Our current system works to perpetuate this cycle of selectivity and prestige with an unhealthy fixation on this handful of institutions. Change happens from both the outside in and the inside out. Employers, the media, popular culture and college applicants must not rush to judgment or default to perception. Meanwhile, the college admission profession must re-examine the messages we send and the processes we create that perpetuate this unbalanced system. As parents and educators, we must raise children who think critically about brand, marketing, success, happiness, fulfillment and personal choice.
In an ideal world, college preparatory education would encourage students who crave knowledge, seek community engagement, desire connection and live their values. We say we want our children to feel secure, be inspired and take risks with their curiosity. The reality of “Hunger Games” comes closer to the truth, where students battle to survive in application pools seeming to demand perfection.
One of the hardest parts of a college admissions officer’s job — if not the hardest part — is dealing with some of the entitled or unrealistic parents of students who are trying to figure out where to apply to college. Here is a piece on things that college admissions officers say they would like to tell some of the parents with whom they deal — if they could be as blunt as they want — or things they actually say but that fall on deaf ears.
Written with Peter Gilbert, Director of Admissions at Salisbury School, CT We all know who we’re talking about. It’s that student who has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes him an appealing applicant. Maybe it’s his bright smile or the ease with which he laughs at himself. Maybe it’s the way he talks about his friends or explains why he’s running for student body president. Maybe it’s even the way he describes his summer camp experience. But it’s something you can sense, without being able to articulate the reasons why, that this kid is a great applicant. And even though his grades and standardized test scores might fall a bit shy of the typical standards, this is a student you want at your school because you know he’s going to thrive.
While Simon Cowell refers to those qualities that make contestants stand out as the elusive “X Factor,” independent schools admissions offices have been working to define those intangible personal qualities that are strong predictors of a student’s success at their schools. Through the use of non-cognitive assessments, some schools are moving to a more holistic evaluation of their applicants.
Holistic Interview Formula Salisbury School observed that year after year, by the time they were seniors, some boys who had entered with comparable grades and SSAT scores were graduating with very different academic profiles. They started to think seriously about what qualities were nurtured at Salisbury that enabled some students to better achieve than their peers and developed metrics to evaluate the specific non-cognitive skills that they believed correlated with that success.
According to SSTAB’s Think Tank on the Future of Cognitive Assessment, while the qualities most schools agree that they are looking for in their applicants include “creativity, problem solving, curiosity, self-control, and motivation,” some schools also look for specific traits that align with their mission statements. After completing two SSAT validity studies, a college/outcome result analysis for three graduating classes, and an attrition study, Salisbury School worked to develop a holistic admissions formula that complimented the school’s mission statement. Priding themselves on graduating “men of character,” they began to look more aggressively for applicants who demonstrated creativity, integrity, leadership, respect, humility, and empathy with the conviction that their single-gender environment was optimal for boys to confidently grow their non-cognitive skills like curiosity, adaptability, benevolence, and optimism. Likewise, at Putney School, which has a strong social justice premise, John Barrengos, the director of admission, looks for students who believe that community service and “saving the world” are important to leading a meaningful and fulfilled life.
Creative Interview Format Not all non-cognitive assessments are equally useful. Some schools have realized that the traditional interview format does not always provide rich information about applicants, particularly in the younger grades. Once Noble and Greenough School started assessing middle school applicants by observing students’ participation in a group activity, they discovered that they were able to discern much more about the students’ character, interpersonal style, and problem-solving skills than they had been able to in a formal interview setting.
At North Country School, the interview takes the form of a “walk and talk” around campus and, in this more casual setting, students more freely share information about themselves. According to Libby Doan, the learning support coordinator, this conversation is used to evaluate how the student identifies their areas of strength, where they seek to improve, and if they can articulate their needs.
Schools are also encouraging students to spend more time on campus as part of the evaluative process. At Cambridge Friends School, prospective applicants spend the morning in class and teachers evaluate how well they listen, contribute, demonstrate flexible thinking, and share their knowledge. Kelly Baker, the director of admission and financial aid, believes that they are able to glean such valuable information about a student during the optional group assessment that they waive the standardized testing requirement for students who choose the participate.
