Is Early Decision Right For You?

Early applications were initially intended to help students signal their commitment to their top choice school. Over time though, the early application system began to reproduce all the stresses and strains of regular decision, only earlier and for an extended application period.  Now there are a variety of early application choices: Early Action (open choice and single choice), Early Decision, and second round Early Decision applications. Early Decision and Early Action application deadlines are usually in November, and students are typically notified of the admission decision in December.  Each early application option offers pros and cons.

This blog focuses on Early Decision (ED) applications.  An ED application is a binding commitment to one school. If accepted, you will be expected to attend, and thus you must withdraw any other applications.

Applying early can be an effective admissions strategy for many students. It is most appropriate for a student who:

  • Has researched colleges extensively
  • Is absolutely sure that the college is their first choice
  • Has found a college that is a strong match academically, socially and geographically
  • Meets or exceeds the admission profile for the college with respect to standardized test scores, GPA and class rank
  • Has an academic record that has been solid over time

Early Decision may be less appropriate for students who will absolutely need financial aid to attend college and will benefit from comparing financial aid offers from other colleges, unless your first choice college is one of the colleges that pledges to meet 100% of a student’s demonstrated financial need.  (See: http://www.thecollegesolution.com/schools-that-meet-100-of-financial-need-2/.)

More and more, colleges are accepting an increasing proportion of their incoming freshman class through Early Decision (ED) applications.  Click here (https://ogontz.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/2016-early-decision-vs-regular-decision-acceptance-rates-chart-8-21-16.pdf) for a document that compares ED acceptance rates to Regular Decision (RD) acceptance rates for over 200 American colleges and universities. The document also gives the percentage of each institution’s freshman class filled through ED.  You will note that many prominent colleges fill 1/3 to 1/2 or even more with ED applicants, which significantly reduces the number of spaces available for the much larger pool of students who apply Regular Decision.

It’s important to reiterate that you should apply early only if you are as ready to present your credentials to the college in October or November as you would be later in the fall. If you want to re-take the SAT or ACT you didn’t do so well on, or get your History grade up, you might want to forgo applying early in order to buy yourself some more time for improvement until the regular admissions deadline.

If you plan on applying early, you need to start all facets of your admissions process early. Make sure you have lined up your recommendations and completed all required testing before the deadlines. Be ready to present yourself as a solid candidate. Above all, make sure you indeed want to attend the school to which you are applying early.

For more information about Early Decision, see:

http://blog.prepscholar.com/what-is-early-decision-should-you-do-it

http://www.thecollegesolution.com/applying-to-college-early-decision/

By Carolyn Stewart

Start Your College Financial Aid Process NOW

As you are excitedly exploring college websites and imagining yourselves as incoming freshmen next year on the campuses of your choice, many of you (and your parents!) are probably also concerned about the rising cost of college attendance.

There are two options that can help families in facing the cost of college – merit scholarship aid and need-based financial aid. Students/families should consider applying for both. Merit scholarships are awarded to students based on their talents and not on financial need. These talents may include athletics, academics, musical skills or commitment to service. Merit-based money is a measure of how much a college would like a student to attend and is unaffected by the wealth or the need of the student’s family. Many of the most selective private colleges, however, do not award any merit-based aid. Need-based aid is based on a calculation of a family’s demonstrated need. In other words, the cost of attending a college minus the estimated contribution a family can make to cover that cost (EFC) = demonstrated need.

If you think you will need financial assistance in order to attend the college of your choice, there are things you and your parents should do now to prepare for the process of applying for financial aid.

  1. Start gathering and organizing your financial documents and tax information now. Beginning in 2016 for aid applications for the 2017-2018 award year, families will use the prior prior year (PPY) income and tax return information. This is great news, since most families should have their 2015 tax returns already submitted. Use this 2015 income and tax return information on the Net Price Calculators described below and to complete the FAFSA and CSS Profile in a timely manner.
  1. All colleges and universities are required to put a Net Price Calculator on their websites to help families calculate their estimated family contribution (EFC), given the specific costs of that institution. You can also find a general net price calculator on the College Board’s website at http://netpricecalculator.collegeboard.org/.
  1. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the online application used by U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for financial aid from the U.S. federal and state governments. It is used by colleges and universities to distribute need-based financial aid. It is also used by many institutions to award scholarships and merit-based aid. It is important to complete the FAFSA even if you don’t think you will qualify for financial aid! 

