Categories
5_College Tours college admissions College Visits COVID-19 Virtual

College Visits During COVID

Spring break has traditionally been a time for high school students to visit colleges, walking around campuses, participating in student-led tours, and even sitting in on classes. In the midst of the pandemic, however, most of these options are no longer viable. Without the opportunity to explore campuses, how can students figure out which colleges are the best fit for them? Below, we’ve rounded up some of the best opportunities for students looking to tour colleges from a (social) distance.

FIT IS KEY: SOCIALLY DISTANT COLLEGE VISITS

Virtual Tours: Most colleges are now offering virtual tours for students who are no longer able to visit in person. Students, for example, can tour classrooms and libraries of the University of Pennsylvania, attend a virtual information session at Middlebury, or engage with an interactive map of NYU. YouVisit offers students the opportunity to explore over 600 campuses, making it a great starting point for students considering a variety of schools. CampusTours also offers tours of more than 1,800 U.S. colleges, as well as schools in Canada, the UK, China, and France.

Webinars: In addition to virtual tours, many colleges are now offering live webinars so that students can learn more about the school and ask questions of admissions officers, financial aid officers, and current students. Pomona, for example, hosts a series of monthly webinars for prospective students, while Notre Dame offers a library of past webcasts, in addition to opportunities for live engagement. The best way to stay apprised to upcoming webinars is to register for the mailing lists at colleges that interest you. Most schools will send out announcements about upcoming webinars a week or two in advance.

INDEPENDENT RESEARCH

College Websites: While virtual tours and webinars can give you a good overview of a school, it’s also important to do some independent research on schools that intrigue you. Take some time to review the pages of departments of interest to see which classes are being offered and what topics professors are researching. Check out the clubs, research opportunities, and fellowship programs available to undergraduate students. If you hope to study abroad, look at the opportunities for travel that the college offers and the locations you might visit. If there are certain facets of the college experience that you know will be important to you, take some time to study the ways you might explore them at particular schools!

Reach Out to Faculty: If there’s a professor whose work especially intrigues you, don’t be afraid to reach out to him or her. Not every professor will be able to respond to prospective students, but some will share information on upcoming courses, research opportunities, ways to learn more about the department, etc. Conversing with a professor at a school that interests you will not only give you a chance to learn more about that institution, but it will also give you a connection in your preferred department, should you enroll there.

Read Reviews: Websites like Niche offer people an opportunity to share reviews of and feedback on schools, which can be helpful to students looking for insights into a particular college. Personal reviews from friends or family are often even more helpful, as these people will understand your particular goals and interests. If a friend attends a school that intrigues you, reach out to ask if you can discuss his or her college experience!

Categories
college admissions Dr. Michele Hernandez Middle School

Get An Early Start On College Admissions: Middle School Edition

We are often asked if middle school is too early to start thinking about college admissions. Though some would argue that thinking about college while in middle school could lead to additional stress for students, we would argue that the earlier students start thinking ahead, the less stressful the process will be. For example, forecasting out math and science tracks ahead of time means that you can still do something about level of course rigor early on. It is more stressful to find out in 11th grade that you have no chance of competing in the top college admissions pool because you didn’t accelerate in math back when you could have in 6th grade through an honors track.

On the extracurricular side, keep in mind that most talents kids develop in high school start in elementary or middle school. Few kids pick up the trombone in 9th grade and become gifted musicians out of the blue. Talents like art, singing, instrumental prowess tend to start in elementary or middle school. Same could be said about math competitions, science fairs or athletic prowess. 

Any athlete knows that starting early with skill building and fitting in your “10,000 hours” is what helps kids stand out later and develop expertise.

HEAD START ON HIGH SCHOOL

“How can my kids in 7th and 8th grade get a head start on high school?” is another question we are asked day in and day out.   

The most important track at most high schools is math and science, even if a student’s primary interests are in the humanities. Students should figure out how to jump ahead a year or two in math/science by taking courses like Pre-Algebra and Algebra online through places like Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth or Northwestern’s CTD. Likewise, for science – some high schools let students skip Earth Science and jump to Honors Biology in 9th grade. Many of our advanced students have been accelerating in math for years.

