Making the Most of a College Fair

Making the Most of a College Fair

Attending a college fair is a great way to connect with schools you are interested in and make a positive first impression on their representatives. However, there are some important things to keep in mind in order to make the most effective use of your time.

Be prepared! Register for the event ahead of time and make a list of the participating colleges you want to speak with. Make sure they have the major you are interested in! Show up promptly when the fair begins, to allow yourself enough time to visit all the booths of interest.

Ask good questions. Have a few (3 to 5) questions ready to ask each school. Make sure you are not asking generic questions that could easily be answered by looking at the school’s website. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about how colleges support their students and what the general culture of the school is. Ask about your chosen major, and if you are undecided, ask how they advise and help undecided students.

Describe yourself. Have a brief (one minute maximum) ‘speech’ prepared that includes a summary of your interests, goals, qualifications, and what you can bring to a particular school. This is a great way to introduce yourself to the representative and demonstrate your interest.

An informational sticker label or postcard can be very helpful. Consider creating large stickers or cards with your name, mailing address, date of birth, phone number, current school, expected graduation date, e-mail address, area of academic interest, and expected college start date. These can be handed to the representative or attached to their information sheet, saving you the time and energy it would take to hand write everything at each separate booth.

Form a route. When you arrive, get a map of the fair and mark all the schools you are interested in. Start at the ones with the shorter lines. Do not attempt to go to every booth, row by row!

Don’t forget your supplies. Bring a sturdy backpack to carry brochures and informational materials, pens, and a blank notebook. A snack and a bottle of water might be nice to have, too.

Take notes. If anything important or memorable stands out, write it down immediately after your visit, before you head to the next booth. There may be some details you could use in your college essays!

Be open to other options. If there are long lines for the schools you planned on checking out, why not stop by one you weren’t considering? You may be pleasantly surprised!

Appearances matter. Dress appropriately, approach college representatives with confidence and a smile, and be sure to make eye contact when speaking. Greet them with a firm handshake. Be mindful of the amount of time you spend conversing, especially when there is a line of students behind you. This is your chance to make a positive and memorable, although brief, impression.

Follow up. Get a business card from each representative, and send him or her an e-mail or thank you card after the fair if you are still interested in applying to his or her school.

After the fair, discuss it with your family. The most important thing you can do after attending a college fair is to debrief. Talk about what sounded good, or bad, about the schools you chose to visit with. Use this information to refine your college search criteria.

Arrive prepared, ask the right questions, make a good impression on the college representatives, and review the results afterwards. If you can accomplish all of these things, you will certainly be making the most of any college fair you choose to attend!

By Jilly Warner

See our lists of Fall 2015 College Fairs and Group Tours
International College Fairs and Group Tours
US College Fairs and Group Tours

© College Goals LLC 2015

A Message for Parents of College-Bound Students

Message to Parents

Dear Parents whose sons and daughters are about to matriculate into college –

Are you having butterflies in your stomach, and maybe second thoughts?? ” S/he isn’t really mature enough for this . . . how will he handle the self-responsibility?  Will she be safe?? Will he get up and get to class, and turn in his work on time??  What about doing the laundry??”  

Seeing your child go off to college is a challenging time for parents, when you can let your heart (even your eyes) overflow with abundance as you wish for your college-bound child to be safe, but not stuck . . . to move forward on a path, but not one that leads to the same old gateways . . . to be willing to take risks, and be able to learn from them and not repeat the process.

You can’t expect them to understand or sympathize . . . or even acknowledge . . . the transition their departure creates for you.  They will never know the level of love and hopes they have inspired in you until they have their own children.  Meanwhile, be patient with them . . . don’t hasten their passages.  Remember the birthing process – there is a time what the right thing to do is just to breathe.

Remember when your baby was new, and you slept with one eye open, listening for her breathing and her every cry?  Remember 16 or so years later sleeping with one eye open listening for a car to come home and the door to open, and light to go on in the bathroom?  After you’ve dropped your dear child off at his dorm room (his new home), or left her at the airport, to fly off to college alone, and you have walked out, as straight and stiff as you can, with that awkward grin pasted on your face . . . then what?

