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By Peter Van Buskirk

As the school year winds down, thousands of families are gearing up to start the college search and selection process in earnest. For many, the process includes plans to visit college campuses. The questions that often arise, however, are “When is the best time to visit?” and “What should we expect to accomplish?”

The answers are fairly straightforward. Visit when you can and soak up as much information as possible! Ideally, you would visit colleges when classes are in session and the campuses are full of life. That may not always be possible, though, so go when you can. The best opportunities may be around business trips, holiday travels or vacations.

And if such opportunities should occur early in the college planning process, go “window shopping.” When you are “window shopping,” you are less concerned about buying and more interested in checking out the inventory. Give yourself exposure to as many different kinds of places as you can—big schools, small schools, research universities, liberal arts colleges, urban campuses and places way out in the country.

Visiting a range of colleges while there is no pressure to “buy” allows you to develop a broad perspective with regard to what is “out there.” Later, when it is time to buy, you will know what you like and you know where to find it. As you visit the campuses, allow your senses to guide you. Ultimately, it will be a “sixth sense”—the proverbial “gut feeling” that will lead you to the places that suit you best.

And the information you glean from your visits will come in handy when it comes time to prepare your applications for admission!

So, pack up your “sixth sense” and get ready to enjoy the adventure found in “window shopping” college campuses. The following are tips that will help you get the most out of your campus visits—wherever you go!

1.  Take advantage of everything the school has to offer. If an interview is offered, take it! Take a tour. Visit an academic department or program area in which you have an interest. Ask thoughtful questions that reflect your interest.

2.  Plan ahead. If possible, schedule your visit at least two weeks in advance. At some colleges, you may need to call two months in advance for an interview appointment. This will be especially true over the summer and around holidays.

3.  Prepare well. Read the information you have about the school. Look for the potential synergy between your interests, perspectives and learning style—and the offerings of the school. While on campus, you will want to test your initial impressions. Know why you are there. See how you fit. By examining your priorities in advance, you can be alert to evidence that the campus in question will support you in achieving your goals.

4.  Arrive early. Avoid feeling rushed. Give yourself time to stretch and walk around before you make an official introduction. Find a snack bar or some place where you can comfortably take in campus life. How do folks relate to each other? How do they relate to you?

5.  Get more than one opinion. Much of that which is offered formally by a college during your visit is staged for your benefit. It should look and sound good. It’s part of the sales pitch.

If you can, allow time to go “backstage” where you can learn more. Visit the “neighborhoods” of the campus that you are likely to frequent should you choose to enroll there. Introduce yourself to students and ask questions like: “What do you like most about your experience?” “How would you describe the academic environment?” “How is this college helping you to achieve your goals?” “If you could change one thing about your experience, what would it be?” Listen to their stories. How do you see yourself fitting into the picture they “paint” of life on that campus?

6. Record your visit. Make notes as soon as you are able. The more colleges you see, the more they will begin to look and sound alike. Take pictures. Buy postcards. Give yourself a visual index of what you have seen to avoid confusion later.

7. Build relationships. Your campus visit gives you a chance to establish relationships with individuals such as interviewers and information session presenters who might be decision-makers when your application is considered. Collect business cards. Be sure to stay in touch with them in appropriate ways as you continue exploring your interest.

8. Connect with the recruiter. Institutions typically assign their admission personnel to different areas of the country for recruiting purposes. Find out who from the institution recruits in your area and check to see if that person is available. If so, introduce yourself. If not, ask for that person’s business card. Regardless, consider him/her as your “go to” person when you have important questions later in the college selection process.

9. Absorb it. Resist the impulse to come to immediate judgment, one way or the other, on a campus visit experience. Sleep on it. Process what you have learned. Weigh your impressions against those you have of other schools. Your first reaction is bound to be emotional. In the end, you need to remain as objective as possible.

10. Focus on fit. How does the college you are visiting meet your academic needs? Will you be challenged appropriately? Is the style of instruction a good match for the manner in which you are most comfortable learning? Does the college offer a sense of community that makes you feel “at home?” And where do you see evidence that you will be valued for what you have to offer.

