Summer 2021: Preparing for College Applications Webinar
Dan: My name is Dan Asher. I'm the owner of A+ Test Prep and Tutoring. I've been doing this for about thirty years, and it's really a lot of fun working with families and helping their students prepare for both SAT and ACT tests as well as academic subject areas and executive function coaching. Today we're going to talk about how the kids can use the summer, whether they're sophomores heading into their junior year or they're juniors heading into their senior year, we'd like to give you some help and answer any questions you have about the college admissions process and what you can do to help your students with it. So Linda, go ahead and introduce yourself.
Linda: Well, hi everybody thank you so much for taking time out of the evening. I know it's always a precious time after work, so thanks so much for being here, and thank you Dan for including me in today's webinar. I'm Linda Hollenback. I'm the owner of Hollenback Consulting. I am a college and career strategist, so my whole career has been in education, and six years ago I started my practice where I help families with teens and young adults navigate both to college, but also through college, helping guide them, utilizing the career path and high school as that launch point too. I'm really excited to be here and to talk about how to really maximize the summer to begin that process. Sophomore going into junior year and going into senior year is the perfect time to really dive in.
Dan: Thanks again for joining us, and one more time I'll just mention that you're welcome to join in and ask your questions, so in the meantime we'll get started with our presentation. So the first thing we're going to talk about is what should parents of sophomores (current sophomores who will be juniors next year), what should they be thinking about at this time, and what should the kids be thinking about in terms of how to use their summer (you know, hopefully they'll have a fun summer do some great fun things as well as doing some stuff that's going to help them further their college ambitions), so I'll start off, and then I'll have Linda add the stuff that she's an expert in.
Dan: My expertise is more in the testing and her expertise is the college admissions process generally and helping with applications etc., so what I would say is if you currently have a student that's a sophomore, and you're thinking about what they can do now, the first thing I would recommend is having students take a practice SAT and a practice ACT. Our company A+ offers them for free, and basically what we can do is have your student take a practice test; we then score it for you and give you a very detailed score report, and then based on the information we get from both the SAT and the ACT, we can help you understand which test the student is performing better in and which test may be a better fit for your student. We also use something called Mindprint which I can talk about a little bit more a little later, but Mindprint is an assessment that we offer as well at no additional cost with our test prep programs, and it gives us a lot of information about the student's cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Again, it helps us determine whether the SAT or ACT is a better fit, but it's also valuable for a lot of other reasons; because, it really gives us information about how the student thinks and how they learn: things like processing speed, visual memory, verbal memory, executive function skills, those kind of things. So that's really useful information as well both for testing, but in addition, for their academic purposes and even for college and how they can be successful in college, so that's the first thing I'd say once you get a handle on those scores, then there's a couple of other things to consider.
Dan: One is, should my student consider preparing for the SAT or the ACT, and, if so, which test (like we just mentioned), and if if they decide that they are going to do that ,when would be the best time for them to do that preparation. So, those are a number of factors we have to consider. If your student is a low scorer on those tests, then it may be better for them to go, or consider applying to, a college “test optional,” or we should say without submitting scores, but for students that have good scores or very good scores, it's going to benefit them to include those scores in their application. So Linda, do you want to add anything about that?
Linda: No, I think you're absolutely right. I highly recommend all of my sophomores and rising juniors do those SAT/ACT diagnostic tests if they haven't already done so. This is a great time to do it over the summer, so they can make a strategy for their tests. I like to see students do this. Although you hear stories of students taking the SAT/ACT even through the fall of senior year, I really strongly encourage families and teens if they're able, to get that testing done before the end of junior year, and I do that for a couple of reasons: one, so it's done and out of the way summer of junior year going into senior year (which I know we're going to be talking to our rising seniors soon), but you want to have that out of the way, so you can focus on your application materials. If you're juggling application materials and the testing it's just that added stress that teens don't need to have. Also it helps you in terms of gauging your school list and being strategic with your school list in terms of of which are the “reach,” the “targets,” the “likely” (many people use the word “safeties”) but also in terms of determining your strategy if you need to look to see what schools are test blind or test optional. With Covid-19 many schools were test optional for this last 2021 cycle and are planning to be test optional again for this 2022 cycle, but (and we can talk about it) I don't want to jump the gun, but that test optional (I mean there's test blind where they truly don't take that factor into consideration, and so if your student is a low test scorer, then the testing is just not the best fit for your student, there are schools that truly don't utilize that in the admission process) the schools that are saying that they are test optional are not necessarily as “test optional” as they are touting to the world, and so I think that's important that you know. I do think testing (although there's a shift in the testing environment because of Covid) is not going anywhere anytime soon, and so if your student is thinking about some of the more selective admissions schools, I still think it's very important that they have a test strategy and that they do the diagnostic plan to take the test in fall of junior year and then again, if needed, in spring of junior year, and if they need to have a test prep (if you kind of have your eye on particular schools and you know where their range is which is out there and published; you can just even Google it: “Penn State” or “University of Pennsylvania” plus “SAT”) you can get that sweet spot there their average range and determine whether additional test prep is going to be required in order to meet the goals for your admission strategy.
