Monthly Archives: June 2013

This just in: summer vacation!

Yesterday was the final day of school for the local school district, but the summer break launched in stages for our household.

Mod Squad Pete’s first year of college ended May 10th. He came home for a night, then headed off to South Carolina for Beach Week with friends from school.

South Carolina

South Carolina

M.S. Linc graduated from middle school at the end of May. Four days later he traveled solo to visit family in the Midwest.

The farm

The farm

M.S. Julie completed her junior year on June 6th and left for the North Carolina beaches the following day.

North Carolina

North Carolina

All that to say:  happy summer! Turn up the volume! (We’ll deal with reading requirements, internships, camps, and application essays soon enough. Next week, right, Julie?)


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A short treatise on college rejection.

I’ve been thinking about college rejection lately. Spring — March, especially — is the season for letters of rejection, and I wondered how our nephew and other HS seniors were doing. I have thought about it when we talk with Mod Squad Julie about college choices and which selective schools she is considering.

I thought about it quite a bit during Suzy Lee Weiss’s fifteen minutes of fame, which led me to think about appropriate ways to deal with rejection, especially since this is the first time many teens may experience such a clear-cut dismissal of their hopes.

Students can avoid rejection if they wish, with a number of options, including being realistic about their college choices.

  • DIY College Rankings offers 50-50 lists — colleges which accept more than forty-nine percent of their applicants and graduate more than forty-nine percent of their students within five years.
  • In Virginia, high school students can study two years at a community college and, with a B average, earn guaranteed admission into a state university. That’s the no-drama way to get into an excellent college, besides being extremely cost-effective.

Many thousands of high school seniors, however, will apply to a short list of very well known colleges, including the thirty that accept fewer than twenty percent of their applicants. Anyone choosing the path of most-selective-school-lottery needs to prepare to accept rejection.

As Lynell Engelmyer wrote in Who the Heck is Getting into Ivy League Schools: “Realize that the odds of getting into any of this country’s most selective colleges are quite remote. Try it, you don’t have a lot to lose, but be realistic.”

I realize when I write “appropriate ways to deal with rejection” that “appropriate” is highly subjective. You will see, by my selections below, where I stand:  an admissions rejection letter is just that. It is not the end of the world. I’m quite curious about how others think about this — please let me know in comments.

“I found myself with a choice.”

Leobardo Espinoza, Jr., a high school senior in Kansas, wrote How It Feels to Be Rejected by a ‘Reach School’, in The Choice, the NYT blog on college admissions:

I found myself with a choice. I could choose to be pessimistic or optimistic about what the future held for me. I had always been realistic, so instead I went with “none of the above” and refused to be any different than I had been in the past.

I may not have a say in whether a college accepts me or not, but I do have a say when it comes to my own destiny. I’ve made the decision to make the best of my college years wherever I go, and that’s what will happen.

“Be disappointed for a while, then move on.”

How to deal with college rejection, by Bonnie Miller Rubin, in the Chicago Tribune, wrote:

“Admissions is not about students — it’s about assembling a class on institutional priorities, whether that’s athletics, orchestra or getting more women into science and engineering,” said Patrick Tassoni of North Side Prep. “You can’t take it personally … but everyone does.”

Each year, Marybeth Kravets, a now-retired college counselor at Deerfield High School, sees applicants delaying a decision until mid-August, clinging to the wispy hope that they will be plucked from a wait list.

Her advice: Be disappointed for a while, then move on. To help with the letting go, the counselor would hold a “rejection” party in her office each year. Only those with a “We regret to inform you” letter were invited.

“He shrugged and offered me a drink.”

Required Reading for Parents. True Admissions shared Joan Didion’s essay, published in 1968, on being rejected by Stanford in 1952. Here’s a clip, though I recommend you read the entire essay.

My rejection was different, my humiliation private: No parental hopes rode on whether I was admitted to Stanford, or anywhere. Of course my mother and father wanted me to be happy, and of course they expected that happiness would necessarily entail accomplishment, but the terms of that accomplishment were my affair. Their idea of their own and of my worth remained independent of where, or even if, I went to college. Our social situation was static, and the question of “right” schools, so traditionally urgent to the upwardly mobile, did not arise. When my father was told that I had been rejected by Stanford, he shrugged and offered me a drink.

“Your brains matter more than your alma mater.”

