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April 23, 2014

5 Reasons Not to be Discouraged by a Low SAT Score

Every time SAT scores are sent out, I hear from many of you. Many of you will do great (congrats in advance!), but others might not do so great (congrats on having a few more months of SAT fun!).

Enough doom and gloom, right? You want to hear the good news. Here are 5 reasons that a low SAT score on can actually be a good thing.

Reason #1: You have at least a few months to study for an SAT retake.
The SAT's given several times each year: October, November, December, January, March, May and June. You'll have plenty of time to prepare, especially since you're already familiar with the exam.

Reason #2: You can still be the early bird when you submit your college application.
You can study hard and take the SAT in June or in the fall. You'll still be able to submit your application on the day colleges begin accepting them. Applying early to college gives you a better shot because more seats are available.

Reason #3: You have more time to plan your applications and future.
Being forced to retake the SAT in June or in the fall means that you'll have at least another few months to master the exam. You can still work on your personal statement, get recommendation letters, and cultivate relationships with alumni who can help you.

Reason #4: An addendum might help.
If your PSAT score (or high school entrance exam score) wasn't an accurate indicator of your high school GPA, you can submit an addendum explaining that the SAT may not accurately reflect your potential in college either.

Reason #5: I'll be there with you every step of the way.
As you study for your retake, you'll have several months of Get Into College Blog posts to read, memorize, and share with your friends. All 100% free!

April 18, 2014

College Admissions | Who Is Reading Your Application?

So far, I've spent a great deal of time discussing your college application.

However, it's also important to look at the other side of the equation. Let's take some time to think about who reviews your application.

The biggest thing to remember is that the people reading your application are real people. So what do you need to keep in mind while filling out your application?

1. The people reading your application are short on time. This means you need to be as succinct as possible. Whatever they ask, give them exactly that and nothing more. The more you elaborate, the more you'll bore them. Trust me, they've seen it all before. Don’t try to sound smart by using big words. They might not know the meaning of the word you found in your thesaurus, and they're not going to take the time to look it up. They'll just skip it and move on. This especially applies to your essay. I know it sounds basic, but stick to the word count. A long essay might seem impressive in theory, but when the reviewer has a stack of 200 to read, it's only going to annoy him or her.

2. The person reading your application is overworked, so don’t be obscure in your language or your structure just to seem unique. Most schools use a simple rubric where a certain GPA will give you a certain number of points, your SAT is worth another, your extracurricular activities another, and so on. If this total number exceeds their requirement, they’ll send you a letter of acceptance. That means everything you've done for the past 4 years will be combined into a single number. The easier you make it for your reviewer to calculate this number, the better your chances of acceptance. Don’t force him or her to think about the number to assign. Make the admissions officer's job easy, and they'll be more likely to reward you.

3. There's a certain degree of randomness involved in college admissions. Since these applications are read by a human, not a machine, there's always some arbitrariness involved in the decision. Maybe the reviewer has a cold or is just having a bad day. Unfortunately, these small things impact the final decision. The flip side, of course, is that maybe he or she got some good news and is feeling especially generous. The point is, the decision may be unfair in your favor or not in your favor. Don't put all your eggs in one basket by only applying to one school. The only way counteract this randomness is to apply to many schools.

In short, remember to keep in mind that the person reading your application is a real person. Keep things simple, to the point, and obvious. Follow all directions carefully. Don’t do more than you are asked. Remember that there's a certain degree of randomness, so apply to several schools.

April 10, 2014

5 Reasons to Enjoy the College Admissions Process

1. You have the chance to set yourself apart from your peers.

Every college application is unique, which is why college admissions officers enjoy the work that they do. After four years of trying to fit in at high school, you now have the opportunity to express what makes you unique. What interests have you discovered over the past few years? What are you passionate about? What makes you tick? Regardless of the creatively worded questions on your application, this is what admissions officers want to know. You may not have had a choice of what high school to attend, or even which classes to take, but now you can examine -- and show -- what's special about you and why a particular college is the right fit.


2. You get to put your best foot forward, in whatever way works for you.

Maybe you didn't score a 2400 on the SATs, or get straight A's, or make the cheerleading squad -- and that's okay. The college application is a package with many components, and it's up to you to present yourself in the best light even if your record isn't 100% perfect. You can emphasize your strengths and not worry about finding excuses for your weaknesses. Perhaps you didn't do so well in chemistry, but you wrote some outstanding short stories and poetry for your English class that your teacher loved. The English teacher may be a good person to ask for a recommendation letter. Besides the one grade on your transcript, admissions officers never have to know what the chemistry teacher thought of your abilities.


