Uploaded: Tuesday, March 16, 2010, 9:47 AM
Applying to college: A six-part series
|This six-part series covers all aspects of applying to college, and was written by admission advisor Elizabeth LaScala, who blogs on Doing College, and Teen Wire high school senior Daniel Morizono. They cover six aspects of the procedure from their differing perspectives. The series originally ran on Danville Express and San Ramon Express from Dec. 4, 2009, to Jan. 11, 2010.
Doing College: Early Applications Surge in College Admission
by Elizabeth LaScala
A College Advisor's Perspective
This year all signs point to a rise in early applications to colleges. While many colleges are still counting (early application deadlines vary), many are reporting sharp increases. To better understand this phenomenon, it is important to know the definitions of two early options.
Early Decision (ED) is a binding agreement between the college and the applicant. You may only use ED for one school. If accepted, you are obligated to attend, as long as the school offers you a satisfactory financial aid package. Any applications to other colleges must be formally withdrawn. If your ED school denies or defers your application to the regular admission cycle, you are free to apply to other colleges to meet their regular admission deadlines as well as to continue with your college applications that are already in progress.
Early Action (EA) gives the student an early response without a binding commitment. Students accepted through EA enjoy the benefit of knowing that they have been accepted by one or more of the schools on their list, but they can wait until the spring to decide what school to attend. The student is also free to apply to other schools using the regular admission cycle and make a decision once all admission offers and financial aid awards are on the table.
Early Decision is the option that requires most careful scrutiny because it is binding. ED offers some clear advantages to both the college and the student. The college gets a head start assembling a fall freshman class. Students admitted under ED are virtually certain to enroll. In college admissions jargon, the "yield" from early decision applicants is 100%. This permits schools to better manage enrollment and, from a competitive standpoint, gives colleges the opportunity to admit desirable students who might have attended rival institutions.
The advantages of Early Decision to students include ending the uncertainty of the college admissions process so they can relax and enjoy the rest of their senior year. Also, it is generally believed that applying ED increases chances of admission. Historically, the acceptance rate for ED applicants is higher than the rate for regular admissions.
There are also downsides to Early Decision. First and foremost, ED removes the opportunity to compare financial aid offers from several schools, or negotiate for a better package between schools. This makes ED a good business decision for the college, but not necessarily for the student. The family may feel pressured to accept an offer that is not as affordable as that from another school which could provide the student a similarly good education.
There are many theories about why colleges are experiencing a rise in early applications, but each seems tied to economic uncertainty on either the college or student side of the equation. Here are some of the most credible from my perspective:
• This year private colleges stepped up outreach efforts to attract students and many encouraged early applications in an attempt to ensure a full freshman class for fall 2010.
• Public universities have raised fees and are predicting increased rejection rates so students are looking at private college options
• Families want more information sooner for planning purposes
• Amidst all the economic uncertainties and increased competition in admissions, students are hedging their bets and applying to more schools in general; logically an increase in all applications would translate into an increase in early applications.
How to Decide if Early Decision Is a Good Decision for You?
• Start early in your high school years. Juniors and even sophomores can begin to research and visit colleges and learn about early options and deadlines.
• If you plan to apply Early Decision, be totally confident that your first choice school is right for you.
• Assess your academic and extracurricular profile, keeping in mind that early acceptance is a good choice for students who would be competitive for the regular admission cycle. Applications from less qualified students are likely to be rejected.
• Consider if including your fall semester grades would boost chances for admission.
• Talk with your family about the importance of comparing financial aid offers.
• Make certain you have parental support and buy-in from your high school counselor to submit a strong application by the early deadline.
A Student's Perspective
I have also noticed a rise in early decision applications in my own practice. More students are asking whether they should apply early and many are experiencing pressure to choose early options. The Danville Express and San Ramon Express enjoy the benefit of a teen writer, Daniel Morizono, who is a senior in high school. Daniel will share his views on early acceptance options.
The Teen Wire: Early Options on the Road to College
by Daniel Morizono
Just this week at San Ramon Valley High School we voted for our "Senior Superlatives." The week before we bought our cap-and-gown. Around mid-December, students will start hearing back from colleges for those who applied Early Decision/Early Action. But I look outside and it doesn't remotely seem like graduation time yet, much less spring, much less summer. Far from it.
At San Ramon, there are around 40 students applying Early Decision/Early Action this year - a roughly twofold increase from last year's number. For these students, anxiety and tension, of course, hang in the air. Most want the college application process to just be over with so that they can enjoy the rest of senior year. For some, their "dream school" is now on the line. All fear the infamously "thin" letter of rejection. Decisions might come in the mail before December 15 - there is simply no way of knowing.
Most of the deadlines for early options were at the beginning of November. Students scrambled to put together their applications before then, getting their test scores and transcripts in, revising their personal essays, and securing their letters of recommendation in this hectic time. Most found that the stress of high school didn't make way for the stress of the college application process. Those who apply early also tend to be enrolled in rigorous AP and honors courses and must find ways to balance the additional workload.
