Friday, January 22, 2016

Is the Tide Turning on College Admissions?

The buzz this past week has been about a report issued by the Harvard School of Education and a consortium of other selective colleges and universities called "Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern
for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions."

It’s a vital topic and a thoughtful report, but reading through it, I didn’t find any indication that the tide is turning—applying to selective colleges will still be grueling and fraught no matter how much the schools change the emphasis in their admissions.  An article in The Washington Post summarizes the report’s highlights and then offers “tips” to parents for helping to “turn the tide.”

I agree with the report that the quality and duration of community service is more important than the amount of time spent, and I applaud these schools for carefully defining what kind of community involvement they value.  For instance, a group of people or students working together to solve a problem may be a better way of engaging in outreach than simply serving once at a soup kitchen, but I think this emphasis is not a new factor in college admissions. 

A stronger recommendation in the report might be the call to de-emphasize standardized tests as a big factor in admissions decisions, though many colleges might go even further and make the tests optional as some schools have already done.

Another important recommendation is to make course loads more reasonable and limit the number of AP courses.  This will be harder to achieve unless school districts, teachers, counselors and parents work together to communicate a consistent message to students about balancing workloads.

Overall, the report makes valid observations about the current stressful,  competitive, and unhealthy admissions process—at least for selective schools—but I’m waiting to see more substantive changes by admissions offices such as reversing the trend toward accepting more students Early Decision and reducing the frenzied marketing to influence admissions statistics by increasing the number of applications each year. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Time to fill out the FAFSA and CSS Profile!

Phew! Your senior has just finished his/her college applications and you're all breathing a sigh of relief. . . well, almost.  During the next month parents play their most important role in the college application process by filling out financial aid applications for their student to receive scholarships and loans.

This is our second time through the process (our older daughter is now a sophomore in college and our younger daughter, a high school senior, just finished, her college applications) and I'm still wishing I could just put the whole thing off.

However, now is the time to gather your financial information including last year's and this year's income tax returns, W-2 forms and other income records, bank statements, mortgage statements, and investment forms.  Some schools' deadlines are as early as February 1st.  The University of California and California State University deadlines are March 2.

Once you've gathered the information, filling out the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is relatively straightforward and quick.  The CSS Profile, which you'll need to fill out for private schools is a little more complex.  Luckily, both the Federal Student Aid Website and the College Board Website have detailed tutorials and worksheets to help you fill out their forms.

Good luck!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Demonstrated Interest in Colleges: what is it and why and when it matters

Recently, I listened to  a webinar by a college admissions representative about “demonstrated interest.”  This is a term use by colleges for tracking students’ interaction with them through visits, emails, interviews and other means.  For some of the most selective schools like the Ivy League universities and for large public universities, demonstrated interest isn’t relative. 

But for many other schools, especially private liberal arts colleges and medium-sized selective schools, demonstrated interest plays a larger and larger role as schools try to make the best match with applicants in order to “yield” a full freshman class.

First point—students should not panic about demonstrated interest. It is not hard to show and it is not a critical part of the admissions process.  But it is a way for students to learn more about the schools that interest them and to develop strong self-advocacy skills.

Here are some ways that students can “demonstrate interest” in the schools they are considering:

  • Fill out an inquiry card when you attend a college fair or presentation.
  • Make a campus visit and be sure to log in at the admissions office.
  • Send an email to the admissions office or admissions rep to ask a specific question about the college’s curriculum or other programs.
  • Attend an information session at your high school or another regional location.
  • Speak with a current student or alumnus.
  • Interview with an alumnus or an admissions representative (not all schools offer this option).
  • Email or meet with a faculty member in the academic department of your interest.
  • Open marketing interviews sent from the school.  (Yes, schools can track which students open their emails!)
  • Apply Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED).
  • Show familiarity with the school and a personal interest in its programs in your supplemental essays.

How is demonstrated interest important for the student?

Students who carefully research the schools that interest them and visit the school either actually or virtually end up making a stronger fit with the schools on their college list.  They can often reduce the overall number of applications they submit, and they are better prepared for interviews and other interactions with college admissions representatives.  

Overall, by learning to advocate for themselves and to communicate their academic and extra-curricular interest to others, students gain valuable experience in self-presentation and self-confidence.