How Much do College Application Essays Matter?

How Much do College Application Essays Matter?

College essays often throw students for a loop. Yet, they are the one place admission officers can learn about them and their circumstances. With most colleges receiving more applications than they have seats, the essay is your student’s chance to put a personal face to the grades and scores. An essay has the potential to sway an admissions committee when candidates are identical in every other respect, or even when your scores aren’t of the same caliber as others.
 
“If a friend of yours finds an essay in the corridor and reads it, he should be able to identify he’s reading about you,” says MIT admissions counselor, Holly Hinman. “That’s how the essay is supposed to read.”
 
According to University of Chicago, “Give careful thought to the questions asked, but don’t try to write the answers that you think we want to hear; give us the answers that tell us about you. Do not be formulaic.” 
 
As one UC Berkeley representative put it, “don’t repeat yourself. Use the essay to showcase a side of you that the other sections, including other essays, don’t.”
 
Finally, pay attention to the craft of writing. An essay that stands apart is one that’s authentic and brimming with the student’s  voice, and not that of a parent. 

 

What Makes for a Great College Essay According to Yale?

What Makes for a Great College Essay According to Yale?

Think of your college essay as a selfie in words. But, remember, best face forward! 

As for the Second Essay, yes, the Yale specific second essay, the prompt is : please reflect on something you would like us to know about you that we might not learn from the rest of your application, or on something about which you would like to say more. You may write about anything—from personal experiences or interests to intellectual pursuits. Less than 500 words. 

WHY YALE

For the Why Yale question, they are looking for information as to their culture. Read their student blogs to get at this, usually situated on the Admissions page.  

RECOMMENDATION LETTERS

For recommendation letters, they are looking for specifics and even anecdotes as to how a student made an impact or an impression rather than “He was a good student, curious, great learner, pleasure to have in class.” 

For example: Jack organized a food drive, this is when, this is why and these were the results. Or in physics class, this was an experiment Naheed worked on and this is how it went over and above the requirement of the class. 

WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK

Most importantly, feel free to call any colleges admission office to get more clarification as to what they want to see from a student. They are very open.

Why the Road to College Starts in Freshman Year – Part 2

Why the Road to College Starts in Freshman Year – Part 2

Freshman & Sophomore Year – Laying the Foundation 
Grades, Extra Curricula’s & Community Service Matter
 
For many universities, the GPA and scores from standardized college entrance tests like SAT and ACT, are the first considerations. And when it comes to the GPA, it’s not enough to pick up the pace in Junior year. Cumulatively, your grades influence the scholarships and financial aid packages offered. 
 
College admissions officers also look at extra-curricular activities and community service. Establishing a track record is important – depth is preferable to breadth – and that means starting early.
 
Community service isn’t just what you do outside the home or for organizations. If you have family responsibilities, work part-time, contribute to the overall household income, watch your siblings while your parents work, look after an ailing grand-parent, let schools know. It all makes a difference. 
 
PSAT             
 
The Practice SAT (PSAT) is mandatory and given in October of Junior year, nationally. Not every student chooses to compete though all take it. The top half of the top 1% of PSAT scorers qualify to compete for the National Merit List scholarship and that takes place in Spring of Junior year.
 
The scholarship is approximately $2500, and while it may not seem a large amount relative to how hard it is to win it, being a National Merit List (NML) winner does open doors. If the NML is on your radar, start prepping early– possibly even as a freshman. You may not have covered all the curriculum in Freshman and Sophomore year but practice tests get you accustomed to the format. 
 
 
Disclaimer: All information on this blog should not be used as the sole source of information on a subject. It is valid at the time of its writing but may have changed since.

Why the Road to College Starts in Freshman Year – Part 1

Why the Road to College Starts in Freshman Year – Part 1

Fall is back-to-school time and for many parents and their high school seniors, it’s a scary time of the year.  If it happens to be the first born in the family, there’s even anxiety. If it’s an immigrant with a first-born and no history of applying to US universities, or a family with no previous college-going family members at all, it’s pretty much panic time. Throw in a high school counselor who has his hands full and the lost-at-sea, rudderless feeling is yours for the taking.
 
