Kids with Grit

college admissions secretPost by Mimi Doe

I received my Master’s Degree in Education from Harvard many years ago, but still find the Harvard Ed. Magazine full to the brim with interesting articles, studies, data, and interviews. The Winter 2015 interview with Jenn Charlot, a Director at the Character Lab, was simple and yet critical for those of us working with students to keep at the forefront of our work so that we might inspire students to achieve mastery in their areas of interest.

Charlot talks about what “grit” looks like in a school kid. She says: “Gritty students try really hard, especially when they experience failure or when they feel like quitting. When frustration and errors happen, they persist.”

In over a decade working with high school students to manage the college admissions process, I have seen kids with grit create high impact high school careers and incredibly bright students who don’t have that persistence and determination get lost in the shuffle.

Charlot notes that parents and teachers can help students discover a goal that they are passionate about, then get it across that reaching that dream requires lots and lots of practice.

Nobody wakes up an extraordinary oboe player, chess champion, ornithologist or winning coxswain on a crew team. It takes grit. No high school junior will get to RSI, or be published in the Concord Review by becoming discouraged that their high school doesn’t offer AP classes and settle for that or head to Cancun with their families every vacation rather than continuing the lab research job he or she landed last year. No student gets into an Ivy League by being ordinary and accepting what’s spoon-fed to them. They try hard, they fail and try again; they don’t blame bad teachers or circumstances for their results, but rather they create opportunities – led by their passions not just their desire to get an A or get into a good school.

Practice is hard, Charlot says in her interview. Kids with grit “relentlessly pursue their goals, finish whatever they begin, and stick to things for more than a few weeks.”

What I have seen is that when enthusiastic learners channel that positive energy into their interests and creatively set out to explore, solve, lead, and overcome — they soar. A love of learning and a demonstrated interest taken to measurable heights is what colleges are eager to see pop off the pages of the Common Application.

Far from “common” kids with grit get noticed in the admissions game.


Why Liberal Arts?

why liberal arts educationPost by Dr. Michele Hernandez

Many parents ask us “why liberal arts?” Why not just business/medicine/law – what relevance do the liberal arts have for students today amidst all of this technology, focus on money, and career and technological advancements? My former professor and (current) friend Professor James Tatum from Dartmouth College writes an elegant defense of classics in particular, and liberal arts in general, in the following article written as part of a debate with a Nigerian intellectual.  As you know, I am a humanist at heart and believe strongly in classics and liberal arts as a lifetime path. In Professor Tatum’s words, see the below but do yourself a favor and read the whole piece:

Classics is the study of the civilizations which flourished in and around the ancient Mediterranean Sea—a world characterized by extraordinary ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural diversity. To study Classics is to engage with the rich variety of the remains of these ancient civilizations: their art, literature, law, religion, philosophy, music, theater, and politics. Classics provides valuable insight into the ways in which the past has shaped the world’s present languages, philosophies, literatures, religions, political and scientific thought, and artistic traditions. Because Classics is a discipline that takes as its subject entire cultures—rather than a particular culture—classicists engage with a variety of modern academic fields. In this sense, Classics is the most all-encompassing and flexible of disciplines in the humanities…

“People who study Classics, philosophy, history (of any period and any nation or nations), literatures, other languages than the one they are born speaking—all of these will have the power to see what is going on in their world and at least the potential of having an educated imagination to respond to it,” says Prof. Tatum.


Accessing What College Admissions Officers Wrote About You

college admissions review

Post by Dr. Michele Hernandez 

Thanks to some clever Stanford students, admitted students may be able to gain access to their college applications complete with admissions officers’ comments. But, that sounds easier in theory than it is in practice. Some schools actually shred files after the admissions season so you can’t gain access to information that isn’t there (and many colleges may start doing this to avoid the issue and protect their private comments).

Though the “sell” is that students will finally be able to gain a window into the admissions process, I’m not sure that’s really true. After all, when I published A is for Admission in 1997, I already took readers behind the scenes of the admissions process, including selections of readers’ comments, and this has been public for years. And then there are those very forthright admissions officers (like Mr. Guttentag at Duke) who give plenty of correct and accurate information already – if you watch his interview, I suspect you will learn almost as much as you would reading admissions reader notes, which are simply summary observations about an applicant.

As a postscript, if you signed the teacher recommendation waiver (which you should out of courtesy to your teachers) you still won’t be able to see your teacher recommendations, and corresponding admissions reader notes on those.

The big thing to note is that FERPA protection and access to your educational records comes into play in this situation when you are an admitted student. The request to see admissions officers’ notes on your application if you were denied or waitlisted (and then denied) does not come into play –and that’s MOST applicants at top tier schools like Stanford. In fact, one of the main reasons we launched our Waitlist and Deferral Analysis Package years ago is because students wanted to understand the reasons behind their waitlist or deferral decision. Ideally, colleges would email you notes letting you know exactly why you were denied or waitlisted, and you’d utilize that information in the best ways possible. FERPA protection won’t help you there, so moving to ensure your college applications and essays are in their best possible form before you submit is still your best bet!


What Today’s Transfer Applicants Should Know

by Mimi Doe and Dr. Michele Hernandez
College Transfer Application GuidanceWe’re often asked about transfer admissions rates at top colleges as students determine their odds and whether or not they want to pursue transferring colleges. We’ve compiled a chart for 2015 transfer applicants applying to top programs. The most recent data for each school is offered.

