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“Time to Transfer?”


Saturday, January 14th, 2017

By Peter Van Buskirk

I had a number of conversations over the last several weeks with individuals who wanted to talk about the college transfer process. They were coming at the discussion from a variety of different perspectives ranging from the intentional to the desperate. The one thing they had in common was that they weren’t where they wanted to be—or so they thought.

In light of these conversations, it would seem appropriate to discuss the topic further in this space where the insight gleaned might help both those active in the transfer process as well as families that might be weighing the transfer option as part of the four year educational plan.

Before we look at the transfer process, it is important to acknowledge that many educators agree the optimal learning experience is one that takes place over four years on one campus. While there are certainly great examples of individuals who have pieced together meaningful undergrad experiences at multiple schools, the continuity of one academic program—and the relationships that emerge through it—typically fosters a more holistic experience and often produces more favorable results after graduation.

Opportunities to transfer into institutions are typically contingent on two factors: the availability of space and the availability of funds (for those who may need assistance). For example, schools that experience very little turnover in student enrollment (prior to graduation) may take on few, if any, transfers in a given year. These are places that, by virtue of rigorous admission standards, can make sure the students who enter, either as first-year students or transfers, are well equipped to manage the expectations of their respective classrooms.

Many of them also invest significantly in the various types of support needed for their students to find success. As a result, students who enter usually stay and graduate. Not surprisingly, these are also places that many students seeking to transfer see as “destination schools.”

By contrast, institutions more open to transfers are those that experience greater attrition prior to graduation. Their ability to support transfer students who need financial assistance may vary from year to year depending on the funds available at the time. It is possible, then, that institutions could extend offers of transfer admission but fail to provide the necessary financial aid.

In any case, the admission process for transfer candidates is remarkably similar to that of first-year applicants with several notable exceptions. 1) The high school transcript often takes a “back seat” to the college record in the credential review process. 2) The high school extracurricular record becomes secondary to involvement at the college level. 3) A statement is often required of the “sending” dean of student affairs attesting to the student’s good standing at the institution. 4) Finally, transfer students will be expected to address their reasons for transferring. The more selective the process, the greater the scrutiny that will be given to each factor as admission officers ask the question, “If we admit this student, what do we get?”

Given this background on the process, the rationale for transferring can be considered contextually. While there are myriad reasons for transferring, they tend to fall into one of three categories:

  1. Intentional
  2. Circumstantial
  3. Reactive

Intentional  The transfer process is both expedient and intentional for students who plan from the outset to piece together academic experiences at multiple schools. For some, it’s a matter of finances. They plan to address general education requirements at a community college or state university where the cost per credit is much lower before transferring into a four-year college to complete their degree requirements. Others simply need to develop academic competencies (and confidence) before embarking on a four-year degree.

Regardless, students intending to pursue a “2+2” degree path need to make sure the potential destination colleges promise to accept the coursework taken during the first two years and to support the transferring student with need-based financial aid. Many community colleges have negotiated articulation agreements with four-year programs that offer such assurances.

Circumstantial  Sometimes, the “best laid” plans fail to accommodate changes in circumstance at a chosen college. For example, unforeseen changes in career interest, access to competitive opportunities athletically, health concerns, or financial support may put a student in the position of having to look for a new college home. When this happens, it is best to work with advisors at the “sending” school to compile a compelling statement in support of the transfer.

Reactive  Some of my recent exchanges were with parents, worried that the first-year experience for their students isn’t going so well. Such revelations are never easy especially in light of the time and energy that was expended in the initial college selection process. As a result, parents are often conflicted about what to do—rush to their students’ sides with assurances that a transfer is in order or let things work themselves out on their own.

That the transfer “button” has been touched in any way is often symptomatic of adjustment issues (i.e. homesickness, high school relationship that is “on the rocks,” or envy—“the grass is greener somewhere else”) that do indeed benefit from time, experience and, in some cases, added maturity. My experience is that the vast majority of scenarios that seem highly worrisome at the end of the first semester have all but been forgotten by the end of the second.

Summary: All potential transfer scenarios must be carefully considered, not only for the benefits that seem to be immediately apparent, but for the long-term implications. If you go down the path of the transfer applicant, do so with your eyes wide open and an honest assessment of your rationale for doing so.

