College Admissions

Archive for April, 2010

Making the Most of College Fairs

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

When you go to a college fair, it can be overwhelming to walk into a huge convention center or school auditorium and see crowds of students and parents, and row after row of college booths. Many students wander from one booth to the next, picking up brochures that will end up in the trash. This is a passive approach that will leave you exhausted and frustrated by the end of the evening, and wondering why you bothered coming to the event.

But if you approach the college fair, as well as the entire college admission process, in an organized and proactive way, you’ll have a much more productive and satisfying experience. This means you start researching prospective colleges well before the college fair, so that you know which schools you want to learn more about. Check the list of schools that will be attending the fair, and come up with some questions specific to those colleges. Bring a notebook so you can write the answers, as well as your overall impressions of each school.

Each college will have a card for you to fill out so that you can be added to their mailing list. If you bring printed labels with your name, address, email, high school name and year of graduation, you can stick a label on the card instead of having to write the information over and over.  

If you’re attending a big national fair, with hundreds of colleges, you will receive a map and list of attendees when you arrive. Locate the schools on your list, and plan your route. At each booth, introduce yourself to the representative. At a smaller college fair sponsored by a high school, some of the colleges may have alumni representatives, who can tell you why they love their college and how attending that school impacted their lives. At larger fairs, you may be talking with the admissions officer who will read your application. If you engage her in conversation, ask intelligent questions and show genuine interest in the college, she is likely to remember you, especially if you follow up with an e-mail.

In addition to asking about academic programs and student life on campus, you might want to ask admissions officers for their advice in planning a visit. Since they travel for college fairs and high school visits, they often have valuable travel tips, like which airline has nonstop flights to the closest airport. At the end of the conversation, thank the representative and ask for a business card. Sometime in the next few days, send an e-mail letting her know that you enjoyed your conversation and asking any additional questions you have about the college. You will have begun the process of demonstrating interest, which is a factor in admission decisions at some schools.

If you have time and aren’t exhausted after visiting all the schools on your list, you can stop at other booths. That’s a good way to learn about college you might have overlooked in your preliminary research.

Making Your Final Decision

Friday, April 9th, 2010

The hoping, praying and waiting are over. Colleges have made their admission decisions, and it is time for students to evaluate their college options. If you have a clear first choice, you can send an enrollment deposit and enjoy the last few months of high school. If you have been admitted to a lot of appealing colleges, you now have the enviable problem of needing to decide which school you want to attend. 


After years of doing everything they could to impress colleges, students can now let the colleges try to impress them. From now until the May 1 notification deadline, admissions officers will be pursuing newly admitted students. There will be flattering letters, e-mails and phone calls, as well as invitations to special programs for admitted students.


These local receptions and on-campus programs are designed to get prospective freshmen excited about the college. You can get a lot of information about a school at an admitted student day. There may be presentations by professors and students, as well as an activity fair, where you can learn about campus clubs and community service opportunities. You get to meet some of your future classmates. But it is important to remember that the colleges are selling themselves at these events. You are meeting the most enthusiastic students and seeing the school at its best.  


Some students prefer to visit on a typical day, without all the hoopla, so that they can have a more realistic experience of life at the college. You can ask the admissions office to set up a visit where you attend classes, eat with students in a dining hall, and perhaps spend the night in a residence hall. 


Even if you visited the college before you applied, it’s worth making another trip. You see a school differently after you’ve been admitted.  It’s more real. You notice different things as you walk across the campus and picture yourself living there next year.


Whether you go to a special event or visit the school on your own, be sure to spend some time talking with students about the college. It is better to find out now how hard it is to get into popular classes, or that everyone goes home on weekends, or that you’ll have no social life if you don’t join a fraternity. This is also the time to talk to students in your major. How do they feel about their professors? Are they getting the advising they need? What are students in that major doing after graduation?


If any students from your high school are currently attending the colleges you’re considering, arrange to meet them on campus and ask about their experiences. Why did they choose that college and has it met their expectations? What do wish they had known when they were making the decision about which college to attend? Would they make the same choice today? Getting as much information as possible will help you make an informed decision.


Preferences can change during senior year. Look at these schools with fresh eyes. This is the time to review your personal priority list and consider what tradeoffs you are willing to make. If one school has big sports and school spirit, and another is located in a major city with access to internships but no sense of community on campus, which kind of college experience do you really want?


Students who start their college application process thinking they want to try living in another part of the country sometimes realize that they want to be able to come home for a weekend. This is the time to be honest with yourself, and if you know you are not ready to be a plane ride away from home, there is nothing wrong with choosing a school that is within driving distance. One of my students had grown up in California and always wanted to go to college in New York, but after he was admitted to Columbia, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to be all the way across the country. He ultimately chose Stanford for his undergraduate education, and plans to attend law school in New York.


