How Much Does Your Major Matter After College?

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How Much Does Your Major Matter After College?

As spring wears on and the full realization sets in that college applications are coming up, I find that many students find themselves in a state of crisis. It's usually brought on when they are suddenly unable to make it through a conversation without the old question coming up:

What do you plan to study in college?

There are so many ways things can go wrong from there. You toss out that you're considering political science and your physician uncle asks what you plan to do with a poly sci degree -- "there's no money in it." You say that you might want to study art, and your well-meaning parents hesitate just a little too long before voicing their support for "whatever you choose to do." You mention that you're thinking about engineering and then the questions start flying: "do you know how competitive those programs are?"

Maybe you just don't know -- and as soon as you admit that to yourself, that nasty little voice inside your head starts telling you that your entire future is about to be decided in the coming months...and you're completely unprepared.

Does any of these sound familiar? Any way the situation plays out, it can feel like an awful lot of pressure.

Let me send some reassurance your way. What you ultimately choose to major in during college has relatively little correlation with the success you'll have in your future field of work. Here are a few things to remember:

The employers looking to hire you right out of college tend to place more weight on your hands-on work experience (see graphic below). Their thinking is that you completed your degree, which meant succeeding in a range of different courses. They can assume that you have the ability to learn and perform in an academic setting, so chances are that you'll be able to continue learning in a new environment. The big question is whether you can apply what you learn in real-life circumstances -- outside the classroom.

  The Role of Higher Education in Career Development  from the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012

The Role of Higher Education in Career Development from the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012

No matter what you designate as your major, with a liberal arts education, you'll still be exposed to a variety of different subject areas, and along the way, you'll develop skills that will help you succeed no matter what content you're focused on. That has to do not only with your experiences inside the classroom, but also your extracurricular activities and your socializing during college. Those transferrable skills are also highly sought after by employers filling their entry-level positions (see below).

  Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success , Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2015

Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success, Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2015

In fact, it can often be that exposure to other, seemingly less relevant subjects that can make workers such assets to their companies. The tech industry has made a strong case for seeking graduates with liberal arts degrees, and it's worth noting that a surprising number of doctors were actually English majors during their undergraduate years. 

In terms of salary, it's true that majors in the STEM fields tend to have a higher median salary directly after college graduation than most other majors, given their high degree of specialization. Once you project further into the future, however, things aren't so clear-cut. Studies show that there are clear benefits to completing an advanced degree in terms of earnings, for one. Also, don't forget about the risk to highly technical jobs: automation

Last thing: you have plenty of time to change your mind. Lots of people do, both during college and afterward, which reflects a broader trend in the number of different jobs more recent graduates hold after college. It requires a different type of preparation than perhaps your parents underwent years ago -- so take what your doctor uncle says with a grain of salt.

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How Juniors Can Demonstrate Interest to Colleges Now

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How Juniors Can Demonstrate Interest to Colleges Now

Picking up from where we left off in the last post, we are now entering the season in which high school juniors (soon-to-be seniors!) should begin to engage with the colleges at the top of their list.

Many colleges and universities -- particularly the small to mid-sized private schools -- keep track of how much each individual applicant has done to express their interest in attending. When the time comes to read through applications, often the very first page of a student's file is a log of the date, time, and form of each contact that student made in the months leading up to the deadline.

Remember that, while demonstrated interest takes a backseat to criteria such as GPA, difficulty level of classes, test scores, etc., it can tilt the scales between two otherwise evenly matched candidates. In other words, you want to be on your top colleges’ radar well before you actually apply.

First thing’s first: find out which of your favorite colleges look at applicants’ level of interest. To learn the most convenient way of determining whether a college tracks demonstrated interest, visit this CCP blog entry.

Then get to work! Here are the six ways I encourage my students to connect with colleges and make their interest known:

  1. Sign up for a tour & info session. When you’re touring or even taking a day trip out to a local campus, it often feels most convenient to drop in whenever you happen to arrive, entirely on your own schedule. RESIST THE TEMPTATION! The first thing colleges want to know is whether or not you visited and took the formal opportunity to learn about what they offer. When you know your visit dates, the first thing to do is book a tour, usually through the school’s website. Your registration will often go directly into your file, and you’ll even have the chance while you’re there to meet members of the admissions office in person. 
  2. Call the admissions office with questions. If you can’t make it to campus for a visit (which admissions counselors are very understanding of, if you live far away and the costs are too much), let them know. Use that call to ask the kinds of questions you would have otherwise asked in person. If you do visit and later find that you have follow-up questions or inquiries for particular departments or faculty members, call the admissions office anyway. If they don’t have the information you’re after, then they’ll usually be happy to connect you with the person who does.
  3. Connect with your regional representative. College websites now often have a directory that lists admissions counselors by the region that they represent. Do some online research and if you can’t find that direct contact, again, call the admissions office to request an introduction. Call or email your representative, let them know who you are and where you attend high school, let them know how you intend to apply in the fall (if you know you’re aiming for an early deadline, that’s important!), and, if you don’t have any more in-depth questions at that moment, ask how best to reach them if any further questions about the college or application come up.
  4. Join the e-newslist. Nearly every college has some sort of bulletin or newsletter that they send out periodically. Make sure your email address is in their database; it’s helpful to be in the know about what’s happening on campus, as well, for when you interview or have other direct conversations with college representatives.
  5. Follow on social media. As with the e-newslist, this is one of the easiest things for colleges to track and store in their contact log, and it’s often the best source of the most up-to-date information about the latest news.
  6. Request an interview. While the interview is considered an optional piece of the application process — more of an opportunity to get a better feel for your personality — taking the initiative is important for showing that you’re interested and serious about applying. Check out my breakdown of the different types of interview procedures, or these tips for preparing to learn more.

