Archive for the 'The Admission Process' Category

Sort by

BCF Readers’ Forum III


Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Dear Peter,
My son is waitlisted to the undergraduate engineering program at a very selective university for the fall 2017. 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,
My son has been accepted into five colleges, each of which has offered $20,000-$25,000 in scholarship money out of about $65,000 a year tuition and board. The problem is we have no money for his college and I’m not sure he can or should get a student loan for $40,000 a year. The FASFA was based on 2016 income when our combined income was $140,000. However, my husband lost his job in 2017. Between unemployment and short-term sales jobs, he earned less than half of his 2016 income. This year looks even worse financially as my income will significantly decrease while I am out of work due to recently diagnosed health issues. How do I go about contacting the colleges and sharing my new financial situation?
Ann

Dear Ann,
I would urge you to present a detailed explanation of your evolving situation to the financial aid officers at the colleges in question and ask for an appeal of your son’s financial aid status. Any documentation you can provide regarding employment, income and medical expenses will be very important. While you might be able to accomplish the appeal by phone, I would suggest you try to accomplish the meetings in person (call in advance to make an appointment). Contact information for the financial aid offices should be found on the award letters you received from the respective institutions.
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.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Is it a bad thing to drop a foreign language in the Senior Year if you have taken the 3 required years?
Arlene

Dear Arlene,
Much depends on the selectivity of the college in question. The more selective the college, the more important it is for a student to demonstrate breadth of curricular involvement through the senior year—and that includes language studies. If the student elects to drop a high-level course in the senior year, then the replacement course should be of the same level of academic rigor. Dropping a fourth year of Spanish for electives of less rigor is not a good idea. On the other hand, dropping it in order to take a second high-level science (for example) could be justified.

By the way, you reference “the 3 required years.” Please do not confuse requirements for HS graduation or minimum “requirements” posted by some colleges as an expression of what will be appropriate or most competitive in the college admission process.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter was accepted to two schools, each of which is requiring her enrollment overseas—one for a semester and the other for a year—before she begins as a full-time student on their respective campuses. She has been admitted to two other schools, one with a scholarship and the other without special recognition. Her goal is to go to law school and maybe get a joint degree in business (JD/MBA). She has good options but is a bit confused about the overseas study requirement. Will she have the same opportunities at those colleges as she will at the others?
Alice

Dear Alice,
The enrollment opportunities your daughter has received at the first two colleges are not traditional offers of acceptance. While she should be able to achieve her educational/career goals at those colleges, there are some practical considerations. For example, students starting in September get the full advantage of orientation programming, first-year seminars and dedicated advisement while acclimating to both the academic and social routines with their peers and professors. Students starting at mid-year or a year later are effectively entering as transfer students. Unfortunately, the “process” doesn’t stop or slow down to accommodate them.
 
I often talk about the importance of finding a college that values the student for what she has to offer. In all candor, the offer of delayed entry enrollment puts your daughter at the “back of the line” in terms of who is being valued in the entering class. She—and others who are required to begin their studies elsewhere—are effectively being “stashed” at those places. While she will be allowed to enter discreetly through the “back-door” at each institution, she won’t count as an admitted student and her credentials will not be included in the profiles of admitted students. Her eventual enrollment will, however, enable the institutions to admit fewer students (and appear to be more selective) in the following year.

That said, she can still achieve her goals at the delayed entry colleges. The study abroad opportunities notwithstanding (window dressing in my opinion), though, delayed enrollment relative to her cohort does mean she’ll be starting at a competitive disadvantage.
 
Your daughter is fortunate to have options. I would urge her to proceed with eyes wide open relative to the implications of delayed enrollment.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I know it should be up to my son to decide which school he wants to attend, but I can’t help wondering if there is more than one “best college fit” school for him?  Is it wrong of me to convince him to attend “College A” because the odds are better for him at finding a job after school?  Fundamentally, I know he has the rest of his life to work and only one chance to have a great college experience, but I can’t seem to get past the phenomenal job statistics presented by “College A”.  It would be a shame if he were to graduate and have a tough time finding a job.

However, I have a feeling that my son might have a better and happier college experience at “College B” with its large and beautiful campus, athletic teams, and more traditional approach to academics and internships.  He would probably have more fun there, too.

Do you have any advice for this mom who has been losing sleep over her dilemma?
Rose

Dear Rose,  
Even though you (and your son) are on the homestretch of this process, some of the toughest decisions are yet to be made. This is a time, however, when you have to allow him to trust his own judgment.

