Tag Archives: College application

Yes, she’s going to college.

On a cold winter’s night in January… I returned home from the basketball game while Mod Squad Julie and her dad went out for a meal.

First one, then the other called me. Julie had heard during the school day that application statuses would be posted that night, but with a team meal after school, then the game, there had been no opportunity to check.

Happy Mia, unaware she will be losing her best buddy in a few months

Happy Mia, unaware she will be losing her best buddy in a few months

Now, though, with the game behind her and me near a computer, could I check?

Yes, I could. She waited impatiently, worrying that it was bad news when it took longer than expected to navigate through the college’s interface.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Congratulations, it said.

We both shouted long and loud, laughing and exulting. Her younger brother called upstairs to see what the uproar was all about, then cheered in response. Julie asked me to text her older brother right away, who promptly shouted it out to his friends.

Then we all calmed down and moved on.

Financial aid applications demand our attention. There are more basketball games, scholarship applications, and the wait for regular admission results.

For now, though:  one’s first college acceptance is an awesome event.

If you have a high school senior in the house, I hope there has been plenty of good news coming your way.


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After college applications are done: 5 things to do now.

After your student’s (or your) college applications are done–and even if they’re not–January brings a new set of deadlines with it. These tasks need to be done now, or as soon as possible.

1. Request a PIN for the FAFSA (the student and the parent each need one). The student will use the same PIN each year; the parent can use one PIN for more than one child’s FAFSA. The PIN acts as an electronic signature for on-line submission.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 9.22.52 PM

2.  Start the FAFSA. Financial aid starts here; every college requires the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Information you will need on hand:

    • Student Social Security Number
    • Federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of income.
    • Bank statements and records of investments.
    • Records of untaxed income.
    • And that PIN to sign electronically.

Make sure you select the correct form (2014-2015) and submit as promptly as possible. (See more about deadlines below.)

3.  Start your tax return. If this process is new to you, now is the time to internalize the financial aid calendar. The FAFSA, the CSS Profile (used by most private colleges), and other college-specific applications require information now (or very soon) from the tax return you have not yet completed. Specifically, financial aid applications for the 2014-2015 college year require 2013 income tax return details in January 2014.

In many instances you are allowed to make estimations for 2013 using the previous year’s returns (and you will be asked to make projections for 2014); however, there’s at least one college on Mod Squad Julie’s list that requires signed, completed 2013 income tax returns by February 15, 2014.

4.  Know your deadlines. Create a spreadsheet with the name of each pending college application. Find and note each college’s financial aid requirements and deadlines. I started looking at one of these for our household on January 1st and learned my first deadline is January 15. Yikes.

Screen shot of our sign in and financial aid spreadsheet.

Screen shot of our sign in and financial aid spreadsheet.

For a fast search:  enter “college.edu” [use your college name] and “financial aid” into Google. For the next college, just change the college name. Most college financial aid sites have a page about how to apply; most of those “how to apply” pages provide specific needs and deadlines.

5.  Track each college’s Student Information System (SIS) instructions. Most colleges acknowledge receipt of applications with instructions on how to sign in to their Student Information System (SIS). Make sure your student follows the instructions, signs in now, and keeps track of the sign-in information. This seems simple enough, but it is even easier to overlook.

The college will post important notifications on the SIS, including:

  • missing application elements,
  • missing financial aid forms, and
  • application decisions.

The college will send an email when decisions are posted, but the college may or may not notify the student of missing information. It’s the student’s responsibility to check the SIS.

6.  Take a deep breath. Actually, I may need that advice more than any of this blog’s readers. Perhaps things were calm in your house in the run-up to the college application deadlines. Maybe it feels like there has been a nice, lazy break between the final submission and now. Or, was your experience anything like ours, with an application submitted early evening on December 31st, followed by perusing financial aid deadlines within twenty-four hours? If that’s the case:  take a deep breath.

Here we are, less than four months away from sending a deposit to a college. I expect this time to simultaneously drag (as Julie awaits decisions) and fly (as I face financial aid deadlines).

Fasten your seat-belts; we’re still in for a long ride.

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Filed under Getting In, Paying for College

Q&A: Our daughter’s a freshman. Should we be concerned about her grades?

A friend and parent of a high school freshman just asked:QandA block

Q.  You know our daughter; she’s very interested in athletics, and not so much in academics. She does okay, but I’m wondering:  should we be concerned about her grades this year?

A.  Ahhh. That’s a question each family has to answer for itself, since the level of concern that one might have (I won’t take on “should”) depends upon so many factors, such as:

  • How much time does she spend on schoolwork compared to her peers?
  • How stressed does she get now about her schoolwork?
  • How do her grades compare to what you think she’s capable of achieving?
  • What sort of colleges do you hope she could attend?

Then you might consider this, which seems obvious now, but we still had to learn by going through it with our first child:

While we talk about the elements of the student’s high school record–course selections, grade point average (GPA), and extracurriculars–that go into a college application, the application process is timed so we’re really talking about a high school record of the first three years.