At North Country School, students spend a full day on campus, visiting classes and having lunch with faculty and students. Through “intentional observation,” the faculty look for evidence of the student’s self-knowledge and relational abilities with adults and peers as well as their ability to engage in “spontaneous, exuberant conversation.” This information provides meaningful insight into how that student might take advantage of the opportunities offered at the school and how they might thrive there.
Risk Worth Taking So, with all this additional non-cognitive evaluation, are schools finding that they are admitting a pool of applicants who are a better fit than they might otherwise? Generally, the answer is, “Yes.“ While Putney, like many schools, has no firm cut-offs for SSAT scores, they are willing to take a risk on a student if they believe that the culture at their school will help that student to flourish socially and intellectually. According to Barrengos, “as our progressive educational philosophy takes broader grasp of the totality of the student experience, I have permission to unapologetically pursue the students for whom this pedagogy – across their experience, from classroom to barn to dorm to sports to arts – is an answer to their journey; either a salve for the boy who “got” school in third grade and is now bored to tears, or a salvation for the girl who never found her traditional model viable and has been chafing against its limits throughout.”
There are also incidental advantages to incorporating non-cognitive assessments in the admissions process. Schools are finding that this can “level the playing field” for some applicants as, unlike being tutored for the SSAT, there is no way to prepare. This process can also feel less daunting and intimidating. Salisbury School found this holistic review of applicants to be especially important for candidates from non-traditional backgrounds, those with learning differences, and, in general, maturing boys. Noble and Greenough School has found an increase in their yield of students of color in the middle school since implementing the non-cognitive assessment and Jennifer Hines, dean for enrollment management, happily observed that “students leave our office smiling, rather than feeling traumatized.” Doan, at North Country School, has had similar experiences. In fact, it is not uncommon for students at the end of a school visit day to ask if they can stay longer. To her, that is one of the best indicators that the student will be a good fit.
Yet, non-cognitive assessment isn’t a great dust pan that gathers up those candidates who are on the fringes of admission. In fact, the careful use of these metrics can rule out some students who otherwise would be attractive candidates. For example, students who aren’t able to self-advocate and who are used to being taken care of by adults as well as students who have stopped being engaged in their learning, their communities, and their relationships might not be offered acceptance because they don’t have the appropriate non-cognitive skills to succeed.
In the end, however, the schools we contacted were pleased with the caliber of the students who were matriculating. Each year at Salisbury’s graduation prize night, it is poignant to reflect on the place where each boy started. Last spring, the two students who were awarded the general improvement prize by vote of the faculty were boys who earned admission because of their non-cognitive skills. It was powerfully affirming to see that the qualities Salisbury sought in their applicants translated into social and academic success. It has been said that cognitive ability predicts educational attainment and that non-cognitive skills predict a life outcome. The success of theses two graduates, and others like them, speaks to the value of including non-cognitive assessments in a holistic admission process.
A high score on an SAT Subject Test is a valuable asset for applicants to certain highly selective schools. Making the most of this opportunity can be difficult, however. When student and parent fatigue surrounding pre-college planning is already quite high, the need to make additional decisions can feel overwhelming. Armed with a little knowledge and guidance, however, students can make informed choices and increase their chances of success on these tests.
She stands in the doorway, college banners serving as a backdrop in this agonizing drama. The look on her face suggests that someone just ran over her dog or perhaps she just learned that Taylor Swift had her vocal cords removed. Growing concerned about her emotional state, I inquire about the fear in her eyes. “I have nothing to write about,” she confesses sullenly, as though the end is near. She goes on to lament about the lack of tragedy or fanfare in her seventeen years on this earth. “Nothing bad has happened to me, my grandparents are all still alive, and I have not lead a sports team to a state championship.” Finding it hard to be remorseful, I reply, “write what you know, not what you think the admission office wants to hear.”