By Peter Van Buskirk

The odds are that among the admission decision letters received by college applicants in the coming days will be a few that bear the curious message, “We are pleased to offer you a place on the Wait List.” If you receive such a message, you might find it puzzling. You can’t find the word “congratulations” anywhere in the letter, yet the school is “pleased to offer you…”—what?

Your instincts say that if you are not “in” you must be “out.” Rejected. At the very least, you might convince yourself that it is just a polite denial letter. Before you draw too many conclusions, read the letter carefully. Your application hasn’t been dismissed. It’s simply been put on hold.

Rather than a polite denial, the Wait List offer is a “definite maybe.” Whether you knew it or not, you were on the competitive “bubble” among the candidates at the college in question. You were certainly qualified—deserving of consideration in a close competition—but you were not a shoo-in. When it came time for the admission committee to make very fine distinctions, it chose others over you. By offering you a place on the Wait List, though, the committee is really saying, “We like you. Since we might not get the number of enrollments we need from the initial round of acceptances, we might be able to admit you later.”

While such an explanation does not feel very reassuring as you read it for the first time, you might well have options before this whole thing is over. Hang in there. Most of the selective colleges in the country will admit students from the Wait List every year in numbers ranging from half a dozen to well over 100.

The Inside Scoop
Information about Wait List status and movement is closely guarded. Colleges are sensitive to negative inferences that are made about the “need” to go to the Wait List and prefer to be discrete about the extent of their reliance on it for enrollment. As a result, admission officers are very careful to admit only the number of students needed from the WL in fleshing out the enrolling class. While they admit to address unmet needs (special talent, diversity, gender mix, etc.) in the class, they are also careful to admit only those students who are likely to enroll.

For example, a highly selective institution is likely to offer WL status to at least as many students as it admits in the Regular Admission process. In other words, if an institution admits 3,000 Regular Decision candidates, it is likely to offer WL status to at least that many. Those who are offered WL status must then “qualify” themselves for further consideration by acknowledging their continued interest. Typically a fraction of the students do so which puts them on the “active” WL for a given college. It is this active WL that becomes the new candidate pool in the event that the institution decides to admit more students.

When the need for students from the WL is determined, admission officers usually reach out directly to the students who have remained “active,” either by phone, email or text with a message that sounds like, “We are able to offer admission to a few students on the WL. If you want a place in the class, you may have it. If not, we will offer it to the next student on the WL. Please let us know as soon as possible (often within 24 hours).” And it can happen that suddenly—from purgatory to the Promised Land in an instant! For students whose interest in the college has remained steadfast, the decision is easy—”Yes, I’m coming!” Many others, however, will have since made commitments to other institutions and will decline on the WL offer. The admitting college will continue to contact students on the active WL until it gets the number of affirmative responses it needs. In this manner, it could reach out to 100 students before getting “yes’s” from the 20 it needs!

It is worth noting that colleges will only count as “admitted” those students who accept the offer of admission from the WL and to whom they send formal letters of admission thereby introducing a high yield cohort into the class. One of the incredibly misleading statistics published by institutions is that they only admit a small percentage of the students who are on the WL. While admitting 20 from the group of 3,000 who were offered WL status seems miniscule, the reality is that, among the 25-35% who remain “active,” the odds that a WL call will come are often much better than you might imagine.

The process outlined above represents the “insurance policy” colleges have used historically to “top off” their classes from the WL. In the present, however, enrollment managers—ever conscious of the need to improve yield and selectivity—have seized on the opportunity to bolster the yield and selectivity rates for their institutions by factoring the WL into their enrollment models. “Why,” the logic goes, “should we admit so many low-yielding Regular Decision candidates when we can put them on the WL and see who really wants to come?” By displacing low-yield Regular Decision candidates with high-yield WL candidates, institutions can measurably improve their yields on offers of admission while becoming more selective. In effect, the WL is now being operated covertly as a “back-end Early Decision” tactic.

While Wait Lists at some of the most selective institutions might not “move” until June, it is not uncommon for colleges to begin admitting from the WL as early as mid-April in order to optimize their chances at enrolling the students they want before the latter begin committing to other institutions. Students admitted from the WL prior to the May 1 Candidates’ Reply Date will typically be those who do not need any financial assistance. If a WL is active after May 1—and it’s institution has financial aid resources left over from the earlier rounds of admission—students with financial need might be considered. It is not uncommon, though, for institutions that are aggressive with the WL to completely deplete the roster of “full pay” students on the active WL before getting to the most talented students on the WL who have need.