 

BCF Readers’ Forum IX


Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Dear Peter,
Is an optional admission interview something that everyone should do? My son isn’t convinced. Can you please tell us the pros and cons? He is specifically looking at a college that I believe is looking for evidence that a student has shown interest.
Molly

Dear Molly,
In the selective admission process, interviews are golden opportunities. If a college ever offers your son an interview opportunity with a paid, admission staff person—take it! That person is a decision-maker and it is always a good idea for your son to have some exposure with someone who could become an advocate behind the closed doors of the selection process. Most colleges that offer interviews make them optional, in part to see who takes advantage of the opportunity. In addition to meeting someone who can speak on his behalf in the admission committee, the fact that the interview takes place is the best indicator of his interest in the institution. Please reassure him that no one has ever died in an admission interview—he’ll be fine!
Peter

Dear Peter,
You have indicated that the net price calculator is not very helpful, especially for private colleges, and suggested that families might ask the university for a financial pre-read. Is it appropriate to ask them to do it before applications are submitted and what documents would they need?
Ariel

Dear Ariel,
You should be able to secure early estimates of your expected family contribution (EFC) by simply forwarding your most recent IRS tax returns. The school will let you know if it needs additional information. It is important to note that many private colleges will look at both the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service PROFILE to determine which methodology it will use in assessing your EFC. The latter is a much more granular assessment that can show an EFC that is higher than the FAFSA by as much as $10,000. Be sure to ask the person providing the early estimate to identify the methodology used to arrive at the estimate as well as the methodology that is likely to be used in the event that your student is admitted.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Do you know which colleges are generally more generous with their financial/merit aid?
Stephen

Dear Stephen,
It can be argued that all colleges are generous with financial aid, including scholarships. Just remember that each will use its resources to leverage the enrollment of the students whom they value most. That’s why it’s important to target schools where your student is likely to be in the top quartile of the competitive playing fields (for admission) and will be valued for what he has to offer.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son is an accomplished student looking at mostly highly selective institutions. When I complete the Net Price Calculator it often indicates our expected family contribution is essentially the full bill. Would you recommend taking the time to complete the FAFSA and perhaps the other financial form (CSS PROFILE) the highly selective institutions require if we are likely not going to qualify for need? By not completing the FAFSA, does that take our son out of the running for merit scholarship consideration?
Ellen

Dear Ellen,
While the Net Price Calculators are not perfect, they do tend to give you the best-case scenarios for the schools in question. If they are projecting your EFC at or above the total cost of attendance, that’s a pretty good sign that you will be expected to cover the full cost of attendance.
 
Completing the FAFSA and the CSS PROFILE can’t hurt if you think there is a chance that your financial data might have been interpreted incorrectly. That said, schools that offer merit (non-need based) scholarships will often require completion of at least the FAFSA. You should be able to determine the filing requirements on the websites of schools that offer scholarships. Moreover, if you want your son to take a Guaranteed Student Loan or seek on-campus employment, you will need to complete the FAFSA as the federal government is the funding source for both.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Is it possible to say to every college that you are giving an Early Decision application to each? While I am just a Sophomore, I am eager to know how Early Decision works?
Raj

Dear Raj,
Early Decision is an application option that many colleges offer that allows you to declare your “true love.” In other words, you are saying to the college, “If you admit me, I will withdraw all of my other applications and enroll at your school.” Formally declaring your first-choice interest to multiple colleges would be dishonest and unethical.

At this point, you should try to identify colleges that are good fits for you. Then, investigate them thoroughly so that, by the start of your senior year, you are ready to move forward with applications to a short list of no more than eight colleges. If one of those places emerges as your absolute first choice, then ED would be a viable application option at that school. You may only apply ED to one school, though. If that school defers or denies you, you become a “free agent” and are able to consider an ED application at another school if it offers an ED Round Two option.