    International students are not eligible for the U.S. government aid programs. However, many schools will ask international students to submit a FAFSA so that they may use the data for assessing financial need. See eduPASS (http://www.edupass.org/finaid/fafsa.phtml) for more information.Beginning in 2016, the FAFSA will be available starting October 1. Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1. You can download instructions, worksheets and other information about completing the FAFSA at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/resources#complete. The switch to PPY data will allow most American families to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool within the FAFSA, thereby simplifying the application process. Information from the parents’ PPY tax return (normally already submitted to the IRS – 2015 return in this case) would be downloaded and automatically populate the FAFSA. If your student is applying Early Decision (ED), you will likely need to submit the FAFSA at the same time or shortly after the ED application has been submitted. Check each college’s website for deadlines.

  1. Check to see if the institutions on your list require the CSS Profile, in addition to the FAFSA. There are about 200 colleges (mostly highly-selective private colleges) that use this form, which is longer and more complex than the FAFSA. Both U.S. and international students may complete the CSS Profile. We recommend printing out the CSS Profile worksheet (accessible once you establish a CSS Profile account) and filling it in by hand, before transferring the data to the online application. The CSS Profile is also available starting October 1 and will use PPY income and tax information like the FAFSA. If your student is applying Early Decision (ED) to one of the institutions requiring the CSS Profile, you will likely need to submit the CSS Profile at the same time or shortly after the ED application has been submitted. Check each college’s website for deadlines.
  1. If you think you will need assistance with FAFSA or CSS Profile preparation, contact a financial aid expert EARLY, preferably in the Fall and definitely not last minute!
  1. Start exploring scholarship opportunities, both locally and nationally. These are sources of funding that are not administered by colleges but rather by other private organizations, each with its own application process and eligibility criteria. Families should not pay for any of these, nor pay anyone to search them out! Check out this website: http://www.college-scholarships.com/free-scholarship-searches/. Before you spend lots of time applying for scholarships, check with the colleges on your list. Many schools will deduct your scholarships from your awarded financial aid package.

This process can feel overwhelming….. I know, because I have completed the process for both my children! But by starting the process now, getting organized, and having a frank discussion with your family about expectations and financial realities, you will be ready to complete all the relevant forms when the time comes. And, when you have completed the paperwork, reward yourself for your accomplishment!

Written by Carolyn Stewart, Director of Communications

Why Should I Apply to College Early?

With October upon us, it’s time to start thinking about when to apply to college! Besides regular admission, you have the options of Early Action (EA), which can be Single Choice/Restricted, and Early Decision (ED). Usually the deadline for these options is November 1 or 15, but some schools have a deadline as early as October 15. Wait, what?! That’s coming up quickly!

Make sure you check the specific requirements for all colleges to which you are applying! An Early Decision application is a binding commitment to one school. If accepted, you must attend and withdraw any other applications, and thus you won’t get to review other Financial Aid packages. It is usually possible to apply to multiple schools EA, but you can apply to only one ED.

Early Action is more flexible, as it is non-binding. This means you’re not required to enroll if accepted. You can apply to more than one college that has an Early Action application process. However, the Single Choice, or Restricted option, while non-binding, does mean that you are not allowed to apply Early Action or Early Decision to any other schools.

Applying early can be the most effective admissions strategy out there for many students. Since there’s a smaller pool of applicants, generally there are better admissions rates for early appliers, because colleges know you are seriously interested in attending that institution. It can sometimes double or triple your odds of acceptance!

It also may be the best way to “demonstrate interest” in a particular school. It’s like saying, “Marry me! I love only you!” You offer them the sparkly diamond ring, your early application, and you “promise to be true” to your commitment to that school if they accept your proposal. You certainly benefit by knowing if you have been accepted (or not!) sooner because you can plan accordingly.