Many articles have been written offering advice about how to get the most out of your college tour, but they are commonly written from a one-tour-fits-all perspective. I’ve come to believe that there are actually three levels of college tours and, as students become more familiar with what different types of colleges have to offer and more certain about what they want from their college experience, they should approach the tour with different outcomes in mind. College Touring 101: The introductory Course
I love college tours - and I go on a lot of them - but I would estimate that a third of what I hear is the same at almost every school I visit. There's a lottery system for housing, there's a blue light system for safety, there's a swipe card for use in the dining hall, and everyone gets to keep their mailbox for all four years. I encourage you to make your first two or three visits to ANY college just to get the patter down and to learn about the features almost all colleges share. The purpose of the first round of tours it to get an overview so that you'll be better able to focus on how colleges differentiate themselves.
Before the tour: Create a fairly broad list of colleges to visit – don’t make your criteria too specific too soon or you might rule out some excellent options.
HINT: You don’t need to travel far for this round of visits; find schools in your area.
During the tour: Listen carefully. Some of what the tour guide talks about may not make sense to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you’re probably not the only one who doesn’t understand.
After the tour: Think about what features of that type college appealed to you and what features really didn’t appeal to you without concerning yourself with whether or not you will ultimately apply to that specific college.
College Touring 201: The Survey Course
Once you are able to recognize the features that most colleges share, for the next round of tours you should visit colleges that more closely match your interests and emerging preferences for size, location, major, extracurricular activities and so on. But don’t narrow the list of schools too much yet – you still want to cast your net broadly enough to see how a school a bit bigger, a bit more rural, a bit more pre-professional, or a bit more liberal feels to you. Try not to make any assumptions until you’ve had a chance to see for yourself. The goal of this round of tours is for you to be able to articulate which specific features, qualities, and programs are important to you and why.
Before the tour: Don’t schedule visits at more than two colleges in a day. Plan to attend both the tour and the information session whenever feasible.
HINT: It can be prudent to sit near the door during these early information sessions. While some sessions are studded with valuable information, others can be painfully tedious. If you’re not finding the information being shared to be particularly useful and enthusiasm is waning, slip out.
During the tour: Ask your tour guide questions about what it’s like to be a student at that college. Look at what is being posted around campus, find out what happens on the weekends, learn about the school’s traditions. Try to get a sense of the culture of the college.
HINT: About halfway through most of the tours I’ve been on, people stop asking questions. At that point, I move up to the front and engage the tour guide in conversation. They have a wealth of first-hand information so don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about the college from a student’s perspective.
After the tour: Make time to take notes about what you saw. Very quickly your college tour memories will become indistinct from one another.
HINT: Bring a pack of ruled sticky notes with you. After the tour, go through the viewbook and, where a picture triggers a memory about an important detail, write that down on the sticky note and post it next to the image. That way, when you try to remember which college had the rock climbing wall and which had the amazing theatre, you’ll be able to trigger your memory both visually and verbally.
College Touring 301: The Independent Research Course
By now you’ve visited many campuses and you have a much clearer understanding of what you are really looking for in your ideal college and you are narrowing your list. Now you are ready for some really serious college touring – the type where you look in every nook and cranny, ask hard questions, and evaluate carefully how well the program suits your abilities, interests, and goals. The purpose of this final round of tours is to determine whether the college is a place where you would flourish and thrive.
Before the tour: Do a lot of research. Write down questions about those things you need to know more about and identify the parts of the campus that you want to see and the people whom you want to connect with.
Specifically, if there is something that is going to make or break your college experience (being able to have your own radio show, being involved in an a capella group, getting academic support) this is the time to explore those opportunities and resources.
During the tour: Listen and watch carefully. Ask questions. Be fully engaged in the tour.
HINT: I believe that you can tell a lot about the culture of a college by how the students treat the facilities. Watch to see if students are respectful of each other, the classroom spaces, the dorms, the grounds/kitchen crew, the faculty, and the visitors. This is an important piece of a school’s culture that often goes over-looked. Students who take good care of themselves, others, and their environment are typically good students because they also take good care of themselves and their work. And they are just good people to be around.