Dan: Okay thanks Linda, so a couple things we should mention regarding test optional. I think it's important for parents to understand what that really means and what some of the schools are saying about it as opposed to what the reality is. I should also just mention the score ranges; it seems to me that colleges may have even higher score ranges now than they've had in the past; because, if students don't submit scores, then and those are typically the lower scoring students. That means that the scores that are published by the colleges are going to actually be higher. That doesn't necessarily mean you won't get in, but it just makes it seem even more competitive. So do you have anything to add about that?
Linda: Would you like to share the slide with just a few examples? These are more selective schools, but you know it'll give you an idea of what we're talking about in the context of the current environment. When you think about this class that was just admitted/ just enrolled, when we look at our local University of Pennsylvania (so that's our local premier IV school) they had a 34% increase in applications this year largely; because, they moved to test optional. A lot of students who maybe would have held back or not applied, thought, “Well it's ‘test optional.' I might as well throw in an application.” There was a huge increase in their applications which caused a decrease in their acceptance rate; because, the number of spots did not change, and so it went from being eight percent to under six percent acceptance rate, so it became harder to get admitted; because, there were more applicants. They are test optional; we're test optional this past cycle; and are going to be test optional again this year, but there's a big “but” when you actually look at whom they admitted, of the regular decision applicants, only 26% did not submit scores. That means 74% of the kids that they actually said yes to were ones that they also had test data on, and, at the same time, as much as they were still touting “test optional” as part of the press release where they were sharing some of this information, they were still touting that their score range had increased to 1500 to 1560 on the SAT and 34 to 36 on ACT. Similarly Georgetown had a 30% increase in applications. Their SAT/ACT's weren't required, but they were recommended, so they weren't fully a true test optional school, but again over 80% of their applicants included tests, and just under 90% of those admitted had scores, so the vast majority of whom Georgetown accepted had scores. Villanova another one of our local schools had a 25% acceptance rate, so again they had a a more selective year this year, because of an increase in applications. I don't have the stats on that, but again 44% admit were “test optional” which means 56% of the class had test scores, and lastly Georgia Tech (I know a lot of students who are kind of interested in engineering Georgia Tech's on their radar) their acceptance rate was 18% and only 21% of the admitted students were test optional, so again at these highly selective schools your competitors are submitting test scores, and so to give your teen and/or you (there are some teens watching here today), to give yourself the best edge, I recommend preparing for and taking the exams. What you can do is on the exam, when they ask to know whom you want to send the scores to, you can leave that blank at the time of taking the test, and then once you see your scores and determine whether you want to submit or not, you can submit them. You can submit a score report and request a score report to go to that school afterwards, so that's one way to kind of be able to play your cards to the fullest.
Dan: Yeah, so we recommend that as well if students are preparing for an SAT or an ACT with us. Our advice is don't put any of the schools down when you register for the test. You don't want to send scores to any of the schools until you've really completed the testing process, and then you can look at the scores you have and decide how best to use them. What's another factor is whether you're going to be super scoring, which means choosing the highest score in each subtest of the tests, which we can talk about a little bit more later, so it's really important to (like Linda said) keep those scores to yourself until you're sort of at the end of the testing process, and then you can always send them to the schools later on. Now Linda can you talk to us about regular decision versus early decision; because, I see you have that listed here.
