In Everything You Need to Know About College Applications, I describe all of the moving parts to College Applications and describe how the entirety of the high school career prepares you for your undergraduate experience and the process of submitting your college applications. While your high school transcript and test scores offer a measure of your ability to handle the academic rigors of the undergraduate experience, college essays are one the most effective way to set yourself apart from thousands of equally qualified and interested peers.
College Admissions Officers want to know two things about every applicant– and your essays are how you will provide that information:
1 Who are You ?
What are your passions and experiences that can tell us something about the student you’ll become within a university campus community? What brings you joy? How will you contribute? Below I’ll share examples of essay prompts that are asking this type of question and how to respond.
2 What “Problem” do you want to solve?
What do you want to learn alongside your peers on our college campus? This is a multi-part question. Knowing what you want to learn and being able to demonstrate “informed interest” about a specific university is an admissions advantage!
(It’s okay to be “multi-disciplinary” –in contrast-“undecided” – that’s not the message to present because “undecided”–doesn’t scream I WANT TO LEARN!!. Moreover, platitudes about esteemed faculty or dream schools mean absolutely nothing- read on- to understand more about what you need to show in your essays. All of this is truly a piece-of-cake if you’ve been engaged in directed and guided college research throughout your Sophomore and Junior years.)
While students don’t need to be worrying about writing their college essay in 8th or even 10th grades, I encourage everyone to begin implementing a student-led path of exploration of both personal and academic pursuits throughout middle and high school. Doing so will make high school more joyous, successful, less stressful and you’ll be in a much stronger position to write your college essays when it’s your time to submit your College Applications.
Transformative experiences both within and outside the classroom uniquely shape each young adult’s academic and personal identity. Experiences connecting with family and members of “communities” help our young adults become more introspective to learn how they will leverage their strengths to find their place in the world.
These same experiences are also the basis for the college essay(s) you’ll write during the college admissions application process (at the end of their junior year/start of senior year) providing readers of their college application with information that reveals who each student has become –and, in particular– the potential impact each young adult may have on a college campus and as a potential alum!
But most important, pre-college experiences build confidence, motivation and better prepare each student for a seamless transition to the undergraduate experience – academic and personal success throughout high school and beyond.
STEPS TO INCREASING YOUR CHANCES OF COLLEGE ACCEPTANCES– COLLEGE ADMISSIONS PLANING
Establish Educational Goals: A student’s initial exploration of the 4000 potential colleges shouldn’t be driven by name recognition but through a guided and purposeful exploration of college majors, followed by a review of the “social” fit.
Whether you love or hate science, want to change the world, enjoy drawing, solving problems, singing or surfing the web, a student’s passions and interests should ALWAYS direct the college research process
ASK THESE QUESTIONS OF YOURSELF.
What subjects do you really enjoy and do the concepts come naturally to you?
What are your personal strengths?
Are you a natural problem solver?
Are you creative?
Do you enjoy interactions with and helping others?
Is having a broad based education important to you or would you rather prepare yourself for a very specific occupation (or be honest- income level)?
What types of news stories on your twitter and Facebook feeds do you actually gravitate towards?
Answering these questions helps you to
navigate through the curriculum requirements for majors currently on your radar and those you haven’t yet considered.
INCREASE YOUR CHANCES of ADMISSION: INFORMED INTEREST
The more you learn about potential areas of study, career paths and specific colleges, the easier it becomes to make informed decisions about where to apply and enroll. By selecting universities that meet both your academic and social needs you’re more likely to be happy and successful in pursing educational goals. Do your research!
Speak with your guidance counselor, admissions officers, alumni, current and former students.
How many colleges should I be applying to on my Common Application?
That’s the WRONG question!
WHICH COLLEGES should you apply to – that’s the question your college advisor should help you answer. I’m going to give you the short answer and most strategic stress-free response– :
Every student should apply to two “safety” colleges that the student would be thrilled to attend- fitting the student academically, socially and financially. Once we identify those choices, we can turn attention to selecting “Match” and “reach” colleges. Every year students learn of acceptances to their match and reach colleges– please don’t apply to 20 colleges- that’s simply too many!
I recommend 5 to 10 as the ideal number – this will vary but unique circumstances which relate to the major area of study, student demographics and a host of issues that defined YOUR balanced list.
With a solid Strategic Educational and College Admissions plan, implemented as early as middle school, each student will have goals and take steps towards achieving those goals. The selection of colleges will become clear.
“FIT” — you’ve heard me discuss this before – I’ll discuss “FIT” one more time–!
The “fit” between a student and a university is based upon three pillars:
The university you attend should provide an outstanding academic experience in your intended major/minor fields of study, along with appropriate internship and career placement opportunities. This is paramount to selecting where to attend.
There’s a major field of study to match the unique strengths and interests of every young adult! With nearly 4,000 colleges offering an impressive number of traditional and cutting edge majors and minors, it can indeed be overwhelming to navigate the maze of available degree options.
