College decision day

Tomorrow is May 1, college decision day for seniors.  If you haven't yet signed your name and committed to a school where you'll spend the next four years, tomorrow is the last day to do it.  So… 

1.  Remember to send your "Statement of Intent to Register" and your deposit to your chosen college.  And when you do, make sure you re-read your letter of admission.  

2.  Return the paperwork to your other colleges indicating that you will not be attending.  It's a nice thing to do.  It makes the colleges' jobs easier knowing who doesn't plan on enrolling, and there are a lot of anxious students on waiting lists right now who can be admitted when colleges are certain of their enrollment numbers. 

3.  If you're notifying a college in writing that you will not be attending, there's no reason to feel pressure to write a long explanation.  You're not breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend–you don't need to come up with reasons.  Just be brief, but nice.  Something like this would be fine…  

"I am writing to inform you that after discussing my college options with my family, I've decided to attend the University of Michigan.  Thank you so much for considering me, and have a great year with your new freshman class."

4.  This is a good time to review all of the material you've received from your chosen college.  Is there a housing application?  Do you need to submit final transcripts?  Is there an orientation you can attend this summer?  I know it can be daunting to sort through all the material you receive, but it's worth it if it means you won't miss something important.

5.  You should celebrate with your friends and/or family tomorrow.  Tomorrow will be one of those rare "Once in a lifetime" days.  There will never, ever be another day in your life when you officially decide where to spend four years of college.  Treat it like a big day, because it is.  Even if the school where you're heading wasn't at the top of your list, you still have every reason to be excited.  C'mon.  Live a little.  You know where you're going to college next fall.   

Why we’re not in your reader right now

OK, it looks like we're back; our new posts are now appearing in peoples' readers.  If you're a subscriber, you probably missed a few feeds in the last week, but we've got the posts here for your reading pleasure.  Thanks for your patience.  And thanks to Brian for fixing this for us.

I've heard from several subscribers that our blog feeds aren't showing up in your Google readers.  I've got someone looking into it right now, but in the interim, I'm just going to forge ahead and keep putting up my daily posts.  Apologies for the lack of feeding.  

PS:  If you're an expert in Typepad and Feedburner, and you understand how the rss.xml file from Typepad interacts with Feedburner for social media shortcuts, let me know if you'd like a freelance job fixing the bugs in our code.  Email me at kevinm (at) collegewise (dot) com. 

What to do if you were rejected by all your colleges

If you're a senior who was rejected by all your colleges, you can probably still go to college in the fall.  But if you want to do it, you'll have to jump on the project right now.  Here are a few steps to take to give yourself some options.

1.  Meet with your counselor.

This is a time when you want your counselor to know what's happening in your life.  She may be able to suggest schools that are still accepting applications, give you more advice about how to get off waitlists, appeal rejections, etc.  And ask her about public university options available to you, which brings me to…

2.  Look into public universities in your state.

Most states have public universities that are required to admit students who meet minimum eligibility requirements.  That doesn't mean they're required to admit an eligible student who didn't apply before the deadline, but it's an option worth investigating, especially if it's a school that didn't receive as many applications as they'd hoped.   

3.  Use the Common App to find schools still accepting applications.

Go to the college search section of the Common Application website, select "first year student," "Fall 2010" and enter today's date under "deadline on or after."  I just entered 4/19/2010 before writing this and there were 115 schools that came up.  And a lot of them are good schools. 

4.  Use the College Board's college search function.

If you use the search function on College Board website and select "More than 75% accepted" under the "Admissions" section, you'll find a lot of colleges will still be accepting applications. 

5.  After May 1, watch for NACAC's "Space Availability Survey"

After May 1, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling conducts a survey of colleges to find out one thing–who's still got room for freshmen?  Then they publish the results of the survey in early to mid May.  So after May 1, check the NACAC website every day.  Or just keep reading our blog and we'll let you know when it's up.

Where can the things you do today take you?

One of our Collegewise students from the class of 2005 wrote her essay about how certain she'd been that being a lifeguard on the beach would be the best summer job she could get…but that she couldn't have been more wrong.  Turns out that the beach she was assigned to had no waves or currents, so nobody ever needed to be rescued.  I remember her telling me how boring it was, that all she did for 8 hours a day was stare at the water and respond to the 30 people who'd come by her tower just ask where the bathrooms were.  But she did enjoy learning all the first aid during her training, and was even able to use it when her friend cut her leg badly at a school dance.  

I found out today that she was just accepted to medical school.  You never where the things you're doing today might take you in the future.

Should you appeal a college’s rejection?