Linda: Yeah absolutely, so with the application process there are a couple different application options. In the early round there are two different types of admissions. There's what's called early action and early decision. It's very confusing for people who are new to the process. Early action just means that you're applying early. You're letting the school know that you've done the research; you feel like they're a good match; and you want to get your application in early; and you want a decision earlier. Oftentimes you'll get the decision by the end of December or beginning of January, so you get that decision early. That way you can make decisions about whether you want to apply to additional schools. Early decision, however, is different. Early decision is what's called a binding contract. It is where you are determining, and you can only do it for one school. It's where you are saying to this one school, “You are my dream school. Even if every other college and university in the entire world were saying I could come here, I only want to come to you. You are my top choice. When you make this binding contract in your application (so you're applying early, and you're signing this binding contract, and parents have to acknowledge it as well), you are saying to the school that if you accept me, I am going and that is binding in that you may not have received your other offers; you may not have financial aid information from other schools in order to to make your decision. One caveat, the one and only way that you can get out of an early decision is if the financial aid package is a true financial hardship, and you have to prove that it was a hardship for your family. That would be the only way to get out of that binding contract. It is a great tool to use if you have a dream school and if the financial aid is not an important factor for your family. For example at the University of Pennsylvania, I mentioned earlier (I believe the slide is still up) that their acceptance rate was 5.68% this year; however, in that early decision round for those students who are willing to sign a contract saying, “If you say yes to me, I am in,” they had a 15% acceptance rate and so you do increase your odds of acceptance; because, you're willing to make this contract that you will attend if they accept you. Lastly, regular decision, that is your traditional application deadline for most universities, is January 1st and that's just your your traditional. There's no contract with that. it's just you're applying saying I'm interested and check me out
Dan: Great, one other thing I'll add about that (just my own experience; because, I have two kids in college) my older son ended up getting a very good amount of scholarship money, and we didn't apply early decision; because, we were afraid that our hands would be tied with negotiating with colleges for scholarship money, and that actually did work out well for us. On the one hand, if you're trying to get into an extremely competitive college, and that's your main concern (you're not concerned about getting merit aid), then early decision might be a good option; because, you know that you have a better chance of getting in. The downside of it is if you're trying to get merit money, you're not going to really be able to negotiate. In our case my son was given three scholarship offers, and the school that he ultimately decided to go to (which is Rensselaer Polytechnic), we took the aid offers the scholarship offers from the other two schools and shared them with that college, and they gave us a significant increase in this scholarship, so that's just something to keep in mind. I think when you're weighing early decision versus regular decision, it's definitely not a contract to go into lightly; because, you just lose that ability to negotiate. Honestly even if you get a scholarship, … so maybe you applied to a school early action to get the response early, and you also applied to an early decision school. Your early decision school (even if that early action does happen to get back to you in time for you to have a scholarship offer in hand) there is no guarantee. The early decision school kind of already knows they have you; because, you've signed a contract, and so there's not really as much negotiation room. Unless again, there's some significant financial hardship; if there's been a a change in your situation that you need to address with the school. Right, so it's really important to be aware of what you're committing before do that. One other thing I wanted to mention while we're talking scholarships and decisions; that's another really important reason to still take an SAT or ACT even as there is a movement towards more test optional. Some universities might be test optional for admission, but they may still require the SAT or ACT for some of their most competitive merit aid in merit scholarships. Additionally outside organization scholarships oftentimes ask for your SAT/ACT scores, so even if you're not going to use them, if you take it, and you're not going to use it for admissions, it's still great to have that set of scores in your pocket, so you can utilize it and see what scholarship opportunities might be available based on your score.
Linda: That's a great point.
Dan: Ok, let's talk a little bit more about what parents and students can do for kids that are currently sophomores and how they can benefit from the summer.