Please note that colleges do compare lists of ED accepted students. If you show up on more than one list, be prepared for each college to withdraw your application completely.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Several of my son’s “reach” schools have indicated that submission of ACT Writing and SAT Subject tests is optional. However, these schools are highly competitive. At schools like this, is there an unwritten expectation that these test results should be provided? Is everyone else providing them and would it be a glaring omission if my son didn’t provide results, especially for the ACT writing?
Julie

Dear Julie,
I generally advise students not to submit test results when those results are at or below the averages for colleges where the submission of scores is optional. In such cases, the presence of average or below average scores cannot help. Moreover, the presence of low scores tends to introduce a negative bias into the minds of the reviewers.
 
If your son’s overall credentials are otherwise attractive to an institution, the absence of test results will make it easier for admission officers to rationalize admitting him. This is not a question of your son needing to submit scores to prove his ability. Rather, the test results, when provided, become part of the institution’s profile of admitted students and it would rather not include scores that would depress the profile. If he doesn’t send the scores, the college doesn’t need to worry about how they will look on its profile if he is admitted.
Peter

Dear Peter,
We’re about to visit some colleges and my daughter is nervous about the interview process. One of the colleges where she will be interviewing indicates on its website that it encourages questions at the interview. Are there any points or questions that you feel are essential to ask during the interview?
Lynn

Dear Lynn,
I worry that one of the biggest problems facing students is they overthink the interview. At its basic level, the interview is simply a conversation between two people who are eager to get to know each other (or the college that one of them represents). Quite frankly, the content for many interviews emerges from the chit-chat that takes place during the walk from the reception area to the interviewer’s office!

Your daughter does need to be prepared with 2-3 talking points—things she wants the interviewer to know about her background, interests, and/or difficulties she has encountered academically (if there are any). This is her opportunity to give the interviewer insight into who she is beyond the resume.
 
With regard to questions, she might inquire about the things she would like to know regarding her possible academic interest (accessibility of professors, internships, research opportunities, study abroad, etc.) as well as other aspects of campus life that are important to her. In addition, if she is uncertain about any aspect of the admission process/requirements, now is the time to ask. She should be careful not to ask questions for which answers can be easily found in the college’s promotional literature or on its website.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son recently started a club at his school, but he is afraid to share it with colleges because of the title, Conservative Student Union. While the purpose of the club is to give opportunity for students to discuss political issues, he is concerned admission officers will not look at the merits of the work involved with starting up a club, running weekly meetings and organizing community service and, instead, will judge him on the title of the club. Thoughts?
Mark

Dear Mark,
First of all, congrats to your son! His initiative is noteworthy and that, rather than the content of the club, will be impressive to admission committees. First amendment rights are highly cherished on most college campuses as institutions generally relish the opportunity to include students who represent a range of social, political, spiritual and cultural interests. I would remind your son that any place that would judge him harshly because of his beliefs or his involvements (assuming he is respectfully engaged) is probably not a place where he is likely to be comfortable for four years.
Peter

“Find a College That Feels Like Home”


Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

By Peter Van Buskirk

“I need to get out of here!” It’s a feeling shared by teenagers almost daily that is expressed loudly to anyone within earshot. And “here” is wherever you are at the moment—home, school, community. Just about anywhere else would be better than where you are.

Perhaps you recognize the symptoms. It seems the older you get the more claustrophobic your world becomes. Everybody is in your business and you need space. You’re ready for a new look, a change of scenery. And right about now, college seems like an inviting destination.

As eager as you might be to get up and go, though, the chances are there is a quiet voice inside you (never to be heard by anyone else!) that says something like, “I’m not sure I want to go. They feed me and let me drive their car. Besides, my friends are right around the corner. I actually have a good life here. Do I really have to leave?”

The answer is “yes.” At some point you will need to find a change of address. And, if that place will be a college, why not find one that bears the qualities you like in your home environment—a place that includes people with shared values and interests, a place where people will encourage you on bad days and celebrate with you the good days? Why not find a community into which you can settle comfortably?

When you think about it, the best college fit will be a place that offers a community in which you will feel comfortable. It will be a place where you won’t be distracted by worries about how you fit in. You won’t worry about what people think about you—how you talk, what you say, how you dress or what you think. You won’t have to prove yourself to anyone. Instead, you can relax and focus on getting the most out of your college experience and that includes, by the way, your academic work. There is a strong correlation between one’s comfort level in college—and one’s grade point average!

