Student Activism

Student Activism

It was hard to imagine 2020 being any worse, and then the country erupted over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.  Communities have watched in horror as protests have boiled over into riots and confrontations with heavily armed police and national guard troops.  In a summer that already felt uncertain, the civil unrest adds a layer of foreboding that may seem almost impossible to bear.  But you can counter that feeling of helplessness with action.       

Student activism has long been the catalyst for political and societal change.  Many movements that have been dramatically advanced by student action.  No matter your political, social, or personal beliefs, college is usually a place where you can find like-minded friends.  It can also be a place where your beliefs are challenged. 

You can advance anti-racism or another cause safely with some of the following strategies.    

  1. Educate yourself!  Being informed is the first and perhaps most important step to advocacy.   
  2. Vote!  Suffice it to say, the November election may be one of the most pivotal in the country’s history.  This may be your first chance to vote.  Be informed on the candidates (all of them – local and national) and don’t sacrifice your fundamental role in this democracy.   
  3. Make your voice heard!  Even if you are not old enough to vote, you can still influence others.  Campaign for candidates you believe in, advocate for causes that inspire you, share your voice in the classroom, with your friends and family, and on social media.  Keep these conversations respectful by being informed (see point 1).  Use your skills and talents – be that writing, art, photography, performing, or programming – to tell your story.   
  4. Take action!  Action is often amplified when people come together.  Join a group or club of like-minded students, attend a peaceful protest or demonstration, organize an event for your school or community, create a fundraiser for your cause.  Taking action not only furthers your ideals but also builds an individual sense of certainty or control.   

Although it is a heavy burden, it’s your generation that is capable of creating societal change.  Consider the America you want to live in and the role you want to have in building that community.  Upending an entrenched system may seem monumental, but history shows that change does happen.  As Ghandi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”  And for now – be safe and take care of yourself and your community.   

Supplemental Essays Are A Big Deal

Supplemental Essays Are A Big Deal

Supplemental Essays Are A Big Deal

by Rick Clark

There is no secret that will guarantee admission in a holistic review process. But there are ways to make your application stronger, so keep reading! You can still make good decisions, dare I say better decisions, as you craft your answers to your short essays, which will be beneficial both to you and to the admission committee.

So that we are all on the same page, I am not talking about the personal statement or main essay many colleges require. I am speaking to the additional short answer or supplemental essay questions that often ask you to talk about why you are applying to the specific college or to give your thoughts on a prompt (one that is separate from the main, long essay). Not all colleges or universities have supplemental questions, but if they do, you should take them seriously.

Supplemental essay questions can seem like the red-headed stepchild of the college application. Seminars, camps, coaches, teachers, counselors, and peers spend A LOT of time talking about the activities section and main essay prompts on the college application. Very little time is spent speaking about a short answer or supplemental essay response. This small but mighty paragraph plays a stronger role than you might expect in the holistic admission process. I want to give it the respect and time it deserves—as should you!

See it for what it is—an opportunity to keep talking!

If I asked a group of students to raise their hand if they wanted to have a cup of coffee with me and just talk, all the hands in the room would shoot up. If I ask the same group if they want to write another essay, most hands would go down. I might even hear crickets. I get it. Seniors are busy and tired. They are certainly tired of writing college essays. But a supplemental essay is another way to talk to the admission committee. Instead of rolling your eyes that, yes, you need to write something else, think about it like this:

  • What have I not had a chance to say?
  • If I don’t write this, what won’t they know about me?
  • Wow, thank goodness I have a few more lines to talk!

Does it really matter what type of fruit I am?

You may get a really out-there supplemental question, and yes, you should still answer it well. I have seen all sorts of “creative” questions ranging from ‘How are you like a chocolate chip cookie?’ to ‘What three items would you want on a deserted island?’ and, the notorious, ‘If you were a fruit, what would you be and why?’

If you are tempted to not spend time on the answer or to get a little snarky in your response, don’t. Remember, this is an opportunity! Someone on the admission committee will read your response, so enjoy creating the answer. The purpose of this question is to understand how you think and give the committee a glimpse into your personality. Whether you think you are blueberry, you would die without sunscreen, water bottle and your cat, or–like a cookie in the oven–you turn out well under pressure, the answer itself does not really matter. At the end of the paragraph, they will know you better, and you don’t want to miss that opportunity.

Sorry to break this to you—you can’t cram for the “Why Our College?” question.

Many of these short answer questions will ask why you want to attend their college. It is understandable. A college doesn’t want to give up a seat in their class without discerning if a student actually wants to be there, or if they are just trying to collect acceptances. Scanning the college website to glean some key words or phrases to include in your answer is not enough. Any admission counselor worth their salt knows immediately if you are just regurgitating the first paragraph from the “about” section of the website.