Students occasionally ask us about appealing admissions decisions from colleges.  An appeal is really just a  formal request, in writing, that a college reconsider your application for admission.  Some colleges also invite you to include extra material that wasn’t in your original application, such as another teacher recommendation or a report card from the first semester of the senior year.

So, should you appeal?

As unfair as the admissions process may seem, most colleges are very thorough in their evaluation of candidates. That’s why the few appeals that are successful usually bring to light new information that was not available to the college when they were reviewing your application. For example, if your 7th semester grades were a dramatic improvement over your previous grades, or your club that you started raised a large amount of money for a charity event you planned, or the new internship you just secured happens to be in the field you plan on majoring in, these are things that can be taken into account when reconsidering your application.

What not to do

Some students want to appeal a decision because they simply believe they are stronger applicants than other students from their school who were admitted. But colleges won't consider this a valid reason to overturn their original decision. Don't point out the reasons you think you deserve the admission more
than they did.  That just makes you look bitter, and you didn't have access to those applications.  You don't know what their essays were about, or what their letters of rec said, or what their individual circumstances might have been.  Keep your tone positive and focus on what you have accomplished since you applied.

How to appeal

If you decide you want to appeal, carefully read the decision letter the college sent you, and research the admissions section of the college’s website to see if any information about appealing decisions is provided. Some colleges will come right out and tell you that they do not accept appeal requests. Other colleges will not only tell you that they accept appeals, but will also tell you exactly what to do in order to appeal the decision. Follow all instructions the college provides. And if any of their instructions seem to contradict what you read in this guideline, do whatever the college tells you to do.

Write a letter as soon as possible explaining why you want the admissions committee to reconsider your application for admission. Be polite and respectful, and make sure to present new information; don’t just rehash what was in your application. If the college indicates that extra letters of recommendation will be accepted in appeals cases, consider asking a teacher to write a letter of recommendation (a different teacher than you used before). However, you should only do this if you feel this teacher will be able to present new and compelling information.

Final appeal thoughts

I know it’s disappointing not to be accepted to a school you really wanted to attend, but the very best thing you could do while you’re waiting for your appeal decision is to start falling in love with one of your other colleges that said, “Yes.” Visit those schools again. Buy a sweatshirt. Start imagining yourself there. You’ll feel much more positive and encouraged by focusing on a great school that admitted you, rather than lamenting the decision of one who said, “No.”

And remember that the vast majority of college freshmen report that they are happy with their college experience, even those students who were not admitted to schools that were their first choice at the time. Whether or not your appeal is granted, you’re going to go to college with a bunch of 18-22 year-olds and all you have a lot to look forward to.

Right person, wrong time

I've written before that you should be careful taking college admissions advice from people who don't know what they're talking about.  But even when you've found the right person who can give you advice, there's a right time and a wrong time to ask for it.

Alex from our North White Plains office told me today that when he was being wheeled into surgery for an emergency appendectomy a few years ago, one of the nurses who'd found out he was a college counselor actually started asking him for free college counseling advice.  So just as the anesthesia is starting to take effect, she's saying,

"Oh, you're a college counselor?  My son has a 3.98 GPA and really wants to go to Cornell.  His SAT scores are. . .(anesthesia takes hold). . .should he take them again?  And he volunteers. . .(anesthesia coming on strong). . .should he apply early decision or would it be better to…(anesthesia wins)…."

Right person.  Wrong time.

Five tips for seniors to help you pick your colleges

May 1 is almost here, the official deadline when seniors must formally commit to the college at which they'll spend the next four years.  If you're in the enviable position of struggling with multiple college choices, here are five tips to help you make a good decision.   

1.  Stop and smell the letters.

I don't mean that you should literally sniff your acceptance letters (that would be ineffective and, well, strange).  But when faced with a number of college acceptances from schools they want to attend, a lot of students forget to celebrate how lucky they are, and some go as far as to lament how stressful it is to have too many choices.  Don't be one of those people.  If you have 2 or 4 or 10 colleges from which to choose, you should celebrate what you've accomplished.  You're going to college.  You get to pick which college you want to attend.  Life is good.   So embrace your options, feel proud that you worked hard enough to earn this, and enjoy the process of deciding where you're going to spend the next four years.

2.  Expect to be uncertain.

A lot of high school students expect that they should be certain of their choice when they decide where to go to college.  We can make this easier: don't expect to be certain.  In fact, expect to be uncertain. Selecting a college is a big decision.  And big life decisions almost always come with some uncertainty (why do you think so many people are nervous on their wedding days?).  You likely won't be sure that you've made the right college choice until you get there, eat some dorm food, and get lost trying to find a class (it happened to all of us).  So if you're feeling unsure about your choice, don't worry; it just means you're giving this big life decision the care and attention it deserves.   