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What Your Top-Choice Colleges Want to Know About You...Right Now

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What Your Top-Choice Colleges Want to Know About You...Right Now

With National College Decision Day coming up, admissions offices across the country are holding their breaths, waiting to see what this year's yield will be.

If you're not familiar with "yield" in the context of college admissions, Wikipedia puts it well: "Yield in college admissions is the percent of students who choose to enroll in a particular college or university after having been offered admission."

On the other side of the admissions scene, students and families tend to obsess solely over acceptance rates. But issuing acceptances, denials, deferrals, and waitlist spots is only part of the equation; those choices come with a great deal of uncertainty for most colleges.

If too few students decide to attend, the college can find itself without the funds it needs to operate properly -- which is terrible for obvious reasons.

If, however, more students choose to enroll than there are actual spaces available, then it creates a different sort of nightmare scenario for the college. (The fiasco with UC Irvine's rescinding of hundreds of acceptances in July 2017 is a good example of that outcome.)

So, for all the students out there looking at this fall's application season, wondering what you can do to help your chances at your top-choice schools, I have a suggestion: start showing your interest now -- especially at colleges that consider the applicant's level of interest.

 "Demonstrated interest" has become a more prominent factor in colleges' admissions decisions over the past decade.

"Demonstrated interest" has become a more prominent factor in colleges' admissions decisions over the past decade.

 

How to determine whether a college considers "demonstrated interest":

  1. Visit CollegeDATA online.
  2. Enter your desired college into the search bar & click its name on the next screen to pull up its profile.
  3. Click on the "Admissions" tab.
  4. Scroll down until you see the "Selection of Students" grid. Look for the row called "Level of Applicant's Interest."
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That's it -- tune back into the next blog for a checklist of ways to start showing your interest to colleges now.

 

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Strange Times in California College Admissions

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Strange Times in California College Admissions

The Fall 2018 admissions decisions are in. While the Laura Ingraham - David Hogg controversy following Hogg's UC rejections may be taking up the national headlines, this year's results across California are baffling even veteran counselors.

"Had a student accepted to Stanford who was waitlisted at UC Davis. Huh."
"My student who was waitlisted at UC Davis and Cal Poly was accepted at UC Berkeley."
"And a student admitted to UC Berkeley who was waitlisted at Cal Poly SLO, Santa Clara and Pepperdine."
"Have a student admitted EA to Stanford, denied at UCSD."

These are some of the comments bouncing around the national listserve for college admissions counselors -- experts who have assisted students of every background, year after year, in determining the probability of successful college admissions outcomes. When they're caught off-balance, you know that major change is happening.

Why? It's all about the numbers.

Here's what to remember:

  • California probably hasn't seen peak numbers of freshman applicants yet. Acceptance rates will not be getting any more generous or predictable, so diversify your options.
  • Unless you have a top-notch academic record and you're considering UC campuses that still accept around 50% or more students (Santa Cruz, Riverside and/or Merced), no school in the UC system can be considered a "safety."
  • Start your responses to the UC Personal Insight questions early, and make sure you're loading them with all the information a reader can take in a 5-7 minute review.
  • If you're planning to apply to the Cal State University system, make sure you do your homework on which campuses and individual academic programs are impacted.
  • Include a range of out-of-state colleges among your applications. For Californians considering college cost, that might mean exploring the Western Undergraduate Exchange for options of universities in other states that offer tuition breaks that more closely resemble in-state rates.
  • Remember, too, that many mostly smaller liberal arts colleges offer merit aid as an incentive to attract out-of-state students -- consider opening your search to some lesser-known names that are known for their generosity.

 

 

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Tips for a Great College Visit: While You're There

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Tips for a Great College Visit: While You're There

Picking back up from our last blog entry...

Whether you'll be on a junior-year sampler tour or doing targeted senior-year test-drive visits to campuses that have invited you to attend, there are a few things to keep in mind for getting the most from your visit.

It's most about how you engage while you're there, and then how you evaluate and catalog your experience.  Three main things to remember:

Ask many, many questions, and speak to as many different people as you can.

  • If you can get a minute with a professor, a student passing by, or even someone working in the dining hall, you'll be able to get a very honest, unvarnished take on daily campus life.
  • It's not to say that admissions and tour guides AREN'T honest; it's just that they've been trained on a script to highlight certain (very positive) aspects of the college.
  • Speaking to others can provide a more balanced picture, so don't hesitate to ask about the things they wish would change.
     

Feel out the atmosphere on your own terms.

  • Get a bite to eat! Try out the on-campus dining options yourself, & while you're at it, do some people watching to see what students are like in their natural habitat.
  • Take your own walk on campus, imagining yourself among the students there passing from one class to another.
  • Check out the campus bulletin boards & take a glance at the school newspaper headlines—what's on students' minds?


Document your experience carefully and consistently.

  • Pictures & note-taking are great—if you have a parent with you, ask if they'd be willing to handle those tasks during the visit so that you can give it your undivided attention. (You'll write down your own impressions afterward.)
  • Make sure to ask a standard set of questions. I suggest at least 3 - 5 that you ask both on and off the official tour. (If you're wondering what kinds of questions, you might check out www.getreadyforcollege.org, the National Survey of Student Engagement, thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com for suggestions.)
  • Score your colleges -- in other words, force yourself to come up with a standard rating, even when you feel like you're comparing apples and oranges. I arm my students with a simple scorecard, which might work for you.


One last thing for juniors...
 

Connect with your regional representative at the college.