It was mentioned before that there is a growing pressure to apply early. And yes, more students are indeed applying early in these uncertain times, although not just for financial purposes. Record number of students applied to college last year, even in the midst of the recession. Even more students overall are expected to apply to college this year. As college admissions become more competitive, high school seniors naturally look to ED/EA to increase their chances of acceptance.
At selective schools, the acceptance rate for early applicants has generally been higher than the acceptance rate for regular admission. Many students look at this as one major advantage of early options. However, if you take my school as an example, those who apply ED/EA are generally motivated enough to get their applications in early and serious candidates in general. In addition, binding Early Decision students are committed to attending the school they apply to. This is the school they want to attend and will spend the most time and energy gaining admission to. In other words, the acceptance for for early options might be higher, but you are putting yourself in a more competitive pool of students at the same time.
I didn't take the Early Decision/Early Action route myself. There never was a college that I was locked into going to and that was my main reason for not going in the ED direction. Like most students (though less and less so) I wanted to shop around financially and decision-wise come spring. For non-binding Early Action, simply none of the schools I wanted to apply to offer that option. In addition, I had the feeling that early options were just too early for me. It would be reassuring to know where I'd go to college from December, but then I might actually have to contend with "senioritis" for the next six months. And six months can be a long time. In March and April when most of my classmates hear from colleges, I wouldn't be able to take part in the ups and downs of the senior year experience in quite the same way. Sometimes it's worth living with uncertainty for a while, if only to make certain the days I have left here are some of my best.
While I don't the have advantage of hindsight in judging the road to college, all the excitement, anxiety, disappointment, and happiness that high school holds - these emotions we share. I've said it before and I'll say it again, remember, there's more to you than your college application. Good luck!
Doing College: You Want to Go to Our College? Prove It!
by Elizabeth LaScala
For many students, applying to college is burdened by an exaggerated emphasis on "getting in." This neglects some basic research that should precede the application process itself. The problem becomes evident when students must respond to a question colleges often ask: "Why do you want to attend our college?" Although there are many different versions of this question, the gist remains the same. Colleges look carefully at these responses because it is to their advantage to select applicants who have taken the time to understand their school. Students who are willing to invest the time necessary to learn more about the colleges they are applying to will be rewarded by finding it easier to write authentic and thoughtful responses to this important type of essay question. Here are some tips to get you started:
* Understand the basic educational program and how it is structured. Is there a core curriculum? Typically the core (or general education requirement as it is sometimes called) consists of classes lower classmen must take. Find out what classes satisfy the requirements. Some colleges offer a structured core, reflecting the belief that a liberal arts education should focus on root intellectual skills in a wide range of subjects; other schools are more flexible and allow the student to define the course of study. Decide what appeals to you and why.
* Get acquainted with the intellectual climate of the campus - does it lean more toward competition or collaboration? Is it more rigorous or relaxed?
* Learn about the teaching format in classes you will take as a freshman. Think about this in light of the ways you learn best (e.g., lectures versus small group seminars or a little of both). Do full-time professors teach and advise first year students? Do you want professors to teach all your classes? Are you comfortable with the professors teaching a foundation class and students breaking up into small discussion groups led by graduate students?
* High standards often equate to higher levels of learning. Find out what standards and expectations are set by the college. Are there pass/fail options to ease the transition from high school to college? This may be particularly important for students with learning disabilities or at universities with an especially challenging curriculum.
* Frequent assessment and prompt feedback still rank among the best strategies for helping students learn. Find out how the college measures up. Do the professors provide grades, evaluative reports or both?
* Learn about how and when students can access faculty. Are there regular office hours? Are professors available after class; do they respond to email messages? How does the advising system work? Will it give you enough support to be successful?
Here are some strategies to learn more about the schools you are applying to:
* Read several guidebooks and compare reviews. If you find conflicting information, ask an undergraduate admissions officer at the college to clarify.
* Talk to advisors who know colleges well enough to add to your information base.
* Talk to students who attend the school.
* Use the web and dig deep. Go beyond the marketing of the college's website. For example, review the electronic course catalogue to gather information about the depth of course offerings in areas that interest you; check out special seminars and guest speakers; read the school's newspaper to get a feel for "hot button" issues, often reflective of student body's political and social orientation. "Google" the college and find news articles about the college.
* Email a member of the faculty who is teaching a class or doing research that interests you. Ask a well-thought out question. Do you get a response in a timely way? If you get no response at all, think carefully about applying to that school.
* Contact your regional admissions representative and ask a question or two that you could not easily find answers to yourself.
* If possible, visit the college and arrange an interview. College selection is a two-way street. If you have done your research, you will shine in the interview and learn more about the school.
