The One Thing You Need To Know About…


The more advice you’re given about college admissions, the more complicated the whole process seems.  So this month, we picked some of the most common college admissions topics and, for each one, asked ourselves, "What’s the one thing a student really needs to know about this?"  Read one to find five of those of those one-things.      

1.  College Essays

Don’t write what you think the colleges want to hear.  You’ll inevitably end up writing about how community service taught you that it’s important to help people, or how your trip to Spain taught you to appreciate different cultures.  And those are the essays that everybody writes. 

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Inside the Admissions Office

Be_yourself Arun Ponnusamy, director of our Los Angeles office, is riding high these days. His beloved Ohio State Buckeye football team is ranked #1—he hasn’t missed a game on his flat screen all season.

When she’s not in the office next to Arun, Collegewise Counselor Jessica Schattgen is planning her wedding. This means she can recite all the advice from Martha Stewart’s last six “wedding guides.” And in our Irvine, CA office, Allison Cummings thinks that Burger King’s “Whopper with cheese” is a culinary delicacy to be enjoyed as frequently as possible. She’s acting on that belief. Regularly.

Fascinating? Not necessarily. But that’s the point. All three of these Collegewise counselors are regular people like the rest of us. And all three used to work as admissions officers at selective colleges.

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How to Ruin Your College Application

Stupid_4 Jay Mathews of the Washington Post does it again.  We love Jay's take on the college admissions process because he's a member of the press who takes every opportunity to inject a healthy perspective, not fear, into his writing on education.  In fact, we like his book Harvard Schmarvard so much that we give it to our Collegewise families as a thank-you when they refer a friend to us. 

This week, Jay's column offers up Ten Stupid Ways to Ruin Your College Application.  From posting questionable photos on Myspace to letting parents get too involved, all of his "don'ts" are mistakes we've actually seen kids make. 

Summer To-Do List for Soon-To-Be Seniors

It’s summer.  And you rising seniors deserve a little rest and relaxation.  But while you’re soaking up your summer, here a few college-related things you can do to make your upcoming application season much easier. 

1. Aim to finalize your list of colleges by the end of the summer.
A lot of students wait until the fall to even decide where they want to apply.  Why wait?  Deciding where you’re going to apply is much easier than deciding where you’re actually going to go (which doesn’t happen for most students until late in your senior year).  So do your research, talk to your parents, and visit any colleges you can get to this summer.  Remember, you can always alter your list this fall if a visit to a college (or the advice of your high school counselor) prompts you to rearrange the list just a bit.    

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Easing the Stress

Stress_2 Boy, do we like Jay Mathews, Education Columnist for the Washington Post and author of one of our favorite admissions books, Harvard Schmarvard.   And his most recent column, "Ten Ways to Reduce College Application Stress" reminds us why.

Some of the tips actually suggest ways the colleges could do more to ease the stress on kids, like tip #3,  "Make the super selective colleges tell all potential applicants that their admissions processes are often irrational and that getting accepted is akin to winning a lottery."

I like tip #9 the best–"Repeat this phrase every day: In America, people succeed because of the quality of their character, not the notoriety of their college." 

And as usual, he's got great data to back it up.

Thanks Jay!

Give it the old college try…again.

This is the time of year when seniors get all their news–both good and bad–from colleges.  Some of those applicants across the country will, unfortunately, get all bad news and be left with no college choices.  This article reminds them (and the rest of us) that there is still plenty of room on lots of college campuses, like UC Riverside, UC Merced, Cal State Northridge, Cal State L.A., Loyola Marymount University, Whittier College and Mount St. Mary’s, to name a few.  It’s nice to be reminded that, no matter who you are, if you want to go to college, you (still) can go. 

Honesty and Senioritis

Seniors have undoubtedly heard that an admissions decision from a college can
be revoked if a severe case of senioritis results in an academic decline.  But this month’s edition UC Notes Digest reminds students
that it is their responsibility to report such an academic decline
immediately. In fact, doing so might
even help your case.

Think of it like this. You wrecked the family car.  The
good news is that nobody was hurt.  The
bad news is that the car is totaled and there’s nothing you can do that will
make that fact go away.  Which smarter
move?  Immediately tell your parents
everything that happened, or keep it to yourself and wait for the inevitable
day when they notice that the family car hasn’t been seen in weeks?

Easy one.  Tell your parents.
Immediately.  At least you’ll get credit
for being honest. 

isn’t saying that just being honest makes the academic decline OK,
but it’s a lot better than sitting quietly and hoping that the admissions
offices don’t notice that your grade in AP calculus was totaled beyond

what 2do and not 2do

My wife interviews freshman applicants for one of those Ivy League schools everybody wants to go to.  Last week, she got her list of applicants to contact and promptly sent each of them a personal email inviting them to schedule their interviews. 

So far, only one student has responded to her email.

If you’re a senior who just applied to college, congratulations—you’ve done the hard part.  But you’re not really done yet.  Colleges routinely contact applicants by mail and email asking you for additional information (or to schedule interviews), and you need to make sure you respond promptly and appropriately.

Here at Collegewise, we remind our students:

1. On your college applications, list an email address that you check regularly (and by “regularly,” I mean at least once a day).  And if your email address is something like wildncrazypartygirl@yahoo, get a new email address. 

2. Once you submit your applications, open every piece of mail and read every email a college sends you. Just because it’s not yet time to expect a decision doesn’t mean that mail or email isn’t important. 

3.   If a college asks you to send anything, to respond to anything, or take any action, do it right away.  Don’t rush to the point you get careless, but remember, once you apply to a college, you’re pretty much on stage.  Lagging in your response time doesn’t show a burning desire to attend.

4.   And when communicating with a college rep over email, remember that this is a professional correspondence; you are not text messaging a friend.  Spell carefully and use punctuation.  Do not compose sentences like “i really hope 2b at Princeton next fall! see u soon!”

Colleges (and my wife) are reasonable.  They’re not going to ding a kid just because he took an extra day to respond to an email.  But they’re also human, after all.  I won’t speak for my wife, but I know I would already like the kid who responded right away.  And the kid who wrote me, "sorry i’m writing u back so late i have been soooo busy w/ school," wouldn’t make such a good impression.