Cost is another major factor in making your final decision. If your third choice college has offered a $15,000 a year scholarship, so that you would save $60,000 over four years, that college might move up to first choice. Financial considerations could be especially important if you’re planning to go on to law, medical or graduate school.


It may seem like an agonizing decision, but if you applied to colleges that are good matches, all of your choices should be good ones. There are no wrong decisions. You can be happy at any of these colleges. Once you make your decision, you will invest emotionally in that school, and it becomes the right choice.


For high school juniors who are thinking about where to apply, the key to having good college options at this time next year is to engage in a thoughtful process of self-assessment. If you focus on applying to your best matches rather than the most prestigious colleges, you should be happy with all your choices when it’s time to make your final decision. 



College Admission Update – Another Competitive Year

Monday, April 5th, 2010

At the end of spring break, many high school juniors and their families come home exhausted after visiting colleges. In addition to an often punishing schedule of two or even three college tours a day, the reality that they are beginning the high-stakes college admission process can put students and parents on edge.


Then there are the reports of this year’s admission decisions, which only add to the stress. Applications were up at many selective colleges, pushing acceptance rates at some schools to record lows.


Applications increased at all UC campuses. UCLA received 57, 578 freshman applications, and Berkeley had a record 50,312 freshman applications this year.  Harvard and Stanford saw applications increase by roughly five percent.  Both Princeton and University of Pennsylvania received over 4,000 additional applications this year, close to a 20 percent increase at each school.  Brown and University of Chicago each had increases of more than 5,000 applications.  Even a relatively modest 3 percent increase at Columbia means 750 additional students competing for admission.


You can blame California for some of the increases. The state’s ongoing budget crisis and severe funding cuts at California’s public universities have led more California students to apply to out of state schools. Anxiety about the competition for admission and the desire to compare financial aid packages and scholarship offers may also be leading students around the country to apply to more colleges.


When applications increase, acceptance rates decrease. At Penn, the admit rate dropped from 17.1 percent last year to 14.2 percent this year. Stanford admitted 7.2 percent of applicants, while Harvard’s acceptance rate dropped just under 7 percent, a record low for the school.  Georgetown had a 19 percent admit rate. University of Virginia admitted 24 percent of out-of-state applicants. Duke’s admit rate dropped from last year’s 17 percent to a new low of 15 percent.  One of the most dramatic decreases in acceptances was at University of Chicago, where 27 percent of students were admitted last year and only 18 percent this year.


The cycle seems poised to continue, as this year’s low acceptance rates will raise anxiety to even higher levels, and students will think they need to apply to more schools next year. While colleges may be able to boast of increasing selectivity, this situation really is not good for anyone. Families are more stressed, and when students apply to more colleges each year, admissions officers have a harder time predicting which students will accept an offer of admission.


Admissions officers at schools that are just below the super-selective level can find it especially difficult to distinguish serious applicants from the students who just want a “safety” school. This can lead some colleges to waitlist “stealth” applicants, those who have not had any contact with the school other than submitting an application. Admissions officers want to protect their yield, which is the number of students accepting an offer of admission. Stronger students may be waitlisted, while others with lower grades or test scores are admitted. The seeming arbitrariness of admission decisions raises anxiety for the next year’s applicants, who then think they need to apply to more colleges because they have heard stories of students with stellar academic records not being admitted to colleges they thought were safe bets.


So we have admissions officers and families worrying about numbers and taking actions that can raise anxiety levels on both sides. For students, one of the problems with applying to too many schools is that you are more likely to submit the kind of generic application that will get you waitlisted. Even if you are applying to schools that use the Common Application, you will need to write additional essays for many of the colleges. Preparing a strong application requires research, so that you can write very specifically about why you and that college are a match. Students who apply to 15 colleges rarely put that kind of effort into each application. You might believe you can do a really great job on all your applications, but most students start to feel burned out by the time they are working on their eighth or ninth application.  


This process doesn’t need to be so stressful. Juniors who have visited colleges in recent weeks should think about what they liked at each school. Beyond prestige, what is it that appealed to you at the school? If you identify the characteristics you want in a college, you can find schools of varying selectivity that have those features. Then you are ready to create a balanced list, with several highly likely, match and reach schools. The exact distribution may depend on your tolerance for rejection. Some students want to have a lot of acceptances, in part because their preferences may change by next year and they want to have options. It may also be important to compare financial aid and scholarship offers from different schools. Others only need one or two schools where they know they’ll be accepted and then they want to try for a lot of reach schools. If you choose carefully and plan on applying to somewhere between six and ten schools, you should be able to put your best effort into each application and have a successful college admission process.