Although the holidays are almost here, you still have time to follow many of these suggestions. You are going to spend at least four years at college so you should be selective. If you better understand what you are looking for in a college, you will increase your chances of acceptance. The "Why our college?" question gives you a unique opportunity to demonstrate that you and the college are a good match.
The Teen Wire: Writing the "Why this College?" Essay
by Daniel Morizono
Many of us high school seniors apply to at least one school that we don't know a whole lot about. Classroom format, opportunities to study abroad, graduation requirements - ideally, we should have done our research beforehand. Especially for private institutions, our gaps of knowledge are only made clear when we are faced with an essay prompt that goes somewhat like this: "attach an essay of no more than 500 words indicating what most influenced you to (insert college)." How do you go about writing this? And what things should you emphasize in your answer? Several experiences of mine in the past two years, I hope, will give you some insight in approaching this essay.
One of my assignments in AP Comparative Government this fall was to compare three different departments in our areas of interest at three different schools. Instead of doing topical research from CollegeBoard.com or from the U.S. World and News Report's college rankings, I evaluated colleges on the basis of: core curriculum requirements, accessibility of professors, and the diversity of courses offered among other criteria. Finding this information was difficult at times because it requires more than clicking around, but sheer determination. In addition, colleges prefer to advertise their famous alumni or their notable distinctions over the years, not the pedantic academic details. All of this boasting is interesting, of course. But when you are figuring out why you want to go to this particular school and writing the "why this college" essay, all of the extra stuff becomes irrelevant. If you look hard enough, you'll find something reflected in every school that exists for you.
Ironically, the school I know the most about, Pomona College, does not ask for such an essay. However, if I did have to write the essay for Pomona, I would highlight the following. My interest in Pomona was first sparked by visiting the campus during spring break and picking up a copy of the school newspaper, The Student Life. This issue just happened to be the April Fool's edition. From reading their paper I came to know three important things about Pomona: 1) Pomona is committed to sustainable development both on campus and around the world. 2) Pomona students take great joy in exercising their freedom of speech. And 3) Pomona students are very smart, but also have a sense of humor. In other words, Pomona is the kind of school I want to be a part of someday. There was no way I would have read that particular edition of the newspaper from doing surface-level research with a college guidebook. That I would later talk to a professor or arrange for an interview doesn't surprise me at all. My interest in Pomona was not stimulated by an extensive overnight stay, or by a pro-Pomona upbringing. Instead, my passion for this school and my reasons for going there grew out of a ordinary, but personal experience. As a result, writing the "why Pomona?" essay would be easy and even fun for me to do.
Another school I'm applying to, but do not know nearly as much about is George Washington University. I know that this school is strong in my major, political science, is located in the heart of Washington D.C. and unlike Pomona, is a university and not a liberal arts school. But that's pretty much it. So there doesn't seem like much I can speak to at first. However, by just doing some basic research on the school website, I've already learned some interesting things. The George Washington newspaper, for example, is one of the few college newspapers that covers national news stories such as the 2008 election celebrations. Also, the University Honors Program at G.W. allows students to learn through a case-study approach where professors are facilitators more than are lecturers. Both of these perks relate to my interests. I did not even have to step on campus to discover these things, yet my essay is all the better for it.
Explaining why you want to go to a college is a much different story than simply wanting to go there. While the majority of the college application essays we write are about who we are, this essay attempts to establish the link between student and school, rankings and SAT scores aside. As I said before, if you are really interested in some school, then writing this should score you big points. You just may spend the next four years of your life at a particular college or university. Finding out what drives you to be there is well worth the time and effort.
Doing College: Parents! Read This if Your Child Is Applying to College
by Elizabeth LaScala
You have no doubt heard of parents who stop working after having a child or reduce their hours at the office to support a teen that is having trouble in high school. In advising about college admissions I sometimes hear about a parent quitting a job to take on the college application process—not so that mom or dad can earn an advanced degree, but so a son or daughter can apply to college. This and other, usually less extreme, forms of parent involvement raise the important questions, "How involved should parents be in college admissions?" and "What can parents do to best support their children in the application process?"
Most parents are very concerned about their child's experiences when applying to college. But some parents can become overly involved and have a hard time supporting their student through this difficult time. There are some mistakes that can undermine the student's college admissions process, and they are often committed by the most well-intentioned parents. Here are some important points to keep in mind:
1. Watch those pronouns! "We want to apply to Stanford." "We just got deferred!" "My daughter's essay is not turning out the way I planned." "Our application was submitted last night." It is surprising how often I hear these statements from parents. It is important to think about the messages you are sending your child when you make these proclamations. College admission is about your child, not you. You can empower your child by letting go and trusting the process. Try checking in at important milestones and let your student take charge of the time in between.