Next Steps
If you are on the Wait List at one of your favorite colleges, here is what you need to know—and do—in order to give yourself a competitive edge.

  1. Wait Lists will be active because colleges are constantly gambling that their yield on initial offers will be better than expected. They are usually wrong.
  2. When they go to the Wait List, admission officers have efficiency in mind. They want to fill their empty seats as quickly as possible. Rather than mailing offers of admission to hundreds of students, they will call or email candidates one at a time until they receive the number of commitments they need.
  3. Make sure that the school knows it is your first choice. Write a letter confirming your interest. Visit. Send new grades. Provide new insight into your performance as well as evidence of recent accomplishments that might not have appeared on your initial application.
  4. Stay on the radar screen of the staff member who recruits in your area. Make sure they know you are available and ready to accept an offer of admission. Continue to show your interest without becoming a pest.
  5. Be sure to provide evidence of your potential “hooks.” Colleges re-define their needs as they go to the Wait List. For example, they may have acquired plenty of tuba players, but now have a need for an oboist.
  6. Colleges may need students who won’t require financial assistance. If there had ever been a question about your need for financial aid, be clear about what your family can afford. Your need of assistance could well be a determining factor. Movement from Wait Lists prior to May 1 will probably be limited to students who do not need financial aid.
  7. Many Wait List offers will come after the May 1 deadline for submitting enrollment deposits. If such a call comes, you need to be prepared to decide quickly (often in 24 hours) whether you want to forfeit an earlier enrollment at another school in order to take advantage of the acceptance from the Wait List.
  8. Don’t allow yourself to become so preoccupied with the Wait List situation that you lose track of your more immediate options. If the Wait List offer doesn’t come, you need to be ready to embrace one of your other options.

So, take heart. The enrollment opportunities from the Wait List are very real. In fact, competing for admission from the Wait List is like playing in a contest that has gone into overtime. If you assume the game is lost, you can’t win. Keep “playing,” then—hard and smart—to give yourself a chance for a happy outcome.

By Peter Van Buskirk

Getting into a “good” college is a big deal these days—so big that many families are investing thousands of dollars into a range of credentialing experiences for their students with the expectation that somewhere, somehow, there is a competitive “edge” to be exploited in the admission process.

Chief among these investments is the engagement of private consultants—folks who offer fee-based assistance to families outside of the high school environment. Such assistance can come in the form of private tutoring, test preparation, reflective self-assessment, college list development, essay editing, dedicated “advocacy” in the admission process, and planning support for students with special needs. It’s a long list that features some incredibly gifted people who provide high-quality services. This space has also become attractive for opportunists with marginal, at best, credentials, so “buyer beware!”

I’d like to offer a few observations and suggestions in the event you are considering the involvement of a private counselor.

  1. Don’t overlook the fact that a lot of high schools, public and private, feature highly trained college access professionals and offer an abundant supply of college planning resources. Explore them first. They’re already part of the educational environment of which your student is a member and they will be integral to the presentation of his credentials.
  2. Manage expectations. It is more important that you help your student find and get into colleges that are good fits for her than it is to try and “shoe-horn” her into a place that will satisfy your social urges, but not her educational needs.
  3. Despite their pedigrees or prior work experiences, private counselors don’t get students into college. While they can help students calibrate the process and prepare effectively to compete for admission, it is the student who must carry the day in the admission process.
  4. Engage private counselors for the right reasons. Ask yourself why you want or—more importantly—need the help. Is the college counseling available through your student’s school truly deficient? Does your student have specific needs that need to be addressed? Or do you simply want the peace of mind of having access to an expert who can interpret the process for you as you move forward? Many consultants are experts about specific areas such as learning differences or family relocations or financial planning. Make sure you know what you need and the counselor truly has expertise in addressing those needs.
  5. Make sure the student is regarded as the lead client. To the parents, that means, “pay the bill and then stand back.” I see far too many situations in which the parents are engaged with the consultant as though the student isn’t even present!
  6. If you are considering a consultant who lives near you, make sure your student meets with that person before “signing on.” Ask to see evidence that s/he is well educated (former admission officer, college advisor, Certified Educational Planner, etc.) about the college admission process and has been actively engaged in professional development activity over the last 2-3 years. Look for honesty, sincerity (don’t buy what you don’t need!), accessibility and compatibility with your student. This exercise won’t work if your student isn’t buying into the concept or the person delivering it.
  7. Get referrals and ask for references. Don’t settle for a sales pitch or target a consultant because of that person’s reputation. A consultation that seemed to work for your best friend or colleague might not produce the same level of satisfaction for you.
  8. Consider cost and the projected time commitment. You shouldn’t have to pay more than 15% of the cost of one year at the colleges your student is considering for qualified assistance (you can often get what you need for less). And working with a consultant should not detract from your student’s ability to do the things that are important to her/him.
  9. Finally, be wary of individuals who make guarantees. As I said earlier, consultants do not get kids into college! They should not manage the process nor should they write essays or complete applications for them. Students must take ownership of the process and the required tasks.