After the tour: Leave time to go back and re-visit parts of campus or see the facilities that weren’t shown on the tour. If you have a specialized interest, ask when you schedule your appointment if there will be an opportunity to see those facilities. For example, arts majors should see the studios, athletes (even recreational ones) should see the athletic center, and physics majors should see those lab spaces whenever possible.
Note: Typically on the third round of tours, students also interview while on campus.
Make the most of your college tours – there are things to be gained even from a bad tour. The college process is a time to learn more about yourself and to think carefully about what you most want from your college experience. This is a big decision, so take the time to gather the information you need, even if it means returning to a college for a second visit. The more engaged you are in your college tours, the better your final college list will be.
The early decision and early action applications are being sent off. Suddenly students who were working very hard may find themselves with no college-related work to do, for a time. Some might rejoice, while others find it very hard to wait for an answer, and are anxious to know the status of their applications. So what actually happens in an admissions office once those Common Applications are uploaded? The file review process varies from school to school and depends on the size and type of institution, its selectivity, and the school's own culture. Many admissions officers would acknowledge that it's an imperfect process that is part artistry, part science. In general, students are assessed relative to the applicant pool and to the school's enrollment objectives. Each student is considered on his or her own merits, but also as a member of a class that reflects the demographics of society as a whole. Your student, then, is valued for how they contribute to that mix.
While larger universities typically use a formula based on standardized test scores, GPA, and other pertinent information to calculate a student's admissibility, most schools review each and every application personally and thoroughly. Students can be assured that their application will be reviewed by a committee comprised of admissions counselors, faculty members, current students, part-time/seasonal staff, or any combination of the above. The fact that several different people representing a variety of perspectives and interests review each file reflects their effort to make the process as fair as possible.
After they review the file, admission committee members assign students a ranking, either numeric or alphabetical. Applicants with the highest scores are typically admitted and those with the lowest ranking are usually denied. It is the applications that fall in the middle that receive the greatest attention. At this point the colleges are looking to fine-tune the composition of the incoming class and each applicant is evaluated for the ways in which they might uniquely contribute to the school based on their particular strengths and talents.
Admissions offices are always interested in increasing their "yield", or the number of admitted students who actually matriculate at their school. A student's "demonstrated interest" can be a good indicator of their likelihood of attending, so many admissions committees note if the applicant visited their campus, met with them at a college fair, interviewed, joined the group when the college visited the student's high school, or utilize social media to learn more about a college. Quality of the interaction counts.
Admissions officers also read letters of recommendation carefully and look specifically to see if what others have to say about the applicant supports the information the student has provided in his application. Is the student the passionate scholar he claims to be? Is she really a leader in a meaningful way or are her positions merely titular?
Finally, some students may be "on the bubble" because of their academic standing. If their grades are close, but not quite, what the admissions office would like to see, they may wait until the third quarter grades are released to make their decision. At this point no applicant really knows where they stand in the admission pool, so it is important that seniors continue to strive to get the best grades possible.
For many, this period of waiting can be stressful. Know that admissions counselors are doing their best to weigh every piece of an application to make the best and fairest decision possible. In the meantime, keep working hard, and keep your fingers crossed.
The College Board has overhauled the SAT to better reflect student achievement and Common Core standards, as well as to better compete against the ACT and increase its share of the testing market.
The College Board offers a summary of what it calls "Eight Key Changes." These are:
- Relevant Words in Context
- Command of Evidence
- Essay Analyzing a Source
- Focus on Math that Matters Most
- Problems Grounded in Real-World Contexts
- Analysis in Science and in History/Social Studies
- Founding Documents and Great Global Conversation
- No Penalty for Wrong Answers
We highly recommend that parents of 10th graders read this excellent article by Charlie O'Hearn of Summit Educational Group, which outlines the redesign and also offers recommendations for the class of 2017. Here's his synopsis of the most important differences between the old and new SATs:
"Among the notable thematic changes are: 1) A Math Test that emphasizes a narrower but deeper grasp of algebra, de-emphasizes geometry, and puts more questions in real-world context; 2) Reading, Writing, and Language Tests that require students to cite evidence for their answers, analyze writing, and discern Tier 2 vocabulary definitions from context; and 3) Questions and content that better reflect the work that students undertake in the country's "best high school courses." More specific changes include a return to the 1600-point scale, an overhaul of the essay section (including making it optional), the addition of a no-calculator math section, and rights-only scoring (i.e., no penalty for wrong answers)."
