How many colleges should be on your college list, and how many of these colleges should be safety schools, target schools, or reach schools? Use the guidelines to keep yourself organized and focused.
It figures that August 1 landed on a Sunday this year. What used to be just another beach day took on special significance a few years ago, when Common Application chose August 1 to launch its updates for the coming school year. It’s exciting to be sure, but with a hint of melancholy, as a few overly enthusiastic parents use the occasion to tell their high school seniors “Summer’s over”, while the seniors meekly head towards the nearest computer, even on a weekend, muttering “But what if I don’t want it to be?”
Happily, more than a few colleges agree with the seniors. While there was a stream—OK, a torrent—of colleges Twittering students on Sunday to hurry up and apply, more than a few colleges said “Start today if you want to, but our deadline isn’t until January. Take your time.” I had planned on thanking each of those colleges for posting such a message in the face of application mania. I’m pleased to say there were too many to do so.
But this is just the start, and here’s hoping more colleges get on board. The last two years of schooling have left this year’s seniors in pretty bad shape. Day after day of waking up to find out if school is in person, online, both, or neither may have left them flexible, but it has also left them exhausted. Students who fit every element of one (and certainly not the only) likely college-bound profile—from the suburbs, in a college prep curriculum, with two well-off parents who went to college—are saying out loud they just don’t think applying to college is worth the hassle. That’s not because of the Delta rebound; it’s because their last couple of years of school have left them unsure of themselves and their ability to control their destiny. Since any college admissions rep will tell you the key to a successful application is to let the student drive the bus, this is a huge problem.
Part of the solution lies with us. August is peach and melon season in Michigan, a time when very rational people who never eat fruit feel a swelling in their taste buds that can only be satiated by interaction with produce that is truly a little slice of heaven.
This same thirst wells up in the media every August, but it isn’t for fruit—it’s for stories about the confusing, terrifying, uncertain world of college admissions. With a new crop of high school seniors every year, journalists eagerly seize on their newness to college admissions, highlighting profiles of bright young people who find themselves flummoxed over how to apply to college, and when to apply to college. Curiously, these stories rarely display a student’s confusion over where to apply to college, since the media only covers students who are considering the same 25 colleges ever year that admit about 5 percent of their applicant pool. “She’s a National Honor Society president, but she can’t get her arms around Yale’s application.” Of course, these same students would be equally baffled by using a plumber’s wrench for the first time, and they easily get the hang of this college thing two weeks into the process. But apparently, that’s not the point. The very first time they do something new, they don’t completely understand it. My goodness.
The impact of this approach to college application coverage can’t be understated. Thousands of students have already had to give up most of their summers at the insistence of parents who have caught the angst early, eager to make sure that college essay sparkles, unaware that the number one cause of weak essays isn’t underwriting, but overwriting.
Parents who haven’t been on their seniors about college since Father’s Day read these August articles and panic, fearing their child is now “behind”. They plop their senior in front of a computer screen and tell them they can’t come out until an application is finished—for a college that doesn’t even start reading applications until January 10.
Parents whose children really understand themselves, and had no intention of applying to these schools, now feel their child is “losing out” on something, and suddenly insist that an application or two to the Big 25 is a good idea, “just to see what happens”, even though their student is well aware of what will happen.
This brand of media attention has never served high school seniors well, and it’s likely to make matters even worse for this year’s seniors, who are looking to gain their footing after two years of scholastic uncertainty. In the interest of their well being—or, to use a phrase that is on the verge of becoming unimportant due to its overuse, their mental health—how about a few less media stories on the impossibility of getting into college and its excessive expense, and a few more stories about the 75% or so of colleges who admit more than 50% of their applicants, and the many colleges who are forgiving institutionally-based student loans? Could the media finally discover the urban and rural colleges whose buildings have not a hint of ivy that are turning around the lives of students who didn’t have the opportunity to take 7 AP classes in high school, students who are shining academically? How about the students who are making community college work, earning a degree that costs less from start to finish than one year of Harvard, all while the students typically work about 30 hours a week?