"The Freshman"

“The Freshman”

Most seniors submit their applications anywhere from mid-October for an early admission application to the end of December for a regular admission application. The transcript will, in most cases, indicate course selections and a GPA through the end of junior year. The student’s extracurriculars could include the first part of senior year, but any opportunity to demonstrate strong areas of interest and leadership would require taking action in earlier years.

Guidance counselors will try to help students understand the importance of their grades and increased rigor in course selections from year to year.

It can be hard, though, for a freshman or sophomore to take this as seriously as the parents might (or as the parents might want her to).

I wrote recently about a UVa admissions counselor visiting our high school. (See Straight talk from a UVa admissions counselor:  everything’s important.) After that session, one of the attending parents complained at length to the guidance counselors that they didn’t require all students to come listen to the admissions counselor. The counselors responded that none of the information was different from that they shared with students when planning course selections every year. The parent insisted that students would pay more attention to the UVa representative than they would to the high school counselors and, certainly, to their own parents.

That may well be. I have no idea what works in other households; I barely know what works with our own teens. When we were trying to get their attention–talking about courses, grades, or extracurriculars–we tended to (and still do) talk about doing the best they could to keep as many options available to them as possible, whether that’s access to college or an internship or a job.

Good luck!

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How admissions officers work. Pearls Before Swine weighs in.

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 11.00.34 PMIn case you missed it in last Sunday’s paper, Stephan Pastis illustrates what admissions officers are up to right now. Or not.

See the full strip here.

If you really want to see what admissions officers are up to, many of them will tell you via their blogs or tweets. Just a few examples:

Check any college’s admission website; many offer blogs written by the admission officers, and many others offer blogs written by current undergrads. In both cases, the colleges provide a wealth of information about the school and about the processes involved in admissions.
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Essays, smack-talking siblings and a big college deadline

We are parents of a high school senior and we are in the midst of college application season.

Our oldest child worked his way through applications two years ago, acquainting us with the rhythms of deadlines and the components of transcripts, tests, essays, and recommendations.

Yet, even within one household, each student’s specific experience—in college prep coursework, activities, and his or her approach to the application itself—makes this process as singular as the student.

My husband describes the application process as complex project management. The student bears the responsibility for the content of the application; we can teach project management and help make sure not a single element of the project gets missed.

Our current senior, Mod Squad Julie, is already a skilled project manager who needs little more from us than an occasional schedule check. I may be able to help with some details, but Julie has an extraordinarily good handle on reality, what she wants to do, and what it takes to get there. Near the top of her task list now:  completing drafts of essays.

Seeing the student for who she is. Here’s where we think we can help Julie—and it’s not writing essays for her. There are two points to college essays:

  1. To see if the student can actually write at the level required by the college; and
  2. To help the college gain the best understanding they can of what each student is like.

Admissions officers will see so many similar numbers—on GPAs, SATs, SAT subject tests, APs. Well-crafted recommendations, extracurriculars, and interviews can help provide a more complete perspective of the student. Essays, though, are the student’s primary opportunity to include his or her own voice in the application package, and that “voice”—which can encompass writing style, turns of phrase, vocabulary, and philosophy, as well as choice of topic—can (and should) be as unique as the student.

Those essays can be tough to write well. Besides trying to show who they are without telling, many high school seniors mature rapidly through the year and are still trying to figure out who they are for themselves. It’s also tough on parents:  we want the best chances for our children, so there’s a strong temptation to push to make sure the essays put them in the best possible light. Yet putting every student in the best possible light defeats the purpose.

We are trying to help Julie see the young woman we see. We’re not about to tell her what to write, but we can describe to her the seventeen-year-old we know. We can remind her of how the present Julie connects to who she has been all of her life. Sometimes these conversations strike a chord; it’s very cool when her eyes light up as she thinks of a way she could write about herself that is true, genuine, and important to her self-identity. Even when our long-ranging talks don’t lead to inspiration for an essay, they provide us with something we absolutely cherish:  time with our daughter.

Missing the girl already. Here’s the biggest thing about having gone through this before. During our son’s senior year we anticipated his leaving with a parental mixture of trepidation (for us) and joy (for him). His excitement helped overcome our dismay… until he left and we missed him dreadfully. It doesn’t matter much that he lives seven miles away and we can see him often. We miss the impromptu piano recitals, the booming music heard through the walls when the car pulls into the garage, the gallons of milk that disappear, and the crazy smack-talk among three teen siblings.

College move in day

August 2012, helping the first one move to college.

We know now in a way we didn’t before—it’s seared into our hearts—that Julie will leave. We won’t have her presence in our daily lives: Julie’s insistence on “real meals” and a wide variety of fresh fruits, her sprawled out books and notes in at least four rooms of the house, her dry humor catching us unawares, girlfriend-movie-nights, basketball games, quick flashes of an almost-grown young woman. She will keep in touch, but she won’t be here.

Our relative composure about how Julie handles deadlines disappears when we think about the one with the biggest impact: eleven months from now she’ll go to college.

We accept that it’s our job to help her leave. We just will not pretend to like it.

This post appeared in slightly different form on True Admissions, the blog of College Admission: From Application To Acceptance.

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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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Filed under Getting In, High School

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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