College Application Red Flags

A strong college application that will stand out in the crowd should be every student’s goal. Stretching the truth and trying to garner favors in the quest to gain admission to that top choice school is unfortunately nothing new. But, thanks to recent events this practice is now front page news and going forward applications will be scrutinized like never before.

The basic premise of a good application is that it is an honest reflection of the student. There exist strategies to highlight strengths when an academic profile is on the weaker side, but as a whole the information provided on a college application is the truth.

Nevertheless, many students and parents get caught up in the stress and competitiveness of the college application process and feel the need to manipulate the information provided in a way they feel will improve their chances of being admitted. Some of the most common application red flags include:

  • Transcript and test scores that aren’t in sync. Students with a high GPA/class rank are expected to have SAT/ACT scores that correspond to their academic strength, and the same is true for those with low GPA/class rank. Yet, when these two critical parts of an application are really off kilter it will beg an explanation.

  • A lack of extra curricular activities. You are more than your test scores! Well rounded students are especially attractive to colleges, and high schools today offer so many ways for students to express themselves that an applicant with virtually no extra curricular activities will stand out. On the flip side too many activities are almost humanely impossible to maintain. It’s all about quality over quantity.

  • Essay does not match student’s academic ability. Regardless of GPA or class rank, an overly edited essay filled with SAT words that doesn’t correspond to the academic level of the student’s transcript will raise suspicions about who actually wrote it. It could also put into question the balance of the application.

  • More than two high schools in four years. There could be valid reasons for attending more than two high schools in four years, but it might also be a sign of trouble. The Common Application has a required question that allows applicants to explain their situation.

  • Letters of recommendations from people who DO NOT know you. A good letter of recommendation will highlight the ambition and skills of the student, in addition to the attributes he/she would bring to the campus community. Recommendations from political figures or CEOs just come across as an effort to impress admissions by who you know versus allowing the applicant to be the focal point. Do not waste this opportunity to present another facet of the student.

Admissions officers are able to spot discrepancies on an application in seconds and if they have any concerns they will reach out to the guidance counselors for clarification. One of the best ways to avoid application red flags is to provide explanations, which can often do done in essay form or with a short answer. So make sure that this does not happen to your college application because presenting the genuine you will serve you better in the long run.

College Application Timeline - April 2019

April is the month when the college application process for graduating high school seniors and high school juniors overlap. A few seniors must still decide which school they’d like to attend in the Fall while juniors should be laying the foundation for their application process by following these steps.

• If they haven’t yet done it, juniors need to register to take either the SAT or ACT. There are two more test dates available this school year: May 4th and June 1st. Check here for registration deadlines. August 24th is the first test date for the 2019-2020 academic year and has a July 24th registration deadline. The next ACT test dates are June 8th and July 13th. See registration details here.

The SAT costs $47.50 (with essay is $64.50) and the ACT is $50.50 (with writing $67). Note: Each registration comes with four FREE score reports, but the schools must be named at the time of registration. All subsequent reports are $12 per SAT score report and $13 per ACT score report.

Students should never hesitate to retake these tests because even just a few additional points can change a school from a target to a safety or a reach to a target. Make sure to register early to not miss out on being able to take the test at a location close to home and not pay the additional late fee. Eligible students should request fee waivers from their guidance counselors.

Don't forget to take the SAT Subject Tests & AP Exams, tests that enable eligible students to highlight a proficiency in a particular subject matter and are often required admission material for highly selective schools. Strong scores on AP exams can result in college credit.

Yes, there are test-optional colleges, but their admission requirements can be equally demanding.

• Who will write your letters of recommendation? Choose two teachers and ask them before the end of the school year. Some teachers has a personal quota, so don't wait. The normal range of recommendations required by schools is none to no more than three and should not be confused with the letter your guidance counselor writes.

• Colleges look for well rounded applicants, so don't ignore those extra curricular activities - Both school affiliated activities and independent activities count as extra curricular, but quality over quantity should always be the goal.

•  Schedule campus visits - A must in the process of creating that list of criteria, a campus visit allows students to develop that crucial 'gut' feeling that will tell them when they've found the right school for them. Visit as many as possible, knowing that even those you don't like or will never apply to, are helpful in narrowing down the schools that will eventually make that final college list.

• Become familiar with the Common App - Common App Rollover will allow members of the Class of 2020 to create an account while still juniors with that information rolling over when the Common app relaunches on August 1, 2019.  Common App Ready is a series of tutorials available to students and their parents to help them familiarize themselves with the application. Click here for more details.

• Common App essay prompts will remain unchanged from last year. This is great news, but please remember that the college essay can make or break an application, so select your topic carefully and don’t be in rush to write it. Students can wait till the summer months to begin putting pen to paper.

• Want to make that application even stronger, then take a full course load senior year. Even if the student has most of the credits needed to graduate, don’t stop there. State mandated credits required to graduate from high school do not necessarily produce a strong application.

