Oct 31, 2012

An Update on some Very Scary Application Mistakes

Based on what students and counselors are saying, it’s going to be another record-breaking year for early applications. And if you’re one of many thousands of high school seniors still trying to beat a Day of the Dead (November 1) early deadline, Halloween might really seem a little scary at this point.
But before you start trying to make up for lost time by dashing out applications, remember that errors due to carelessness or misunderstanding can be costly.

Thanks to some insider information from the makers of electronic applications, here is a list of common mistakes made by applicants trying to hurry the process:

1. Not reading instructions. Before starting any application, take the time to read instructions or view instructional videos. Consider printing out directions and having them handy as you work through the application.

2. Waiting until the last minute. Stuff happens. Your computer crashes, the internet goes down, or servers are reduced to a crawl. Why chance it?

3. Not entering a valid email address. And you wonder why you haven’t heard from any colleges?

4. Forgetting to disable pop-up blockers. And whose fault is it that you can’t see those parts of the application displaying in pop-up windows?

5. Using the wrong browser. Most online applications require more modern versions of Internet Explorer or other specific browsers which are clearly identified in the instructions. Make sure you’re working with a compatible browser to ensure optimum results. For example, the Common Application may not support Chrome, but the Universal College Application (UCA) does.

6. Not checking EACH individual college’s requirements and deadlines. The information is all there—deadlines, fees, and supplementary information. Application software generally doesn’t allow you to submit after deadlines have passed. It’s really smart that way.

7. Forgetting to save data and log out. You usually have no more than 60 minutes per web page before you’ll be timed out. If you walk off for any length of time to make a phone call or have a snack, be sure to use the save/logout feature to save your application. Otherwise work may be lost.

8. Using the “back” button. This can cause data to be lost or not properly saved to the application. Navigate through the document using the buttons within the application itself. 

9. Clicking on the wrong item in a drop down menu. It’s amazing how many students say they’re from Canada or Afghanistan, both of which are frequently listed right after the United States as drop-downs for countries of residence.

10. Entering incorrect data including date of birth or social security number. An incorrect date of birth may have several interesting consequences including failure to open an account (if you appear too young) and may require tech support to straighten out. An incorrect or missing social security number can affect financial aid. Double check the basics before "saving."

11. Failing to upload a document. In the dash to meet deadlines, students sometimes forget to upload that carefully crafted essay. This is a particular problem if an “alternative” version of the Common Application has been created. Check and double check that all answers are complete and all written material has found its way into the correct place.

12. Not thoroughly reviewing the application for spelling or grammar errors and truncated text. Print out your completed application or application summary and proofread before clicking “submit.” Make sure nothing important was cut off. If things don’t make sense, revise and use commonly accepted abbreviations to fit in the space provided. Note that you will need to download Adobe Acrobat to preview your document.

13. Not submitting all signatures for the Early Decision Agreement. Be aware that the Common Application ED Agreement requires 3 separate signatures to be complete for most colleges, and that your counselor cannot submit the form (electronically or by mail) until both the student and parent complete their parts.

14. Neglecting to leave time for payment to clear. Some colleges want you to show them the money first. The Common Application warns that processing of credit cards and echecks can take up to 48 hours and the application will not be processed until payment has cleared. Note that the UCA does not hold applications up for payment.

15. Failing to provide accurate or complete recommendation information. If your teachers indicate they want to submit recommendations electronically, you must provide a complete and accurate email addresses for them in the space indicated. Otherwise there will be a failure to communicate.

16. Not following directions for the Arts/Athletic Supplement. If you indicate on the Future Plans section of the Common Application that you intend to electronically submit an Arts/Athletic Supplement, you’ll need to complete it and submit it before you can submit the rest of the application.

17.  Opening multiple accounts.  The Common App warns of dire consequences for students who for whatever reason open a series of accounts.  Maybe you want to use a different name or maybe you’ve forgotten a password and don’t want to wait to go through the password retrieval system. It’s not good, and you risk screwing up your applications. Note that this is different from using the “Alternate Version” tool, which is fine. 

