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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!

March 7, 2014

College Recommendation Letters Advice

The letters of recommendation are one of the most important parts of your college application. Besides the college essay, it is the main window into the intangibles of who you are as a person in and out of the classroom.

It can seem like you have little control over how these letters turn out. After all, you can’t write them yourself (unless you have an exceptionally lazy/generous teacher.) Nevertheless, you do have more control over the quality of these letters than it might seem.

Choosing the right recommenders can make the difference between lackluster letters that don’t make an impression and convincing letters that make an impact. Here are the two most important things to consider (that most students overlook!) when choosing the people to write their letters of recommendation.

1. How much effort will the recommender put in?

Many students just choose teachers based on who gives the easiest grades, but this is often not the best choice. Admissions officers will get your transcript, and (for better or worse!) will read it quite carefully. The role of the letters of recommendation is not to reveal your objective ability as a student, but to give clues into your character, work ethic, integrity, and all those other qualities admissions officers love.

A short, vague letter from a teacher whose class you got a 101% in is a lot less helpful than a long, detailed letter detailing your personal strengths from a teacher whose class you had more trouble with. So, ask yourself: what type of letter would Recommender X write, for any student? Unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure. You can’t ask recommenders to audition. Still, there are important clues.

Is the potential recommender a senile, grumpy old fart? Do they race out of class at the sound of the bell before the students do? Do they read out boring lectures in monotone taken directly from the textbook (or Wikipedia)? If so, don’t even think about asking them. It doesn’t matter if you were the #1 student in their class. They will most likely put the same level of effort and enthusiasm into writing your letter as they do into their other teacher duties.

On the other hand, if the potential recommender gives vibrant, thought-out presentations in the classroom, has students over for dinner, and is the faculty advisor for a billion clubs, they are likely to write a good letter. A recommender who loves, and puts a lot of effort into, teaching and students, will also do so in your letter.

2. How is your relationship with the recommender?

Admissions officers can sniff out a phony letter from a recommender who didn’t really know you all that well pretty easily. They see these letters all the time. A letter from a recommender that thinks you are a good student and likes you—enough—just won’t be enough.

Try to think of the teachers/advisers with whom you had the most contact and the best relationships. Maybe it’s the faculty adviser of the newspaper of which you were editor, or that science teacher you went to extra-credit lectures with, or just someone whose class you participated in a lot. The more personal contact you had, the more specific and believable the recommendation letter will be.

Also, since you can send several letters of recommendation, think about what each recommender can uniquely contribute in showing the overall picture of you. Ask your lacrosse coach, who can talk about your teamwork and sense of humor. Then ask that math teacher who saw how you struggled with derivatives, but worked hard to finally conquer them. Ask the English teacher/lit mag adviser, who can talk about your creative side. Choosing the right recommenders can show admissions officers the strengths not shown in the other parts of the application, and make a big difference. Choose carefully!

February 28, 2014

College Interview | Tips to Prepare for Questions They Ask

or “Tell Me About Yourself…”: Dos and Don’ts for Answering that Inevitable First Question

They say that first impressions are everything. Perhaps, then, it's good that you can prepare well for that first question of the college interview because it's almost always the same one: “Tell me about yourself.”

This question may seem like a no-brainer---obviously, you know yourself pretty well. Still, you should give some thought now to what you'll say, because your answer will set the tone of the interview and determines the first impression you'll leave. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you prepare to answer this question, and examples of good and bad responses to use as guidelines.

DO be confident. I know talking about yourself can be hard, and you might worry about seeming boastful. However, the truth is that interviewers like people who are comfortable with themselves and proud of their accomplishments. So, please, be confident, or at least fake it! Practice talking about yourself in a self-assured voice and channel that pretentious guy in your chem class. While these cocky people may not make any friends in the lunchroom, the sad truth is they are the ones who do best in interviews!

DON’T be too brief or vague. Just stating your year in high school and where you are from will not intrigue anyone. You want to captivate the interviewer’s interest, and make him/her fascinated by you. If you give details that the interviewer can ask follow-up questions about, it makes their job easier, and they will like you better for that! So, don’t be afraid to be specific.

DO give a hook. Your answer to this question should be like a teaser, making the interviewer want to know more about you. Talk about what makes you tick and be sure to include one or two of your main passions. Paint a picture for the interviewer. Make him or her feel like he already knows you, and make him want to get to know you better.

DON’T recite your resume. Yes, I said to give specifics, but this does not mean reciting your resume! If you do this, you're wasting your interviewer’s time—they have the resume in front of them, and they do know how to read. Worse, it will bore your interviewer. Instead, focus on a couple main passions, with specific details about those. Questions about the rest of your resume will come, don’t worry.

Now, for the examples of what not to do:

Bad response #1: “Um, I’m a senior at Springfield High.”

This makes you seem shy and uninteresting, and gives the interviewer nothing to work with.

Bad response #2: “I am a senior at Springfield High, on the volleyball team, in the Eastern dance troupe, a volunteer at the soup kitchen, on the yearbook committee and am Vice President of Students for Economic Justice. I have a 3.72 GPA and a 2160 on the SATs. I am in the top 10% of my class.”

This is boring, and despite all the activities listed, makes the speaker seem like a drone. Focus more on your passions, and who you are. Don’t present yourself as a bunch of stats, and don’t mention your SATs or GPA unless asked!

Good response: “I was born in Egypt, but grew up in Springfield, and am currently a senior at Springfield High. I spent every summer since I was two in Egypt. These experiences have made me obsessed with ancient history and archeology, and I hope to double major in anthropology and history in college. I loved my summers, but one consequence of them was I saw the depths of global poverty. During the year, I have spent a lot of time addressing poverty right here in Springfield, through volunteering at a soup kitchen and being Vice President of Students for Economic Justice. I have also gotten into Egyptian dance, and have performed with a belly dancing troupe at the Springfield theatre!”

This response gives insight into what makes the interviewee tick, and it gives specifics the interviewer can work with, without boringly reciting the resume. The interviewee seems self-assured and confident. They will probably wow their interviewer, as will you after you apply what you’ve learned here in the interview!