Many of you are wondering what this summer will look like. And the answer is that we don’t really know. Each day I hear about yet another summer program that has been canceled.
So, what can you do if your original plans have fallen through?
First, remember, this is a historic time. It is incredibly stressful for everyone involved. Your parents may be unemployed or trying to work from home. You may be trying to prepare for an online AP exam without knowing what it will look like. You may be helping your younger siblings with their homework. And sadly, someone close to you may be sick.
We are all in this together, but we are all experiencing it differently.
The most important thing to think about from a college application perspective is what colleges are really looking for when they review your activities. They are looking for students who demonstrate character traits like leadership, intellectual curiosity, empathy, grit, resilience, creativity, and kindness. I can’t count the number of times in the past year that I have heard a college admission representative say that they are looking for kind students. As an example, Bucknell University in Central Pennsylvania came up with this handy above.
Which brings me back to what can you do this summer, if all your plans have fallen through?
1. Start at home. During this stressful time, it is more important than ever for you to be a good roommate in your own home. We are all getting on each other’s nerves. But you can take some stress off your parents by:
Students often wonder what they can include in the activities section of their college applications. The activities do not need to be flashy. Sometimes the quiet, thoughtful activities are the ones that can stand out the most. And yes, you can absolutely include these types of things in your applications. This is a time when we each need to look around and figure out what we can do to help our families and our communities. Colleges understand that the fancy internship that you were planning to do has been called off. They will be looking to see what you did instead. And small, quiet things can count for a lot!
Next up: Suggestions on online classes and volunteer activities that you can do this summer...
The fall 2018 PSAT scores are available!
And now many students are wondering how to prep for the SAT. One easy way to get started is to link your PSAT scores to the Khan Academy and begin doing practice questions. Winter break is an excellent time for juniors to focus on test prep. The best results come from starting early and doing consistent practice.
If you are a junior in Seattle Public Schools, then you will take a free in-school SAT on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. You don’t need to do anything to sign up, just show up with your number 2 pencils and your calculator.
But don’t forget that there is an ACT option as well. Colleges recognize this test as being equivalent to the SAT. So, you should take whichever test works best for you. And the best way to figure that out is to take a practice ACT. I’m happy to talk with you about the differences between the SAT and ACT.
To get you started, here are some excellent test strategies, compliments of Summit Educational Group:
TOP TEST-TAKING STRATEGIES FOR THE SAT AND ACT By Drew Heilpern
We understand that taking the SAT or ACT can be stressful for students. Here are 8 test strategies to help you maximize your score.
1. WRITE ALL OVER YOUR TEST BOOKLET.
Don’t try to do this test in your head. You can and should mark up your test booklet. Cross out wrong answer choices, underline key words and phrases, and make notes in the margins. Your focus and comprehension will improve.
2. REMEMBER THAT EASY AND HARD QUESTIONS HAVE EQUAL VALUE.
Some questions on the SAT and ACT are much more challenging and time-consuming than others. However, each question is worth the same – one raw point. Don’t sink too much time into difficult questions at the expense of answering easier questions. If you feel yourself starting to stall on a particular problem, move along. You don’t want to miss out on simpler questions that may appear at the end of a test section.
3. KNOW HOW AND WHEN TO USE YOUR CALCULATOR.
While a calculator won’t carry you through the SAT or ACT Math Test, your calculator can help you compute more efficiently, handle fractions more easily, find points of intersection, and more. Learn how to use your calculator to help solve challenging problems and save time on complex calculations, but keep in mind that it is not always the best tool for the job. And remember, the SAT Math Test is divided into two sections: one that allows you to use your calculator, and one that doesn’t.
When solving complicated math problems, your pencil may be more useful than your calculator. For challenging, multi-step problems, take notes of each step of your solution. By recording your progress, you stay organized and focused. Also, you can quickly spot computational errors or careless errors.
4. LEARN TO RECOGNIZE QUESTION TYPES.
While the SAT and ACT do not repeat exact questions from test to test, both repeat question types. After all, it is a standardized test. The ability to recognize question types allows you to be a proactive, rather than reactive, test-taker. For example, if you see an underlined verb, you should check for errors with tense, parallelism, or agreement. As you prepare for the test, pay close attention to the types of questions that appear frequently on your practice tests.