One thing that I learned as a parent in the process is that, hard as it might be at times, as our kids move toward adulthood, we (parents) have to give them the opportunity to find their own way. While that might go against our very nature (after all, you have spent 17 years trying to protect your son from anything bad that might come his way while giving him every opportunity to succeed), at some point you need to ask yourself, “For how long in his life do I want to the responsible for everything good—and everything bad—that might happen in his life?” Hard as it might be, I suggest giving your son the opportunity to own the decision-making and the direction his life will take as a result.
 
There is no guarantee that the choice of a college he makes will turn out to be perfect. On the other hand, I truly believe he can’t go wrong. Marketing of programs aside, there is likely very little difference between the two programs. Your son’s eventual success will be determined by his comfort level with the school he has chosen. The more comfortable he is, the more likely it is that he will avail himself of all the opportunities that will be present for him.
 
The bottom line: there is a good chance your son is ready to find his own voice in the matter. If so, he will prosper in whichever environment he chooses.
Peter

By Peter Van Buskirk

Admission decisions have been hitting in-boxes fast and furiously over the last couple of weeks. While much of the news is good, some carries with it a curious, if not confusing, announcement: “We’re pleased to offer you a place on our Wait List. Let us know if you would like to remain active on our Wait List.”

As encouraging as the words might seem, the reality is this is not an acceptance letter—nor is it a denial letter. This can be particularly jarring to students sitting at the top of their class with impressive resumes of achievement throughout their high school years. So, what is it then? It’s an invitation to participate in the college admission version of “over-time.”

If you choose the “over-time” route by electing to remain active on a WL, your chances of gaining admission are better than you might imagine! On the other hand, if you are fatigued or discouraged by the admission process and want to leave your game on the field of Regular Admission, you will have no chance in “over-time.”

The Back-Story
While selective colleges and universities have historically maintained Wait Lists as “insurance policies” against coming up “short” of their enrollment goals through Early Decision, Early Action or Regular Admission, the WL has taken on a more strategic look in recent years. No longer an insurance policy, the WL is now used to burnish institutional credentials (improve yield and increase selectivity). Think of it as “Early Decision” at the back end of the enrollment process. It is not hard to imagine strategic backroom conversations: “Why should we take so many low-yielding students—often at a yield rate of 20% or lower—in Regular Admission, when we can put them on the WL to see who is really interested? Then we can take them at a 75% yield rate.”

Setting the Stage for WL Activity
At the outset, a lot of students worthy of admission are offered WL status. While some of them might have presented flawed credentials, others are quite strong in every way. Many of the latter would have been admitted had they made stronger, more consistent demonstrations of interest throughout the admission process. The number of students offered WL status at a given college will often match the number of students it admits in Regular Decision. For example, if 2,000 students are admitted Regular Decision, then a similar number will be offered WL status.

Typically, 25%-50% of those offered WL status will take some sort of action (email, letter and/or campus visit) to signal a desire to remain active on the WL. It is this group that comprises the new applicant pool should the WL be needed. By the middle of April, the “active” WL will have taken shape at most colleges and, soon after, admission officers will begin to assess the need to admit more students.

While the initial ordering of students on Wait Lists typically reflects the relative academic strengths of the students, other agendas (athletic recruitment, alumni connections, the need to “balance” the class demographically, etc.) can strongly influence their positions. (Thus, the importance of sending any new information, e.g., grades, honors, awards, that might speak to these possibilities.)

However, there are three factors that can override the consideration of any of the above: ability to pay, the likelihood that the student will enroll and the student’s general accessibility.

Three Keys to Success in “Over-Time”

  1. Should you decide to convey your interest in remaining active on a WL, make sure you resolve any uncertainty that might have existed about your ability to pay. If you have discovered through the FAFSA that you don’t need financial aid, or you have learned that a family member will be a source of funding for you, make it clear in your WL messaging that funding for college will not be an issue for you. Students admitted from WLs prior to the May 1 Candidates’ Reply Date are typically those who do not need any financial assistance. Students admitted from the WL after May 1 will receive need-based financial aid on a funds availability basis (so, don’t expect merit scholarships).
  2. Aside from asserting your intent to enroll if admitted from the WL, a strong indication of your interest and intentions is a visit to the campus. Even if you have been there already, go back. Check in at the admission office. Take another tour. Visit academic departments of interest and make an attempt to connect with the admission officer who recruits in your home area as it is that person who will likely be your strongest advocate if admission from the WL is considered. Be careful not to plan your visit around formal activities for admitted students as you will get lost in the shuffle during such programs.
  3. Finally, make sure you are accessible. When you respond with your intent to remain active on the WL, provide your cell number and email address. Make it easy for those who might admit you to find you!