Linda: Sure! So, one of the things that I think is a really important to do during the summer: it's a wonderful time for them to explore their interests. It's really important when you're looking at the college application (so the some of the main ingredients of the college application one they're going to look to see your first and foremost they're going to look at your your students transcript they want to know what classes did they take did they challenge themselves did they rise to the the challenge) you also want to think about your courses in terms of how they align to the student's interests. So if the student has strong interest in going into engineering, well then i would expect as an admissions reader to see very strong math and science courses and the student pushing themselves in challenging for the harder maths and science courses), similarly the next piece of the puzzle is the extracurriculars. The extracurricular profile ,the activities that they're involved in, think about this is the way for the student to really show who they are as a person, as a scholar, as a community member, as a leader. They want to see what they do with their time outside of what's required of them. What's required of them is to go to school (you know, otherwise they stop going to school; you're going to have a knock on your door mom and dad), and so it's looking to see what do they do when they're free to do what they want to do. What are the things that they choose to do, and so extracurriculars can be the clubs that are in the school's activities at school, but it can also be things that they're doing in the community. It can be hobbies that they're doing on their own time, and so you want to think about encouraging your teen to utilize the summer to further explore those interests. It's also a great time for them to think about their future career path and things that they're considering. If they're thinking about engineering but maybe aren't sure what type of engineering, the summer is a really wonderful time to leverage their network, leverage the community, see if they can connect with alumni, friends, parents of friends, etc. to have an informational interview. shadow, intern, etc. in order to explore those interests in order to get that clarity. What else can they do to research or engage in areas that align to their interest? This will help them to get more confident in what they're interested in, but also allows them to add to their extracurricular portfolio, especially if they're able to do something a little bit more in-depth, such as an internship, joining a research team, shadowing. They can then (when the school says, ” Why do you want to come to our program; why do you want to be a chemical engineer?), they can speak to the experience and not only that, “I liked my chemistry class,” but also, “I spent the summer after my sophomore year interning with… or researching with…” and they can talk about that experience, which makes a much richer story and makes a stronger candidate; because, if I have 30 or 50 chemical engineering spots, I want to make sure that I'm giving it to students who are going to stick with it. I mean if I'm going to give this coveted chemical engineering spot to a student who after the first semester is going to leave and become an English major; because, if I look at the extracurricular profile they've won poetry contests; they've written their own short story; they've been editor of their school newspaper, there's that disconnect. All their activities say that they love to write, and that's their strength. I'm going to be hesitant to give them my chemical engineering spot, so you need to make sure that your extracurricular profile aligns to that area of interest.
Dan: Now it used to be many years ago when I first started out doing this, that I think people wanted their kids to be involved in a million different things, and so they would have a resume “quote unquote” that was a mile wide but an inch thick. Now it seems like people really are looking for a lot more interest in one or two areas to show that this is something you're really interested in.
Linda: Yeah, quality over quantity. I often get families that'll come to me, and they'll say, “You know, we've been butting heads at home; he or she's been involved in piano or involved in xyz activity since they were in third grade, and I think that they should stick with it; because, colleges want to see that consistency throughout” and what I tell (the myth that I'm busting here) is that colleges want to know what the students enjoy doing with their time; because, they're trying to assess not only who they are now, but who they're going to be when they arrive on campus. So if they've been doing piano lessons since they were five years old, and you're now at home, and they're in 10th grade, and you're butting heads; because, they don't want to do piano lessons anymore, but you think they should stick with it for college, I'm going to tell you that if they're not planning to be a pianist on the college campus, or they're not going to be a music major, then the college doesn't really care that they've been playing since third grade or since five years old. They want to know what it is that they're going to be when they come to campus: what kind of scholar are they going to be; what kind of human are they going to be; what kind of community member? That's what they want to see, so again it's about the quality, and about the depth… allowing them to tell their authentic story by allowing them to explore the things that really are important to them. I often tell parents that rather than feeling like you need to “should” your kids: “they should do this” and “I heard they should do this…” really stop and ask them. Allow them to be in the driver's seat, and really ask them the question, “What impact do you want to have on the world? What causes or things do you care about? What would you like to be introduced to? Is there something, a field or interest, that you'd like to explore that I can help make an introduction for you?'” Allow them (I know it's really, really hard parents), allow the teen to be in the driver's seat. Allow them to tell you and encourage them to explore that interest. Allow them that space to let you know what they're thinking, free of the expectations of what your hopes are for them. If you, on the other hand, notice something that they seem to really be drawn to, but they haven't really expressed that interest, you can say to them, “I've noticed that you seem to be really great at…” or “Your friends always seem to come to you for…” and see if that can open up a door to conversation for an exploration of something that maybe you're seeing that they haven't yet come to on their own, but that from your knowledge and your basis of experience, might be a path that they might be interested in.
Dan: Okay. Now let's talk a little bit about the early college visits. So, kids that are about to go into the summer in between sophomore and junior year, they're not doing the college visits that kids will be doing after their junior year. What do you recommend in that regard?
