Every word counts!

Did you know that only about 20% of undergraduate applications for admissions are a confident admit or deny to an admissions officer? That’s it! That means that about 80% of you will have your shot at undergraduate admissions office committee hearings, without you even present to defend yourself.

Who defends you? The admission officers that read your application. You have about a dozen or so pages to present the best case scenario to the admissions committee: personal statements, detailed extracurriculars, commitment in and to your studies, and letters of recommendations.
Now, letters of recommendations for college admissions (not supplements) are from at least two teachers that know you well, and your high school guidance counselor. Oftentimes snippets of these recommendations are read in committee to display the best of you, the applicant. If you want the best shot at the best presentation in committee, then it is in the students best interest to find people that know them well.
What does “know well” actually mean? Well, the teacher does not have to be a friend of the family nor do they have to be a relative or have known you more than a couple of years. But, students, here is something to think about:
Did you make the best effort to help the teacher know who you are? Did you share your questions in class? Did you stay after class to ask questions or to pick your teachers brain? Did you decide to spend extra time on an assignment so that your teacher can discover what an extraordinary thinker you may be? Did you invite your teacher to your volleyball/basketball/tennis game? I know teachers are busy, but small details can go a long way especially when they only have one page to write about how extraordinary you are.
Now, on to the guidance counselor. This one may be a little tricky. If you attend Hamilton high school or a Small Learning Community School, or your counselor is “yours” for four years, then this can be a bit easier since the counselor, ideally, has had four years to get to know you.
Before application season (or at the very beginning), remind them of your awesome qualities with a brag sheet or share with them why you chose the particular colleges you did (including major, why you want to study there, activities you may want to be involved with,etc). It is in your best interest to help the counselor out a bit-a brag sheet or short summary of what you would like emphasized in the letter can help.
For the students that attend a large school with grade-level counselors that only meet most students once, if that (or if you have a new counselor this year), getting to know the counselor and having the counselor know you well before he/she has to write about you, may prove to be a challenge. Getting to know the counselor will take initiative on the *students* part. Introduce yourself, talk a bit about your college choices, your interests, hand them your brag sheet and list of colleges. Help them write the best letter for you, even if they may not have hours of free time to do so.
Notice that I said student. Not parent. As much as I love parents visiting me, introducing themselves to me and offering insight on their child, I as a counselor am not writing a letter about how awesome said students parents are or how involved they are with his/her life (read helicopter). I am writing about the student and what contributions the student made to the school and the community. The parent information can be supplementary, but information is most genuine when it comes to the student themselves.
Most application essays are only about 500 words. Most letters of recommendations are about a page long. Applications only offer a couple of sentences worth of space to describe extracurriculars. USE EVERY WORD! EVERY WORD COUNTS!

Let the good times roll

For many of you, the start of a new school year is right around the corner or has already arrived! Congratulations! One more year to make a difference, to create change in the world and put your best foot forward!

For Hami students that have started to email question after question about scheduling, “looking good” or the like-remember to take a deep breath! Keep in mind that your counselor is one person working on schedules and preparing academic profiles for nearly 400 students and for some of them that number is close to 500. Patience is key. I had about 75 emails to respond to today. Welcome back Garza! 🙂
Schedules will be distributed soon to eager students and parents. I have some suggestions for you on how to navigate the “system”. In my informal and unscientific observations from last year, the suggestions certainly helped both student and counselor.
There is also an incredible amount of discussion around AP classes on FB (yes, I pay attention to whats going on) and I have noticed that most students waited until now to start their summer work and now realized that AP is the maybe best/worst decision (causing for another schedule change). If you aren’t sure about whether you have made the right decision to take the AP class, remember that NOT taking the class will not affect you as much as you think it will. Admissions officers will not admit/deny you because you dropped ONE AP class in your schedule during one year (although if it is a common occurrence, perhaps they may look skeptically at your profile). They are bigger picture kind of people.
What do colleges like to see? They prefer that students take advantage of all the opportunities in their environment as well as consistent in their lives-academically, athletically and socially. Be you, your passion will stand out and help you stand out.
I want to also point out that the question “will that sport/activity/class look good for college” is also a loaded question that can lead to lots of lovely discussion. First, read my blog with the same title (click here).
Class of 2012: if you haven’t already, it is in your best interest to start working on that personal statement! The University of California has not changed the application prompt and there are no secrets: Review the prompts and start writing! The Common App has similar prompts that students can start working on as well. After spending the last four years reading application essays for my alma mater, I can immediately set apart the students that took the time to write their essay and others that sat at the computer the day before the application was due pretended that the UC app was their daily journal or blog. Not good. Take the time to work on your essay, get help if you need it! If are not a Hami Humanities student, don’t fret! I can still help!
The Common App site is open for students to start working. There is so much to do before the application deadlines and if you haven’t started plugging away at your “To Do” list, then get to it!