The “Call”
Notice of acceptance from the WL will likely come in the form a phone call, text or email in which you are informed of the opportunity and given a very short period of time (often 24 hours or less) to accept it or not. Ideally, such calls would come before May 1 so you can factor the opportunity among the other offers of admission you have received. Should May arrive without an offer of admission from the WL at your preferred school, you would be wise to submit an enrollment deposit to a college that has admitted you so you are “covered” in the event the WL doesn’t come through. If you subsequently accept an offer from one college’s WL, you would forfeit the initial enrollment deposit at the other college.

Calculating the Odds
As you contemplate “over-time” on the WL, it is tempting to calculate the odds of admission. To help you with this, colleges are strongly encouraged by the National Association of College Admission Counseling to provide data reflecting their experiences with WL activity in past years. The data provided, though, is often “soft” or incomplete.

For example, a college might report that, of 2,000 students on the WL the previous year, only 20 were accepted. On the surface, these odds don’t seem very promising. The data won’t reveal, however, that only 500 of the 2,000 chose to remain “active” on the WL or that admission officers might have contacted 100 students (or more!) before they got commitments from 20. In effect, 20% of the students on the active WL might have been given the opportunity to accept an offer. In some years, colleges with greater enrollment needs from the WL will nearly exhaust their active WL possibilities before filling their classes.

Further complicating the picture is the fact that many colleges only report WL activity through the end of May. When this happens, the number of students contacted and subsequently enrolled from a given WL could turn about to be much greater than that which is reported.

The Bottom Line
While there can be no guarantees, if you hang in there with a WL situation, good things can happen. Patience and persistence (stay on the college’s radar in polite and appropriate ways) can indeed pay off!

“Fool’s Gold”


Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

By Peter Van Buskirk

Earlier this year, a friend asked my opinion about a dilemma that had come upon one of her advisees. A young woman whom she was advising had been accepted Early Decision to her first-choice school, a highly selective institution in the Northeast. Upon receiving the acceptance letter, she withdrew the applications she had submitted to half a dozen other elite institutions in order to honor her Early Decision commitment. The first in her family to attend college, she was understandably elated. Not only was she going to college, she had been admitted to the college of her dreams!

Weeks later, however, the elation turned to shock and concern when the financial aid award arrived and she found that her family was expected to contribute much more money out-of pocket than she had anticipated.

Instead of the $5,000 she thought her family would need to pay out of pocket, she was told their contributions would be closer to $12,000. She was now in a bind and didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t afford her ED school and was now without options as she had withdrawn her applications to the other schools on her short list.

It is important to note that, prior to submitting the ED application, this young woman and her parents had completed the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and subsequently received a Student Aid Report (SAR). Based on the information her family provided, the SAR indicated an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of $5,000 for the first year. While that was a lot of money for this family, her parents were confident enough in their ability to come up with that amount that she had gone ahead with the ED application. Now, the school to which she was committed was somehow expecting more, much more.

Unfortunately, scenarios like this are likely to play out in many households in the coming weeks as colleges and universities stretch their financial aid budgets to accommodate the financial needs of students whom they have accepted. For families, the revelations can be gut wrenching, if not downright painful.

Despite the early (October of the Senior Year) accessibility of the FAFSA application and the availability of “Net Price Calculators” (mandated on college websites to provide better information to families about cost and affordability) there is little precision in a process that is fraught with institutional nuances and agendas. As the young woman in this situation found out, institutions have variable means at their disposal to assess the EFC—means that can produce a range of results generated from data provided by the same family!

Moreover, colleges will apply these means in a manner reflective of the desirability of each candidate—an institutional prerogative that is lost in the online calculators.

For example, many private institutions utilize the College Scholarship Service Profile as well as the FAFSA to arrive at an EFC for a student. Rarely, however, do the two methodologies agree. In fact, PROFILE-generated EFCs can be $5,000-$10,000 higher than EFCs projected by the FAFSA. In a practice known as “differential need analysis,” institutions that utilize both methodologies can then choose, on a case-by-case basis, the one that allows it to respond to the student in a manner consistent with the value it attaches to that student. By doing so, the institution can claim to meet the demonstrated needs of its admitted students without ever having to reconcile the differential in the respective need analyses to the families involved.