It’s important to keep in mind that you should apply early only if you are as ready to present your credentials to the college in November (or, yikes, in October!) as you would be later in the fall. If you want to re-take the SAT or ACT you didn’t do so well on, or get your History grade up, you might want to forgo applying early and buy yourself some more time for improvement until the regular admissions deadline.

If you plan on applying early, you need to start all facets of your admissions process early — indeed, NOW — make sure you have lined up your recommendations and completed all required testing before the deadlines. Be ready to present yourself as a solid candidate. Above all, make sure you indeed want to attend the school to which you are applying early. Now take a deep breath, get down on one knee, break out that diamond ring, and propose!

Written by Jilly Warner

Seize Your Advantage: Study at a US University

by Jilly Warner, College Goals’ Counselor

If you take a deep breath when someone asks you where you are from; if you report the temperature in Celsius and the distance in kilometers; if you have friends from over 20 different countries, then chances are, you are a Third Culture Kid!

Being a TCK is cool, especially in the world of US higher education.  With a more than 40% increase in international students in the US now as compared with 10 years ago, and admissions officers who understand educational systems from schools all over the globe, US universities have truly embraced an international outlook.  How does this benefit a TCK?  Considering that almost every US college has experienced a significant uptick in the number of international students on their campuses, and given that most TCKs may have lived in many foreign countries, the result is a rich, diverse, interesting and more familiar environment for their college years.

Third Culture Kids are likely to have one or two American parents who experienced a US college education at a time when the application process was very different.  Now, there are more details to manage, more requirements and regulations to understand, more important documents to gather and all is now handled online.  US parents living overseas may find their child’s school doesn’t offer university admission counseling to students applying outside that country and students may feel lost in the process.

Because of these challenges, more US students living overseas and wishing to return ‘home’ to the US for college are seeking the guidance of an independent college counselor for the college search and application process, which takes a year or more.  These professionals offer a broad array of knowledge, resources and experiences upon which to draw, all perfectly designed to support both family and student eager to enter the exciting world of higher education in the US.

Gaining admission to a top US university is now far more competitive.  Overseas students with a US passport bring a wealth of global knowledge and international insights that resonate with colleges today.  These dynamic young people may be considering colleges in the UK, Europe or the US.  What’s the big distinction?

Choice is the difference!  Most young people enter college unclear about their academic paths and career destinations.  As a college student in America, they have the joy of being exposed to multiple options and students with diverse interests.  They benefit from the guidance of faculty and professional advisors who want them to succeed and help them find their own academic passion, even if that means they change their minds a few times.  Whether emerging from a liberal arts college or a pre-professional program, graduates of US colleges are very successful in both job placement and graduate school admissions.

So consider coming ‘home’ to the US for college, and consider the services of a professional counselor to smooth the pathway.  Carefully check credentials and experience before making that important selection but get started as soon as possible.  College Goals provides a full range of services from highly experienced professionals.  To understand our goals, values and skills, check us out online and on Facebook.

Early Decision Results for College Goals’ Students

With the exception of just of few colleges, most students have heard back from the colleges to which they applied early action or early decision.  Here are the results from our College Goals’ students!!  Congratulations on a job well done!  And, students, good luck on your regular decision applications!

Early Decision Results 2014

 

Number of CG Students

College or University

Early Acceptance

Early Deferral

Early Denied

Amherst College

1

Babson College

1

Bowdoin College

1

Brown University

1

3

CalTech

1

Carleton College

1

Case Western Reserve

1

Claremont-McKenna College

1

1

Cornell University

2

1

Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM)

1

Fordham University

1

Georgetown University

2

Harvard University

1

2

Imperial College London

1

Lehigh University

1

Loyola Marymount University

1

MIT

1

Northeastern University

3

Northwestern University

1

Princeton University

1

5

Purdue University

1

Sacred Heart

1

St. Michael’s College

1

Skidmore College

1

Soka University

1

Stanford University

1

1

Tulane Honors Program

2

University of Denver

2

University of Illinois

3

1

University of Pennsylvania

1

1

University of Vermont

1

Vassar College

1

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)

1

Yale University

1

1

College applications: why your major matters

One of the most appealing aspects of an American liberal arts education lies in the notion that a student should not have to commit to any course of study before he or she is ready to do so. Unlike Britain, for example, where students apply to a specific course of study, American students applying to liberal arts colleges may at most be asked to state an academic interest. At many institutions students are in fact only called on to declare a major – such as mathematics, economics or sociology – at the end of sophomore year. (Note that engineering programs, for example, are very different, given the very high credit count of the accredited degree.)