5. USE A TWO-PASS APPROACH.
On your first pass through a section, answer all of the questions you can, but don’t get bogged down on an individual question. If you’re stuck, mark it and move on. Remember: Each question is worth the same amount — one raw point. Next, make a second pass through the test, starting from the first question you skipped and marked. Focus on the ones you think you have the best chance on. Also, as you answer the other questions, you might gather information that will help you answer the difficult questions you’ve skipped. Finally, guess on all the remaining questions. Since there is no penalty for wrong answers, do not leave any questions blank on your answer sheet.
6. READ ACTIVELY AND DON’T SKIP STRAIGHT TO THE QUESTIONS (READING SECTIONS).
Because the SAT and ACT are timed tests, you may feel pressure to rush and skim the passage or skip it entirely. However, these strategies do not prepare you for answering the questions, so your progress will be much slower. You’ll be able to work through the Reading questions with much more speed and confidence if you have a strong understanding of the passage. By spending some time reading well, you will work more quickly overall.
As you read, focus on understanding the main idea of each paragraph. Create an organized map of the passage to help you understand how it is structured and how the overall main idea is developed.
7. DO THE QUESTIONS AS YOU READ THE PASSAGE (ACT ENGLISH, SAT WRITING & LANGUAGE SECTIONS).
The test instructions suggest that you answer the questions after you read the entire passage. This approach is unnecessary and time-consuming. Instead, answer the questions as you read the passage.
For the ACT English test, shorter is often better on the answer choices as the ACT prefers writing that is precise and concise (the shortest answer is often the correct answer).
8. WORK BACKWARD USING ANSWER CHOICES (MATH SECTIONS).
If you can’t solve a math problem in the forward direction, try to solve it in the reverse direction. In some cases, you can quickly solve problems by plugging in the answer choices to see which works.
These strategies are just some of the many tools at your disposal to build confidence and put you in control of the test. Good luck!
Some schools want you to show demonstrated interest -- essentially proof that you are interested in their college and not just applying randomly.
There are lots of ways to do this. For instance, Tulane University is coming to Bellevue on Tuesday, October 16 at 7:00 pm. Attending this presentation will help to show Tulane that you are serious about their school: Tulane Event
Keep an eye out for upcoming presentations by the schools that you are planning to apply to. Other ways to show demonstrated interest include:
Is Early Decision right for you?
This past year, acceptance rates at the top colleges, went down AGAIN…
How is that possible? Are there more applicants? Are students applying to more schools? Do we have more students applying from other countries? Yes, yes and yes.
But there is another reason that acceptance rates are dropping. Colleges are accepting a larger percentage of students in the early rounds, especially early decision. When a college accepts a student in early decision, that student is committed to attending the school (unless the financial aid award is lacking). Many schools accept an enormous percentage of their class - sometimes 40, 50 or even 60% - in early decision. Which leaves fewer slots available for regular decision. But more kids apply during regular decision. More applicants for fewer spaces equals a lower acceptance rate. Which makes the college look better in the rankings, like the ones put out by U.S. News and World Reports.
To give you a few examples, Claremont McKenna College filled 68% of its class in Early Decision last year. Claremont McKenna is one of the very popular Claremont schools in Pomona, California and many Seattle students are interested in it. CMC had a 32% acceptance rate for Early Decision and only 7% acceptance rate for Regular Decision. Clearly, the students who applied early had a huge edge.
To drill down a little more, Claremont McKenna had a total of 6342 applicants but only 687 of those applied ED. So, CMC filled 68% of its class from just over 10% of its applicants.
Vanderbilt filled 55% of their class in Early Decision, with a 24% acceptance rate ED and only 9% Regular Decision. That means that the ED applicants are 2.6 times more likely to be accepted. And here again, the ED pool was much smaller. Vanderbilt had a total of 32,442 applicants but only 3,702 applied ED. Vanderbilt filled 55% of its class from 11% of its applicants.