I saw this first-hand when a young man shared with me the financial aid awards he had received from ten different colleges. They were so strikingly different that, if one were to “white out” his name on each award letter, you would think that each letter was being addressed to a different student! Some had very generous grants and scholarships while others were front-loaded with sizeable loans. In each case, the institutions had chosen to assess and meet his financial need according to the manner in which they regarded him as a candidate.

In yet other cases, colleges will ignore the need analyses and simply elect not to meet the full need of the admitted student. Instead, they will provide a basic financial aid award that covers a fraction of the demonstrated need and fill the ”gap” of unmet need with additional loans for the student and/or the parents. However it is manifest, don’t be surprised to find this type of gapping, as well as differential need analysis, in the days to come.

As you weigh your educational options, then, in the coming weeks, it is important that you understand the terms of the enrollment agreements you are considering, including your obligation to meet the cost of attendance. Sometimes in the euphoria associated with “getting in” it is easy to overlook the details and, in the case of managing college costs, the “devil might indeed be in the detail.”

The good news is that colleges will treat well those students whom they find most attractive. As a result, there are good deals to be found. To find them, though, you need to manage expectations and focus on finding colleges that are the best “fit” for you. Among other things, “best fit” colleges are those that value you for what you have to offer. They will admit you—and give you the support needed to meet your goals as a student on their campuses.

“High Anxiety Time”


Saturday, February 24th, 2018

By Peter Van Buskirk

If you are a college applicant waiting out the “Regular” admission process, mid-winter can be high anxiety time. Even if you may have experienced success with an Early Action application or two, it will be the admission decisions in the Regular selection process that finally define your range of options.

For now, though, all you can do is wait—and that isn’t easy. After months of deadlines, interviews, phone conversations, and campus visits, the chatter from the colleges has all but disappeared. Although momentarily welcome, the silence becomes more deafening by the day.

So, what happens to your application when it reaches the admission office? Who reads it? What do they think? How will they decide? Surprisingly, the answers aren’t that simple.

The credential review processes at colleges and universities vary widely according to applicant volume, levels of selectivity, and institutional agendas. For example, colleges that practice “rolling admission” make decisions on applications as they arrive in complete form. Starting September—and sometimes earlier—they admit qualified candidates until their classes are full, a process that can extend well into the following summer.

The type of review will vary across schools as well. Many state universities engage in an objective review of applicants that involves an initial screening based on a formula of test results and GPA. In some cases, a student’s ability to present credentials that meet or exceed the preset standard of the formula are admitted. In others, those students are simply passed along for a more subjective or “holistic” review by members of the admission committee.

The holistic review considers a variety of factors in addressing the question, “What do we gain by admitting this student?” Extracurricular profiles, letters of recommendation, essays and, where offered, personal interviews provide relevant insight. Out-of-state candidates at state universities as well as applicants to honors programs at those schools often face even greater levels of scrutiny as they compete with other, similarly qualified students for limited places in areas of restricted enrollment.

The holistic review is also common among selective, private schools. In these “deadline-driven” environments, admission committees are eager to see the breadth and depth of the competition before making fine distinctions about whom to admit. Again, the questions will be, “What do we get? Who among the qualified candidates will fit best into the community we are trying to build with this class? Who do we value most?”

In just about every admission process, the “committee” is where the more difficult decisions are often made. Consider the term “committee” loosely because committee members or “readers” may meet together in conference rooms or individually in their offices or the quiet comfort of their homes. Once in committee, applications are usually reviewed by at least two readers before any decisions are made. Readers can include part-time staff hired to participate in credential review, specialists in particular majors or subgroups of students (international students, for example) and members of the admission staff. The staff person who recruits in your area is almost certainly going to be an interested participant as well.

In some cases, faculty members are invited to read applications from students interested in their respective academic disciplines. This is more likely at universities that are comprised of “colleges” or “academic programs” to which you apply directly.

What follows in the review process is an attempt to arrive at consensus regarding your application. As readers review your credentials, they start with your transcript, noting both the strength of your academic program and your academic successes relative to other students in your school. In all likelihood, you will be regarded as qualified—you could do the work academically if given the opportunity.

Having been established as a viable candidate on their competitive “playing field,” readers begin to dig more deeply into your application. Driven by the “What do we get?” question, they look at extracurricular activities, test results and essays for “hooks” or points of distinction. As the research into your application continues, committee members probe for authenticity and sincerity of purpose in all your application materials.