Linda: Sure, I think the college visits and college exploration needs to go in phases. You need to help, and I think it's wonderful. If you're a family that's starting and thinking about this early, thinking about this in the end of freshman year into sophomore year, going into junior year. You can bring your teen into the process, helping ease them in without it being so overwhelming. So one of the things that I often say is (as an early phase one exploration, and especially if you're here in the the Greater Philadelphia Area), we have so many different colleges in such a close proximity. We've got everything from the itty-bitty schools like Rosemont and Cabrini, to the massively large Temple and Pen. Drexel's in between the; suburban Villanova, you've got Bryn Mawr, and you've got Haverford. We've got so many in this area. Take a Saturday over the summer, an afternoon, and go just walk around the campus, get a feel for it, have lunch nearby to get a feel for the surroundings to see what it feels like to be on Drexel's urban campus, versus Villanova's suburban campus, versus Del Val, which is a little bit more rural. That gives the teen very much. If you think parents from the perspective of going house hunting or apartment shopping, you know what you might have in your mind, what you think you want, or what you think you like, but it's not until you really start stepping foot. You know, “I really love the craftsman style,” but then you get in there, and you're like, “Oh the layout in here is a little wonky. I like another style (Cape Cod) better, and so it's going to be the same thing for your teen. They may have in their mind, “Oh I'm going to a big city school, but then they step foot on a Drexel where it's a very urban campus,” and there are tall buildings around, and they might feel very overwhelmed by that, or they might think they like the idea of the idyllic small liberal arts school, and they get there, and they think, “This feels a little small.” Just like that house hunting, you will see that moment when things go, “Hmm this kind of feels like home. I kind of like this campus. I could see myself here,” and that's a really great way to kind of start the conversation and start to feel out the school from a size and environment perspective. Then from there (even if in local schools they know that they don't want to go local) utilize that local just to get that environment feel, and then you can look for something that's similar in other areas based on also looking for the schools that have the programs that you're interested in. Another great early exploration… One of the remarkable things about Covid is they moved everything virtually, so you can literally use youtube and uvisit.com and do virtual campus tours. Most of the schools are offering virtual tours with the students. They offer virtual information sessions. It's a really easy, low pressure way to kind of just get a little touch, a little glimpse of what colleges are taling about; what are some of the things, the buzzwords that I'm hearing. What are the things that peak my interest that I want to explore and learn more about? So these are nice easy ways to get started and get a feel for what different types of colleges there are and what the college experience is going to be all about and what the college search process is going to be all about.
Dan: Now at this stage before we get to our junior year, should we consider going into the admissions office and asking questions there, or is it more just a question of kind, of getting the atmosphere and thinking about the “big” versus “small” etc.?
Linda: That kind of thing depends on where your family is and where your team is in the the college planning process. If this is very early, and you really haven't been talking about it yet, I would start off with just that general getting the feel, walking around campus, doing the the info sessions. If you are a little farther ahead; you've already started doing a little bit; they're familiar; they've been to college campuses through school or anything like that; then it's okay if you've started to identify schools that you think may be a good fit. It's okay to reach out to the admissions office and have an initial conversation. I would say to make sure that you do a little bit of homework before going into that. Not that it would be horribly wrong to ask a question that's obvious from the website, but I like my students to go in feeling/being a little more informed, having read the school's mission statement, understanding the school's values. Instead of going in and saying, “Well do you have a chemical engineering program,” check that out beforehand, so that way you could say, “Tell me more about your chemical engineering program. I see it has a built-in internship. What are some of the the placements, or what are some of the opportunities within the engineering department?” versus looking like you didn't do the homework. Parents think of it in terms of the job search. You wouldn't go into a job interview and say, “What does this company do?” You should have done a little bit of homework before going in, looking at the mission, the vision, looking at the programs to at least loosely know what you're going to ask about. That's a good good kind of first and second step in the search process.
Dan: So basically if you're very early on in the process, you're not really thinking that seriously about a particular school, then you're not going to be doing that. You're just going to be going and checking out the atmosphere, but at a later date when you're going and seriously considering a specific school, then you really do need to do that homework before you interact with anybody in the admissions staff or the academic department you're interested in or something like that.