Admitting students without reference to their major recognizes the fact that at college students will change their majors as often as they change their minds. It is also an encouragement to explore broadly and by roaming through an interdisciplinary reservoir, find the different lenses through which they can look at the issues that interest them.

It is easy, however, to confuse such an approach with a kind of academic drifting that lacks rigor and discipline. Many college applicants check the box that declares them undecided about their intended major because they genuinely cannot commit to a course of study. But for many it is simply a lazy way to avoid engaging with college as an academic institution or to think deeply about what they hope to achieve there. It is a bit like embarking on a trip without having wasted too much thought on either the route or the destination.

In the admission process to a selective liberal arts college, a lack of any academic focus can also help to weaken a student’s application. Some colleges will require applicants to express an academic interest even if their admitted students have a lot of leeway in changing majors. An applicant at Cornell’s College of Arts and Science, for example, has to be able to, “describe your intellectual interests, their evolution, and what makes them exciting to you.” Michigan asks applicants to describe how a particular college within the university will meet their academic interests. It may be possible to answer these questions without committing to a specific major, but it will probably be a lot easier to set out an intellectual evolution that has a major at the end of it. When a student is exploring what a school such as Cornell or Michigan has to offer, he or she should therefore spend as much time checking out departmental and program websites, as student activities and housing arrangements.

Even when a selective university does not require any commitment to an academic field, it is still interested in gauging what Stanford calls the “intellectual vitality” of its applicants. A student who wrestles with how best to pursue, for example, an interest in South East Asian culture – is it best to major in Asian Studies, International Relations, History or even Anthropology? – reveals just such a vitality and engagement.

Contrast such an intellectual tussle with a student who limply expresses an interest in mathematics, “because I am good at it”; or who wants to study psychology “because my friends always ask me for advice” and sociology because “I am a social person.” (These actually appeared in applications!) There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these ideas and in truth they probably do motivate many students. But they are superficial and thoughtless at best, and applicants to selective colleges do not want to give admission readers reason to doubt their depth. So while high school students should be encouraged to explore the many ways in which colleges differ from each other, from size and location to study abroad options, they should also be prodded to consider, with excitement and anticipation, the academic opportunities and choices at the heart of their college experience.

By Andrea van Niekerk

An Introduction to College Goals

COLLEGE GOALS is a highly qualified university admission consulting practice specializing in counseling families interested in higher education opportunities in the United States. We accept both U.S. and international students from around the globe.

Students benefit from the collective knowledge of a veteran Ivy League Associate Dean; two professionals each of whom has worked for more than a decade as associate directors in admission at major American universities, coordinating the review of international applicants; and an educator trained in test preparation with extensive experience in supporting homeschooled and alternatively-educated students, and who advises on college-aware preparation for younger students.

We share our knowledge about every aspect of college admission. Our focus is on our students’ academic success, and on their personal satisfaction.  Our students not only get in, they thrive.  Our Internet and phone-based counseling offers students and parents maximum flexibility and rapid, responsive, personal guidance through every step of their college search and application process.

COLLEGE GOALS is ready to help exceptional young people, from any part of the world, who are eager to take up the challenge of personal and global responsibility that the privilege of an excellent higher education invokes.

Whether your interest is in neuroscience or playwriting, economic modeling or environmentalism, the choices and decisions you will make, shaped by the learning that you are seeking, will influence society and the globe itself.  That is such an awesome privilege and opportunity!

