inspired to write, you’ll know exactly where to find your materials.
Many colleges also have application checklists to make sure you send in a completed application. Print those out and/or download them and keep them in App HQ.
You can repeat this for all of the scholarship applications you’re going to send in too.
By starting off well-organized, you’ll save yourself valuable time over the next few months. And who knows, you might squeeze in time for fun!
There are acceptance letters from colleges and denial letters and everyone knows what those are. But what’s this “wait list” thing about? What does that mean?
The wait list is a way for colleges to make sure they have the right class size they are looking for. It’s their way of saying to you, “we know you can succeed here, but there are other students we think are better except we’re not sure how many of them will choose to come here.” They know that most students they accept off the wait list will take them up on their offer.
If you are put on the wait list, here’s what you want to do:
Read the letter carefully.
Follow the directions. Some colleges may ask you to send back a card or go online and confirm that you do want to be on their wait list. If you don’t confirm, then you are removed from the wait list.
Work hard your senior year. Colleges may ask to see your senior year grades to decide who are the best candidates to come off the wait list.
The wait list may not be a list at all! Colleges organize wait lists in many different ways. Some may be able to tell you “You’re in the top ten on our wait list.” Others, may have a their list “grouped,” based on how students scored in the admissions process based on academic and personal scores. They’ll accept students in groups based on what they need to make a balanced class. They won’t be able to tell you where you are on the wait list because they don’t know.
Consider putting a deposit in to reserve your place in the freshman class at another college where you’ve been accepted. You’ll take a risk of not going to any college if you put all of your eggs in the wait list basket and then don’t get accepted off the list. You are likely to lose your deposit at the at the other college if you do come off the wait list and don’t go where you paid your deposit, but that might be a risk worth taking.
My nephew just received news he didn’t get into his first choice college. (I say that’s their loss!) Is it because he isn’t smart enough or didn’t get great test scores? Nope. It’s a matter of competition to get in, what that college is looking for, and how well he presented himself and his accomplishments. And the last item is the only one in his (and your) control.
How do you deal with denial letters (which is what we call them in admissions because “rejection letter” sounds too harsh)? Here are some suggestions I have:
Read the letter thoroughly to see what it says.
Mope for 12-24 hours, but no longer. (I did this. Everyone was extra nice to me for one day then I had to get over it.)
Celebrate the acceptance letters again and think about how smart those colleges are to accept you and how much those other colleges are missing.
Have a chocolate bar.
Reflect on what you might have done differently (if anything) to get into your first choice college. Did you work as hard as you could have in classes or did you just coast through school? Did you spend time writing an essay that really talked about what you would bring to the campus? What was your work ethic?
Build on what you learned during your reflection time. Reflection time is not idle time thinking “what if.” It’s time for you to learn how to take something that didn’t work for you and make it better the next time. For example: Let’s say you are a smart person but you didn’t work as hard as you could have studying. It was easy to get a B so that’s what you got – though hard work would have given you an A grade. (Personal experience talking here.) You reflect and realize you could have been far more competitive in the college admissions process had you put in the effort in high school. Now you have the opportunity in college to work harder, and get better grades. And what will that lead to? Better internship opportunities, job offers during and after college, and I’d bet you’d have more confidence the better you did in classes. You’d probably have more faculty contacts who could write you letters of recommendation for graduate school if that was your goal.
Realize that you can only control some things. You can control how hard you work and the choices you make. You can control how you react to the denial letter. You can’t control how college’s make decisions or how much competition there was for admission to the colleges where you applied.
Make plans to visit the colleges you were accepted to. If you go in with the attitude that you have made good decisions about all the schools you applied to, and that you have good options on where to attend, be happy and get ready for an amazing experience at college.
Good luck to you in making decisions about where to attend college! There are many options out there that will suit you. Starting at community college and transferring to your dream school is one idea among many others that will get you to your Bachelors degree. You can get there and have a fulfilling experience on the way.
Students like you are getting the good news about acceptance to college. Like you, they run to the mailbox for “the big envelope” – because congratulation letters come with tons of information about orientation, housing, and the very important new student enrollment/deposit fee.
What do you do with all this information? Here are my suggestions:
After you open the envelope and you read “Congratulations!” – I recommend jumping up and down and being very excited.
Share the news via any method you can: facebook, phone, text, tweet, sky writing…
Sit down after celebrating and read everything that came in the envelope. Twice.
Share the information with a trusted adult – parent, guardian, foster parent, case worker, grandparent. Someone you can review the information with.
Make a checklist of all the things you need to do. Include fees that need to be paid and deadlines for paying them. You don’t want to be late!
Make a date to visit the campuses you’ve been accepted to if at all possible. In your packet or in your email you may find information on accepted student open houses/preview days held by the colleges. These are only for the students who have been accepted and are designed to get all your questions answered before you make the decision on where to get your education.
