Time is flying, and for juniors that means that the college admissions process is getting closer and closer. It's always good to check in and see if you're where you need to be. The New York Times Choice blog posted this calendar which lets juniors know if they're on track. Here are a few highlights:
- Stay focused on your grades. Junior year is the last full year of grades that colleges will see, so it's important to finish the year on a high note.
- Plan next year's classes and your standardized testing schedule. If you're leaning toward applying to any special programs, make sure that the classes you take in high school reflect your interests. Taking AP classes may be a great way to demonstrate your strengths. Determine whether the colleges you'll be applying to require SAT IIs, and consider which test better suits you: the SAT or ACT.
- Narrow down your college list. Continue to research and visit colleges in order to better pinpoint colleges that will be a good fit. Be sure to discuss your college list with your parents to make sure that you're all on the same page.
- Choose your summer plans wisely. The summer before your senior year is an opportunity to dive into one of your passions, whatever that might be, and to ultimately allow colleges to better understand who you are. It can also provide an experience for a strong college essay. Create your College Essay Organizer account now to get an idea of what next year's essay questions will look like.
- Relax and stay positive. If you're working on the above items, then you're ahead of the game. As long as you stay calm and focused, you may even enjoy the college admissions process.
While thousands of early applicants wait to see if they make the cut, this article focusing on Philip Ballinger, University of Washington's Director of Admissions gives insight into what colleges are looking for when selecting candidates for admission. Ballinger has his eyes peeled for tough students who have the ability to go against the grain, describing "the best applicants as salmon, swimming upstream tirelessly against the current to meet their goals."
Unfortunately, there is more to the quality of what Ballinger calls "gumption" that gets an applicant on the accepted list. Financial concerns are playing more of a role, especially in the current economy, a factor out of the control of many families:
"These are tough times for college admissions directors. The cost of tuition has skyrocketed. Popular articles question the value of a four-year degree. The state’s flagship university has made room for more international students, attracting top scholars and millions in extra tuition dollars — but sometimes raising the ire of local families when their children don’t get in."
University of Washington receives approximately 26,000 college applications, the largest portion of which are out-of-state, and on average 6,000 are international applicants.
At a time when seniors are worrying about their test scores and grades, it may be refreshing to know that there is a quality superior to pulling off stellar numbers, which is slowly being recognized as a much more telling sign of future success--and some larger colleges are beginning to acknowledge this too! It has even become formal policy at universities such as DePaul, Tufts and Wake Forest.
In case you haven't yet heard the new buzz word, it's called "grit." Angela Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania assistant professor of psychology, recently described grit as, "perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course."
So, for those who continue to be frustrated by the numbers side of the application process, be sure to take advantage of your interview and essays to highlight examples of the much more important quality of grit. To read more about grit in the admissions process, click here.
With seniors recently receiving their admissions decisions from their colleges, there are lots of stressed out kids and, perhaps, even more stressed out parents. J.D. Rothman, a television comedy writer and Emmy award winner, found herself in this boat when her two sons were going through the college application process. Her solution to this problem was to start a blog, The Neurotic Parent, which offers advice to other neurotic parents on how to survive the process.
Her latest post, entitled “Why your brilliant child didn’t get into the ivies,” helps parents understand or at least see the humor in their child’s rejection. Her final explanation definitely helps take the weight off of parents’ shoulders: “The admissions people, who say they consider each applicant ‘holistically’ and pay no attention to who needs financial aid, are actually sitting in a room eating pizza and throwing darts. So find solace in the fact that they've rejected your brilliant child for no good reason at all.“
When making a decision to attend a particular college, students generally weigh factors such as academics, location, and cost. We usually don’t think of racism as a deciding factor. However, that might all change after a student at Penn was published last week in The Daily Pennsylvanian discouraging minority students from attending Penn because of his encounters with racism on campus.
In this article, Christopher Abreu recounts his humiliating experience in which he was taunted by other students based on the color of his skin. While the story is appalling, many disagree with Abreu’s solution. Discouraging other minority students from attending the university can only exacerbate a problem. Further, students have stepped forward to say that they have not felt racism to be as extensive as Abreu has indicated.