From the excellent “Should I go to college? The FAQ from The Atlantic. I recommend the entire FAQ; see the screenshot on not getting in, below:

The Atlantic. Should I go to college?

“You can’t shield your student from this moment.”

From College Parent Central, College Acceptance — or Rejection Letters: Ten ways parents can help students cope:

Recognize that you can’t shield your student from this moment. Although, as parents, we always want to make things better for our children, your student must come to his own terms with the news he receives.  As difficult as this time may be, this is one of many steps toward independence and maturity that your child will face in the coming years.

“Let’s put our arm around the shoulders of kids who got rejected.”

Jon Boeckenstedt, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management for Policy and Planning at DePaul University, in The Best Way to Deal with College Rejection, provided a different perspective.

Every time I hear about the collective angst over rejected teenagers, or every time I hear adults devising ways to help them cope with the sting, I think of this:  The 200,000 kids who enlisted in WWII before their 18th birthday, many of whom fought at Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, The Battle of Anzio, or Omaha Beach.   And I’m not even one of those flag-waving patriots who chokes up at the National Anthem.

Those kids had it tough.  Many didn’t come back, and didn’t get a chance to attend their third-choice institution.

Let’s put our arm around the shoulders of kids who got rejected.  Tell them to keep their chins up, to move on, and to realize that in the end, this will probably be considered a minor setback.  And then, let’s do the same for ourselves.

“Would you be kind enough to send me a MAD rejection slip?”

Finally, do not miss this inimitable take on rejection from Mad magazine: “The Rejection Slip,” by Tom Hudson, as published in Mad magazine, July 1963 (Issue No.80), as found in Letters of Note. This is only a screenshot. Follow the link for all ten pages.

Screen shot; 1st of 10 pages.

Screen shot; 1st of 10 pages.

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How to deal with college application deadlines, part three: 7 Tools

In February I wrote, How do you handle deadlines?, outlining our household strategies, and asked for other suggestions. A number of people responded, leading to this series of three posts:

  1. How to deal with college application deadlines, part one:  9 Tips.
  2. How to deal with college application deadlines, part two:  Professional Advice.
  3. And now, tools to try for yourself.

I don’t believe one system will work for everyone — my methods of tracking work flow and deadlines might drive someone else nuts.

Here are a number of options for students and families to consider, including various checklists, spreadsheets, calendar suggestions, and apps. Maybe one of these will work well for you.

College Admission worksheet.

College Admission worksheet.

1. Application Deadline Organizer. Robin Mamlet and Christine Vandevelde, authors of College Admission: From application to acceptance, step by step, provide a number of spreadsheets in their book and, downloadable versions, on their website. Before building your own spreadsheet to track college application deadlines, take a look at this.

2.  Five Organizational Apps.  DIY College Prep provided 5 Free Organization & Planning Tools for Students. I’ve listed them below, see DIY College Prep for the links.

Is disorganization your downfall? Has an assignment deadline ever slipped your mind due to messy personal files? If so, you probably realize that you’ll save yourself unnecessary time and grief by figuring out how to get those files in order. Fortunately, some nifty free tools on the web can help you become a better-organized student.

  • Time and Date
  • Soshiku
  • Ta-Da Lists
  • Toodledo
  • Remember the Milk

3.  College Application Checklist. DIY College Rankings offers a spreadsheet and checklist in 5 Ways to Get Smart About Filling Out College Applications

Applying to college is all about organization. Colleges will have different deadlines, use different forms, and require different essays and you need to be able to keep track of it all. The College Application Checklist is a comprehensive check list for all the steps involved in the college application process. Use it as the basis for organizing the process. (Sign up for the DIY update in the box on the left and get a spreadsheet to help track your college applications.)

4.  College App Wizard. Lynell Engelmyer and Kelly Herrington built an app to manage the requirements from each college:

Because we know how much teens and parents struggle with college applications, all of the pieces that must be in place and the multitude of deadlines, we created a web-based software tool that allows students to enter the colleges to which they’ll apply, answer a few short questions, and then receive a list of all of the requirements for that college. The list is sortable and comes with text message and/or email reminders and the ability for parents/mentors to view the students progress.
Custom tasks, like scholarship deadlines and more can be added. We welcome any feedback you may have.

CollegeBoard application checklist.