Let us break it down for you. Here are our top tips for leveraging your time in middle school to set yourself up for high school success

TOP TIPS TO MAXIMIZE MIDDLE SCHOOL

  1. Take extra math and science courses so that you can aim to reach a higher math level like Algebra II/Trig by 9th grade or even Pre-Calculus. For science, aim to jump over courses like Earth Science so you can reach Honors Biology if your school offers it.
  2. Read an hour a day from higher level books and magazines like The Atlantic, Time, Scientific American, National Geographic, and The Concord Review so you build up your reading skills. In the long run, reading is the best way to improve your academic performance. Work with us to get your personalized reading lists grade by grade and be a part of our unique vocabulary program. 
  3. Get involved in activities/sports/music/hobbies so that you can carry this leadership and skill set with you to high school.
  4. Be active in your classes, get to know your teachers as these teachers often communicate with high school teachers and recommend kids who stand out for honors track.
  5. Get organized – keep a whiteboard and map out assignments. Start an assignment notebook vs only using technology. Make early habits that will set you up for success.
  6. Take a “real” SAT before high school to get an idea of where you stand. Any standardized tests you take while in 7th or 8th grade do NOT go on your permanent record so you can get a good baseline score and address any weak areas.
  7. Get inspired and read about other kids doing extraordinary things. We love the documentary, I Am Greta, about Greta Thunberg as she launches a global movement on climate change. What do you care about?
  8. Learn to code. Even if you aren’t a computer science kid, coding is something even business school applicants are required to have. Take a coding class during the summer.  And, if you love to play video games, learn to create video games.
Categories
Admissions college admissions Interviews Ivy Admissions

Top Tips for Virtual College Admission Interviews

This year’s admissions process certainly looks different. Schools have gone test-optional, campus tours have moved online, and college admissions interviews — traditionally held in-person with alumni or admissions officers — have shifted to a virtual format. For many students, this last change feels particularly challenging. Interviews are stressful at the best of times; connecting with your interviewer and making a strong first impression over Zoom can seem impossible.

The good news: you can absolutely have a strong interview over Zoom! To help you through the process, we’ve listed below some of our top tips for virtual college admission interviews.

VIRTUAL COLLEGE ADMISSION INTERVIEWS: TOP TIPS

1. Prepare for the interview: The format of your interview might have changed, but your interviewer will still be looking for the same thing: a smart, engaged student who is seriously interested in attending their institution. Knowing this, you’ll want to take some time before your interview to think about your own interests and experiences. What have you done that shows your love of learning? What experiences can you talk about that present you as a thoughtful, active community member? Also make sure to do some research on the school itself so that you can clearly explain why you are interested in attending. What field would you like to pursue there? What research opportunities and clubs would you explore? Do you have any questions for your interviewer about the school’s offerings?

2. Pay attention to your setting: Your brilliant conversation should be the focus of your interview, but don’t discount the importance of setting. Make sure you take your Zoom call in front of a neutral background that’s as professional as possible. (If you’ll be in your bedroom, make sure to clean it up before the call!) Also check your lighting and your computer angle. Can your interviewer see you clearly, or are you backlit like an anonymized witness in a documentary? Will your interviewer be able to look you in the eye? Feel free to bring in lamps or to prop your computer up on books, if necessary!

3. Dress for success: Sweatpants may be de rigueur for virtual learning, but your interview is an opportunity to put some of your more formal clothes back into rotation. Dressing nicely shows your interviewer that you care about this meeting — that’s important! At the very least, you will want to wear a nice top (a button-up, a blouse) to the interview, since your interviewer will be able to see it during the call. It’s also wise to wear a nice pair of pants, just in case you have to stand up during the interview. The last thing you want is for your interviewer to see your pajama pants as you chase your dog out of the room!

4. Make sure you’re not interrupted: This can be challenging, especially for those with large families, but do try to avoid interruptions during your Zoom call. Ask your family to stay out of your room during your interview, as movement in the background of your call can be distracting. It’s especially important that your parents don’t speak to the interviewer on your behalf, as this can suggest that you aren’t mature enough to handle the interview (and, by extension, college) on your own.

5. Take advantage of the virtual format: Zoom interviews can feel less natural than in-person interviews, but they do offer you some advantages. You can, for example, keep a few notes or your resume on-hand to refer to if you need reminders about important points. You can also make sure you have an arsenal of items (water, tissues, etc.) nearby, just in case you need them. Make sure you take advantage of these opportunities to make yourself more comfortable during the interview. That will make the whole thing feel less stressful!