3.  Visit the colleges that interest you most…again.
If you're really interested in attending a college, you've probably visited already.  Visit again.  We know–you only have a few weeks.  Do it anyway.  Take a day off school if you have to.  Unless it's too far (and too expensive) to see again, visiting a college campus after you've been accepted lets you walk on campus and say, "I can be here this fall if I want to be."   It gives you a chance to potentially experience that feeling that you've found your college home.  And if that happens, you're right there on campus and can buy a sweatshirt with your new college's name on it. 

4.  Trust your instincts.
A lot of students will try to weigh the positive and not-so-positive traits of their colleges choices.  They might even seek advice from people they trust.  You should do all of these things.  But in most cases, you can't pro-and-con your way to a college decision.   No matter what the pros and cons are, and no matter what anyone tells you, you are the one who will spend four years at the college you choose.   At some point, your gut instinct has to kick in.   So listen to it.  You'd be surprised how right it usually is.

5.  Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect college.
Great college experiences happen everywhere, including at non-Ivy League schools and at colleges in Delaware.  But there is no college that will be perfect in every way for you.  It's going to be up to you to make your college experience perfect for you. So whatever you do, pick a college where you feel excited to spend four years, a place where you can't wait to go to class, to meet new friends, and to find what college life has in store for you.   If you accept that it will be your responsibility to make the most of your college experience, you'll be a lot more likely to find a school on which you'll look back after four years and feel you made the perfect choice.

And seniors, in case we don't see you back around our blog, congratulations, and have a great time in college…

The work you do along the way

A good blog post today from my favorite marketing author, Seth Godin, about the relentless pursuit of specific goals.  It got me thinking about students who relentlessly pursue a goal to gain admission to a highly selective college. 

It's risky to measure your success by whether or not Stanford says "Yes," because they reject most of their applicants.  That's giving too much power to someone else. 

What's broken in college admissions isn't necessarily the fact that
kids are working hard; what's broken is that too many kids (and a lot
of parents) only find value in the work if the chosen college offers
admission.  There's a reason why those who are rejected from their dream schools aren't relegated to substandard lives.  The work you do to be a competitive college applicant means you're smart, dedicated, and willing to work hard.  Those traits will make you successful no matter where you go to college.  Whether or not your dream school admits you, there's value in the work you do along the way.

Expert opinions?

If I want to get stronger, I ask a trainer at the gym for advice.  But when my arm hurts more than it should after working out, I don't ask the personal trainer to take a look at it.  That's a job for a doctor.  And what kind of shoes should I wear when I run?  That's a question I reserve for one of those sprinters at the running shoe store who weighs 95 pounds and has a body fat percentage of negative 12%. 

The fact that training and injury and running occur as part of the same fitness regimen doesn't mean they aren't three very different things.  College admissions works in much the same way.  

One of our Collegewise parents attended a free seminar over the weekend given by a test prep company.  In addition to discussing SAT test-taking strategies (which were great), the presenter also shared a variety of information about how colleges use test scores.  And virtually all of it was incorrect.

College admissions, standardized testing and financial aid for college are three entirely different fields.  Expertise in one does not translate to expertise in another.  I'm not saying people can't be knowledgeable about all three.  But most people aren't (I claim an admissions expertise but am an admitted dabbler in testing and financial aid).

The widespread availability of college admissions, testing and financial aid information means that families have to be a little bit discerning about who you listen to.  Seek out trusted sources, and don't be surprised if you turn to more than one expert.

If you need a little direction, here's where I'd start for admissions, testing, and financial aid advice.

Rejected by your dream school? You’re in good company

From a great piece
in
yesterday's Wall Street Journal about college rejection letters and the people who've received them:

"Teenagers who face rejection will be joining good company, including
Nobel laureates, billionaire philanthropists, university presidents,
constitutional scholars, best-selling authors and other leaders of
business, media and the arts who once received college or
graduate-school rejection letters of their own."

According to the article, Warren Buffet had this to say about his college rejection from Harvard:

"The truth is, everything that has happened in my life[…] that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better," Mr. Buffett says. With the exception of health problems, he says, setbacks teach "lessons that carry you along. You learn that a temporary defeat is not a permanent one. In the end, it can be an opportunity."

And for the parents reading, Buffet remembers how his father responded to the rejection.

"As it turned out, his father responded with 'only this unconditional love…an unconditional belief in me…'"