Search Results for: potential

College reps, consider adding these two sentences

It’s travel season for college reps who are heading to college fairs, information nights at high schools, and other events to put their schools in front of (potentially) interested applicants. Unfortunately, many of those earnest reps are hamstrung by the canned spiels that have been approved by some combination of the president’s office and the marketing consultants, usually resulting in a sales pitch to draw in as many applicants as possible.

If you’re a college rep with even a little wiggle room for creativity and straight talk, why not include some version of these two sentences in your next pitch to students?

“If you haven’t yet considered us, here’s why we might be right for you.”

“If you’re already considering us, here’s why we might not be for you.”

Both of these statements move away from the same-as-all-the-others pitches that encourage any student willing to pay the application fee to apply. They force you to think about what actually makes your institution different. And most importantly, they seek not only to attract those applicants who are more likely to actually attend if admitted, but also to repel those who are just never realistically going to call your school home.

It might not boost your total application numbers. But I’ll bet it gets you a more interesting, committed, and engaged freshman class.

Monday morning Q&A: Subject Tests “recommended”?

Jean asks,

“I hear all the time that when a college says that Subject Tests are “recommended,” it actually means “required.” But I’d like to see some actual evidence of that. Do you know of students who’ve been rejected without taking these tests and believed that it hurt them? If a student has a very high GPA, high SAT scores, and all 4’s and 5’s in multiple AP exams, it truly seems like overkill.”

Good question, Jean. I find that “recommending” Subject Tests is frustratingly vague. There’s enough existing confusion in the college admissions process without colleges leaving students unsure whether or not an important choice like this will somehow work against them.

Unfortunately, while I’ve occasionally met students who were not admitted and believed it might have been because they elected not to submit Subject Test scores, I’d be very cautious making a testing decision based on anecdotal evidence. It’s not uncommon for students to draw conclusions about how colleges arrived at an admissions decision, but those conclusions are usually dubious at best. The truth is that the only people who know the actual reasons behind any admissions decisions are the committee members who were in the room when the decision was made. This works both ways, too—students who submit Subject Test scores and are ultimately admitted have no way of knowing if or how much those scores helped.

But here’s a potentially good strategy to use.

1. First, read the testing requirements on the school’s website very carefully.

For example, based on the language I’ve pasted here from their websites, which of these schools seems to mean “required” when they say “recommended”?

Georgetown (the typos are as they appeared on the site):

It is strongly recommended that all candidates, whether they have taken the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT, submit three SAT Subject Tests scores. The scores from writing portion on the SAT Reasoning Test and the optional writing portion of the ACT will not be used in place of a Subject Test.


SAT Subject Tests are recommended but not required. Applicants who do not take SAT Subject Tests will not be at a disadvantage. Because SAT Subject Tests are optional, applicants may use Score Choice to selectively send their SAT Subject Test scores.


SAT Subject Tests are recommended but not required. Applicants who do not take SAT Subject Tests will not be disadvantaged in the application process. We will consider your application on the basis of the other testing, and all the other information, that we receive with your application. You may wish to consider whether there are particular areas of academic strength you would like to demonstrate to the Admissions Committee. Subject Tests can be one way to convey that strength. 

While Stanford and Yale come out and say that a lack of Subject Test scores won’t be held against an applicant, Georgetown’s language reads to me like a student would have a hard time getting admitted without those scores.

2. How strong is the student relative to the others in the college’s applicant pool?

A student with a very high GPA, high SAT scores, and all 4’s and 5’s in multiple AP exams (as you described in your question) is likely already a very strong candidate at Lafayette, University of Delaware, and University of Georgia, all of which recommend but do not require Subject Tests. But that same student is not a strong candidate at Caltech, Duke, or Penn, where even valedictorians and students with perfect test scores are routinely turned away.

3. And finally, have your student ask, “If I don’t submit Subject Test scores and ultimately am not admitted, will I regret that choice?”

I am all for a student opting out of the testing craze. If your student were to decide that the testing is, in fact, overkill, that she’s simply not going to play that game, and that she would happily attend another college if one of those on the “recommended but not required” list said no, I would stand up and cheer.

But if she wants to know that she did everything she possibly could have done to gain admission to particular schools, and if she’s proven to have both smarts and the test-taking gene (which it sounds like she does), I’d probably have her submit those scores. Many of the schools that have this “recommended” Subject Test policy are among the most selective in the country (Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, Princeton, etc.). Those are schools that ultimately need to find reasons to say no to droves of applicants. If a student really wants to attend one of those schools, be careful making any testing decision that could give them that reason.

