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Waiting on the waitlist

High school seniors have opened the envelopes, received emails or logged into websites to discover the result of their college applications.  For many the news was very good or very bad – they were admitted to a college and have a decision to make, or that college will no longer be on the menu because they were denied.

For many the end result will be far more uncertain, however.  Instead of a clear yes or no, they received a warm and encouraging letter telling them that they have been placed on the waitlist.  Some will view this as good news (the door is still ajar) or as bad (they were not admitted), but the ambiguity leaves students wondering what this means and what to do about it.

The why of waitlists is easy: as students apply to more colleges, it becomes harder for colleges to estimate how many applicants will actually accept their offer of admission and they pursue various enrollment strategies. Waitlists are one such device to manage the uncertainty of a lesser yield. The institutional yield rate for colleges has steadily declined: nationally on average yield dipped from 49 percent in 2001, to 45 percent in 2007 and 41 percent in the Fall 2010 cycle.  Not surprisingly, more colleges reported using a waitlist: 39 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2010.

In the end, however, only for a minority of students will their persistence in staying on a waitlist pay off: in the 2009 cycle colleges nationally accepted 34 percent of students on their waitlists, and in the 2010 cycle, on average 28 percent.  If those odds seem reasonable, remember that the more selective a college, the more students will accept its offers of admission and the fewer spots will open up for waitlisted students.  In 2010 Yale reported, for example, that it had over 900 students on the waitlist but only about 100 made it into the class.  Most selective colleges will not have a numbered priority amongst many hundreds of waitlisted students, but will admit students according to institutional needs – fixing a gender imbalance, for example, pulling in more engineers, or answering a need for racial, socio-economic or geographic diversity.  In other words, all students on the waitlist may not be equal!

Given all of this, what is a student to do when places on a waitlist?
•    Decide how badly do you still want to attend that college.  It is okay to cut your losses, move on, and bond with your new home.  You can throw yourself into Facebook discussions with future friends and roommates and get back to finishing high school joyfully and successfully. After all, your success at college and in life will not be determined by the name on your college gate but by what you choose to do once it closes behind you.
•    If you remain interested, by all means stay on the waitlist. But know that it may be a long shot, and plan accordingly: accept another offer meanwhile, negotiate your financial aid if necessary and pay your deposit if required.
•    Respond to your waitlist offer with a note reiterating your continued interest in the school.  If a space opens up, admission officers will have some leeway in choosing the candidate they put forward for that spot but will definitely make their choice with yield in mind. Update the college on any new achievements and changes, and make it clear that you remain interested and will attend if taken from the waitlist.  At this point, individual admission officers too are desperately keen to be done!

Amidst all the appropriate concern over bloated waitlists that go nowhere, it is worth remembering that waitlists also have a more human face.  Admission officers at very selective colleges are faced everyday with the difficult task of choosing amongst a large collection of impressive and interesting young people who have worked hard to earn for themselves a chance to be admitted to top universities.  Most will not be admitted, however, and sometimes placing a student on the waitlist instead of slamming the door shut can also allow an admission officer a brief sense of still advocating on behalf of a much-admired young man or woman, or at the very least show the student that his or her efforts have been noticed and valued.

14 Tips for good college visits

With spring break ahead, many families are planning campus visits with their juniors and sophomores.  Demonstrating your interest to a college by visiting the campus is a good thing, but not the most important reason for the visit.  Rather, you are exploring a place where you may choose to spend four years of your life, and as such the visit is far more for your benefit than for the college’s sake!

With a bit of planning and forethought, you can make the most out of the experience:

  1.  Do not fit too many campuses into a single trip or day.  It makes for an exhausting time and after a few of these ‘drive-by visits,’ every campus will begin to look the same!
  2. While it is a lovely idea to jump in the car and make a spontaneous visit to a campus, organizing your trip can help you maximize the moment: downloads maps, locate admission offices and parking garages, confirm tour schedules and register for information sessions, sign up if informational interviews are offered, check out class schedules, and see whether there are student performances you wish to attend. Prior preparation makes for more productive visits!
  3. Prepare for the trip in other ways too. Don’t forget to learn about the college itself – its interesting history, unique programs, and residential arrangements, for example. This will allow you to identify what you don’t know and should learn during your visit.
  4. Take notes.  This will help jog your memory later as you reflect on your visits, and come in handy when you are completing that college’s Supplement to the Common Application where you are asked to explain your interest.
  5. Get the name of the person responsible for applications from your city or country.  Admission offices may not always advertise this information, but they will give it if you ask! Geographic assignments can change over the summer, but having an individual’s name is helpful later when you have questions or minor crises about the application, or you simply wish to send a short note of thanks or of introduction.
  6. Register at the admission office when you arrive.  Some schools do indeed track ‘demonstrated interest,’ but even when they do not, being on a mailing list means that you will be invited to admission events offered in your city.
  7. Make your visit an academic experience.  College is not primarily about fitness facilities and dining halls – trust me, your good time at college will probably not depend on the quality of these! Colleges are about libraries, laboratories and lectures, so check these out by attending a class or even by emailing a faculty member whose work interests you, to meet and learn about it.
  8. Listen to ‘official’ presentations with an enthusiastic but critical ear.  These paint the most appealing picture, but there are other possibilities and you need to listen for them. I always suggested to my own children that they identify those words that are the stock in trade of every admissions person (passion, engagement, research, advising, community, etc.), and then differentiate them from those that are specific to one college (curriculum, residential colleges, cooperative experiences, etc.).  These are what matters most.
  9. Listen to the questions and conversations of fellow visitors. You may learn concepts (retention rates, yield, academic standing) that you did not know to ask about yourself beforehand.
  10. Parents, listen with an open mind to your child’s opinions. Parents are driven wild by children who step foot onto a campus and instantly decide they hate the place. But your students may be responding to something significant even if they are not good about articulating their concerns or fears.
  11. Students, listen with an open mind to your parents’ opinions! I often sympathized with blushing teenagers when parents monopolized conversations, asked inappropriate questions and boasted about their exceptional child to scare off the competition! But consider the wise words of Mark Twain: “When I was 16 my father was the most ignorant man in the world.  By the time I was 21, I was amazed at how much he had learned.”
  12. Resist the temptation to hang onto each other like life rafts during your visit, and spend time apart.   Going on separate tours, for example, will allow each side to develop its own perspective.  There is much to be said for giving teenagers the chance to interact with prospective classmates, and for giving parents a moment of respite in the coffeehouse!
  13. Enjoy yourself.  For many families, college visits will be one of the last times to explore together before separate lives and college obligations make family trips a thing of the past.  Enjoy it while you can and begin to build your future relationship as equal adults.
  14. Bring quarters for parking meters and leave extra time to find a parking space.  Of the many things colleges share, inadequate parking space may be the most common and aggravating!

 

 

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.

     

     

     

     

    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!

    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!

    A wise college bound student says thank you often

    I came across the article, below, recently and thought how appropriate it is for students — you can’t say ‘thank you’ too often!

    Students sometimes forget how much effort others have put into their college search and application process.  Their parents, of course, have invested hours of time and no doubt hundreds or thousands of dollars on campus visits, counseling guidance, test preparation programs . . . so much!  Teachers and counselors support is also immeasurable.  Appreciation and expressions of thanks are always well-received!  There is a saying, ‘Gratitude greases the wheel of life’.

    Remember, also, that there are ‘real people’ there at the colleges to whom you apply, and when you do receive your acceptances, and especially those Early Decision acceptances, it would be entirely appropriate for you to write or email a joyful, thankful message to any admissions officer you have met or with whom you have spoken or exchanged emails at ‘your ‘ college.  And when you arrive in the Fall, it is nice to follow-up and go to meet with that person who shepherded your application through the Admissions’ Committee.

    Of course, if you were interviewed by an alum. of your school, or by a current undergraduate, be sure to let them know the results of your application and your appreciation for their time and support.  Generous, gracious words can only benefit you.  Someday, hopefully, you will be interviewing for your college!

    Joyce Reed

    by Julie Manhan, writer — from the Seattle College Bound Examiner, December 14,   4:44 AM

    Most college bound students are in one of two places at this time of the year: finished with all applications and ready for some serious relaxation or gearing up for that final push to finish up those applications due in January. Whichever place you are in, there is one thing you need to do before you pack up your backpack for the holidays– you need to say thank you.

    You need to say thank you to the counselor who has gotten your transcripts off to the colleges you are applying to, written recommendations for you, made sure you have enough credits to graduate, or even chased you down for things you forgot to turn in. You need to show some appreciation for the late nights and weekends they have spent composing a letter to help you get into college and for the days of their vacation they will spend making sure everything gets submitted on time. You need to acknowledge all the times they have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help you get into college.

    While you’re considering whom you should thank, let’s not forget the teachers who added writing a fabulous letter of recommendation for you to their already huge list of things to do. There are also those teachers who may have proofread your essays or helped you review math concepts so you might be able to improve your SAT scores. How about those teachers who have challenged and inspired you to do your best?

    I’m sure there are other people who have helped you, too. What I am asking you to do is to take a moment to remember who they are and to somehow express your gratitude for their efforts on your behalf. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; a simple thank you note would be fine. The important thing is to let them know that you are appreciative.

    “We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” ~ Cynthia Ozick (writer)