3. You learn so much about yourself in the process.

Thinking about how to present yourself in the best light is a great way to start examining not only what you do well but what you love doing. Many students start to decide on careers around this time (no pressure!). As you think about how to convince admissions officers that you're the right fit for their school, you're forced to think about the settings in which you thrive and the type of people you enjoy being around. What motivates you, and what do you hope to accomplish in college and beyond?


4. People want to help you.

Getting into the college of your dreams in a big deal, and there are probably a lot of people in your life who want to play some role in making that happen. Admissions officers at the schools to which your applying, your guidance counselor, professional college counselors, friends, and family members are all great people to talk to as you start thinking about college applications. Seeking advice from those who have been through the process will help you to do your best.


5. There's a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Soon enough, you'll be moving into your new dorm room, eating dinner in the dining hall, hanging out on the quad...and, yes, going to class and spending time in the library. College can be the best four years of your life. All of your hard work now will pay off.

April 4, 2014

Private vs. Public College Selection and Graduate School

One the biggest issues students face with when applying to colleges is their cost. Rising tuition is one of the most significant costs a student or their parent will face in his or her lifetime. So, along with academic concerns, all applicants must go through a difficult cost/benefit analysis when evaluating which colleges to consider and eventually attend.

Simplifying this process is a simple concept known as Return on Investment (ROI). Your college education is an investment. You pay a cost now for a higher return in the future. Your objective is to maximize this return. For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus only on the monetary costs.

I know it's early, but as you look at colleges, try to think a great deal about whether graduate school is in your future. If you know whether you're likely or unlikely to attend graduate school, this may impact your cost/benefit analysis when it comes to choosing between a public school or a private one.

If you're fairly certain that graduate school is in your future, a private education may not be worth the significantly higher cost. Keep in mind that over the course of your career, the graduate school one attends will be more important than their undergraduate institution. If you plan on attending graduate school, it may be wise to pursue a cheaper undergraduate degree.

Of course, no advice will apply to every applicant, so be sure to evaluate your financial situation when deciding whether a private education is worthwhile.

If you're fairly certain that graduate school is not in your future, the reputation of your undergraduate institution will matter much more.

While considering these costs, I encourage you to keep in mind this concept of Return on Investment. A brand name (think Harvard) is probably worth the money if you can afford it. However, it's possible that a less prestigious private school may be better substituted by a well-known, yet far more affordable, public school. This is especially the case if you can maintain a high GPA and use that to gain acceptance into a prestigious graduate program.

March 28, 2014

5 Ways to Win the Hearts of College Admissions Deans

Sometimes it can feel like the college admissions deans are the popular kids everyone wants to date. Here are 5 strategies to help you win the affections of your favorite admissions dean.

1. Get a well-regarded alumnus to send a letter on your behalf.
It's like having their closest friends vouch for you.

2. Apply on the day the college begins taking applications.
Be the first one to ask them to the prom and beat the competition.

3. Win the hearts of teachers and employers to get killer rec letters.
It'll make them jealous and wonder what their college is missing.

4. If they "play hard to get" and waitlist you, be persistent (but don't overdo it).
Otherwise, you're just being creepy.

5. Donate several million dollars to the college.
When all else fails, showering them with money can do the trick.

March 21, 2014

10 Tips To Prepare For College Interviews

Many students tell me that the interview is the most nerve-racking part of the admissions process. No longer are you hidden behind a computer screen or manila envelope; it's just you and the interviewer. You don't even get to bring 3x5 note cards!

With proper preparation, you can ace the interview and leave an impression that can make the difference between a thin envelope and that glossy folder delivered by the FedEx truck. Here are 10 tips to reduce your anxiety and help you shine:

1. Practice, practice, practice.

You may have plenty of interview experience if you've applied for many summer jobs or internships, or this may be your first time in the interview chair. Either way, you will come across as more confident and articulate if you've practiced beforehand. Let a friend, sibling, or parent be your interviewer and grill you with their toughest questions. You'll thank them later.


2. Brainstorm possible questions you may be asked.

Of course there may be some unexpected questions, but much of what the interviewer asks you shouldn't be a surprise. Think up some possible questions and you'll be comfortable and prepared when they come up.


