From junior year to college admissions

For the last few months high school juniors stood by as seniors wrestled with college applications, stressed about choices, and finally, exhaled as they picked their colleges.  Now the focus shifts and it is their turn to get ready for the wild ride towards college.  Given how early the application process happens in the academic year and the inevitable strains of that first quarter of senior year, juniors need to use the coming months wisely as they lay down the foundation for their application.

Let’s consider the different elements of that application process and the things that those of you who are juniors ought to be thinking about:

  • Transcripts: admission officers at selective schools point out the unavoidable fact that your transcripts ARE the single most important element in their assessment.  If you are applying early, your junior grades may be the last ones they see before making their decisions. Even if there are no senior grades available, they can see your senior curriculum, and this too is crucial in weighing your academic heft.
  • Scores and letters of recommendation: admission officers also weigh your academic profile by looking at your standardized test results and by the quality of letters of recommendation, and you cannot wait until 12th grade to grapple with these. At some larger schools, for example, some of the most popular teachers begin to turn away requests for letters of recommendation well before the summer. There are also few test dates available early in the senior year for you to complete the required roster of tests, much less leave time for the almost inevitable retake.
  • List of activities: while most of us quite rightly abhor talk of “resume building” when referring to high school students, the activities list is obviously a very significant part of your college application.  Admission officers ask themselves what it is you will contribute to campus life. This summer will be your last chance to answer that question. It is a good idea to draw up a comprehensive list of your high school activities outside of the classroom, in order to assess both the cohesive “story” that your application will tell about yourself as well as the potential holes in your self-presentation.
  • Summer before senior year: the summer college trip has become something of an American tradition, and for good reason.  Not only does the wonderful range of possibilities make such exploration useful and necessary, but for many colleges these visits have also become a significant way to gauge “demonstrated interest.”  As more kids apply to more colleges, those institutions are finding it ever harder to accurately pinpoint their yield (the number of students who will accept their offers of admission). Your knowledge of a school and appreciation for what it has to offer can encourage a college to read your application with a more benevolent eye.   Growing numbers of high school students will also attend summer camps on college campuses, to learn more about the college experience, about life at a particular college, or about the range of academic options that await them.  As Dean Karen Sibley of Summer at Brown, one of the largest such programs for high school students in the country, points out, the liberating summer experience “validates the student’s ability to be far from home, intensely academically challenged and able to function independently in very new surroundings.”
    • Writing the college essay: For many of you SAT testing seems the most exhausting part of applying to college, but writing the personal essay causes the biggest anxiety. There is little reason to wait too long before jumping into the writing process.  It will give you time to consider essay topics, but also leave space for rewriting and editing before the full onslaught of the senior year.  Reflecting on her own experiences this year, one senior, who will be attending an Ivy university in the Fall, encourages juniors to “start doing something concrete regarding college essays and supplements by May!  Summer is actually too short  – it’s only eight weeks.”

    The Common Application will be available for students by August 1 (and its preview is already available online). The Common Application organization has already reported that the essay topics on the application will remain the same, though the length requirements will be adjusted. For high school juniors, this is the equivalent of a long-distance runner coming into the last few hundred meters of the race: a successful end is in sight, but to get there you first you have to throw all your energy and focus into the last lap.

     

     

     

     

    College Goals at UK & EU College Fairs

    We wanted to let everyone know that one of our College Goals consultants, Gail Lewis, will be visiting the UK and several cities in Europe in the coming weeks.

    Gail will be representing College Goals at USA College Day in London on Saturday, September 25. This is a major gathering of college representatives from over 400 US higher education institutions and we are very excited to be part of it this year. If you are interested in attending or know someone who might be, here is the link for more information: http://www.fulbright.co.uk/advising-events/usa-college-day

    Gail will also be representing College Goals at College Fairs in Brussels (Sept.29), and Berlin (Oct.6).

    In addition to the College Fairs, Gail will be visiting a number of other centers in the UK and Europe, catching up with friends and families.  You, or a family whom you know might be interested in meeting Gail and learning about our services at College Goals, could be near one of these centers and may like to set up a time to meet with her. She would be delighted to meet with you.