This is the last chance to boost the GPA/class rank that will be used on the applications so all high school juniors should aim to finish this year with the best possible grades. A strong GPA/class rank, along with the rigor of the courses taken, shows continued commitment to academics and is one of the best indicators of how ready a student is for college level work. A low GPA/class rank, however, does not spell doom.

So, this is not the time to drop the ball! Create the strongest personal academic profile you can and with it you will find the college or university that is both the perfect academic and personal fit.

Picking A Major In College

‘What will you major in?” is one of the first questions we tend to ask a college bound high school senior. However, It’s a loaded question and almost unfair. How many of us knew, at 18 years old, what career path we wanted to pursue? Not many of us, and for as many freshman that know what they would like to major in there is the equal amount that has no idea, selecting ‘undecided’ on their college applications.

The reality is that almost all these incoming college students, regardless of whether they declared a major or were ‘undecided’ will change their major several times over the four years they are on campus. Naturally, there are pros and cons to changing too often, the worst of which translates into a longer stay on campus to fulfill graduation requirements, and additional costs for those extra credits. On the flip side the student has explored what originally was an interest to find it not interesting enough to make a career out of it.

Students who know exactly what they will major in once in college are pursuing an established passion in the arts, sciences or humanities. Their transcript and extra curricular activities will be a testament to this passion be it in sports, on the stage, or in the classroom, and they will apply to schools that have strong programs in those subject areas. Even this group of students will change their majors before graduating.

Undecided applicants can narrow down their list of colleges by turning the classic question of ‘what will I major in’ around and ask themselves ‘what major best suits my interests, abilities, values and passions?’ Do I see myself doing this in 5, 10, or even 20 years? And the big question: can I earn a living doing this? There are a few other questions to consider. The answers to these will steer the student towards the colleges and universities with programs in the areas of study that reflect the applicants interests.

Of all the options available, there are several majors that tend to be the most popular thanks to their employment potential, but may not be the best fit for everyone. Engineering, and related fields, continues to be one with the highest starting salaries, while the lowest starting salaries attributed to these fields.

In some cases these ‘undecided’ students discover a new passion during their freshman or sophomore years and find themselves needing to transfer to another school that offers a stronger, more in-depth program in that subject. Transferring should never be a student’s safety net, but if another school has a stronger program then there might not be any choice but to change.

Except for a few Ivy League schools, most colleges will require students to complete a core curriculum before being able to fully focus on the subject they are majoring in. Spread out over the first two years of school, these curricula offer students a chance to explore different areas of study before declaring a major. It is during this period that many drop out of their intended major for any number of reasons. Note: Students should look at the 4-year course plans for the major they are interested in before making that final decision.

Much like selecting a college for both its academic and personal fit, a major should be something you enjoy studying and which will allow you to have a fulfilling career.

Parents Role In The College Application Process

The role of parents in the college application process has long been debated. Applying to college is the next big step towards independence for all our children, and In the wake of this week’s revelation of the actions that some parents have taken to guarantee their children admission to some of this country’s most selective colleges, the role of parents in the process begs to be revisited.

Applying to college is a stressful time for students, but it can also be a difficult time for the parents who generally fail into three categories:

 the micro-managing parent(s) - Living vicariously through their children, these parents control every step of the application process, as if it was their own. Among the many ways they are involved include influencing which colleges their child applies to, editing the college essay, procuring letters of recommendation from celebrities, and even selecting the roommate. They will spend the necessary money to hire whomever can guarantee their child is admitted to their college of choice, often an Ivy League school. Admissions officers can easily spot these manipulations and this has been known to work against the student's chances of gaining admission. 

• the supportive parent(s) - These parents are conscience of the process, appreciate how much things have changed since they went to college, have an understanding of when and how the student would like them to help them out with their applications, and encourage their child to be the one communicating with the schools. They offer guidance, allow the student to make their own choices, and might hire a professional college advisor to help the student stay on track with the many steps involved with the application process, especially the deadlines.

 the absent parent(s) - These parents assume that their child is mature enough to know how to handle all the ins and outs of college application process, and that it is inherently the guidance counselors' responsibility to assist their child. Whatever the reason for the absence, this group will hopefully identify someone that the student can turn to for assistance.

it's easy enough to identify which group all parents should strive to belong to, and naturally, there are exceptions to every rule and many parents can and do fall between these groups. It is also very common for friction to exist between the student and parents creating a difficult situation and making it almost impossible for the latter to lend a hand, even when they want to.

The college application playing field has historically been tilted in favor of those students with the financial means to have tutors, take prep courses, and pay the tuitions many elite schools currently demand. In turn, students with legacy or a recognized talent in a sport often have an added bonus in the admission process. Lastly, Early Decision (ED) - a binding application option - favors those students who need little to no financial aid.

Community-based organizations (CBO), College Board and school districts have supplied applicants in the lower socio-economic range with free college application assistance, in addition to fee waivers for SAT/ACT tests and application fees, all in an effort to give these students the same opportunities.