  • After the tour, ask if your geographic region's admissions counselor is on campus.
  • Even if that person is not there, say that you would like to introduce yourself, because you would like to open up a line of communication if questions come up as you're getting ready to apply.
  • Ask about the best way to contact that person in the future—email or phone or both.
  • If you have unanswered questions from the tour, ask away.
  • Once you're finished, thank that person for the time spent with you.

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Which Type of College Tour Is Right for You?

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Which Type of College Tour Is Right for You?

Spring break is right around the corner. For the upper classmen in high schools around the country, it's a prime opportunity to visit college campuses.

Juniors are just diving into college research, getting familiar with the options out there. Seniors are just hearing back from their regular-decision colleges. Both juniors and seniors can get a lot of benefit from visiting colleges -- but with very different mindsets.

It's why I like to encourage families to think of college visits in two different categories: "sampler" tours, and "test-drive" tours

“Sampler” Tours: These tours are for when you are still building an understanding of your options: learning what your college criteria really feel like in person.  Second semester of junior year is perfect timing for the sampler tour. They're part of casting a wide net; after you return home, you should have a much sharper sense of what you must have as well as what is a deal breaker when it comes to your college choices.

The following items are typically true of sampler tours: 

  • They take place before (or very early in) senior year.
  • They enable you to test out a lot of different options.
  • They span a variety of campuses (usually about 5 - 10).
  • They mix official tours/info sessions with “drive by” visits, & stops for fun.
  • They help you to experience the different variables in determining the right-fit college, such as student body size, campus locale, & institution type.

REMEMBER: knowing what you DON'T want is often just as valuable in the college-application process as knowing what you DO. The campuses you visit on these types of tours, therefore, do NOT need to be a perfect match, or all campuses that you already think you have your heart set on. Just get out there and check out the variety of choices you'll have!

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On the other hand, once you've reached second semester of senior year, it's time to make the final decision about where you'll spend the next four years, you might want to think about a test-drive tour.

“Test-Drive” Visits: These tours aim to immerse you more deeply in campuses' social and academic atmosphere in order to develop an up-close-and-personal sense of what life as a student will be.  This IS about narrowing down your options & focusing your ability to make the final decision.

You can think about test-drive tours in the following ways:

  • They take place after you’ve received college acceptances. 
  • They focus on a smaller range of schools (sometimes one at a time).
  • They happen after you’ve done all your investigation into a college's offerings and correspondence with your contact at each school.
  • They include overnight stays, sitting in on classes, meeting with professors.
  • They often lead to a gut feeling that this is the right school for you. 

 

The idea is to clarify your intention behind visits before you go.

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How to Choose Courses that Are Right for You

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How to Choose Courses that Are Right for You

Some of the most fulfilling meetings I have with students are less focused on college than on what's immediately ahead in high school. 

They're also a great opportunity for students to put a framework in place for an important set of choices in college: course selection.

In our meetings, the process of weighing students' choices of future classes happens in a fairly conversational way. But as I've thought back over those conversations, I've recognized that there are six important steps every high school student should cover:

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  1. Research the course progression pathways and graduation requirements at your school. If you look at the sample chart above, you can see that there are four fairly distinct tracks for four years of math at Santa Monica High School (tracks that are similar to those of most high schools). Here you're getting the birds' eye view so that you can determine where you want to wind up by the time you graduate. I find that it's much easier to stay on track with the work I'm doing during any given semester if I have a sense of where it's leading.
  2. Think about your interests. What types of classes do you typically like? What subject areas are you eager to explore? What topics grab your attention right away? Make sure you're taking the time to really listen to that voice in your head while still taking into account what will make you a strong college applicant. Where do you stand to benefit personally from a particular class? How will you start to develop the life skills that not only colleges but future employers will want to see?
  3. Get a sense of what colleges require and recommend. College prerequisites are usually not the same as high school graduation requirements. If your goal is to be competitive for the Ivy League or an Ivy-like school, remember that most successful applicants take a minimum of 8 - 10 AP courses over their high school career, depending on what's offered at their high school. That's a hefty load. One good resource for checking to make sure you're on target for your top colleges is CollegeDATA.com -- look up your college of interest and head to the "Admissions" tab.
  4. Do some class and teacher reconnaissance with friends who are older. It's always striking to me how many students tend to overlook this step, given the fact that it's usually the teachers who make or break their experience in current classes. Ask around! If there are multiple teachers running a single class, who will you fit with? What is their teaching style and philosophy like? Are they tough graders? Do they pile on the work? Do students tend to feel like it's worthwhile or more like it's a bunch of busywork? How many hours of work do they tend to assign each night or each week for homework? How much writing is there in class?
  5. Lay out your entire schedule and assess your commitments and capacity realistically. Once your options start to shape up, lay them out in one place, along with all of your other commitments outside of school. I recommend doing this in two formats: (1) on a calendar for the full school year + summer; and (2) on a weekly template. The full-year layout will show you clearly your seasons of overload and lightened pressure; the weekly template can give you a much more realistic picture of the hours you have in the week to commit.
  6. Strike up a good balance. For the students who have their sights set on the elite schools, this is a near-impossible task because the competition is so stiff, and because the system is essentially set up to weed out anyone who can't handle almost superhuman workloads. For everyone else, it's about challenging yourself to a degree that gets you outside of that comfort zone slightly, but still affords the opportunity to enjoy your high school years while actually learning a few things that feel interesting and relevant. This type of balancing act will be an ongoing challenge for you throughout life -- now is the time to start giving it the attention it's calling for! 

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How to Get Ready for Graduation...from College

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How to Get Ready for Graduation...from College

My Teen LAUNCH partner, Kristine, and I gave a presentation last night about the way in which the actions you take now can actually help prepare you for life after college graduation. 

Yep. For those of you still in high school, I'm talking about the year 2022 or later.

