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The Road to College Starts With unCommon Apps!

On a steamy Friday afternoon a few weeks ago, I stopped by Columbia University before heading over to an event hosted by Noodle Pros. That afternoon, Columbia was bursting with anticipation as it prepared to welcome the Class of 2020. Parents walked around with their deserving (and likely anxious) students. Yes, it’s a new academic year. Whether or not attending Columbia is an aspiration of your student, I will once again bring you the latest in the world of college admissions.


The Common App Personal Essay: Trending in Your Household?

My students usually understand the importance of having their Common App Personal Essay drafted by Labor Day. After all, why would any student subject himself or herself to writing that essay once school has begun? Courses are more demanding, while sports and other activities are underway.

If your student is behind schedule, he or she could be struggling with:

  1. Prompt Selection. The Common App offers essay prompts that should be accessible to every student. Usually, writers gravitate to the first prompt about telling their story. Last year, the Common App added a problem-solving prompt in response to admissions officers’ desire to get a sense of critical thinking, and even prospective computer science majors balked. This year, students are starting to warm to the problem-solving prompt, realizing that it could be a very interesting way to reveal more about himself or herself.

  2. Writer’s Block. Why would a student get stuck, even after we discuss what makes a good essay and how to approach prewriting? Sometimes, it’s just fear (e.g., of the college process, scrutiny, the admissions decision); other times, there are distractions and temptations. When students hit a wall, I help them in the brainstorming process and offer perspective. (I never encourage students to go to their laptops and just write; it doesn’t work!) If your student is suffering, click here for 7 Easy Steps to Conquer Writer’s Block on Your Common App Essay, an article I wrote for Noodle.

If your student is still struggling with the essay, don’t take over. Instead, ask him or her to get in touch with me.

Other Common App Particulars

  1. Students should ask a parent for vital data and be sure there’s somebody to look over the input.

  2. Students can roll over an account from a previous year, which has implications for students who may have opted not to apply or have taken extra time to finish high school.

  3. When asked about “waiving the right” to see recommendations, it’s best to waive it.

  4. Scores on standardized test scores continue to be self-reported. Still, official reports from College Board (SAT) and ACT are always required, and each college selects how it views scores (e.g., by “superscoring,” taking the best results of multiple sittings, or using the results of “score choice” when a students sends scores from a particular test date).

  5. Not all colleges accept the Common App. To find out, applicants can check a college’s website, attempt to add a college to “My Colleges,” or use this link to search.

College Visits: Counselors Like to Go, Too!

This summer, I set a goal of seeing college campuses whenever I took a trip. Mission accomplished! I stopped at college campuses in:

  1. New Jersey (Drew, TCNJ)

  2. Pennsylvania (University of Pennsylvania, Drexel)

  3. New York (Columbia, Barnard, Bard)

  4. Massachusetts (Boston College, Boston U, Amherst College, UMass Amherst)

  5. New Hampshire (Dartmouth)

There are often reasons that preclude students or families from making trip, so most colleges have virtual tours. Last week, I learned that Campus Bird has started to use 3D mapping technology to show off a school’s attributes.

Last year, I received many inquiries about test-prep resources. I always recommend using links or books from College Board and ACT and now have a working relationship with the team at Noodle Pros if your student wants face time with an expert. Regarding other standardized tests:

  1. PSAT. Most high school students will take the PSAT on Wednesday, October 19. The PSAT, restyled last fall, is the best practice for the real deal and is an excellent benchmark to assess skills and perhaps pinpoint problem areas. Interestingly, Kaplan Test Prep is rolling out free, online PSAT prep beginning October 1. (See the schedule by clicking here.) But other than juniors, who are motivated because it’s the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT), should students prep for the test? At a minimum, they should be familiar with the format and question types. So consider it

  2. SAT Subject Tests. Always a fan of the Subject Tests, I am sorry to see that so many colleges no longer require them. More than the ACT or SAT, these Subject Tests really do enable the student to show what he or she has learned in the classroom. Like AP scores, they become credentials for college. Students contemplating Subject Tests should check the College Board information and only take Subject Tests in the areas in which they can show their stuff. I usually recommend that students take the tests in June when material is fresh in their minds.

Applying Early

If you’re the parent of a senior, you should clearly understand the ramifications of applying Early. There are Early Decision plans, which are legally binding, and Early Action plans, which generally are not. Some elite colleges have Restrictive Early Action plans, which do not allow students to apply to other Early plans. Remember that Early Action is not for everybody, especially if a student is gong to want to compare financial aid offers. Of course, your student should not apply Early Decision to “get it over with.”

Enjoy the academic year! Be sure to contact us if your student is ready for unCommon Apps!


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