There are a lot of people out there purporting to be qualified college admissions consultants. Here are two more extremely important warning signs that someone selling herself (or himself) as a quality college admissions consultant is likely anything but!
Earlier this month, I was trying to figure out what day it was. Rather than look at the calendar, I simply looked at the College Admissions Facebook page on my computer screen. There was one story about the record low admit rates at Ivy League colleges, four stories about how most colleges admit a vast majority of their applicants, and two or three reminders that it’s all about what you do in college, not where you do it.
“So” I said to myself, “it must be April 10th.” And I was right.
There is something equally comforting and disturbing about the college admissions grieving cycle. It begins in late March, when we all bemoan it’s easier to get struck by lightning than to get admitted to a selective school. Even the recent admissions scandal, replete with movie stars and lots of cash, played right into the timing of the “ain’t it awful” phase.
Early April gives way to requests for help with aid packages and muffled cries for some kind of reform from the madness of the application process. Mid-April begins the search for schools willing to accept great kids who somehow ended up with “nowhere” to go, and late April finds us back in the trenches, asking about colleges for really bright juniors who want to study Hungarian and elephants.
This is our version of thoughts and prayers. Like legislators tackling school safety, we look at the misshapen blob college admissions has become long enough to be horrified, only to get swept away by the need to make the broken system work just one more time, if only for the benefit of next year’s hardworking seniors. Major changes are just too far out of reach, and minor changes make no palpable difference, so we sigh and carry on, hoping a thoughtful social media post or two will somehow turn the tide. Real change, it seems, is beyond our grasp.
It isn’t. Like anything else that’s out of shape, moving in a new direction requires a little bit of time, and a ton of vision. No one in this profession is short on vision; they’re stymied by how to bring that vision to life. Here are some starter ideas.
College Admission Personnel who want to open up college access have all kinds of small projects that, when regularly tended to, can take on lives of their own.
- Buy lunch for someone on your student success team, and get an overview of their work. What students are doing well once they’re on campus, and which ones aren’t? Is there anything your institution can learn from the success of Georgia State, understanding that student success is far more than a cut and copy endeavor? What does any of this mean about who you’re recruiting—and, more important, if they have no idea who’s succeeding and why, why not?
- If you have two counselor fly-in programs, cut it to one. Use the new-found money to hold a three-day College Counselor Workshop for any school counselor in your area with less than five years’ experience. As a rule, counselor graduate programs teach nothing meaningful about college counseling. You know the counselors who know their stuff, and you have a NACAC affiliate at your disposal. Bring them in, and let them train your local rookies.
- As long as you’re at it, have coffee with the director of your graduate counseling program, and ask them if you can have a three-hour class period to talk about college admission. Most counselor educators will have the humility to admit they’ve been out of the college admissions game too long, so they’ll give you the time. Bring along two of your favorite counselors, and the grad students will be begging for more. If you don’t know what you’d do with those three hours, I have a program that’s in the box and ready to present, and you can have it.
- Call a test-optional college that looks like yours and ask how it’s going. The argument that test optional is a ruse to raise average test scores means nothing to the bright kid heading to University of Chicago this fall who can’t even spell SAT. If colleges that look like yours have figured out test scores mean nothing in the application of a straight A student– and they have– maybe your school could open things up, too.
High School Counselors have eight bajillion kids on their caseloads and duties that have nothing to do with counseling. That said, find a way to get to work twenty minutes early once a week, and pick one of these projects to work on:
- Shoot an email to the professional development chair of your NACAC affiliate and volunteer to be a mentor. Less than thirty graduate programs in the country devote a course to college counseling, and it’s showing. What you know about this profession will be an oasis to a new counselor, and most of the mentoring can occur through email and phone calls.
- Look at your messaging about college options. Do you tell students and parents about test optional colleges, community colleges, or state colleges with amazing residential programs? Use this time to bring yourself up to speed on the paths your students aren’t taking, then put together a plan for spreading the word to parents and students.
- When’s the last time you talked college with your middle school and elementary mental health partners? Opening up postsecondary options is as much a matter of changing the mindset of parents as it is presenting options to students—and if that’s starting in ninth grade, forget it. Ask your NACAC affiliate for grant opportunities to strengthen your K-8 postsecondary curriculum, and build the partnerships needed to make it work.
No one in this business was surprised last month to discover the wealthy have an advantage applying to college. What may come as a surprise is how much we can change that dynamic by throwing our hearts behind that change with twenty minutes a week, giving tangible shape to our thoughts, prayers, and deepest hopes for this profession.
Your story matters.
During the college admissions process, sharing your story as part of your application provides context and gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself. In the past, this has been accomplished by submitting at least one essay with your college application and at some schools, scheduling a personal interview.
ZeeMee’s smartphone app helps you create a three-part video that can be viewed in a minute or two. It’s free of charge. Students own their content. Privacy settings prevent a student’s video from being searchable. And no special equipment is needed to make the video beyond access to an iOS or Android smart phone.
“Selfie-style is genuine and real,” says Courtney Vaughn, an admissions officer at Elon University in North Carolina. “Don’t hire a professional — keep it casual.”
Vaughn credits the ZeeMee videos with helping her “connect with applicants on a deeper level.” When she can glean additional knowledge about an applicant from their video, she says she will “take that nugget of information to the admissions committee” to advocate for the student.