One of the most extreme examples is Washington University in St. Louis which had a total of 29,197 applicants but only 1,661 who applied ED. Wash. U. filled 38% of its class from 5% of its applicants! Those numbers will change this coming year as Wash. U. has added an ED2 option so they will have more overall ED applicants. But it shows how helpful it can be to apply ED.
What does all of this mean for you? Every student should have a mix of Likely, Match, Reach and possibly Wild Card schools on their list. I categorize any school with an RD acceptance rate of 30% or lower as a Wild Card for everyone. It is just too hard to predict which students will be accepted. The Likely and Match schools are the ones that are most likely to give you big merit scholarships. These can be great schools for you and you can often apply Early Action to these schools, meaning that you will apply in November and hear back in December but you don’t need to give them an answer until May 1.
But if you have your heart set on getting into a Reach or Wild Card school, you should seriously consider applying ED. You can run the school’s Net Price Calculator to get a ballpark idea of how much it will cost. Many families are cost-conscious and are afraid of Early Decision because they can’t compare offers across the board. But with changes to the financial aid process families are now able to get a more accurate idea of how much a school will cost prior to applying. And schools will often give their best aid to students who apply early. This is a change from the past. In the early pool, colleges have the most financial aid money available. Later applicants may not get as strong of an aid award as the money runs out. If you qualify for a lot of need-based aid then you should definitely consider applying ED.
Now comes the hard part. Which school should you choose for ED? You want to find the sweet spot. A school which fits your criteria and accepts a high percentage of ED kids. It’s tricky - some families want their student to aim super high but if you overshoot, you might end up missing out completely. The ideal ED school is one where your stats are solidly in the school’s range.
One of the most frustrating parts of my job is seeing how many highly qualified kids with 3.9+ GPA’s and perfect or near perfect test scores get rejected from the top schools. And every year it gets worse. But you can increase your odds at highly selective schools by carefully choosing an ED school. As a bonus, if you get accepted, you will be completely done with your college applications while your friends are still slaving over essays.
While you continue to research schools and refine your list, think about how you might incorporate an early decision strategy. Consider doing an overnight visit to your potential ED school in the fall, when students are back on campus.
Check out this link for more data regarding specific schools and their ED acceptance rates:
Remember, colleges use ED to help themselves look better by improving their yield (percentage of students who accept their offers) and lowering their overall admissions rate. You can use it to your advantage as well!
At this time of year, I’m busy helping juniors put together their lists of colleges and hearing from the seniors about where they have been admitted. You have probably heard of the concept of finding reach, match and likely schools. It is always easy to find reach schools. These are the schools with the most name recognition. The ones that your favorite aunt or your next-door neighbor will nod in approval of, when you say you are applying there. It feels nice to be able to say to yourself “I’m good enough to apply to X school”.
But these are the same schools that are most likely to either tell you no or to be too expensive. Which is the situation that many seniors are finding themselves in now. Most of the decisions have come out and this year, once again, is even more competitive than last year!
I saw some early signs of this in December, when two of my top students weren’t offered the opportunity to apply for USC’s best scholarships. In previous years these same kids would not only have been invited to apply, they would have been likely to get those scholarships. I saw another sign when Grinnell College sent out a last minute plea for students to write an additional essay telling them why they wanted to go to Grinnell. This supplemental essay had not been part of the Common Application for 2015-2016. But Grinnell, a small, liberal arts college in the middle of Iowa, found themselves flooded with applicants and needed to find some way to narrow down the pool.
And I’m seeing it now. Late March is when the last of the decisions come out. These are for the schools that have the lowest acceptance rates. Which means that lots of top students, who have all the qualifications to apply to these schools, are getting rejections. There is no way to sugar-coat it. Being told “no” hurts, even if you intellectually knew that getting in was a long-shot. And hearing multiple “no’s”? Let’s just say that parents need to have lots of ice cream on hand at the end of March!
Which brings me to the title of my post. Yesterday I sat down with one of my seniors to go through her options. She hasn’t heard yet from every school on her list, but early indications are that she isn’t likely to get into her reach schools. So now it is time for her to “Love the one she is with!”