Let me be clear: I don't really expect you (or anyone, really) to be thinking with any regularity about the details of your life five or more years down the line. It's difficult enough to envision the end of the day tomorrow...let alone next next month...let alone years from now. 

Setting your guiding goals is an important step -- having some idea of what you'll want to have in place in the academic, professional, social, and personal realms of your life by the time you finish college. But on the day-to-day level, I've found that the most important tool for making my way in life and work is to have a solid framework for making decisions.

One place to start is by thinking about what principles or qualities you hold most dear in yourself and in others: your core values. Bearing in mind your top 3 - 5 values always helps to ground your decisions in your own inner truth -- which in turn will serve the bigger picture of your life.

Beyond that, however, it's important to remember that we're constantly exploring, and in the process of exploring, we're refining our understanding of our individual needs, preferences, and ideal circumstances. Especially in your teens and twenties, when you're that perspective can make any experience valuable for the sake of learning.

No matter what, keep up your involvement in your activities in and outside of the classroom. If there isn't one thing you love to do beyond everything else (which is the case for most of us), then keep adding your range and variety of experience.

Remember that it's just as valuable to know what elements of a team, activity, or work environment you DON'T enjoy as those that you do.

We'd suggest that, for the sake of clarity and momentum, each time you're making a choice about involving yourself in a new activity, you break the process down into four steps:

  1. Identify the interest that you want to pursue next: what's one thing that you have always wanted to try out (for example, learning how to compose music)? Or, in what field do you think your future professional path might lie (e.g., the medical field)? Try to articulate why these interests come to mind: what aspects of those interests specifically appeal to you?
  2. Assess the time & opportunities available: summer before senior year, for instance, is a prime opportunity to dive into a new interest. What other commitments are on your calendar? How many days of the week and hours of the day will you have to commit? Or perhaps you want to start now with a computer coding class at a local community college. What after-school or weekend time blocks can you spare?
  3. Take action: jump on the registration website, call the enrollment office for more information, put together your resume, fill out the application, etc. Be proactive and even if you're not 100% sure it's the perfect fit, the key is to try something that holds some excitement for you.
  4. Evaluate the experience: evaluation is all about finding the value in the experience—remember that learning what resonated for you as well as what you DIDN'T like are equally valuable.
         - What aspects of the experience did you enjoy?
         - What aspects would you like to avoid in the future?
         - How did the experience change your perspective on your original interest?
         - How might you explore your redefined interest in the future? 

 

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5 Things to Remember: What College Is All About

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5 Things to Remember: What College Is All About

Since it's the "off-season" for college applications, this is the time of year when families have the chance to be very reflective of what the college experience will stand for.

If you're sixteen or seventeen, it's really the first instance in your life when it's up to you to fill in the blanks about where you'll go and what you'll do next.

If you're headed to college, the nice thing is that you don't have to plan it down to the last detail. Your undergraduate years are set up to help you develop the tools you'll need to manage your adult life. And while getting a job that will enable you to support yourself after graduation is certainly important, it's not the only game in town.

The role that college plays in preparing you for the "real world" isn't exactly a matter of going from Point A to Point B, either.

For most students, college is a more complex, subtle, and often indirect means of getting ready to live a meaningful and fulfilling adult life. I've found that many students tend to find a new degree of confidence and relaxation when we discuss some of the benefits of a liberal arts education that aren't always obvious:

  1. You learn to follow your authentic interests.

    While you'll have some general education or "distribution" requirements, sometimes in subject areas you're not all that crazy about, you still get a range of different courses you can choose from to get those credits. Say you're not a math person but can take Statistics in Sports Management, or perhaps history isn't your thing but you can take Geometry from Euclid to the Modern Cityscape, learning to approach a subject from a preferred angle can make any experience more enjoyable. It's when you get to choose your electives and upper-level courses, however, that you discover what you're really all about -- and often that informs your career path in ways you never could have expected.
     
  2. You get much clearer about your "types" of people.

    The social aspect of college is really no less important than the academic. When you thoroughly research your college's culture and come to understand the values you share with your future classmates, that self-knowledge pays off for many years to come. (For me, encountering other Northwestern alumni in Los Angeles has become one of the greatest blessings my alma mater could have given me.) Not only do you have overlapping experiences that help you relate in conversation, but you start to understand more of the nuances of people and the kinds of relationships you're most likely to form (i.e., you know who'd make a close friend, a solid roommate, an effective collaborator in a business venture, etc.).
     
  3. You become more fluid among different fields of thinking.

    College is when you really dive deep into your coursework -- you learn about the distinctions among different schools of philosophy; the defining characteristics of a generation of writers; the various dialects of a parent language; or even the applications of multi-variable calculus in real-life scenarios. You acquire vocabularies and systemic understandings of the ways that people from various walks of life have made sense of the world around you. Which brings us to...
     
  4. You greatly improve your communication.

    With that range of exposure and new terminology, you begin to think in different ways. You practice building arguments. You are pushed to be razor sharp in the way you articulate your thoughts, both in speaking and in writing. Because you have had a better glimpse into the ways in which other people's minds work, you have an easier time finding the language you need to reach those minds. Those skills are the foundation for your ability to integrate yourself into every future organization or community you wish to become a contributing member of.
     
  5. You learn how to learn -- independently

    Perhaps the most important skill to acquire amid all the work, study, and exploration that you'll do during college is becoming a self-directed learner. Understanding how you can best find, process, and retain important information is only the start; more crucial than ever in the internet age is knowing where the most credible sources can be found, and how to verify and cross-reference your information. It's not just reading online articles or checking out books from the library; it's also connecting with mentors who can help guide and teach you along the way. Ultimately, what we're talking about is your ability to grow and make meaning out of your life -- for the rest of your life. 

