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Avoid these 9 college process mistakes

Posted by Neal Schwartz on November 01, 2018

 

Avoid these College Process Mistakes:

 

  1. Over emphasis on the “Main” Essay, leaving the rest of the application unbalanced
  2. Generalizing about all schools, judging from your knowledge of one school
  3. Exploring colleges too early or too late or just "rambling" across the country
  4. “Wasting” your ED choice
  5. Waiting until the last minute to finish before deadlines
  6. Expecting too much from college fairs
  7. Ignoring college visits at local high schools
  8. Visiting a college on one of their open house days
  9. Not realizing that student’s choices may pivot

1) OVER EMPHASIS ON THE “MAIN” ESSAY, LEAVING THE REST OF THE APPLICATION UNBALANCED

Sure, the main essay is probably the most visible way for a student to stand out. Does it flow?  Make sense? Have a point to it? Is it genuine?  Is it too perfect? Does it look like an adult wrote it, with “adult words and views?” After you feel comfortable with your answers to these questions, ask yourself a few more:  Did the same amount of care and quality go into the supplements?  Is there a sensible hierarchy to the activity list; i.e., does the 1 hour per week club in 9th grade start the list? 

The application should be balanced, with all elements and sections showing the same level of quality and attention to detail.


 2) Generalizing about all schools, judging from your knowledge of one school

This is my pet peeve.  The answers to a lot of critical college admission questions for your sons and daughters cannot be generalized. Stop taking advice from parents who went through the process with one kid, at a different time period, and with a different set of schools.  The best answer is that “It depends on the kid.”

There are also two key perspectives with this topic:

  1. Yes, the college site and admission office are the ONLY sources of accurate information. It is not uncommon today to have the schools change what they want at the last minute and not totally synchronize instantaneously with what is shown on common app, coalition app or Naviance.   Things change dynamically through the process.
  2. Colleges are marketing their schools; sometimes what they say on websites and in information sessions maybe more about selling the school than what they can actually deliver.

At the end of the day, seeking college information is akin to shopping for the best computer.  They all may look similar, but they have a wide range of capabilities and features, and what they offer isn’t always what you may expect.


3) exploring colleges too early or too late, or just "rambling" across the country


Visiting schools prior to Junior year should (in my opinion) be done for what I call “Category Schools.” Small, Medium Large; City, Country, Suburban; Technical, Liberal Arts; etc. You can start to narrow down choices by getting a general idea of what type of school you’d prefer.

Rambling visits.  It is not uncommon to find parents who decide to visit a bunch of schools without a thoughtful plan.  Some parents are so excited about this journey with their children that they often turn these trips into a series of short vacations.  But by not following a plan, these trips can get old before their time, and many can be costly. So, the advice here is to definitely visit, but put some real thought into the scheduling.

Late visits often result from busy school and life activities. The irony here is that the point of all the extracurriculars is to impress the colleges, but if there isn’t time to visit schools, calmly, then that may impact the college process and admission results.


4) "Wasting" your ED choice 

 

ED was intended for those students who are completely sure about their college choice and want to lock it in.  Unfortunately, ED has transitioned for many into the vehicle to win the lottery and shoot for the moon to gain acceptance into the most difficult schools.  I highlighted in an earlier blog the dangers and downsides of overshooting the target by over-reaching.  ED should be used for the selection of a reasonable school choice and not as a wildcard.

 

 


5) waiting until the last minute to finish before deadlines

Working with my own kids, I have experienced that 1:30am crunch on the day of the deadline.  There may be a surprise or last minute change in thinking late in the college process.  The problem is that the late night/early morning brain does not function well.  That is not the time to try to answer that difficult supplement essay question.  It may be the time to re-think whether you have to apply “early” rather than submitting something that is sub-par.

 


6) expecting too much from college fairs 

College fairs are held to help brand the college.  Sure, there may be a little time for a brief conversation, but the physical environment and stand-up conversation around the table of literature lends itself to brevity. Usually, college fairs are in the evening for a few hours.  Just getting around to the schools that you are interested in becomes an adventure.  Waiting your turn behind a chatty family just takes time away  from finding out about another college. When it is your turn, introduce yourself, get a name (it could end up being the admission counselor for your area) and after getting your literature and asking your brief questions, give the courtesy of a quick exit to the next family.