2. Don't sneak a peak at the college essay without your child's permission. Most students I work with want to develop their essay fully before offering it up to the parental eye for review (and, yes, criticism). In my experience students who are most wary of their parents reading their essays are worried about the quality of their compositions and want to protect themselves from greater anxiety. This is healthy coping behavior! Let your child have the space she needs. Trust that she will show you her essay when she is ready to do so. Be ready to offer positive, supportive comments and suggestions. It is wise to have a trusted advisor, counselor or teacher offer input as well.
3. Avoid being overbearing and controlling about every aspect of the admissions process. In other words, practice selective meddling! Sit down early in the process with your teen and make up a plan about roles, expectations and priorities. Make a plan you can stick to. One family I worked with set up a regular meeting to discuss college plans on Sunday night after dinner. The student and parents decided what needed to be accomplished over the coming week and who would do what. The rest of the week the "C" word was taboo.
4. Support your child to develop a balanced and realistic list of colleges that provides a good academic fit and fosters personal growth and career path development. For example, parents often treat the Ivy League Schools as though each one offers the same educational opportunity and campus environment. Truthfully, the only thing these schools have in common is their low admit rate. There are over 3,500 colleges in the U.S. and each one has its own unique offerings, strengths, weaknesses, mission and values. It is important to research colleges carefully and choose wisely.
5. Watch for signs that you are adding more stress than support. Applying to college can bring to the surface other family issues. Psychologists report an increased volume of calls from parents seeking counseling during the fall college admissions cycle. It is hard to reconcile every family problem while helping to prepare a teen for his college years. Do your best to stay grounded and focused and help your teen do the same. Issues that arise during the college application cycle can serve as an opportunity to get closer as a family.
What role do you think parents should play in the college admissions process? I welcome your comments and suggestions.
The Teen Wire: Our Parents, Our Gatekeepers
by Daniel Morizono
In Franz Kafka's parable, "Before the Law," a man seeks admittance to the Law and wishes to gain entry through a doorway. The Gatekeeper, a formidable guardian with a "big, sharp nose and (a) long, thin, black Tartar beard" tells the man that he may not enter at the present time. The man asks if he will be allowed in later. "It is possible," the Gatekeeper replies, "but not at the moment." Years pass and the man grows old and childish. He tries to bribe the Gatekeeper with gifts, sacrificing all that he owns. But always the Gatekeeper remarks, "I am only taking it to keep you from thinking you have omitted anything." At last the man's eyesight begins to fail, and he does not know whether the world is growing darker or if his eyes are only deceiving him. In his dying moments, the man brings himself to ask a question that has never occurred to him before. "What do you want to know now?" the Gatekeeper asks, "You are insatiable." The man asks: "Everyone strives to reach the Law, so how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?" The Gatekeeper knows the man has reached his end and bellows in his ear as the light fades: "No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it."
We encounter many gates, and for that matter, many gatekeepers, throughout our lives. During the college application process we students also seek admittance to the "Law." Sometimes, our gates can literally be gates. If you want to go to Harvard or Cal you must gain admittance through the legendary Holyoke or Sather Gates. If, for example, you view going to college as a rite of passage to the larger world, then the gate can also be figurative.
Gatekeepers can appear in many forms--whether they be our friends, teachers, or college admissions officers. Oftentimes, our parents can seem the most powerful guardians of all. Especially in this community, parents tend to become heavily involved in the application process. For some college applicants this level of parental involvement can be beneficial. Some students are already burdened by schoolwork and extracurricular activities so their parents step in to help with deadlines, financial aid, and other forms of planning.
Inevitably, though, there are some parents who overdo it. While parents should be helping with things like financial aid, they should not be writing college essays or picking which schools are right for their child. This is not parental involvement but intervention. At this point, parents are not good gatekeepers because they are showing us exactly how to walk through the door.
The man in Kafka's parable did not take responsibility for his actions. He chose to wait for acceptance into the Law. Though we are comparatively fortunate to have parents so invested in our futures, our parents cannot be responsible for the education meant for us. We spend a good deal of our time waiting to be admitted, to pass through some door. Beyond the gate of college stands a still larger gate, and beyond that gate there is yet another. And although we have college on our minds today, someday we will need to learn how to be good doorkeepers ourselves.
Ultimately, our Gatekeepers are not there to stop us from crossing the threshold. Gatekeepers only show us that the door exists. We alone must choose to step through.
Doing College: College Admission and Score Choice: What You Must Know
by Elizabeth LaScala
Hollie took her SAT exam in the spring of her junior year in high school and performed poorly. She prepared over the summer and tested again in the fall of her senior year. Her test scores were much higher the second time around. Hollie knew about the CollegeBoard program, Score Choice, which permits her to send colleges just the scores she wants them to see. But her first choice college's policy states that she must send all test scores from all test sittings. She really doesn't want her first choice college to ever see her low scores. But now it seems she has no choice.
One of the decisions students have to face when they apply to college is whether to use the CollegeBoard's Score Choice option. Score Choice offers students the opportunity to decide what test scores to send to schools they apply to. Score Choice is an issue of some complexity, and I will try to put things in perspective for students and their families.