Welcome to Fall of senior year of high school. Alternatively, you could be a more seasoned, organized, parent and student duo, who have begun planning for college since Freshman year. This series of posts should help you get started. 
 
Freshman & Sophomore Year – Begin Laying the Foundation
Know Your End Goal – Even if it’s Kinda, Sorta, Perhaps
 
Some high schools offer credit courses in the summer to even incoming freshman students. Explore the possibility of taking those so you can make room in your schedule, if needed, for a more demanding class in the school year.  
 
Then there is the weighted Grade Point Average (GPA). Find out if Advanced Placement (AP) carries more weight at your high school. Have some idea, even if it’s a vague one, as to what kinds of colleges you’d like to attend. There are community colleges, state schools, top tier schools and extremely selective schools such as the Ivy League’s. If a selective school is even a blimp on your radar, not taking Honors or AP Classes, if your school offers them, can be a strike against you. Find out what prerequisites you may need, if any, to be able to take AP classes.
 
Besides the weighted GPA, why take an AP class? In instances where universities accept the AP credits accumulated, you may very well shave off time spent at the university since you don’t necessarily have to repeat those classes. Not only does that mean you could potentially pay less in tuition, but it means you could graduate sooner and perhaps even start earning a living that much quicker.  That said, not all universities accept AP course credits and even when they do, it may not be worth skipping that class. The curriculum covered in an AP class may or may not  cover all the ground that a university class does. You may want to consider whether a class is a building block to your major before deciding to “cash in” the AP Credits and skip it in university. 
 
Besides courses that are high school requirements for graduation, speak with your counselor to ensure that the rest of your courses align with the type of university you want to attend. In Illinois, for instance, three years of high school math meet high school graduation requirements. However, to pursue engineering, universities often require four years of Math in high school. To attend a California school, you must have a year of work in atleast one Arts-related course. To attend a competitive school, four years of a high school second language is often the requirement, versus the two years required for graduation requirements in states such as Illinois. Bottom line – think of high school as college preparatory years and be sure to consult early with your counselor. 
 
Disclaimer: All information on this blog should not be used as the sole source of information on a subject. It is valid at the time of its writing but may have changed since.  

 

Paying for College Could be (Somewhat) Easier Than we Think – Part 1

Paying for College Could be (Somewhat) Easier Than we Think – Part 1

Junior & Senior Year 
 
Paying for College – Myth Busters
 
Junior year should include time spent researching colleges to create a preliminary list. Use the internet to gather information. Have your kids attend college information sessions presented through September and October at their high school. Parents and students should consider attending university information nights being presented in their city, during the Fall and Spring. To compile a list of potential universities, examine what their requirements are and where your student stands in fulfilling them. Then look at tuition rates.
 
Remember, the sticker price, or the price on a college’s brochure, is not the price you pay, says Frank Palmasani, author of “Right College, Right Price” and counselor at Hinsdale Central High School in Illinois. A lower “net cost” is what you must pay out of pocket – minus scholarships, student loans, financial aid packages and grants. He recommends using the Net Price Calculator on each university’s website to determine net cost and out-of-pocket cost. You can use the information to even compare “net” price tags between private and public schools. What you discover may surprise you. 
 
Lesser known, small, private schools often incentivize students they want with great financial packages. Benedictine University in Lisle, IL, is known for generous offers to bright students. Depending on your income, some of the most prestigious schools require you to pay nothing, should you be accepted. Many community colleges, including College of DuPage  (COD) in Lisle, IL, also offer a full ride to students who meet, and once at COD maintain, a certain GPA.  
 
Junior year is also time to begin looking for scholarships as well. 
 
Like many, if the cost will impact your choice as to where to attend, applying to 10-12 colleges enables you to compare and see who offers the best financial aid package.  Some schools are open to negotiating their packages but be sure to check with them before you assume its acceptable. Lower income students can often request a voucher from their high school guidance counselor to have application fees waived.