Whether you visit a campus or not, talk to students who attend the college. It’s easy if you’re there for a visit, but colleges may also have online chat opportunities, congratulatory phone calls from students attending the school, or you can just ask the admissions counselor to connect you to a current student.
Compare information from the colleges you’ve been accepted to including what seems to be the best fit for YOU as well as what you and your family can afford. (You may have to wait for your financial aid packages to come in for this.)
It’s very important for get your fees in on time, especially to reserve your place in the freshman class and in the residence halls. If paying the fees will be a hardship for you and your family, you can ask for the fees to be deferred (meaning you pay the fees later with the payment coming out of your financial aid). Read the information you receive to see how to do that and what deferment means to that specific college. For many schools, if you defer the deposit and later decide not to attend that college, you still owe them that deposit money. Other colleges may waive the enrollment and/or housing fees based on your financial aid information. This means you don’t have to pay those fees at all.
Ask questions. Read carefully. And choose your college based on what fits you – there may be more than one.
March Madness of a different variety is taking place in college admissions offices and for students applying to colleges around the country.
For most people, March Madness is all about the NCAA tournament, filling out your bracket and then talking about how all the upsets ruined your chance to win the office pool.
In admissions offices, March Madness means finishing up admissions selections and sending out both acceptance and denial letters. As you might imagine, the “madness” comes in when students get denial letters and admissions counselors get phone calls from students and parents about the fact the student’s been denied.
I know what it’s like to be denied admission to a program you wanted to get into (I was recently sent a denial email about getting into a doctoral program I really wanted). I moped for the weekend. Then I wanted to know why – why wasn’t I selected? I had great credentials, great scores, fantastic and well proofread essays, and killer letters of recommendation. I was mad.
So it’s not surprising if you feel mad that you’ve been denied admission to a college you really want to attend. No doubt you want to know why. It’s perfectly okay to call the admissions office and ask, but here are some things to think about.
First, be considerate when you call. No one likes getting yelled at and it really doesn’t get you any information or make anyone want to help you. Ask the questions you have and make sure you listen and understand what the admissions folks are telling you. It’s highly unlikely that an admissions counselor will say “We’ve made a terrible mistake. We’ll admit you immediately.” Yet is seems that’s what all callers (especially parents!) are expecting to hear.
Ask if there’s a process to appeal the decision if you really think a mistake was made. Not a mistake along the lines of “my neighbor down the street was admitted and she has a lower GPA than I do.” And it’s unlikely you can add new information to your application after the denial (and after the application deadline) so “but my SAT scores went up when I retook them in February” won’t help much either. Ask what can be included in an appeal and ask, too, what the chances are you’ll be admitted through an appeal. Where I work, less than 2% of appeals are admitted.
After you gather information, consider if it’s really worth it to appeal. If not, then make your plans to attend one of the other great schools you’ve been admitted to. And if you go through the appeals process and it’s going to take a long time, consider putting your enrollment deposit down at another institution. Another option is to ask what you need to do to transfer to the school that you can’t get into at this time.
Don’t let “madness” ruin your future plans to get a college education. One school’s loss for not admitting you is another college’s gain. And they’ll be lucky to have you.
I have been watching a lot of Olympic coverage these past two weeks and thought of a comparison between the athletes and the high school students getting ready for college. You can tell me if the analogy works.
As I was watching so many of the events, speed skating, skiing, snowboarding, sliding sports, I realized that these athletes train for years in order to compete in an event that takes all of 2 to maybe 10 minutes depending on the distance and event. What kind of ratio is that? Eight hours a day of sweating, four years recording your every workout, watching everything you eat so that you can compete in the downhill skiing event that lasts less than 2 minutes! Now that’s amazing dedication to a goal.
As a high school student who wants to get to college, you are also asked to put in a lot of time sweating over math problems, proofreading papers, researching topics for social studies, nevermind all the hours you spend in the classroom. It may seem like you work hard for just that short amount of time you spend completing your college application and then waiting to hear if you’ve been accepted. When you get on the podium, it not to receive flowers and a medal, but to get your acceptance letter. But admission to college is just the first step.
My analogy ends here as your college application should not take under 2 minutes to complete. Really. And your acceptance letter to college is only one event. For you, life is more like a decathlon – acceptance letter, high school graduation and diploma, college degree, job offer, and on it goes. There’s no 2 minutes of glory and a medal for you. There’s college: four more years of sweating over your studies, discovering who you are as a person, learning to think and write critically, and hopefully, having a lot of fun.
As a matter of fact, your high school education is the foundation of your training, similar to the training of the Olympians. Without it, you can’t get to the highest level and get the gold medal – or that college degree and what lies beyond.
So keep training and your hard work now will pay off later. Education will help you reach your goals, even if they might not be gold medals.
