Prepping for the College Application Process

The college application process has only just begun for high school juniors. While applying to college via the Common App has gotten easier there remain things that require serious thought in order to achieve maximum positive results. These include the creation of a well-balanced and realistic college list, identifying the best strategy for when and how to apply, and thinking of how to finance a college education without incurring a massive amount of student debt.

The foundation of every student’s college application process is their academic profile, which is made up of the transcript, GPA/class rank and SAT/ACT scores. Together these three pieces of information will dictate which schools will be on the college list. All too many college lists are either top heavy with reach schools or bottom heavy with safeties. The objective should be well-balanced list of reach, target and safety schools.

The admission rate of a school is crucial in determining whether it will be a reach, target or safety and it is not necessarily the same for each applicant. Some of the factors that can come into play include grades, class rank, rigor of the transcript, legacy, ethnicity, gender, and sadly - ability to pay. Even the reputation of the high school can influence admission. So yes, a student should have a few reach schools on their list, but the focus should be on schools where being admitted is realistic. This also holds true for those students at the top of their class because even with a stellar academic profile the Ivies should never be considered a safety school.

One’s ability to pay for college should always be part of the creation of a college list as well. A school could be a target or safety yet be among the most expensive to attend. As a rule state schools will be less expensive for in-state students, but don’t not apply to those out-of-state colleges either if they fit your criteria. Experience has shown that with the right qualifications these private out-of-state schools have offered financial aid packages that bring the final cost of tuition even with the state school. Therefore a good college list will include several financially safe schools.

Once the college list has been finalized then it’s time to decide how and when to apply. Today’s students can select from Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), Single Choice Early Action (SCEA), Priority, or Regular Decision (RD). Based on the college list, academic profile and determination, which makes the most sense? Several realities exist with each option: the first is that many colleges fill their incoming freshman classes with candidates from the Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) pools; secondly, qualified students are encouraged to apply Priority to state schools while there are more funds available for financial aid packages; and third, highly selective schools only offer Early Decision (ED), Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) or Regular Decision (RD) forcing students to choose. These early application options all have application due dates beginning as early as Oct 15th through to early December so work on those applications must start over the summer.

Note: Early Decision (ED) is not a good idea if you aren’t totally in love with the school. It’s binding and students aren’t able to compare financial aid packages. Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) in very similar to Early Decision as it does not allow an applicant to submit any other early applications, yet isn’t binding. It does, however, offer well qualified students a slight edge over applying RD. Think twice before being tempted to use your SCEA on a reach school as it might not be the best strategy.

Regular Decision has January or February due dates giving students more time to put together a strong competitive application, and if applying to a very selective school might be the only valid option. Ideally, it’s really nice to already have a few acceptances by December which is one of the reasons Early Action is so popular.

Regardless of which schools a student is applying to having a strategy in place will improve the odds of being admitted into their first choice schools. Once an application is submitted to a college the fate of the student is in the hands of the admissions officers, so why not take the time to select colleges and universities where the student’s academic profile, and personality, are a good fit ? This will increase the chances of admission and reduce the disappointments.

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.