School # Applied # Accepted %
Harvard (2013) 1,486 15 1.01
Dartmouth (2013) 683 57 8.34
Amherst (2013) 471 20 4.25
UVA (2013) 2,456 996 40.45
Stanford (2014) 1764 33 1.87
Yale (2013) 779 30 3.85
MIT (2012) 454 25 5.51
UPenn (2012) 2096 197 9.40
Columbia (2012) 2365 147 6.22
Princeton *

*Does not offer transfer admission

Michele and I have worked with transfer students for the past 12+ years and the reasons they want to leave their current school typically fall into these categories:

  1. They want a second chance at admissions, as they didn’t get into their top choice school
  2. Lack of certain offerings at their current school to meet their academic interests
  3. Disappointment with the current school’s social scene

Lost in the shuffle of admissions data is a reality that the above statistics often mask: about 1 in 3 students who enroll in either a four-year or two-year college will probably transfer at some point, according to a report issued by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Last year Harvard received 1,486 transfer applications and 15 were accepted, about a 1% transfer admissions rate. Dartmouth received 683 transfer applications, 57 were admitted and 27 enrolled. Amherst received 471 transfer applications, 20 were accepted and 13 enrolled.

Getting into top schools is clearly more difficult as a transfer student. But don’t lose heart, there are still some wonderful schools that are friendlier to transfer students. UCLA admitted 5,360 transfer students in the fall of 2014, and 4,328 were CA residents. Berkeley took about 3,000 transfer students last year. USC took about 2,700 students, U WI about 2500 students. Cornell took about 700 students. The University of Virginia received 2,456 transfer applications, 996 were admitted, and 618 enrolled. UNC Chapel Hill has a 47% acceptance rate.

If you are thinking about transferring, ask yourself the following questions:

-WHY do I want to leave and enroll elsewhere? Dig a little and come up with 5 ways you might remedy the problem right where you are. If the social scene leaves you a little cold, branch out and try meeting more like-minded students. If the professors in your department aren’t open to your academic focus, set up a meeting with the Department Chair and let him/her know your concerns.

-Does my current college offer the major I am interested in studying? To what extent? Does the college you seek to transfer to offer the major you want to study? Minor? Other concentrations?

Focus ALL of your time and energy on your grades. College grades are the #1 factor in transfer admissions.

-Review your standardized testing. Sorry, but you may have to retake tests.

-Will your credits transfer? This could reflect a loss in terms of time, money, and GPA boosting A’s. Also, will your time to graduation extend?

It’s important to spend your years of college in an environment that meets your academic, social, emotional, geographic, and financial needs. However, it’s rare for any college student to find a 100% perfect fit in each of these areas. Transferring colleges is a big decision, as is the process of transfer admissions, so be sure you weigh your options and make your pro and con list as early as you can!


Junior Year To-Do List

Back To School College Admissions checklistHappy New Year! We have been concentrating on seniors applying to college, and now that applications have been submitted we want to switch gears and focus on juniors. Juniors, you know that this spring is a very important semester that matters to college admissions committees, and we want to help you organize your time and reduce stress. Here are some priorities for the upcoming term:

  • Excel in your classes. It is no myth that stellar grades this semester are crucial to your college applications, so hit the books. Get extra help in classes that are tougher for you, and go the extra mile in your best subjects. Utilize evenings and weekends to get ahead academically, not socially.
  • Get your standardized tests out of the way. Sign up for the January SAT (you can register online late up until 1-13-15.) Earlier is better when it comes to the SAT, especially if you decide to/need to take it a second time. Your timing for SAT Subject Tests depends on your class schedule — you want to take them after completing a course in that subject. For example, if you are currently taking AP United States History and plan to take the Subject Test covering that material, you should plan to take the test right after your AP exam. However, if you want to take a test in a subject for which you have completed coursework, don’t hesitate to sign up. Also, for your AP’s, research the possibility of self studying for AP exams this May (how about BOTH English exams?) Get testing out of the way so you can spend your senior summer and fall compiling/crafting/perfecting your college applications and focusing on senior year coursework, NOT added testing.
  • Form great relationships with teachers. Your junior year teachers will likely be the ones you ask for letters of recommendation, so make sure you are giving them more to say than “John got an A in my class.” Prepare for class and participate in discussions, ask probing questions and develop sophisticated arguments. Talk to your teachers outside of class whenever possible, and share your specific academic interests and goals with them.
  • Visit colleges. It is not too early to start compiling your list of schools. Spend weekends visiting colleges near and far if possible. Be sure to organize your notes so you remember the unique aspects of each school. Although you may expect to remember all of the small but exciting details, after several information sessions and tours they begin to blend together. Start figuring out what matters to you most in a school. Do you prefer a rural or urban campus? How will the size of the school impact your learning? Do you have an anticipated major that will be best supported in certain types of institutions?
  • Plan an academic summer. The upcoming summer is your final opportunity to demonstrate your academic passion to colleges, so choose wisely. Think about your past experiences and best classes, and tie them together with what matters to you most. Look into for-credit summer programs that complement and enhance your scholarly focus, and will prepare you for college-level work. Consider research positions at academic institutions. You might also consider taking on a paid summer job, as maturity and responsibility are impressive to admission officers.

How are you planning your scholarly summer? How have YOU spent your summers thus far? What summer programs sound intriguing to you? Share your experiences below!