Prior to the introduction of Score Choice, each time a student took an SAT exam, the results became part of the student's official testing record. When a student requested test scores be sent to a college, CollegeBoard sent all scores from every test sitting. With Score Choice, students can choose what scores to send from what test sitting. It is important to understand that students can't select different section scores from different testing dates, but they can choose to send scores from a particular testing date, and not send scores from a different test sitting.
I know many readers might be wondering what all the fuss is about. After all, CollegeBoard gives students the option of what SAT scores to send to colleges and that seems simple enough. So what's the problem?
Here's the problem and Hollie was dealing with it last fall. Colleges establish their own admission requirements. That fact has not changed because CollegeBoard introduced Score Choice. When Score Choice was implemented in June 2008, colleges across the nation felt compelled to clarify their policies with respect to it. For example, Yale, Stanford and Pomona stated that they would require applicants to send all scores from each testing date. Harvard and University of Chicago stated that students can decide to send their highest scores from any single sitting. Meanwhile, Colby College and Williams say Score Choice is irrelevant because they already cherry-pick the highest individual math, critical reading and writing scores from an applicant's different test sessions. Schools that do this type of score selection express the concern that students may inadvertently suppress scores that could be beneficial to their application.
Is this all confusing? Indeed it is, and unnecessarily so. The already complex college admission process becomes even more stressful if students get caught up in this latest admission game. What students need to understand is fairly simple. As students check the application requirements of the colleges they plan to apply to, they learn what these schools want in terms of test scores. Since you are ethically bound to comply with all of a school's admission requirements, the illusion of choice fades, as colleges assert their rights to see whatever scores they wish to use to evaluate applicants. If you use Score Choice, it will be your responsibility to pay strict attention to each college's policy in order to know precisely what to send and when. Problems could result due to misinterpretation of policy, gaps in applications and even missed deadlines if you try to wait for the latest round of test score results.
My advice is to steer clear of Score Choice and send schools all your scores. The best way to keep colleges from viewing test scores that are lower than you would like is to prepare well for standardized testing, and do your best. Check out one of the many test preparation classes available or prepare on your own. Use practice tests to gain confidence. Check out CollegeBoard's The Official Guide to the SAT. If money is an issue, take advantage of free on-line programs (for example, visit www.number2.com).
As soon as you have taken the necessary standardized testing, put it behind you, relax, and move on to the next step in the college admission process. Remember, the majority of the nation's schools accept the majority of applicants. Colleges and universities want to accept you, so prepare as best you can and don't lose sleep over standardized testing.
Teen Wire: A Closer Look at College Entrance Exams
by Daniel Morizono
Standardized testing is supposed to level the playing field for college-bound students. The morning of test day, thousands of students from across the country take the same SAT or ACT exam. From a college admission officer's perspective, tests are "standardized" because educational opportunities for students vary widely across the United States. Not every high school can afford to support a range of AP and honors courses, clubs, sports, and other activities, as San Ramon HS or Monte Vista HS can. Standardized testing is a constant that measures true from school to school and from student to student. That's the way things are supposed to be.
I took the SAT exam in March and June of my junior year. My scores in Critical Reading, Writing, and Math were all higher the second time around, so I didn't need to use Score Choice. I knew that colleges would take my June scores over my March scores by default, so I sent both results to every college I applied to. However, Score Choice is not where I take issue with standardized testing. Many students applying to college simply take these tests without asking themselves how they are being examined. In reality, the SAT (I don't have firsthand experience with the ACT) is flawed in its design. The shortcomings of the SAT feed into the larger dysfunctions of standardized testing and its role in the college admissions process.
Let's start with length. The SAT is three hours and 45 minutes long. Included is an unscored "experimental section" looked at only by the test-makers. Before the test begins, students must spend about 40 minutes bubbling in personal information and listening to exam protocol. With breaks, the whole exam lasts about 5 hours. The College Board doesn't tell you this, but the SAT is a test of stamina more than anything else. How long can you keep you eyes moving in a horizontal direction on those long-reading passages? How long can you find the value of x and x/y and (x/y)^2 for?
Next is the essay. Part of the newly revised SAT, the essay consists a 25-minute timed response to a prompt. Many test-prep programs and SAT guidebooks advise you to outline the essay with prepared examples prior to taking the test. The introduction paragraph should begin by stating your viewpoint on the issue at hand followed by something along the lines of, "this reality is exemplified by the diverse examples of x,y, and z." Because the prompts are fairly open-ended most can be answered using this similar method. However writing is not supposed to be such a formulaic process, but instead should be an analytical and reflective exercise. In 2005, an MIT study found that essays written with larger handwriting tended to score better than essays with smaller handwriting, even though both essays say the same thing. The SAT essay is not a solid indicator of writing aptitude, rather it measures how much you can write in a short period of time and how well you can follow directions.
