The fall and early winter are seasons where I jump into a hole and read many undergraduate and graduate applications. In the last several years I have read nearly 10,000 applications for undergraduate admission to my alma mater. From that experience, I want to share a few observations that can help with the execution of a well planned and prepared application package:
For those interested in finding money for college, learning how to complete financial aid documentation, and get questions answered, Los Angeles has a great resource through the LA Cash for College organization. The organization is hosting a convention later this month that you surely do not want to miss. See details below. Information is taken from their website:
College & Career Convention
Serving more than 10,000 students and families each year, the Annual College & Career Convention features college life seminars, financial aid presentations, scholarship information, and an exhibit hall with college/university representatives from throughout the United States. Now entering its 15th year, Cash for College has served nearly 250,000 students and remains the trusted go-to source for quality information about financial aid, college, and careers.
Family & Community Day
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016
9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
*Open to the public. Registration is requested, but not required to attend Family & Community Day.*
Los Angeles Trade Technical College
400 W. Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90015
The College & Career Convention is open to students, families, and community members throughout Los Angeles County. Whether you are a high school student who needs more guidance on navigating the college process; a parent or family member looking to create a college-going environment at home; or a community member that would like to contribute, or gain, new resources, the Convention is a “one-stop” opportunity for all students and families to make an early commitment to college.
Class of 2019. The school year is about to begin, sales for notebooks and binders are out, clothing stores are flashing sales on the coolest styles and must-haves, and students are cramming in their summer homework and reading. While wardrobe, friends, and homework are critical, there are many more concerns that families have when beginning high school. Most of these concerns revolve around myths that students and parents have heard through the grapevine about freshmen getting ready for high school and preparing for college. I will try and dispel some of these myths for parents and students and provide suggestions and support along the way.
Myth #1) Grade Point Average (G.P.A.) in 9th grade doesn’t matter. This could not be farther from the truth but I will explain how this came about. The University of California requires all students to maintain a grade of a “C” or better in all minimum entrance requirements for admissions. However, the GPA is calculated with only completed courses taken in grades 10 and 11. This means that, for the UC and California State University Systems ONLY, a student’s 9th grade course grades will not be calculated in the GPA. Students must still maintain a minimum of a grade of “C” or better in all courses that meet the A-G requirements. Plus, nearly all private colleges and universities (and many out of state public colleges) will consider the student’s GPA beginning in 9th grade. If a student is concerned about class ranking, the GPA begins to accumulate as a 9th grader. For students that think they can play catch up in later years, that task will be harder than you think.
Myth #2) Join sports and as many clubs as possible. Gone are the days when “a well rounded student” is what colleges most want. The reality of it is, colleges prefer students get involved in a few activities and spend some quality time with those activities whether it is volunteer work, sports, and/or religious involvement. Consistency and commitment. Not sure where to start looking? Find out the student’s interests and start from there. Interested in soccer? Find a local park that needs coaches for summer soccer camps. What about reading? Volunteer at the library. Find things of interest. What will “look good” for colleges is a student’s commitment to the activities they are involved in not in the quantity listed on the application.
Myth #3) Top tier colleges will not accept B’s. This is mostly untrue. Top tier colleges that ONLY look at a student’s transcript for admissions will only care about the courses a student takes and what grades they earn. ALL other schools (where a student must submit their resume of activities along with letters of recommendation, personal statements, and test scores) will consider the courses a student takes as part of the whole package. This leads me to my next point.
Myth #4) A grade of “A” will always look better than a “B”. False. Colleges want to see a healthy balance on a transcript between rigorous courses and the grades earned. If a student earns an “A” in a non-honors course, admissions officials will wonder why the student did not challenge him or herself by taking a more challenging course. There may be reasons (scheduling issues, confidence, sports interference, etc) which a student can explain when the application seasons comes around, but it is best to have a healthy balance between rigor and abilities, beginning in 9th grade.
Myth #5) It’s time to start looking at colleges as soon as possible beginning in 9th grade. No. There are far more important things to worry about in the transition to a new school, like being exposed to many new and exciting people and activities, more homework than ever, and learning how to manage it all. While a strong start can be helpful, students change over the years. I have been awed every year at how much my students grew from year to year The 12th grader is a completely different student than the incoming 9th grader. So many changes in a short three-year time span will make planning so early futile. What is important is to build a solid four-year plan, provide and seek support for any subject where the student may be struggling, and find activities of interest to the student.
