The college process is full of life skills - and lessons.

Updated: Jun 2

As Taylor said, we learn the most when we don’t make the cut.



Two weeks ago, I traveled to Philadelphia to attend the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) conference, live with record-breaking attendance. It felt good (surreal?) to interact with colleagues and get their take on the issues affecting college applicants. So much has changed since the live conferences of the past, reinforcing the need for candidate differentiation. Here's what we know: The process doesn't (shouldn't) start with a list. Often, the colleges on a student's initial list are more a reaction to prestige or peers rather than those where a student can maximize their experience. So in my initial meetings with juniors, we don't start with the list, even if the student has it ready to go. Instead, we discuss the student's interests, goals for college and career aspirations. In a recent webinar hosted by Jeff Selingo, Emory's Senior Associate Dean of Admissions Timothy Fields commented, "There has to be some substantive answer to why that [college] is on your list, and if you go about that process, I have no doubt you'll be successful." The Common App Personal Essay should showcase what the student adds to the community.


How will [name of student] add to the college community?


That's a phrase I often add to a student's brainstorm as we discuss how creating an engaging personal statement can help differentiate them from the pack (and it is a pack). And while that essay may not make or break a candidacy, it certainly influence decision-making. If your student is stuck on where to go with the Common App Personal Essay, email me! June is the best time to nail that essay! We know how to deal with test-optional admissions. Despite all we have already experienced with test-optional admissions, there was no more dominant topic in the Philly breakout sessions. So for all interested students and parents, here's what we know going forward:

  • Most colleges will remain test-optional.

  • Generally, students should only report scores in a college's (upper) midrange. Remember that those reported numbers will keep rising because of who's reporting.

  • The University of California is test-blind, meaning no scores will be considered.

  • Colleges are fine with students who don't submit test scores, but the pressure will be on to perform in the remaining components of the application.

Meanwhile, New Yorker contributor Even Orbey recently test drove the new SAT, which will be digital: "It just felt simpler. It was a two-part reading-and-writing section followed by a two-part math section, and the user interface they designed was sleek and straightforward to use. Taking the test on a laptop, instead of having to worry about bubbling in answers, felt like it removed a lot of the stereotypes about the test that make the experience feel kind of robotic, or otherworldly." Orbey spoke to College Board and reports that "the same number of students are getting the questions right and wrong. So the test has still retained its predictive capacity, but what’s changing is that students feel it’s easier." Admissions officers can afford to be quite picky (even if they say they're not.) Over the weekend, I was able to stop at the Normal Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. Not far away from Stockbridge is Williamstown, home to the very selective Williams College. (See Rockwell painting below.) In a recent virtual meeting of NJ-based college counselors, Ed Bianchi, Associate Director with Williams Admissions, was asked about what he looked for when reviewing candidates who include their interests on their apps. His response: “A student that will take those interests both in and out of the classroom. The thing we like to see that will move the needle . . . The students in STEM-y opportunities, what are they doing to solve a problem, an issue? Or social justice, those that maybe took a summer class in history of summer movements in U.S. and bring in the academic end." For 2021-22, Williams admitted just 9 percent of applicants. Of those admitted students, 55 percent submitted test scores.


"We're not getting more picky. We're just getting more applicants." -Ed Bianchi, Williams Admissions


Beantown is getting pricier . . .

On the other end of the state is Boston, where so many students flock for their college experience. But parents pay the price - literally. Masslive.comreports a 4.25 percent tuition hike at Boston University, its largest in 14 years. Stated BU's president, "We are caught in an inflationary vise between the institutional pressures and the impact on our students and their families.” BC's tuition is $61,050 for 2022-23, driving the cost of attendance to $82,760. That's more than Boston College ($80,296), MIT ($79,050) and Harvard ($76,763).


At nearby Bentley College, the cost of attendance for 2022-23 will be nearly $78,500. But don't worry; Bentley accepts crypto.



Fortunately, students pay soon be in a good position to pay back their parents - or at least they expect to. USA Today reports that "college students expect to make $103,880" a year once they graduate. However, the reality is more like half that amount. Psychology, journalism and liberal arts students were most likely to overestimate their prospective earnings, according to a survey. . . . while grades continue to rise. College costs aren't the only things that are rising; there's talk of grade inflation as well. Citing its research, ACT refers to grade inflation as a "widespread and systemic problem, calling into question how high school grades should be interpreted when used to measure academic achievement or predict college grades." What's ACT's solution? No shock: "an objective metric like an ACT or SAT score." Revenue generation remains integral to College Board. Yes, it's a calculus pun. And every spring, I discuss math choices with students and parents. Calculus? Statistics? For students outside of STEM, we know the more valuable of the two is statistics, and fortunately, many high schools offer this option - even AP Stat for the ambitious students. But there's a new player in town brought to us by College Board, owners of AP Calc AB and BC: AP Precalculus, to appear on shelves in 2023. CB tells us, "AP Precalculus opens the door for more students to bypass remedial math in college and succeed in high-demand STEM fields."

The college process is full of life skills - and lessons. At its recent commencement, NYU awarded Taylor Swift of a Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Taylor told the audience (of Swifties) to let go of grudges, not be afraid to try and recognize that mistakes lead to successes.


"The times I was told ‘no’ or wasn’t included, wasn’t chosen, didn’t win, didn’t make the cut – looking back, it really feels like those moments were as important, if not more crucial, than the moments I was told ‘yes.’” -Taylor Swift

The pressures of the college process may seem overwhelming. So book a meeting before the June heat rises.

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