Multiple deposits put your admission at risk

Most colleges require admitted students to declare their intention to enroll by May 1, and to do so by sending a non-refundable deposit. If you’re in the enviable position of considering offers of admission from multiple desirable colleges and you have trouble picking just one, you might be tempted to buy time and place deposits at more than one school (a practice colleges and counselors call “double-depositing”). But please don’t do it, for all the reasons I outlined in this past post.

If those reasons aren’t enough, here’s another. If you applied using the Common Application, the signature page you submitted included this language:

I affirm that I will send an enrollment deposit (or equivalent) to only one institution; sending multiple deposits (or equivalent) may result in the withdrawal of my admission offers from all institutions.

Sending multiple deposits is bad form, it sets a bad precedent, and it just might result in your receiving new—bad—admissions news.

Admissions negativity getting you down?

In many social circles, pressure surrounding college admissions causes a pervasive negativity. Lamenting weaknesses rather than leveraging strengths, bemoaning the selectivity of one school instead of celebrating the accessibility of so many others, treating the journey like an escalating arms race instead of an exciting time in a student’s life—it’s no wonder so many families struggle to find the joy in what should be a joyful time.

But there are steps you can take to combat that negativity, many of which have nothing to do with college planning or improving your admissions chances. Author and wellness consultant Michelle Gielan shares some strategies here. They were intended to help professionals overcome negativity at work. But all of these recommendations are just as effective for the college-bound.

Interested in creating a podcast?

High school students, would you be interested in an internship that culminates with you creating your own 30-episode podcast about a topic you care about? If so, consider applying to Seth Godin’s summer internship, “The Podcast Fellowship.” It’s designed for college students, but I don’t see why that should stop you from applying. Take a shot. Show him that you’re serious and dependable. It will cost you about $500 to participate if you’re selected. But financial aid is available. And even at full price, that’s a fraction of the cost of attending many formal summer programs. All the details and the application are here. I’ll let him describe his own program, but here are a few free application tips (all are from me, and none are officially Seth-endorsed).

  • The deadline to apply is April 10, but don’t wait that long. He’s mentioned when promoting many of his past programs that he’s more likely to admit someone who doesn’t apply at the last minute because (1) that’s when the bulk of the applications come in and (2) he prefers working with people who don’t wait until the last minute.

There are three short essay questions to answer:

  • Why do you want to make a podcast?
    Don’t do this because you want to put it on your college application (yes, it will look great, but that’s not the reason to do it). Be honest. Are you really passionate about a topic and just want to share it? Are you interested in media and exploring how to share ideas? Are you looking for a challenge, or to get out of your comfort zone, or to show that you’re capable of more than your GPA and test scores indicate? Your answer should tell him more about you. If it doesn’t, get more specific and drill down to your personal reasons for why you want to do this.
  • If you had to decide on a topic for your podcast right now, what would it be about?
    Don’t base your answer on what you think will sound impressive. Base it on what you would genuinely be excited to spend your summer learning about, developing, and ultimately sharing. Much like a topic for a college essay, if you genuinely care about it, the reader will care about it. And as I’ve written before, interests make you interesting.
  • And finally, tell us whatever else we need to know about you…
    My advice here is exactly the same as when a college interviewer begins your conversation with, “Tell me about yourself.” And I’ve shared that advice before, here and here.

If you apply and are accepted, please reach out and let me know. I’d love to congratulate you, and to hear your podcast!

Is that your best and final financial aid package?

If you’re a parent of an applicant receiving their admission offers, and the attached financial aid packages, you may have heard that your financial aid award might not be the college’s best and final offer. It’s possible to appeal your financial package and to secure yourself even more aid. But given how many families choose to do so, your odds of success improve if you remember a few important points.

Here are scenarios that increase your chances:

1. Your financial status has changed since you filed your FAFSA. For example, have you lost a job, have you incurred unforeseen expenses like medical bills, have you begun caring for an elderly parent, etc.?

2. Did you report any information incorrectly in your original FAFSA or other financial aid paperwork?

Either of those first two scenarios mean that the financial picture used to evaluate your need was incorrect or has since become outdated. Neither is a guarantee that a college will alter your aid package, but they are both compelling reasons to request that they reconsider, especially when you can provide documentation to substantiate the change.

3. Did your student receive a more generous package from a comparable college? “Comparable” is a tricky term here. Regular readers know that I don’t believe Princeton is somehow empirically better than Prescott College. But colleges know who their collegiate competition is. They know the schools most likely to admit—and to enroll—students from the same applicant pool. And put bluntly, they know their place in the pecking order. So if two schools that enroll students with similar qualifications give you very different financial aid packages, a compelling argument to reconsider can be made to the school who offered less aid. But it might be less effective to pit your reach school against your safety school in the battle for more financial aid.

Now, here’s some additional advice to help you avoid ineffective approaches:

1. Don’t base your argument on your student’s merit. You can give a publicist-worthy pitch about the relative strengths of your student. But that merit has already been rewarded with an offer of admission. Financial aid officers are more likely to respond to facts and data than they are pride and puffery.

2. Don’t sound entitled. Financial aid officers believe that aid should be awarded based on a family’s ability, not their willingness, to pay. Don’t base your argument on what you think you deserve. Base it on what you can prove that you need.

3. Don’t negotiate, play hardball, or do anything else reminiscent of buying a car. The financial aid officer’s job is not to put your student in this college today no matter what it takes. It’s their job to meet your demonstrated need while protecting the college’s assets. Treat the interaction like a facts-based, respectful discussion rather than a game of salesmanship, bluff, and bluster.