It can be very easy to start on this unhealthy level of stress about being the best applicant beginning in 9th grade. The best thing that parents can do is encourage students to hone their potential, to provide support where a student may be struggling, seek allies with the student’s teachers, become actively involved as a cheerleader for their student and allow them to begin building a path that their 12th grade self will thank them for in a few years.
It’s summer before senior year, your friends keep talking about where they will apply to school and that has many students freaking out about where they will apply come fall. Parent input plays another role in the choices students make about applying to schools. The “list” students make can be a daunting task and will change many times throughout the next five months. While there are several opinions about what to consider when selecting schools and which students “should” apply to particular schools, the information can be overwhelming and not always accurate. I encourage families to not only read articles and check out websites, but also ask questions to admissions representatives, college counselors, and speak to school alumni. Everyone will have different information, some will overlap and for the rest, parents and students will have to make the best judgment to make a decision.
Applications to college are expensive, each application will range price from $35-$110 just for applying. Plus, students will need to submit test scores (with additional costs), and may need to schedule an interview on campus or with a local alumni. Saying all that, it is important to be strategic on selecting which schools to invest that money. Below are a few strategies on creating the college list that can help families make sound decisions.
1) Look at the admissions rate (for in-state and out-of-state students). While it would be pretty amazing to apply to several brand name schools, only about 1% of the students that apply to brand name only schools will be successful in their admissions decisions. The college board college search does have that particular statistic (look under “applying”) and students can see what their chances are of getting in. In addition, students can also look at the GPA break down for most schools. For example, one can see how many students with a GPA between a 2.5 and 2.99 are admitted to American University. Then, students can see how many students are admitted that are residents of that particular state.
2) Apply strategically. Now that application fees are so expensive, one must wonder, who applies now just to see if they “get in” to that school with 10% admissions rate? But students still apply to these schools even if they have a slim chance of getting in. Knowing the admissions rates and the percentages of students applying with the same GPA range is helpful to apply strategically. Select 1 or 2 schools with a small acceptance rate (reach for the stars!) and consider applying to mostly schools where a student’s GPA and test scores fall into range. Also, have a back up plan, apply to 1 or 2 schools where you are guaranteed admissions (the local state school, maybe).
3) Know what you want. This isn’t to say, know what you plan to do in 10 years or that you have your life plan already figured out. Most students that attend 4 year universities apply as “undeclared” major. It’s the most popular major out there! There is much more to college than taking classes; students will be living in a new environment, interacting with new people, spending Friday and Saturday night socializing (either in the library or with friends at dinner). A social environment is critical to a student’s success in college. Know what your interests are beyond the classroom-sports, activities, theater, nature, fitness, reading, music, competitions, and the list can go on and on. When a person has an idea about what they want and what they picture their ideal world to be after moving from their parents/family home, it makes selecting a college environment a bit easier. The subject of study is an added bonus. Also think about turning this list into a ranking order of “must haves” and “okay to haves” rather than just a laundry list of wants.
4) Use your words wisely. All applications are thoroughly read. Each word is critical. After reading thousands of applications, I have seen first hand how students sell themselves short by not using the description sections to describe an activity, event, project, or award appropriately so the reader can understand how it is critical to the applicants growth and experience. The same thing goes for the personal statement. Begin by writing a resume, and seek support in wording and descriptions (the same way an adult seeks guidance on writing a resume for employment).
5) Go towards the money. While this one may be a challenge to understand from a students perspective, it is the number one concern of parents when students are applying to college. College is expensive, and the tuition continues to rise. When researching schools, I encourage students to also review the scholarships page on the school’s website, ask about school specific scholarships when visiting the campus or meeting with an admissions rep. Find out how much money is given to students on average, and how many students get full tuition compensation. 44% of all students attending college receive some form of financial aid (scholarships, grants, loans). This is also determined by family income. To see where you stack up, check out this website: http://studentnpc.collegeboard.org.
The decision to attend college is a huge one and the sticker price can look as if we are purchasing a single family home in Southern California in four years. While a person can always pay back the money, we cannot pay back experience. The college experience will live with us for our entire life, bring us our best friends, and help up launch our future plans. But, getting that “Accepted” letter comes first.
Four months remain until the deadline for UC and CSU applications. Many of the early action/decision application deadlines are in early November. In an effort to keep the sanity during the senior year, it is important that families begin the application process in the summer. Below is a checklist for students and families to begin a tedious process of applying to a four year university.
- Review college applications. Most of the applications for admissions are now online! Search the college/university admissions site for information needed to apply to the college/university. Create a profile on commonapp.org (private schools) and csumentor.edu (cal states) and ucop.edu (UC’s). Pay close attention to individual requirements for submitting applications for each school. Most common application websites include:
Common Application https://www.commonapp.org The application window for common app will open on August 1st (do not create an account on the common app before that time).
