College admissions simplified

My friend Paul Kanarek at The Princeton Review speaks weekly at local high schools on the college admissions and testing process.  Lately, he's been pointing out that admissions officers really just want to know three things about applicants. 

1. Are you smart enough to succeed here?

2. Do we like you?

3. Do other people like you?

If you look at every element of your application that admissions officers evaluate, from the classes you take, to the impact you make in your activities, to the subject on which you choose to write your college essays, every one of them can be traced back to one of these questions.

Two ways sports can help you get into college

There are two ways that a successful high school athletic career can help you get admitted to college.

One is to be so good that a college coach says, “I want this kid on my team so badly that I will my forfeit my salary and donate blood to get him here.”  When a college coach makes a firm decision that he wants you on his team, athletics can be a huge advantage to you.

But we can’t forget the second way that athletics can help you.

Athletics can help you get into college even if the coach has no idea who you are.  Just because you aren’t being recruited doesn’t mean that an admissions committee won’t be impressed with your accomplishments.
Athletics are an extracurricular activity, just like drama, music, clubs, or student government.  If you dedicated significant time and showed your passion for the sport, an admissions committee will be impressed, just like they’d be impressed if you were the editor of the paper or if you acted in your school play.

Don’t assume that only the recruited athletes get the admissions benefits.

Why are you going to college?

Seriously, why do you even want to go to college?

I'm not suggesting that you shouldn’t go.  But most people never stop to ask themselves
this basic question.  And it’s an
important one, especially if you want to find–and get in to–the right school.

For example, look at these different responses to the
question, “Why college?”

  1. Because I have to know more about physics.
  2. Because I want to be a journalist, and I have to go to college to do that.
  3. Because I want to be able to study exactly what interests
  4. Because I want to meet new people and have new experiences.
  5. Because if I don’t go, my parents will give my room to my
    brother and make me live in the attic.  I don't want to live in the attic.  It's scary up there.   

These are very different answers, and you probably have your
own.  Or maybe you’ve never really
thought of it before and you’ll need some time to consider it.

That’s what makes the college search difficult.  For most high school students, picking a
college is like entering into an arranged marriage without dating.  You can’t be expected to know everything you
want from a college experience, because a lot of what you’ll inevitably take
away from college will be the things you never expected to find.

Nevertheless, your reasoning for wanting to go to college is
central to picking a school.  If you want
to meet a variety of different people, you probably shouldn’t go to a commuter
school near your home.  If you have no
idea what you want to study or what you want to do with your life, don’t go to
a school with exclusively pre-professional programs.

I don’t expect that you will read this entry and have a perfectly defined answer to the question, “Why college?”  It’s part of the continuous college
soul-searching process that you need to do. 
So, as you go through your college search, keep asking yourself why you
are going in the first place.  This will
help you stay focused on the big picture. 

And when the colleges you eventually choose ask you to explain how they ended up on your list, you'll have a much more thoughtful, revealing answer than the standard, "Um, it's a good school."  

So you want to play sports in college

If you are a four-time All-American quarterback who can no longer open the door to your bedroom because it is so full of recruiting letters, you don’t need to read this blog post.  All you have to do is avoid felonies and interceptions and you’ll probably get into a college with a football team.   

But there are a lot of students out there who have had more modest, but still admirable, athletic success in high school and they’d like to try and parlay it into an admission to college—maybe even to a school to which they would otherwise not stand a good chance of gaining admission.  

If you want to explore college athletics, here's the most important thing you can do.

Don't stand still.

Standing still seems to be a bad thing in almost every sport.  Coaches are always telling you to “move to the open space,” “move to the ball,” “move to the bench until you learn not to shoot at the wrong goal,” etc. 

Standing still and waiting for college coaches to find you is the worst thing you can do if you want to get recruited to play sports in college.  You are going to need to find them, to contact them, to initiate the first, second, and third moves.

Here are some important steps to take:

1. Learn the rules governing eligibility and recruiting.

You can find them on the NCAA’s website.

2. Find out which schools offer your sport

Go here on the NCAA's website. 

3. Get your coaches on board.

If your coaches don't know that you are interested in playing in college, this would be a good time to tell them.  Make sure they know where you are interested in attending, too.  You don’t want a college to call your coach and say, “We understand that David is interested in playing soccer for us,” and have your coach respond,

        “What?  David who?  Oh, THAT kid?  He is?  Is he CRAZY?” 

That would be bad. 

College coaches like to communicate with their own kind.  You, your parents, and anyone who knows you will sing your praises about how wonderful you are.  But your coaches can tell college coaches exactly what they want to know, in exactly the right language. 

4. Ask your coach's advice

Your coach can tell you what else you can do to help your recruiting cause, what other schools you might want to consider, and of course, what you can do to improve your game even more.

