No Shortcuts: Getting in Means Getting it Done

On the one hand, the unfolding college admissions scandal involves a tiny percentage of super-wealthy applicants at a tiny percentage of hyper-elite schools. It’s easy to dismiss this disgusting news as an esoteric anomaly that has nothing to do with the vast majority of honest, decent, law-abiding citizens of every stripe who would never even think about doing something so egregiously wrong. On the other hand is the cold truth that, on some level, nearly everyone tries to turn the process to their advantage in one way or another, both those with and without means. Getting admitted to college can be like life itself: not always fair. Yet, somewhere in the middle is something more fundamentally true, which is that success in college admissions, and life, comes to those who do the work.

It’s up to the students to challenge themselves, get good grades and scores, win awards, as well as actualize themselves outside the classroom by volunteering, creating, leading, or whatever it is that defines who they are as people. Beyond the numbers, colleges value a zeal for learning and a zest for life. In all but the smallest fraction of cases, they know a phony when they see one. Corrupt actors aside, the last thing they want is to admit a student who doesn’t understand the very meaning of success and is destined to fail.

Some students are extremely motivated to get into a bunch of highly competitive schools. They usually require guidance but are self-starters by nature and only too eager to research and visit campuses, dive into their essays and every little nook and cranny of their applications. Not surprisingly, they approach their schoolwork and all aspects of their lives with the same level of enthusiasm and drive. They have a fair, though not exact, idea of what it takes to get into the schools of their choice. They understand that while there are never any guarantees, they can increase their chances if they focus their efforts. They harbor no illusions.

Other students are somewhat less motivated, or not motivated at all. It’s not always easy to discern what’s underneath the attitude, although often a certain “fear of the unknown” lurks within. So, part of the challenge is to demystify this strange, new world they are entering by illuminating why it’s something to be excited about. Exactly what that entails may vary from one student to the next, but the goal is the same: to inspire them to do the work and help guide them to a better version of themselves. Some luck may be a factor, but more often than not getting ahead is down to getting things done.

No shortcuts. If there’s a secret to success, there you have it.

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Helping Your Student Accept Rejection

The Washington Post: “It’s a scene that will play out in countless homes across the country from now through the spring, as high school seniors learn that, despite their best efforts, they did not get into their dream college. Often, it’s equally dumbfounding to their parents … Indeed, the process has become much more fraught than it was when parents of current high school students went through it … Case in point: In 2016, UCLA hit a record number of applications: 102,177 for a freshman class of about 6,500 students, meaning an acceptance rate around 6 percent.”

“Well before applicants hear from colleges, parents can take proactive steps to head off their children’s discouragement should they get rejected. For starters, many experts suggest de-emphasizing the ‘first-choice’ idea and focusing instead on building an application containing multiple schools, all of which a student would be happy to attend. This advice applies even to students with a strong shot at gaining admittance to highly selective colleges … It’s important for families to recognize that there are many factors in the college-admissions process over which they have no say. For instance, you can’t control how many qualified applicants will apply to any particular school, or know what a school is looking for in a given applicant pool.”

“There’s no controlling how a student will respond to a college rejection notice. But parents can, and should, control theirs, advise experts … Most kids recover from the disappointment of rejection fairly quickly … Fortunately, experts say, 17- and 18-year-olds tend to bounce back from rejection quickly.”

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Student View: How To Get Into UT Austin

The Daily Texan: “Current and former students who offer insight into UT admissions and campus life have become popular, unofficial faces of the University to prospective students on YouTube … Before her freshman year, marketing sophomore Julia Wezio made a YouTube video titled “How I got Into UT Austin Tips + Advice,” and today, Wezio’s video has over 33,000 views — more than any single video UT’s YouTube channel has made in about two years. Marketing junior Lynette Adkins also reached thousands of views on videos covering topics such as the cost of attending UT and study abroad.”

“Miguel Wasielewski, executive director of UT Admissions, said in an email the advice of current students is best when coupled with information provided by college representatives. Wezio, who watched YouTube videos from other UT students before applying, said she also thinks her success was partially driven by the authenticity of her content.”

Wezio comments: “It’s not so much that UT is trying to hide something from you, but it’s more so that they have to use that official language. They have to keep a certain image. When you’re talking to a student who can share their unfiltered voice and be honest with you, I think they’re going to be more honest, obviously about the negative things, but a lot more honest with the positive things too.”

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Successful Applications Are Matter of Fact

Daily Pennsylvanian: “Like most universities, Penn does not have a standard system for fact-checking applications. Admissions officers perform initial reviews in as little as four minutes, and a call to a high school guidance counselor or an email to an applicant is as thorough as checks get … Given the massive volume of applications the University receives — 44,957 applicants for the Class of 2023 — current and former admissions officers agree that fact-checking applications is not feasible and instances of outright fabrication seem to be rare … Despite the lack of a formal fact-checking system, former admissions officers say they have still caught applicants lying.”

Elizabeth Heaton, a former regional director of admissions for Penn,”recalled an instance when a regular decision applicant plagiarized their essay based on an essay written by another student who had already been admitted early decision. The former Penn regional admissions director said when she noticed the stark similarities between the two essays, she decided to make a call to the student’s high school.” She comments: “We denied the student who had plagiarized and the other kid was able to keep his acceptance.”