Why It Matters
To help manage the anxiety and uncertainty that can accompany standardized testing, we encourage our high school clients to have a testing plan for themselves. This might include taking both a diagnostic ACT and an SAT to determine which test to choose, selecting testing dates and registering well in advance, purchasing and studying a guidebook, taking a practice test, and working on-on-one with a test prep tutor.
Unfortunately, there are no practice tests available yet for the new SAT, nor do we have concordance tables that show an ACT score that compares to a new SAT score. Some current 10th graders may benefit by taking the old SAT in the fall of 2015, while most would be well-advised to consider taking the ACTs instead in the spring of 2016. Again, we refer you to the Summit article and its testing guidelines table.
Resumes are not usually a required piece of the college application. So why do we insist you write one? There are several reasons, including:
A resume is a way to tell colleges, in more detail than the Activities section of the Common Application will allow, about the jobs you have held, the sports you have played, and the volunteer work you have done. In this way, you can create a more complete picture of who you are and what you do.
A resume is a snapshot of how you have chosen to spend your free time, which in turn says a lot about you, what you like to do, and what you do well. If you look closely, common threads often emerge that might inspire a personal essay topic or suggest a potential scholarship niche.
- If you chose to share your resume with your college interviewer, you can help them to get a quick snapshot of who you are. This will help them to ask questions about things that you have done that are particularly interesting to them.
Many students apply for jobs and internships during their freshman year. Having a resume already prepared when you enter the career services office gives you a jump start. It’s a lot easier to refine an existing document than it is to create that first resume.
Parents helping their children through the college admissions process in 2014 might feel like it’s a lot harder to get into elite colleges now than it was when they applied. And they’re right! This New York Times article offers one explanation: globalization. Simple demographics play a major role as well. We encourage our clients to aim high. Some will apply to, and be accepted at Ivy League colleges. Ultimately, what matters most is finding the right fit for your student: discovering the program with the best opportunities, and one that is a great match for your child.
What goes on behind the closed doors of the admissions office is a mystery to most and decisions can seem to reflect more “artistry” than science. In fact, the process varies from school to school and depends on the size and type of institution, its selectivity, and the school’s own culture. However, every college and university assesses the strength of each application relative to the applicant pool as well as the school’s enrollment objectives.
For seniors who are unwavering in their decision about their first choice school and who are positioned to present their strongest application in November, applying Early Decision or Early Action can be a prudent course of action. However, the pros and cons should be weighed carefully before deciding if applying early is better.
Writing the Personal Statement can be a torturous exercise for many seniors. Fears of sounding like a braggart - or, worse - having nothing worthwhile to say, leave even strong writers paralyzed. While the temptation might be to adopt a distant, academic tone, and tackle a safe topic, it’s important to distinguish yourself from the rest of the applicant pool by making your Personal Statement personal.
The hallways are beginning to fill with the buzz of seniors talking about their college choices. It’s hard to believe that just a year has passed since they started their college search – so many campuses have been visited, so many interviews have been had, and so many essays have been written! As the junior class embarks on their own college process, we offer these tips to get their college search off to a strong start: • The process of finding and applying to the colleges that are the best fits for you takes a considerable amount of time, thought, and energy. In the months ahead your ideas about the “right” college will evolve, your selection criteria will change, and what you most value in your college experience will shift. Give yourself the time and space to consider what is best for you. • Commit yourself to working on your college search as if it were an additional class. Set aside time each week for your “college process homework”. • Finding the right college involves many steps and even more details. To keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed, set up organizational systems early. Designate a place to store all your college materials. Set up folders in your email account specifically for college related correspondence. Create file folders to store hard copies of materials and ask for help from a parent or a friend if organization does not come easily or naturally to you. There is so much to do, you won’t want to waste time looking for materials. • Go into this process with an open mind. Don’t put too much weight on your preconceptions about a particular college or rely too much on what your peers tell you. Your unique impressions are what matter most. • Understand that this year-long process is about more than just “getting in”. It’s a process of self-discovery, values clarification, and taking responsibility for yourself. Be sure that you are at the center of the process, not your parents, or you will deny yourself the opportunity to learn these valuable lessons. • For most, going away to college marks the beginning of your real independence from your family. Just as leaving home is a big step in your life, so to is it for your parents. Understand that they are going through their own version of the college process and will need time to process just as you will.