My nephew, a junior in high school, sent me this email:
Tomorrow I am registering for classes for senior year, and I wanted to ask you if these seem like they would be good options:
AP Macroeconomics; AP Psychology; Marketing II; Band; AP Statistics; Human Anatomy and Physiology; Oceanography/Meteorology; Computer Hardware
With these classes, I would have one semester study hall and a semester of Senior Privilege, where I am not assigned to any class. I was considering signing up either for Jazz Band or maybe a photography class, and that would probably eliminate both the study hall and the senior privilege; however, I have kind of been looking forward to Senior Privilege since freshman year, and I really think it would be nice to have a break during the school day. Basically all of my senior friends have either a study hall or senior privilege. Do college admissions really frown on these, even though I am in so many AP classes and advanced in English and Math?
Here’s my reply: (and it’s to my nephew and his parents!)
Thanks for asking!
Colleges like to see every senior take the most challenging classes for him/her. In general, AP classes in math, science and foreign language are the best you can take to impress admissions folks. I know you’ve already taken AP Calc, so AP statistics is a good choice. AP Macro will count as a social studies as will AP Psych. What about AP English?
I know you’ve already gone as far as you can go in high school with a language so your only choice there is to begin another language. That may be the same with your English classes as well if you’ve already taken all the AP classes offered.
Marketing and computer hardware won’t even be considered as academic classes by most 4-year colleges. So even if you get As, they won’t impress. Band will be considered a good choice because you’ve been doing it for all 4 years (so that shows dedication and it replaces a core academic course).
Your two science classes look good – I assume you’re taking one each quarter. Of course, if they are honors level, or if there is AP Bio, AP Chem, or AP Physics (and through working hard you can get no lower than a B- in them), then I’d recommend one of those sciences. If you haven’t taken regular Bio, Chem and Physics, then you may want to consider completing those “big three” of the sciences.
For most colleges, especially the more selective ones, admissions wants to see you take 5 academic classes each semester – yes, in your senior year - in what we call the core classes – math, science, English, social studies and a foreign language. The level of the classes then raises the “impressiveness” even higher.
So, my advice, take at least 5 core academic classes senior year, and if you can still fit in a study hall, great. At the least, think 4 academic courses and band – that’s a good schedule, too, since you have been active in band. If you go to three academic classes your senior year, that’s what we would call a weak academic schedule.
Also, your junior year grades are going to be really important. We love them to improve from freshman to junior year, or be high for all three years. What you don’t want to do is have your junior year grades go down. That’s like a big red flag for admissions. Unless something happened to a student to effect their grades junior year, it’s like saying “I’m slacking off!” to the admissions committee. It’s a really loud yell if your senior year is weak, even if you’ve taken excellent classes up to that point. It’s not always right, but that’s how admissions at the more selective schools work.
Now that I’ve said all of that, there are plenty of good schools, and selective ones (though not Harvard or Yale or those types) that will be happy to welcome you into their freshman class with the schedule you just wrote to me. The bottom line is “the better your classes and grades, the more options you have for which schools to apply to and how many acceptance letters you’ll get.” And the more likely you are to get some scholarships, too.
I hope my nephew finds this answer helpful and that you do too!
I get asked the following question often: “Should I take AP or IB classes offered at the high school or should I take classes at the community college while I’m still in high school?” In Washington state, we call these community college classes “running start.” (AP = Advanced Placement. IB = International Baccalaureate)
My answer: where you take the class is less important than WHAT class you take. You can attend a community college and take classes like PE, business math, automotive tech. If you plan to go into a technical college, then these classes are okay (though personally I feel every student benefits with math at least through Algebra II and learning another language). However, if your goal is to get into a 4-year college, then you’ll want to stick to English, math, history, foreign language, and science at the community college – especially math, science and foreign language.
All colleges value students who go above and beyond the minimum high school requirements. So if you’re taking an AP or IB Calculus class or Calculus in the community college, that’s excellent; you’re taking Calculus! Same thing if you are taking a fourth or fifth year of Spanish (or any language) at the AP/IB level or at a community college – the level of the class is the same.
AP/IB are “regulated” classes, that is, they have a set curriculum that is standard for all schools who offer it. Community College classes can teach a variety of topics in their English 101 classes, for example. In that way, some 4-year colleges prefer those top level high school classes.
To make the right decision for you – consider what classes will challenge you the most as you prepare for college. Then consider the environment where you will thrive. Do you like the structure of high school and the consistency of continuing your education there in the best classes? Does your high school offer AP or IB classes?
Or do you chafe a bit under the rules of high school? (Colleges have rules, too!) But maybe a little more freedom in your schedule, classes that teach more information and sometimes much faster (if you go from the semester system in high school to a quarter system at a community college, you’ll move much faster through your studies) would really help you blossom.
You don’t have to figure which classes to take all on your own. Ask your guidance counselors for advice. Talk with your parents. Ask students who are taking community college classes about their experiences. Ask the students in the AP/IB classes what their experiences have been like. And don’t hesitate to ask college admissions counselors how they look at transcripts and what classes they like to see prospective students’ transcripts. Gather information and then you’ll make a well informed decision.
Choose well, challenge yourself in class, and enjoy learning!