    Information on Gail’s background and experience on her page can be found on our website: http://www.collegegoals.com/team/gail_lewis.html

    Gail’s contact information: gail_lewis@collegegoals.com. UK mobile # is 077.88.613.467

    For your reference, here is Gail’s travel schedule:

    September 2010:

    Glasgow, UK                 Sept. 19-20

    Manchester, UK          Sept. 21-22

    Oxford, UK                     Sept. 23-24

    London, UK               Sept. 25-26, Oct. 16-20

    Brussels                      Sept. 27 – 30

    October 2010

    Munich                Oct. 1-4

    Prague                    Oct. 4-5

    Berlin                  Oct. 5-8

    Gottingen              Oct. 8-11

    Amsterdam        Oct. 12-15

    This is the first time that College Goals will be participating in the European College Fairs, which offer an opportunity for European students to learn about many different US colleges and to find out how they go about the US university application process, so different from that in Europe.

    This is where College Goals fits in – as you know, we are well suited to and experienced in leading British and European students through the intricacies of the application process to the final goal of a successful matriculation to the quality US college of their choice. We are hoping, through Gail’s participation in these College Fairs, to increase the visibility of the College Goals US college admissions consultancy to students in the UK and Europe who would like to come to the US to attend college.

    If you know of families in either in the UK or Europe who would be interested in meeting Gail, please feel free to forward this email to them, or provide our website and contact information to these families:

    www.collegegoals.com

    gail_lewis@collegegoals.com

    info@collegegoals.com/

    We hope to be able to help other families whom you know and care about through the challenge and stress of the college search and application process.

    Sincerely yours,

    Joyce Reed

    The “hidden” degree requirements

    Some of the most important things you will learn at college will never show on your college transcript. These are aspects of affective (versus cognitive) development. They are what employers are expecting to find in college graduates, quite apart from the subject matter of their degree studies, or professional training. Solid affective skill development is key – without it, the chances of graduating are slim!

    There is no “curriculum for developing the affective capabilities you will need, and acquire during your college years. But you can control, to a certain extent, how painful the process of acquisition may be. One useful thing to remember is to “expect the unexpected.” Resilience is the quality of being able to take things in stride and handle the rough patches well. It helps to “be prepared” by knowing in advance that statistically some things will not go smoothly. It helps even more to learn to anticipate obstacles and have a Plan B in place when you aren’t certain of Plan A’s chances of success.

    As a new college student, what affective skills will you need?

    You will mostly discover the need for certain essential affective skills when the lack of them “jumps up and bites you!” Life experience teaches us much. But perhaps a checklist of some valuable skills may be of value to a student who wants to “be prepared” and is willing to think ahead to help smooth their way.

    Here are some affective skills you will need in order to graduate:

    • Ability to prioritize
    • Ability to solve problems without having a parent run interference for you (think room-mate problems)
    • The inner strength to stand up to many demands, pressures and challenges all at once
    • Resilience – being able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off after a disappointment or crisis
    • Organizational capability – to buy your books on time, keep track of assignments and deadlines, exam dates, times and venues
    • Confidence – to reach out for support from peers or professors
    • Proactiveness – signing up early for limited options; finding out about good opportunities
    • A personal conscience that kicks in when you are missing too many classes or getting too little sleep
    • Being able and willing to defend your opinions, in class and in your social setting
    • The strength of character to be able to change your opinions if circumstances or the arguments of others lead you to a new outlook
    • The ability to brainstorm on your own – you can’t rely on the good students always sharing their bright ideas with a group. Coming up with your own original thoughts is rare, even in graduating college seniors

    I just arrived at college – now what?

    One of the key affective skills it will pay you to learn is “how to make friends.” Be prepared to go outside your comfort zone, especially in these first important weeks of your first semester at college. Even if you’re shy, commit yourself to striking up a real conversation with at least two strangers each day. Not trivial chit-chat – be prepared to talk about your opinions, what you are missing about home, what you are finding quite surprising about your first experiences on the campus. Ask questions, all the time!! You have no idea how important an affective skill it is to be able to speak up and ask for the information you need or simply to engage another person.

    Affective learning in college begins as soon as you arrive. But one more thing – good judgment is possibly the most important affective skill you will need. It may not be perfect yet – but don’t leave home without it.

    Gail Lewis,
    College Admissions Consultant with College Goals

    “Get Thee to a Nunnery . . .”: My Experience at a Women’s College

    My college search, no doubt, resembled that of many of you reading this.  A couple “safeties”, a “reach”, and the ones where I had a fighting chance.  Good schools, with attractive campuses, dependable financial aid, etc.