5. Initiate and maintain contact with college coaches

Send an email to college coaches at your schools of interest, or fill out the online recruiting form, and do so early in your junior year.  Let them know that you are interested in their program.  Provide them with a resume that summarizes your achievements.  If a coach is impressed with what you have accomplished, she may ask you to fill out additional forms for prospective athletes, to continue to update her, or to send her a game schedule.  Make sure to keep in mind that these kinds of responses do not necessarily mean you are being recruited.  But it does mean that the coach would like to learn more and to keep informed of your athletic progress.

Start with these five–just don't stand still.

So, what’s your major?

One of the great things about college is that everyone receives a standard issue pick-up line to use whenever you'd like–"What's your major?"  I'm not saying it's a good line.  But it's a line, and it's an opener that won't offend anybody.  Sometimes you just need a good opener.

But you don't necessarily need an answer to that question when you're applying to college.

Obviously, when you’re considering a college, you need to
think about what you want to study.  But
keep one thing in mind—the average college student changes his or her major twice
while they are in college.  If you don’t
know what you want to study, don’t panic—it’s normal.  You’ll just want to make sure that you pick a
school that can accommodate students who don’t know what they want to

If you think you are interested in business, it obviously
wouldn’t make sense for you to apply to eight colleges that don’t offer a
business major.  But we recommend that
you don’t focus all of your college match efforts on the availability or
reported strength of a major.  After all,
if you elect to attend a college because it has a strong business program, and
you decide after the first semester that you no longer want to be a business
major, you might regret your choice of college.   

Here’s a tip.  Let's say you
think you might want to be a business major.  Visit the websites of a few
schools that interest you and read about their business programs.  Print up a list of the
required courses you’ll have to take as a business major, along with the descriptions
of what is taught in each course.  If you
say to yourself, “Calculus?  Finance?
Accounting?  Statistics?  I thought I was going to be learning how to
do marketing and advertising!” then you know that this particular business
program might not be for you. 

Need help picking a college major or a career?

The Princeton Review has some good tools on their site for researching college majors.  You can search for virtually any major and
find a description of the major, a sample undergraduate curriculum, advice on
how to prepare for that major while in high school, and a listing of schools
offering the major.

And would you like to know what it will take to
become an FBI agent?  A news anchor?  A software engineer?  Check out their information about careers,
including what sort of education you need, what your work life will be like,
and what kind of salary you can expect to make over your career. 

Where college research has been done for you is a site
where college counselors post and edit lists of colleges based on specific
criteria.  Need to find a list of 3-2
architecture programs?  How about a list
of schools that have good dance programs for students who don’t want to major in
dance?  Or schools with a snowboarding
team?   Someone else has probably
found—and posted—it for you. 

It’s like Facebook for college searches is a free website on which current students at the
colleges discuss their experiences at their respective schools.  The site is full of
links to blogs and online newspapers, campus pictures, and videos for each
college.  Students can also
create a small social network of people interested in the same schools.

The Wall Street Journal said, “This is a college-information
resource built for the age of YouTube and Facebook.”  We agree.

We like Unigo because it gives them a much more
subjective view of a school than they can get from most guidebooks or from the
school’s website.

The only drawback (as of this writing) to Unigo is that they’re
still in the process of adding colleges, so it’s possible that a school you or
your student wants to research won’t yet be on the site.  But they seem to be adding schools at a good
pace, and we’re guessing that Unigo is going to become one of the most popular
college search engines for high school kids. 

How to tour a college without actually visiting

If you can get past the strange spelling of the name, is a great website that
offers online tour guides who give personal tours through campuses all over the
country.  The tour guides interview
current students, admissions officers, faculty, and professors while
highlighting notable information about each college.

Like, this site is new and still adding colleges,
so it’s not quite as robust as we’d like. 
But we’ll use and recommend just about any college resource that kids
will actually use as long as the information is good (which, in this case, it

Seniors, don’t forget to give thanks

Nobody gets into college alone.  There are always supportive people in your corner who help you get there.  So as you submit the last of your applications, take some time to thank the people who helped you. 

Here are some people who might deserve your thanks.

1. Your high school counselor. 

Even if you never actually met to discuss your applications, counselors do a lot of work for you behind-the-scenes that you might not be aware of.

2. Anyone who wrote your letters of recommendation.

3. The college rep who interviewed you.

4.  Your parents. 

From providing moral support to paying for the SAT tutor, your parents likely deserve a healthy dose of your gratitude. 

5. Your English teacher for reviewing your essays.

6. Anyone else who reviewed your essays as a favor to you (though I'm hoping you didn't shop them around to too many people).

7. The helpful admissions officer who answered your questions or called you to tell you something was missing from your file (don't blow this one off–say thank you!). 

8. Your older brother or sister who lent you some college wisdom.

9. The teacher or tutor who helped you improve your grades or your test scores.

10. Anyone else who helped you, gave you advice, encouraged you, provided emotional support, offered monetary support, or just generally took an interest in your college quest and your happiness. 

It's so easy to say thank you.  And you'd be surprised how often it comes back to you.