The College Admissions Process is Unfair

Now that those early application deadlines have passed, you have plenty of time to fret over whether or not you'll be admitted to your dream college. Regardless of how well you're handling the anticipatory stress, this article from the New York Times will help put the application process into perspective. Here are the take-home points to remember:

It's not all about you.
Colleges have their own agenda as to who they'll admit to create the perfect incoming class. Don't blame yourself if you are not a good fit with a particular college. You will find that it will all work out in the long run.

Grades and Test Scores are the number one factor.
Especially with larger schools, the process can be extremely data driven, but once you've made the first cut, individual differences among essays, activities, and recommendations become much more important.

Let the real you shine through.
Colleges can tell when essays are over-polished. They would prefer to see who you really are. More and more applications are including video formats that allow for a more authentic glimpse of applicants.

Diversity has an impact.
If your background sets you apart, make sure to share this in your personal story. Colleges will notice.

Money talks.
Colleges do need students who can pay all or part of the tuition, so it's not unlikely that a student could get rejected due to financial reasons alone.

Geography matters.
Colleges want to say that they have students from across the United States, so applying outside your region can benefit you.

Legacy doesn't always help.
Legacy can make the difference between similar applicants, but it will only take you so far if your qualifications are below what's expected for that school.

Community impact goes a long way.
Colleges are paying more attention to community service over a long period of time. While a fancy service trip won't help you (any may even hurt your application), service activities continued throughout high school will have an impact.

Demonstrate interest.
Colleges want to know that you value them and will attend if accepted, so make sure to show your love by visiting, connecting with admissions counselors, and opening emails.

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Common App Crashes Right Before Early Deadlines

The number of early applications submitted grows each year fueled by a hope of higher chances of admittance in the face of continually lowering acceptance rates. And students want to finish the stressful application process as quickly as possible.

The Common App has made it easier to apply to multiple schools for both domestic and international applicants, and application numbers continue to rise each year. That means millions of students are logging into the Common App a few days before a deadline, and November 1 is the most common early deadline. So it's no surprise that students were experiencing long delays and errors throughout the day yesterday as they scrambled to complete their early applications. In fact, this happens every year, and it came to a head last night when the site crashed leaving students panicking.

Fortunately, it's back again this morning, though users are still posting issues on the Common App's Twitter page. Hopefully, students will be able to successfully submit their apps today without missing their Halloween parties. For hard-working seniors, it would be a well-deserved break!

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The Not-To-Do List Written by College Admissions Officers

College applicants dream of getting into their top choice colleges, but, being teenagers, may not always make the best choices, and to be fair, neither do their parents. Here are some of the pet peeves of college admissions officers Joseph Connolly, a guidance counselor at New Oxford High School in New Oxford, Pennsylvania, learned from members of the National Association for College Admissions Counselors.

The annoyances centered around the areas of Communication, Not doing your homework, Gimmick overkill, overzealous parents, campus visits, and essay. Here are some of the highlights below:

  • Offensive or silly email addresses
  • Paying attention to your phone during an interview
  • Not responding to emails or responding using texting shorthand
  • Stating that you'd like to major in a major not offered by the university
  • Not spell checking your application
  • Using the wrong college name in an essay
  • Sending gifts from a cake in the shape of the school's mascot to life-sized sculptures
  • Parents attending interviews and jumping into the conversation
  • Not dressing appropriately for campus visits
  • Wearing a different college's sweatshirt when visiting a school
  • Acting bored and distracted when visiting and/or interviewing
  • Not answering all parts of an essay or responding to a question not asked
  • Writing about accomplishments many years prior to applying to college

Make sure to check out the complete list here before you turn in your applications!

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Planning a College Road Trip?

Now that we're into fall, seniors may be feeling the pressure to narrow down their college lists--especially considering that early application deadlines are just days away. While Early Decision is known to have advantages such as higher admit rates, nobody wants to be bound to a school that is in fact not a good fit!

For those of you planning last minute trips, U.S. News has put together some great resources for you here. To get started, just pick the state that you're heading, and take a look at their own notes on each school before you head out and get a feel for the schools yourself. Ultimately, visiting the school is really the only way to be sure that a school feels right!

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College Admissions Frequently Asked Questions

As we near early application deadlines, applicants can feel overwhelmed by all the choices floating around in their heads. It can be a stressful and confusing time, and no one wants to make the wrong decisions! Here are a few answers to frequently asked questions:

Is it better to declare a major even if you're undecided?

Generally, there is no issue with not declaring a major when applying to a liberal arts program as schools understand that interests can change. However, some schools like California Polytechnic State University require you to declare a major, so make sure to research each school's policy and talk to an admissions counselor before you decide.

Should I submit more than one recommendation? 

