The Elusive College Admission Process (and Some Current Trends)

Posted by Neal Schwartz on November 13, 2017

what do colleges want?

It used to be a lot easier for students to apply to college:  Get an application by mail, fill it out, and mail it back.  Early decision and early action were not significant players in the process. Even the most selective colleges were “less” selective.  Harvard’s acceptance rate in 1985 was 16%.  Stanford accepted 31% of their class in 1974.  Today, Harvard and Stanford both only accept about 5% of their applicants.  But what if your son or daughter are not planning to apply to these top schools?  What are their odds, and how can they increase their chances of admission success?

I spoke to a prospective college-bound client and his family the other day.  They questioned me as to my process but were pretty sure that college admissions really came down to the luck of the draw.   That sounded pretty defeating to me.  Certainly, the odds make one think that it is often just random, but after reading hundreds of essays and reviewing the non-essay application elements, I believe that the acceptance business is more than just dumb luck. 

Let’s work under the premise that most students applying to their schools have already used tools like Naviance to determine whether they are a good fit for a particular school and have the accompanying qualifying metrics (GPA and ACT/SAT Test scores).   The recent New York Times article, “What They Want,” gives an excellent, balanced analysis of what is going on, highlighting some different perspectives on what and who gets colleges’ attention.  Since all colleges are inherently different in their make-up & philosophies, when combined with the multitude of student differences, the permutations and combinations of admission scenarios are endless.   At the end of the day, students and their parents only care about their list of schools and how to get accepted.  

So, why do some students get accepted, while others don't?

  • Some colleges literally need to fill specific “seats” during an admission cycle.
    1. Maybe they need English or Philosophy majors
    2. Maybe certain extracurricular spots need to be filled (piccolo anyone?)
  • Overall Application must be strong and balanced
    1. Supplemental essays must be as strong as the main essay
    2. Extracurriculars are based on passions not resume building
  • Best use of Early Decision and Early Action for each student
  • Demonstrated Interest
    1. Not all schools view this the same way
    2. If the college visits your high school, did your son/daughter attend?
    3. Did the student visit the school and follow up?
    4. Do you know your college’s local representative?
  • Other factors
    1. Videos
    2. Live Audition
    3. Portfolio
    4. Resume


trend towards non-written distinctions-think "zeemee"

Some schools are looking for a little more, suggesting that students send in videos.  With today’s iphone technology and other resources, it is not that difficult for students to show their distinctiveness and creativity.  Sure, many students may test well, do their schoolwork, and succeed in their extracurriculars, but how many are confident enough in their abilities to express all that in a genuine, powerful expression that a college can watch?

To stand out, students need to find ways to differentiate themselves from their peers. This is particularly hard, especially when cottage industries have sprung up to literally hand students their community involvement experiences.  Using video tools like Zeemee can help students stand out by capturing a  collage that really depicts them as an individual, showing their energy and drive.  If their presentation is compelling (and maybe even fun) and they are comfortable with whom they are, then this will leave a lasting impression on the admissions representative and can help seal the deal.

For some, the college process will continue to appear brutal, hopeless, and unfair.  But there is a way to see the process as hopeful and reasonable, even with the number of students who are applying.  The answer lies in students not just showing how much they can do but how comfortable they are in communicating their true selves.

If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, zeemee, admission trends

What Successful Students do: Work Hard, Play Hard, Discover Hard

Posted by Neal Schwartz on June 27, 2017

Work Hard, Play Hard, Discover Hard; A framework for student (and Life) Success

#1 Question asked of recent college graduates:

Do you have a job?  That's the question a young adult, fresh out of school, will most frequently be asked.  

Years ago, the question might have been different, focusing more on where will they be working rather than if they will be working? 

Surprisingly, this question is the same one asked to students/families regardless of what college they attended.

$300,000 for college; More pressure to be "Perfect"


The reason there is so much pressure on students for their future has a lot to do with the fiscal investment.  In a recent article $300,000 For College?  Where’s That in the Bible?,  describes the difficult choice that many families are making:  choosing between retirement savings and their children's education.  It points out that with the high cost of college  it is nearly impossible for a high school student to save for all their college costs as was done decades ago.

With parents trying to get the best return for their investment, the emphasis is on striving for perfection in every aspect of their college prep.  Parents and students really want the same thing.   But, it's hard to be perfect, all the time.

So, student’s put pressure on themselves  and parents reinforce the need to succeed, adding even more pressure.   It reminds me of the old pressure cooker that my mom had, with a small valve to let some of the steam release out.   But, what if there is no release valve?

