This is crunch time! What are your priorities now?
(Adapted from jeff Selingo’s blog)
Without test scores, those colleges where the ACT/SAT played a role in admissions—and it always played less of a role than many students and parents thought—will lean into other parts of the application where students have more control over their destiny anyway.
The high-school transcript is the most important piece of your application—yes, even more than test scores. While it’s too late to change your senior-year schedule, you can spend your time earning good grades in those classes.
Essays. One place where applicants can stand out this year is in their essay. I found during my year inside admissions most essays are unfortunately mind-numbingly similar. Teenagers often focus on the same things: overcoming an athletic injury, dealing with anxiety, depression, or their sexuality, or discovering themselves on a trip, with a fill-in-the-blank country such as Guatemala or Thailand (more on essays below).
Recommendations. Seniors might be worried that some of their teachers only got to know them during remote learning. That might be true of senior-year teachers, but most students have teachers to ask from previous years when they were in-person. This might also be the year to choose a teacher who may have had you more than one year in school to talk about your growth. Another tip from the book: also ask a teacher outside the subject you want to major in to show your breadth of interests.
Bottom line: Spend less time worrying about the ACT/SAT and more on your class work and completing your applications.
The last six months have changed every aspect of life. While these shifts aren’t forever, they are central to our lives now. Education has had to adapt especially quickly and we understand that student stress levels are at an all-time high.
Recent studies show that for students to succeed in this new environment they need two things: continuity and independent study skills.
What is independent learning?
Independent learning is when an individual is able to think, act, and pursue their own studies autonomously, without the same levels of support you receive from a teacher at school.
In other words, you need to be able to do your own research instead of expecting a teacher to give you all the background material you might need.
To become a good independent learner you need to be:
Resilient, to overcome challenges
An excellent time manager
Why is independent learning important?
Independent learning is not just important to become a good student. The skills you gain are transferrable to most jobs. These include:
Organization and multi-tasking
Strong reading and writing skills
How can I become an independent learner?
Read actively: You will need to be an active reader, paying close attention to the words you are reading and their meaning.
Skim read: Speed read or skim material before reading it in detail and then summarising the text in your notes.
Go solo: Practice working on your own for long periods of time without seeking the help of an adult.
Different sources: When doing research, try to draw from a variety of different sources.
Be persistent: If a task is challenging, don’t give up. Keep at it until you understand what you need to do.
Seek help where necessary: Asking for support and advice is an important part of independent learning. Unlike school, you are unlikely to be spoon-fed all the information you need at work or at university. If you need help, ask for it!
Discussions: If you want to expand an argument but are stuck for ideas, get a debate going with friends or peers. This could help you think about an element you hadn’t considered before.
Set goals: A good way to keep your motivation up is to think about what you want to get out of your work and remind yourself next time you’re flagging.
Effective time management: In work or uni studies, you’re more than likely to have several pieces of work to juggle at any one time. Break each project down into the relevant tasks, work out how long you will need to spend on each part, then allocate time in your diary in order or priority.
For more than 20 years, the Independent Educational Consultants Association has surveyed its member college admission experts to determine what colleges want to see in their applicants, creating a ranking to assist students and their parents in understanding how college applicants are reviewed after submission. Of course, all colleges are different and IECA members can be particularly helpful in understanding those variances.
Among the key 2020 findings:
• While grades are important (#2 in rankings), colleges want to see students challenging themselves, willing to risk perfect GPAs by taking courses that will demonstrate a willingness to take chances, including AP and IB coursework (#1).
• Despite all the talk about “test optional,” scores on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT remain critical (#3)
• Extra-curriculars rose to their highest level ever in the IECA rankings (#4), but colleges look for a long-term, passionate, authentic involvement in one or two activities whether in or out of school. No one is impressed by a long list of tangential clubs. In fact, jumping two spots (to #6) this year: demonstration of leadership within those chosen few activities.
• Essays remain important and are even more important at smaller colleges. But students misunderstand their role. Yes, clear and cogent writing matters, but a great essay is one that tells a story, giving insight into a student’s unique personality. There’s a great saying—no one else should be able to write the essay you submit for admission.
• Coming together are four items that speak to the question: what can YOU do for US? Colleges wonder how the student will contribute to campus life: through unique characteristics or demographics (#7), through special talents (#9), through interest in research (#10), and through demonstrations of a student’s character and values (#11).
• How does a student demonstrate all those? Through the essay, the activities list, and through recommendations, which turned up as #8 on the 2020 rankings.
• Finally, an area students often don’t understand is demonstration of interest and enthusiasm in attending (#12). Are you following the college on Facebook? Did you visit the campus? Seek an interview? Colleges don’t like to extend an offer of admission to a student who will go elsewhere, so when you decide on your first choice, let them know!
Written by Rick Clark from Georgia Tech Admissions
Answer the question! Does this sound as ridiculous to read as it does to write? Well, hopefully, your class will get this right and I can leave it off next year’s blog. But I doubt it. Every year, EVERY YEAR, there are students who submit essays and short answer questions that are completely unrelated to the prompt. When your girlfriend’s mom asks what you want for dinner, do you say, “17?” Then why, for the love of all things holy, do you write off-topic college essays? C’mon, man. This is the most basic of basics.
