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When Applying to Colleges, Is it Important to Show Love?

Who doesn’t love a snow day? As I create this post, snow is swirling, students are (probably still) sleeping, and parents are . . . fretting about all their students’ issues! Since it’s almost Valentine’s Day, here’s a look at things to love about the college process, as well as some things no longer loved.

Show Love When Applying to Colleges?

The phenomenon is called demonstrated interest: going to campus, leaving a name at admissions, sending emails to admissions readers, going to college fairs, and taking tours. Last spring, I attended a session for college counselors hosted by Brown, Columbia, Cornell and Rice, and only Rice stated that it valued demonstrated interest. (The others categorically denied it.)

Dartmouth doesn’t value it. In the Dartmouth FAQs, they state: “ . . .  your completed application is all the demonstrated interest we need. We don’t track visits, communications, college fairs, or web events to enhance or detract from anyone’s application.” That makes sense. Very selective colleges are turning away students with stellar credentials, while others want to lure in those very candidates.

But it’s not always the case. Tulane, which is increasingly popular with New Jersey applicants, values demonstrated interest. In a recent podcast for HiredGraduate, admissions director Jeff Schiffman stated, “At Tulane, we just call it engagement.” Tulane looks at the optional statement, who applies early, and who makes the trip to New Orleans. Schiffman added, “It just goes a long way.”


Who loves Tulane? New Jersey students!

(By the way, HiredGraduate has some other interesting podcasts and articles on its site.)

Note! Students must show their love after a deferral or a wait list, communicating directly with admissions.

Talk about showing love! At Duke, where top-notch academics and athletics blend fashionably, there’s far too much demand for basketball tickets against rival UNC. This year, students who were already camped out in tents had to take a test to gain access to the game. Test questions focused on this year’s team to be fair to freshmen and also included trivia. Check the WSJ article for sample questions.

Love Those New Common App Essay Prompts!

The Common App has adjusted its Personal Essay prompts for 2017-18. The complete list appears here. New and notable:

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.


Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

has been replaced by

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Standardized-Test Essays: No Longer Loved?

Often, a student or parent will ask, “Do I take the SAT or ACT with or without the essay?” It’s not so clear-cut. I really want students to take the test with the essay just in case they need it. But it’s unlikely they will, and they cannot send either the SAT or the ACT without also reporting the written component.

It’s a good idea to check the student’s hot list of colleges against this Compass Prep curated list to see policies on the essay. You’ll find many colleges recommend the essay but don’t require it. Some of the very elite colleges do want to see the essay, including Duke, Harvard, and Princeton. The University of California system requires the essay.

Every spring, I work with juniors on how to approach the ACT essay. Hopefully, they gain some understanding of how to brainstorm effectively in a timed situation and what to map out before daring to write. Let me know if you have a junior who wants help in essay writing.

Test Dates

SAT: March 11 (register by February 10); May 6 (register by April 7)

ACT: April 8 (register by March 3); June 10 (register by May 5)

SAT Subject Tests: Can’t Help But Love Them!

SAT Subject Tests allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and are far more straightforward compared with sections like SAT Reading or ACT Science. I often recommend Subject Tests even thought most colleges don’t require them, with these exceptions: Carnegie-Mellon, Cornell (some colleges), Georgetown, Harvard, Harvey Mudd, and McGill (some programs). Duke strongly recommends that students take them. Most engineering applicants submit Subject Tests, and they do very well on the sciences and Math Level II. Also, most medical programs want them. Prep Scholar has a very complete list of colleges that require Subject Tests.

Also: Some colleges, notably Middlebury, NYU and Rice, allow applicants to substitute Subject Tests for other tests.

College Board has a complete list of SAT Subject Tests and this Student Guide.

Score Choice: Not Every College Loves It

Score Choice allows an applicant who has taken the SAT multiple times to choose by test date for the SAT and by individual test for the Subject Tests for reporting purposes. But your student should check a target college’s website, because there are colleges and scholarship programs that require a student to send all scores.  If a student does not elect to use Score Choice, all sittings are automatically reported.

The ACT works similarly. It will send scores by date requested, but there are occasions when colleges have the final say. (See Georgetown example below.)

Gotta Love Those Hoyas!

Georgetown does things their way. While rivals have flocked to the Common App, they have stuck with their own application. Georgetown also stands firm on their testing requirements, stating:

“Georgetown maintains a holistic review process with a focus on success in your high school curriculum as the foundation of a competitive application. Please plan on taking either the SAT or ACT and three SAT II Subject Tests for submission with your application. Georgetown University does not participate in the Score Choice option available through the College Board. Georgetown requires that you submit scores from all test sittings of the SAT, ACT, and SAT II Subject Tests. Georgetown evaluates thousands of competitive applicants each year for admission; access to your full testing profile enables the admissions committee to fully and fairly assess your individual strengths in comparison to the entire applicant pool.”


Prospective Hoyas know that tests are not optional.

Money for College? What’s Not to Love?

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal shared “Why Almost Everybody Should Apply for College Financial Aid.” The Journal spoke with financial aid guru Mark Kantrowitz, who stated:

“There is no firm cutoff, but unless you can pay the full tuition cost out of pocket for every child you have in college, you ought to file the federal financial-aid form known as Fafsa.” In explaining his reasoning, Kantrowitz tapped into two key concepts, expected family contribution and cost of attendance, and reasserted that expensive schools can indeed give financial aid in the form of grants to families who might think they don’t qualify.

Check out this list of scholarships from Value Colleges.

The College Consortium: A Business Model to Love

Last week, my piece on “College Consortia: A Cooperative Model that Offers Students Greater Value” appeared in It was a pleasure learning more about this business model used by colleges on many of your students’ lists. I especially want to thank directors from the Five College Consortium, Bryn Mawr and Bi-CoBaltimore Collegetown, and the Atlanta University Center Consortium for their assistance.

Do you have questions about the college process? Email me! I love hearing from you.


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