 

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Juniors: Your Upward Trend Starts Now!

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Juniors: Your Upward Trend Starts Now!

Many high school juniors, as they starting off second semester, realize that it's time to start thinking about college application season in the fall.

However, the timing often feels a bit awkward: junior year, for most students, tends to be the most challenging time to this point in their high school career. There are the SATs and ACTs to juggle along with challenging courses like AP exams and extracurriculars.

I had a student a couple of years ago -- we'll call her Shayna -- who had a tough start to junior year. The difficulty of balancing study time for three AP courses alongside her responsibilities as co-captain of her soccer team was a lot to handle. When her first semester grade report came in with two C's, there was a lot of angst in the household.

I got to join her team that January of junior year, and my mantra for her was simple:

A strong finish is everything.

We talked through where she'd fallen short in classes like AP Euro and Calculus, and set in place some strategies for how she could better manage her time and improve the quality of her studying while still keeping on top of her game on the soccer field. She finished the year with just one B, and her team team made it to the semi-finals that March.

However, it didn't stop there. Shayna had a research position lined for the summer, but was very careful to arrange her schedule to have a couple of weeks after the school year ended to catch her breath. After an intense but rewarding several weeks in the lab, she had just enough time in August to dive into writing her personal essay for colleges, and set up a weekly college app task list for the fall. 

Fall semester of senior year was her best yet. Shayna finished with straight A's, submitted a handful of early applications for peace of mind, but waited until the regular decision deadlines for her top choices so that she could bring the full weight of her academic performance into play. (She also wanted to retake the ACT, which paid off with a 33!)

The result was that she got into three of her top four colleges, and ultimately went with the option that provided the most generous financial aid package. She's thriving in college, taking courses she loves, and, of course, still killing it on the club soccer field.

The point of the story: a strong finish is what really counts. And because this is the time that the challenge really presents itself on many fronts, it's also the time that yields the most opportunity for juniors.

What really makes you stand out to colleges? That you're ready and eager to rise the the challenge.

Just make sure that you stay on an upward trend from now through the fall.

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Happy Holidays!

Whew! It's been a busy application season.

I'll be taking a break from the CCP blog through the holiday season to recuperate, work through all the office-y tasks that have backlogged, and spend some time with family. 

Happy holidays to you and yours, and see you in 2018!

Nick

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Where Does the Path to College Begin?

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Where Does the Path to College Begin?

Once junior year rolls in, whether you're a parent or student, the buzz about college applications is often inescapable. You hear it everywhere you go, from other students, parents, friends, even teachers. So many people saying so many different things...it quickly starts to feel like this ever-present, anxiety-ridden static.

Some of it is for good reason. The landscape of college admissions is always changing, and there are a lot of mixed signals:

  • Colleges are receiving a greater volume of applications than ever — in part because individual students are applying to more colleges on average.
  • Average tuition at four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. has nearly doubled since 1990. However, average financial aid packages have also grown.
  • While acceptance rates at the top-ranked U.S. universities continue to drop, the national average acceptance rate is still about two thirds of all applicants.
  • Lastly, the total number of first-time freshmen enrolling in fall is on the decline. In other words, the pool is getting less crowded, although there are millions more in that pool than when most parents were headed to college.
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But what does it all mean? What should Class of 2019 families be doing now?

Two things:

  1. Start learning about the stages of the college application process. In one year, you will be neck-deep in your application work. Learning what happens when and how to approach each piece is the single best way to alleviate the general feeling of stress. If you're ready to dive in, my Teen LAUNCH colleague and I are offering a slate of free events to help you form a plan. (The next one will be November 18th, 2017.)
  2. Start taking stock of everything you have going on at this moment in time. Think about the trajectory you're on, the story that you're already telling through your classes, grades, and involvement in your activities. Think about how those items will be perceived by admissions readers; if there is anything you'd like to change, now is the time to set that in motion. If you'd like a handy self-assessment tool, check out this Teen LAUNCH blog for a free download (scroll to the bottom).

 

 

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3 Simple Steps to Start the Most Common (and Important) Supplements

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3 Simple Steps to Start the Most Common (and Important) Supplements

After the Personal Essay, the next big hurdle in the writing process for college applications are the supplements. As you've probably realized by now, there is one question that colleges tend to ask far more frequently than any other. 

There are many variations of this particular question, depending on the angle colleges want students to take in their response. Here are a few:

  • "How do you imagine yourself living and learning at Bard?"
  • "Why are you interested in Kenyon?"
  • "How did your interest in Oberlin develop and what aspects of our college community most excite you?"
  • "Which aspects of Tufts' curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short: 'Why Tufts?'"

As you can see in the last example, no matter how the prompt is worded, it all comes down to one central question:

Why us?

However, it's not all about the college. There are two sides to the equation, and so when I approach "why us?" supplements with students, I encourage them to think about it in three parts:

  • What is it that I am bringing to the table?
  • What does this college offer that will uniquely satisfy my goals and needs?
  • Why am I a perfect match for this particular community?

If you look at the question from each of these angles, you can see that they're asking you to make a clear, sharply reasoned case for why the fit is right. Your job is to show that the colleges was worth the time you invested researching its unique offerings and to sell them on why admitting you would lead to a win-win arrangement.

Here are the three key steps for writing these responses effectively:

  1. Lead with your big goals: what do you want to have accomplished for yourself by the time you graduate? I think about these in three main areas: academically/professionally, socially, and personally. 
  2. Match the college's specific features to the pursuit of your goals. What majors, minors, courses, facilities, study abroad programs, research opportunities, etc. would fulfill your needs throughout your four years?
  3. Provide concrete reasons for being drawn to the college's offerings. It's not enough to use as justification, "This would be an excellent field for me to enter," or, "This class is a very practical choice for future success." Go in depth: "I'm drawn to the Philosophy, Politics and Economics program because I wish to analyze economics while incorporating the moral and humanitarian views of philosophy and politics, while learning how economics affects the world. I feel this program would teach me to find solutions for economic tension without neglecting justice and human welfare."

