Mistakes to Avoid in College Applications and College Admissions Planning
Greetings Students and Families
This is the third and final piece in my series on mistakes to avoid in college admissions planning.
# 10 SAT, ACT, APs and TEST PREPARATION SERVICES
I’m sure you set aside one of my earlier newsletters that contained absolutely EVERYTHING you need to know about standardized testing and college admissions.
Ensure your high school curriculum is lined up to prepare you to manage suggested AP exams. Ask me which tests are reviewed favorably during the admissions process for specific majors. There is considerable variation across colleges and even within colleges by majors.
Let’s create your plan for test preparation and test taking- there are more exams than you may be aware of at the moment – and colleges that de-emphasize standardized tests. Test Optional Policies widely extended during the onset of the pandemic in 2021 were extended to the seniors of 2022. Many colleges have already announced these policies extend the classes of 2023 and 2024.
Avoid redundant test preparation-hand holding isn’t for everyone. If you must have help preparing for your SAT/ACT, ask your tutor if they will be providing you customized or off-the-rack resources. I have a list of recommended tutors that have worked with several clients.
Self-study isn’t for everyone, but it is highly recommended. There are several excellent self-paced online standardized test preparation services at a fraction of the cost of pricey local vendors. The best part-self-directed and motivated young adults excel in college! What an opportunity!
# 11 (Ok so I am exceeding the Top-10)
CAMPUS VISITS AREN’T REQUIRED
and these don’t enhance your chances of admissions. For that matter, with travel restrictions and closed campuses- for now that is off the table. But for my Freshman and Sophomores- there will be plenty of time post-pandemic.
Campus visits are expensive and should be limited to 3 to 5 schools that you can very clearly articulate a reason for visiting. Most of what you need to know about academics is described at the college website. Visits in the junior year are valuable if you want to truly narrow your list or confirm an Early Decision application. If possible, aim to cut costs by visiting several schools in one part of the country. You also have time for visits in the fall of your senior year where there are special senior programs that will allow you to shadow a current student — hopeful we will see these in fall 2022 for our class of 2023 students.
*** Women and underrepresented minorities can often visit colleges at target weekends sometimes in an all-expenses paid program. Applications are due late summer/early fall.
are a wonderful opportunity for all students to mature. Some parents and students assume that a year off means a seemingly great student will not be able to adjust to hard work after a gap year program. The data support the exact opposite. A year away often matures and energizes young adults and they outperform their peers in all majors.
Taking a gap year can also provide financial aid advantages by allowing siblings to have more overlap years as undergraduates leading to enhanced financial aid awards. Ask me how this works!
# 13 EARLY DECISION TRAP
Early decision acceptance rates are higher than regular decision rates at many institutions. Parents and students should not conclude that individual chances are higher by design. Qualified applicants have high chances of admission in both admissions cycles. All too often I meet with families in our end-of-junior-year meeting with a confirmed list of reach, match and safety institutions. Then the panic sets in and students cannot imagine the protracted admissions cycle (decisions don’t arrive until end of March). Returning from their summer activities, the once fourth choice has become the first choice and the student switches to Early Decision. Having choice in life is always a good thing as is patience for the natural course of events in all that we do.
Please don’t assume that a high or perfect GPA earned in 6 AP classes in your junior and senior years will land you an acceptance letter at the selective college of your dream. Very simply- it will not. If you are a regular reader of my newsletters and blogs- you’ve heard me over and over talking about taking the time in high school to discovery and be joyful. College admissions want to know two things about.
A Perfect GPA isn’t sufficient to gain an acceptance to a highly selective college nor is it necessarily the best way to leverage your high school career at the expense of other introspective opportunities. Everyone applying to highly selective colleges has a high GPA and the same transcript.
Please don’t wait until the end of your junior year to realize you have a 4.0 and a 1500 SAT but you have only the National Honors Society and 50 hours of assorted unspecific community service hours to note as the “activities” of your Common Application.
Take the time throughout high school to engage in the activities that bring you joy and allow you to share something about your unique self!
I’m positive I can help you think of many ways to engage beyond the clubs at your high school – LET’S CHAT!
College Admissions Officers want to know two things about every applicant —
1 Who are You ?
2 What “Problem” do you want to solve- what do you want to learn with others on our college campus?
I previously wrote about all the moving parts of your College Application including.
Standardized Test Scores
College Admissions Essays
As an educator and college counselor with over 30+ years of experience guiding young adults, my message is straightforward- it’s about the importance of young adults finding the joy in all that they do. Teens attend classes, engage in student clubs and navigate life within their communities– all of this shapes emerging personal and academic interests.
Young adults who spend their time engaging in the activities that they love are not only successful during the college admissions and college application process, but are more purposeful students and community members once arriving on their high school and college campuses. Happiness can never be overrated! You may be a tad bit suspect about “happiness” after so many months of social distancing and perhaps even illness within your home.
CONFIDENCE, ENGAGEMENT AND MOTIVATION RESULT WHEN OUR YOUNG ADULTS ARE ENCOURAGED AND SUPPORTED TO EXPLORE AND FIND THEIR UNIQUE AND JOYFUL PATH. SO YOU MAY BE ASKING ME WHAT ON EARTH DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SUCCESS DURING THE COLLEGE APPLICATION PROCESS–
While no teen needs to have decided at 17 or even 24 a lifetime career path, in college admissions- you’ll be asked to talk about why you selected your major area of study. College admissions officers also like to see sustained interest/involvement in activities that define you personally, connect you to your community and have demonstrated and explained how you became interested in your academic area of interest. If time is so consuming through enrollment in 5 to 7 AP /IB classes to have limited involvement in extracurricular/personal pursuits- your perfect GPA doesn’t go very far in helping to learn about you as a person and emerging student.