Everyone makes mistakes, but sometimes students believe that they are the only ones who fail.  That leads to pressure-packed schools with high stakes, both monetary and emotional.  Fortunately, many schools have instituted programs to deal with stress reduction.   “Learning to Fail” addresses the growing trend of coping programs that deal with student stress, depression and anxiety.






One historic adage: Work Hard; Play Hard

 What can students do to succeed but do it in a healthy manner?  It comes down to the old adage, Work Hard and Play Hard.   As a parent in an affluent community, I would venture to say that most understand the work hard portion of this balanced ideal.  Often, though, the Play hard aspect of the statement gets lost.  Playing hard in high school means participating in extracurriculars like theatre, athletics, music, robotics, etc. The key to playing hard well means doing something because they love it,  not because they think it will “look good” to  colleges.  A recent study , “Legacy, Leisure and the ‘Work Hard – Play Hard’ Hypothesis” , showed the benefit of working and playing hard.

learning that it is actually "OK" to Fail

But how about taking the adage a step further.  Why not: Work Hard, Play Hard and Discover Hard.   Colleges seek out the curious--those who will blaze new paths, make a difference and discover new things. 

Discovery is important.  By seeking new outlets, students can learn a lot about their passions.  Often, they will try new things and fail.  But that's OK, too.  Failure is a great way for students to learn resilience.  To know what you love and excel at, you have to also know your weaknesses. 

Work Hard, Play Hard, and Discover Hard is a good ethic to teach and nurture in our children and one that will resonate with colleges.  


If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, college prep, college advice, learning to fail

Benefits of Summer College Visits

Posted by Neal Schwartz on June 22, 2017

YOu have heard the negatives of summer college visits, what are the positives?


I gained a new perspective on college visits from a recent  article by Nancy Griesemer of Admission Intel .  For many years, I had only preached the negatives of summer college visits,  that families should  avoid college visits during the summer due to the lack of students and activities on campus.  But, I  now see the other side; the positives of seeing a school during the summer:  

  •                 More quality time with admissions representatives and professors
  •                 Less crowded tours
  •                 Greater chance that both parents will be available to make the trip
  •                 Ability to assess the school's location and the off-campus environment
  •                 Less stressful and less distractions
  •                 No high school academic schedule to deal with, less overlap with athletic and extracurricular schedules


With school out and the beach beckoning, you might be wondering how to interest your Rising Junior or Senior in anything but a towel and a bathing suit.  As a parent with three college graduates,  I can tell you that it doesn’t take long to wish they were back in school.   Whether it is vacations, summer jobs, sports teams or hanging out at the pool, we are all on different schedules during the summer.  But, there should still be time to plan some college work.  Nancy Griesemer outlines a long list of productive things that a rising Junior or Senior can do over the summer.  



If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, life on campus, college tours, campus visits, visiting colleges

What you need to know about Demonstrated Interest

Posted by Neal Schwartz on June 06, 2017



  • Demonstrated interest means different things to different colleges, but it generally shows how interested a student is in attending a particular college and guages how likely they are to enroll there.. After the transcript, SAT/ACT scores, student resume, and college application essays, the next most important student attribute is how well they have demonstrated their interest in a school. 



  • Colleges are driven by metrics.  The more students they reject, the lower their admit rate and the more “selective” they are deemed to be.   Selectivity is what it is all about in the college “game.”  Our American notion of the (selective) private club was emphasized in a Groucho Marx joke:  “I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” American society gravitates to belonging, joining, being a member.  So it goes to follow that people believe if it is not easy to get into a college and a student gets in, he or she has hit the jackpot.

    If you’ve done any reading on the college process you will certainly understand the widely published and acknowledged “Acceptance Rates.”   The general belief is that if  XYZ college only admits 6% of all applicants, shouldn’t we want our kids to be part of that exclusive club? Of course, that notion is one of ongoing debate.

    Another metric that gets less notice is the yield rate.   That is, after accepting students, what percentage of them actually enroll?   The demonstrated interest conversation is all about the yield rate.  Sure ABC college might accept only 15% of their applicants, but if only 1 out of 6 accepted students enroll, that is far different than if 1 out of 3 students enroll.  Yield rates are one of the key figures that determine college rankings.