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The Number One Way to Make Sure Your Personal Statement Stands Out

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The Number One Way to Make Sure Your Personal Statement Stands Out

Whether you're just starting to think about possible topics for what you'll write or you are neck-deep in writing your main college essay, here's something to think about.

Imagine you're an admissions reader.

It's the week after the final submission deadline, and your office has just received thousands of applications to review. It's time to divide and conquer. You have only a few weeks to read through everything, and, as a committee, decide who is accepted, denied, and put onto the waitlist.

In order to get through everything on time, you have a quota to meet every day until the deadline. You will need to make it through a minimum of 50 applications each day -- more if you want to have a day off here and there.

You block out a couple of hours to get started, and you sit down with a pile of applications, reading one after the other. It is a lot to keep straight: grades, GPAs, activities, schools...and then the personal essays:

They're a real mixed bag. Some of them are written like five-paragraph academic papers or are simply a rehash of student resumes. Bleh.

Others just seem to bleed together -- a hodge-podge of "eye-opening" travel stories, volunteer experiences that revealed "how fortunate I have been," game-winning goals, nerve-racking moments on stage, the death of a beloved grandparent or pet. Ugh. 

But then, every so often, all of a sudden, a student's piece seems to jump off the page. It's energizing. Refreshing. Striking. 

Why? Because, as the reader, I got to join the writer on a little journey. I learned something about that person -- something that feels essential to understanding who that person really is. It stuck with me. Now, I feel connected to that person. I'm invested.

But I have other applications to read, and by the time I get through my 50+ applications for the day, I am spent. My brain feels a little mushy, and it's tough to remember any applicant with absolute clarity. But there were a few people who still stick in my mind.

So it goes for admissions counselors at peak season. For the students who want to be the ones who stick in their readers' minds, however, you have one central question to address:

What is the ONE thing I want my reader to know about who I am?

In other words, what's your headline

I like to differentiate a headline from a topic. Identifying the topic is simple: it's the noun that a writing piece centers around. For example, I had students last year who came into coaching wanting to write about these topics:

  • my love of reading
  • discovering writing
  • keeping secrets

Topics in themselves are too simple, however, to communicate something essential about you. In order to determine the headline, we're asking for HOW a verb relates you to the topic. It's your topic in action -- in other words, your story as it centers around that topic.

Here's how the topics above evolved into these students' headlines:

  • how rejecting the literary canon helped me rekindle my love of reading
  • how discovering empathy for others through writing characters gives me a sense of place in the world
  • how examining the secrets I was keeping enabled me to be more honest with myself and others.

Your task: name the thing that your personal statement is about, and then create your own headline, a statement about HOW you grew in regard to that topic. It's the surest way to make sure that you stick in your reader's mind.
 

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How to Tackle the UC Personal Insight Questions (and Avoid the #1 Mistake Most People Make!)

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How to Tackle the UC Personal Insight Questions (and Avoid the #1 Mistake Most People Make!)

By now, if you are a senior, you've heard advice from every which way about how you're supposed to approach your college essays.

Your personal essay is supposed to showcase you: you personality, your interests, your experiences, the way that you see the world. You've probably heard again and again the cardinal rule of writing the personal statement:

SHOW -- DON'T TELL!

But when it comes to the University of California Personal Insight Questions, exactly the opposite is true

You must reverse your normal mantra: TELL -- DON'T SHOW.

Here's why: UC application readers are expressly forbidden to read between the lines when evaluating your applications. They are not allowed to connect any dots that you have not explicitly connected for them. They can assume nothing.

If you noted in your Activities section, for example, that you served as treasurer of your Habitat for Humanity, you'll need to spell out exactly what your responsibilities were, the scope of budget you were working with, how you raised funds, what you learned about your style of leadership through that role, and what desirable qualities you developed through the experience. 

In other words, leave nothing to the imagination of your application readers.

Spell each and every single detail out -- that's what the PIQs are for. As you choose four out of the eight questions and start your responses, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Use the handy UC brainstorming PDF. This worksheet adds clarifying questions and breaks each PIQ down into smaller, more manageable steps for students just getting started.
  2. Look out for overlap. Some of the questions tend to elicit similar responses; for example, PIQs #2 and #3 ask, respectively, about how you express your creativity and what your greatest skill or talent is. Especially for the artistic types, expressing themselves through a creative medium IS their greatest skill. Don't waste an opportunity to add new details to your application!
  3. Familiarize yourself with the 14 factors of the UC application review. If you're reading through this list and see something that applies to your experiences that you haven't had the chance to fully explain in the application, look for a PIQ that will allow you to lay out the details.
  4. Make your responses concrete. Use plenty of "I" statements, making sure to relate the information explicitly back to your actions and experience.
  5. Fill in the gaps left between your activities. If you look back over the activities section and see an entry that could use more detail, ask yourself whether you can work it into your PIQ responses.
  6. Remember that your goals is to add three things to the record: clarity, depth, and context. Use those factors as a critical lens for when you are polishing your responses to ensure that you never waste an opportunity to make yourself stand out!

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The Secret to Success on Supplements

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The Secret to Success on Supplements

In the last blog post, we looked at the Home Stretch tool, and how a week-by-week game plan for college applications can make fall of senior year far more manageable.

Since so much of the application work during the fall is writing responses to colleges' supplemental prompts, I want to share some tips on organizing your approach. 