18. Forgetting to sign the document. The completed application will not submit until the document is signed electronically.

19. Not verifying that the submission process is COMPLETE before logging out. Yes, you have to click “Submit” when you’ve finished. There may be a series of screens to go through to ensure data is saved. If you close down before going through the process, you risk an incomplete application or no submission at all. Even if you’re relatively certain it’s all been done correctly, check the application “status” function to be doubly sure.

20. Not following up with fees and required supplements. The application, supplement(s), and payment submissions are 3 distinct processes. Just because you’ve submitted your application doesn’t mean your payment and required supplements will “automatically” follow.

21. Refusing to ask for help. If you have technical difficulties, don’t be afraid to ask the “Help Desk,” Technical Support,” or use “Contact” links.

Don’t be haunted by careless mistakes.  Leave lots of lead time and carefully review everything you submit.

Coca-Cola Scholars Program extends Deadline

Established in 1986 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Coca-Cola, the Coca-Cola Scholars program is continuing to build on 26 years of awarding huge scholarships to deserving high school students across the nation.

Including the Class of 2012, there are now 5,000 Coca-Cola Scholars who have benefited from more than $48 million in scholarship awards.

Each year, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards over $3 million in achievement-based four-year college scholarships to 250 outstanding high school seniors. The scholarships are broken into 200 regional awards of $10,000 and 50 national awards of $20,000 each.

Applicants are evaluated on the basis of “demonstrated leadership in academics, school, community and civic activities, as well as personal character and the motivation to serve and succeed.”
Because of storms wreaking havoc on the east coast, this year’s deadline has been pushed back to Friday, November 9, 2012, so students unaware of the scholarship or those needing extra time to pull together materials may still apply.
To qualify, Students must be
  • Current high school (or home-schooled) seniors attending school in the US or select DoD schools
  • US citizens or holding other approved citizenship status
  • Anticipating completion of high school diploma at the time of application
  • Planning to pursue a degree at an accredited US postsecondary institution
  • Carrying a minimum 3.00 GPA at the end of junior year of high school
To begin the application process, students are asked to register by establishing a user name and password. The application form, though long, asks many of the same general academic and extracurricular questions asked by most colleges on their applications. It’s easy. There are no essays at this stage.

From the total group of applicants, approximately 2,200 students will be selected as semifinalists and will be notified of their status around December 1. Semifinalists must then complete a secondary application which includes essays, official transcripts, and two letters of recommendations, by mid-January.

In April, 250 finalists will be selected and invited to Atlanta for personal interviews. It is from this group that regional and national awardees are chosen.

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation works to not only support scholarship programs, but also to provide alumni enrichment opportunities. It is through this work, Coca-Cola hopes to develop a network of community leaders “whose vision will help shape the world, leaving a lasting legacy for generations to come.”
Note that Coca-Cola Scholarship winners come from all walks of life and represent all kinds of academic interests. The one common element, however, is a desire to be of service to their schools and in the community.

If you are an involved high school senior with the potential to become one of these leaders, take the time to apply. The extra nine days are a gift.

For more information, visit the Coca-Cola Scholars website.

Oct 29, 2012

Colleges Postpone Early Deadlines in Face of Hurricane Sandy

Boston University
As Hurricane Sandy takes a hard left and begins its rumble up the east coast, colleges and universities are beginning the process of battening down the hatches.

Many have issued notices that they will be closed for the first part of the week.  In fact, Michael Szarek, of College Counseling for the Rest of Us, tweeted that all 55 New Jersey colleges and universities have announced closures for Monday and/or Tuesday of this week.

But most important to high school seniors are the looming early action and early decision deadlines.  Starting yesterday, the Ivy League led the way in announcing flexibility in enforcing application due dates for students affected by the storm.

Some set new dates for submission, while others simply indicated a willingness to be “flexible” in the face of the storm.  Harvard took the latter approach:

“With the approach of Hurricane Sandy here on the East Coast of the United States, we want you to be aware of our longstanding flexibility on Early Action and Regular Action deadlines for submitting applications and supporting materials from teachers and guidance counselors. If there is a good reason for not being able to meet a deadline (whether it be a natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy or a personal challenge), we are happy to accept late applications and support materials.”