Readers will also look for explanations that might shed light on any irregularities in your program and/or performance. Such explanations might be found in personal statements, interviews and letters of recommendation.

In a very short period of time, admission officers develop a bias — a sense of what you have to offer and where you fit in the competition. The more intense the competition the more important it is to have a decisive or “over the top” credential—and the more important it is for that credential to be authentic. This is when arguments on behalf of students with special talents, interests and perspectives begin to emerge.

Assuming the bias is favorable, readers quickly scan letters of recommendation to look for validation—evidence that supports the information on your application. Sometimes these letters provide an added dimension of understanding regarding your performance that can be very powerful.

As the selection process moves into March, the focus turns to the students who remain on the “bubble” or the margin of the competition. Questions such as “What is the likelihood that she will enroll if we take her?” and “How are his third marking period grades?” and “Are we sure we will get a good return on our investment if we give him that much financial aid?” While candidates at opposite ends of the competitive spectrum are sorted quickly and easily, those in the middle continue to get lots of attention as the process winds down.

This is also a time when institutional agendas can dictate outcomes. Special talents, legacy connections, leadership and diverse perspectives can become hooks that make all the difference in a tight competition.

The final weeks of the Regular Decision selection process, often in mid-March, are more important than most students realize. Typically a “settling” or “move-down period” for the class in waiting, it is a time the likelihood of enrollment is calibrated for each student and fine points are considered. Further arguments are heard from special interest groups about special cases, grades are checked—again—and adjustments are made based on yield (on offers of admission) forecasts to make sure the group of admitted students will generate the needed enrollment—and revenue—to balance the budget in the coming year.

Before long—as early as the middle of March for some deadline-driven schools—letters will be mailed and decisions will be posted on institutional websites. If you focused on “fit” and were able to prove your value to the schools where you applied, happy outcomes will soon find you.

Be sure to check future blogs for more tips and suggestions regarding next steps in the enrollment process.

BCF Readers’ Forum VI


Saturday, January 20th, 2018

Dear Peter,
My son was recently deferred Early Action at a school that continues to be his top choice. He remains hopeful and we would appreciate your guidance on what he should do next. He intends to reach out to the regional recruiter and to submit a letter expressing his continued interest in the school. He has also arranged to submit his grades for the first two marking periods of senior year. He does not want to overstep and provide anything more than they wish to receive, but he does not want to under-respond, either.

Please advise us regarding how assertive he should be under these circumstances and what action he should take to put his best foot forward while they consider his application with the regular decision applicant pool. Is it appropriate to inform the school at this point that if he were to be granted an acceptance, he would enroll at that school? This school is truly where he dreams about attending.
Marge

Dear Marge,
It is important to know that colleges offering the Early Action option (no enrollment commitment expected) are seeking to identify students who would otherwise be at the top of the competition in their respective Regular Decision candidate pools. While disappointing, the deferral does not imply a lessening of chances in the Regular process.

It sounds like he is doing all the right things at this point to stay on the “radar” of the regional recruiter. The letter expressing his intent to enroll if accepted, along with any new information, is appropriate. The first key is brevity. The second key is patience. The next 8-10 weeks will be torturously slow!
Peter

Dear Peter,
We are now into the second phase of college applications—shock and disappointment! My daughter just found out that two of her top choices have deferred her Early Action. Are there any tips you can give regarding what she should do next that might increase her chances of acceptance? Do you know, from experience, the percent of deferrals that are accepted? I want to try to give her some hope as these are her top schools.
Jaime

Dear Jaime,
I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s Early Action deferrals. That said, she should take heart. The chances for students deferred EA are essentially the same as the chances for other Regular decision candidates. In the EA process, admission committees are looking for the superstar applicants, asking the question, “Do we know for certain that she would be one of best candidates if she were to apply Regular decision?” If so, the student is admitted. Absent that high level of certainty, the admission decision will be deferral. Students who are not likely to be competitive at all will be denied.

It is important to note that the implications of deferral in the EA process are much different than they are for deferral in the Early Decision process. In the latter, the question is, “If she were to be a candidate in the Regular admission process, do we think we might admit her then?” Whereas, in ED the tendency is to “lower the bar” somewhat academically, in EA the tendency is to “raise the bar.”