She has some excellent options, including a school that has invited her to participate in their top honors program. Some of you may have heard what Malcolm Gladwell has had to say about that. He showed statistics that say it is better to be at the top of the class at a lower-ranked school than in the bottom half of an Ivy League level school. The student at the top of the class will have more attention from professors and more research and internship opportunities. Which will translate into better job prospects and grad school admissions when the student graduates.
So my advice for current juniors is to keep exploring those reach schools, but to also dig deep to find the match and likely schools that might be perfect for you! The ones that will fit you like a glove.
And my advice for seniors is to look past the name brand schools that are telling you “no” right now. Take a second or third look at your match and likely schools. The ones that told you “yes” weeks or months ago. Which of those schools offers the best programs for your potential majors? Which ones have the clubs and activities that you want to participate in? Which ones have the lowest cost? Which ones have shown you the most love?
Yes, you might get lucky and get into one of the “lottery” schools this week. But while you are waiting to hear from those last few schools, dig in to the options that you already have. Find out more about the schools that have said yes. Which of those schools is the one you love the most?
It’s that time of year, when families are trying to figure out which schools if any, to visit over spring break.
While I love living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, there is no doubt that our students are at a disadvantage when it comes to visiting colleges. It takes a lot of time and money to travel to other parts of our country. The first question junior families from Seattle often ask is “do we even need to visit colleges?” And the second question is “if so, where should we go?”
To answer the first question, no, you don’t need travel far to visit. There is a lot of information available online and by communicating via phone and email directly with the schools, both near and far. However, I always encourage students to visit at least a few of our local schools to get a feel for the various types and sizes of campuses. The University of Washington, Seattle University and University of Puget Sound are all very easy to visit on a Saturday morning or a day off from school. It is not necessary to visit every school on your list, prior to applying. Every year I work with students who don’t get a chance to visit any of the schools on their list until they are making their final decisions in April of senior year.
But if you are lucky enough to be able to take a trip, where should you go? Portland, Northern California, Southern California, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, DC? Obviously it would be impossible for most students to go to that many places. And, there are a number of schools that are not on the beaten path, but that might be very interesting to see. Rice in Houston, Washington University in St. Louis, Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Emory in Atlanta, University of Rochester in Upstate New York….the list goes on and on.
Sometimes the decision is defined by a particular academic or extra-curricular interest. Yes, kids do sometimes build their lists around schools that have strong Ultimate Frisbee teams or Rock Climbing Clubs! Although I always make sure that those schools also offer the right level of academics.
Other times it is based on schools where the student is likely to receive merit-based aid or generous need-based financial aid.
It’s a tough question, but in some ways there is no wrong answer. Every school that you visit, whether or not you end up applying there, will give you more information about what you do or don’t want in your college experience. And I can help. I’ve visited over 100 schools, some of them multiple times. One school might not be exactly like another, but there are definitely similarities.
Also, try to keep an open mind. Students often tell me they want to be in a city, but many of those schools have a large commuter population and the schools empty out on weekends. And, depending on your major, it can sometimes be easier to get the classes you want at a small school than a big one.
Our spring break is a great time to visit, most colleges have their spring break in early March, so the students are generally on campus. Another excellent time to visit is the last week of August and first week of September, right before our kids go back to school. Many schools start their academic year in August and surprisingly, there are a number of schools that are even in session on Labor Day itself. If at all possible, visit when students are on campus, but if that won’t work, a summer visit can be helpful. Just remember that you won’t be seeing everything the college has to offer. As always, I'm here to help, if you need assistance figuring out which colleges to see or any other aspect of the college process. Just call or email!
Attention juniors! It’s time to start researching colleges!
Now that the majority of my seniors are done, or very close to it, I’m starting to work more closely with the juniors. There is a lot to do between now and the summer and the one piece of advice that you will hear over and over again from families who have been through this process before is that students should start early.
For juniors, that means spending some time nestled in front of the fireplace over winter break reading college guide books or digging into college websites. There are a lot of schools out there and it takes time to figure out which ones are right for you.
I know junior year is super busy with testing and really tough classes, but if you are a junior, one year from now you will be one of the seniors celebrating the submission of your college applications. In fact, by this time next year, if you have done early action or early decision, you may know exactly where you are going to be attending school! Imagine that – you could be completely done, while some of your classmates are still sweating over essays!