According to an article in The Daily Pennsylvanian, not everyone’s decision will be affected by Abreu’s advice. Black student Daniel McCord stated, “I’ve never gotten any negative feelings about [the University] in that way…If racism was a prevalent enough problem at Penn, I think I would’ve heard about it.” While your comfort level on campus is incredibly important in your decision-making process, make sure to get feedback from a variety of students, faculty and alumni before forming your opinion.
For juniors, spring is the most popular time to take the SAT, followed by another round of testing in the fall if necessary. So as seniors are making their final calculations on which school has the greatest merit, juniors are nose deep in SAT prep books and practice tests.
No matter how much time you have spent preparing, there is always that anticipatory anxiety, and one item on everyone’s mind, as this informative article suggests, is the essay section. The mid-march SAT launched an unexpected essay prompt with a focus on pop culture leaving many with mixed feelings. While some felt it was a step in a positive direction allowing the test to appeal to its teenage audience, others had a quite different reaction:
“There was a hue and cry that the question put some of the best students at a disadvantage because they were often too busy with other, worthier pursuits to be watching Snooki and The Situation. Some students complained they'd been blindsided.”
According to the College Board, which creates and administers the test, the topic was broad enough to encourage good writing, and the essay itself is much less about the topic than it is about the quality of writing. Michael Kuchar, the superintendent of schools and guidance director at Bergenfield High School, states that you can still do well without any knowledge of the topic as long as you follow the right recipe which includes four paragraphs: a thesis, two supporting paragraphs, and a summary which refers back to the question.
As you cram in those last days of study, remember that while there is no way to predict the questions in advance, knowing the formula that the test makers are looking for will give you an advantage.
With all this talk of seniors and the somewhat foggy state of mind that results from finally emerging from the lengthy, mysterious tunnel of the college admissions process, it’s easy to forget that there is a whole class of students (juniors that is) preparing to enter that long passageway. As this admissions season ebbs away, it is time to turn our attention to this next important group to walk the path.
While daunting, there are many steps you can take to make your upcoming journey relatively pain-free and fruitful, and many require only some simple planning ahead. While it may be tempting to put it all out of your mind till the fall, that would definitely be against your benefit.
By now, you’ve probably been studying for your SATs for some time. Keep this your priority since it will be an important factor in determining your college list. Here are some additional tips, offered by the College Board, to make sure you’re headed in the right direction:
- Start to visit colleges choosing a variety of different types and sizes. You can begin with the schools in your area, and don’t worry about narrowing down your list until later.
- While the SAT and SAT IIs are of primary importance, don’t overlook AP Exams which also require preparation.
- Start meeting with your college counselor and thinking about what courses you want to take your senior year. Make sure to challenge yourself as much as possible.
- Plan your summer, and make it as interesting as possible. A well chosen community service project or an internship in a field that you’re passionate about may be just what you need to round out your resume, and can become the seed for an amazing college essay.
The key is to start planning early and pace yourself. This will definitely help keep you from feeling overwhelmed when fall rolls around.
Kayla Webley of Time magazine offers excellent advice in this article for students still fraught with anxiety over their recently opened round of life-changing college admissions letters. While experiencing either a profound sense of relief or grief depending on the outcomes is natural, it is important to evaluate how much of our emotional reactions are based in reality.
Laurence Steinberg, author and professor of psychology at Temple University, describes how students take a rejection from a college personally. “When they’re rejected it’s like being rejected by a boyfriend or girlfriend. They internalize it: What’s the matter with me? What could I have done differently? Why did they choose that person and not me?” There is no doubt that a rejection letter can draw deep feelings of inadequacy quickly to the surface, but all is far from lost.
It is clear that your future potential has much less to do with where you go to college and much more with how you perform while you’re there. Webley sites one study in which students rejected from their top choices go on to earn on average the same wages as their Ivy League peers. Further, a highly motivated student standing out at a less competitive college can be far more impressive than an Ivy grad who has failed to distinguish herself during her four years. In summary, your success is far from determined. A safety school can provide infinite opportunities for future success. So the best thing to do, if you want to find the silver lining in an arduous admissions process, is to stop looking back, and move forward with head held high knowing that you will give your all to whatever school you decide to attend.