    Fast-forward a few months, and I’d been waitlisted at Georgetown, Dartmouth and Brown and accepted to three of my eight schools . . . all of them women’s colleges. All of them wonderful places, but I had applied in spite of the gender specifications.  Going past the obvious problems it could pose for dating, I had always enjoyed close friendships with boys and my brother, so four years in such a decidedly female environment was not something I was very excited about.  Thankfully, the past few years have changed my mind.

    I’m trying to steer away from the words you’ll see on every seven-sisters website, but they really do apply.  Women’s colleges are liberating, empowering, and supportive, not because they’re free of some oppressive, patriarchal dark side of the force or anything, but because they’re intellectual environments where gender biases have little place.  Most of us, by the time we finish high school, have experienced some situation where a teacher dishes out extra credit more often to one sex or the other, or have been frustrated trying to get support for a women’s sports team, or some similar problem.  The “boys club” attitude that we can still encounter in various arenas simply doesn’t apply when there aren’t any boys.

    Not that four years could pass without ever coming into contact with men, as if you were attending a collegiate nunnery.  Many women’s colleges are in consortiums, where it is possible to take classes at neighboring co-ed schools, and co-ed students can take classes on campus.  In an urban environment you could meet all sorts of interesting people off campus, and even the most rural women’s colleges have a large number of men around on the weekends when boyfriends and buddies come to visit.  Regardless of what any school-sponsored website tells you, “meeting men” is never going to be as easy as at a co-ed school, but in my time at Mount Holyoke I’ve dated and made male friends just fine.  (It goes without saying that if it’s not men you’re interested in, women’s colleges are perfect.)

    Not having men around as much can lead to a certain amount of social-awareness as well.  After months at a women’s college, the first time someone treats you like a “chick” and not an adult with equal intellectual value, it smarts.  Sexism is all the more apparent when you’ve fallen out of the habit.  Not everyone will have the same reaction –I’ve seen women get furious at this treatment, and women who laugh it off.  For myself, I’m thankful that I’ve learned to recognize it as unusual and unfair.  I’ve become far pickier about the men I spend time with, and am happier because of it.

    I can’t recommend women’s colleges to everyone.  What I can say is that, if you give it a chance like I did, you can come to really appreciate it.  Women’s colleges might not be the most empowering experience of your life –that could be getting your first big promotion at the job of your dreams, nailing an audition, or doing a solo trip around the world.  But women’s colleges will help you get there, and cheer you on along the way.  As far as I’ve been able to make out, the goal of every women’s college is to give you the self confidence and spine to succeed, and if they can provide a rugby team or lab facilities or an excellent library along the way, that’s even better.

    Sydney Penny

    Mount Holyoke ‘12

    Promises and Pitfalls of a Gap Year

    Most high school seniors pursuing a college education are now filling in roommate forms, sending off final transcripts to chosen institutions, and such.  But many others have chosen a different path that will lead not to college after the summer, but to a year of travel or work or service.  Taking a gap year between high school and university is long a common practice in Europe, but more American students are discovering it as well.

    Students will take a gap year for many reasons.  Some are keen to break away from formal schooling and see more of the “real” world before entering the safe confines of college.  They want to see the world, get a better perspective on things to study in college, learn a new language.  From parents’ perspectives, a gap year may give their child chance to grow in emotional maturity and self-sufficiency, to work and save money for college, or simply gain a bit of seasoning.

    These are all very good reasons for a gap year.  I want to focus on one group in particular, however – students who had an unsuccessful college application season and want to redo it, and those who did not apply at all but hope that an interesting gap year will strengthen their future applications.  A gap year can indeed improve a student’s college application in two ways.  Firstly, by virtue of working or traveling or doing community work, a young person may grow so much in maturity and focus that it will inevitably show to good effect, regardless of how they spend the year.  Secondly, an interesting year may make an application stand out from the norm, suggest the student has something out of the ordinary to offer, or even support a student’s interest in pursuing a particular course of study.

    Whether a gap year will actually deliver on this promise will depend on what a student does and says about it.  Not all gap experiences are equal – it is after all meant to be a year of learning by different means.  Admission officers will ask themselves what the student has learnt from taking the time, and if the answer is ”not much,” they will decide accordingly.  Pursuing in desultory fashion a couple of week long activities that neither engage nor require commitment from you – mall-crawling in Long Island, lounging in LA, or sunning yourself in St. Barts – none will seem very interesting to educators (unless, of course, you have something interesting to say about it!).  On the other had, traveling to places that stretch your sense of the world and doing service work that challenges your sense of self, working to save money for college or to help your family survive, learning a new language, interning with a local scientist or teaching children, all would lead a reader to recognize your social commitment and your intellectual energy.