It’s certainly true many people turn to the media to read stories that will fuel their dreams—that’s why so many people follow the Olympics, and replay the video of the woman who was reunited with her dog after two years. But stories about the uncertainty of the college selection process don’t feed students’ sense of the possible; they nourish their nightmares. They’ve had enough of that these past two years, and may be headed for more. The best thing the press can do for them, and for our society, is to admit there are more than 25 good colleges in this country, and wake the students to a better vision of how to apply to college, other than run a gauntlet that, at the end of the day, is largely of the media’s own making.
The most successful college applicants (the ones who get into America’s top colleges) demonstrate interest AND demonstrate addiction. Yes, you read that right. Watch the video to learn more.
What do nearly all successful college application essays have in common? Hint: it’s not their topic, structure, tone, or grammatical tense. It’s something about the essay’s first draft. Watch the video below to learn more.
If you want to get into even the most selective colleges and universities, make sure to prioritize the drafting process for your college application essays. If you want more help through the drafting process, learn more about working with me here.
For many seniors, once they’ve submitted their application it’s time to check out. Bad idea. Don’t assume the colleges that you’ve applied to have everything they need in order to start reviewing your application. Proactively follow up with colleges a few days after you believe they should have everything they need to start reviewing your application file in order to ensure that they in fact do. Otherwise, your application may be put on ice for too long and in the process you could lose out on getting in entirely!
When you apply to a college or university Early Action you are submitting your application by a specific early deadline and will receive your decision earlier than regular decision, usually, though not always, before the end of December. Although you may be admitted early, you are not committed to enroll at that college. Yet, there are two types of Early Action:
EA Unrestricted – when you are free to apply to more than one college with “Early” plans at the same time.
EA restricted (REA) or single choice – when you are not allowed to apply to other colleges with “Early” plans at the same time (though usually with carve outs for public colleges and universities).
Always read the fine print of the admissions plan you are agreeing to before you sign and submit anything to a college or university.
The ups and downs of the quarantine gave college admissions officers and school counselors a taste of application life to come, as the birth rate for high school graduates continues to slide, and the need to develop new approaches to recruit students increases. As the profession continues to try and improve college access, and knowing that small differences can make a big difference, here are some considerations for both sides of the desk to ponder this summer over a well-deserved glass of lemonade:
Colleges—move your deadline dates. November 1 (early applications), January 1 (regular applications), and May 1 (many deposits) are all big dates in the college application world—and they all fell on a Sunday or a holiday this year. I don’t understand this, since the admissions offices weren’t open, and the vast majority of high school seniors had no access to counselors or other application helpers the day of and before the deadlines.
This needs to change. Yes, students need to be responsible, and should learn to plan ahead—but perhaps that lesson is better applied to deadlines for things they’ve done before (like papers), not with things they are doing for the first time (like applying to college). The first Tuesday in November, the second Tuesday in January, and the first Tuesday in May would solve this problem nicely, increasing the quality and quantity of applications to boot. Georgia Tech made the move, and they get kaboodles of applications. It’s an easy, but important, change.
High Schools—stop working holidays. Moving the January 1 deadline to a date when high schools are in session is also overdue for school counselors, who have taken a serious shellacking this year with all the student mental health issues arising from COVID. School counselors have always been overworked, but never able to use the December holidays to recover, since they were expected to help their students make January 1 college deadlines.
It’s time to take a stand. Assuming the colleges move their deadlines, counselors need to learn to let go. Send a note to all senior families early in November, letting them know your vacation is—well, a vacation. If you really can’t let go of your students for that long—or if the colleges unwisely cling to January 1– set two days of vacation for online office hours, and take a breath all the other days. You have mastered online office hours this year. Let them be your friend.
Colleges—keep innovating. One (and perhaps the only) upside of the quarantine was the ability of college admissions offices to adapt major chunks of their traditional approach to recruitment. Test optional, drive-thru tours, and online high school visits suggested it might be OK for everyone to get their hopes up, that some real college admissions reform was in the air.
In a post-vaccine world, we see more signs of returning to “normal” than creating new normal. Reinventing the entire admissions process is no easy feat, to be sure, but how hard might it be for admissions offices to spend half a day this summer doing “What ifs” to one part of the application process? Do that for five years, and you have a new admissions paradigm, and a more accessible one—the thing you say you keep wanting.