The goal should be to have your list together by the end of junior year, so you can focus on essays, applications, and summer activities during June, July and August. Then, during the fall, you can take the SAT or ACT one more time, schedule interviews with colleges and put the final touches on your applications and get them submitted early.
What are the benefits of submitting early? For one, the college reps aren’t as overwhelmed and they are able to give your application a closer read. Just today I met with our area rep for Western Washington University and he said that one third of the applications arrive in the final few days before the deadline. It’s human nature for people to wait, but there really can be a significant benefit to hitting the submit button ahead of the herd. The representatives aren’t exhausted yet and possibly even more importantly, some schools have scholarship money which is first come – first served. If you are a potential candidate for that money, you want to be sure to be at the head of the line!
So juniors, your time is now. And yes, my junior class is filling up, but I still have a few slots left.
If you want to schedule a meeting to talk about researching schools or any other aspect of the college process, I’m in town over the holidays and would be happy to meet with you.
And for those seniors out there who are still working on essays, now that most of my students are done, I have time to help edit essays. Or, to help with brainstorming if you are feeling stuck! Feel free to call or email….
One of the most confusing aspects of the college admission process is deciding whether to apply Early Action, Early Decision, Single Choice Early Action or Regular Decision.
Throw in Rolling Decision and Scholarship Deadlines and this time of the year becomes of blur of never-ending deadlines. Which means high school seniors are frantically writing essays, rushing to get those applications submitted soon.
But, you ask, aren’t college applications due around the first of January? Why the rush?
Because applying early, under any of the above options, is often a very good idea. It can give you an applications edge, sometimes a very significant one. And it can put you at the front of the line for that all-important scholarship money.
In fact, it is the single best reason that juniors should start to research colleges now. So they can have a chance to visit schools during this school year, and put together their list in time to make the most of early admissions options.
Let me explain……..
Single Choice Early Action – SCEA – used by Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. This is non-binding, meaning that if the student gets accepted, they aren’t required to attend the school. The student still has until May 1 to commit. Does it increase the odds? Yes – here are some examples from 2014:
Early Decision – ED – used by many top-tier schools like Columbia University, Brown University, Northwestern University, Williams College, and Whitman College. This application is binding, meaning that if admitted, the student agrees attend, unless the financial aid award is insufficient. Does ED increase the odds? Yes – and in some cases the difference is quite dramatic. Here are some numbers from 2014:
Early Action – EA – used by a number of schools, most prominently MIT and University of Chicago. In general, students can apply to multiple schools using EA. At some schools, the best scholarships are only available to students who apply EA. This is a situation where reading the fine print can really pay off.
One thing all of these options have in common – students need to be ready to apply early. That means you need to have all your testing completed, and essays polished in time to meet the early deadlines, which can be anywhere from October 15 to December 15.
To help with that, my next College Essay Workshop for high school seniors will be Saturday, November 7, from 3 – 5 pm. During this workshop we will do some group brainstorming exercises and read and listen to example essays. If you have come to one of the previous workshops, there will be quite a bit of new material. This workshop will be good for those who are just getting started on their personal statements and for those who are hard at work on supplemental essays. The cost for the session is $150 (free for those who are on my Comprehensive Package). To sign up, email me at email@example.com.
This coming Sunday, Sept. 27, I am hosting an Essay Workshop. It will run from 11 a.m to 1 p.m. – giving students just enough time to get home to watch the ‘Hawks. After the last two games they need all the 12th man support that they can get! These workshops have been very popular and if you are interested there is more information at the end of this post.
One of the best parts of this job is getting a chance to visit colleges all over the country. After all, when else would I get a chance to visit places like Iowa or Wisconsin?
This month I was in Colorado – another first for me! I can see why so many of our Northwest kids are drawn to it. It was sunny all week, with just a hint of a mountain breeze in the air. The flat terrain at many of these campuses was surprising - perfect for riding bikes, and yet, the mountains were right there, plenty close enough for a day on the slopes.