There are two central objectives: maximizing efficiency and creating a sense of momentum.

FIRST: Compile all of your prompts in one place

That way, you can be strategic in planning your responses. Look to see where the themes align. Many of the talking points you use to describe your goals and needs for college in the Why Us? questions should be the same, no matter what school you're writing for.

If you are, say, writing Babson's "How do you define yourself and what is it about Babson that excites you?" and also need to write Syracuse's "Who is the person you dream of becoming and how do you believe Syracuse University can help you achieve this?", recognize that both are about your identity. While you'll need to address the bits about each particular institution separately, there is plenty of overlap in the way that you examine yourself across the past, present, and future.

THEN: Break it all down.

Return to your week-by-week Home Stretch plan for the fall, and, working backward from your intended submission dates, plan out your writing process in several phases.

I suggest breaking each piece into these six steps:

  1. Research/Brainstorm: you are not yet writing! Take the pressure off by first jotting down ideas, notes, or URLs that contain information you'll reference when you write your piece.
  2. Crank out a first draft: apologies for being crude, but glance over your ideas and barf out a piece from start to finish. Then walk away. Seriously. It's SO much easier to sit down and fill a blank screen when you have zero expectations for the initial quality of the writing.
  3. Edit it: in a separate sitting, return to embarrassment that was your rough draft, and turn it into something presentable. Add the information you left out in your first pass, and make sure that the piece is something that you don't mind sharing (too much). (NOTE: if I haven't been clear enough, it is vital that you keep steps #2 and #3 separate! Editing is much easier if you have something to work with first.)
  4. Get feedback: give your piece to someone whose perspective you value, who'll give you honest and insightful feedback. Make sure that person has expressed the willingness to help (obviously), and include the prompt with your response. Never give the same version of one piece to more than one reader at one time! I'd recommend allowing at least one full week for your reader to get back to you, unless you have a different sort of arrangement in place.
  5. Revise it: using the feedback you've been given, go back through and make the changes that will improve the strength of your response. (Be prepared to repeat steps #4 and #5 multiple times for the longer or more complex supplements.)
  6. Polish, copy, paste & SUBMIT! Triple check to make sure your piece is error-free. Don't count on spell check to ensure that you have the names of colleges correct!

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The Home Stretch: How to Power Through Fall Applications

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The Home Stretch: How to Power Through Fall Applications

School is starting back up. If it's the start of your senior year, you still have a few months to take care of your applications, right? 

But have you thought about how many weeks you have to apply?

Let me throw a few numbers at you:

  • Most early applications (both Early Decision and Early Action) have submission deadlines of November 1st. That's only about eight weeks after Labor Day.
  • For those applying to California schools, the UCs and CSUs have a submission deadline of November 30th. That's about thirteen weeks after Labor Day.
  • Then, many students' regular decision deadlines fall on January 1st. That's about seventeen weeks after Labor Day.

Thinking in terms of weeks really helps to put things into perspective, right? You just never have quite as long as you might think you do. 

But here is how you can use this perspective to your advantage: map out a week-by-week schedule of all deadlines and application tasks on your to-do list through the rest of the fall.

It's a tool I refer to as the Home Stretch.

Here's a glimpse at one student's Home Stretch as he starts to flesh it out:

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Here are the steps to start your personal Home Stretch timeline:

  1. Open up a blank document and make a list of every week from now through next January (or later, if you have deadlines that fall past that window). Label each with the first or last day of the week, whatever you prefer.

  2. Add all major exams, travel, shows, other commitments that you know of this fall. (Keeping your personal calendar and any of your classes syllabi on hand makes this part much easier.)

  3. Add all of your colleges' application deadlines.

  4. Choose a date by which you intend to finish ALL of your application work.

  5. Choose your intended submission date for each college application — make sure it's at least 3 - 7 days before the actual deadline in case anything is missing.

  6. Make a to-do list at the very top of all the supplements and word counts. Make sure to include items from the Summer College Checklist if you have not already completed them.

From there, you'll want to work backward, breaking each task into the smallest, most manageable pieces possible, and spreading those sub-tasks across the weeks. 

Not sure how to break down the writing supplements? Be sure to check out the next CCP blog — we'll get into the five phases of writing so that you can stay on top of everything this fall!

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What and How to Prepare for College Interviews

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What and How to Prepare for College Interviews

Interviews. Just the mention of the word often unleashes student anxiety.

In July, I ran a number of mock interviews with students who really wanted to be on top of their game when going to visit campuses and meet admissions officials. 

At first, my student Sam was confused. "My friend did her college interviews with people who graduated from the colleges -- and they met at Starbucks."

"Yeah," I explained. "They do those, too."

"So we have to interview multiple times with the colleges?"

I explained that we were using the term "interview" fairly broadly. There are a lot of different opportunities to connect in person with representatives from colleges; some of those are informal conversations, and others are formal sit-downs. Taking a few minutes to introduce yourself to an admissions counselor is usually a fairly relaxed experience. 

But it doesn't mean that those exchanges matter any less. You want to have your thoughts together. You want to be articulate, engaging. You want to be ready to show your true colors, to present yourself in a polished way, and to highlight the experiences and attributes that will make you a welcomed member of any campus community.

All it takes is some forethought and a little practice. Here's how.

Prepare the key points that you want to share by brainstorming your answers to the questions below. Then give the list of questions to a friend. Have that person ask questions at random and then follow them up with their own clarifying questions. 

Use specific examples to support your answers, and remember that when you're headed to speak with an actual college representative, carefully review your research to demonstrate that you've done your homework on that particular school. (In other words, make sure you have a detailed answer for "Why us?")