Well let me tell you some of the wonderful things you have to look forward to!  After kids go to college (it may take a few months, or a year), they begin to realize/be aware that parents not only know a few valuable things, but that you actually seem to continue to learn.  Kids also bring home fresh new ideas for you to chew on – some may take some careful or repeated swallowing, but they are bound to refresh your vision and challenge you to re-evaluate your positions . . . always a good but never a comfortable thing.  If they email you about their readings, by all means, you can locate and read some of their new materials too . . . but DON’T write them about your opinions, please!  And definitely, for the first year, keep their room (and most of the house) exactly the way they left it, please – no redecorating, or putting away trophies, mementos, stuffed animals.

But look in the mirror often and begin to see your selfnot your son’s or daughter’s mother or father.  Take time to read and think about why you are here on the planet . . . that’s what you want your child to be thinking about . . . why, and what are you going to do about it?   From now on, the best ways that you will influence your child will come from role modeling . . . pay attention to your SELF – enjoy, appreciate, and yes, grow.

Here are a few suggestions for books we feel confident you will find helpful:

Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years, by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger – it is in its FIFTH edition, which should tell you that many parents have found it very useful!

You’re On Your Own, (But I’m Here if you Need Me): Mentoring Your Child during the College Years, by Marjorie Savage

Doors Open From Both Sides, by Steffany Bane and Margo Bane Woodacre, a mother-daughter duo.  This is a very useful book for both the student and the parents.

Off to College, A Guide for Parents, by Roger H. Martin. This book, by a former college president, was just released and it is thoughtful and very comprehensive. He knows the college experience from the inside, and the parent experience, also.

Written by Joyce Reed

(c) College Goals LLC 2015

Your Recommendations

talk to your teachers about your college recommendations now

talk to your teachers about your college recommendations now

You’re back in school, heading into your final year. Your courses are challenging, your extracurricular leadership roles are demanding, AND you will need to move forward every week on your college applications! Where to start, your first days back in school?

In addition to grades, personal statements, and activities, colleges also want to know what other people have to say about you. Most will require a ‘School Report’, created by your school counselor or administrator, and one or two Letters of Recommendation from teachers. Recommendations matter . . . a lot! Here are some tasks you need to set in motion as soon as possible.

Ask one or two teachers to write the Teacher Recommendations to be sent to your colleges.

Carefully consider which teachers to ask and consult your college counselor and parents for their input. They must be teachers of major subjects (math, science, history, English, languages), and have taught you in your Junior (11th grade/Premiere/Lower 6th) year, or be currently teaching you, as a Senior. (But last year’s teachers will know you best.) Moreover, they need not only to know you as a student in their classes, but they must also have the interest and willingness to support you by writing a great recommendation that will ‘market’ you well to colleges and universities.

Approach those teachers right away! You want thoughtful, substantive letters, and those cannot be done overnight. Moreover, popular teachers may limit the number of students whose recommendations they can write each year.

Schedule a meeting with these teachers in the first week or two of school, and do not go empty-handed! Bring along the following:

1) A resume, or a list of your extra curricular and personal activities during the past three years. Teachers, like admission officers, value humility and appreciate honesty, but they need to know what you have done and achieved outside of their classrooms, beyond their experience of you.

  • Include ways you have contributed to the school, in general, or to your larger community, and significant summer activities.
  • You can mention particular skills or personal strengths, and let the recommenders know what areas of study interest you.
  • Any career goals?

2) A copy of your transcript for the past three years, as well as your standardized test scores.

3) Copies of papers in which the teacher made interesting or positive comments on your work — take these along to help jog his/her memory. Admission officers find specific examples of impressive insights, writings or research, useful.

4) A list of colleges to which you are considering applying (you can change it later!).

5) Note any special reasons and programs for applying to specific schools.

Once a teacher has agreed to support you by writing a Recommendation, you need to get his or her email address. You will then enter that contact information into your Common Application in the first college on your list. Click the ‘assign’ button, and the Common App will email your teacher with the required Recommendation form. Note: each teacher’s recommendation can be used for all your Common App colleges, so each teacher needs to write only one Recommendation.