Categories
Admissions college admissions Deferral Early Decision Ivy Admissions Ivy League Admissions

What To Do If You Were Deferred

You applied early to your top choice school and the news back wasn’t what you wanted to hear. You were deferred. Take a deep breath. Don’t panic. Let us guide you through the steps to respond to this college admission decision. 

WHAT IS A DEFERRAL?

Colleges can respond to your early application with a number of decisions: accepted, rejected, or deferred.  A deferral is when a school postpones making a decision about a student’s application and pushes it off until the regular round where they will take another look. Students can be deferred for any number of reasons:

  • The school received more early applications than anticipated, and this year there have definitely been more early applications as you can see from our prior post. (link)
  • The applicant’s scores were low, yes even during COVID some schools have the luxury of still reviewing scores and yes, some students had scores to submit.
  • Perhaps grades weren’t quite high enough and the school wants to see more data before pulling the YES trigger.  
  • For non-binding early action schools, a low level of demonstrated interest could be the reason it was a deferral – they weren’t convinced that if they gave that applicant a seat he/she would actually accept.
  • Admissions officers might have been looking for more high impact extras and are waiting to see what the student might add to his/her achievements.
  • They couldn’t figure out the student’s academic niche – application was not specific enough. We are happy to help you refine this in your follow up to the school in our Deferral Program.
  • The student was a legacy, but not up to the school’s standards so it was a “courtesy deferral” vs a full-on rejection which well-connected families wouldn’t like much.
  • The applicant was swept up in the media’s portrayal of NO STANDARDIZED TESTS THIS YEAR and thought he/she could get into Harvard just because he/she was a top student.  Takes a lot more than that to get in

ANY GOOD NEWS?

Schools typically accept only 5-10 percent of students they deferred. And though early round admission rates are much better than regular they are still extremely competitive. For instance, Harvard’s early acceptance rate is typically around 13% versus 3% in the regular round.

For very top schools, admissions is competitive in both early and regular

If you are deferred, reflect on our above list and have a reality check with yourself. Why do you think you were deferred? There are still plenty of things you can do to increase your odds of admission during the regular round. If you do nothing, however, chances are your results will be an ultimate denial. We’ve laid out some action items for deferred students below.

TAKE ACTION ONCE YOU’VE BEEN DEFERRED

Hopefully your deferral will serve as a reminder to go back and review everything you have in place for your regular applications.  In addition, begin to work on the following:

  1. Kick into gear to bring up grades. Grades are the most important factor in admissions decisions, so you’ll want to finish the semester with the strongest grades possible. Now is not the time for senioritis. Put a pause on your video game habit and double down on studying. 
  2. Review opportunities to retake or take standardized tests. Were you shut out of spring and summer Subject Tests? Need to retake the ACT? Don’t assume just because of COVID you get a free pass on testing.  If testing sites are open in your area, take the tests. 
  3. Pursue any last-minute contests, articles to publish or other ways to stand out in your area of expertise. Schools want to brag about their incoming freshman class.  Make yourself brag worthy by going the extra mile in something you’ve already begun. Let us know if we can help you identify some ways to do so.
  4. Find out why. Ask your counselor at school to call the school and find out any information he or she can about why you were deferred. Were items missing from your application? Did the school see a huge rise in applicants from your state? Not all counselors will do this, but it’s worth the ask. Best case is that he/she can advocate for you on the call, in addition to finding out what happened.
  5. Get another recommendation. Have you spent the semester taking a college course, or doing research with a local professor? If so, ask him/her to write a recommendation on your behalf.  How about a senior year teacher who knows you well?  Another recommendation is definitely in order.   Make sure to stick to one recommendation only, though! You don’t want to overwhelm the admissions office.
  6. Follow the rules.  It goes without saying that you want to review each school’s deferral policy.  MIT, for instance, does not require a student to opt into being reviewed again in the regular round. 

By mid-January (or whenever first semester grades come out), submit the following materials to the admissions officer covering your area (always reviewing their policies, however):

  1. A one-page deferral letter that includes:
    • Updates on grades, awards, standardized test scores, extracurriculars
    • Details on why they are your first choice.  Be specific and focus on your academic match. 
  2. An updated school transcript that includes your fall-semester grades
  3. One letter of support from a senior-year teacher, if applicable

DON’T FORGET TO…

  1. Advocate for yourself, but don’t become a pest. It’s okay to send a deferral letter to the admissions officer covering your area; it’s not okay to stake out his or her office for the next few weeks.
  2. Consider an Early Decision 2 option and perhaps adding more schools to your regular list.
  3. Stay confident. While this feels like a gut punch, rise up and keep on refining your application package based on what you now know.