I had the opportunity to talk with students and admissions staff at each school and I came away with lots of good information. I kept thinking of students who would possibly be interested in one school or another. A few highlights:
Colorado School of Mines surprised me with the beauty of its campus. Unlike the other schools, it is nestled in the foothills, with the mountains seemingly close enough to touch. I learned about the admissions process (get your application in early!) and spoke with a lovely young woman who is soon to be a petroleum engineer.
University of Colorado – Boulder, or “C.U.” as the locals call it, is a beautiful state flagship institution with something for everyone. Our tour guide was originally from Sweden and she said that her parents liked visiting her in Colorado so much that they moved to Denver!
Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, has tons of school spirit and more bikes than I have ever seen in one place. It was the day before the big football game and it was fun to see their RAM mascot driving a golf cart all around the campus. You could flag him down and catch a ride to class!
The University of Denver, also known as ”D.U.”, has a multi-million dollar STEM initiative and is soon to open a brand new state-of-the-art facility for Engineering and Computer Science. This is a school that has improved dramatically in the past 15 years and it is more selective than ever.
Colorado College was lovely, with some of the best food I’ve ever had on a college campus. Their block plan is somewhat unique, only a handful of schools offer it. Students take one class for 3.5 weeks, then have a 4-5 day break (skiing anyone?) and then take the next class.
The Air Force Academy was quite impressive, with sleek architecture and uniform-clad students. It would be a terrific option for those considering a career in the military.
But now, I’m back in Seattle. And I’ve been busy helping students with their essays. My next Essay Writing Workshop, will be this Sunday, Sept. 27 from 11-1. We will brainstorm essay ideas, both for the main Common App essay and for supplemental essays, and most importantly, the students will get a chance to write. I’ve been running these workshops all summer and it has been fun to see the relief on a student’s face when they finally “find their story”. The cost for the session is $150 per student, with no additional charge for the students on my comprehensive plan. To sign up, please email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ah….summer! In Seattle, that means hiking, biking, swimming, beach BBQ’s and summer festivals. My friends in other parts of the country are amazed at how much we pack into our precious summer weekends.
If you are a high school student, especially one who is interested in applying to selective colleges, summer is all of the above, plus a time to grow and learn. Some lucky students have nailed down internships or summer research opportunities. Others are attending summer programs at universities. But what if your summer doesn’t have something like that on the agenda? What if the only thing you have scheduled is your family’s annual trip to the Midwest to visit relatives?
It’s not too late! You can still find lots of interesting things to do that will look good on your college applications.
Are you passionate about something?
· Photography? You could put together a photography show and have it displayed at your local coffee house.
· Creative Writing? You could write short stories to submit to writing competitions or work on a novel.
· Video Games? You could take Coursera classes (for free) on developing video games. Or on the psychology behind those games.
· Hiking? You could volunteer at an outdoors club. Even better, show leadership by organizing a weekly hike.
· Biking? You could plan and undertake a long distance bike trip.
· Music? You could volunteer to help at local music festivals.
· Sports? You could coach younger students in your favorite sport.
· Politics/Activism? You could volunteer at your favorite organization.
The cliché is that “the sky’s the limit”. But in this case, it really is true. You can do anything that you care about.
One of my favorite books about extra-curricular activities was written by Cal Newport; How to Be a High School Superstar – A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College By Standing Out Without Burning Out. Mr. Newport offers lots of ideas for approaches that students can take. He believes that getting into college doesn’t have to be a chore, but instead can be the reward for living a genuinely interesting life.
What about getting a job? That’s a great idea. For several years, summer jobs were hard to come by, but lately I’ve been seeing “Help-Wanted” signs all over the place. And I love it when I run into one of my students bagging groceries or making lattes. Having a job doesn’t mean that you can’t spend the summer pursuing a passion. You can do both. Get a job and spend some time doing something you love. Bonus points if you manage to find a job doing something you love. Now that’s the way to make the most of a Seattle summer!
For rising seniors – I’m offering an Essay Brainstorming Workshop on Sunday, July 12 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Bring your laptop or paper and pen and we’ll spend time doing brainstorming exercises, learning what admissions officers are looking for and getting started on the Common App personal statement. Cost $150. Email me at email@example.com if you want to reserve a space.
Enjoy your summer!
Author: Teri Thompson