So, how do you find such a place? It’s hard to search the Internet for such a fit. Chat room conversations can be deceptive as they tend to reflect only the opinions of those who participate.  And the images you see on videos and in printed materials are rarely unattractive.

As a result, you will need to do some original research. Specifically, you need to experience college campuses and, in the process, be sensitive to your “gut” reactions. Quite often students who believe they’ve found the colleges of their dreams are hard-pressed to explain the attraction, except to say, “It’s a gut feeling. It feels right—like I would be at home.” As you think about living apart from the comforts of home, finding your niche is vitally important so let your gut go to work for you.

What “gut feeling” do you hope to find as you look at colleges? Look for students who come from similar backgrounds—who share your interests and your loyalties. While they shouldn’t be exact clones of your friends from home, it’s a good sign if they are people from whom you can learn and around whom you can grow personally. In all likelihood, your gut will tell you when you have found people you’d like to get to know better.

Moreover, what does your gut tell you about a college’s inclination to stretch and support you through various aspects of your college experience? Do you sense that people in a given environment will encourage and support you in your journey of self-discovery? Based on your experience on college campuses, where do you see evidence that interaction with others will help broaden your perspective—get you to take risks and think outside of the box periodically? What does your gut tell you about how an environment will respond if you struggle? Will anyone know?  Will anyone care?

The answers to these questions will help define the ideal college community for you. At a time in your life when you might be aching to get away and have a different experience, it’s vital that you “land” well when you get to college. Be careful not to react impulsively, then, as you consider your college “home away from home.” Be sure to test your reactions. Until you can experience such a place first hand and come away with a really strong, positive “gut feeling,” that feeling only exists in your imagination. Be prepared to visit campuses—and revisit and revise your list accordingly—as your college search continues until one day you will know the place that feels right for you because it feels like home!

BCF Readers’ Forum XI


Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Dear Peter,
My daughter is working on her college essays for both the Coalition and the Common applications. Each allows an essay on the “topic of your choice.” Could she just pick any prompt from either app and submit it for both? Or, would submitting something that was obviously written for a different app be considered tacky?
Janet

Dear Janet,
Most essay prompts present creative challenges in response to which students are able to reveal aspects of their life experiences that aren’t found anywhere else in their applications. In short, they have an opportunity to tell stories that are uniquely theirs.

Students need to be intentional when identifying essay prompts that provide the best opportunities for conveying essential messages in a thematically cohesive manner. Both the Coalition and Common Applications provide a series of essay prompt options as well as an option to write an essay on “a topic of your choice.” The latter leaves open the possibility that the student can use an essay that has been created for other purposes.

Given this flexibility regarding topic choices, intentionality is critical—students need to be thoughtful about the messages they want to convey to each college. A “one size fits all” approach to choosing an essay prompt might seem efficient, but it can be risky. Admission officers are quite discerning about the student’s recognition of the synergy between herself and the institution. In other words, “is this a conversation you are having with us or is it a conversation you are having with all who will listen?” This is likely to be even more relevant as students respond to the supplemental essay prompts associated with specific colleges receiving your daughter’s applications.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter wants to visit some colleges that are far away. I would love to take her, but I am a single parent and have very limited vacation days that I can take off due to a recent surgery. I know it is important for her to see the campuses, but I won’t be able to go with her to all of the colleges. What should we do?
Jillian

Dear Jillian,
Your daughter should make every effort to visit colleges that are very important to her—it will be hard for her to make a compelling application to a college that is “site unseen.” If you are not able to travel with her, perhaps a friend or family member might accompany her.

If visiting is simply not feasible, your daughter should check the websites of the colleges in question to see if virtual tours are available. She should also identify the admission staff persons at the colleges and reach out to them with any thoughtful questions she might have. Finally, she should be alert to any webinar information sessions that are offered by the colleges.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Prior to 9th Grade, my daughter was diagnosed with ADD. With medication—and literally overnight—she went from receiving grades in the 70’s to grades in the mid-90’s in virtually all of her classes. She had struggled immensely until this point and her confidence was decimated.