Linda: I would say with the summer (because, I know sometimes families go on family vacations, and so they try to kind of tie things in), if you're going to be traveling (if we're not talking about just local schools) if you're going to be traveling, then even in your early stages, I would take the time to to make the appointment with the admissions office, maybe even with a professor in the department if your student has some ballpark idea of what they're thinking about. Just to maximize the fact that you're traveling to that location. It's definitely a good opportunity when you're having that family vacation to take advantage of what school is in that area and checking it out.
Dan: Do the professors enjoy that? Do they like having people make an appointment and visit with them?
Linda: Well, I say to students that it's a good test to see how accessible the professors are. I would say summer is a little bit tricky; because, they have summer vacation too, but if you go and request to meet with a professor, and they kind of begrudgingly (you feel like you harass them to get an appointment, and then you have the appointment, and they're not super friendly, and they're watching their clock, or doing their emails), that's not really a good sign; because, they in some way should be courting you. You're a potential prospective student, and you want to know that they want to work with you; because, these are the people that you're going to learn from and hopefully be involved with in their research, and they're going to open the doors for your future career. So they're not open to building a relationship with you as a prospective student, that (to me) is a red flag.
Dan: That's a very good point. Okay, so now let's say we'll move on to the following year. At the end of junior year between junior year and senior year in high school; hopefully you've completed the testing process; you've gotten your test scores; it's also possible you may have to take the test one more time in the fall of your senior year. So you may need to use the summer to take one more crack at it, so that's something you may be doing that summer. In addition to that, we like to talk about the other things that kids are going to need to do in that time period. One of the things I'd like you to talk a little bit about is the college essay piece and a little bit more about the visits in terms of how they might be a little bit different and also something called “demonstrated interest.” Maybe you could talk about that a little bit as well?
Linda: Sure, absolutely! So let's pick up where we'll start with the college visits. As I said early, in the sophomore year we talked about that first level and possibly going into the second level as you move through junior year. That's when (hopefully) you're doing more and more research on schools. You're getting clearer on where your interests are and what type of schools you're looking for. So as you go through junior year, and now going into senior year, at this point you should hopefully be pretty firm on what schools you're going to be applying to. If you don't yet have your school list, I would urge you to really work to try to get that by mid-summer at the latest. You may have some additional school visits to go to later in the summer or maybe even into the fall, but you want to have a good sense of what are your schools by about mid-summer at the latest.
Dan: So getting the college list together, when's a good time to do that?
Linda: When I work with the families, if they've come to me early, my goal is by the end of junior year to have a pretty firm grasp of the list with any outstanding last decisions based on their summer touring, the summer visits. The reason that I suggest that is because then I like to start working on the essays. So I'll get to that in a minute, but I like to use the summer between junior and senior to really get a big chunk of the application materials and essays done. Hopefully, if you can get most of that done or all of it done over the summer, then you can go into senior year (which I know is oftentimes the heaviest course load plus it's all the excitement of senior year), you can go in without having the burden of coming home, having homework, and then having big piles of essays to do for your applications as well. So, I really like to to get the essays moving in summer between junior and senior year. That being said, you really want to work to try to get to a place of knowing what schools you're applying for sooner rather than later as you're entering the summer between junior and senior, so that way you know what essays you need to write. With the college visits … by the spring of junior year, definitely, you want to go beyond just that admissions tour. You want to do that deeper level; you want to meet with the professor in your department, whether it be virtually or in person. You want to ask to connect with a student who's in the major that you're interested in. If you're looking at a school that's far away, I would also recommend asking not only for a student in your major, but also, for a student (even if they're not your major) from your state, so if you're thinking about a school in California, and your from Pennsylvania ask to talk with a Pennsylvania student or Pennsylvania/New Jersey kind of Mid-Atlantic student, so that way you can hear from a student who's made that shift from East Coast to West Coast (what it's like; what it's like to have that long flight home for Thanksgiving; what they've kind of experienced) and you can get that perspective as well in terms of the environment and the the weather differences and all of those things, if there's a particular culture club, or if you're an LGBTQ student, reaching out to those cultural centers or resource centers or LGBTQ community centers to make sure that they're going to have the support you need. Similarly if you've had an IEP in high school, if you've got learning differences or other disabilities, making sure that you reach out to and know in advance what the disability resources are available to you as a college student. When it comes to IEPs, the IEP that you have in high school is not the same at the college level, so you need to find out what the school's requirements are. Do they need additional documentation in order to get your accommodations? Are you eligible for accommodations? You want to know that: because, each school is a little different in how they handle that, and as you shift from being a high school student to a college student, you move from the the public school regulations, into the ADA regulations the American Disabilities Act regulations. So the rules are different; because, you're now an adult, so that's an important thing for that deeper level going beyond the tour. Student life… the student clubs, seeing can you meet with someone in those clubs, making sure that you check out the research facilities, maybe getting that dorm tour, so you can see what what life on campus is like, really getting to see the area that you're going to be living in; because, it's not just the school. You're also going to be living in that area for four years; that can be a long time if you end up not liking the environment that you're in. So, you definitely want your tours as you're going into the spring of junior year and going in from junior year to senior year; you really want to be doing that depth of research just to make sure that you're getting that right fit for you
Dan: Okay, so a couple of other points about that time period… so you mentioned about the accommodations that if a student's going to need accommodations when they get to college, they may have to get another assessment done. It's possible that they have an assessment that was done by a psychologist several years ago, and if they're asking for the college to help them to provide some accommodations for them, they may need to get the assessment done in advance, and so that's really an important thing to keep in mind, and you don't want to wait until the last minute to do that; because, then you could kind of be running up against the clock.