UC Application: http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/admissions/undergrad_adm/apply/apply_online.html (application opens August 1st and CLOSES November 30)
CSU Application: https://secure.csumentor.edu/admissionapp/undergrad_apply.asp
- Register for the ACT or SAT and two (2) SAT Subject tests. The SAT Subject Tests are strongly recommended for UC schools and any private school in California and many schools outside of California. Find more information at http://www.collegeboard.org or http://www.actstudent.org. Students that qualify for the free/reduced lunch at school are eligible for a fee waiver to take these important tests.
- Surf the internet to find college scholarships and financial aid information. Some programs and companies begin advertising scholarship opportunities early, be the first to request an application! Remember to check your school’s website for event dates specifically on financial aid and FAFSA assistance. More on scholarships to come in a future post.
- Make sure you will meet the “A-G” requirements. There are 15 high school courses that students must take to meet the minimum admissions requirements for UC, CSU, and most other schools. Be sure to review courses completed and speak with a counselor about other recommended courses that can help the transcript stand out.
- Students must earn a grade of C or better in all A-G courses to be eligible for admission to the university. Students must also complete the required courses for high school graduation. I have been witness to students who received a rejection letter in the summer because of missing high school graduation requirements.
- Finish your essays for college admission. Have your family/friends/counselor re-read the essay and offer insight on what would best describe you within the word limit. Sign up for the college office workshops and check your high school website calendar for important information and events happening in the college office. Most high schools have several visits from colleges and universities throughout the U.S. Take advantage of the visits in the fall to connect with an admissions officer from schools where you intend to submit applications.
- Invest in a wall calendar. On that calendar, make note of all college application deadlines for schools to which you will apply. Use the calendar during the year for any other deadlines or due dates (Cal Grant, scholarship deadlines, transcript requests, testing, etc).
- Letters of Recommendations: Narrow down which teachers you will ask to write a letter of recommendations for private universities and scholarships. UC and CSU applications do not require recommendations but applications for certain programs within these systems will ask for references.
- Create your resume. Be prepared with this resume/brag sheet when you return from summer break. Students may use resume templates on MS Word or stop by the college office this summer for assistance on how to create your resume/brag sheet.
- Create an email account solely for your college application and scholarship related materials. Most schools and programs have taken to communicating with students only via email. The email address is oftentimes also your password for various sites. Keep all this material in one safe place online so you don’t have to search in several locations for information. Keep the email address simple to remember and professional enough to use for communicating with schools.
- Stay organized! Keep files for each school, scholarship or program. Make note of anything sent or received from each school. Save yourself procrastination-induced stress and prepare for the college application process before it begins!
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about the application process.
What’s been popular in conversations these days has been “I want to go to X school but I have to come up with (insert thousands of dollars here).” What?!?!
Several things come to mind:
GPA: If a student’s GPA is below a 3.0, the chances of “merit” aid being awarded is very slim, unless the student has extraordinary talents (like national athletic rankings).
Suggestion? Attend community college (for a fraction of the cost) for general education and permitter requirements and enroll in the school of choice’s guaranteed transfer program (if they have one).
- Call the financial aid office and ask them for either more money or more resources.
- Or, if you don’t want to attend the community college, suck it up and take out loans to cover the unmet need, hustle for scholarships and get that college GPA up for merit aid consideration for the following year.
If a student’s GPA is much higher, then those students may have more leverage to negotiate with the college/university, AND.YOU.SHOULD.NEGOTIATE.
What other schools accepted you?
- Compare and contrast financial aid award letters. Do they all look the same? Is one school offering more/less than the desired school?
- If another school accepted you and offered much more money, maybe that can be a leverage tool to the desired campus. Sometimes that works, other times it doesn’t.
- The one school that wants you to attend their campus will show you not only in the way they try to recruit you into their summer programs, but also by their financial aid package.
There is always graduate school….and that is much more expensive. If you have your heart set on a school and it’s not offering you the money you need to afford the campus, save the school to attend for graduate school (if they offer your program).
Bottom line? A college education is an investment in your future, but being financially savvy is critical. $25,000 may seem like a lot of money (and it is) for a year of a college education, but in the grand scheme of a person’s lifetime, a college graduate will make that many times over in their lifetime, if the student is smart about their spending habits, their financial choices, and their hustle. Don’t believe me, check out the research.
The goal is to keep that college debt as low as possible. If another school is willing to help keep that debt low, then by all means, take that opportunity to keep the debt low!
