As a college admissions counselor specializing in students with big ambitions (e.g. Ivy League, Military Service Academies/ROTC, Athletic scholarships), I have seen dreams realized, shattered, and everything in between.
In this case study, I reveal what goes through a college admissions officer's mind as they review an application. What do they care about, what do they disregard, what jumps out, and what factors might seal the deal (for good or bad)?
In this blog, I review Pete's profile. Pete just finished his junior year at a big public high school in NY. He has a pretty good GPA. pretty good SAT score, has taken pretty hard classes, is a pretty good lacrosse player, and has pretty good extracurricular activities.
Are you getting my drift?
Pete is "pretty good" at just about everything. This is the profile of a lot of high school students these days. That's why we call him "Pretty Good Pete". He has a closely-related friend named "Pretty Good Pamela."
Assume a group a college applicants have similar:
but participate in different "Extracurricular Activities" that could be categorized as Typical or Non-Typical Teen Activities.
TTA (Typical Teen Activities)
NTTA (Non-Typical Teen Activities)
As applications are reviewed by college admissions officers, they must survive several "screens" to make it to the end. The more selective the school - the less porous the screens. This week, we address the first two screens in the process.
Outcomes on these three criteria will dictate the "selectivity" of colleges to consider.
When (and if) a student gets through Screen #1, the more selective schools dig deeper.
Next stop: Extracurricular Activities
Extracurricular Activities include anything that happens outside the classroom:
On the Common Application, there is room for 10 such Activities. The activities should be listed in the order of importance to the student. Space is limited (50 characters for the position and organization name and 150 characters for the...
Before we get too far into the new school year, I encourage you to perform an extracurricular activity audit with your 8th, 9th, or 10th-grader. Sounds like a blast, right?
This will either reinforce that you're on the right path, or open your eyes to a world you never knew existed.
Extracurricular activities are a critical component in the college admissions process - especially for very or most-selective colleges (Top 75).
Admissions Screen #1
There are 3 primary factors that determine whether or not your child will pass through the first admissions screen:
As you move up the selectivity scale, the holes in the screen get smaller and smaller.
Admissions Screen #2
Once your child gets through Admissions Screen #1, admissions officers will then review their extracurricular activities:
Yesterday was the deadline for most high school seniors to make their final college choice. It shouldn't be as stressful as many people make it out to be.
Part of the reason can be explained here.
In this blog post, a mom wonders why so many highly-qualified students aren't getting into their dream colleges and what effect it will have on their psyches.
She also, within the first paragraph, blames:
This is a rough post. I agree with some of the sentiments, but not others. Here are my takeaways:
Just because your child's stat line reads: 1480 SAT, 4.3 GPA, varsity soccer team, student government, black belt, and quarterly soup kitchen volunteer doesn't mean they'll get into a highly-selective college. It just doesn't. Not even close.
There are thousands of kids just like this. They grow on trees these days. Just ask any parent. I'm not sure why so many people think that a high-performer like...
A Broken Model
After years of engaging with hundreds of high school students, parents, and guidance counselors from around the country, I've witnessed an unfortunate pattern.
These individuals continue to operate under the assumption that "college preparation" should begin in junior year.
I strongly disagree.
In fact, before stepping one foot into junior year, students should have a firm understanding of the expectations, milestones, and context for what lies ahead. [More on exactly what these factors are in a subesquent post].
Otherwise, students (and parents) risk feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed, and ill-prepared to manage the onslaught of information dumped in their laps. Once a student enters junior year, there are no do-overs.
In my private counseling practice, I find that a student's freshman and sophomore years (The Golden Years) have disproportionate impact on their readiness for the college admissions process, college selection, and life itself.
They are - as an economist...
How teens spend their summers has become an increasingly important piece of the college admissions puzzle. Objective measures like GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and transcripts can quickly become lifeless numbers in a sea of sameness. (Yup, another 4.0 GPA, check).
Admissions officers are being forced to look elsewhere to find what differentiates students from each other. They often turn to letters of recommendation, alumni interviews, and, of course, summer experiences.
Let's start with the tactics, then we'll move into strategy.
Here are some options to consider for the summer:
Volunteer Work (FT or PT):
Volunteer work is easy to find, affordable, and can be full-time, part-time, or project-based. Not only does volunteer work show that you care about someone other than yourself, but it also allows a teen to gain real-world experience in a field or industry they enjoy.
Paid Work (FT or PT):
Colleges love to see applicants who have worked at a paying job - of any kind. Sometimes,...
Please don't underestimate the power of the summer. It's a magical time for teens that can either be optimized or squandered.
Yes, colleges like to see your child engaged in interesting and productive pursuits during the summer, but that's only half the story.
The summer is also the time for your child to find out more about themselves. What do they like? What do they hate? What is it like to make money? What is it like to do manual labor? What is it like to work in a cubicle? What is it like to find a job?
These are invaluable experiences that teens need to live through to make better decisions in the years ahead.
I call summer activities "Summer Quests" because your child should be searching for something. Here are some things worthy of their search:
What interests your child?
The first place for your child to start when considering their summer plans is what they are interested in. If...
My days are spent speaking with high school students across the country about their lives. In particular, about their interests, college admissions strategies, and life ambitions. It's my passion.
After reviewing (and editing) hundreds of stellar college applications, resumes, personal statements, and college essays, there is one designation that captures the essence of what colleges are looking for in their prospective students - an Eagle Scout.
My job as college counselor and mentor becomes much easier when I'm working with an Eagle Scout. I know what it takes to make it through the program and it is not difficult to help Scouts express these attributes within their college applications.
Some people believe that colleges give disproportionate credit to Eagle Scouts in the admissions process. I beg to differ - and the 10 items below provide more than enough evidence as to why admissions officers sit up straighter in their chairs when reading the applications of Eagle Scouts....
I recently attended a Workshop with eight parents (in this case, moms) who shared their best advice on how to handle the college admissions process.
They all had recent experience helping their children get accepted to Drexel University, UC Berkeley, Syracuse University, Georgetown University, University of Pennsylvania, Mesa Community College and others.
Here are the highlights:
WAS A PRIVATE COLLEGE COUNSELOR WORTH IT?
INTRODUCE THE PROCESS EARLY