Due to the timing of the diagnosis, she had not taken algebra or earth science in 8th grade and was not tracked into any honors classes. She has, however, maintained a rigorous schedule that will see her taking physics, calculus, Spanish 5, History and English in her senior year. She has maintained an overall 94 average and has made the High Honor Roll each quarter of her high school career.

My daughter has also been quite successful at soccer. She is being recruited by two outstanding Division III private colleges and we are at the point of sending transcripts.
It is our impression these colleges want to see honors as well as AP courses.

How much “pull” do coaches have? Should we be very forthcoming right out of the box about my daughter’s late diagnosis of ADD and miraculous results with the medication? She has worked hard to accomplish well over the past three years of high school and we’d like to see her get into the best academic college possible.
Hannah

Dear Hannah,
I would urge you to be fully disclosing with regard to your daughter’s academic history. IF the coach is going to have any “pull” with the admission office, she will need to be in full command of your daughter’s situation. I have written before about the need for students to explain irregularities (performance doesn’t match expectations) in their academic program/performance. This is a perfect example of the need for such an explanation.

Absent such information, admission officers will be easily dismissive of her credentials. She at least gives herself a chance by telling the complete story and eliminating the guesswork that would otherwise be required of admission officers.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Our son received a National Society of High School Scholars “Membership Confirmation” today and I wonder whether this is something that might help him get admitted or secure scholarships. Would you be able to weigh in on whether this is worth the $75.00 they seek?
Don

Dear Don,
I have found no evidence that NSHSS membership is actually regarded as a meaningful credential in the admission or scholarship selection process. If anything, it’s ego food. Honors are earned—they can’t be bought.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My question has to do with how a student might incorporate traveling abroad during the summer into a college application. This will be my son’s second trip and he will get community service hours. I have been told in the past that you do not want to mention any type of service where you had to pay to be involved. Although, my son has a strong passion for travel and helping others, would it be wrong to label these outings as “mission trips” or would you just avoid mentioning them all together? This summer, he is actually staying with a host family and intends to start some type of fundraiser for them when he gets back.
Matt

Dear Matt,
Travel abroad and “mission” trips can be incredibly enlightening activities and certainly deserve reference in college applications. Such experiences are fairly common, though, and typically fall to students who can afford them—hence, the cynicism expressed by many admission officers when students talk about the trips in their essays. That said, it is appropriate to include reference to the travel somewhere on the extracurricular profile/resume. And, to the extent that the experiences have shaped your son’s perspective, they might be the subject of an essay.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I have been pondering whether or not I should take an AP Biology course for my senior year or an AP Government and Politics class. Science is not the field I wish to pursue as I am interested in history education. I am concerned about dropping science, though, if it will decrease my chances of being admitted into a school. I am looking for some guidance through this difficult decision.
Sharon

Dear Sharon,
On the surface, swapping out one high level course (AP Bio) for another (AP Government/Politics) would seem to make sense, especially if you are leaning strongly toward academic/career interests related to the latter. On the other hand, some colleges will regard AP Bio as a stronger choice. That said, I’d strongly urge you to raise the same question with the regional recruiters from some of the colleges likely to be on your “short list.” They are in a better position to provide insight into the nuances of the selection processes of which they are a part.
Peter

BCF Readers’ Forum XIV


Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Dear Peter,
My son is waitlisted to the undergraduate engineering program at a very selective university for next fall. The school reports that approximately 2,200 students asked to remain active on its Wait List and only 4 from 2,200 were ultimately accepted to the freshman class. So, it would appear the chances of a waitlisted applicant getting admitted to the University are less than 0.2%? If this info is accurate, would these waitlist probabilities be similar at other colleges?
Paul

Dear Paul,
I must confess that I am generally very cynical about data self-reported by colleges. In particular, data derived from WL activity can be very “soft.” For example, colleges will only count as “admitted” from the WL those students who receive letters confirming the admission. The typical protocol for admitting students from the WL is for admission officers to contact them directly with a “verbal” offer. Letters of acceptance are only sent to the students who say “yes.” For example, it is not uncommon for admission officers to call 50-60 students—or more—before receiving 20 affirmative responses. The calls to students that failed to yield positive responses are not counted among the acceptances.