If you are one of the few that will have to make out in the first year with a plate of loans, be smart about your future years in college, start making that scholarship list now (for next year), and hustle to improve those grades in your freshman year so that you open up more financial opportunities for yourself in the summer and for the following school years.
March is a tough month for high school Seniors and counselors. After spending many months in the fall creating the best personal statement and application possible, and after shelling out hundreds of dollars on applications, testing and writing coaches, and meeting with counselors, Seniors wait. We wait to see if we made the best decisions not only for the list of colleges, but in the last four years.
Many college-bound seniors (and their parents) have been biting their nails for the last several months in the hopes that something positive will arrive in the mail from a school of their choice. As a school counselor (and college counselor/crisis counselor/career adviser and everything in between thanks to budget cuts), I am definitely stressed out. I worry about whether I did or did not provide adequate guidance to my charges on where they have the best chances of getting in based on their capabilities and on their academic and extracurricular profile. April comes around and we all get decisions, good or bad.
Having been an undergraduate application reader, scholarship application reader and chair (for a couple of organizations), I get the opportunity to see what kind of applicant is applying (and getting accepted) to which schools. It really helps me take the guess work out of advising students. Also, knowing which of my students from previous years get accepted (and actually love the college where they matriculate) helps me when I work with students, not only in the public school but in my private practice. It is not easy. Especially when not every student is the same.
One student (not the student that boasts the above acceptances), bummed that he was rejected from top UC’s and private schools, came in to my office and asked me “what did I do wrong?” in referring to his last four years of school. He has a solid and competitive GPA, involved in multiple sports, activities and religion. His work would certainly allow him to succeed at even the top schools. And he didn’t get in. He did get in to a highly selective California Polytechnic school and another UC. It was heartbreaking to see rejection on his face. I emphasized that the two schools where he was accepted would probably be a blessing in disguise: small class sizes and many more perks not necessarily offered at the other schools that rejected him.
I realize now what my mistake was in advising this particular student that was accepted to two (very good schools) and rejected from five. He applied to schools where he (we) believed strongly that he would get in, and he did. The rest of the schools were “reach for the stars”. I should have emphasized that part more. His list of schools was lopsided, not strategic, and I rarely recommend that. I used my respect and appreciation for the kid (and his awesome family) to overshadow the objective way I usually advise students (sometimes like how parents “advise” their child and are surprised when I shoot them down). I answered his question about what he did wrong with just this: He was a competitive candidate, but we tried too hard to “shoot for the stars”.
Then, while reading the Wall Street Journal last week, I found this “satirical” opinion piece from a high school student. The op-ed piece pissed me off. Then I felt sorry for her (and a bit envious of the great education at a blue ribbon school in a very wealthy neighborhood). I was angry not only in the defense of admissions officers that I know work their rear-end off finding the “perfect” freshman class, but also at the advising she did or didn’t get from either her private counselor or from her school (college) counselor. Why was this young lady angry at the schools and not herself?
“Colleges tell you, “Just be yourself.” That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself! If you work at a local pizza shop and are the slowest person on the cross-country team, consider taking your business elsewhere.”
This whole “be yourself” idea is as old as the “apply broadly” or ” schools want a well-rounded kid” myths. Why are counselors not debunking these myths? Why didn’t someone advise her to apply strategically and, more importantly, realistically, so that her rejection pile was smaller than her acceptance pile (or at least that she got into a school that made her happy)? If her counselor did recommend that, who told her not to listen? It’s not like application fees are cheap with each application costing upwards of $70! Why didn’t she speak with the admissions officers that came to either visit her school or her state? With resources and connections to get posted in the WSJ, why didn’t she find the resources to visit schools and get a better feel of the students on campus?
The collegeboard.org and other statistically driven websites help students see where their GPA and test scores will place them in the applicant pool. This takes the mystery out of the academic part of applying. Other sites (and even admissions officers) will share with you how much importance they place on leadership and extracurricular activities. If she boasts a competitive GPA and test scores, did she look for schools that exclusively place more importance on those numbers? Who in the heck was advising her with all of this?
Poor Suzy on the other hand, has displaced satirical anger towards the school’s admissions officer and blaming her lack of “diversity” for her rejection. She also fails to understand that her lack of “diversity” was her “lazy” fault albeit being a good writer. A college isn’t always looking for ethnic diversity, they are also looking for diversity in thought, creativity and experience. Why didn’t anyone explain this to her? Why is she using the same boring (and pathetically old) thought about admissions being the color of an applicant’s skin? Who taught her this? There is still a disproportionate advantage based on the color of one’s skin on university campuses across the country-and it’s NOT in favor of darker skin. Others have so eloquently described this viewpoint in a much better way than I probably would.