CollegeBoard application checklist.

5.  CollegeBoard Checklist for each College. The College Board website, Big Future, offers a checklist to print and use for each college application.

6.  Build in a calendar buffer. Cal Newport, via Study Hacks, suggests, Controlling your schedule with deadline buffers.

Any serious deadline should not exist on your calendar just as a note on a single day. It should instead be an event that spans the entire week preceding the actual deadline. (In Google Calendar, I do this by making it an “all day” event that lasts the full duration; e.g., as in the screenshot at the top of this post.)

The motivation behind this hack is to eliminate the possibility for pile-ups to happen without your knowledge. If you buffer each deadline with a week-long event, any overlap will become immediately apparent.

7.  College Essay Organizer. Daniel Stern and Scott Farber created an essay manager to help the student track down all his or her required essays and to coordinate the number of essays a student has to write. The essay questions are free, an Essay Road Map with a personalized writing plan costs $24.

We all know that writing your college essays is incredibly challenging. But what most people don’t realize, until it’s too late, is that simply finding and organizing your questions is often just as difficult — and equally important.

Essay QuickFinder organizes all your School App and Common App supplement questions in one place. It doesn’t replace the Common App … but it finally makes sense of it.

Let me know, in comments, if any of these work for you — or if there are others you would recommend.

Even the best tools still require a highly motivated student to use them. And/or strong nudges.

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How to deal with college application deadlines, part two: Professional Advice

First, I wrote, How do you handle deadlines?, outlining our hourglasshousehold strategies, and asked for other suggestions.

Second, I listed some of those suggestions in How to deal with college application deadlines, part one:  9 Tips.

Here, in a long but valuable read, is advice from a number of independent college counselors. I’ve provided a link for each, and I reiterate my thanks for the advice they’ve offered. Emphasis (in bold) is mine.

Patti Brugman, Perfect Fit College Consultants:

We earn our money by helping with the deadline struggle. It’s not easy unless you’re devoted to the task. By starting early, I create a calendar and review tasks every week. We make appointments to stay weeks ahead of every deadline. It’s a bit neurotic schedule-wise, but we are relaxed and the students and families are all happy. Beepers on your calendar also help!

Dorine Russo, The Collegeologist:

While I’m sure I will elicit a chuckle, these kinds of deadlines are a little like setting the clocks in your house ten minutes fast so your husband will be punctual. I have urged my students to keep a spreadsheet and use color as a guide so to speak. List the real deadline in blue (the student’s “responsibility” deadline in red) and backdate everything a month. They can begin early to light a fire in order to get others to meet deadlines and if there are circumstances that delay… they are still in a good place. I also urge to set application deadlines for Nov 1st (Oct 1st) for all colleges. I want students to utilize their summer time to their advantage so that essays are completed, applications are ready to send (or hit send) and all “forms” are in @ guidance as soon as they return to school. Their only obligation is making sure the teacher recs have come in. They also have to schedule “appointment” time weekly with their counselor if things are being held up on that end until there is assurance everything is sent (by the deadline the student has self imposed).

They can then enjoy senior year… stress free and they did their part early enough that counselors aren’t overburdened. Also, urge them to keep track of the guidance portal (Naviance) to make sure everything was imported as promised. I might add… if it’s an overly stressed student or dare I say “helicopter parent” … will make sure colleges called and they are in receipt. Hope this helps.

Marla Platt, AchieveCoach College Consulting:

One of the toughest aspects of operating in advance of “deadlines” is that students are so accustomed to the due date structure of high school academics. After all, who hands in a class assignment before the due date <g>? So with that goes my oft-repeated mantra: “Deadlines are NOT due dates!”

Edward Schoenberg, Otis College of Art and Design

I don’t know if this will be any help at all but let me share some observations from the college side especially those of us who use “rolling admissions.” It is clearly stated in all Otis College of Art and Design’s materials that we begin to review fall applications on December 1 every year. It is also clearly stated that our “priority deadline” is February 15 every year.

Each application is reviewed by an individual who does a summary of the student’s qualifications and then the file is reviewed by the Admissions Committee. When we begin our reviews in December everybody is fresh, eager and focused. The number of files that come through in December and January are steady and the flow is manageable. Then February 1 rolls around and the “crush” begins. We will receive 65 to 75 percent of our entire application pool in the two weeks between February 1 and February 15. The effort and time it takes to process the applications is staggering and there are many late night and weekend reading sessions.