To answer this question well, you need to research, and real research starts with curiosity.

  • What intrigues you about this college?
  • What made you search and click and dive deeper?
  • What about this college piqued your interest to begin with and what have you learned that kept this college on your list?
  • What research specialty, unique program or offering makes you want to know more?

Those thoughtful reflections are the “secret” to answering a question focused on the college itself.

Low Hanging Fruit

CHECK THE NAME! If you use the name of the college, university or institute in the supplemental essay, get the name right. Will “college” vs. “university” seal your decision fate? No. Will it reflect the time and care you put into your application? Yes! I have seen brilliant, perfect-test-scoring, straight-A students not spell or even come close to typing the correct name on a short answer question.

This gives me pause. Again, it doesn’t sink an application because most admission officers are not cruel people. We realize many seniors are worn thin and have many priorities on their plates. But it does plant the seed of doubt—are they genuinely interested? Since many times, supplemental essays are the last piece of an application reviewed, is that the impression you want to leave with the committee? Probably not. That being said, proof this writing piece as thoroughly as your main essay!

Parting Thoughts

I tell every student who will listen, “Write your supplemental essay. Go to bed. Read it again the next day.” Students spend an inordinate amount of time stressing, dissecting and proofing their activities and main essays. Then at the end of the process, when they are exhausted, they throw something down for the supplementals and hit submit. Give that puppy a once over in the light of day to see if it well written.
This advice really aligns with my over-arching guidance for all high schoolers—take a beat! Yes, there is work you must do, but when you can, as frequently as you can, schedule a breather. I believe student work, and especially college application work, is better if you have a chance to review it with a clear head. So, if completing your college application just involved a Google search for “all the different kinds of fruit”, smile, take a deep breath and enjoy the process.

I Wish I Knew…

I Wish I Knew…

I Wish I Knew…

by Rick Clark

Back when I was in high school I remember having lots of questions and no one to answer them but Jeeves. Some of you may be too young to remember Jeeves, but he served as a guru to countless lost souls. Jeeves was my most trusted source. I spent many hours online typing away what felt like one of Homer’s epic poems.

As I grew older, my questions went from trivial to life-changing. I specifically remember how wearisome the college application process was for me. I’d ask questions like:

  • “What is a FAFSA and why are there so many letters in this acronym?”
  • “What makes the Common App common?”
  • “What is a major and how do I choose one out of the hundred these schools offer?”

While I’m glad I had Jeeves, there is so much that I wish I knew back then. Many of you are probably in that place right now. One of the best ways to find answers is to ask those who have gone through the process before you. If you have questions about navigating the admission process, current college students are a great resource!

In my current role as a Senior Admission Counselor, I manage our student staff who are in charge of handling the daily emails, phone calls, and walk-ins for our office. Each day looks pretty different depending on deadlines, holidays, and all that jazz. However, one thing that remains the same is the fact that we answer questions from students and families every day.

I asked my students what they wish they knew when they were going through the admission process during high school, and I’m here to share their answers with you.

What Current College Students Wish You Knew

Rishav, 2nd-year

I wish I understood the phrase “everything happens for a reason” back in high school. I applied to 11 colleges my senior year in high school and got denied from 10 of them, including my dream school. While all my friends celebrated their acceptances and excitedly thought about their futures, I found myself pondering where I had gone wrong in the process and why, with the same GPA and extracurriculars, I was less qualified for those colleges.

What I didn’t realize is that maybe it was in my best interest that I didn’t get accepted; the colleges that denied me may not have been the right fit for me. Not attending my dream school my freshman year allowed me to solidify my GPA and double the amount of credits I had, so when I transferred I was further ahead than most of my peers. So as you struggle through the college process grind, just know that no matter what decisions you receive, you are still destined for great things.

Asher, 3rd year

In high school, I wish someone had told me it is okay to not have everything planned out. My college experience has definitely forced me to bend and be flexible; whether that be in terms of courses taken in a particular semester or the grades I received. At first I was completely taken aback but I’ve come to see the importance of truly trusting the process. The minor setbacks I’ve encountered have allowed me to slow down and either regain focus or discover a new passion. Sometimes when you have everything planned down to the minute, you forget to schedule time for yourself and the things that you love.