Discuss with your Counselor how to submit Recommendations to colleges and universities that don’t take the Common Application, and how to assign recommendations from different teachers for different colleges.

The college admission process allows you to gain in self-knowledge and new insight into how people view you. But don’t leave people’s perceptions of who you are and what you are capable of achieving to chance! Instead, help shape that impression with your thoughtfulness, organization, and courtesy.  DO IT NOW!

Tips on Visiting Colleges

I am currently accompanying my daughter Maia, a rising senior, on a tour of colleges and universities on the East Coast. We are finding that these college visits are essential to helping her get a sense of what she likes, and doesn’t like, in a college environment, and to knowing more clearly about the programs that interest her! Here are some tips about college visits that Maia (in italics) and I would like to share, based on our experience.

✜ Be sure to reserve a spot for the information session and campus tour at each institution you visit. These can fill up! Also, if you register in advance, the college will often mail or email you a parking pass, map, and other pertinent instructions.

Sometimes the times or days won’t line up exactly as you planned. You might have to reschedule some info sessions, move a college to a difference day, etc. Try to be as flexible as you can.

✜ If the college or university conducts interviews of rising seniors, take advantage of this opportunity and schedule an interview, and be sure to prepare for it. By this I mean write down questions you (the student) have for the interviewer about the college. You cannot know what the interviewer will ask you (but relax, they are always friendly!), but you can show interest and knowledge about the college/university by being ready to ask questions of the interviewer. Be sure to do your research: ask questions about specific programs/ features of that particular college (this shows you have done research) and avoid asking questions that could easily be answered by a visit to the school’s website (this shows that you have NOT done research).

Generally the conversation flows pretty freely and it’s easy to make questions from what you and your interviewer are talking about. That being said, I agree that it’s good to have a couple of questions prepared for the inevitable “so, do you have any questions for me?” I tended to check out the Wikipedia page for the college because it listed the special programs and unique qualities of the school in a more obvious fashion than the website did. Also, check out the specific academic programs that you’re interested in and see what special requirements they have or what resources they have. I found that the majority of my interviews were conducted by seniors at the college, rather than by admissions officers. This definitely put my mind at ease because I found that these interviews were less nerve-wracking from the get-go. The few that were with admissions officers were also fine, especially once I had gotten my sea legs with interviewing (in fact, my favorite interview was with an admissions officer). Interviews aren’t as scary as they seem, I promise. Be prepared to get questions that you weren’t expecting that make you think on the spot. Relax; they know that you can’t whip the answer out right away, so it’s okay to take time to think about it. Just be yourself, smile, and be alert!

✜ Collect the business card of the person who conducted your interview. In a couple of days, send that person a thank you postcard and be sure to email them any additional questions you think of after leaving the school.

I sent postcards from Hawaii (where I live) and would try to include a tidbit from our interview in hopes that they would remember who I was. For example, in one of my interviews we talked about going to Mars, so I included a little something about that at the end of my postcard. Make them personal so they remember you!

✜ Be sure to ask who in the Admissions Office will be reviewing applications from your geographic region. Ask to see that person, if possible, and introduce yourself briefly and get his/her business card. Follow up later with a brief thank you email, noting how interested you are in the school. Then, as questions arise when you are writing your application, email that person directly.

They aren’t scary either! I ended up emailing one admissions officer a recipe for a great pasta dish. Also, don’t feel bad about not wanting to email the admissions officer from a school you weren’t fond of. The point of the tour is to narrow down your list and pick out your favorites, not give yourself unnecessary emails to write.

✜ By the end of your college tour, you will have quite a collection of business cards that represent valuable personal connections that you will want to maintain. Be sure you jot notes on each card to help you remember who each person is (i.e., interviewer, Admissions dean, person reviewing your region’s applications, etc.).

My mom thought I was crazy at first, but in the future you will thank yourself for doing it.