High schools— mental health and college access aren’t either/or. I will legitimately blow my top if I read one more post from a high school counselor insisting that the increase in COVID-related mental health needs makes it impossible to do any effective college counseling.
School counseling as a profession has long been showing a mental health bias at the expense of quality college counseling, and this year just seems to have widened the gap. Counselor training programs plant the seeds of this bias— training programs devote about 7 classes to mental health training, and none to college counseling—and all of this must stop, if only because the dichotomy is a false one.
Discouraged, depressed high school students light up like a hilltop church on Christmas Eve when I tell them college gives them a fresh start to life and learning, proof enough that college counseling affects mental health. That, plus the American School Counselor Association says college counseling is part of the job. Counselors truly are overworked, so they can’t do everything they want in any part of counseling. That said, college can still be part of a key to a better self. More counselors need to see that, and act on it.
Everyone—stop beating up on the Ivies. The Ivies and their equally tough-to-get-into institutions largely decided to go test optional this year. For some reason, this gave a lot of students with B averages the hope that they too could pahk the cah in the yahd, now that they didn’t have to reveal their test scores.
So—more students applied to the Ivies this year than last year. The Ivies didn’t admit more students this year than last year. That means their admit rate had to go down, and more students were denied.
That isn’t news—it’s math. And if you want to blame the Ivies for encouraging students to apply who didn’t really stand a chance of getting in, you’re going to need to make a thousand more jackets for that club. If you think the Ivies take too few Pell-eligible students, say that. If you think they admit too many legacies, stay that. But don’t beat them up for proving the laws of basic ratios. Any other college in their shoes would have to do the same thing. (Besides, it’s the national media who has left our society with the impression that there are only 25 colleges in America.)
Everyone—about Kiddos. It’s no secret that college is largely a time of youth, especially with the expansion of adolescence into the early twenties and beyond. But college is also a time to help young people embrace the opportunities of adulthood, skills and attitudes that sometimes require setting the desires of self to one side.
This goal would be more easily achieved if we saw students—and if they saw themselves– as capable of embracing a larger sense of self by referring to them as students, not Kiddos. They don’t need to grow up in a hurry or, with the right kind of help, succumb to the media images of college choice as a high stakes pressure cooker. But they also need something more than just a pat on the head and a verbal affirmation that’s the equivalent of a lollipop. Let’s try calling them students.
There were only eight in the box, but Billy didn’t see it that way. To him there wasn’t anything he couldn’t draw. Especially anything red. Shoes. Birds. Strawberries. Even dogs. Look at it the right way, and anything could be red.
Mrs. Struthers understood that, and loved to see Billy in class every day. Together, they discovered all kinds of things that turned out to be red. As the year went on, Mrs. Struthers showed Billy how many other things were a mix of red and one of the other colors in his box of crayons. By May, Billy was working with just green, and just yellow, and just about every other color. But once kindergarten was over, it was the red crayon that had been worn down to a stub.
Coloring somehow became both less important and more important as school went on. By second grade, the box had grown from eight to twenty-four, but there was less time to color in school. Billy had rearranged the box to keep his favorite eight colors together, in the front row.
During one of those rare times drawing was allowed, Billy was relishing the chance to draw another cardinal, when Mr. Tyler walked by his desk.
“Cardinals aren’t really red, you know” he said.
Billy kept drawing, and looked up. “What do you mean?”
“They’re actually their own color. Cardinal red. You have that in your box. It’s in the top row of colors.”
Mr. Tyler walked away. Billy kept drawing with red.
The last time Billy saw a box of crayons in school was fourth grade, when the box had grown to 64. Billy had no idea what to do with a crayon named Salmon—wasn’t that a fish?—and the two named Yellow Orange and Orange Yellow looked exactly the same. Why take up space with two crayons of the same color? Billy brought his box of eight crayons from home. The red was getting very small.
There wasn’t time for coloring again until eighth grade, when Billy took an art class in middle school. The crayons had been replaced with pastels that were thicker, and moved across the paper differently than crayons. Suddenly, Billy’s crisply drawn cardinals were fuzzy, and smeared, and looked a little more like smushed raspberries. Billy waited until the end of class to ask his teacher about this, and how could he draw crisp cardinals with pastels.