We are here to help you develop and articulate your dreams, and forge a path to build the skills to match your goals.

www.CollegeGoals.com                           info@collegegoals.com                          401-454-4585

On writing your college essay

As we enter July, rising seniors should be giving serious thought to the college application. Many of you will not find this a happy thought, since starting the essay seems so intimidating!

There is certainly no shortage of good advice on the topic.  On the College Board‘s website, for example, Dean Schmill of MIT advises you to be honest in your self-presentation and to read the instructions.  Dean Brenzel of Yale reminds you to be authentic and to have your essays read by others who know you well. Dean Merrill of Connecticut College reminds warns that crafting a good essay takes time and you should make good use of the summer.

This last bit of advice is particularly important.  Students dream of an endless summer, but the break in your exhausting routine of homework and activities is actually short-lived. July is therefore a good time for some tips on writing your college essay:

•    On choosing a topic: For many of you, identifying the topic will seem the hardest part. The Common Application gives you six prompts to choose from, including a “topic of your choice.”  In other words, you can really write about anything under the sun because the topic is merely the vehicle for a larger story: what to tell an admission reader about yourself.  Whether you choose to write about a book, a person or an event, the admissions committee has at best passing interest in that subject, and will instead try and decipher what the essay tells them about you.

•    On controversial subjects and funny stories: Admission officers reassure students that they are free to write on any subject as long as it is honest and authentic, but there are clearly some subjects that will not work as well as others.  Few teenagers are deft enough to handle controversial subjects like their positions on abortion, presidential politics or foreign wars, with more depth than dogma.  Funny is good, but it works best if your unknown reader actually shares your sense of humor.  As with any writing, keep your audience in mind: admission officers are educated adults who are unlikely to share the social tastes of teenage girls and locker room boys, experienced enough to have read countless essays on every topic under the sun, and are above all led by the needs of their institutions.

•    On writing well: It is hard to separate what you are saying from how you say it.  With a college essay good writing is especially important since admission officers are also trying to gauge something about your academic preparation and intellectual depth.  This is not the moment to try and impress by choking out long words and unfamiliar phrases, and you are well-advised to follow the advice of William Zinsser in his On Writing Well, when he warns against the tendency to “inflate and thereby sound important.”

The American personal essay is unique in the world of university admissions. It is not as important to selective colleges as a student’s academic performance – as admission officers like to say, a good essay can help heal the sick but it cannot resuscitate the dead.  It is nevertheless hugely significant in applicant pools where many students share similarly high achievements and equal evidence of hard work. And in the process it gives young people with very busy lives a moment to reflect on the opportunities and meaning of those lives.

College searching: what information matters and why

This summer rising seniors and juniors are actively researching colleges in order to plan trips and identify the schools to which they may want to apply. These are indeed important summer activities, and there is no shortage of resources to use – from college guides like Fiske to online search engines and college websites.

But this flood of resources does not tell students why the information they are gathering, matters.  They read about class size and student to faculty ratios, the number of undergraduates and even graduation rates. But none of this means much unless they also know why all those bits and pieces of information may, or may not, matter to them.  Big school or small, open curriculum or core, college or university, residential or commuter – none of these qualities are necessarily good or bad in the abstract.  Their value derives from whatever a particular young person needs in order to thrive at college.

Here are some of the choices students may consider:

  • Big or small: At larger schools class size usually depends on the level of the course, but at smaller colleges most classes are almost inevitably smaller. To one student class size will make no difference at all to the learning experience; to another, it will mean being deprived of focused attention and mentoring support that he or she needs to do well.  For these students, the presence of an honors college may be important to explore.
  • University or college: While most colleges have no graduate school at all, research universities may have as many graduate students as undergraduates.  For some students, access to the greater research resources of a university (resources necessary to train graduate students), will be very appealing.  But yet another may feel that those graduate students siphon off the university’s attention away from undergraduate teaching.
  • Availability of undergraduate research: Research takes place at all colleges and universities, but students should note how accessible research opportunities are to undergraduates.  In some fields of study, doing research beyond what is required in class may be unusual. But if you are excited by the idea of producing knowledge or simply know that research hones skills and adds to a resume, the availability of such opportunities at schools like Harvey Mudd may be reason to choose one institution over another.
  • Study abroad: High school students often make note of study abroad programs, even though many college students will in fact study overseas with programs administered by a school or organization other than their own.  But even though you can still spend a semester in Spain even if your own school does not offer such a program, your college’s commitment (or indifference) to the value of studying abroad may have an impact on how readily it grants you credit for courses taken elsewhere.
  • Curriculum: Even though college is presumably above all an academic experience, many high school students have no idea how a liberal arts college’s curriculum is structured or why they should care.  These curricula do in fact all try to achieve the same thing: a well-rounded education in which a student is exposed to a broad range of ways of thinking.  But they get students there in different ways, and while one applicant may find the shared intellectual conversation of a core curriculum exciting, another may find it restrictive. Similarly, the same open curriculum that some students find liberating may perplex or intimidate others.
  • Range of majors: High school students often understand a liberal arts education as little more than the chance “to study a lot of different stuff,” and may spend more time checking out the school’s mascot or reading about its traditions than they will spend on the school’s list of majors or the websites of specific departments.  This superficial understanding of a liberal arts education is reinforced by an application that may not ask you about your future major and the knowledge that you may change your mind anyway.  But there is a difference between thinking broadly and being intellectually scattered, and if you are interested in studying Classics, Geophysics or anything else, whether or not you change your mind later, you should make sure your college offers you the chance to explore that field!

 

These days everyone in college admissions talks about the idea of a good “fit.” But whether one is buying a suit or choosing a college, fit is about individual measurement and taste, and students should examine the information they gather about each school through a lens of self-awareness and personal reflection.

 

Unconventional Paths

When you think of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), you think of brilliant students with brilliant futures. But did you ever think that a blossoming young printer turned Peace Corps director would ever become an MIT graduate? Alan White’s life motto is, “Follow unconventional paths: they will take you where you want to go”.

Indeed, Alan is anything but conventional. A recent immigrant to Hawaii, he continues to work for the MIT Sloan School of Business as one of its Senior Associate Deans, while enjoying the pleasures that “location-independent” work offers. As he slowly moves toward retirement, Alan admits that these “new patterns of work” benefit him: he finds he has higher productivity. This situation of course puts him closer to Asia where much of his work is centered. “However”, he says, “it doesn’t work for everyone”.

As the Senior Associate Dean for the MIT Sloan School of Business, what would Alan like to say to high school hopefuls who are eager to apply to – and be accepted by – elite colleges such as MIT? “Relax! Getting into the MIT undergraduate program is horribly difficult.” It is true that MIT acceptances are merit-based, but MIT also wants students with various backgrounds and interests. “It’s not about punching a dance card – the more the better. We want passion and excellence, proof of leadership and accomplishments in particular and not necessarily standard areas.”

Clearly, Alan has had several work and life accomplishments.  He has two successful sons to whom he recommend that they take liberal arts degrees rather than applying to MIT: “broaden your studies now – you can specialize later!”.  He is also the former director of the Sloan Fellows Program, a full-time Executive MBA program. “If kids don’t take the widest, most diverse possible paths to education, they are not doing their best. It’s important that they expose themselves to as many things as possible.”

One anecdote that Alan shared was about a candidate he interviewed – the best candidate he had ever seen, but who was not accepted by MIT. “What’s the point of my story? We have a wonderful country and system where people can build their way up. You shouldn’t feel disappointed if you are not accepted. The point is that there are so many good schools, students shouldn’t feel compelled to go to one place.”

If unconventional paths can build stronger futures for our children, what unconventional paths are MIT currently undertaking? “MIT now has 47% women!” Also, MIT is hosting free, open, on-line MIT courses (ocw.mit.edu): “And over 100,000 people have signed up for a new online course that awards a certificate! Harvard has joined the program!” What is the benefit of this program? “Why should we keep this knowledge to ourselves? Knowledge is to be shared. Education has overcome political arguments – it’s one way countries can collaborate without going to war!”

 

Written by K. Forissier for College Goals