    Frankly, the top 15 or so schools in this country don’t worry too much about their acceptance rates, yield rates or demonstrated interest; they have plenty of applicants and a high acceptance rate.  It’s the layers below those top tier schools that are keenly aware and anxious about filling their college spots.*  The smaller the college, the greater the impact, and there are many prestigious schools in this category.   Those schools concerned about demonstrated interest have two elements to consider:  1) Will enough of their targeted students enroll  and 2) if that number is below their plan, are these full-pay students?    Consider this math.  If a school misses its estimates by just 50 full-pay students at a cost of $60,000 per year.  That is a $3 Million dollar miss. So, in addition to metrics and rankings, there can be a real impact to the bottom line

  • What these colleges want to know is that if they accept a student, will they actually enroll?   This is very hard to measure, especially for those top students they are targeting.  Top students are likely to be attractive to other schools as well.  So, if a college doesn’t see an indication that a student may actually enroll, then they will likely be rejected.  Rejection is bad for the student, but if managed properly by the college, is viewed as a good thing in their rankings.  


short list of schools that care about demonstrated interest based on their own published data: 

  • Syracuse University
  • Hamilton College 
  • Providence College
  • Skidmore College 


What you can do to show Demonstrated interest:

  • Make sure every opportunity to “touch” the school is recorded
    • College fairs, campus visits, campus reps visiting your high school,
  • Take the Supplemental Essays seriously and research those things that are not just from the college’s main page
  • Apply Early Decision or Early Action if possible
  • Establish contacts from the college – professors, sports, admission reps
  • OPEN any communication the college sends you and click on it
  • Campus visit fall of Senior year
  • Second visit to a campus
  • Contacting Admission Rep
  • Meeting with Faculty
  • Be sure to visit if the school is within 3-4 hours away by car.
  • Follow the school on social media; share or re-tweet something of interest
  • Interview when possible
  • Submit your application early, prior to the deadline
  • Write thank you notes
  • Check to see regional reps' schedule and try to meet even if they don’t visit your high school.  "now" the school before you meet to discuss it.



Even if a college does not consider demonstrated interest important, it may be influenced by a supplemental essay on why a student wants to attend.  A well thought out and detailed essay can show that the applicant understands what makes the school unique and a good fit.  As I did research for this post, I was surprised to find how “random” the demonstrated interest element was for each school.  Like most pieces of the college application process, it reinforces that there are general guidelines and that research for individual schools is necessary.



*To see if your college rates demonstrated interest as either considered, important or very important, check out their common data set by googling College Name Common Data set and look at:  C) FIRST-TIME, FIRST-YEAR (FRESHMAN) ADMISSION area. Schools that may be ranked similarly in a Fiske Guide may have completely different views of the importance of demonstrated interest.

If you have an early high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, life on campus, applications, college tours, campus visits, visiting colleges, college yield rates, supplemental essays, demonstrated interest, college acceptance rates

College Visit Basics Plus 3 Bonus Tips

Posted by Neal Schwartz on April 07, 2017
Although this advice could be used all year long, many high school juniors will be visiting college campuses during Spring break. Keep these ideas in mind:

The Basics; Tried and true  advice:

  • Officially record your visit by logging in at the admissions office.  This is usually associated with the official information session.   A visit without a record will NOT be recognized.
  • Take Pictures to document the college tour.
  • Take notes immediately after each visit as a family. If you are visiting similar schools, their pitches may be difficult to differentiate, and they will blend together after you leave.  By sharing notes, the different things your family may have heard or seen will have be more meaningful.
  • Make sure you have enough quality time at each school to make an educated decision. Most schools have both a one hour information session and a one hour  tour. Find out when the last sessions or tours are; if you get to the college in the afternoon, you may only have time for one. Plan your trip well in advance. 
  • Try not to visit while students are taking final exams.
  • Pick up a student newspaper. It might highlight issues on campus that are not mentioned in the info session or admissions office.


Bonus Tips:


Tip #1 – Get off the tour and talk to some real students   

          A tour guide can make or break your student’s feelings about the school. A less than enthusiastic guide or one to whom your student does not relate, can totally turn them off. If you can talk to students off the guided tour, you will get a genuine perspective of the school that hasn’t been “coached” by the admissions office. Where do you find these off-the-tour students? Plan to eat in the dining hall and visit the student center.   Have your student contact academic departments in advance and, if possible, sit-in on a class. They might even be able to talk to a professor. If your student can stay overnight with a student, that experience can be invaluable. 

Tip #2 – Find a time to visit other than school breaks           

          As attractive as vacation time may be for school visits, you will likely be herded around campus in larger groups than normal, which will impact your lens into that school. Better would be a regular school week, if you can get some time off. If your trip was booked well in advance and you are already on your way, take a look at Tip#1!

Tip #3 - Find out who your  Admissions rep is

          Be sure to get the email of the admissions person in charge of applications and visits for your region. This is who will be reading your application first.  They may even know their upcoming schedule for visiting your student’s high school.  Most people don't take advantage of this tip. If your student can get to know the regional rep, who can then relate their essay to a face and a visit, that could very well mean the extra nudge for admission. 

If you have an early high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, life on campus, applications, college tours, campus visits, visiting colleges, campus visit tips