  1. Where do you think your academic strengths lie?
  2. What did you do this past summer?
  3. What do you hope to do after graduation?
  4. What is your biggest weakness?
  5. What would you do if you had a free day?
  6. If you could change one thing about your high school, what would it be?
  7. What do you do for fun?
  8. What books have had a significant impact on you? What have you read recently?
  9. What individual (dead or alive, historical or fictional) has had the most influence on you and why?
  10. How do you define success? What needs to happen for you to feel successful?
  11. How do you respond to failure or rejection?
  12. What do you hope to get out of your college experience?
     

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Should I Do College Interviews?

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Should I Do College Interviews?

"The colleges I'm applying to say that interviewing is optional. 1.) How important is the interview in admissions decisions? 2.) Should I do it?"

As far as I'm concerned, the short answers are 1.) an interview can certainly tip the scales in competitive admissions, and 2.) YES -- if you're willing to put some work into preparing.

Let me back up.

The most compelling reason, to my mind, to take advantage of interview opportunities in undergraduate admissions is that you will be required to interview for nearly every other education- or career-related opportunity for the rest of your life. 

In other words, get used to it, get comfortable with it, and, most importantly, get good at it.

I believe that colleges would generally require interviews if it were (a) fair to students (which it's not, given families' varying backgrounds, resources, and geographic locations), and (b) easily manageable for admissions offices (which it's also not, given the amount of time and effort that already goes into evaluating each application).

Why would they require interviews?

Because there is no substitute for getting an in-person feel for an applicant. 

Demeanor, eye contact, tone of voice, sense of humor, thought process, spontaneity, even how interviewees choose to present themselves in terms of dress, handshake, and preparedness with questions -- these things just can't be conveyed fully on paper.

So what should I be doing right now? 

Two things: research your colleges' individual policies on interviewing so you don't miss your window, and then practice your responses with someone you trust.

The easiest way to find your colleges' interview policies is to google "[COLLEGE NAME] undergraduate admissions interview."

There are generally 4 types of interview policies:

  1. Interview on campus in the months leading up to application season. Those who can't travel to campus usually have the option to interview in their local area through the college's alumni association. If you're applying early, the cutoff for these interviews is often November 1st. DON'T wait until you submit your application before requesting an interview! Check out Barnard's or Yale's policy as an example.
  2. Interview once you've applied or during your application. Check out the University of Chicago's and Northwestern's policies as examples. 
  3. Interviews by the college's request only. These also take place after your application has been submitted, except the college selects whom it will interview and initiates the process. Check out Tulane's policy as an example.
  4. No interviews offered / informal interviews only. Amherst's and Pomona's policies are good examples. 

Stay tuned for the next blog's tips on what and how to prepare for interviews.

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Put a Face with Your Name Before You Apply to College

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Put a Face with Your Name Before You Apply to College

Imagine that you are part of a committee in charge of putting together a team for a science competition.

The participants are from all across the country, and you haven't had the chance to meet any team members in person, but they have submitted all of their credentials to you for consideration. You have a record of their past activities, their transcripts, their resumes, and a couple of recommendations from their teachers (whom you've also never met). 

Say that you have one last spot on the team and that you have two excellent candidates to discuss with your committee. On paper, the candidates have similar qualifications. They have taken many of the same classes, they have similar grades, and the cover letters that they've included with their applications make both seem intelligent and friendly.

But then one of them contacts you to see if you have a few minutes to chat.

Because you don't live in the same city, you set up a conversation over Skype. Over the course of fifteen minutes, you ask a couple of questions about the AP Physics course she took last year and the internship she's doing this summer. She asks questions about the competition and what you're looking for in the team members. You even wind up on a quick sidebar about the Netflix show you're both watching.

The next day, you meet with your committee. When it's your turn to present your candidates, which one will you make a more persuasive case for?

A little connection can go a long way.

College admissions counselors want to know their applicants so that they can make the most informed decisions possible about how well they will fit in.

Every little bit can help. If your admissions counselor knows you on a more personal level, they can use that connection to make a stronger case before the committee.

Here are five tips for making a more personal connection with your admissions officials:

  1. Reach out yourself. If you know you'll be applying to a certain college in the fall, jump on the school's website and look up the contact information for their admissions office. Many websites will explicitly tell you which official represents your city or region. If not, call the admissions office general line and ask to speak to that person. CAUTION: DON'T leave this step to Mom and/or Dad!
  2. Show up in person. Most admissions counselors either live in or travel to the regions they represent each fall. Find out if they'll be coming to your high school for an information session. If not, are they doing any other local events, like a college fair? After their presentation, make sure to walk up and introduce yourself. Which brings me to tip #3...
  3. Practice your introduction. Aside from your name and high school, what are one or two things you want your admissions counselor to remember about you? Are you interested in cognitive science? Are you a committed tuba player? Will you be applying to their college early decision? Make sure that your talking points roll off the tongue -- it usually takes some repetition, so practice at home with a friend or parent.
  4. Ask great questions. If you're reaching out to the admissions office for the first time, perhaps you'd like to know if your possible field of study is in high demand and therefore has tougher admissions standards. Maybe you'd like to know how many people are in the program or if you might have a conversation with a faculty member from that department. Maybe you'd just like to introduce yourself to your admissions rep, let them know you'll be applying in the fall, and ask if it would be okay to contact them directly if any questions about the application process come up. IMPORTANT: DON'T ask questions that can be easily answered with a Google search or glance at their website.
  5. Remember that they want to know and help you. Don't be shy. It is perfectly okay to express your interest in a college directly or even to say that you simply wanted to put a face with your name. It's not cheating or gaming the system; it's about showing professionalism and an understanding of how this system works. That said, be mindful of the fact that college reps have very busy schedules, be concise, and make sure to show your gratitude for their generosity with a thank-you note.

 

 

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