Although the road ahead is a long one, getting off to a strong start can set the tone for a successful and rewarding college search experience. Get organized, set aside time to work on your college process, and take advantage of the opportunities to show your emerging independence and self-sufficiency that this process allows and your efforts will be well rewarded.
Over the next few weeks, seniors will be anxiously attending their mailboxes, eagerly awaiting the delivery of the proverbial “thick envelope” as colleges begin sending out their first round of early admissions decisions. However, for many students, applying early isn’t in their best interests for a variety of reasons. The college process, when done well with care and thought, can be quite a time consuming process and many seniors simply haven’t had the time to do research and to visit campuses in order to make a well-informed decision by the early deadlines. For those who are just reaching their academic stride, the opportunity to include an additional term of higher grades will make their application all that much stronger. Not all students who rush to meet the early deadlines are doing so for the right reasons and those students feel compelled to apply early “just to get the process over with” often rue their hasty decision.
Why all this pressure on students to apply early? From the college’s perspective, early application options are useful tools to increase their selectivity as well as to manage their applicant pool. Many students’ inboxes are being flooded with pleas from colleges to apply, often with enticements that make this process as straightforward as possible. The math is simple – the more applications they receive, the lower their percentage of accepted students. If they can target students with high SAT scores, so much the better – that will raise the average standardized test scores of their applicants. In these ways, schools begin to appear more competitive.
The selectivity of a college is based on their yield – that is the number of admitted students who actually matriculate at their school. The higher the yield, the more selective the school’s ranking. While Early Decision applicants are committed to attending, even Early Action candidates are more likely to accept an offer of admission. Thus, a college can improve its yield numbers by offering early application opportunities.
Although some of the most talented students are in the early pools, some colleges use early applications for other strategic reasons. Often recruited athletes are asked to apply early decision to demonstrate their sincere interest in playing. Early decision also meets other institutional needs, such as legacies who might not be as competitive in the regular pool, but are accepted early because they are more likely to yield.
Without question, early applications can work to the college’s advantage and for the student who applies with care and thought, this is a tremendous opportunity. However, it is important to remember that of the 2,000 four year colleges in the country, only about 350 reject more students than they accept. The frenzy around submitting early applications is driven by only the most selective schools and it’s important that students use this opportunity to their advantage, not the college’s.
With applications sent off, the college application moves from the student’s desk to the college admissions office where, for the next two months hundreds of thousands of applications will be reviewed while students across the country anxiously await a decision. What goes on behind the closed doors of the admissions office is a mystery to most and decisions can seem to reflect more “artistry” than science. In fact, the process varies from school to school and depends on the size and type of institution, its selectivity, and the school’s own “flavor. However, every college and university assesses the strength of each application relative to the applicant pool as well as the school’s enrollment objectives. While each student is considered on his or her own merits, schools work to “socially engineer” a class that reflects the demographics of society as a whole and each student is valued for how they contribute to that mix.
While larger universities typically use a formula based on standardized test scores, GPA, and other pertinent information to calculate a student’s admissibility, most schools review each and every application personally and thoroughly. Students can be assured that their application will be reviewed by a committee comprised of admissions counselors, faculty members, current students, part-time hired staff, or any combination of the above. By being viewed by several different people representing a variety of perspectives and interests the goal is to make the process as fair as possible.