The college application process has become a highly competitive process that is in constant flux. Planning should begin freshman year with the establishment of a high school course plan, assuring that the student will graduate with the best GPA/class rank based on their academic abilities, and culminates senior year. Ideally, parents will have been involved throughout the course of these four years of high school and the college application process. We all want only the best for our children, but if we really want to help them we should let them be admitted to college based on their own academic merits and not on what money can buy.

High School Junior College Application Timeline - March 2019

The motto for March is: It's never too early to start your college application process. High school juniors should begin creating your own 'criteria' (size of school, geographical location and setting) reference what they think they want out of their college experience. A few will know exactly where they want to go to college and what they want to study, but they are in the minority. The bulk of students have no idea and need to throw their net out wide and look at all kinds of schools to gather information before knowing where they’d like to apply.

Today, the stress about gaining admission to those first choice schools is as prevalent as ever, but there is no need to panic because the perfect school for you is out there, you just need to identify it. However, students with high GPA/class ranks, as well as those with low GPA/class ranks, can do themselves a huge favor by starting early and being realistic about their chances of gaining admission. 

• SAT/ACT scores - It is too late to register for the March 9th SAT, but there are two more test dates available this academic year: May 4th with an April 5th registration deadline and June 1st test with a May 3rd registration deadline. Click here to register today.

There are three more ACT test dates this school year: April 13th with a March 8th registration deadline, June 8th with a May 3rd deadline, and July 13th with a June 14th deadline. Click here to register for the ACT.

Proficient in a particular subject? Take the SAT Subject Tests & AP Exams, tests that enable eligible students to highlight that academic strength. Strong scores on AP exams could also result in college credit.

Eligible students should use fee waivers. 

• Check your transcript - Get a copy of your unofficial transcript and check it for accuracy. Are the classes listed and corresponding grades correct? Will all the state mandated requirements for graduation be met by June 2020 - especially important for those who might have attended more than one high school? Make your application as competitive as possible by aiming to get as close as possible to the 4x5 formula.

• College List - Research and create a balanced draft list of schools. Make sure you would love to attend any school on your list, regardless of whether they are reach, target or safety schools

•  Campus Visits - No campus visit is ever a waste of time. Much can be learned about what a student is looking for in a college after having visited a school they don't like. Keep track of the little things and listen to your intuition. Few spots on a campus will better tell you if the school is a good personal fit than the cafeteria, library and dorm. Don't miss out on this chance to ask a few questions that will provide you with even more helpful information.

• Extra Curricular Activities - All students are so much more than their grades. How they spend their time outside of school speaks volumes to admission officers, and remember the golden rule: quality over quantity.

•  Common App - Become familiar with the Common App by creating a practice account or go right ahead and get going on the real thing.

There are many other little tasks to the  college application process, (selecting recommendors, filling out the FAFSA), but students who begin to focus on these now will be way ahead of the curve come September, and their stress level will be that much more manageable.

March is that deceptive month in the college application process when it looks like nothing is happening, but don't let the quiet fool you. For those who were admitted Early Decision (ED), much of the college oriented work is done and the focus is on finishing high school with a bang. Students who received rejection letters must stand up, dust themselves off, and move on to those schools where they have been admitted, while those who were wait listed can explore their options. Always try to get off that list, but know that the odds are not in your favor so have a Plan B in place.

Applicants admitted Early Action (EA), Prioirity or Regular decision must now evaluate the schools that admitted them and select which one they want to attend. Don't forget that your guidance counselors will be sending out Common App final reports - essentially a senior year transcript - to the school you have chosen to attend, so now is not the time to allow senioritis to take over. 

In addtion to trying to make that final decision, here are some of the other points that should be finished this month.

•  Completing financial papers - By now everyone should have filed the FAFSA in order for the colleges and universities to calculate the financial aid packages they offer students. Don't let those federal, state and college financial aid deadlines slip through the cracks. Call the Financial Aid Dept. if you have any questions. Don't miss this opportunity to get help paying your tuition!

•  Scholarships with March deadlines - A good deal of scholarships are still available. If they require an essay read the prompt carefully and look back at all those essays you wrote while applying to colleges, there might be copy that can be used to create a new essay with minimum effort, but always make sure you've addressed the prompt

•  Campus visits - Take this opportunity to revisit those schools that admitted you before making that big decision. As an accepted student your perspective will be different and so should your questions. This campus will be your home for the next four years, so make sure it has everything you want and need. If you've already chosen which college you will attend in the Fall, make sure to send in the necessary documents to secure your spot. Circle back to those you will not attend so that they may reach out and offer your now vacated spot to another candidate.

The top three components of a student’s application continue to be the rigor of the high school transcript, class rank/GPA and test scores. While still important, two of these criteria - the GPA & test scores - are beginning to carry less weight in the eyes of admission officers. The result is that more and more schools no longer require test scores from applicants, relying more on the rigor of the transcript, grades, and extra curricular activities. Schools are looking for those students that they feel will be the best fit for their school so make sure the application your submit in the September puts your best foot forward.