Dan: It's definitely an important thing to consider if you're hoping to get that kind of accommodation that you have been getting (like additional time on tasks or that type of thing), so keep that in mind. Also that summer before your senior year, you want to make sure that (like I mentioned earlier) if you're planning to take the SAT or ACT again, that it's really important that plan that time, so you'll have enough time in between whatever other activities you're going to be doing that summer to make sure you can put some concerted time into it. You definitely want to get that test out of the way either at the end of the summer (like August or September) or the very early part of senior year, so you don't have to worry about that. You'll have that nailed down before you start actually sending applications in.
Linda: Absolutely, really important. Another point for the summer, I think summer is a really great time to get a head start on your application materials. Open up your Common App. For families in case you're not familiar with Common Application, so Common Application is a site. It's called commonapp.org, and it is the website that basically (for parents we all had we had to do our applications for each individual school and you had to put your name and address and parents information over and over and over again) so the system is basically a way that allows all of the basic information you're filling it out to be put in once, and it's the common set of information that goes to all schools; then, within the system the student selects what schools they're applying to, and based on the schools they select they'll get the additional questions that are school specific in their system. So with this Common Application they can go in, and they can create their account and get that basic information filled in over the summer. It does refresh, but if you've already created your account, it will cycle over. Also the Common Application, the main essay of the application process is called the Common App Essay; it's the main essay, and that essay is not school specific. It goes again to each and every school that you're applying to that uses this common app portal, which most schools do (not all, but most). So that main essay… there's seven different prompts. I'll put the link for that in the in the chat box, but there are seven different prompts. They only have to pick one. It's a roughly 600 word essay, and it's an opportunity for the student to share something about themselves. it's a way for the schools to get to know them from a general perspective, in terms of something that is important to them, and then each of the individual schools will have additional essays: anywhere from one to six essays, and they're usually a little bit shorter for the most case if they have the multiple, but every school is going to have those additional ones that are going to ask, “Why do you want our school? Why do you want this major? What was your most meaningful activity?” things like that, and so there is quite a bit of writing that is involved with the college admissions process. If students can get a head start on that, if they know their schools and can then see and map out their essays and get a head start on that over the summer, it puts them in a much better position for the application and allows them to use that (we talked about that early decision and early action). You can then apply to more schools in that early round and get results sooner too which is also a really nice thing too before the end of the fall semester of senior year to already have multiple offers in your your pocket. That's a really wonderful feeling, and a lot of stress relief, versus having to wait till the the decisions in march for the regular decision. So, I would really recommend getting that head start on those essays and the application materials. One of the things to think about right now for our juniors rising seniors, if you haven't already, if your school hasn't told you about it or given you their timeline, I would one make an appointment with your school-based counselor to find out about their college process; because, your school-based counselor is going to be the one that's going to have to send your transcripts, has to write your recommendation letter (the main recommendation letter), and so you want to make sure you know when they need your school list and what their process is. You also are going to have in most cases two teacher recommendations, and (unless your school has a rule against it, and they have a very specific request for recommendation period) this is a great time to get your your recommendations in and requests in early, so that way you're on your teacher's radar before they get the mob of what will be the entire rising senior class, and so this is a great time to think about who are the teachers that really know you, know you more than just being able to say “yes” you know he or she showed up to class and did their homework. You also again want to align your story. If you're applying (again to the engineering example) to an engineering program, you don't necessarily want your two recommendations to be your history and your English teacher. You would like at least one (if your history teacher knows you really well, great), but then you want your other one to align to that area of interest, so it should be a math or a science teacher who can speak to your prowess in that area that you're interested in. So if um if you're a parent of a current sophomore, then you should be thinking about at the end of my students junior year I want to make sure that they are in touch with the counselor at that point; because, I know a lot of counselors are off for the summer, so they won't be around if you try to reach them over the summer.