Thanks for your question, Jean. I’ll answer a different question next week. Here’s the form for readers to submit one of their own.

What kind of meeting will this be?

The colleagues at Collegewise who know me best know never to send me an email like this.

Kevin, could you and I schedule an hour of time to chat in the next few days? I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

All that does is conjure up images in my mind of potential agendas, none of which are positive.

Somebody is leaving Collegewise.

Somebody really let down a customer who’s now upset.

Somebody has contracted the Bubonic plague, etc.

I know this is entirely my fault and that it doesn’t necessarily need to be this way (after all, I could just as easily think, This is probably going to be something great!) And in fact, those vague requests almost never lead to conversations that were as bad as I imagined they could be. But I always appreciate when someone gives me a 1-2 sentence preview of what this conversation will be about, so my mind doesn’t spin from now until the conversation. And I can even start thinking productively about how to make the meeting worth our time.

Given (1) how often students, parents, counselors, and teachers might be emailing each other, and (2) how many of those emails involve a request for a conversation or an actual meeting, it’s worth considering how the request itself colors the recipient’s perception of the impending meeting.

Do you want the meeting to be one that they actively dread? One that they worry could be bad but aren’t yet sure of? One that they’re tentatively encouraged by? Or one that they can actively look forward to and even begin considering how to best help you with your request?

For example, everything about this request leaves the recipient certain that this will not be a pleasant meeting:

We were extremely disappointed to learn that our son will not be placed in AP US History next year. He is a top student and this is completely unacceptable. Please contact us at your earliest convenience so we can address this with you.

And this sounds like a meeting that could go either way:

Are you available to meet this week about our son’s course schedule? We have some concerns we’d like to discuss.

This meeting could be positive:

Our son just informed us that he will not be placed in AP US History next year. We were hoping we could meet with you to get your feedback and to discuss his options, as we don’t want to make any crucial mistakes.

And this meeting sounds like an entirely positive one:

Our son just informed us that he will not be placed in AP US History next year, which certainly didn’t come as a surprise as we know that history was not his strongest subject last semester. But we want to make sure that we aren’t overlooking any available options that might help rectify this. And if there aren’t, we’d love your advice about the best course schedule for him given his college goals.

The way you ask for a meeting affects the likelihood that the meeting itself will be productive.

Bonus tip: Asking for “advice” is almost always a good way to open up meeting possibilities.

One last bonus tip: This goes best when the student, not the parent, sends the email.

Guaranteed return?

Students, as you progress through high school and prepare to apply to college, one question worth asking about the ways you’re choosing to spend your time might be, “Does this investment have a guaranteed return?”

This class, this activity, this opportunity or experience, is it guaranteed to pay you back in some way?

Will it make you happier? Will it make you smarter? Will it help you learn, grow, and discover or enhance your talents? Will it challenge or push you? Will it help you or others? Will it earn you money, credibility, or trust? Will you learn to work with people, to manage complex projects, or to lead?

Or will the only acceptable return be an admission to a college of your choice?

Those two categories aren’t mutually exclusive. Let’s say you’re stronger in your English and social studies classes than you are in the sciences, but you enroll in AP Chemistry anyway because you want to show colleges you’re challenging yourself. For many students, there’s a guaranteed return on that investment whether or not your dream college ends up saying yes. Challenging yourself is good as long as it doesn’t leave you burned out or miserable. And taking AP Chemistry will be like a workout for your brain. The experience will leave you smarter and more prepared for the academics in (any) college. And it might even boost your confidence, too.

But that activity you’re doing that you don’t enjoy, that you don’t really pour your heart into, that you’re really just going through the motions so you can list it on your college application, where’s the guaranteed return?

That summer program you really don’t want to attend but resolved to do because you’ve heard it will look good to colleges, is there a guaranteed return on that investment?

Those community service projects where you’re just showing up to do the bare minimum until you get your 10 or 30 or 100 hours you want to cite on your college application, is that minimal effort actually doing any good for the people, the organization, or yourself?

I’ve never met a student who actually enjoys test prep, and it certainly won’t teach you anything useful other than how to take a standardized test. But there’s a potential guaranteed return if you balance your college list beyond those schools that are reaches for you. Higher test scores will make you more admissible to many (though certainly not all) colleges.