At many colleges and scholarship programs, this is commonly the first line in the rubric for grading or scoring your writing, “Does the student answer the question?” Don’t start in a hole. Just because you wrote a paper three weeks ago of the same length for your history class and got an A, does not mean you CTRL+C and paste that thing into your Common App.
2. Get to the point. Your first sentence matters. Admission readers start with you. They are naturally curious. They open every application and essay hoping it is good. Your job is to keep them with you.
The first sentence of every paragraph matters. Many readers skim. Don’t you? If you’d been reading 30-50 essays a day for weeks on end, you’d want some punch in the first line too, right? You’d want the first paragraph to have detail and be specific and lead you into the rest of the essay too, right? See, these people aren’t so different from you. Don’t bury the lead or waste a bunch of time and words when you have so few for most of these prompts. Get to the point.
Sometimes we need to look at things from a different perspective to see everything clearly (Do you see the old and young lady here?).
3. Print it out. Let’s be honest. We’ve all sent a text or an email with a misspelled word or two put words in the wrong order (see what I did there?). Sometimes we look at a computer screen for so long that our writing sounds correct in our heads, because we know what we meant to say.
After your first draft, and again before you submit your application, print out your essays and short answer questions. You will see things, catch things, and improve things as a result. Trust me. Print it out.
4. Read it aloud. Once you print your essay out, grab your phone. Go to the voice notes app and hit record. Now read your essay and listen to it once or twice. I’m guessing you don’t even make it through the first 150 words without pausing to revise. That’s a good thing.
Keep reading and listening to it until you are satisfied. This is your best simulation of how an admission reader will hear your voice in your writing. Does this sound a little awkward and uncomfortable? I’m sorry. Try presenting the same 30-minute session five times in three hours and we can talk about awkward and uncomfortable. Didn’t we already establish that awkward and uncomfortable are two key steps on the path toward improvement? Read it aloud.
5. Get it done. In most years, over 2/3 of applications are submitted in the last three days before deadlines (and a few thousand in the last couple of hours). It disturbs my wife greatly when I try to think like a 17-year-old. But when I do I’m confident the reason it’s taking so long to submit the application is not because you’re trying to remember your address or whether or not you have a driver’s license. Nope. It’s the essay. This is not an egg. Sitting on it does not make it better. You know what does? Numbers 1-4!
So after you have done those, turn it in and move on with your life. You cannot control exactly how your essay is received. You cannot be assured it will be the best writing they read all year or “the thing” that gets you in, but you can be assured these five tips will make it better.
Earlier this week, The Common Application sent out an email indicating 166,948 students have created an account to start the process of applying to college this year.
If you are a senior working on your application, you will find the first few sections go pretty fast, and you quickly arrive at the Activities section. On the surface, this is relatively self-explanatory and the directions provided are clear. In other words, completing it should not be hard or confusing.
However, it is always helpful to get some perspective “from the other side.” I believe that’s particularly true during Covid when many colleges will not be using test scores to make admission decisions and some of the activities you usually participate in have been canceled or modified over the last six months.
What method are they using to evaluate?
Just like individual high school grading scales, the rubrics colleges use to evaluate this section are not uniform. So, if you are applying to five or seven schools, your application will likely be evaluated on a variety of scales. Same application, same activities, the same applicant – different systems. While one college may use a scale of 1-5, another could be out of 10 or 100. Alphabetic evaluations, checkmarks, +/-, or perhaps even emojis and .gifs could be used. Some schools fold their evaluation of this section into an overall admission decision recommendation without even assigning points or a score.
Who is reading?
People– not robots or algorithms. I’m always amazed that students believe we’re just feeding their applications into some kind of a machine that calculates the number of words you’ve used or hours you’ve reported in this section. Nope. These are actual living humans with families and dogs. They have been living through this quarantine just like you. They understand that life looks really weird right now. They get that your drama production was canceled and the internship you had lined up fell through.
The way colleges will read your activities is not going to change this year. They always make assumptions and inferences-and those always (and I use that word intentionally) lean toward providing you the benefit of the doubt. I believe that will be particularly true this year because my prediction is colleges, in general, will see applications go down and admit rates go up. Translation: They want and need students who are going to contribute to their campus.
…So What are they looking for?
While the training of staff, the number of committee members, and the flow of an application between admission officers will vary from one college to the next, the fundamental questions they are asking as they review your activity section are the same:
What was this student involved with outside the classroom?
Is there evidence this student made an investment beyond that involvement?
What impact is evident through this student’s investment and involvement?
Is there evidence that this student’s involvement, investment, and impact influenced others?
For most students, it’s officially summer now! Given how this year ended, it may be hard to think about school in the fall. But now is a good time to reflect on this past year and set your goals for the upcoming school year.
Look back at this past year:
Are you happy with your grades?
Did you enjoy your classes?
Did you spend enough (or too much) time in extracurricular activities?
Are there activities or classes you wish you could have taken?
What one change will you make for school next year?
Take Action: Set a task with your goals for next year!