The teacher frowned. “We didn’t draw cardinals today” she said, “we were drawing mosaics. Did you draw mosaics?”
Billy put his head down. After school, he took his crayons home, and put them in the back of a desk drawer.
The counselor opened up the file on his lap and smiled. “The career tests suggest you have an exceptional talent for art. Have you considered a career in graphic arts?”
The student across from him stared at his blank phone screen.
“Billy, did you hear me?”
“Yeah” Billy said, not looking up.
“Your records say you haven’t taken an art course since eighth grade. There’s room for one in your schedule next year as a senior. What do you say?”
Billy’s eyes were frozen on the ground.
“Mrs. Jefferson is a great art teacher. She taught me how to cross hatch. Have you ever tried that?”
The counselor pulled out a blank piece of paper, and opened the top drawer of his desk. It was filled with crayons.
The squeak of the drawer made Billy look up. “They’re all green” he said.
“Yeah” the counselor chuckled, “I had this thing for green crayons when I was a kid, and it’s stuck with me all these years. I had a couple of teachers try and talk me out of it, but when you love something, you just stick with it, you know?”
Billy looked away for a minute, then pulled out what looked like a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
“Uh, Billy—” the counselor said.
Billy flipped open the top of the box, revealing a dozen crayons of different heights. All red.
“Do they teach art in college?”
So many high school seniors are still in real contention for an Ivy League acceptance in the first few weeks of twelfth grade. Then, something happens that takes most of these smart and well-intentioned young people out of the running entirely.
Don’t let this happen to you! Watch the video below to find out what you must do to give yourself the best shot of closing the deal with the Ivy League or similarly selective college of your dreams during the first few weeks of senior year.
Sadly, many high school students make major academic, extracurricular, or personal missteps throughout high school. As they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure.” Why get yourself into unnecessary trouble or cause yourself needless anxiety or stress later in high school just because you didn’t know that certain decisions that you make as a high school freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior could actually turn out to be mistakes serious enough to derail your smooth sail towards achieving your post-high school goals?
If you are a student (or a parent of a student) who wants to proactively and wisely tackle every challenge high school throws your way and reach your college admissions potential, the best advice I can give you is to join me for College Counseling Tonight.
College Counseling Tonight is for students and parents who desire expert guidance as they navigate the college admissions process, which actually begins the moment a student starts high school! Too many students don’t get much if any great college admissions advice even as late as into their senior year in high school; therefore, it’s never too late to join College Counseling Tonight if you want to give yourself the best chance at reaching your college admissions goals.
Nearly every weeknight throughout the year participants in College Counseling Tonight meet up with me live (no more than three students (or parents)/session) for thirty minutes during which time they are encouraged to ask their current college admissions questions, discuss where they are in the process, and learn from others’ questions and my answers. During College Counseling Tonight I’m also able to provide exclusive access to insider admissions news and information. My goal is to ensure participants leave each session armed with the knowledge they need to make the most of every opportunity presented during their high school career.
In short, if you join me for College Counseling Tonight you’ll gain access to timely best-in-class college admissions counseling that will empower you to make the right moves regarding academics, testing, extracurricular activities, and college applications in order to meet with future college admissions success.
Best of all, unlike my one-on-one college admissions coaching services, which are, frankly, quite expensive, joining College Counseling Tonight only costs a very reasonable $49/session. Consider it an amazing insurance policy to protect against the lack of college guidance or downright poor college counseling many students experience during their four years in high school. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure – especially if that cure comes too late (which, from my experience, is too often the case with students who only start getting good/any college counseling in 11th grade or later).
Get ready to bust the most common college admissions myths and prepare to glide through the entire college admissions process calm, cool, and collected. Join me for College Counseling Tonight.
If your attempt at writing a strong Common Application essay is failing, you very well could be making this major mistake in the drafting process. Fix it and you will give yourself a fighting chance to write an essay that is actually decent.
But, guess what? This is only the #2 reason your Common App essay stinks! Learn about the the #1 reason your essay is bad here.
Write an essay worthy of getting you into your dream college! Expert college application essay review and editing are just a click away!