    A final point involves timing, whether to apply to college before taking a gap year, or during that time.  The answer depends on your circumstances and prospective colleges.  Most, though not all, institutions allow admitted students to defer entrance for a year.  During your senior year, ask colleges whether they are open to such deferments and how their process works.  Applying to college during your senior year means that you still have easy access to teachers and the resources of your college guidance office.  Applying during your gap year allows you to add the weight of your new experiences to the application, though remember that you will be applying only a few short months into that year.

    Many of the great things a gap year can do for students, can also be gained from studying abroad later or from teaching and traveling after graduation.  A growing number of students do not want to wait before embarking on such an adventure though, and they may have very good reasons for it.  But if improving your college application is one of those reasons, then keep in mind that not all adventures are equal in the minds of admission officers!

    Visiting UK and Europe

    College Goals’ Director Joyce Reed and Admissions Consultant Andrea Niekerk are both traveling in the UK and Europe in March to see present, past and future client families, and to give presentations.  Joyce and Andrea will be in London between March 8-13.  They still have a few appointment times available, and the best way to contact them is by email.

    On March 13th, they head to Paris, where they will again see clients privately, and offer 4 presentations, 3 of which are free and open to the public and will take place at 19:00 h. on Tuesday, Weds. and Thursday March 16, 17 & 18 at the American Church in Paris.  For further information or to make a reservation, please contact Paris Representative Carolyn Comfort.

    Joyce will be seeing individual families in Paris until March 22, when she heads to Monaco to see clients until March 25, when she heads to a few sites in Switzerland (Lugano, Zurich, Bern) until March 30th.

    If you would like to make contact with either Joyce Reed or Andrea van Niekerk during this period, you can reach them at their own email addresses or through info@collegegoals.com .

    We welcome all inquiries and requests to schedule an in-person meeting or phone conference, when possible.

    The problem with senioritis

    Senioritis is when second semester senior grades sag after college acceptance letters arrive. Talking about the problem “of senioritis” seems to lend this bad habit a legitimacy which I doubt it deserves – as if it is something unfortunate but expected. Rather like getting a cold in winter. Of course, having had my own kids go through that dreary last semester where they just want to have fun and move on with life and school seems so last year, I understand only too well how hard it is for students to stay motivated between admission and matriculation.

    But I still believe it important for students to keep on with the good work that got them accepted in the first place. There are three reasons for it – philosophical, practical and political.

    Firstly, we do not want to encourage students to think that high school is mostly about preparing for college application – as if you work hard, challenge yourself, and do community service all just to impress an admission office. Then you go on to college and start all over again, except this time the point is securing a good job or graduate admission another four years later. Perhaps we want to teach kids instead to extract value in the moment, develop a love of learning for its own intrinsic sake, and do good because the well-being of our communities require it.

    Secondly, college courses assume a level of preparation on the part of incoming first year students. So high school is not simply about preparing to apply to college, but also about preparing to be successful long after the application process is done. Blowing off the remainder of senior year risks missing out on basic skills like good writing that may be crucial to success in college classrooms.

    Finally, admission offices, especially more selective ones, do care about an accepted student’s grades after making an offer of admission, if only in preemptive self-defense. After all, an admitted student who gives up on his or her academics will likely show up a year later in committees that deal with students at risk of failing out of college. So admission offices not only request final grades, they actually look at them over the summer.

    And when they do examine your final grades, they know well that most of them have craftily added a line to your offer of admission stating that they can withdraw that offer if your final performance nosedives! And sometimes, they do just that.

