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Most students (and parents) make several seemingly benign errors in their college admissions process that can cost them dearly. Below are nine ways families make common mistakes and suggestions how to avoid them. If you like the tips, do let us know what you think.
1. Dropping Context
Context is critical in the admissions process. What is context? It is your background. Your family's background. For example, applicants from low socio-economic backgrounds are measured with a different yardstick than affluent applicants who have had numerous opportunities for personal and academic growth and exploration. Those who have to work to help with family finances simply do not have the time to take extracurricular activities or even AP classes. Some students may have a learning disability or a physical handicap, or a difficult family situation. Colleges look at all of this information.
Make it easy for colleges to know your context. Where do you live? What kind of family responsibilities do you have? What kind of difficulties do you face? What opportunities you have had that you made good use of? Do not leave our vital personal story. If you do, you will lose out in the admission game. You want to stand out and therefore make sure that the admissions committee sees the real you.
2. Lack of Balance
Be mindful of the number of times you use “I” in your essays. Do you give credit to teachers, mentors, parents, and others who have helped you along the way? Of course, you have to write about yourself and talk about yourself as the unique individual you are. At the same time, however, you have to talk about how you can contribute to the college. For example, if you an art major and the school of your dreams has a great theater program, think of how you can add to the value of the program. Or, if you have an interest in science, think of what unique work you want to do that will help the science program at your college. Etc.
3. Lack of Ambition and Vision
If you are applying to a top school, you must demonstrate ambition and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish there. Don't say that I just want a job after graduation. You can go to a community college (and save a lot of money) and do just that.
Think about what you want to do after college. What will you learn in the school that will help you achieve your goals? Which courses? The more specific you are, the more you will impress the admissions officers. Plus, it will show that you know what you want and have done your homework about the school.
4. Not Improving your IQ (Interest Quotient)
Today, college admissions are ultra competitive. Many students have similar GPAs, test scores, and even extracurricular activities. You will need recommendations and your Interest Quotient (IQ)--your demonstrated interest--to tip the scale in your favor.
According to the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC), from 2003 to 2011, the percentage of colleges rating demonstrated interest as a “considerably important” factor increased from 7% to 21%.
Schools want to admit students who genuinely know and like the school, and if admitted, want to attend the school. How do you then demonstrate your interest? First, you have to increase you IQ (interest quotient).
5. Writing One Essay for All
It’s tough applying to 10 schools while you’re juggling a busy school schedule. It’s tempting to try to answer the essay prompts for all 10 supplements with that one great essay you worked so hard on -- but be careful. You can score low marks on the demonstrated interest test if it is obvious to the reader that you have repurposed an essay for another school. Admission officers usually know the prompts from competitive institutions, so they could notice and be unimpressed with your essay.
6. Poor Grammar & Punctuation
You are expected to have a strong command of proper grammar and punctuation. In today's age, you have no excuse given the grammar tools available. You don’t want to give the admission committee ANY reasons to put your application in the reject pile, but poor grammar and punctuation will get you there quick. Even if English is your second language, try to have a native speaker review your application for glaring errors in grammar, word choice, and punctuation. Use a grammar and spelling tool to correct obvious mistakes.
7. Not Proofreading
Having mentioned spell-check and other word processor tools, don't just rely on them. They can also fail you. There is a lot riding on your college application. Treat it as very important and not a chore you got to do. That is not the attitude you should have. And that is why we advise to focus only on your top 10-15 -- one by one.
8. Forgetting the Admissions Rubric
Admissions officers use a “rubric” as a guide. They differ from school to school, but their function is to evaluate core components of a student’s profile:
Be aware of this rubric. Make sure you have addressed the rubric in your application.
9. Not Understanding the 'Yield'
Yield in college admissions is the percent of students who choose to enroll in a particular college or university after having been offered admission. [Source: Wikipedia]
Schools like to manage their yield, or the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll, and IQ can be a great predictor for that. Many students do not enroll due to various reasons: money, girl or boy friend, family, fear of the unknown or distance from home, etc. The top, top students may not go to a specific college, given they have a plethora of choices. You can increase your opportunity by helping the school increase its yield. Increase your IQ (interest quotient) for the colleges in your list.
If you need support and have questions, do not hesitate to consult with the Hillview Prep team!