Saudi Garcia writes: “Hidden behind these remarks about racial diversity are the histories of injustice, structural racism, prejudice, educational disadvantage, and chronic under-resourcing that affect the populations in question. While, for example, Chicago plans to close public schools and force even more students into an abject, unequal education with little hopes of ever going to college, the fairy godmother of diversity will wave their obstacles into non-existence by delivering a magic carriage of college prep courses and a glass slipper of generous advising. Right? Wrong. And Wrong.”
Why didn’t she get her group of lazy friends together to talk about reality TV shows or something where she was able to at least help the admissions officer see some form of originality? What constructive activities did she do with her time other than use her connections to get posted in the Wall Street Journal? Colleges care that you care about yourself and your community-whatever it is! Why do they care? Who do you think will help continue to make the school a better place? Who will initiate student leadership and calling for change, from a student’s perspective, on the school’s campus? Who will continue the many “student initiated” programs on campus? Certainly not administrators.
Why didn’t someone explain this to her?
If “being yourself” is being lazy, then yes, few schools (especially Ivy Leagues) will accept you, no matter what your GPA or test scores look like. There have been much speculation about whether or not the U.S. undergraduate admissions system needs an overhaul and many people may share this sentiment. Although I mildly agree, there are so many facets considered when an applicant is looked at from an admissions officer. And freshman class sizes on campus have increased (as have the applicant pool), not decreased, in the last several decades.
Seniors! It’s almost time to walk the stage, turn the tassel, and get out of high school and on to begin life as an adult!
1B) Be sure that you have already applied for a pin so that you can complete the online application.
1C) Some colleges will ask you to complete the CSS Profile. The CSS Profile oftentimes has a deadline MUCH earlier than March 2nd. This application is NOT free but is still required for several private school and seeks much more financial information that the FAFSA. Some fee waivers are available for low income and first-generation college students.
1D) Cal Grant/GPA Verification for California residents that are applying to and intend on attending a California college or university must complete the Cal Grant form and postmark it by March 2nd.
Advice on what makes an applicant to college comes in all forms: counselors, parents, grandparents, television commercials, radio commercials, newspaper articles, expensive college coaches and of course-me.
In the last few weeks, I have had the same question from parents of incoming 10th and 11th grade students….”should my child take that AP class?” While politically, I have my own thoughts about Advanced Placement courses and the rat race that many of our students have unexpectedly jumped into, the question goes beyond my ethical perspective. An AP class is an intense commitment.
AP courses are a new concept for many parents, even those that attended high school and university in the United States. Parents have shared their own high school experience with me and whether they took/did not take AP classes and they still got in to college X.
Times have certainly changed in the last 15-20 years in post-secondary admissions.
Research supports the position that students who participate in a rigorous course of study while in high school perform much better in college than other peers their age. Rigor to us adults (as we remember our high school career) is much different than rigor to current high school students.
I support students that choose to take the AP class over an honors or non honors class, to an extent. If the student has the appropriate background and preparation for the class, then they certainly should have the opportunity to take the class.
Students should always have the opportunity to experience the insane intensity that is an AP course. If it’s too much, then they definitely need to consider other options and drop the class. Sometimes taking one AP course over another may not be in the best interest of the individual student (and we as adults should be able to say that).
To the parents, please allow the child the opportunity to experience it and allow them to say that it is OK or too much. From what I see, one of the big challenges parents of new high school students encounter is helping their teenager make the decision to screw up or overwhelm themselves.
Young people will have a challenging time in the future if someone else makes decisions for them and if they don’t learn how to screw up, especially in high school. Making the decision to take an AP course is a very big decision for a young person. The best thing an adult can do is help their young person come to the conclusion of taking the course or not taking the course.
Now, the bigger question to pose is balance. Is there a balance in the young person’s life-academically and socially? Why do people take AP classes? “To look good for college” of course! However, colleges are not only looking at a child’s transcript of several AP classes, colleges also look at students that have made a contribution (of some sort) to their community, have enjoyed an Art class on the weekends, who come alive when they play the violin in front of an audience. Character comes in more that one package and is not always evident in the amount of AP classes a child takes in their high school career.
I do encourage you all to check out a previous blog post specifically on AP classes and be realistic in determining a student’s abilities. Ask for guidance from a counselor, teacher, or someone else that knows not only the student well, the AP program well.
Or ask ME and I may be able to help guide you in the right direction…or at least help you ask the right questions!