Finally, the SAT caters to those who can afford expensive test-prep programs. Because each exam tests the same concepts and tends to ask the same questions, the SAT becomes increasingly easier with preparation. The cost of test-prep programs can range in the thousands of dollars. While more affordable options such as SAT prep books exist, only the highly motivated student will spend the time and energy reading through this dense material. The student who is willing to study the books is likely to do well on the test anyways. It is far more easy to sign up for a test-prep program and learn the material from a trained teacher. In other words, it is far more easy to be spoon-fed the information, rather than doing all the work by oneself.
We students do not learn how to do well on college entrance exams in school. We learn how to write or how to do math, but we don't learn how to take these tests. That much is left to private test-prep businesses that only the affluent can afford. If public high schools integrated standardized testing into their curriculum, then good schools would be known for producing good exam takers. Alternatively, the College Board could more align the material on their tests with the curriculum taught in schools. Even more radically, more colleges could go the way of Bowdoin and Middlebury and make standardized testing optional for prospective students. These possibilities could make preparation for the SAT and ACT more accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. While no test will ever be perfect, in an age when college admissions are more competitive than ever, our college entrance exams should be held to the highest standards of fairness and quality.
Doing College: Hurry Up and Wait: What to Do After the College Applications Are Sent
by Elizabeth LaScala
As the parent of three daughters who are all at different stages in their lives, I can tell you first hand that life does not begin with an acceptance letter from Stanford, nor does it end with a rejection letter from UC Berkeley. Change the names of the colleges to any others, and my message remains the same.
Years ago, my oldest daughter was thrilled to get accepted to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus, the hardest state school to gain admission to. After two years of study, she decided veterinary school was not in her future. She tried to pursue a different course of study, but changing your major at Cal Poly is nightmarish, to say the least. If you are not 100% committed to your major (and few teens are able to make such an important decision at 17 or 18), Cal Poly is not the right match. This daughter is now completing science classes at a community college to buttress her application to nursing schools.
My second daughter received her splendid acceptance letter from MIT three years ago this spring. She was ecstatic. It was and remains her first choice school. Still, the program of study is so intellectually demanding that she sometimes wonders where the balance in her life has gone. Did she ever have true balance? Can anyone who is able to achieve at the level necessary to gain admission to such an academically rigorous university ever able to live life at a pace that one might call "relaxed"? Hardly.
Daughter number three is presently a senior in high school and she is has just finished up her college applications. She worries about winning admission to the schools at the top of her list even though she has a GPA to die for and strong test scores. She has even managed to remain enthusiastically engaged in a few activities she loves, resisting the temptation to forfeit all the fun of her high school years in exchange for a straight 'A' transcript.
Somehow the admission frenzy has managed to scare our kids—even those at the top of the academic ladder—into thinking that their chances of getting into college are slim and getting slimmer each year. Instead of indulging in needless worry and anxiety, there are some constructive things seniors in high school can do while they wait to learn what their final college options are:
• First and foremost, relax and enjoy your senior year and last months living at home. Although it may seem as though you can't wait to live on your own, this final year is memorable and precious. It will be gone in a flash. Make it count in meaningful ways.
• Continue to be actively engaged in doing your best academic work. This is critical because colleges review final transcripts to be certain no courses were dropped and grades did not plummet. If something does change for the better (like a scholarship is awarded) or for the worse (like a drop in grades due to illness) be proactive and communicate the news directly to the colleges.
• Visit schools you were not able to see yet. Don't wait for the responses to visit these campuses. The decision deadline, May 1st, arrives soon after your admission decisions—so be prepared. If academic or financial concerns make visiting impossible, continue to familiarize yourself with colleges in other ways. Read blogs, examine course catalogues, review housing considerations, email faculty, students and undergraduate admission counselors to make comparisons that will help you make an informed decision when the time comes.
The Dreaded Wait-List
Colleges build a waiting list to ensure full freshman classes, since not all accepted students will enroll. This system is hard on students and their parents. If you get a wait list notice, decide whether you really want to attend the school before you agree to remain on the list. If you are accepted, you will only have a few days to decide. Also, investigate conditions attached to being wait-listed; you can lose priority housing or financial aid options. Some schools rank waiting lists. If you can learn where you place on the list, you will be a better position to examine your options. Remember, schools will not decide who will be admitted off the waiting list until the May 1st decision deadline has passed. So you will need to prepare to attend another school by sending in a deposit. If you are admitted off the wait-list, you will forfeit your deposit.
Teen Wire: Don't Stare at the Clock! Making the Most of Senior Year
by Daniel Morizono
"Twenty-ten" is upon us. For many students, the new year marks an end to the college application process and the beginning of the rest of senior year. As we return to school, still clinging to our winter break sleeping patterns, we take a deep breath and prepare ourselves for what comes next.