I don’t know about the others who read admissions files but I can attest that personally I’m not as fresh, eager or focused in February as I was in December and January when I could take more time with the file, re-read essays, study the student’s portfolio and carefully read the narrative portions of the recommendations.

So if a student is applying to the school where they use human beings (as opposed to computers) to conduct a holistic review; to get the reviewers’ and the committee’s fullest attention, apply well before the deadline when everyone is still fresh, eager and focused. That’s my .02 cents from the college side.

Christel Milak-Parker, College Connections:

I advise my students that submitting an application and the supporting materials significantly before the deadline implies interest. It may not be as strong a sign as binding early decision, but it does let a college know that they are not a last minute add-on. In addition to this, I create deadline spreadsheets and as necessary, follow-up with cyber-nagging.

That does not mean that all my students miss no deadlines, but the ones that do, do so by choice.

When I begin with students in the junior year or earlier, I tell them that the goal is to have at least 75% of their application materials completed before the first day of school as a senior. I then place them on a schedule during the summer to achieve this. Some reach the goal and others fall off schedule by their own choice.

I investigated College Essay Organizer but found that most of the colleges’ essays were not posted until mid-August, which was later than when I found the essays on some of the college websites. Since I like my students to begin writing as strategizing for their essays as soon as possible, I did not find the timeliness of this resource an ideal fit.

Judy Zodda, Zodda College Services

I don’t know what others practices/policies are like with the clients you serve, but for families planning to work with me, I tell them up front that the goal is to have everything (essays, supplements, Common App, other school’s apps not on the common app, Resume, etc.), all completed by August 31 before the start of their senior year. That means they are working with me all summer to complete these things and they must leave time in their summer schedule to do this and also finish up college visits, as much as possible on the college visit side. (Some do some extra ones in the fall because they are athletic recruits). This way they can concentrate on the getting the best grades of their lives and also clean up details in the fall (like notifying the Guidance office and their recommenders where they are applying along with the deadlines and submitting the actual applications by early October or before). I have my arts students also writing musician’s statements, artist’s statements, portfolio comments all in that summer as well.

While the students feel like they are working with a slave driver (and I do tell them this in advance), they are so happy to usually be the among the first to submit their applications and have the monkey off their backs. They watch as their other friends and classmates try to juggle everything that they haven’t yet done in a fall term that is nearly unmanageable. For my performing arts students, it is particularly critical to have everything done upfront because many colleges/universities will not schedule auditions until the completed application is in!

I have client management software that helps with my own deadlines and an Excel spreadsheet that I have developed for those who want to see everything that has to be done on one piece of paper and they can fill it in as they complete each item for each college. I also use the College Essay Organizer to help my students see they don’t have to write 15 essays, but maybe only 5 as these can be recylced for different colleges. If they miss my deadlines, I am on the phone and sending emails (that also go to their parents), reminding them they have missed my deadline. My job is to make sure they get their jobs done well before any college deadlines.

Not every one can work with me, and I do have students every year who are “stragglers” dragging their feet, but the majority are done well in advance. Some just have personalities where they are just natural born procrastinators, but I usually know this in advance through the administration early on in the process of the “dowhatyouare” career and inventory assessment that tells me what personality type they are. I am just a deadline oriented person and I believe in getting as much done upfront as possible because you can never predict what is going to happen on the back end. I personally don’t like 11th hour drama and I know this about myself. That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever have it and I have to remind myself that if I stay cool, they will too!

In addition, I establish my own due dates for students so that I have time to review their essays et. al. That’s part of our job: to guide the process which includes adherence to due dates — much better than deadlines.

Monica Matthews, How to Win College Scholarships:

The early bird gets the worm! I looked into a scholarship that wasn’t due until May 1st and was told (last week!) that the money had already been awarded. I had made a note to “apply early as money is given out on a first come, first served basis”, but had no idea it was given out THAT early. Encouraging students to get applications in as early as possible is the best possible advice, as well as giving letter of recommendation writers lots of time and not pressuring them because of a looming deadline.

Oh, yes. While there are many aspects of college admissions for which families can use help, this one — helping ensure students adhere to due dates — might be the most valuable.

Coming next, part three with specific tools to try.

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