Moreover, admission data is often reported well before WL activity has been completed. While it is possible that the university in question only “accepted” four students from the WL by the time it reported its WL numbers, it is also possible that many more students were contacted and accepted after the report was submitted.

Having said that, the data/probabilities are likely to be similarly “soft” at other schools. I will say this, though, the WL is a dead-end for students who do not choose to remain active on it at a given school. On the other hand, those who remain active—visit the campus (again!), update their files with new information and make sure they are accessible (cell phones, emails, etc.)—have more reasonable chances of admission than they might have imagined.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I hear from many parents that our child needs to have volunteer hours included in with her college applications. Are these necessary and, if so, to what extent? Our daughter plays high school field hockey and occasionally volunteers at the field hockey clinics offered in our area. She hasn’t expressed any interest in volunteering in other areas and, with free time being so limited due to her field hockey club practices and clinics, I wonder if she NEEDS to be more diverse in her volunteer hours for her application. I was hoping you might be able to elaborate on this.
Hal

Dear Hal,
The best thing you can do is support your daughter’s development in those areas that are of interest to her. While volunteering/community service can certainly be a valued part of an applicant’s credentials, so can talent development and leadership. I would advise your daughter to continue investing in the things that give her joy in life. If volunteering becomes one of them, great. Regardless, it is most important that she continues to grow with her involvements.

I would like to add that you might stop listening to your friends on this topic! Unless they are or have been admission officers, they have no relevant expertise and know little more than you do at this point. The “noise” that envelops the college going-process can be maddening if you don’t find a way to block it out or at least process it with perspective. Enjoy your daughter’s teenage years with her—they’ll be gone before you know it! Help her to stay true to herself as she reaches into the uncertainty of the future. And help her find colleges that will value her for that person she is becoming.
Hal

Dear Peter,
Do you have a sample letter to send to a school where I have been accepted; however, I decided to go to another college? I would like to keep the door open for the future.
Melanie

Dear Melanie,
I don’t have such a letter but I suggest you keep the message simple. Something like, “Thank you so much for offering me admission! After much consideration, I have decided to attend (name of college). All the best!” Generally speaking, these letters are opened by support staff who then update student statuses is their systems. If you have developed a relationship of any sort with an admission recruiter, you might send a separate, more personal note to that person in which you explain your decision/plans.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter is currently a junior and wants to increase her chances at her favorite schools. When you mention to be in contact with the school and email the admissions person assigned to our area, do you have any recommendations for what she should be inquiring about or what is a good example of showing strong interest without sounding desperate?
Marva

Dear Marva,
Contacts with colleges run both ways. Your daughter needs to be attentive and responsive to outreach from the colleges of interest to her. And when she has questions about the college or an aspect of its admission process for which there are no answers easily found in its literature or on its website, she needs to ask them of its regional recruiter. Quite often, such questions relate to course selections. They might also relate to other choices your daughter needs to make (which subject tests are required/preferred, who should I ask for a letter of recommendation, etc.). She needs to be careful, though, to make sure her queries are thoughtful. It would be a mistake to try sending messages on a regular (daily, weekly, etc.) basis as she would come to be regarded as pest.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Do alumni donations matter for legacies? I have heard for the most part they don’t unless they exceed the six-figure mark.
Rob

Dear Rob,
I’m afraid there is no way to predict the manner in which colleges factor alumni donations into the admission process. Schools admitting 30%+ of their applicants will certainly be impressed by substantial giving but are also inclined to admit legacies with the “long view” in mind. In other words, admitting your student makes you proud (as an alum) and, perhaps, more likely to write them into your estate planning. The most selective (and wealthy) institutions seem to be as impressed by status/stature as money. At those places, six digits doesn’t even scratch the surface. They’ll want to see evidence of philanthropic giving and the potential to put a name on a building.
Peter

Dear Peter,
What are your tips for college campus visits?
Nikhil

Dear Nikhil,
Most college visits will afford you the opportunity to take a tour and participate in a group information session. Some offer personal interviews as well. If a college ever gives you an opportunity to interview with a paid admission staff person, you should take advantage of it! It’s always good to have some exposure to a decision-maker.