If you don’t see a guaranteed return in what you’re doing, maybe you need a new way of spending your time, a new goal, or both.

Find your fun

One of the worst symptoms of the college admissions arms race is the disappearance of downtime, frivolity, or anything else that can’t be directly connected to a college admissions advantage. Kids stop being kids and spend all their time resume building, measuring the worth of every potential choice with, “Will this help me get in?”

Here’s one deceptively simple way to combat that. Many colleges, and college interviews, ask the question, “What do you do for fun?” To not have a genuine answer that lights up would actually be an admissions disadvantage. You’re hurting your chances if you don’t regularly have a little fun.

Please don’t tell me you don’t have time. If that’s actually a true statement, you’ve just identified a problem. Now it’s time to change it.

And if you don’t have an answer to the “What do you do for fun?” question, now is the time to find one.

One chapter

I flew to England last week to attend my brother-in-law’s graduation from Oxford, where he and 300 other overachievers from around the world earned their MBAs. Not surprisingly, the people I met were an impressive collection of varied successes. I met a 23-year-old Rhodes Scholar who was already earning his second master’s at Oxford. I met a woman who’d spent the last year in Rwanda working to stop some of the worst forms of child labor. I met a business owner whose company installs solar farms all over Europe, several students who left behind lucrative careers in investment banking and venture capital, and budding entrepreneurs who’d secured multiple post-graduation pitch meetings with potential investors.

I certainly didn’t meet anywhere near all 300 of the graduates. But of the dozen or so that I did get to chat with, only one attended a college that would likely be described by most of my readers as prestigious—UCLA. The rest went to schools that included Occidental, Northeastern, Emory, Arizona State, and multiple international colleges I’d never heard of.

And while each of them when asked (as I have a tendency to do) spoke fondly of their college years, not one of them credited their college with their success. For each, college was an important, memorable four-year period on a continuous path of work, learning, growth, successes, and yes, failures. College is an important chapter of their story, not the entire story.

It’s easy for high school students and their parents to get so immersed in the quest to get into college that they lose perspective on the relative importance of what will eventually be a student’s adult life. Given the time, money, and energy you’ll have to spend to get in and to succeed once you’re in college, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t treat the process with respect. But nobody’s future was ever made or broken with one piece of good or bad admissions news from your dream school. According to the class profile, the average student in this Oxford graduating class had been out of college for only five years. Yet most spoke of their undergraduate years like ancient, albeit wonderful, history.

College will be an important chapter in your life. But no matter where you go, the rest of your story can be a page-turner if you want it to be. One chapter doesn’t make or break the entire book.

Monday morning Q&A: Choosing a private counselor

Ai asks:

What are the most important qualifications that a family should consider when hiring a college admissions counselor?

I started writing a reply and experienced déjà vu. Sure enough, here’s my answer to this very question written seven years ago.  All of that advice still stands, and I encourage you and any other readers to start there. But here are a few more thoughts gleaned from seven more years of experience (and over 2500 blog posts) since then.

Credentials like admissions or counseling experience, an advanced degree, or a good reputation in town are worth noting because they are, at the very least, the marks of a professional who treats this craft as more than just a hobby. But none of those qualifications alone guarantees that a private counselor will be willing or able to deliver the change you’re hoping they can make for your family. So a good place to start is by answering this question, which might be an uncomfortable exercise for some parents. If you had to be brutally honest, why exactly are you considering hiring a private counselor?

Your brutally honest answer might be purely mechanical, like:

We know there are lots of good colleges, but we need help finding them.

The process seems really complex, and I think it would help to have an expert who could guide us through it.

But for many other parents, the brutal honesty sweeps away the half-truth factual answers and reveals the more emotional reasons that might be uncomfortable admitting to yourself or others, like:

Every parent in my circle has hired a private counselor, and I feel like I’m letting my student down by not doing the same.

I’m scared to death that my kid is going to make a mistake and I’ll feel terrible I didn’t catch it.

I don’t want to fight with my son about this anymore. I’m tired. I want someone else to nag him and explain why this is all so important.

I want my daughter to go to a prestigious college, and I’m willing to pay for an advantage if the right person can give it to me.

I’m not endorsing or rejecting any of these reasons—you get to have them as this is your student’s college process, after all. But whatever your answer is, mechanical, emotional, or somewhere in between, you won’t feel good spending money for help unless that person creates the change you’re looking for. And credentials alone won’t tell you whether or not a potential counselor is willing or able to deliver that outcome for you. You’ll need to have a very real, open conversation about your expectations and what a successful outcome looks like to you. The right counselor for you will understand and appreciate how forthright you are, and they’ll be both honest and specific about whether they can deliver what you’re looking for.