7) ignoring college visits at local high schools

 

This is one to really think about; it’s easy.  In conjunction with a college fair or a tour of their “territory,” a college admissions rep will visit high schools.  They could be the one responsible for your county or state.  Don’t underestimate how important it is to meet this rep and introduce yourself. They will take note of who attends those sessions.  The decision-maker doesn’t necessarily just reside in the admissions office on campus. If a student really cares about a particular college, they should show up, especially since all they have to do is walk down the hall. Yet, when I ask our brightest students about whether they went to their in-school college session, I often get a, “Oh no, I guess I should have gone.”   Sometimes you have to “touch all of the bases” to get that homerun.

 


8) visiting a college on one of their open house days

 

Wedged into the few official days off from school, family schedules, winter, spring and summer vacations, students must find the time to visit.  Although I am a big fan of open house days to see more than just an information session, expect to be underwhelmed by some of the basics—especially the tours—during the open house days.  There are just too many people, and the attention you get will be lacking.  See that same school on a less busy day, and you will likely have a totally different experience


 

9) not realizing that student's choices may pivot

 There is so much student development happening during the college process.  Schools that were definitely on the top of the list may fade, while earlier suggestions by parents and counselors that were completely dismissed may become favorites.  Expect as a parent that you will be surprised, shocked, disappointed and thrilled all the way through the journey. For some students, suggestions will only be considered from anyone but their parents. What do their parents know about college anyway?  So, as you scratch your head in total wonder, just buckle up and enjoy the ride.  I thoroughly enjoyed the ride with my kids and was sad when the “bonding” through college tours ended. Finding the right fit is important for sure, but the journey and together time as they grow, change and mature can be some of your best memories.


Summary:

Whether it is your first time or the 3rd time through the college process, avoiding some key mistakes can help increase the chances that you stay sane and that your son/daughter get their best college fit. 



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

 

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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, college advice, College Essays, College Applications, college visits, early decision, college fairs, college open house, college process

How to excel in a holistic college admissions process

Posted by Neal Schwartz on July 26, 2018

 

How to differentiate two students when they look so much alike

HOlistic college admissions and its relationship to "personality"

 You have heard the story about the valedictorian that didn’t get into some,  or even all, of their schools.  If "the best of the best" can’t make it, what about your daughter (or son) who is not the valedictorian?  “What do they want from these kids?, I wouldn’t get into my school if I applied today! This whole college admissions process stinks!” These are just a few rants that you might offer to whoever is within earshot. 

With top schools rejecting 80-95% of qualified applicants (as determined by GPA and SAT/ACT scores), there is certainly enough credible basis to be uncomfortable with the process.   The irony is that there are more than enough colleges in the U.S. that will fit well for your son and daughter, but the upwardly mobile effort to get into the “best” schools is driving the continuance of disappointment for today’s applicants.

 

What is meant by Holistic Admissions?

Simply stated, holistic admissions is the usage of more than just metrics to determine admissions.  GPA and test scores alone do not take into account other subjective factors like:  diversity (geographic, racial, economic, sexual), application essays, recommendations, high school curriculum, legacy, extra-curriculars, college needs (maybe they want to boost computer science this year), etc.

The downside of a holistic review: It can promote bias, secretiveness, and distrust.  It is easy to hide the real reason for rejections behind the word “holistic”.   What is often heard is that, “we have so many qualified candidates, and we would like to accept them all.  The parent is left wondering, why not my kid?  If it was just the metrics alone, rejections would be easier to understand.   It becomes complicated when top schools receive applications with perfect GPA’s and near perfect test scores. This raises questions about fairness.  When you take the metrics out of the equation, there is less of an argument since no one really knows how a particular college makes their acceptance decisions.

The upside of a holistic review:  A student who may not come from the top 1% or a major metropolitan area or the best high school can be judged on their individual and distinctive merits.  Students who will contribute to the overall health and vitality of a campus can be recognized and rewarded, rather than the high scorers who may contribute only by scoring well on tests.  A campus filled with vibrant, active and engaging students, not just those who are good test takers, will attract other such students onto campus. 