Melissa, 5th-year

Applying to college was a nightmare. Looking back on my college application experience, I spent a multitude of hours stressing about every last word on my application when it really wasn’t needed. These are some helpful hints that I wish I knew about applying to college when I was in high school. First and foremost, the admission counselor is looking to see if you will be a good fit for the school. GPAs and standardized test scores are not the only important factor for college admission. Take the time to describe your activities and how you were a leader and an influencer within that activity. Really put your personality into the essay. Most counselors have read every single essay topic already, so it doesn’t matter what you write about. What matters is how you portray yourself. These are the things that will set you apart from another applicant who has very similar grades and test scores.

Secondly, keep in mind how the school will be a good fit for you. Ask yourself if the program will help you achieve your goals? Do you like the location of the school? Do you want to go to a private or public school? Applying to a school just for the sake of it is just adding more work for yourself. Find the qualities of your ideal college and figure out which schools reflect those qualities. Remember these two things, and hopefully your application process will be a little less stressful than mine was. Good luck!

Asher, 4th-year

If I could tell my high school self what I know now, I would say remain calm, everything will work out, and trust the process. I applied to ten colleges, and I ended up attending the college that I applied to and was admitted to first. Going through the process of applying to 10 or more schools might seem worth it, however, I would caution you from applying to a school just for the sake of it – especially if you have little to no intention of going there (I am guilty of this)! The best way to stand out when applying to a college is to best describe who you are – not what you think an admission officer wants to hear. Staying true to yourself and writing accurately about your life experiences will allow admission officers to see if the school you apply to is your best fit. It is okay if you get denied admission—I was too! The admission process is there for schools to find the candidates who will succeed, further a school’s mission, and add to the community they have. Being genuine in your application will give you the best chance at finding the right place for you, even if it is not your first choice. Good luck!

Closing Thoughts

Everyone has their “I wish I knew…” moments. We all struggle to ask what we don’t know, then later discover what we didn’t realize all along! Just remember the right answers will come to you at the right time. In the meantime, there are people who are here to help you navigate the process. So, sit back, take a deep breath, and (try to) enjoy the process.

Breaking News: Dates and Format for This Year’s AP Exams.

Breaking News: Dates and Format for This Year’s AP Exams.

Thank you Arbor Bridge for the timely information!

Test dates

  • Each exam will be given twice: once in May (5/11–5/22) and then again in June (6/1–6/5). For the exact dates/times of each test,
  • Each exam will be given at the same time worldwide. This means that depending on a student’s time zone the test may be at an odd time (early morning, late evening, or middle of the night).
  • Students will pick ONE date to take their test. The decision will be entirely up to the student.

Test format

  • As a reminder, the exams will be only 45 minutes long.
  • The tests will be open-book. Students can refer to their notes during the test but CANNOT collaborate with anyone else.
  • The tests will be Free Response only (no multiple-choice questions). For example, history exams will be DBQs, English exams will be a textual analysis essay, and math exams will be multi-focus free-response questions.

Online testing

  • Keep in mind that students will take their AP exams this year online at home.
  • The College Board did NOT release any new information today on how online testing will work. They merely repeated that students will be able to use tablets, phones, laptops, and desktop computers. Students can also write out their answers on paper and submit photos of their work electronically. More details will be available in late April.

We will continue to update you as the College Board announces more. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

Bettina Weil

Founder, Weil College

Seniors: Financial Aid in the time of COVID-19

Seniors: Financial Aid in the time of COVID-19

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some schools to push back their enrollment deadlines, some colleges are still asking students to deposit by May 1.  Financial aid awards likely play a big part in your final decision.  But interpreting those awards might seem a bit like reading a foreign language.  Below are six common terms that you will see on a financial aid award and some ideas on how to assess your offers.   

In addition, it’s possible that your family’s financial circumstances have changed since you applied.  Whether that is related to the current coronavirus pandemic or other reasons, colleges have a process for reconsidering your financial aid award. This process is often called Professional Judgement.  We’ve included information at the end of this post on how to appeal your financial aid award.   