For additional tips, visit www.BestCollegeFit.com/blog and click on the “Campus Visit” category where you will find several articles that will help you prepare for your campus visits.
Peter

BCF Readers’ Forum XVI


Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Dear Peter,
My son was just admitted to a selective university in their Early Decision Round II. While we received some financial aid from them, I’m wondering if we should send out emails to the other, even more selective colleges to which he applied asking if they can speed up the decision process. If he gets into one of them with better financial aid, then I could ask the ED school for more. If they don’t give us more grants, then that would give us an excuse to get out of the ED.
Mike

Dear Mike,
When your son applied ED, he gave up the right/opportunity to compare financial aid awards. While he might appeal his financial aid award at the ED school, at the end of the appeal process he will need to withdraw all other active applications and commit to the ED school. The time to reconcile the financial aid situation was before the ED application was submitted. By applying ED, he (and you) agreed that any contingent matters that could stand in the way of his enrollment had been fully resolved. By trying to play one school against another while committed ED, he risks losing all potential offers of admission. Many of these schools compare ED acceptance lists and he doesn’t want to be seen as failing to honor his ED commitment.
Peter

Dear Peter,
We were recently bombarded with college letters for our sophomore daughter. The letters all appear to have been robo-generated and arrived within a day of each other. Each is particular to that college but largely the same. In your presentation, you mentioned a student who didn’t get into his desired college because he neglected to respond to a simple survey sent to him. Would this count for these robo-generated mailings? Are these legitimate?
Annie

Dear Annie,
The barrage of letters your sophomore received is not unusual. Colleges invest heavily in “lead generation.” They buy names of students (often in excess of 100,000 names) whose credentials would put them on the institution’s “competitive playing fields.” A common indicator of this is performance on tests (SAT, ACT, AP) combined with other self-reported information (GPA, academic interest, etc.). Selected students then receive introductory materials that are designed to pique their curiosity, if not impress them.

While the deluge can, at first, generate excitement, the “ego” mail soon begins to feel like “junk” mail and much of it is understandably discarded. On the other hand, if your daughter receives information from colleges that have programs and educational environments that might be of interest to her, she should respond. It is likely that most of these schools will continue to reach out to her, so she will no doubt have future opportunities to engage them when she is ready. Responding will put her on the institution’s radar screen and set up the potential for more substantive exchanges (including surveys) in the future.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son has been notified that he is either a semi-finalist or finalist in merit scholarships at a number of excellent schools. These were all regular decision applications and therefore he has not received formal acceptances from them. Would you say it is safe to assume that if he named as a scholarship candidate and is being asked to send additional information for the scholarship that he will be receiving an acceptance to the school?
Ali

Dear Ali,
It would be logical to assume that your son is someone of real interest to these schools—they’re not going to be waving scholarship opportunities in front of weak candidates! That said, he needs to stay engaged (respond to requests for information about the scholarships, participate in interviews when offered, visit the campus and meet with professors in his academic area of interest).

Short of receiving actual letters of acceptance, however, nothing is guaranteed. IF admission officers sense any disinterest on his part or that he is leaning toward another school, they might decide not to admit him. Bottom line: it is much better to be part of these conversations than not!
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter is a high-achieving student presently doing a gap year in the Czech Republic. She will be entering 10th grade in the Fall. She is interested in enrolling at an IB secondary school in Prague that is run in close alignment to the British educational system. However, she is pretty certain that she will want to go to an American university.