Your evaluation of academics should move beyond published lists of college rankings. The most important steps include learning how to navigate through the “Academics” and the “Research” tabs to fully explore the curriculum maps, degree requirements and the research projects faculty are conducting. As a former university professor with 30+ years of experience on curriculum planning committees, I’m able to help your family assess “academic fit” and effectively explore your academic options to balance each student’s current and emerging interests and strengths.
Undecided? Consider that “flexible” and universities LOVE to hear about students with multi-disciplinary interests. All of your applications will in fact provide you with an opportunity to explain your choice of major(s) as being formed through classroom and other experiences. More about this below.
The social fit is important as each student is looking to find a “home-away-from-home” for their next four years. Is the campus inviting, inclusive and are there opportunities for ongoing social and emotional growth?
This is exactly why students visit university campuses before enrolling. Your Educational and College Admissions Assessment will help you hone in on the criteria that are important to you. Let me help you understand how to have an informative and meaningful campus visit – and yes, that may even be a virtual visit which is bolstered by connecting with students and campus representatives in your major, your potential clubs and other ways to feel the “vibe” beyond a webcam.
3. FINANCIAL AFFORDABILITY
Every family faces unique financial circumstances and we factor those into the choices of where to apply and enroll. A. If you’re ineligible for financial aid, merit aid remains an important option to explore.
THERE ARE MANY CAMPUSES PROVIDING an EXCELLENT EDUCATION offering deep discounts on tuition given your “admissions profile”.
I truly want to reassure you that there are universities that don’t actually charge the “sticker price”. As you contemplate your balanced list, consider including some safety colleges– those include solid educational opportunities where your portfolio places you in the top 1% of the college’s typical student profile.
SO Let’s Talk about College Acceptance Rates Once More…
Parents and students should be unconcerned about the news on acceptance rates and instead keep perspective on how to prepare for and conduct research on universities. Just because Cornell’s acceptance rate was 8.6% doesn’t mean that’s YOUR odds of admittance. Your odds may be much higher. I can also tell you that your odds are 0% if your GPA is a 2.2 unless you won the Google Science fair or are a national debate champ. Aggregate published acceptance rates vary across majors, gender, location and student profile.
All my seniors and most juniors understand how to navigate the process to create a manageable list of match, reach and safety institutions. If you missed my earlier note on 2025 Acceptance Rates – click here
COLLEGE MAJORS –
A Different Question from COLLEGE CHOICE
Where can I review results or profiles of accepted students?
A virtual tunnel to the center of the earth for anxious parents and student awaits you at Talk.collegeconfidential.com
There are literally tens of thousands of discussion threads on this webpage – some threads are exceptionally informative, but like Wikipedia- lots of speculation from well-meaning people with too much time on their hands!
Nonetheless, you can see
“Official Results Threads” .
Google: Talk College Confidential Official Results Thread Class of 2025 INSERT: MY DREAM UNIVERSITY
In a given thread, you can see the profiles of students accepted, rejected and waitlisted. It is quite anecdotal but also informative.
Please don’t be that student that applies to Stanford thinking you may win the lottery and be accepted. It doesn’t work that way. It’s fine to have 2 to 3 reach schools -anyone can be accepted to a reach- but you still must meet the “hurdle” of GPA, test scores, and expected extracurricular activities to be a candidate.
The only statistics to focus upon are those that provide indications of the quality of education you’ll receive at a given university. Here are a few that can help you decide whether the investment is a good one.
Do graduates still find a connection to their chosen field and institution at age 30, 40, 50? Check out statistics on the percentage of alumni giving (also see my earlier newsletter on why this percentage is an indicator of financial aid success).
What’s the percentage of graduates who have a job offer/graduate school acceptance in their field upon graduation? What percentage of students have an offer of employment 6 months post-graduation?
What percentage of classes are taught by professors with a terminal degree vs. graduate students?
What percentage of students are guaranteed freshman dorm housing?
What’s the average class size for freshman introductory classes and upper level electives in my intended major?
What are the campus crime statistics?
What percentage of students are on financial aid?
As students continue to apply to more colleges and in record numbers, more applicants means lower acceptance rates. Unlike other organizations and businesses, colleges cannot continue to increase in size as they are limited by classroom and dorm space and the number of faculty members. Colleges are cautious not to overbuild as demographic trends don’t always sustain.
Universities aren’t competing to increase their market share of the available 18 to 24 year old students.
Universities are competing to attract the brightest and most interesting students.
Are you one of them?
Finding Your Niche?
For those of you who are regular readers of my newsletters and blogs, you understand that College Admissions is holistic. I’ve written about the relevance of demonstrating “character” and your “uniqueness” in the admissions process. What really matters for all of us, students and parents alike, is knowing that we lead lives filled with joy and purpose. Admissions reps are also moved by the topic of “kindness” – this has been trending in college admissions for a few years – and in response, as noted above, the Common App 2021-22 has a new essay about “kindness”.
The core essay prompts for the Common Application — especially numbers 1, 4 and 6 address this very point!
My goal in the partnership I share with each family is to guide each young adult to becoming self-directed, inspired and ultimately to recognize their strengths and passions in ways that will enable each young adult to contribute to their communities.