3. Think about ways to answer those questions.

Write your answers out as if they were like any other part of the application. Edit your answers, think them over, and rewrite.


4. Don't try to memorize the answers from #3.

You don't want to sound like a tape recording. It's okay to pause and think before answering a question, and you will sound more natural than if you're repeating back a speech you prepared and memorized.


5. Make sure you're familiar with the school.

In most cases, the interviewer will be a proud alumnus of the school who volunteers his time as a service to his alma mater. He wants to help the school by playing a role in selecting the best applicants, but he also wants to help you get in if you can convince him that the college he loves so much is the perfect fit for your aspirations. Learn as much as you can about the college and talk about how excited you are to experience particular things that make the school special.


6. Prepare questions to ask the interviewer.

You don't want to sit there silently when the interviewer asks if you have any questions for him. Prepare 2-3 things that you'd like to know, and make sure they're not straight-out facts listed on the front page of the college's website. Also, don't ask something that's not particularly important or relevant to your college experience (i.e. "How many books are in the college's library?"). The best questions to ask are ones that involve the interviewer's own experience at the college. Since he's a proud alumnus, he'll enjoy telling you what he loved most about his experience there. Turn things around and let him try to sell *you* on the school!


7. Practice that firm handshake.

It shows confidence, maturity, and professionalism.


8. Take a deep breath.

You've made it through the hardest parts of the application process already. Your GPA, test scores, teacher recommendations, and essays are all done. Along the way, you've been involved in extracurricular activities, maybe had some summer jobs or internships, and you've learned a lot about yourself and about the world along the way. All you have to do now is tell the interviewer things you already know and about which you've already written. If you can be relaxed, that's great, but also know that they're used to nervous students. If that's you, you won't be alone.


9. Just be yourself.

In most cases, the interviewer writes a few paragraphs to the admissions committee sharing his thoughts about you. He doesn't usually make any actual decision as to whether or not you'll be accepted. Don't worry about trying to prove anything or explaining deficits in your application. Instead, let the interviewer get to know you. Share experiences and accomplishments that you're really proud of. Talk about your future plans and goals. Let your excitement be contagious.


10. Smile.

Someone who knows your dream school very well is taking the time to speak with you and learn about your best qualities. They love meeting students and getting to know them. Enjoy the experience!

March 14, 2014

Volunteering and the College Admissions Process

Believe it or not, you don't need to volunteer to get into college. You can show your individuality by starting your own business.

I would be surprised if you weren’t immediately skeptical. Allow me to explain. There are a number of reasons why starting your own business is an excellent sign of leadership and actually much simpler than it appears. Here are 3 reasons you should undertake this seemingly daunting task.

1. Volunteering is getting old.

In the past years, it has entered the public consciousness that the best way to demonstrate impressive extra-curricular activities is to volunteer. To be sure, this is definitely an excellent accomplishment and looks great on your application. Let’s take a closer look, though. Your alleged goal when volunteering is to “help people.” Altruistic goals such as this are sure to impress application reviewers. However, these reviewers are people just like you and I. Reviewers have realized that most high school students' main reason for volunteering is to get accepted to the college of your dreams. They've caught on to this fact in their observation of the steady rise in the number of altruists among teenagers. The bottom line: volunteering doesn’t make you stand out nearly as much as it used to. Starting your own business, on the other hand, immediate shows your hard-working nature and your leadership ability, both incredibly valuable and impressive traits.


2. Starting a business isn’t nearly as difficult as you think.

Today’s generation of applicants lives in a very different environment than that of their parents. In the past, starting a business meant something along the lines of opening a hardware store. This involved securing a large loan, leasing space, purchasing and stocking inventory, hiring employees, etc. Compare this to today. In this age of the internet, the steps are as follows: 1) Come up with an idea/niche; 2) Create your website. Whether your product is a good or a service, all you need is a website. You can use this site to sell t-shirts that you've designed and printed, report local news, or import and resell cheap plastic toys from China.


3. What if your business fails?

This is a large concern for nearly all small business owners. The answer is, so what? Remember, starting a small Internet-based business requires an investment of nothing but time. Your goal is to signal leadership to admission committees, not to become the next Donald Trump. Whether your business succeeds or fails, you'll have achieved your true goal. Furthermore, it becomes an excellent topic for an application essay.

Think about these tips. In today’s world, there is no reason not to give this a shot. Standing out means being unique. There is almost no risk involved, and it is a far superior time commitment than volunteer work or the debate team. Let me know how it goes!