✜ Plan to arrive early for your info session/interview. You never know what unexpected circumstances – traffic, getting lost, finding parking – could delay your arrival. Also, don’t forget quarters for parking meters and an umbrella! We have visited several colleges in the pouring rain, and not all colleges provide umbrellas.

Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet, too. My poor shoes were wet for days after visiting William and Mary in the pouring rain.

✜ As soon as possible after each visit (and preferably on the same day as the visit!), write down your pros and cons for that institution, noting interesting programs/features. I recommend you write these notes in Word, then cut and paste them into CollegePlannerPro to share them with your College Goals’ counselor. (For information on how to use CPP, see “Instructions for Using CPP,” a document provided to you by your counselor.)

If you’re visiting two colleges in one day, try to write this down between each college. Especially if the two colleges that you’re visiting are similar, they’ll tend to blend together and the programs get all switched up.

✜ I heartily encourage all of you to plan a tour of colleges on your list – whether this summer, during a school holiday, or when colleges are in session – but preferably before the colleges make their admission decisions. It really does make a difference to see the colleges/ universities “in person”, and it will definitely help any student to create a more specifically appealing application!

Do it! It really helps you get a feel of the colleges that are right for you and figure out exactly what you’re looking for in a college. We visited a college that had been one of my favorites on paper and I ended up not liking it. Before we started seeing colleges, I was worried that I wouldn’t know which one felt the best. If you’re like me, don’t worry about it. You really will know when it happens.

On Writing an Ivy League Admissions Essay

These days, students applying to Ivy schools find themselves having to wade through a dense morass of conflicting advice about admission. With Harvard, Princeton and Yale denying far more valedictorians than they accept, many students are coming to the disquieting realization that overwhelming academic achievement and stratospheric scores may be not enough. Hence, the hope that a perfect essay might be where real distinction lies.

All the Ivies, however, use the Common Application with its single essay requirement. Students are given a choice of five prompts that ask them to tell a story that reflects their own identity, to recount a moment of failure, reflect on a time when they challenged a belief, describe a place of contentment, or discuss an event that marked their transition to adulthood. But the student who is applying to both Princeton and Pomona has to craft a personal statement that speaks to readers at both schools equally well.  As Jon Reider, a well-known high school counselor in San Francisco, says, “It has never occurred to me that one Ivy (or anywhere else) would want a certain kind of essay.  The whole point is that the main essay tell that kid’s own truth.  Colleges take what they get.”

Ivy admission officers would agree that in telling their truth, the topics that students choose more often reflect the reality of their own lives than they do the ethos of specific colleges. This year, for example, admission officers saw many more natural disaster essays (Sandy, Colorado flooding, Oklahoma tornadoes).  The subtle trends are even more interesting. Some admission readers have noted a shift in the overused “helping others in exotic locales” topic, from the old staple in which a student discover peasants that are happy in spite of their poverty, to one in which witnessing the deprivations of poverty spur students to express gratitude for their American prosperity. Others have the impression that students are often more comfortable celebrating a rather anodyne version of diversity, marked more by servings of both sushi and stuffing, masala and mashed potatoes, turkey and tamales, at the dinner table, than by political engagement.

Students’ desire to write an Ivy-inspired essay is also complicated by the nature of the Ivy League itself.  While the League shares a long tradition of academic excellence, exclusivity, and a set of admissions protocols that relate mostly to athletics (such as an Academic index that all Ivy athletes have to meet), the eight Ivies remain very distinctive institutions. It is hard to imagine how to write a Common Application essay that simultaneously speaks to Columbia’s focus on the intellectual value of a core curriculum, Brown’s notion that such value derives from the absence of a core, Cornell’s proud tradition as a land grant school, and Harvard’s exclusivity.

Of course, there is an element of self-selectivity that may set the essays of some Ivy applicants apart from others. Thoughtful applicants focus on how particular schools fit with their social and intellectual aspirations, and good essays mirror such self-awareness.  Elisha Anderson, an Associate Director of Admission at Brown, notes that when he used to work in the admission office of a smaller, nonconformist liberal arts college in Massachusetts, he saw so many essays on protests, filmmaking and the Food not Bombs movement, that, “It wasn’t until I started working at Brown – where I almost never read essays on any of these topics – that I realized how different the self-selection of the two applicant pools must have been.”