Decisions are sent in March and April--actually not too far away from now. It's hard to believe first semester is nearly past. Two or three months should go by in a heartbeat. But if you've ever stared at the clock in class, anxious for lunch or the end of school, you know that the time you spend waiting can seem like an eternity. It's the same case with waiting for college decisions. We may stare at the clock second semester, or we can make the most of the rest of senior year.
This is your last year of high school. Make it worthwhile. Why spend this time on cruise control--being lazy, being tired, being bored? It is never too late to pursue some interest that might carry over to college. Graduation and all the festivities will eventually come, but surely there is something you can do to graduate little by little until then. Set your sights on that unrealized ambition, that broken relationship, that patch of darkness in someone else's life. As Katie Malachuk says in her book You're Accepted, "This waiting period is a fantastic time in your life for becoming skilled at non attachment, precisely because this time in your life is so ripe for attaching to fantasies of your future. Remember, if you can let go of specific ideas of what should happen to you, you are setting yourself up for more bigger and better things than you can imagine. Letting go leaves space for the new to come in."
This is also likely your last year at home. If you haven't already, begin to learn how to take "home" with you to college. Learn how to do your own laundry, for example. Colleges tend to have rather small washing machines so familiarize yourself with all the different functions and settings. Spend time in the kitchen. If you don't want to eat dorm food all your life start to help make dinner. Learn how to use a credit card and write checks properly. Go to the grocery store. Gas up every car in your family's garage. Take responsibility.
In the next few months, don't doubt the schools you've applied to. You applied to them for a reason and you've put forth your best effort. Don't stress about the circumstances you can't control. However, do continue to learn more about these schools. Explore financial aid options, visits campuses, talk with alumni, and seek scholarships. It is very important to keep your grades up as well. Every year, a few distraught seniors have their offers of admission rescinded because they slacked off second semester. At this point, you've worked too hard to be one of them. Don't throw it all away.
When decisions arrive in the spring, don't lose control. Stay humble for acceptance--remember, for every acceptance someone else was turned down. On the other hand, rejection is a character-building experience in all aspects of life. From relationships to career paths, rejection is something we all experience at some point. Above all, place things in a larger context. 1 out of every 100 people in the world today earns a college degree. You could have been born in the Dark Ages or during the Bubonic Plague. Not very fun. You are comparatively fortunate to have the opportunity to apply to college in the first place. Do see the big picture and where you fit in.
Time is an interesting thing. When we are bored and waiting for something interesting to happen to us, time can come to a standstill. When we are fully aware and living in the moment, time can also seem to slow down. Evidently, our days can be spent doing more than waiting. Whether we are anticipating lunch or graduation, time is ours to control.
Doing College: Amid Recession, You Still Have to Pay for College
by Elizabeth LaScala
In those agonizing months between sending out college applications and waiting for those admission decisions in the spring, many high school seniors and their parents will be applying for financial aid. Financial aid should never be an afterthought. The cost of higher education continues to rise and the recession is taking its toll both on college endowments and family resources. Move quickly to understand the process. Find out what forms and documents are required, when they are due, and where they should be sent. Since most aid is distributed on a first come first serve basis, early is better. Here are some basics to get you started.
Financial aid is any grant, scholarship, loan, or paid employment offered to help you meet college expenses. A Financial Aid Package is a combination of different types of aid combined to meet your financial need. There are two types of Need-based Financial Aid: gift aid and self-help aid. Gift aid consists of grants and scholarships and does not have to be repaid. It also does not require a work commitment on the part of the student. On the other hand, self-help aid does require either repayment or a work commitment. Self-help assistance takes the form of student loans and student employment through work-study programs.
For a student to be awarded need-based financial aid, families must demonstrate through the financial aid application process that there is financial need. Financial need is defined as the difference between the full cost of attendance at a particular school and the amount the family is expected to pay for these costs. Cost of attendance includes direct costs, such as tuition, fees, room and board, as well as indirect expenses such as books, supplies and transportation and personal expenses. Student financial need varies because costs vary based on the particular school.
A financial aid award may also include aid that is not need-based. This award often takes the form of an unsubsidized Stafford loan and/or a PLUS loan. The unsubsidized Stafford loan and the PLUS loan are educational loans which are not need based. The Stafford loan is a student loan, and the maximum a freshman can be awarded in the unsubsidized form is $5,500. The PLUS loan is a parental loan and is offered based on credit history. The interest rate is presently fixed at 7.9% or 8.5% depending upon what school the student attends. For both loans, interest accrues from the date the loan is disbursed (paid out to cover some expense such as tuition).
All schools will request the completion of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The federal government uses it to determine eligibility for financial aid (including grants, scholarships, work-study, loans, etc.). All colleges require this form, and it is best to file the FAFSA online. Visit www.fafsa.ed.gov. Parents and students should try to complete their income taxes and file a FAFSA as close as possible to February 1. If this is impossible, use estimated income to complete the FAFSA. You will need to update these estimates with actual income once your tax returns are done.