Without knowing more, I would observe that the probability of your daughter’s application being admitted is consistent with the overall selectivity of the respective colleges. If they admit one out of four, then her chances are one out of four. It could turn out that her credentials are highly valued by either or both of the colleges and she might still be admitted. She still needs to be mindful of the competitive nature of each school, though.

The best advice I can offer is to remain engaged in appropriate ways with each school. In particular, forward any new information to the regional recruiters as well as the admission office in general. The former are the decision-makers who are most likely to be involved in determining the outcomes of her applications.
Peter

Dear Peter,
In mid-December, my son received an acceptance letter from a university to which he applied Early Decision. He was thrilled and withdrew all of his other applications.

I am curious about something, though. My son applied Early Action to all of the other schools on his list, so he was finished submitting applications by November 1st. Is there any way for a university that receives an Early Action application to know that the same applicant has also submitted an ED application to another school? And if so, could this send a message that they are not the “first choice”?
Liz

Dear Liz,
First of all, congrats to your son on his acceptance! He did the right thing by withdrawing his other applications, including the Early Action applications. It is common for colleges to share lists of students accepted in the ED process with their peers. The schools to which he applied EA would then withdraw his applications if he hadn’t done so already.

I would offer two thoughts in response to your question. 1) Colleges with EA programs assume that many of their candidates will be ED candidates elsewhere—even if they don’t have any hard evidence of the fact. 2) Colleges offering EA do not expect that students applying EA are declaring first choice interest. All but a few (with restricted, single-choice EA options) assume that students applying EA at their schools are also applying EA at others as well. In the EA competition—and in the Regular Decision process—it is critical to demonstrate a sincerity of interest and, more importantly, recognition of the synergy that exists between the student and institution. Admission officers are really good at discerning the intentionality or sense of purpose that is exhibited by the candidate in the application.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I’ve read that most ED accepted applicants at the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) schools play a varsity sport. Is that true?
Doug

Dear Doug,
While I cannot refer to specific data, I doubt that is the case. It is true that NESCAC schools use ED aggressively in qualifying and securing commitments from recruited athletes—as do other highly selective, non-scholarship programs—but I suspect the majority of admitted ED candidates are not athletes.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My 10th-grade son is an outstanding student with a GPA > 4.0, all honors and AP classes and very strong standardized test-taking skills. He plays soccer, runs track and volunteers at his HS after school as a tutor for struggling students.

I’ve regularly encouraged him to consider applying to schools in the top tier of colleges that interest him but he’s been consistently dismissive of the whole college ranking/selection process and believes that, to a large extent, it doesn’t matter (either during his college years or afterwards in his profession and life) where he goes to school as long as he’s happy with his choice. He now refuses to talk about college with me and rejected the chance to visit any number of east coast schools this summer when we will be traveling for a family event.

My goal for him is to find a great school that he loves, but one that triggers and sustains a very high level of intellectual curiosity for him. I am quite confident that the faculty, resources, student diversity and learning environment at schools like Tufts, MIT or Wesleyan would prove extraordinarily satisfying for him both now and truly for the rest of his life. How do I get him to see that, or to at least consider that I may be right and that, all things being equal, he should probably go to Georgetown over San Diego State?
Ian

Dear Ian,
It sounds like your son is actually being very thoughtful about his educational future. I tend to agree with him about rankings in that they often provide a distorted sense of institutional worth. And I would have to agree that success upon graduation and in life is less a function of where he goes—and is more likely determined by what he does once on that campus.

At this point, your son probably just needs some space. It is not uncommon for parental anticipation of the process to be met by teenage indifference. He is still a sophomore—he’s got a lot of time. The last thing you want to do is push him away.

When you do talk about his educational future, you might try a different approach. Instead of focusing on the places, why don’t you try talking with him about his interests? What are his favorite subjects—and why? Who are his favorite teachers—and why? How would he describe himself as a student? Why does he want to go to college? What would a “good education” feel like to him?