For the school-specific supplements to the Common Application students do, however, have to write more targeted essays.  Here a student needs to craft an essay that speaks to his or her fit with that particular institution, and some will ask the question very directly. “Tell us what you find most appealing about Columbia,” for example, or “Why Brown?” Dartmouth avoids additional long essays and Harvard’s is optional. The Ivies with engineering schools ask for additional essays from prospective engineers, but Cornell, not surprising given its seven colleges, ask every applicant for such an academic interest statement. Princeton and Yale are presumably looking for exactly the same qualities in their top applicants—academic aptitude, intellectual depth, awareness of others, leadership qualities, and knowledge of the institution. And to help them identify those elements, Princeton asks students to reflect on their own lives by writing, for example, in response to quotations on culture, service to the nation, and the practice of inequality. Yale, in contrast, asks simply that a student, “Reflect on something you want us to know about you.” Associate Director Rebekah Westphal of Yale explains that the question is, “open enough that students write about whatever they feel like at the time, to present themselves to us without trying to fit into a certain topic or question.”

It has been said that there are only two stories we tell each other: a familiar person leaves on a voyage, and a stranger comes to town.  This is no less true of college essays.  In a good essay the student embarks on a voyage to learn more about an idea, a place, or about herself, and she returns able to examine and understand what has been familiar with new eyes and a deeper perspective. In that narrative, Ivy admission officers are looking for qualities that are no different from those that readers at Stanford, Rice or Chicago are searching for, and for the greatest part, they are all likely to discern them in similar essays.

(A version of this essay was published by Quarts magazine, February 10, 2014)

Dreams deferred, Part II: some comments on being deferred in the early application season

By Andrea van Niekerk

PART II: What are student to do when deferred?

I spoke previously about the reasons why selective schools may choose to defer a large percentage – in many cases even a majority – of their early applicants.  But the question remained as to what this meant for deferred students who find themselves ecstatic to have the door still slightly ajar at their dream school, but also suspect that they may have to move on to Plan B after all?

Students are right to feel both emotions, because being deferred indeed means that you can still be accepted.  If you are denied early, it is the end of the road at that college.  If you are deferred, however, it means that someone will still have a second look at you in regular decision.  That means that at the very least, the committee thought it best to wait and re-read your application within the larger regular pool.

Schools vary quite a bit in the percentage of deferred students they will accept – for some schools the acceptance rate may be more or less the same as it would be for other students who applied regular decision, and for others, the acceptance rate may be markedly lower.  You should certainly ask schools about this, but don’t be too surprised if the answers are vague!  And don’t be too hard on the admission officers seemingly doing the spin – they are bombarded with hopeful parents and students who want to parse statistics in order to fix their own chances of admission, when such clarity is virtually impossible.

Meanwhile, you should respond to your deferment with both of these possible outcomes in mind.  If you are still wildly keen for the school in spite of their slightly lukewarm response, then tell the admission officer just that.  Some schools may offer you a form on which to state this, but even if the school does not, write the admission officer a letter telling him or her that in spite of your disappointment, all the reasons why you applied early to that institution – the good fit, the great programs – remain valid.  At the very least, you will momentarily reappear on that reader’s radar screen as he or she reads your letter.

You do not, however, want to sit on the radar screen like an annoying mosquito on a wall.  Irking the reader is the last thing you need, and since they just worked through the Christmas break while New Year saw them hunched over files, that is easy to do!  Don’t assume that they made the decision to defer you because they missed some piece of information, and therefore blast them with a repetition of stuff that is already in your file.  They read all of that the first time round! Do not run out to bother your senator, a local alumnus you met in a coffeehouse once, or a professor with whom you had a single email exchange, to write you letters of support.  Unless they can add useful new information that will be meaningful (and none of those examples will fall in this category!), you are wasting your energy.  The only thing the admission officer will be interested in will be new, relevant information (you just won some important academic prize or are newly elected to a significant position, for example) and a short and concise statement of your continued interest.  If you have raved for several pages about your burning desire to attend, the reader will have filed the note long ago and moved on.

