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.

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.

The Basics About Transferring Colleges

The college application process is intimidating in itself, yet approximately a third of college students will repeat the process in orde to transfer to another college. The reasons vary, and as with anything else, there are good reasons and there are poor reasons.

Experts believe that with the popularity of early admissions where schools now admit sometimes up to half of their incoming freshman class, and the competitive nature of the application process, high school seniors often feel pressured to make decisions before they might have had chance to really understand which school is the best fit for them on both a personal level and academically. Even for those who did everything right, once on campus and confronted with the rigors of college level courses, doubts about having made the right choice will begin to emerge.

The normal path for students who begin their college education at a community college is to transfer to a 4-yr institution once they have earned their Associates degree (AA). Naturally, students can apply to transfer to any college they wish, but Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) programs (not to be confused with Guaranteed Transfer) guarantee qualified community college graduates admission to schools that are part of such programs where they can then go onto earn their Bachelors. California has one of the best known TAG programs offering guaranteed admission to all eligible in-state community college students.

Students who want to transfer from one 4-yr school to another have a more challenging time. If transferring after only one year of college, the high school academic profile will be the core of their application. If applying after sophomore year then the college GPA, transcript, etc., will come into play. Always check the college’s website for their transfer student admission requirements. Few Ivy League schools accept transfer students with some, like Princeton, which has only just begun to accept transfers, and it goes without saying that the process is very competitive.

Transferring credits is easily one of the hardest parts of the process, but here are some tips to ensure that the most of them do. Students able to participate in a TAG program will be able to keep most of their credits, but rarely are students able to transfer all their credits to their new school. Approximately 40% of transfer students received no credits for courses taken, losing on average almost full year of credits.

In July of 2018, Common App introduced the Common Application for Transfer, specifically designed for students interested in transferring schools. As with the regular Common App, this application streamlines the process, helps students gather the necessary documents, identify the essay prompts and all other school specific admission requirements, and lastly, is accepted by all their members schools. Transfer deadlines tend to be in February and March, but always check the websites of the schools on your list to be sure.

So, if you want to transfer schools, do yourself a big favor and follow this handy step-by-step guide to make sure that you’ve thought of everything and are successful at taking this next big step in your future.

College Application Timeline - January 2019

Happy New Year!! Congrats to all those who have already received letters of admission and scholarships from the colleges where they applied either Early Decision, Early Action or Priority. But, unless you applied Early Decision, don’t stop now. The next big due date is only five days away on January 1st, the better known of all the application due dates, especially for regular admission to many highly selective colleges and universities.

However, if you are still not satisfied with the admission results, consider the second round of Early Decision II and Early Action II.  Those deadlines are now so you  must act quickly if interested. Early Decision II is also binding, and Early Action II still offers applicants the chance to review financial aid packages before making that final decision. 

Even if you have a few notifications of admission in your hand, there’s still much more to do and consider in the application process.

•  Deferred or waitlisted - You have been deferred or wait listed?? Understand the differences between these two and what your options are.

•  FAFSA - The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and the the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE are now available online. All students planning to attend college in the Fall should begin filling the necessary one out and submitting it as soon as possible. Financial aid packages are calculated using the information on the FAFSA so get this form filled out and submitted quickly. Check when the financial aid deadlines are for the schools on your college list - do not miss them. 

•  Check the status of your applications - Incomplete applications will not be evaluated, delaying a decision. It is the student's responsibility to check if the schools have received all the necessary documents. Colleges will notify you by email if there is something missing or students can check directly on the college's website regularly. This is especially important for international students for whom getting missing documents tends to take longer.  

•  Scholarships - Students should never stop looking for extra funds to pay for tuition. Check here for scholarships with January deadlines.

• Thank you - For those students who are all done with their college application process, please take the time to thank those that have helped you with your applications. Whether in the form of a card, note or email, let these people know that you acknowledge their efforts: it's the right thing to do. It doesn't take long and very much appreciated.

• Do not forget to notify those schools that you will not attend. Once the scolleges have calculated their yield, if needed they will be turn to their wait lists in hopes of filling those empty spots. If you are currently wait listed somewhere this could be YOU!!

•  Haven't even started thinking college yet?? - Well, you're in luck because there are still over 100 colleges and universities with application deadlines in January and February. Your 'perfect' school might be on this list.

The balance of the bullet points for January are identical to those every month:

• Don't miss ANY deadline

• Take the time needed to write a good essay - long or short

• Always keep your guidance counselor informed

• Lastly, keep those grades up. This is not the time to drop the ball with your school work .Colleges have been known to rescind an offer if there is a drastic drop in grades, they’ve discovered inaccuracies or there have been disciplinary issues.

To all my readers, thank you, for your support over the past year and I look forward to continuing to guide more of you through the college application process this coming year. And remember, help with your any part of the application process is only an email away, so don’t hesitate to reach out.