A student’s GPA and transcript are a significant determinant of admissions and academic success. Yet with five to seven qualified applicants for every available space in the freshman class, admission committees seek to create a freshman class that is diverse in intended majors, geographic origin and personal interests.
Students who are successful not only in admissions but as actual undergraduate students, are those who have well defined interests, nurtured as early as middle school and further developed throughout high school.
Having an academic niche or a personal passion outside the classroom builds motivation, focus and academic success.
Parents, guidance counselors and your college advisor can help your student identify or deepen an academic and /or personal interest.
I invite you to leverage my extensive knowledge of university curricula and my experience advising thousands of high school, undergraduate and graduate students navigating curriculum choices to set and realize educational and career goals. Based on your academic strengths and personal interests, I welcome the opportunity to work together to create your personalized strategic educational plan.
8th to 11th Grade families
It’s time for your Back-to-School Goal Planning and educational check-up.
Whether you’re ready to begin your core essay before and submit your safety-school applications before Labor Day or just beginning to research colleges and majors, or perhaps you want to create a customized learning plan to address study habits and time management, I invite you to CONTACT ME to schedule your Educational & College Admissions Assessment.
My clients include students across all academic levels in 8th to 12th grades and undergraduates. It’s never too early (Middle School) or too late (Seniors) to set educational goals, build solid time management and learning strategies and discover a hidden academic strength. I invite you to learn more about my role in helping to build your student’s Educational and College Admissions Plan!
ESPECIALLY for 8th – 11th grade students!!!
Again, aside from living life to its fullest – the required college essay prompts you’ll be writing in your senior year are another great reason to find your passion and build your college admissions plan early – engage engage engage way before the start of your senior year! High school will be more exciting, you’ll actually be a better time manager when you’re busy (I didn’t say overextended- just busy) and you will undoubtedly create friendships and discover more about yourself
BE JOYOUS, CURIOUS & INDEPENDENT
The secrets to balanced success!
Previous readers of my newsletters know that helping students become intrinsically motivated bringing a passion and energy to learning is exactly what parents and educators aim to inspire in all our students.
Finding meaningful connections within a community is essential for a student to become intrinsically motivated and passionate about learning!
There’s no place like home. Where is your academic home?! That is your path to success!
What are your student’s
academic and social goals this year?
What motivates your student? Successful students are intrinsically motivated!
What positive and welcomed
steps can parents take to help students remain motivated towards goals?
Success begins with a student-led Strategic Educational & College Admissions Plan with actionable items!
A Strategic Educational Plan Includes:
A Challenging “synergistic” high school curriculum (AP, IB, AICE, Dual-Enrolled??)
Sustained, directed and meaningful extracurricular activities
both within and outside of school (Involvement driven by genuine interest)
Student directed research to explore a variety of emerging academic and career interests
(Customized academic/career discovery exercises focused on your strengths!)
Time management solutions
(Parents- you’re too busy to argue with your emerging adult about homework!)
Setting goals for target colleges, majors and scholarships (Overlapping interests?)
Affordable college choices – FAFSA, CSS Profile, Merit-based aid??!
(Yes, you can afford college– please click last week’s newsletter detailing information about
Motivated, Self-Directed & Confident Young Adults Ready to Succeed as High School and Undergraduate Students!
Does your student have an Educational & College Admissions Plan? On Target?
Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D.
Personalized Educational & College Admissions Services
South Florida 561.509.0021
Nationwide Online 833.MY.ESSAY
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ACADEMIC & COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ADVISING WHEREVER YOU ARE
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Congrats!!! A SAMPLE of our recent College Acceptances Include:
UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, UPenn, Princeton, Cornell, U. Michigan, Northwestern, Georgia Tech, Barnard, Columbia, Smith, Stanford, University of North Carolina, Vassar, Brown, Bowdoin, Wellesley, USC, Emory, U.Illinois, Notre Dame, NYU, Rice, University of Chicago, Washington University (WUSTL), Drexel, Tulane, London School of Economics, Purdue, Swarthmore, SCAD, Ohio, Georgetown, Hamilton, Reed, Miami, Johns Hopkins, University of Florida, University of Arizona, Penn State, Villanova, Northeastern, SUNY-ESF, St. Johns, Embry-Riddle, Colgate, Fordham, Columbia, Barnard, Syracuse, Swarthmore, Pittsburgh, Dickinson, Colorado, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Howard, Fordham, SUNY Stonybrook, Duke, Case Western, Rochester Institute of Technology, Parsons, Virginia Tech, Boston U., Hobart & William Smith, Claremont Mckenna, Davidson, Westpoint, Gettysburg, Amherst, Temple, Denison, Howard, UT Austin, SUNY-Binghamton, Hamilton, George Washington, American, Indiana, SMU, James Madison, and many more!…
WRITE YOUR STORY
Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D. is the founder and principal educational consultant of College Career Consulting, LLC. She has over 30 years of experience as a university faculty member and shares her knowledge, professional resources and support with students who are ready to advance their lifelong educational and career journeys.