Applying to College

What three things should rising seniors be doing over the summer?

As we head off into the summer, we asked our experts what rising seniors should be doing this summer. As usual, they've got some great advice about how to rest, recharge, and prepare for a couple of steps in the college application process so you'll hit the ground running -- and avoid feeling overwhelmed -- in the fall. And don't forget, two of the most important and best things you can do this summer are rest and read, read, read... Nothing will prepare you better for senior year. Enjoy all of it!


Mai Lien Nguyen
College and Career Center Coordinator
Mountain View High School
Mountain View, CA


“Having fun” and “preparing for college applications” aren’t phrases you normally hear in the same breath.  But the summer before senior year could be the golden opportunity to make this happen.  Let’s see how:


Anna Takahashi, Eastside College Preparatory School

Located just north of the affluent town that is home to Stanford University, East Palo Alto has had a history of crime and violence and Silicon Valley's boom economy has largely bypassed the community and the families of the Latino, African American and Pacific Islander students who reside there. Today, the dropout rate for students from East Palo Alto is 65%. 

In 1991, a Stanford student started an after-school basketball program for East Palo Alto kids in grades 4 through 8, linking participation with attendance at a daily study hall. But he soon realized it wasn't enough for these students, who, after eighth grade, would be bused 20 miles away to the nearest high school.  So in 1996 that Stanford student, Chris Bischof, founded Eastside College Preparatory School, private school with an intensive, college-prep curriculum.

With an initial class of eight students, at one point, Bischof, who is today Eastside's principal, was using park benches in a muddy lot as a classroom. Today, more than 300 students enrolled in grades 6 through 12 attend school on a full built-out campus that includes boarding facilities for more than 100 students.

College and Life: Is it about the finish line or the road you take to get there?

Mark Moody, Co-Director of College Counseling at Colorado Academy, is back with us today with an excellent discussion of "outcomes" -- a meme in the media and a subject on the minds of some students, parents, educators and other interested parties. Read on to see why becoming "dis-oriented" from outcomes may provide the happiest ending. 


I’ve noticed the term “outcomes-oriented” being used a lot lately. It’s apparently a desirable quality, describing my LinkedIn contacts on their profiles, applicants I encounter on hiring committees, professional services in marketing emails that land in my inbox. When you consider it, “outcomes-oriented” is an interesting pairing of words. It suggests a constant headlong bearing toward a projected future, radar locked on a defined finish line and a specific expectation of what should await there. It feels antsy and impatient. Let’s get to the outcome, people! Who cares how? Full speed ahead!

Juniors: This one says college, that one says university -- What's in a name?


As you research colleges for an initial list of schools to which you may apply, understanding how they "name" or characterize themselves may provide important information. Whether a school is a “college” or a “university” can make a difference.

Most— but not all— colleges and universities offer a liberal education. That doesn’t refer to politics! “Liberal” in this case goes back to the original meaning of the word: “unrestricted.” It’s an educational approach where a student is called on to examine problems and issues from multiple vantage points and learns how to think, communicate, question, and probe. The rationale behind a liberal education is that the world is changing rapidly and training for a specific discipline or job is ultimately less practical than learning how to be ready for a world unknown.

Undergraduate education in the United States is dominated by institutions that hold to the notion that a liberal education is the best way to prepare for a life of significance, meaning, and means. There are, however, also terrificc options that do not insist students be liberally educated.

Juniors: Find your foundation schools -- the ones where you can build a foundation for success in life!

Juniors, one of your tasks now and over the coming summer months is to begin to put together a list of colleges to which you may apply. Our Counselor of the Month Trevor Rusert of Pennsylvania's Sewickley Academy has some great advice about how to start:

Rather than start with the college where you have almost no chance for acceptance, let’s start by applying to 4-5 outstanding colleges where your chances for admission are strong (i.e., your GPA is above the average GPA of accepted students from your school, and your standardized test results are above or at the top of the average range).  We no longer call them “safety schools” because that tends to carry a negative connotation.  Just because one school is easier to gain admission to than another does not mean that you are sacrificing quality of education.  Therefore, we call these colleges “foundation schools”.  These are the schools where you can build a foundation for success in life.  Places where you can receive an outstanding education, and go on to launch a successful career.  The application process is kind of like building a house.  You don’t start by planning a rooftop swimming pool (that is probably not realistic), you start by building a strong foundation.