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“I am absolutely, unequivocally and categorically scared to enter the college admissions process. And chances are that if you are a rising high school senior, you are too. In the increasingly competitive milieu that is college admissions, no college is a “safe school.” Acceptance letters from dream schools couldn’t be more hard found, nor rejection letters more prevalent.”
Following is a list of students' concerns:
1. What if I don’t get accepted?
Admission rates at the 100 or so most selective colleges have declined significantly over the past 30 years, from 54 percent in 1984 to 32 percent in 2012. Numbers at the Ivies are daunting: 6 percent at Harvard, 6 percent at Yale, 7 percent at Columbia. It is 5 percent at Stanford.
However, top colleges have gotten a lot bigger. Many of the universities have added seats (like Michigan, Berkeley and Boston University), while some huge schools have joined the ranks of the elite (think NYU, USC and UCLA).
There are 55 percent more seats available today than there were 30 years ago. Even considering the increase in international applicants, there are 44 percent more seats for every American student than in the early 1980s.
While it's more difficult to get into any one top college, getting into one of the top colleges is much easier. We suggest to apply to several schools and not to set your heart on one or two schools only.
2. Am I SMART enough?
“My biggest fear was not being good enough. I knew that I was going to a big college where many brilliant students were going to attend, so competition for scholarships was going to be tough. I overcame this fear by focusing on my learning. Instead of thinking about average exam scores or grades in a class (which can be easy to compare yourself to), I thought about how I could improve my test scores and focused more on what I wanted my grade to be, regardless of others.”
If you got into the college, the admissions department obviously thinks you can handle the work. So don’t sell yourself short. Surround yourself with people who want to succeed, too. They’ll be the people to turn to when times get tough. Start by getting organized: follow the course syllabus and meet your professors.
3. How am I going to pay for college?
Fill out the FAFSA form, even if you don't qualify for the Federal needs based criteria. Did you know that any student who fills out a FAFSA—no matter how wealthy—can take a federal “unsubsidized” loan? The key word here is “unsubsidized”. Check out Advice from Students About Paying for College for some great tips.
Finally, check out Hillview Prep's Ultimate Guide for Scholarships. Here you can find many different scholarships that you can apply for and help pay for college.
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Image from Pixabay
"They need to fall in love with you."
College admissions @Duke
“I tell kids that their job is to make the [officer] fall in love with you,” Toor says. “I’ve written many notes to students asking them to meet me as soon as they get to campus.”
~ Hillview Prep: Showcase your unique personality with your essays. Contact us if you want our help.
Assistant Director @USC
"Become familiar with what the university can offer you in terms of academic and extracurricular experiences, but then think one step further. What do you offer the university? Imagine being here--how will you spend your time? What do you want to explore or improve? What will be your contributions to the community? Don't underestimate yourself! Articulating your potential impact will give us a better sense of who you are and whether USC is a good fit for you."
Dean of Admissions @MIT
“What I tell students, and my own kids, is that you don’t have to take every advanced class. My high school daughter, for example, is taking advanced math and science courses but chose not to take advanced English and history. You should challenge yourself. For some students this might mean taking the most advanced classes, but it also might mean taking the most advanced classes appropriate for that student, and not spreading themselves too thin.”
Applicants do not need to tick off a laundry list of engagement in every field, like art, music, sports, Mr. Schmill explains. “M.I.T., and other highly selective colleges, want students who prioritize quality over quantity.” Mr. Schmill offers high school students this litmus test when choosing extracurricular activities: “If you couldn’t write about this on your college application, would you still do it?’ If the answer is ‘no,’ then you shouldn’t be doing it.”
Assistant Director @USC
"Identify all of your strengths and interests, and do your homework on how you could fit in here at USC. Do not be afraid to step out of your box and be unique."
Associate Director, Office of Admissions @Texas A&M University
"I wish students knew to contact their universities of interest and research the steps of the application process before their senior year. Pre-planning can eliminate some of the trials and errors of applying to school. The sooner students conduct research on the application process and what it takes to be admitted, the better they understand which classes they need to take and how they should organize their past, current and future activities."
Senior Assistant Director @USC
"Take chances. Allow your application to be a true representation of who you are, not who you think we want you to be. By demonstrating your individuality – your quirks, your unique perspective, your heart – you will set yourself apart from other applicants."