To do better work in less time, stop multitasking

Eric Barker’s latest post, “This Is How To Increase Your Attention Span: 5 Secrets From Neuroscience,” shares key findings described in The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World. Here are three worth paying attention to, particularly if you’re a student or adult looking to do better work in less time.

  1. People who think they are good at multitasking have actually been shown to be the worst at it.
  2. Much like the fact your body can’t lift 5000 pounds, your brain can’t do its best work while trying to juggle too many tasks simultaneously.
  3. Multitasking doesn’t just divide your attention among tasks—it also leads to more errors and more total time spent than had you dealt with each item separately.

One at a time leads to better work in less time.

Feelings fade, but the internet doesn’t

Yesterday, a student who had been denied from a highly selective college responded by tweeting at the school’s dean of admissions, hurling rage and insults at him that depending on your interpretation were at best offensive and at worst racist (the icing on the Twitter cake was that the post was also rife with spelling errors).

It didn’t take long for a screenshot of that tweet to make the social media rounds in the counseling and admissions community. Here’s what will very likely happen next.

1. There’s a good chance his post could make its way to the admissions offices of colleges that admitted him.

2. Because screenshots last forever (even after a tweet is deleted), and because this student chose a Twitter handle that uses his full name, he won’t be able to deny that he wrote that post.

3. If #1 happens, there’s an equally good chance those schools will rescind his admission.

Yes, he’s a teenager, and teens make mistakes. If he’d tweeted “You guys missed out” or even “You suck,” most admissions professionals would chalk it up to youthful emotion and laugh it off. But a post that is offensive and angry forces colleges to ask serious questions.

What will he do if he disagrees with a grade a professor gives him?

How will he handle himself if he loses an election for a dorm leadership post, or doesn’t get invited to join his first choice fraternity, or isn’t selected for an opportunity on campus that he was excited about?

Will other students feel safe learning and living in close quarters with this student?

Is it worth the college’s risk to put a student prone to this kind of anger into a campus community, especially with likely so many other qualified applicants to choose from?

I don’t predict he’s going to like the answers.

I will admit that part of me feels bad for this kid. Teens today have the capability of publishing their thoughts publicly to a potentially huge audience, an ability that is often unforgiving of teenage indiscretions.

But I’d also never let him on my campus if I were putting a class together and I saw that tweet. Tens of thousands of other kids were just as disappointed if not more so with news they’ve received. And they made a different choice.

High school students (and their parents), I know college admissions decisions can feel bitterly personal. But whatever disappointment, frustration, or outright anger that you’re feeling, please do not channel it publicly in a way that you cannot possibly take back. It’s not worth it. It’s not right. And you’ll probably regret it.

Feelings fade, but the internet lives on.

No one prescribed path to success

William Stixrud is a clinical neuropsychologist, a faculty member at Children’s National Medical Center and George Washington University Medical School, and the co-author of The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives. And while I take small issue with the title (more on that in a minute), I did enjoy his piece “It’s Time to Tell Your Kids It Doesn’t Matter Where They Go To College,” especially this portion:

“Many adults worry that if their kids knew that grades in school aren’t highly predictive of success in life, they’d lose their motivation to apply themselves and aim high. In fact, the opposite is true. In my 32 years of working with kids as a psychologist, I’ve seen that simply telling kids the truth — giving them an accurate model of reality, including the advantages of being a good student — increases their flexibility and drive. It motivates kids with high aspirations to shift their emphasis from achieving for its own sake to educating themselves so that they can make an important contribution. An accurate model of reality also encourages less-motivated students to think more broadly about their options and energizes them to pursue education and self-development even if they aren’t top achievers.”

I’ve learned that authors often don’t write the titles of their pieces in major outlets, and that may be the case here. But I’d be cautious about being so dismissive about the college choice to say that where you go simply doesn’t matter at all. Colleges are not all the same. The right college for one student may not be the right cost, academic setting, environment, etc. for another.

But the larger point is still an important one. Great educations can be found at many colleges, not just the famous, expensive, or prestigious ones. What you do in college will be more important than the name of the school where you do it. And there’s no one prescribed path to success.

Planning your courses? Join us for a free webinar!

Just about every college in the country will tell applicants that high school course selection is one of the most important factors in determining admissibility to college. But how many AP or honors classes should you take? Is it important to take four years of science, language, or math? And what if you’re debating between AP Calc or Statistics? These are exactly the kinds of decisions that many applicants face. If you’ve got the same questions or others like them, I hope you’ll join us at this upcoming free webinar.

Science and English and Math, Oh My! Choosing High School Classes
Tuesday, March 27
6 p.m. – 7 p.m. PST
Cost: Free

I’d also like to offer an important disclaimer for this topic. This webinar will give you a lot of great information and advice about course selection and its role in the college admissions process, but it’s not a replacement for a discussion with your high school counselor. Good course scheduling weighs factors like what subjects you enjoy the most, which you find more challenging, where you want to attend college, and a host of other factors that are unique to you. This is a little bit like financial planning, diet and exercise, or auto maintenance. Broader best practices are accepted and worth following. But the specifics of every individual are different.

So, I invite you to learn from our webinar and then channel that knowledge into a personal course planning discussion with your counselor. And in the unlikely event that any of the advice conflicts, listen to your counselor.

More information, and the registration information, is here. And if you can’t make it live and would like to view a video of the event, please register anyway. We’ll make a video of the webinar available to registrants for up to two weeks after the event. I hope you’ll join us.

Financial aid and divorced parents

Some of the most common questions parents ask during our financial aid seminars are around divorce. Are both parents responsible to pay for college? How will schools evaluate financial need if a parent refuses to contribute? Do responsibilities change if a parent remarries? If you’ve got similar questions, Mark Kantrowitz delivers a good primer on the topic here.