Kathryn Bezella, Vice Dean and director of marketing and communications for Penn Admissions, “confirmed that following up with a guidance counselor or applicant is rare.” However: “Bezella said because of the high number of applications she reads and familiarity with her region, she can typically identify false transcripts and essays.” She comments: “After you’ve read several thousand essays by 17-year-olds, you do have some sense of ‘this is not how a 17-year-old writes’.”

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Night of the Living Deadlines

The Wall Street Journal: “The deadline to apply for admission to Oberlin College was Jan. 15. Until it wasn’t. The Ohio liberal-arts college sent an email blast last Tuesday alerting high-school seniors that the deadline had been extended to Feb. 1. Other elite colleges, including the University of Chicago, George Washington University, Washington University in St. Louis and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, have also extended their application deadlines this winter.”

“Delayed deadlines are a sign of the growing pressure many schools face to fill their incoming classes. They are receiving more applications than ever in part because stressed high-school seniors see record-low admit rates from some top schools, fret about their own chances and expand their list of targets. The Common Application makes it easy to apply to more schools without much additional work.”

“That all makes it challenging for colleges to predict who wants to actually enroll. Thirty-five percent of seniors applied to at least seven schools in 2016, up from 18% a decade earlier. In that same time span, the yield, or share of admitted students who enrolled at a given four-year college, fell to 34% from 45%.”

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Prompt Attention: Common App Questions for 2019

CommonApp.org: “The Common Application has announced that the 2019-2020 essay prompts will remain the same as the 2018-2019 essay prompts. Based on extensive counselor feedback, the existing essay prompts provide great flexibility for applicants to tell their unique stories in their own voice. Retaining the essay prompts provides the added benefit of consistency for students, counselors, parents, and members during the admissions process … Plus, with essay prompts remaining the same, students rolling over their existing Common App accounts have more time to plan and prepare their applications prior to the final year of high school.”

“During the 2018-2019 application year, the most popular topic of choice was: ‘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.’ (24.1%). The next most popular topics were: ‘Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.’ (23.7%), followed by ‘The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?’ (21.1%).”

The questions are:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

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

6. 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?

7. 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.

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How Many APs Is AP-propriate?

US News: “Advanced Placement classes can set applicants apart in a competitive college admissions environment, demonstrating the ability to perform well on more challenging coursework. Experts say performing well in AP courses often signals readiness for college. But for students looking to land at a top college, the question of how many AP courses to take persists … for those academically unprepared for the challenge, struggling in AP courses can backfire, with low grades and exam scores reflecting negatively on college applications.”

“A 2013 study conducted by admissions officials at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill found almost no difference in the first year GPA for students who took five college-level classes during high school compared with those who took six or more. Based on these findings, UNC officials remarked in the study they will encourage students ‘to pursue at least five college-level courses’ during high school.”

“Jack Whelan, director of college guidance at Providence Day School in North Carolina, says he generally sees students taking too many AP classes in high school rather than too few … While experts say AP courses are viewed favorably by admissions officers, Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling and outreach at The Derryfield School in New Hampshire, notes colleges will consider a student’s application in the context of the curriculum offered at his or her high school, meaning the applicant won’t be penalized if few or no AP classes are available.”

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Tell The Truth: They Know When You are Lying

The New York Times: “The Common Application asks students to certify that they are telling the truth, but does not try to independently confirm that they are. It is up to colleges to take that extra step … Some universities require students to sign a sworn statement that they are telling the truth, under pain of prosecution. But officials admit they are not seeking to be law enforcement. Mainly, officials and counselors said, they look for inconsistencies. Do standardized test scores and grades match? Do certain words and phrases in an essay jump out as being in the vocabulary of an adult rather than a teenager? Are a student’s extracurricular activities too good to be true?”

“And they depend on high school counselors to give them honest appraisals of students who are applying. ‘If each component is not all pulling in the same direction, it becomes a kind of red flag,’ said Katharine Harrington, vice president of admissions and planning at the University of Southern California.”

“Scott Burke, the undergraduate admissions director at Georgia State University, knew something was amiss when the birth date on an application was far too old to belong to the high school student who supposedly filled it out. With a little sleuthing, his office discovered that it was a parent’s birth date … ‘All of us sitting here looking at those applications came to that thinking that the parent likely filled out the whole application,’ Mr. Burke said. But they could not say for sure whether that was the case, and after contacting the student, they gave the family the benefit of the doubt.”

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What to Do When You Are Deferred?

Yale: “Students who apply early will receive one of three decisions in mid-December: Accept, Defer, or Deny … Here’s the deal. A deferral means one thing and one thing only: We need more time to consider your application. It’s important to understand this. You were not deferred because there is something wrong with your application. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: if you were deferred it means your application is strong enough to continue to be seriously considered by the admissions committee.”

“You should not inundate your admissions officer with weekly emails and cards. More often than not it is the required pieces of the applications, like the essays and teacher recommendations that we already have, that make a student stand out for us. For the most part, we have what we need. We’ll get your mid-year grades from your school counselor to see how you’re doing in your senior year classes, and if you want you can send us one letter of update to let us know what you’ve been up to since November 1st.”

“The bottom line is that ‘deferral’ does not mean ‘we need more information’ or ‘something wasn’t good enough.’ It means we see a lot of great potential in you and we just need a little more time to sit in that committee room and mull things over … We appreciate your patience, and you’ll be hearing from us again soon.”

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