~ Hillview Prep: How do you set yourself apart? Contact us if you want our help.
Former Admissions Officer @Cornell
Friedfeld says universities are essentially looking for community residents with a four-year lease. “As an admissions officer, you’re picking people to enroll in your community, your space, for the next four years. They’re going to choose who they like and who they want to get to know.” At AcceptU, Friedfeld hands out sample essays, then asks students their thoughts. “They’ll say they liked the writing. It’s not about that. It’s about whether you liked who wrote it.”
Senior Assistant Director @USC
Choose a major that you are actually passionate about and want to pursue. Your interest (or lack thereof) for that field is obvious. If you don’t know what you’re interested in, or are still deciding, then choosing “undecided” is okay, you have plenty of time to figure that out.
"I’ve run into many students over the years who are not aware that some colleges to which they are applying track every contact point the students has had with that college or university as a way to gauge a student’s “demonstrated interest.”
My advice to students is to do whatever you can do to leave a paper trail that demonstrate interest in the colleges you to which you apply (i.e. visit, email their admissions offices, call them, join their mailing lists, open their emails, interview etc.)."
Micah A. E. Canal
Chief Admission Officer @Antioch College
College ‘Fit’ Goes Both WaysI wish more students applying to college understood just how important “right-fit” is. Do we want to see people who were successful in high school and had a bunch of extracurricular activates? Yes, absolutely. But you can make an even better case for admission by showing us that you are going to be able to be highly successful and benefit most from the uniqueness of our institution.
Do your research. Don’t only make the case that you’re great, make the case that you’re a great match great for us.
International Admission Officer @USC
"Tell us your unique and individual story – and if you don’t think you have one, I promise you that you do. Consult your friends, teachers, parents, counselors if you’re stuck. Don’t tell me what you think I want to know to hear, because I have probably seen it before and it will not help you stand out. Have confidence in yourself and your story and convey it to us with passion and enthusiasm. These small things can make a huge difference!"
College admissions @Duke
“Two letters of endorsement are enough,” she says, “unless a third can really shed new light on the student.” The record at Duke was 32 letters, though Toor once heard Georgetown had an application with 70. “We used to joke that the thicker the file, the thicker the kid.”
"The three rates that give parents and students peace of mind"
Associate VP and Dean of Admission @University of Richmond
“As my son prepares his college list, I’m going to hand him a spreadsheet. Across the top will be the schools, and down the side will be the list of things he feels are most important to him in a college. When he visits these schools and does his research, he’ll fill in the spreadsheet, and it will be a nice road map for him. At some point, once you visit two or three schools in a day or five schools a week, they begin to blend, and you definitely want some bread crumbs to remind you of where you’ve been.”
“On the same spreadsheet, I’ll have him track what I call the ‘three rates’ for each college. The first is the retention rate: Are students returning as sophomores? Because if they are, then I make the argument that they have had a very good experience, their needs are met. Next is the graduation rate. A fifth year or a sixth year in a college represents forgone income or time that you are not in graduate school — and you are not going to get that back. The last rate is the placement rate or ‘student outcomes.’ What are students doing six months, a year or five years after graduation? Are they employed, are they in graduate school, what type of companies or organizations do they work for? The three rates gives parents and students peace of mind that they’ve done their research.”
VP of Enrollment Management @Valparaiso University
"Choosing a college is a long but rewarding process. It takes time to find which college is the best fit for you. The sooner you complete your application (including transcripts, test scores, personal essay, and so on) the sooner you will receive a decision and your merit scholarship award. This provides you more time to investigate and weigh your options."
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The 2018-19 Common Application Essay Prompts
Now you have the prompts. How should you proceed? If you need help, please do not hesitate in contacting us for help in writing your essay. Remember, you get only one chance to impress the college admissions committee!
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Image from Pixabay
When a colleague puts down the phone and exclaims, 'That person was rude!,' I would immediately ask which applicant or prospective student was involved. Once the applicant or prospect is identified, a note gets promptly placed in the student's file. Duly noted!"— José Román, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, Yale University.
1. You are Tracked!"
Your and your family interaction matters. Be aware that treating people poorly has consequences. As the quote about shows, people will note it and hold it against you. Especially, be nice to the administration staff. They are there to help you. A kind gesture can go a long way.