The majority of my clients begin work with me before their Junior year. A handful of students reach out during their senior year. Many have huge dreams and goals that often include acceptance to a highly selective university. And while their GPA may be near-perfect and they possess the desire and ability to succeed academically at selective universities- I am saddened to inform students with no recognizable connection to an emerging academic interest that their chances aren’t strong. If I only had met them 6-12 months sooner- I could have helped by suggesting ways to spend time to deepen academic discovery and increase chances of academic and college admissions success. This is the case for aspiring business, STEM- engineering, pre-med, Humanities, pre-law, artists and any major. For that matter- if we had more time I can help each student engage in academic discovery to avoid being one of the 25% of undergraduates who change majors — sometimes resulting in the need to spend a fifth year to earn their undergraduate degree.
Your activities are opportunities to discover and engage in three distinct ways:
Discover and deepen an academic area of interest- presumably your intended major. In particular, not only will you be noting activities this abbreviated section of the Common Application, but you’ll also be writing responses to essay prompts that ask you how you’ve decided to pursue a particular major.
Interested in STEM? Some expected extracurricular activities include FIRST Robotics, HOSA, Volunteering at hospitals, science fairs, or math team.
Interested in Business/Economics? Students may have been inspired by DECA, FBLA, an internship and even working/shadowing at parents’ office in an informal way. Students can also volunteer to work with younger students in all these areas.
If you need ideas on how to become engaged and involved to learn more about an area of interest beyond the clubs offered at your high school- let’s talk!
You’ll notice that many college essay prompts asks about a “typical” day or an activity that brings joy. At least one or more of your listed activities should represent one way you spent your time that is for YOU!
Do you bake cakes, blog, write poems, teach Sunday school or dare I say it- play video games. While parents often scoff when I suggest attending an amateur video tournament- the reality- it’s one way to validate what is otherwise viewed as a less favorably use of a teen’s time. Everyone should have something they truly enjoy and look forward to doing during free time. This passion can also be the motivation to develop better time management skills – “I need to finish my homework by 8 p.m. so I can have the evening to <Fill in the blank>?”
CORNELL UNIVERSITY ESSAY: What is your “thing”? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours? (Please limit your response to 650 words.)*
Community Service- I
t’s truly important for our teens to recognize that they assume a role in their local and globally communities. How we engage and connect to others is a reflection of your family’s core values. Not only are community service hours an important part of your application- but they allow students to put their soul behind a cause that is important to them- whether it’s assisting those in need, fighting for social justice, raising awareness on issues of human trafficking or global warming- goals don’t have to be lofty -but being a part of a community will undoubtedly exercise your compassion muscles and teach you to be a better listener and work within a group.
That aside, many college essays ask for replies to essay prompts addressing questions such as “what community are you a part of” or “share a time you’ve collaborated with others”.
Juniors– Class of 2023
FINISH YOUR COLLEGE ESSAY BEFORE SUMMER BREAK!
June WRITERS BLOCK DATES, information and registration:
The diversity of my clients I serve is a blessing. Something all my families share in common is hope – hope for the future; and for many families – this hope originates in spiritual grounding. There are so many things that we can be thankful for, including the gift of life itself – especially during this terrible pandemic where so many families have lost a loved one. While some of you will give thanks through words/prayers, I encourage you to also consider expressing your gratitude through acts of kindness and charitable giving. I had previously shared a link to Giving Tuesday. Locally, food insecurity affects many and I hope you will reach out to organizations of your choice to contribute and do so generously. Many blessings to everyone for a healthy, safe and joyous holiday season.
DO YOU HAVE A STRATEGIC EDUCATIONAL & COLLEGE ADMISSIONS PLAN FOR SUCCESS?
ARE YOU ON TARGET?
8th to 11th Grade families
It’s time for your mid-year strategic educational check-up to assist with summer plans and confirming course planning for the next academic year.
If you didn’t fare well in your classes this past fall- it’s really important to cover ground in sequential courses such as foreign language, mathematics and science before you step back into the classroom after the holiday break. Do you need some suggestions of resources to polish missed concepts during the fall?
This is also the appropriate time of year to review extracurricular activities as you begin to plan your summer. As extracurricular activities continue to be placed on hold and/or see modifications – navigating the journey towards the undergraduate experience is a bit more challenging in these uncertain times. So how do students continue to engage and explore their interests- let’s talk!
YOUR PERSONALIZED EDUCATIONAL AND COLLEGE ADMISSIONS PLAN RESULTS IN MOTIVATED, SELF-DIRECTED & CONFIDENT YOUNG ADULTS READY TO SUCCEED!
WITH OVER THIRTY YEARS OF EXPERIENCE AS A UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR & ADMISSIONS COMMITTEE MEMBER YOU’RE INVITED TO LEVERAGE HER EXTENSIVE KNOWLEDGE OF UNIVERSITY CURRICULA AND CAREER OPPORTUNITIES TO BUILD YOUR COLLEGE PLAN!.
I WISH ALL HIGH SCHOOL AND UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS CONTINUED SUCCESS – defined by a joyful and meaningful year both within and outside the classroom.
Carnegie Mellon, Princeton, Cornell, U. Michigan, Northwestern, Georgia Tech, University of North Carolina, Vassar, Brown, Bowdoin, Wellesley, 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!
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.