Find your foundation schools! This time next year, you'll be glad you did.


Seniors: Everything You Need to Know about Wait Lists

The wait list is probably on the minds of a lot of students this week, so we're bringing you a recap of the next steps you should take if you've been waitlisted, as well as the round-ups of our expert advice on being waitlisted. If you're wondering whether or not to accept a spot on the wait list or move on or exactly how to make your case to a school where you're waitlisted, click on these links and read on… 


The Perfect Score Project: The story of a mom, her son and seven SAT's

Debbie Stier thought she could motivate her son if she climbed into the SAT trenches with him. But what started for Stier as a scheme to rescue her son from "sliding by", became an obsession to superscore her way into the 97th percentile.  One small traffic accident, a television purchase, an apology note written in "SAT words," a crisis in which her children moved out to live with their father and a large dose of humble pie later, Stier's enslavement to the SAT bore fruit.  Most importantly, she was deemed by her son to be "the best SAT mom in the whole world." And seven -- yes, 7! -- SAT's later, she wrote The Perfect Score Project to share all she had learned -- from test prep and "bubbling" techniques to the secrets of snacking. But it's more than a book about standardized testing -- it's an intimate story of a family, a self-help book and a tale with a happy ending. We're a sucker for that combination.

Stier joins us today to answer our questions about her journey down the rabbit hole of answer sheets, the best free resources for preparing for the SAT, test day tips, the funniest thing that happened to her on the way to a perfect score and more…


Best Advice for the Wait List: Part II

We're back with more advice about the wait list. As one of our counselors put it yesterday, being on a wait list is like flying standby. You haven’t been accepted and you haven’t been denied. You’re in limbo, and that can be stressful. But there are some things you can and should do as you decide whether or not to accept a spot on a waitlist and, at the same time, make plans to move forward.

Here's more guidance from the high school college counselors who answered our Question of the Month: "What is your best advice for students who are waitlisted?" 

Rafael S. Figueroa
Dean of College Guidance
Albuquerque Academy
Albuquerque, New Mexico

You need to look at this situation in two different ways, simultaneously.

1.    Pick a college that admitted you.

Tell them you are attending and send in your deposit. Put the colleges that waitlisted you out of your mind. Move on. Get excited about the college you have chosen, and focus on the great experience you will have there.

2.    Don¹t give up on a waitlist college, if you really want to attend.

Let the college know that you remain very interested. Update them on any new information about you that is relevant to your admission. Be patient. Given the way that waitlist offers trickle down the chain of different schools, offers might not come until July or even August.

Juniors: Questions to Ask when Visiting Campus

In the official group information sessions colleges offer, an admission officer will usually provide an overview of the college -- the school’s history, academic programs, undergraduate life, athletics, the application process, and financial aid-- followed by a question and answer session for students and parents. (Quick tip: let students lead with their questions first!)

During this Q&A, the admission officer will be able to provide you with answers about most aspects of daily life on campus— academics, housing, any special programs such as study- abroad opportunities. But don’t be afraid to have them address broader queries about the who, what, and why of the campus -- and the application process. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

• What impresses you the most in a student’s application?

• What are you looking for when you read students’ essays?

• What are some of the things you hate to see in an application?

• Is demonstrated interest a factor in your admission decision?

• Are admission decisions need- blind?

• What kind of student does well here? What kind of student doesn’t do well here?

• Did you attend this college? What has changed since you’ve been here?

• What changes do you see taking place on campus in the next five years?

You should never go to the best institution you get into...

Did you know? You should never attend the best college you're admitted to? Some fascinating statistics and counter-intuitive insights from the master of such Malcolm Gladwell. Thank you to DePaul University's Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management Jon Boeckenstedt for forwarding this amazing short talk by Gladwell at Google's Zeitgeist Americas 2013. As Boeckenstedt points out on his Admissions Weblog, Gladwell covers a number of issues parents and admission officers always want to hear more about including whether it's better to be a small fish in a big pond and why firms that only hire from the "best schools" are probably making a mistake. It's worth the time to watch here!