College admissions is a stressful process because the outcome is uncertain. Do not fall into the trap of "resulting". Do not focus on just the results. Trust your process. You cannot control the results. Someone else has to make a decision for the result to go your way.
College admissions is a stressful process. But that never means you can be rude or pushy to anyone (ANYONE) working in or near an admissions office. Many schools track your or your parents' communication with that college, and even if they don't actively track your interest, admissions officers still take notes!
Even on the phone with administrators, make sure you present yourself the way you want to be viewed by your application reader. This one is good life advice in general: Be nice.
"As an admissions evaluator at Brown, we really had to keep up a rigorous reading pace with the regular decision applicant pool. We were expected to read 5 applications per hour, which equates to twelve minutes per application. In those twelve minutes, I reviewed the application, standardized test scores, the transcript, the personal statement, and multiple supplemental essays—all while taking notes and making a decision on the admissibility of the applicant."—Erica Curtis, Former Admissions Evaluator, Brown University
2. You have only 12 Minutes!
Think of the admissions officer! She has only twelve minutes to read and make a decision. Knowing this, how would you construct your application? What should come first? How organized should you be? How many extra letters of recommendation would you send? How much more do you want to convey in 12 minutes? Or, should you be precise and up to the point?
Let us know if you want craft a laser sharp application material. We will be glad to help you with your essays and application material.
"At Stanford, when reading applications, we did use one acronym in particular—SP ("standard positive"), which indicated that the student was solid and had an overall positive application, but unfortunately was just standard."—Anonymous, Former Admissions Reader, Stanford University
3. Don't be a "Standard Positive"!
Given that there are thousands of applicants from all around the world, how do you stand out? You do not want to just be 'standard', or in another words 'good'. You want to be memorable, or to use another Stanford lingo - angular!
"Before a student gets her admissions decision, she can go from admit to defer/waitlist or vice versa. Until the Dean of Admissions starts to shape the class, nothing is final. Sometimes admissions officers get lucky and can add back in one or two of their favorite students (who made it through committee, but for one reason or another were moved to "defer" or "waitlist" along the way). Admissions officers really care about the students for whom they advocate, but often it comes down to the needs of the school and the desire to have a well-rounded incoming class."—Natalia Ostrowski, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, University of Chicago
4. Beware of the Shaper!
Even if they expect you be 'angular', the schools want to develop a well-rounded class. You can be an outstanding candidate, but because of the desire to shape the class, you will go into the defer or waitlist.
If you find yourself in such a predicament, talk to us. We have some advice for you.
"As an admissions officer, I analyzed students' personalities. If I read an admissions essay, and the student came off as arrogant, entitled, mean, selfish, or, on the flip side, funny, charming, generous, witty, I wrote that exact trait in my notes. It's not enough just to be smart at top schools. Students must also show that they'll be good classmates and community builders."—Angela Dunnham, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, Dartmouth College
5. Showcase your Personality
Personality matters to admissions officers. They want to know you. Unfortunately, they have only twelve minutes to make a judgment. Don't come off as entitled or arrogant. Be polite and come across as passionate about your interests and goals. Take a look at this story of Eni here. We are sure you will be inspired by her.
If you need help with your essay, do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to show you how to write an essay that can make you stand out.
"If you are assigned an MIT alumni interviewer, definitely take advantage. There is a slightly higher admit rate for those applicants who take advantage of the interview." --Vincent James, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, MIT
6. Interview Matters
Just like for job applicants interviews matter. And getting an interview is a key to getting a job or admissions to a college. If you got called for an interview, do not blow it. A college interview is your chance to bring some more color and personality to your application. Conduct a great interview and you can potentially get into the college of your dreams.
"My biggest pet peeve as an Admissions Officer was when a kid would visit the office, expect to have an audience with me, and then have no questions at all. Not even easy ones the website could answer! That tells me a lot about the student, not much of it good."
7. Be Curious. Ask Questions!
Ask questions! A big mistake students and job applicants make is not asking questions. You make a big impression on the other person or people. Remember, a lasting impression lasts more than a first impression, and you can leave a lasting impression by standing out -- with questions.
What questions should you ask? Well, that depends on your goals and the schools. We would be happy to help you craft some great questions that will not only impress your interviewer but also inform you where you stand in the admissions process.
Do not hesitate to contact us, if you need any help with your college admissions.