On the other hand, good consultants can help young people find the most appropriate colleges and they can provide assistance in gaining perspective on how a student might best present himself/herself in the admission process. Make sure the consultation is student-centered and you won’t go wrong!

“Closing the Deal!”


Thursday, April 30th, 2015

The end of April marks the conclusion of a long search and selection journey as you find yourself on the threshold of your new college home. After years of preparation and months of speculation, admission outcomes are finally known and the decision-making is nearly complete. Soon, the enrollment “check is in the mail”—literally. Let the celebration begin!

You need to be careful, though, as you celebrate. The following are points to consider as you move through this exciting transition in your life.

1. Stay focused academically. While an overwhelming sense of relief is washing over you—and all you want to do is kick back, relax, and enjoy the moment—don’t lose sight of what got you to this point. A quick re-read of the not-so-fine print on your acceptance letter tells the story. In offering you a place in its entering class, the admission committee expects you to complete your senior year at no less than the same level of performance that was evident when it decided to accept you.

Many colleges, particularly those that are highly selective, will monitor your academic performance right up to the end. In order to complete your enrollment, you will need to submit a final transcript confirming your graduation from high school. If your transcript reveals measurable declines in your program or performance, you may suddenly find your enrollment status in jeopardy as colleges are known to revoke their offers—and the actual enrollments—of students whose final transcripts fail to measure up to expectations. When I was Dean of Admission, I had to send 6-8 such letters each summer. It was, for obvious reasons, one of the least pleasant things I would have to do as Dean.

So what does this mean for you? It doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the rest of the year. However, you do need to keep going to class! Resist the temptation to drop courses. Take final exams. Think of such actions as “insurance.” Don’t fall prey to the intellectual comas that seem to overcome students at the end of the senior year. The last thing you want to see is a letter from the Dean of Admission sometime later this summer informing you that you no longer have a place in the entering class at that school.

2.    Commit to one college! In the face of multiple options, it may be tempting to submit enrollment deposits to more than one college in order to give yourself more time to make the final choice. Don’t do it! Hard as it might be to make the call by the May 1 Candidates’ Reply date, that’s what you need to do. Just as admission officers review final transcripts, they are also prone to comparing enrollment rosters with colleagues at peer institutions.

If your name appears on the enrollment rosters at more than one school, be prepared for the consequences. It is not uncommon for a dean of admission to arbitrarily withdraw a student’s enrollment at her/his school out of respect for the student’s commitment to another school—not the kind of surprise you want to encounter after you have graduated from high school! Imagine if the Deans at both schools took the same action!

Do the smart and ethical thing.  Make one commitment and honor it. The possible exception to this well-documented rule involves the sequence of events following admission from a college’s Wait List. Should you be committed to one college when another offers you a place from its Wait List, you may accept the latter offer. In doing so, however, it is understood that you must forfeit your initial deposit at the first college.

3.    Complete the financial aid process. The fact that you have received—and accepted—a need-based financial aid award doesn’t mean the process is over. You have accepted the award on the condition that you and your parents will submit tax returns for 2014 in order to verify the data that was reported on your financial aid applications. Even if you are not receiving need-based assistance from the institution, you should complete the FAFSA application if you wish to secure un-subsidized student loans and campus work-study opportunities funded by the federal government. Most schools that award merit scholarship programs will require that you have a completed FAFSA on file as well.