Review our Deferral Program and let us guide you. Time is critical, however, and we work with a limited number of students so call us quickly.

Categories
ACT college admissions Common Application Insider Tips letters of recommendation SAT Standardized Testing Top Tips

Common Application: Does “Optional” Truly Mean Optional?

You’ve finished the core components of your Common Application – your main essay, your activities, and any required supplements for the schools on your list – and are ready to submit. Then you pause.

Should I self-report my scores? Do I need to respond to the COVID question? Will colleges read the four extra letters from my other recommenders?

Need some last-minute advice? Read on!

COMMON APPLICATION: TESTING

Standardized testing these last few months has been an exercise in frustration for seniors. You’ve registered and prepared, only to see test centers shuttered and exams canceled – sometimes with no warning. Maybe you were able to sit for the SAT or ACT once but ended up with a lower score than you had hoped.

For students applying to colleges that are newly test optional, including the majority of the most selective colleges in the country, a good rule of thumb is that if your SAT or ACT scores are well within the middle 50th percentile range, then go ahead and submit these scores. Remember that for many top colleges, the switch to test-optional this year leaves admissions officers without some of the customary guideposts they used to help decisions. If everything else about your application is strong— your GPA, rigor of course load, and rank (if your school calculates one)—then including scores confirms to admissions officers that you are the kind of student they seek to admit.

What if your SAT or ACT scores are below the school’s typical admit ranges? If you are from a high school that typically sends lots of high-scoring applicants their way, admissions officers will likely assume that you are unhappy with your scores and chose not to send them. Remember that they have data from prior years’ applicant pools so they have some sense of what to expect from your school. Students from low-income schools and communities, those in historically underrepresented groups, will likely be given more benefit of the doubt than students from well-resourced families and schools.

We also anticipate that newly test-optional colleges this year will be flooded with applicants from around the country and around the world who, in previous years, may have been discouraged from applying because of lower scores. If applicant pools balloon, guess how admissions officers will sort through applications? They’ll use data – scores and GPA – especially in the first read, to figure out who seem to be the strongest students in their pool. A word about AP scores. If you’ve got a bunch of AP courses on your transcript from junior year, admissions officers will check to see if you self-reported your results. If not, they’ll assume the results were poor. So, if you have scores of 3 or higher, report them! In the absence of an SAT or ACT or subject tests, strong AP scores will also help show your strength.

Common Application COVID Question

COMMON APPLICATION: COVID QUESTION

The Common App’s new, optional question opens the door for students to share more about the impact of COVID on their “health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable and quiet study spaces.” Should you respond?

First, ask yourself a question. We’ve all had our lives turned upside down these last 9-10 months. Virtual schooling, zoom fatigue, quarantine blues, canceled testing, disrupted activities – these are common to all high school students. If the story you tell pretty much recounts what every high school student has had to contend with, then you are better off not responding to this optional prompt. You risk coming off as tone-deaf or privileged, two things that will form a bad impression in the minds of your application readers. 

Do answer this question if you and your family experienced significant hardship because of COVID – serious illness or death of a loved one, parent’s loss of employment, additional home responsibilities caring and teaching for your siblings, lack of access to technology and other online resources. In addition to sharing your struggles, be sure to show admissions officers how you overcame these unexpected challenges.

COMMON APPLICATION: SUPPLEMENTAL RECOMMENDATIONS

Back in the day when students applied to college using pen and paper (seniors, ask your parents about those days), admissions officers had a saying: “the thicker the file, the thicker the kid.” Essentially, students who loaded up their application with tons of extra letters of recommendation were essentially compensating for weaker credentials and basically throwing the kitchen sink at the admissions office.

So, once you’ve assigned the one or two required teachers, be judicious in using any of the optional or “other” recommenders. If you truly believe that a potential recommender can offer a perspective on your candidacy that no other recommender can, then go ahead and tap that person to be your “other” recommender. But, loading up on extra recommendations – even if the college allows – can overload your application with extraneous materials, making admissions officers a little grumpy as they wade through these extra letters. Good luck with your applications and we are here to help if you want last minute essay help or an entire application review before hitting SEND.