What issues will she confront when applying to American colleges, having come from a non-USA IB institution of British pedigree? And importantly, want can she do in her three years to showcase and/or mitigate that peculiarity to the satisfaction of American colleges?
Mark

Dear Mark,
It sounds like your daughter is enjoying a remarkable cross-cultural learning experience! Continuing her education in Prague would be incredibly broadening and enlightening—a rare opportunity!

The good news is that the IB is universal in its curriculum and assessment. While it might take on the nuance of the local milieu, it is nonetheless recognized as a premier, if not the premier, academic program in the world. As you probably know, the IB was created to give students studying outside of the USA an opportunity to prepare to compete for admission and succeed in the classroom at the most selective institutions in this country. I do not foresee any circumstance in which this experience would compromise her future college applications.

My advice to your daughter would be to soak it all in. If she continues to work hard and squeeze everything she can from the experience, she’ll have a compelling story to tell when applying to colleges in the USA.
Peter

Dear Peter,
What do colleges mean when they say they want to see four years of study in a particular discipline? Does French I–IV (in 8th–11th grade) cover it or do they mean they’d like someone to study French all the years they’re in high school?
Jill

Dear Jill,
When colleges talk about four years of study, they are referencing grades 9-12. Work done in 8th grade generally doesn’t qualify.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter has received acceptances to a great public Ivy school and to a highly regarded pharmacy program within a large out-of-state, state university. She has just received preliminary award letters from each school and they are very different. The public Ivy school has left a gap of $18,000 whereas the state school has left a gap of $35,000 per year. Is it appropriate to approach the state school to ask for a better offer and if so what is the best way to go about this? Is it realistic to think that this difference in award can be bridged or do some schools simply have more money? I would like her to be able to weigh up her options from a level playing field. As it stands right now the state school is out of her reach financially.
Leanne

Dear Leanne,
You can always ask for reconsideration from the out-of-state university. If you do, you might present the other financial aid award as evidence of what the competition has to offer. I wouldn’t expect much from the appeal, though, as state university award processes are likely to be more formula driven and any discretionary funds are likely to go to the in-state kids first.

BTW, your daughter’s interest in pharmacy is likely to require graduate school at which time she might choose the program at the state university for the pharmacy degree. If that is the case, she can have the best of both worlds with these two schools.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter has been admitted Early Decision to her number-one choice. We are proud of her acceptance and have sent in our confirmation and our early deposit money.

Here’s the problem—she made some bad decisions and let her academic work slip in the second marking period. She got a 76 and 77 in two classes. All of her classes are AP and honors, but still, she dropped 12-15 points in those two classes AND they happen to be classes related to her intended major.

Her ED school requires mid-year grades to be sent. What should she do? Do we wait for them to say something? Or, should my daughter reach out to the regional admission rep and explain herself.
Mary

Dear Mary,
“Stuff” happens and right now it is best that your daughter get out in front of it. Better to own the situation than have to defend it in the face of questions.

The same thing happened to my grandson a couple of years ago with a slightly different twist. The difference: he hadn’t been admitted yet. The same day he received an email request from his ED school for his mid-year grades, the grades were revealed to him. He had gotten a D in Physics and was understandably mortified. We talked and he came to understand the need to own the situation.

He wrote a brief email to the regional recruiter in which he acknowledged that she would be seeing a significant drop in one of his grades. He explained that he had allowed himself to become distracted by his involvement with his travel soccer team (a week in Florida in early December for a tournament) and, as a result, found himself in a bind with Physics. Nonetheless, he offered no excuses and asserted that he was embarrassed by the outcome: “this isn’t who I am and promise you I don’t want to ever let it happen again.”

The admission officer wrote back somewhat incredulously: “Thank you…we never hear this kind of explanation from students…I’ll share this with my colleagues and get back to you. ”He was subsequently admitted.

I suggest your daughter follow a similar approach. There is no need to get into all the details. In her own words, she simply needs to take responsibility. She had allowed herself to be distracted by her non-academic involvements at the expense of her attention to classroom assignments.

I would add it is highly unlikely the college will revoke her offer of admission. They will, however, continue to watch her performance through the end of the year (yes, June!) and, if these grades prove to be a troublesome trend, she could then lose her place in the class.
Peter