Finally, be sure to report any scholarships you receive from community organizations to the college you will attend. These awards will be credited to the cost of attendance.

4.    Be safe! Tragically, the best of times can turn quickly into the worst of times for young people as they revel in their achievements. Have a good time but take care of yourself!

The next six weeks are indeed a time for celebrating both happy endings and new beginnings. Having made your college selection, it would seem all that is left before you’re “outta here” is the pomp and circumstance of graduation. As you pause to reflect and enjoy the moment, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture that continues to unfold before you.

You have reached an important milestone in your life, yet there are many more for which you can strive. None are more important than becoming the best person you can be. The following thoughts from an anonymous author sum up these sentiments well:

Be careful of your thoughts, because your thoughts will become your words.
Be careful of your words, because your words will become your deeds.
Be careful of your deeds, because your deeds will become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, because your habits will become your character.
Be careful of your character, because your character will become your destiny.

Congratulations and best wishes!

The word on the street is that college “Wait Lists” are huge again this year. But what does that mean? Are colleges rejecting more students, albeit more gently, by way of the Wait List—or are we seeing the emergence of new enrollment strategies?

Experience suggests that it is much more the latter than the former. This was very much in evidence when, on April 2, I asked the dean of admission at a highly selective college for some insight into why a very talented advisee had been put on the wait list. His response was telling. “We liked the young man very much—he was a great candidate for us. We were uncertain, though, about his interest in us. Tell him not to worry, though. We plan to go to the Wait list for about 60 students later this spring. If he stays active on our Wait List, he should be fine.”

How could the dean have been so encouraging if he wasn’t certain that his Wait List would be active as part of his school’s enrollment strategy? The fact is that admission officers have found that they can improve institutional yield and selectivity rates by reducing the number of talented, but relatively low-yielding students admitted through the Regular Decision process and taking more high-yielding (and talented) students from the Wait List.

Think about it. The anticipated return on offers of admission in the Regular Decision process is relatively low given the fact that those students are likely to have compelling offers from other schools as well. It’s not uncommon for a selective institution to admit four or five Regular Decision candidates in order to enroll one.

However, admission officers can be much more targeted as they select students from the Wait List. Rather than sending hundreds of offers in anticipation that the right number will respond in the affirmative, they contact Wait Listed students one at a time until they have received the right number of commitments to meet their enrollment goals. Operating in this manner, admission officers can manage the yield on Wait List offers at a much more desirable rate of about 75%.

Frankly, such tactics are becoming commonplace. Somewhat curiously, though, institutional Wait List strategies are held “close to the vest” at most places behind bold proclamations that the enrollment picture is as strong as ever. It is almost as though institutions are fearful that admitting students from the Wait List will be seen as a tacit admission of failure in the admission process.

Consider, for example, the recent experience of a “most highly selective” institution. As the admission decisions were being released in April, its admission officers began making early and very pubic assurances that it had seen a record number of applicants, the Early Decision process had generated more enrollments than ever and the ever-important measures of quality were at their highest as well. In light of these successes, there would be no need to admit more than a few “political” cases from the Wait List.

Six weeks later, that same institution quietly admitted more than 200 students from its Wait List! Apparently, it was feeling more “political” pressure than it had anticipated! The truth of the matter is that by engaging in such heavy Wait List activity, that institution—and many others like it—was able to address internal needs while substantially burnishing its admission profile. The use of the Wait List had become a clear, albeit discrete, strategy to boost its selectivity and improve its yield on offers of admission.

That being the case—and despite institutional rhetoric to the contrary—you can expect to see considerable movement of students from Wait Lists in the coming weeks. Far from a polite denial, then, the offer of Wait List status now looms with much greater promise—if you elect to remain active on that Wait List.

In reality, the Wait List is to the admission process as “overtime” is to athletic event. In each case, your chances of success correlate directly with your determined engagement. If you give up hope and stop competing, you have no chance of finding success.