Once the conversation is about him—and he can begin to reflect on his priorities—it will be easier for him to begin thinking about places that will best enable him to achieve his goals. In the end, he might discover some of the same schools you’ve been presenting to him, but the “find” needs to be his.
Peter

Dear Peter,
We learned that one of the highly selective schools to which my daughter has applied looks at demonstrated interest. Would it be helpful or a waste of time to schedule a campus visit now that apps are already submitted? If it is helpful, when would be the latest date to visit that would benefit her? (We are thinking mid-late February).
Jill

Dear Jill,
Campus visits are indeed the best indicators to colleges that are attempting to measure a student’s interest. While this visit should have taken place last summer/fall, visiting now is better than not at all as your daughter will get the benefit of learning more about the school first-hand. It’s hard to know whether the visit will be persuasive to decision-makers. Mid-late February might suit her agenda, but it will probably be too late to be impactful in the admission process.
Peter

Dear Peter,
We know that we are not going to qualify for need-based aid, so is there any reason to submit the FAFSA and/or the CSS Profile?
Lynn

Dear Lynn,
There is no need to submit the CSS Profile as it is used to determine your eligibility for need-based institutional funds. On the other hand, an institution might require submission of the FAFSA if your student is offered a merit scholarship. Because the FAFSA determines your eligibility for funds (grants, loans, campus work study) from the Federal government, you’ll also need to submit it if your student wants to take out a student loan or secure a job on campus, both of which are funded (for the most part) by the Feds.
Peter

 

“Keep Your Eyes on the Road”


Saturday, January 13th, 2018

By Peter Van Buskirk

The “rush” associated with college application deadlines has almost passed. Except for students applying to colleges with February 1 deadlines or those with “rolling admission” processes, the “heavy lifting” is over. And with that realization comes a huge sigh of relief. All that is left now is the wait for final admission decisions. Sound familiar?

If so, you (and your parents) might be tempted to downshift from the frenetic pace that got you this far. Be careful, though, not take your “eyes off the road” to college. Otherwise, you might miss important opportunities to put yourself in the best position to gain admission and secure the financial assistance you need at the schools of your choice. You have traveled too far in this process to leave things to chance. For example:

1.  File the FAFSA—now! If you find college price tags to be even the least bit daunting, you need to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Wherever you are looking, need-based financial aid starts with it. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for grants and loans from the federal government and from most states. Moreover, state universities and many private colleges also use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for institutional funds. If you think you need assistance, you can’t afford not to file the FAFSA

2.  Don’t wait for the “admit” letter to apply for financial aid. This may seem redundant, but it bears repeating: if you think you need assistance, complete the financial aid application process now! That means completing the FAFSA and all other required forms. In particular, watch out for the College Scholarship Service (CSS) PROFILE, a highly complex form required by many private institutions.

It is not uncommon for families to put off financial aid applications because they are either uncomfortable with the process itself or they are don’t want to jeopardize the student’s status through the admission process. The assumption: “Let’s see where you get in and then we can apply for financial aid” or “This form is worse than the 1040 tax return. Let’s wait until our accountant can work on it.”

Frankly, “waiting” is a bad strategy. The reason—financial aid is awarded (or allocated) to students as soon as they are admitted. If you wait until you have an offer of admission in hand before beginning to address financial aid applications and you demonstrate that you need assistance, it is likely you will receive a message from the admitting institution that the financial aid “well” has gone dry. Despite the “need,” the money is gone. In such cases, any financial aid that might come your way “after the fact” will likely involve heavy doses of loans and campus work-study.

3.  Stick with your list.
It will be tempting to second-guess yourself with regard to the number and “quality” of schools to which you have applied—especially if you think “it can’t hurt to pick up a ‘true’ safety school” or “I’ll never know if I could get in if I don’t try.” While you are “in the moment,” these thoughts might seem very reasonable. The fact is you are likely to put yourself into competitive situations where your lack of history with the institution will raise questions about the sincerity of your interest. Such seemingly whimsical interest can lead to the conclusion that you are a “ghost applicant.” When that happens, even prospective “safety” schools will be inclined to put you on the Wait List.

The bottom line: Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by last minute flings. It is much better to remain focused on maintaining productive relationships with schools on your short list.

4.  Stay engaged with the colleges to which you have applied. This mantra is probably getting old, but don’t under-estimate the importance many institutions attach to having some degree of confidence in the sincerity of your interest. When the hair-splitting is finished in the credential review process, the following question is often raised about compelling candidates, “If we admit this student, what is the likelihood that he will enroll?”

So, what can you do? If you haven’t visited, make plans to do so now. Once on campus, make sure you check in at the admission office. Interview if you can. Some schools will offer alumni interviews. If so, make an appointment. It will be the fact, not the substance, of the interview that can make a difference.

Pay attention to your inbox—don’t ignore seemingly casual emails from representatives of the schools to which you have applied. There is a good chance they are “pinging” to see if you are paying attention—to see if you are interested. Don’t give them a reason to question the strength of your interest. In sincere and appropriate ways, stay on their radar screens. An institution’s lack of confidence in the sincerity of a student’s interest is the unseen reason behind countless decisions to move highly qualified students from the admit list to the Wait List.