For my sophomore families that are listening, I would actually think about… by the start of the new year, kind of going into it; get on your radar, so instead of kind of trying to jam it in at the end of the school year, start building that relationship and get on their radar, letting them know that you're already thinking about the college planning process, that you want to be proactive, that you want to work together with them to have them familiar with your teen, and start that that process of them getting to know your teen and your teen's goals. You could start it even earlier in that junior year just to make sure that you get on their radar.
Dan: Okay, so as we come towards the end of our meeting here, can you talk a little bit about what general advice you would have for parents. I know a lot of times it can be difficult to navigate the college admissions process, and in some cases it's not that easy to get the kind of time you might need from a guidance counselor or a college counselor, so what would you recommend?
Linda: Well I think that there are tools and resources out there, and then there are people (if you really want, especially if you're new to the process and you kind of would like help in making sure that you're staying on track), there are people like me: independent education consultants. I'm a college career strategist. I'm a little bit different. I'm a hybrid between the IEC and a career coach where we work with you every step of the way to make sure that you're making those milestones that you're making those incremental progress so that way hopefully it won't be overwhelming to make sure that you're keeping the big picture in mind and really being strategic with your your school list. There are also really great resources in terms of college fairs and ways to kind of again step into the college exploration process where there's a lot of information sessions. The professional association the national one is called NACAC and the local one for Pennsylvania is PACAC, so they just had their virtual college fair. They actually are having (for anyone who's interested)… they just announced today that they're having three sessions of what they call “camp college” this summer. It's an opportunity, and it's being held virtually because of the pandemic. It typically would have had been an overnight thing, but it's virtual, so it's an opportunity to learn about the the college admissions process and to get support with that, so that's a great resource, so I can put that in the chat as well. Another thing that you might want to keep in mind is that if you're in a school district or if you're in independent school, sometimes they have a college admission essay boot camp kind of thing that could happen over the summer. I know for my kids, they did that (the school actually didn't offer it, but it was offered through the township), and they were able to actually get some time with some of the teachers from their school to work on these essays over the summer and that was really a beneficial use of their time. There are also some great books available for people that want to learn more about the college admissions process and how to take advantage what's out there, so that's another thing to consider if you want to put that kind of time into it. You could definitely read up on it.
Linda: And for our our rising seniors, I'm going to be holding a workshop on June 15th at 5 00 p.m., and it'll be on the Common Application prompts. I will be digging into those and letting you know what the colleges are really looking for and some of the strategies around a successful Common App essay for the main college essay, so I will send that around. It's June 15th at 5 p.m., but I'll give everyone who's attending tonight a coupon code, so you can attend for free.
Dan: Great! Okay, so we will definitely follow up with everybody who's on the call with some useful information, including the contact information for both of us. Before we finish up, if anybody has any questions just for the last couple of minutes here, please feel free to put them into the chat or into the Q/A area. We'll be happy to answer your questions. If you would rather just send us an email, I'll be following up with an email to everybody that attended, and you're welcome to reach out to us that way as well. I hope this has been valuable for you, and we'll also provide a link to the recording if you'd like to share with a partner or somebody else you feel like would benefit from it.
Dan: Okay, is there anything else you want to say Linda before we finish up today?
Linda: Thank you very much for for having me. This is great I hope everyone found it very valuable and got some great tips for coming up into summer 2021. I can't believe summer's almost here! Enjoy it; try to enjoy the process and enjoy the connection with your teen. I know that's not always easy, but I think it's a valuable opportunity to learn for them to learn about themselves and for you learn about each other and develop your relationship even more! Thanks again, and we'll talk to you soon!