  • Cost of Attendance – The Cost of Attendance is more than just tuition; it is an estimate of the total expense for one year of attendance.  It should include – 1) Tuition & Fees; 2) Room & Board; 3) Books & Supplies; 4) Personal Expenses, 5) Transportation (getting to and from the campus).  If the financial aid award does not include these items, search the website for the information or call the college.
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – The amount your family is expected to pay toward college (your EFC) is calculated by the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid).  You can find your EFC on the confirmation page you received when you submitted your FAFSA form.  This number should be listed on all your awards.  If it’s not there, ask the college why. Cost of Attendance – Expected Family Contribution = Need
  • Student Financial Need – Use the financial aid equation above to determine your “financial need” for each school.  Then check the college’s award letter.  If the school’s total financial aid award is less than your financial need, you have a “financial aid gap.”  You must pay this gap (in addition to paying your EFC amount) with other sources of funding not provided by the school.  Scholarships from community groups or other sources, personal savings, or private loans are examples of how students pay their EFC plus any financial gap.
  • Grants and Scholarships – Grants and scholarships are awards that do not need to be repaid.  Are these grants or scholarships renewable (will you received them for just freshman year or every year)?  What are the eligibility requirements that you must meet to receive the scholarship for additional years (a minimum GPA, a certain number of course credits, etc.)
  • Loans – Has the college included student or parent loans in your award?  This money must be repaid by you or your parents.  A financial aid offer with only loans may not be the best choice for you.
  • Work-study – A work-study award is potential income that you may earn by working part-time in a work-study position.  Most work-study jobs are on-campus which can make them convenient, but a work-study award does not guarantee you a work-study job.  You must apply for work-study positions like any other part-time job.  And just like other part-time jobs, you will receive a paycheck for your work-study earnings.  It is not automatically applied to your cost of attendance.  Contact the university financial aid office to learn about the availability and application process for work-study positions.     

Are you being offered a mix of grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study?  The more money you don’t have to pay back or earn by working, (ideally – more scholarships and grants, fewer loans and work-study) the better.     

Appealing for Additional Financial Aid 

Especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many families find themselves facing a very different financial reality than a few months ago.  If a parent has lost their job, has become ill which has caused them to stop work, has lost wages due to quarantine or “stay at home” order, or even lost a substantial amount of savings/assets due to stock market changes, you may have good cause to appeal your financial aid award. Contact the admissions or financial aid office at the college directly.  

Tips on Appealing an Award, by Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author and higher ed/financial journalist

1. Contact individual schools regarding what their procedure is for appealing an award. Some might prefer that you complete an online form while others might want a letter.

2. The more specific you can be regarding your circumstance, the better. For instance, explain how much you lost in your college accounts. And mention, if relevant, that the money needs to stretch for more than one child.

3. Let schools know if a parent has lost a job or has had hours cut. Ideally, you will have a letter from the employer stating the salary cut back.

4. Also mention other extenuating circumstances. For instance,  because of the coronavirus crisis, you may now be supporting other relatives.

5. What you shouldn’t do is include in the letter how special your child is and how the college would be lucky to have her/him. Also don’t use the term negotiate. Financial aid staffers hate that.

For more detailed instructions on how to appeal a financial aid offer, contact us at

Bettina Weil

Founder, Weil College Advising, LLC


School From Home

School From Home

Online classes or some modified version of schooling at home is the new reality for a large majority of students in the country.  The coronavirus pandemic has created huge education adjustment for everyone involved – students, parents, and teachers.  Many are now worried – especially juniors – about how this new version of school will impact your college admission prospects next year.   

Before you get ahead of yourself, start by thinking of how can you stay focused and productive today.  It’s important to maintain your junior year grades and to finish the year with strong learning gains.  Use these school-from-home tips to make the most of your time.     

  1. Maintain your morning routine – GET UP!  Sure, it’s tempting to sleep until noon but you’ll be far better off if you stick with a schedule similar to what you had in school.  Get up at the same time, get showered and dressed as you normally would, grab your breakfast and get started.   
  2. Create a work space – Very little productivity comes from sitting on the couch or lying in bed.  You need to find a work space to call your own – especially if your parents and siblings are home too.  Maybe it’s in your room, or at the dining table, or even in a closet.  Find a space where you can sit upright in a comfortable chair, preferably the same space each day, and as free from distractions as possible.    
  3. Schedule breaks – Well, maybe it’s not recess but schedule breaks in your day to have a snack, go for a lap around your house, or just zone out.  Just like time between classes, it’s important to take scheduled breaks throughout the day.  Decide what works for you – work 45 minutes, take a 15 min break; or work for 1 hour, take a 30 min break.  Also set a time for lunch.     
  4. Have a stopping time – Stop your school work at the same time each day, just like you were in school.   
  5. Take care of yourself – These are ever changing and stressful circumstances which can take a toll on anyone.  Practice small strategies for physical and mental health each day that will help you ward off cabin fever.  Get outside for a walk or other exercise (everyday if possible), stay connected with friends online, and plan to do something you enjoy each day.  Play a video game, cook a favorite food, or watch a new show.  It’s nice to have something to look forward to after a day of work.    

Take Action 

You obviously didn’t choose this situation and it is understandably will take some getting used to.  The goal here isn’t perfection, and some days will be easier than others.  But maintaining a routine, staying in touch with teachers and classmates, and completing some school work each day will help you fight boredom and stay on track for when school resumes.

Bettina Weil

Weil College Advising, LLC