If you are determined to continue competing in this “overtime” period involving the Wait List, gaining admission to the school of your choice will likely hinge on your ability to:

1.  Make sure the school knows it is your first choice. Write a letter confirming your interest. Visit—again!

2.  Send new grades. Provide new insight into your performance as well as evidence of recent accomplishments that might not have appeared on your initial application.

3.  Be sure to provide evidence of your potential “hooks.” Colleges re-define their needs as they go to the Wait List. For example, they may have acquired plenty of soccer goalies, but now have need of a striker or two.

4.  Stay on the radar screen of the staff member who recruits in your area. This person is really important right about now as s/he might be given the opportunity to identify students to be admitted from the Wait List. Make sure that person knows you are available and ready to accept an offer of admission—and knows how to reach you! Continue to show your interest without becoming a pest.

5.  Be clear about what your family can afford to pay. Your need of assistance could well be a determining factor.

6.  Be ready for the call. Many Wait List offers will come after the May 1 deadline for submitting enrollment deposits. If such a call comes, you need to be prepared to decide quickly (often in 24 hours) whether you want to forfeit an earlier enrollment at another school in order to take advantage of the acceptance from the Wait List.

Finally, don’t allow yourself to become so preoccupied with the Wait List situation that you lose track of your more immediate options. If the Wait List offer doesn’t come, you need to be prepared to happily embrace one of your other options.

“Making Lemonade”


Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

“But I don’t want to go there!” Such is the all too frequent response of a despondent high school senior as he is reminded of the colleges that have admitted him.

The overwhelming sense of despair resulting from failed applications can render a student unable to recognize the successful applications at colleges that, at an earlier point in time, had seemed quite viable. Despite the best of plans, when outcomes don’t match expectations in the college admission process, it is easy to feel like your life has gone into a hopeless tailspin.

If this sounds like you, please know that all is not lost! Before you allow despair to overwhelm you, take stock of your opportunities. The reality is that things are rarely as bad as they seem. You’ll live, and, in all likelihood, be quite happy and successful. Doing so just might require a slightly different formula than you had in mind when the application process started. In other words, if “life has handed you a lemon, it’s time to make lemonade!”

In the interest of finding the best “lemonade mix,” I would like to discuss several scenarios you may be encountering now that all of your admission decisions are in hand.

Scenario #1:  While you have been admitted to a number of very interesting schools, your absolute first choice college has offered you a place on its Wait List. Now, you find yourself in an awkward position. Do you hold out hope that you will be moved from the Wait List or do you begin to invest emotionally in the options that are real?

First, you need to know that Wait Lists are likely to be active at most institutions this spring. The only questions, then, are when and for how many students. The key to getting in rests on the decisiveness of your response. If you want to compete for a place in the class from the Wait List, you must get on the “radar screen” of the admission committee at that school. Visit the campus—again! Reach out to the staffer who recruits in your area as s/he will likely be the person to contact you if the Wait list moves. Submit a statement that affirms the school as your first choice and provide any new information (grades, honors, awards) that might not have been part of your original application. It also wouldn’t hurt to make sure that person knows how to reach you directly in the event that an opportunity opens up for you.

The key to success in any Wait List situation, though, is to maintain a balanced perspective. While you want to do everything possible to enhance your chances of admission from the Wait List, be careful not to under-value the other colleges that have admitted you. After all, you are holding offers from places that are presumably good “fits” for you. Make sure you invest the requisite time and energy in preparing to choose from among them if the Wait List situation doesn’t pan out.

Scenario #2:  You didn’t get into any of your top choice colleges, but you have been admitted at a couple of your “safety” schools. Unfortunately, they don’t hold the same luster that is associated with the places that turned you down. As “back-ups,” they we were fine—perhaps because you didn’t think you would ever really have to consider them. Besides, now that your friends have been admitted to some of the places that turned you down, the schools that are left may not seem nearly so exciting. You feel stuck. If this is the case, what can you do?

If you find yourself in such a situation, re-assess the options you do have. They weren’t so bad when you decided to apply. Rediscover them. Find out why they made it to your list in the first place. They may not carry the same cachet as the places that turned you down, but the academic opportunities they present are probably every bit as good as those you would have found at the other schools.

An alternative is to apply somewhere else as a late applicant. This is easier said than done, though, as most schools are reluctant to entertain late applications from students with whom they have little or no history. Moreover, they will not have financial aid or scholarships for late applicants so, if cost/affordability are important to you, the “late applicant” route is not likely to hold many options for you.