In addition some schools will want an alternative financial form, the CSS (College Scholarship Service) PROFILE. The PROFILE asks additional questions in order to get a more detailed picture of family finances. Students register online for the PROFILE service, then a customized PROFILE form is completed and submitted to a central processor. The financial information is then sent to colleges listed in your account. Register for PROFILE at www.collegeboard.com.
Finally, some colleges require additional supplementary financial aid forms. Consult each college's instructions to verify the forms required and deadlines.
Families should review and compare all offers of admission, financial aid packages and their own resources with great care. As you become more acquainted with the process, you will be better positioned to take advantage of the aid that is available. As the economy improves, this will prove to be an asset that helps you better manage the costs of your college education.
Teen Wire: Financial Aid: There wasn't allows financial help; my grandpa mowed the college lawn
by Daniel Morizono
Whether it is from a two-year junior college or a four-year university, every education has a price tag. How exactly to finance a post-secondary education in these difficult economic times should be a question at the forefront of all students' minds. Even with the frenzy of college applications, the financial aspect of an education should be commensurate to simply gaining admission to college in the first place.
Last week it was announced that the University of California system received a record 134,029 applicants for fall 2010 enrollment. With tuition now over five figures and budget cuts made throughout the system, a UC education is becoming less and less accessible for students and their families. In addition, state schools and community colleges have been forced to cut back on spending and raise tuition. Private schools have also witnessed a decline in charitable donations and have been impacted by the general recessionary environment.
Loans, grants, work-study and scholarships: There are many options available to help finance a college education. As a student you should be researching these options alongside your parents. Don't know the difference between a "subsidized loan" and an "unsubsidized loan"? The FAFSA and the CSS PROFILE (see 1 below)? ACG grants and National SMART grants (2)? Look these up online. Pay a visit to your school's career center. Many schools have financial aid nights that you and your parents can attend together. Funds, especially federal funds, do eventually run out. The sooner you familiarize yourself with the financial aid language the better.
1. Both are government loans, however subsidized loans do not accrue interest until after you graduate, while unsubsidized loans accrue interest immediately.
2. Academic Competitiveness Grants are $750-1,300 grants you can obtain if you are enrolled in your first or second year of undergraduate study. The National SMART grant is an up to $4,000 grant for undergrads who are enrolled in their third or fourth year of study in an eligible major.
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While I am in the process of applying for financial aid, my grandpa's own experience comes to mind. It's a story he's told me many times before, and it's story I won't forget.
To finance his education at a junior college in Maui in 1956, my grandpa arranged to mow the campus lawn in exchange for full payment of his tuition. He couldn't afford to attend a four-year university on the mainland until he was well into his 30s and his first child was born.
A few years ago, my family visited that former school in Maui. I was struck by how the sloping grounds just stretched on and on in all directions for nearly an acre. It must have been a difficult task for him to mow that lawn every week. It wasn't his only responsibility, either. On top of cutting grass he worked in the banana fields and helped my great-grandparents support a family with 12 children. But the possibility of a college education made the pushing worthwhile.
I think of my grandpa because I don't know if I would mow the lawn of Pomona or George Washington or Columbia University. Some determined students might. But most students, especially the ones around here, would hesitate to trim the blades of grass at even our dream-schools.
I don't think this is because my generation is particularly lazy. We take five-hour exams on Saturday mornings. We pull all-nighters to finish history essays. We volunteer at hospitals, play multiple varsity sports, and take violin lessons. We do keep busy.
There is nothing even wrong with mowing the lawn. Functionally, it's a very important service to the school. Campus beautification, the job could be called. So what's the issue? Is it embarrassing to do so? Is it a violation of a social norm? What norm, what value? If we would pick the fruits of our education without all the hard labor, we should ask ourselves, "Do we really want to go to college? Do we even deserve to go to college?"
My situation today is far different from my grandpa's situation, half a century ago. I have to take the SAT as a teen. He had to work in the fields as a teen. I know who had it harder. But every time I hear his story it never fails to put my college application process in perspective, especially with regards to financial aid. Money is green, I tell myself - just like the color of the grass.
About the writers:
Elizabeth LaScala, Ph.D. is an educational consultant and certified college admissions advisor. Her goal is to help students and their families understand the admissions process, research college and career options, create a customized college list and submit a strong and cohesive application. She is familiar with local high schools and has guided three daughters through the college admissions process in addition to more than 300 clients. Dr. LaScala is an active member of NACAC, WACAC, and HECA and earned a certification in College Admissions and Career Planning from University of California at Berkeley. Contact her at (925) 891-4491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Teen Wire provides a perspective on today's youth in the face of a changing world. Daniel Morizono, a senior at San Ramon Valley High School, news editor of the Wolfprint, and managing editor of the SRVHS International Studies Academy can be contacted at email@example.com.
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