Some parents may resist what feels like a psychological exercise, but you’re not buying a car, a computer, or a new roof for your house—this is guidance for your student’s journey to college. There are stakes and emotions in play here that need to be acknowledged by all parties. The more willing you are to do just that, the more likely you’ll be to make the right choice for you and your student, especially if you follow the advice in that past post referenced above.

Thanks for your question, Ai!

If you’ve got a question, feel free to submit it here. I’ll answer another next week.

Their best adult selves

One of my high school friends just started a new job as the principal at the same high school his own kids attend. He shared a photo on social media this week of his ear-to-ear grin while standing next to his two good-natured teens on their first day of school together.

But back in high school, he was the guy in our first period Spanish class who would read the daily bulletin and make up stories along the way just to delay the start of the actual instruction as long as possible. He also spent one day repeatedly and clandestinely climbing out the window of that classroom and then reentering through the front door to the amusement of the students and the flummoxed stare of our teacher, who couldn’t figure out how he kept entering seemingly without ever exiting.

Parents, you can take some worry and pressure off yourself—and maybe your kids, too—with the occasional reminder that high schoolers today aren’t yet who they’ll be tomorrow. Whether or not your student is achieving at their full potential, time, college, and the right parenting combination of expectations and unconditional love have a wonderful way of helping them eventually become their best adult selves.

Changing tides

At the speeches I would give at Southern California high schools shortly after starting Collegewise in 1999, one line was always guaranteed to get a big laugh from the crowd.

“Southern Californian kids aren’t going to arrive at the breakfast table one morning and announce to their parents, ‘Today is the day I apply to the University of Alabama.’”

No insult intended to ‘Bama fans or alums. That joke had nothing to do with the quality of the school, the education, or the experience. Kids and parents everywhere have preconceived notions about particular colleges, geographic regions, and even weather, many if not most of which are not rooted in facts. At that time, in those zip codes, for those particular families, the notion that a student would travel all the way to Alabama to attend a big public school in lieu of attending others that were closer, more prestigious, or both, just seemed nonsensical to them.

I’m happy to report that the joke would never work for those same audiences today.

Alabama gets applications from plenty of Southern Californian students today, including those from high schools where I’ve made that joke. And many of our former Collegewise students from those and other areas have gone on to Alabama and now happily sign off their emails to us with “Roll Tide!

The school didn’t fundamentally change during that time—the students (and parents) did. It only takes a few students to break new college ground and report back to their younger former classmates to start a trend for the next wave of applicants. We saw the same shift in 2006 with the University of Texas (not coincidentally after their Rose Bowl win over USC in what’s been called the greatest college football game of all time).

No college is right for every student, and there are lots of perfectly legitimate reasons why you might write off a potential school as being not-for-you. Effective college matchmaking means deciding which schools are left off, not just included on, your list.

But as you choose colleges to apply to, it might be worth asking yourself if any of your “deal-breakers” would change if one or more of your older classmates were currently attending and enjoying their experience. Too cold, too small, don’t like the Midwest or the South or the Northeast, no basketball team, no fraternity/sorority scene, too middle-of-nowhere, can’t handle big cities—whatever your reasons for leaving a college off, would they change if your good friend were already there and loving his or her experience?

Happy reports like those may not change your mind at all, and that’s OK. But considering whether or not such a testimonial could make a difference might help you distinguish between a genuine preference and a preconceived notion.

Perceptions can change over time. And there’s nothing wrong with embracing or even initiating a change in the college tides.

The best antidote to worry

Worry ruins college admission for too many families. All the uncertainty about what might happen with one upcoming grade, test, or admissions decision can leave some students and parents in a constant state of anxiety, almost all of which will seem overblown in retrospect when that student eventually moves into a dorm and becomes a college freshman.

Research out of the University of Chicago shows that the best way to stop worrying about what might happen tomorrow is to be grateful for what you have today. Your health, your family, your friends, your life—all of these things are more important than your SAT score or whether Northwestern says yes. If that feels true in theory but difficult to embrace in practice because you’re in the middle of this potentially stressful time, here’s an article that shares not just the research, but also a simple exercise to help you embrace gratitude as your worry antidote.