5.  Stay focused. The work you do in the classroom in the coming weeks could well make the difference in your admission outcome. This might be the most straightforward—and common sense—bit of advice I can offer, but it is also the most easily overlooked. The rule of thumb when it comes to the senior year is this: “The more selective the college of interest, the more important the senior year performance will be as the number one factor.”

Think about it. It is precisely at that moment when you think the pressure is off—that no one is looking—that admission officers at selective institutions make their most difficult decisions. Even students who have been admitted Early Decision or Early Action will be expected to show that the performance that gained them admission is continued through graduation. Don’t give admission officers a reason to say “no” or to reconsider their offers of admission.

By Peter Van Buskirk

As deadlines for college applications approach, it is important to be both organized and purposeful in your preparations. The following ten tips will help you avoid common mistakes as you put the finishing touches on your applications.

1. Focus on a short list of no more than eight colleges. The greater the number of applications you submit, the more likely it is you appear (to the colleges) to be applying whimsically—and the greater the likelihood that “application fatigue” will begin to effect your ability to do a good job with each application. Stay focused on the core group of schools that represent good fits for you. In most cases, eight is more than enough.

2. “Connect the dots”—tell your story! Be purposeful in your presentation—eliminate the randomness of your submissions. Establish a theme and use every part of the application to connect the dots (various data points) of your life experience to create a clear picture of who you are and what the college gets by admitting you.

3. Answer the “why” question thoughtfully. Colleges that ask you to write about “why you want to attend” are really trying to discern the synergy that exists between your goals, needs and learning style and their respective learning environments. Don’t tell them things they already know about themselves. Admission officers don’t want to hear about their highly ranked programs, great faculty or beautiful facilities—at least, not in this essay! Instead, reveal to them how, where and why you have found meaningful connections. Prove to the reader that you “get it”—that you understand how the learning environment in question makes the most sense for you.

4. Take pride in your presentation. Your application is like a personal statement that needs to state the case for your admission. Proofread it carefully. Read it out loud. Resist the temptation to repurpose information from one application to another—to do what is “good enough.” Make sure each application you submit is a positive reflection of who you are and what you have to offer.

5. Know your high school’s rules/procedures for supporting the college application process. Give the appropriate personnel time to prepare and complete your supporting documentation. Quite often, schools want information at least a week in advance of the actual application deadlines. Don’t put your college advisor in a bind by waiting until the last minute.

6. Make sure your recommenders are “on the same page” with regard to key messages you need to convey on your application. Your college advisor and the teachers who are supporting you are important partners in the presentation of your credentials.

7. Be organized. The application process involves the management of many moving parts (score reports, letters of recommendations, essays, supplemental forms, etc.). Make sure your part of the application is submitted with the application fee by the posted deadline. At that point, the colleges to which you have applied will create unique data files for you into which any other outstanding credentials will be added as they arrive.

To make sure everything gets to where it needs to be in a timely fashion, create a spreadsheet on which you can list and track all the information you need to submit to each college. If you can, submit your part of the application two weeks in advance of the college’s deadline in order to beat the rush.

8. Don’t assume—anything! At a time when deadlines and requirements are critical, it would be a mistake to assume that someone else has taken care of something for you! It is your job to make sure your application is complete and that it carries the key messages that help to define your life experience—and distinguish your candidacy.

Give yourself extra time to work with the formatting of your essays (no need for panicked melt-downs the night before deadlines!) and get in touch with the regional representatives from the colleges in question for guidance if you run into difficulty interpreting the requirements for their respective institutions.

9. Save copies. It might seem like a hassle, but take the time to make and save copies (hard copy or electronic) of the application materials you submit. You never know when you might need to refer to them.

Make arrangements to have test scores submitted directly to the colleges. It you have not already authorized the submission of test results (SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests) to the colleges that require them, now is the time to do so.

10. Stay on their radar screens! One of the biggest mistakes students make at this point in the process is they fail to stay engaged with the schools to which they are applying! The assumption seems to be: “They have my application, so they know I’m interested.” Guess again! One of the biggest reasons bright and talented students do not get into target schools has to do with questions about the sincerity of the candidate’s interest. Answer emails that might come your way from those schools. Visit the campus. Direct important questions to the staff person at the university who recruits in your area. Don’t allow the decision-makers to regard you as a “ghost applicant.”

 

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