Schools may require only one, so make sure to have one strong recommendation that highlights your best qualities. Schools don't always prefer more recommendations as their time is limited, so make sure that any additional recommendations are strong, and check the school's requirements before deciding if it's appropriate to send.

If a school is test-optional, should I submit my scores?  

If you have strong test scores, then definitely submit them as schools love to report high scores. A test-optional school is geared most towards a student with a strong GPA who has struggled with standardized test scores, so in those cases it's best to take advantage of that policy.

For more answers to frequently asked questions, see this article.

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Important Steps as You Apply to College

Now that you're in the swing of working on your college applications, here are a couple important tasks:

1 - Whenever you get an email from a college, open it. Colleges track demonstrated interest more than ever. This means that when they send you an email, they track your activity. Make sure you open each email, click on each link, click on other links on that page, and leave those pages open for a while.

2 - Clean up your social media footprint. You may not think it matters, but colleges are Googling you more than ever and checking out your social media posts. With competition fiercer than ever, colleges are looking for reasons why you may be better or worse than other applicants. Make sure that anything publicly visible would make a grandparent proud.

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Expert Advice on Writing Those Supplemental Essays

Hopefully, you've gotten a head start on writing your Common App main essay over the summer, and you're focusing more on your supplemental essays now. But whatever your situation, the first step should be organization. If College Essay Organizer is supplied by your school, then you're all set there! It will display all of your essay questions in one place instantly showing how the topics overlap, a step recommended by former Dean of Admissions at Columbia and Harvard turned admissions consultant in this post.

Other important tips shared focus around how you, one of the thousands of applicants, can stand out, especially in the supplemental essays which normally center around why you want to go to a particular school. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Think outside the box: Find a creative way to present your case that breaks the monotony of an admissions counselor's job.
  2. Pinpoint your most unique qualities: Highlight something about you and your goals that are different than everyone else's.
  3. Create a narrative: A good story will grab a counselor's attention and be more memorable.
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University of Georgia Requires Essays for All Applicants

University of Georgia's early applicants always had a great incentive to apply early — no essays to write! This year, things have changed, and ALL first-year applicants must write two required essays whether they apply through the Coalition App or UGa's School App. This is in line with the ever growing importance of college essays in the decision process. How to deal with this shift? University of Georgia's first required essay question frames it perfectly:

The college admissions process can create anxiety. In an attempt to make it less stressful, please tell us an interesting or amusing story about yourself that you have not already shared in your application.

Keep smiling and finding the humor in all of this. It will definitely get you through the rough patches!

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Yale's 2017-2018 Essay Questions Have Been Released

After days of waiting, the Common App has finally released Yale's essay questions for the 2017-2018 season. As we can expect from more competitive schools, the wording of the essay questions has changed, though the spirit remains the same.

However, what we can't expect from a top-caliber school which demands total excellence from the less than 7% of applicants lucky enough to receive an acceptance letter, is a mistake on the application! We don't know how it slipped through Yale's gilded fingers, but the proof is below in this screenshot. So for all those who have experienced a college rejection letter (or will in the future), let it be a comfort to know that even Yale is not perfect!

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Check Out University of Chicago's Essay Questions for 2017-2018 Season

While there are many unknowns in the college application process, especially in regards to essay questions, one thing that is predictable is that the University of Chicago will release intriguing essay questions! This year the tradition continues, and students will not be disappointed in their options. Even if you're not applying to college, take a moment to decide which topic you would choose, and consider writing it. It just may lead to an 'Aha' moment...

Essay Option 1.
“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” – Joseph Joubert

Sometimes, people talk a lot about popular subjects to assure ‘victory’ in conversation or understanding, and leave behind topics of less popularity, but great personal or intellectual importance. What do you think is important but under-discussed?

-Anonymous Suggestion

Essay Option 2.
Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History... a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here: https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/academics/majors-minors.

-Inspired by Josh Kaufman, Class of 2018

Essay Option 3.
Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart! Captain Planet supposes that the world is made up of these five elements. We’re familiar with the previously-noted set and with actual elements like hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, but select and explain another small group of things (say, under five) that you believe compose our world.

-Inspired by Dani Plung, Class of 2017

Essay Option 4.
The late New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham once said "Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization." Tell us about your “armor.”

-Inspired by Adam Berger, Class of 2020

Essay Option 5.
Fans of the movie Sharknado say that they enjoy it because “it’s so bad, it’s good.” Certain automobile owners prefer classic cars because they “have more character.” And recently, vinyl record sales have skyrocketed because it is perceived that they have a warmer, fuller sound. Discuss something that you love not in spite of but rather due to its quirks or imperfections.

-Inspired by Alex Serbanescu, Class of 2021

Essay Option 6.
In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose your own question or choose one of our past prompts. Be original, creative, thought provoking. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.

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