BCF Readers’ Forum XX

Dear Peter,
When a student uses the Common Application for multiple universities, does each institution see the other schools you are applying to or how many? At one of your workshops, you also mentioned that applying to more than eight schools might indicate to a college that the student isn’t that committed to them. How would a school know how many schools he applied to?

Dear Marilyn,
The only way a college can know for sure the names of the other colleges to which a student has applied is if he reveals that information either conversationally or in writing somewhere. That said, admission officers understand that students are applying to multiple colleges and will make strong inferences about the importance of their own college to that student by the manner in which he presents himself.

It is really important, then, that the student 1) get on the radar screens, i.e., visit the campus, answer correspondence, etc. of the colleges he really likes and, 2) treat each application as though it is a personal statement being made directly to the college in question. Admission officers are very adept at discerning a student’s interest. Again, it is critical that students are very intentional about the messaging they present to each institution. With each additional application that is submitted, it is harder for a student to make a compelling argument to each college that he is sincerely interested; hence, my strong recommendation to keep the college list to eight.

Dear Peter,
Is it better to apply Early Action to a school where the student might have a chance rather then a reach school? I figured nothing to lose so why not try EA for reach school? Is that the wrong strategy?

Dear Kate,
Unless the EA option being considered is of a restrictive, “single-choice” nature, I agree that it can’t hurt for a student to apply EA to any or even all of the schools on her list including the reach school. EA does not require or even imply a commitment from the student so the only reason not to try it is if there is a chance that the student’s credentials (scores, grades) might be measurably improved through the first half of the academic year. Keep in mind, though, that the only real benefit to such a strategy is peace of mind. Whereas the odds of admission improve with Early Decision at most schools, EA candidates really don’t have find any statistical advantage in the admission process.

Dear Peter,
When is it best to submit an Early Decision application? Is it better to apply Oct. 1 versus waiting for the Nov. 1 deadline?

Dear Anne,
The best time for your student to submit her ED application is when she is ready. There is no real strategic advantage to applying well ahead of the deadline. I do suggest trying to submit a week in advance of the deadline in order to avoid having her credentials get caught in the avalanche of materials that is bound to arrive in admission offices on November 1.

Dear Peter,
How crucial is it that you take 4 years of foreign language? Does it look bad to drop it your senior year because it does not fit your schedule?

Dear Jo,
The more selective the college to which your student wants to apply, the more important it is to have a fourth year (senior year) of a language. If, for any reason, that is not possible, your student needs to make sure to explain the situation in the application (interview, optional essay, letters of recommendation).

Dear Peter,
Our daughter attended a two-week Introduction to Engineering session at Notre Dame during the summer. Should she mention this in her applications to other schools including the name of the University? She is a very good student with a 4.33 weighted GPA, Girl Scout Gold Award, achieved level 9 out 10 in piano performance and theory, etc.

Dear Gerard,
Your daughter should definitely include the engineering session at Notre Dame on her application. As an academic enrichment activity, it helps to validate/reinforce the sincerity of her interest in engineering and it is just as relevant as her Gold Award and music achievements.

Dear Peter,
My daughter wrote a good application essay where she reveals an early passion she developed exploring and recreating cultural nuances of different time periods in history. It reads well and shows some of her passions, creativity and independence.

However, she more recently developed a new academic interest in psychology. She took an AP Psych class her sophomore year and has taken classes at colleges to pursue that interest each of the last two summers. She wanted badly to set up a research project, but after contacting multiple college professors, could not do this.

She will be using the supplemental information essay on the Common App to tell another story that relates to a big healthy eating project and grant she has been working on at her school district.

Now the question: Is it okay to have an application with these two essays that reveal of some of her personality and interests but does not include the newer Psychology passion which is what she wants to pursue in college?

Will admission officers perceive a bit of a missing link? On some applications, she can explain the Psych interest in response to the individual questions, but not all colleges give her the option.

Dear Sylvia,
It sounds like your daughter’s primary essays are revealing important elements of her character and perspective. She should not worry about trying to validate her psychology interest in the application any more than is already implicit in her current essays and explicit on the listing of her activities. Colleges that want more evidence of the thoughtfulness and intentionality behind her academic choice(s) will ask for it.

Dear Peter,
My HS senior plans to major in applied math and is taking differential equations and Calc III this year. The teacher who was going to teach that course, and who had already agreed to write a recommendation letter (the teacher had previously taught my son in another math course), has left the school unexpectedly.

Does it make sense for that teacher to write a letter? Prior to teaching at the HS he was a very accomplished university professor and leader in secondary education. We felt that his recommendation letter would be helpful.

Coincidentally, another teacher (Comp Science AP and Physics), with 40 years of tenure who my son believes would have gladly written a strong letter, retired at the end of last year. These are likely my son’s two biggest proponents.

All of this leads to a more general question: how important are recommendation letters and do letters from certain types of teachers “carry more weight than others”? If so, what matters other than that the teacher knows the student and thinks highly of him?

Dear Glenn,
Letters of recommendation can provide valuable context regarding the rigor and expectations of a given classroom as well as insight into the student’s approach to learning. Both factors are important in the selective admission process as readers of the application try to discern the student’s ability and preparation to function in advanced college-level courses. Such assessments are even more relevant when considering students for admission into academic programs that require a high level of proficiency at the outset.

Ideally, a letter should come from 1) a teacher who is familiar with the student’s communication and critical thinking skills and, 2) a teacher who can provide perspective on the student’s performance and preparedness in curricula related to his intended major. When possible, the letters should come from teachers who taught the student in the Junior and/or Senior years.

Your son might inquire of the colleges to which he applies about the protocol for submitting letters from either or both of these individuals in addition to those required from current classroom teachers as they are likely to provide relevant insight into his application.

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