As a potential late applicant, your best chance is to find a college or university with an active Wait List and hope it will see your credentials as competitive with the students it is considering from its Wait List. This is not likely to be the case, though, at places that are as selective as those that turned you down earlier. If a college is open to considering a late application, it will probably do so only on the condition that you enroll if admitted, so be prepared for a lot of rapid-fire decision-making.

Scenario #3:  It is also possible that you have received an offer of admission from a college you like that is contingent upon your participation in a remedial program over the summer. If a college likes what you have to offer (it is excited by the way you answered the “what do we get” question!) but is concerned about the degree to which you are prepared to find success, it might refer you to a pre-enrollment program designed to bolster your academic and study skills. In this scenario, it is clear the college values you and is investing in your success. You need to be realistic, though, in your assessment of the situation and make sure you are prepared to do what is necessary to make good on the opportunity.

A variation on this theme involves offers of January admission. You’re in, but there is a catch. You can’t start the first semester. Such offers typically encourage, if not require, you to pursue other off-campus programming during the first semester as a non-enrolled student.

In either case, you must understand that you are not being offered admission for the fall semester and, in most cases, will not be given the opportunity to enroll in the fall even if the college’s Wait List becomes active.

If you really like the place and the scenario that has been offered to you is agreeable to you, go for it. It might represent your best chance of getting into that college. However, do so with your eyes wide open. It won’t easy academically and you are not likely to benefit from an extensive orientation program or an introduction to various support systems that would otherwise be critical to your transition.

Finally, if you are uncomfortable with the range of options that lie before you, consider stepping back from the educational treadmill. Take the year after high school “off.” Collect your thoughts and refocus on what you need to do in order to achieve your goals. Be intentional with your thought process. Don’t go to a college just to be there. The last thing you want to do is waste your time and your parents’ money on an experience that means little to you.

Instead, get a job. Travel. Get involved in community service. In short, take the opportunity to write a new and different chapter in your life. A “gap year” of this sort can be very healthy and productive to your personal development if you use it well. Besides, you are then afforded the opportunity to reapply a year or so later when you are ready to embrace a new educational opportunity. I have yet to hear of an institution that doesn’t see the investment in a gap year as a positive development.

By Peter Van Buskirk

I need to make a confession: I’m “old school” when it comes to technology. Having grown up with corded phones, typewriters and shuttered cameras, the era of iPhones and instant communication is a bit daunting. I don’t say this with any sense of pride or satisfaction, but the truth is I only know just enough about my laptop and cell phone to function in the twenty-first century!

That said, I’m more than a little concerned by the current fascination with social media. While I enjoy the benefits of being able to convey educational messages to groups and individuals around the globe with a simple keystroke, I am reminded daily of the potential for misuse and abuse of the technology. This vulnerability is a risk for any of us; however, it is most prevalent in the lives of young people who tend to communicate thoughts, words and images somewhat impulsively and without regard to their potential impact or viewership.

Imagine, for example, an intimate “selfie” or an experiment with “sexting” that suddenly goes viral on Instagram, or a profanity-laced text or Facebook post that is circulated beyond your immediate friendship group. Consider the seemingly innocent comments on high school crush pages that escalate into hurtful, public references or, worse yet, cyber-bullying. Content that you once regarded as personal and protected is now out there for the world to see.

My purpose in writing is not to demonize social media. Quite frankly, there is a body of research that suggests most engagement in some type of social media tends to be positive and constructive. Rather, I want to urge caution. Disregard for the potential consequences of indiscreet activity can prove hurtful, if not dangerous, depending on how messages affect others or who might prey on the information that is divulged.

Moreover, the implications for you as a young adult are quite real as you contemplate your next steps in life. Since most information on the Internet is discoverable, individuals and organizations that can determine your future opportunities now have a new window into your personality and character. Employers and, yes, college admission officers can access much of the information—words, messages and images—that are associated with you in cyberspace.

While colleges might not yet routinely employ “social media patrols” intent on discovering all the sordid details related to students applying for admission, know that they could do so if they feel there is a valid reason. And, in the selective admission process, you don’t want to give decision-makers a reason to say “no.” As you consider your presence in social media, then, take care to:

  • Exercise caution over impulse.
  • Weigh your words and choose your images wisely.
  • Treat your Internet image as though it is a billboard along the highway—it’s out there for the world to see.