Having sent off the note or the email, redirect your energy towards Plan B.  You may, at the end of the day, not get into your dream school, so make sure the rest of your applications are strong.  Be sure to apply only to schools that you would be very happy to attend – after all, you may even end up at your safety school, so make sure it is one where you will thrive.  By doing so, you will ensure that a few months after arriving at the school that did return your affections and accepted you, you will hardly remember having felt such a passion for that other place.  That post-deferment rejection will remain at most a slight rankle in the back of your mind.

 

Dreams deferred: some comments on being deferred in the early application season

by Andrea van Niekerk

PART 1: Why do schools defer students?

Most American colleges and universities these days offer students the opportunity to apply early.  Some schools may demand an early commitment, others may merely wish to gauge interest, but all early programs give students the chance to tell a school how much they would love to attend that institution.  But come December and April, students will find that while their dream school may accept their love, it may also turn them down unceremoniously or at best offer an ambivalently mixed message.

So why do schools defer students, and what can an applicant do about it?  As with so many good intentions gone awry, early programs began as a way for students to express their desire to attend one particular school, even as dwindling acceptance rates forced them to apply to a growing number of institutions.  To admission officers, it showed which students really, really wanted to attend that school and were therefore likely to commit if they were accepted. (When I worked at Brown, we would sometimes use the shorthand B4B to describe such a student: Burning for Brown).

But over time, this is of course not how things developed.  Now applying early is, for many students, unfortunately just part of the gamesmanship with which they feel forced to approach college admission.  For schools, faced with applicants who now routinely apply to ten or more schools, it has become a way of exerting some control over their matriculation rates.  After all, admission officers spend hours of work to identify the kids they want on their campuses, only to have those kids say ‘no thanks’ if a more prestigious institution comes calling.  Some schools have responded by taking a large number of students from their early application pool, or by forcing students to make an early commitment.  Schools with merit-based financial aid may even use scholarship dollars to sweeten the early pot for the students they really want.  Other schools (highly desirable schools that may, nevertheless, in the strange world of college admission, fall in a tier below the single digit acceptors) may offer students a two-step early program: they can apply early with all the same trimmings, but at a slightly later date, a period often squeezed in between the early notification date and the regular application deadline typical of very selective schools.

Regardless of how schools manage their early application process, they all want to do two things.  They want to accept enough reasonably committed students to ensure a high matriculation rate.  But they still want to leave space in their freshman class for wonderful students who may not have applied early anywhere (always a sizable number even in these crazy times) or who did not get into that fabulously selective school they dreamed about but are still perfect candidates for their school.

As a result, at the end of the early application period, some very happy students will receive a letter offering them admission to their dream school.  On the other side of the happiness spectrum, a relatively small percentage of students will be flatly denied – those students the school deem to have no chance of admission whatsoever during regular decision.  As an aside, many school counselors and admission officers believe that the percentage of students who are denied early should realistically be far higher than it often is at more selective schools.  (As a colleague of mine used to put it, “You got to rip the band-aid off!”)  It is difficult for schools to do that though, because even if they are unlikely to accept a student, they may still want to acknowledge his or her hard work or leadership role in school.  Sometimes admission officers may just want to avoid dealing with the unrealistic expectations and demanding ignorance of disappointed parents. I have always tended to favor letting early applicants down lightly by deferring them rather than denying them.  I believed, and I still do, that after the stress and sheer hassle of applying to a dream school, there is often little to gain by hitting the kid hard with a deny letter in December.  We encourage students to dream, and we should be careful about penalizing them for it.  Of course, I say that knowing some students do need help in redirecting their energy in a more productive direction, and being denied may sometimes do just that.

The vast majority of students to more selective institutions, however, will find themselves in a strange gray zone: neither denied nor admitted, hope kept alive but with a hard dose of reality thrown in.  In a next blog I will discuss what these students are to make of their fate, and whether they can improve their chances of escaping from no-man’s land, through the doors of their chosen paradise.