Distinguishing students by "personality” is the answer to giving them the best possible chance of being admitted to even the best schools.   Does the student have a “story”?  She is the one (Fill in the blank: helped with the senatorial campaign, created a fund me page for a new technology product, pulled that kid out of a burning car, won the national robotics competition, was the bat girl for the Red Sox, was on American Idol, etc.) The best stories, or "tags" are those that are genuine and unique.

How to get tagged and stand out from the Pile of applicants--it's not just about community service any more. 

Since extracurriculars and/or specific diversity characteristics may not be enough to distinguish a student during the application process, how does one get “tagged”?  My view is that a student can earn their tag by doing something outside of the mainstream; even something outside of school.  Just a decade ago the “building homes in Nicaragua” approach was a distinctive community service tag.  Community service programs have evolved into structured programs that you can sign up for, like a teen tour and over time have lost much of  their “tag” value.  With so many students planning their community service, it is hard to distinguish those that are genuine.  It is not that community service is a bad thing; some students benefit greatly from their experience, but sometimes it is a bit forced. More important, when it is not as genuine, the college admissions community notices.

 

How many tags do you need?

 

Decades ago, students were advised to be "well rounded".  To be an All-American was to do so many things - the more the better.  To be captain of the football team and class president and a volunteer in the local nursing home was the ultimate.  Then, about 15-20 years ago, it was all about being passionate about one thing and be great with that one thing.  Sure in today's world you can be "tagged" or "passionate" about many things, but sometimes the variety dilutes the strength of the impression and the secondary tags get lost. It is just unrealistic to think that someone can be active and excel in an abundance of activities.

 

What about being a legacy? 

Certainly, there are still some cases of legacy that may influence the admissions decision, but these are often only cemented with true personality as well as impressive tags.  In today’s iphone driven world, those who can communicate well with others, (not always follow the path of others, and not be hampered by their age), can generate a distinct advantage.  Those who already offer some notoriety provide promise for the college as well.  

the power of the essay:

If your son or daughter wasn't the best in the state for fencing and didn't cure cancer over the summer, what can they do?  Other than moving to Idaho to claim a geographic advantage, the greatest platform to showcase one’s personality is through the essays.  Describing what was learned from a year- round job at a local business, as well as the learning and insight that occurred, can be valuable enough to distinguish a student.  

Summary:

Tags are as important as essays are.  But, tags should not necessarily be repeated again in the essays. The key is that tags and essays must be genuine to help the best students with their admission efforts. 



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

 

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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, college advice, holistic review, tags, personality, College Essays, College Applications, college acceptance rates

How To: Write the College Application Essay

Posted by Neal Schwartz on August 29, 2016

 

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Topics: whattododigital.com, College Essays

What are colleges looking for when they ask about community Service?

Posted by Neal Schwartz on August 16, 2016

One of the most challenging roles of a college advisor is to help parents discern what is expected and accepted in the area of  “community service.”  Despite countless articles, college website information and discussions at college information sessions, we can sound as though we are stifling students' admissions chances by urging caution in this area.   It is refreshing to see an article like this from the New York Times that explains the essence of this issue.  There may well be a difference between the student who tirelessly devotes every summer to a third world community and one who participates in a program for a few days or weeks in search of a good essay topic.

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Topics: College Applications, College Essays, Community Service

College essays and the power of a student's perspective

Posted by Neal Schwartz on May 18, 2016

College Application Essays have been a hot topic for the last decade. A recent article on Money and Values appeared on the front page of the Business Section in The New York Times. The article was about how many students have successfully used the topic of money as the backdrop for their essays. But wedged into the article, there were a few other powerful affirmations: 1) Admission officials can be skeptical of essays that seem too polished or overwritten; 2) Every year admissions offices receive at least one essay that picks apart an affluent suburb; 3) Reference to “designer service projects,” where teenagers do volunteer work outside the United States, at their parents’ expense.

1 ) There is no question that the more parents, neighbors and “experts” who evaluate and comment on a student’s essay, the greater the chance the essay will lose its genuineness and can cross the line to being “overwritten.” Our approach at CPW has always been to uncover the unique stories that students themselves have written and help bring them to life. But we need to let THEM write it.

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Topics: College Essays