    Education for Business

    A recent article in Inside Higher Ed was headlined “Freshmen Abandon Business.” The article noted that the percentage of freshmen intending to study business at American universities – 14.4 percent in 2009 – was at its lowest since the 1970’s. Yet with twenty-two percent of undergraduates actually concentrating in it, business is the largest major by far – by comparison, only two percent major in history. (As Louis Menand reminds us in his book The Marketplace of Ideas, while economics falls under the liberal arts, pre-professional business studies do not.)
    There are many reasons why business remains as popular as it has. Today some two thirds of students put financial gain at the top of their career considerations, and business studies still seem the pathway to that. Students are surrounded by business every day –shopping for clothes, buying food, and filling up their cars. In middle school they do Business America programs and in high school they join FBLA. No wonder many come to believe President Calvin Coolidge’s maxim that “America’s business is business.” And that is fine, if it is what stirs a student’s enthusiasm.
    Unfortunately, many high school students still believe that to do business, they have to study business as undergraduates. This has long not been the case. Sometimes the training a prospective businessperson may need most is the ability to generate a creative idea, reflect critically on its viability, and then communicate it effectively to others. And a degree in English or history, for example, where there is a premium on writing skills and where students are taught to construct analyses and arguments, may do that job the best. Business is also becoming more specialized and globalized. These days, trading in the markets of Shanghai, taking up the cause of health care in America, or producing green energy, require backgrounds in fields as diverse as environmental science, biochemistry, political studies, or engineering. So the academic pathways to a lucrative career in the field of business are boundless. As the application to Stanford’s business school points out, their MBA students have majored in everything from economics to religious studies: “There is no “ideal” undergraduate major for business school; therefore, choose a major that you find interesting and engaging.”

    Along the road to college admission…

    Watch where you’re going!

    The college application process can have many unfortunate effects, and one happens when students run around madly padding their resumes with yet one more activity, one more shot at leadership, one more service moment.  The problem is not only that this kind of scattershot business does little to enhance their applications, but also that they seldom stop to ask the important questions: why am I doing this, what does it all mean, where is it taking me?

    Watching this mad runaround brings to mind one of my most favorite college presentations, done by an esteemed colleague and good friend at Brown University.  She reminded prospective students that the journey matters, not just the arrival; that as a high school student moves towards college and the next phase in his or her life, thinking and engaging and playing around with ideas along the way is as important as ultimately getting accepted.  Being a classicist, she pointed out that even as we cheer for Odysseus to find his way home to Ithaca (not only those dreaming of Cornell!), we should remember the wondrous things he saw along the way. So she handed prospective students a copy of the beautiful poem Ithaca, by the modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (1911).  It is worth repeating here:

    Ithaca


    When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,

    pray that the road is long,

    full of adventure, full of knowledge.

    The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,

    the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:

    You will never find such as these on your path,

    if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine

    emotion touches your spirit and your body.

    The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,

    the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,

    if you do not carry them within your soul,

    if your soul does not set them up before you.

    Pray that the road is long.

    That the summer mornings are many, when,

    with such pleasure, with such joy

    you will enter ports seen for the first time;

    stop at Phoenician markets,

    and purchase fine merchandise,

    mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

    and sensual perfumes of all kinds,

    as many sensual perfumes as you can;

    visit many Egyptian cities,

    to learn and learn from scholars.

    Always keep Ithaca in your mind.

    To arrive there is your ultimate goal.

    But do not hurry the voyage at all.

    It is better to let it last for many years;

    and to anchor at the island when you are old,

    rich with all you have gained on the way,

    not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

    Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

    Without her you would have never set out on the road.

    She has nothing more to give you.

    And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.

    Wise as you have become, with so much experience,

    you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.

    Some Interesting College Application Stats

    The Common Application posted an announcement to all college admissions counselors today with some statistics about this year’s application season.

    Currently, there are 788,241 students who are registered to submit Common Applications – an increase of 15% over last year.

    Together, they submitted 1,736,287 applications – an increase of 19% — and they expect to process about 1.9 million applications before the season ends, July 15th.

    Teachers submitted 1,211,709 recommendations – an increase of 112%!

    From the January edition of College Bound comes this information regarding the application pools at a few of the colleges:

    Harvard’s applications are up 5%

    Dartmouth’s applications are up 4%

    Brown saw an increase from 24,000 to 28,000 this year

    But the amazing statistic is U. Chicago . .  . up 42%!!!!  (Their admissions staff must be going wild)

    The University of California system is up 6%

    Despite the economy, nationwide, 49% of colleges attracted more applicants in 2009 than they did in 2008

    A few really excellent colleges dropped in applicants, however, including Brandeis, Bucknell, Colgate, Dickinson, Elon, Harvey Mudd, Middlebury, St. Lawrence, Valparaiso.

    57% of colleges accepted more students in 2009 than in 2008 (trying to avoid a drop in enrollment based on the economic crisis), and some had a higher enrollment than they were prepared for, meaning crowded dorms and classes .  .  .  don’t expect they will keep the high acceptance rates this year!