After reviewing the file, students are assigned a ranking, either numeric or alphabetical, and those given the highest scores are typically admitted and those with the lowest ranking are usually denied. It is the applications that fall in the middle that receive the greatest attention. At this point the colleges are looking to fine-tune the composition of the incoming class and each applicant is evaluated for the ways in which they might uniquely contribute to the school based on their particular strengths and talents.
Admissions offices are always interested in increasing their “yield”, or the number of admitted students who actually matriculate at their school. A student’s “demonstrated interest” can be a good indicator of their likelihood of yielding, so admissions committees note if the applicant visited their campus, met with them at a college fair, interviewed, or joined the group when the college visited the student’s high school. Typically, the more often the student demonstrated their interest in a school, the better.
Admissions officers are also interested in letters of recommendation and look specifically to see if what others have to say about the applicant supports the information the student has provided in his application. Is the student the passionate scholar he claims to be? Is she really a leader in a meaningful way or are her positions merely titular?
Finally, some students may be “on the bubble” because of their academic standing. If their grades are close, but not quite, what the admissions office would like to see, they may wait until the third quarter grades are released to make their decision. As at this point no applicant really knows where they stand in the admission pool, it is important to continue to strive to get the best grades possible. It is not too late to make a good impression!
So, the waiting game continues. Know that admissions counselors are doing their best to weigh every piece of an application to make the best and fairest decision possible. In the meantime, keep working hard, and keep your fingers crossed.
Writing the Personal Statement can be a torturous exercise for many seniors. Fears of sounding like a braggart or worse, having nothing worthwhile to say, leave even strong writers paralyzed. While the temptation might be to adopt a distant, academic tone, by making your Personal Statement personal you help the admissions office gain a richer understanding of your unique character and qualities.
Time and time again parents sit in our office and reflect, “I don’t remember it being like this when I applied to college” and, indeed, the process has changed in some important ways. More colleges are making standardized testing optional, schools are becoming increasingly competitive, students are sending out more applications and parents are more involved in the process than ever before. For parents of rising seniors, we offer these words of advice: 1. Help your child remember that college is first and foremost about the academic experience. Colleges are offering some very enticing options including gourmet food service, dorm suites with full kitchens, athletic centers with state-of-the-art equipment, and cyber cafes at every turn. All this is very appealing, but students can lose focus on what should be at the center of their college experience – the academic program. Enjoy all the amenities colleges have to offer, but help your child assess the breadth and depth of courses offered and the level of academic rigor. While these intangibles can be hard to evaluate, it is important to help your child to keep the rightness of the academic fit at the center of the decision making process.
2. If your child has been a procrastinator for 17 years, going through the college process isn’t going to draw out Type A qualities. Know your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and proceed accordingly. If he is disorganized, set up organizational systems. If he needs to read about colleges to really understand them, buy him guide books. Tech savvy kids can gather a lot of information from YouTube videos, podcasts, and school websites. Learning and behavioral styles are hard to change, so play to your child’s strengths.
3. Remember, this is not your turn to apply to college. While you’re college years may have been the best of your life, that doesn’t mean that your alma mater is perfect for your child. Let your child decide what is the best place for him/her to spend his/her undergraduate years.
4. It’s hard to be objective and supportive at the same time. If you start more sentences with “Tell me more about what you think about …” and fewer with “I think that…”, you’re well on your way.
5. Applying to college is probably the longest, most involved, and most difficult decision your child has ever had to make. Give him plenty of time and space to process all the information and don’t undervalue the emotional component. This is important practice for making even the even bigger decisions which the lie ahead.
6. View the process of applying to college as just that – a process. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end and each child will go through the process in his own way, in his own time, hopefully taking on increasing responsibility and ownership. Ultimately, this is not just about “getting in”, but about developing self-awareness, clarifying values and becoming self-sufficient and self-directed. When parents become too involved, the student is denied the chance to go through this very maturing, self-actualizing process.
7. First row seats don’t always provide the best view. Sometimes the best place to watch this process is from the bleacher seats.