A good reputation is hard earned, yet can be easily lost. Conduct yourself honorably and limit your exposure to risk by using good judgment with regard to how you project yourself in the world.

“Tips for Graduating Seniors”


Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

It’s the season of celebration for high school seniors. The journey through high school is coming to an end, as is the college search and selection process. Congratulations! You are on your way to achieving even bigger and better things in life!

As you look ahead to the start of a new life beyond everything you have known and done, take time to reflect on the road you have traveled thus far. The people and experiences you have encountered along the way have been instrumental in giving definition to the person you are becoming. They will always be part of you. It’s easy to become consumed in the future. Don’t lose sight of your roots.

In a few short months, your life will change in important ways. You’ll be living independently in a community of young people, most of whom will be strangers to you. You will be starting a new chapter in your educational experience in which your high school GPA and test scores won’t matter any longer. You will be able to choose courses, majors, internships, and research opportunities that will both educate you and prepare you for life beyond college.

And, hard as it might seem, you’ll go from the “top of the heap” in the social order at your high school to the bottom at your new college. Perhaps most importantly, though, you will soon find that you—and only you—are ultimately accountable for managing your life experiences.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I would like to offer the following advice as you prepare to start your college experience.

  1. Finish your senior year with energy and focus academically. The momentum and confidence that result from a strong finish will be instrumental to a good start this fall.
  2. Participate in orientation programming at the college you have chosen. This will help you become acclimated to your new environment. In all likelihood, you will meet with your academic advisor, make preliminary course selections and explore housing options Many colleges offer orientations early in the summer that will allow you to begin planning well in advance of your arrival for classes in the fall.
  3. Communicate documentable learning/health issues to appropriate people at your new college. It is best to do this during the orientation program if possible.
  4. Keep a transcript of your college credits (Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and any other college credits) handy. You never know when you might need to redeem them over the next four years.
  5. Take advantage of residential first year seminars if they are offered. You will benefit from having a shared learning experience with your hall-mates as well as engaged involvement of a professor who is dedicated to supporting your transition.
  6. If you are concerned about managing the transition to college, academically and otherwise, consider starting with reduced course-load if your credit situation will allow it.
  7. Identify affinity groups (teams, clubs, music organizations, etc.) of which you can become a member. Research shows that students who make such connections early in their college experiences are more likely to persist through graduation at the colleges they have chosen.
  8. Manage the business side of your enrollment responsibly. In other words, open your mail and respond appropriately! Once you turn 18, billing and financial aid documents will be sent directly to you. Allowing these documents to sink to the bottom of your in-box or post office box puts you at the risk with regard to missing important deadlines.
  9. Keep your parents in the loop. Money and finances are not the only matters you will need to monitor responsibly. Your new college may not reveal (to your parents) any information about academic progress, health status, disciplinary matters or ongoing attentiveness to support for special needs without your permission.
  10. Have fun, but stay focused. The first semester will go very quickly. Because you will be spending less time in class, you’ll need to budget your out-of-class time well in order to keep pace with assignments. Be prepared to do a lot of reading. Many colleges find that the ratio of hours spent prepping for class to hours spent in the classroom is at least 3:1.

Finally, take advantage of the opportunity to become educated. Ask questions. Challenge assumptions. Test theories. The best advice I received in college came from a professor whom I respected as a content expert and a brilliant thinker. Upon observing me taking notes during the first lecture of the semester, he paused to remind me that taking notes was not my job. Rather, it was my job to try to disprove everything he said.

Seeing the astonishment on my face to the suggestion that I challenge his every word, he added, “If you can disprove something I have said, you have discovered a new truth. If you can’t disprove it, you have validated an old truth. Regardless, you have come to a better understanding of the truth.”

I would urge you, then, to spend your college years in search of the truth in whatever you do. Embrace the opportunity to squeeze everything you can out of your experience as an undergraduate. Seek out people who are thinkers and doers. Try new things. You will soon discover that your real educational opportunity rests not in the place you have chosen, but in the manner in which you choose to become engaged during your four years on that school’s campus.

Have fun—and good luck!