To be clear, Vaughn says that “the students who are in the middle of the applicant pool at Elon benefit the most” from submitting a ZeeMee video. Providing the additional information, as well as taking the time to show interest and effort, says Vaughn, contributes another positive layer to an application that might need the extra boost.
Other ZeeMee partner schools may also consider a student’s submission to help them create a well-rounded class; or to select among applicants for competitive honors programs or majors. If you are applying to a school that encourages submission of a ZeeMee video or you would otherwise like to create one, here are some additional tips.
There are three parts to a ZeeMee video: your Profile Information, the Video Feed and the Photo Album.
Your Profile Information features a snapshot of you with your name, high school, and graduation year, superimposed on a default image. (Later, you can select the photo you want in the background.)
The Video Feed gives you the opportunity to tell colleges, in your own words, what you want them to know about you. You have the option of recording a brief introduction, for example, and/or speaking about a topic of your choice. Optional question prompts on the Chat tab can help you decide what to share. Some examples of ZeeMee question prompts are Describe your high school and what you like most about it. Or, Who would win, Batman or Spider Man? Or, How would your friends describe you?
These prompts can get you thinking more about how to best showcase your character and values. Are there certain topics that resonate with you? Do you have a compelling anecdote to share? What motivates you; or challenges you; or captivates you? Take some time to think about what you want to say. And if you change your mind and want to delete or rerecord your video, you can!
Videos (whether your own, or responses to prompts) are limited to no more than 26 seconds each — but you can record as many as you like. You’ll make your own decision about how many videos compose your Video Feed; just remember that a shorter one is more likely to be viewed in its entirety, so try to keep your points succinct.
If you are camera-shy, no worries — not only is ZeeMee always optional, there are a variety of ways to tell your story — for example, a teacher, friend or slideshow can serve as your introduction.
Use the Photo Album section to bring your activities to life with images that showcase who you are and what you do. These images can spotlight your athletics, talents, hobbies, projects, skills, jobs, ideas, interests, family, and more! You’ll add captions of up to 5000 characters to describe what is happening in each photo to help the reader get to know you better.
Details and Dimensions
Once you have the basics in place, continue to refine your presentation. Layer your Photo Album with a variety of images to tell your story, not just the ones that show off your accomplishments.
For example, if you have discussed several types of art mediums you enjoy, include photos of each, as opposed to five pictures of your watercolors, even if watercolors are the only ones that have earned you accolades. (Because your whole story includes your efforts with chalk and charcoal, too.)
If you love soccer, five images of yourself scoring goals will be redundant. Consider adding a photo of you working out with your teammates; or of your soccer jersey collection; or of whatever conveys more facets of your story. (After all, your ten-year relationship with soccer surely isn’t primarily about the goals you’ve scored…)
Students with just one or two activities can showcase those activities more deeply. If you do only make drawings in watercolor, for example, feature images that express variety another way, such as subject matter or color choice or even a progression of your art throughout high school, as opposed to five similar watercolors you produced for the same project with the same theme.
Or, if baseball is your thing, include all of the ways you express your passion — sure, you have some great photos of yourself in action as your high school team’s shortstop, but what about all those impromptu neighborhood street games you started in the summer and the trips to your favorite professional team’s stadium and the hours you spend playing catch while chatting with your best friend? Those are part of your story, too.
(Note: If you plan to use photos that feature friends or family, get their permission first.)
Prepare, then Share
If you open your ZeeMee account early in high school, you can upload possible content to your Photo Album as soon as you want. Later, when you are ready to put your video together for college applications, you can select the best photos, add captions and record your video responses.
To share your finished ZeeMee video with colleges, you’ll paste your video link on your applications ‘s ZeeMee field for partner schools. For other schools, you can add the link to the Additional Information or Anything Else You Want to Share section. Other options for sharing your ZeeMee video with colleges include adding it to your resume; mentioning it in a thank you note to the college; or emailing it to your regional admissions rep. Also consider providing your ZeeMee link to your school counselor and anyone who will be writing you a letter of recommendation — it can help them get to know you better, too!
Short and Sweet
The last tip is to make every second of your ZeeMee video count by targeting the things that are most important to your story; be thoughtful about every image, caption or video you include. And again, welcoming the viewer to your world from a more informal, homey, casual perspective will help you connect more authentically with your application reader. Think: heart and soul, not perfect and polished.
Will a well-done ZeeMee video alone get you admitted to a school? No, but it won’t hurt, and could help boost a borderline candidate’s admissibility or increase the odds for selection to a more competitive program.
It will also be good practice — it is highly probable that this college admissions video will be just one of many personal digital portfolios our technology savvy Snapchat Generation will create during their lives. In today’s world, says ZeeMee director Ethan Lin, “a digital identity is no longer an option.” Lin points out that students already have a professional side that their activities and academics and experiences all speak to; with ZeeMee, they can showcase their story in an easy-to-use smartphone app where they are in control of what they share.
While most students spend a lot of time pondering who to ask to write a letter of recommendation on their behalf, too many students put little to no thought into when to ask such a favor.
Many schools ask teachers to make IB predictions during the first weeks of a student’s senior year. Once the predictions are made students would be wise to avoid confronting their teachers about them.