While procrastinating applicants may heave a sigh of relief, it’s worth mentioning that the wise student will make every effort to get applications sent before the electricity and the internet shut down. Not only is it worth the peace of mind, but also you avoid post-storm issues down the road.

By the way, this advice holds true for students who have delayed requesting score reports while waiting for October test results.  Keep in mind where both the College Board and the Educational Testing Service are located. 

Here is what we know so far about revised deadlines:
  • Beloit College:  Students living in areas affected by the hurricane have until November 8 to assure their applications are submitted.
  • Bentley University:  Early Decision and Early Action deadlines have been extended to November 5.
  • Boston University:  Early Decision deadline has been extended to Monday, November 5.
  • Brown University:  Early Decision deadline has been extended to November 7.
  • Columbia University:  Early Decision deadline extended to Monday, November 5.
  • Cornell University:  Early Decision deadline has been extended to midnight on Monday, November 5.
  • Dartmouth College:  Flexible with the Early Decision deadline for all students who are impacted by this storm; contact the office if materials cannot be submitted by November 5.
  • Fordham University:  Early Action applications will be considered timely if received by November 8.
  • Harvard College:  Will be "flexible" on Early Action deadline.
  • Marist College:  Early Decision deadline has been extended to Friday, November 9.
  • MIT:  Will be "flexible" on Early Action deadline.
  • University of Pennsylvania:  Early Decision deadline extended to Tuesday, November 6.  Applications for financial aid can be submitted by November 15 to be evaluated for a package to be provided at the time of decision release.
  • University of Virginia:  The Early Action deadline is extended to midnight on Sunday, November 4.
  • Villanova University:  Early Action deadline extended to Thursday, November 8 for students directly impacted by the storm.
  • Yale University:  Single-Choice Early Action deadline extended to Monday, November 5.
These dates are subject to change based on the severity of the situation.  Please check with individual websites for the most up-to-date information.

For more up-to-date information, check my column on Examiner.com.

Oct 26, 2012

8 Excellent Reasons to switch to the Universal College Application

Harvard University

It’s David vs. Goliath.  Confident in the quality of its product, the scrappy little Universal College Application (UCA) continues in its struggle for market share against the much larger and more pervasive Common Application organization.

Some of the biggest names in the industry—Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Wash U, Tulane, and Duke—use the UCA, and many quietly acknowledge the superiority of the application for ease of use and overall responsiveness to the consumer.

Yet the notion that the Common App brings more in customers—applicants—and carries with it a panache of superiority—membership has its benefits—has left the UCA to swim against the tide of colleges sheepishly rushing to join the ranks of the increasingly less “common” Common Application.

And no one stops to think what the impact will be on college admissions if one application product is allowed to force all competitors out of business by using aggressive pricing policies and wielding influence through organizations supporting the industry as a whole.

Colleges may complain off the record, but they continue to support an application that isn’t always responsive to them, counselors, or student applicants.

While the Common Application continues to tweak the multi-million dollar product it plans to introduce next year, the computer geeks behind the UCA have stepped up their game by adding a number of enhancements to their application this year.

And here are a few reasons you might consider switching to the UCA:

  1. Membership.  The UCA currently has 44 member colleges including recognizable and very selective institutions (see above).  And the UCA is continuously open to adding new colleges any time during the application cycle.
  2. Distinction.  Using the UCA sets your application apart from the ubiquitous Common Application.  Think what it must be like to read thousands of documents that follow the same format and look exactly alike.  Frankly, it must be a relief to see someone thinking outside the box and going the extra mile to use a different form with different features.

  3. Functionality.  The UCA website now automatically scales for tablets and mobile devices.  Based on feedback from consumers, user interface has been improved and it’s now even easier to navigate and track progress.  In addition, the UCA works just fine on Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, or Internet Explorer.

  4. Customization.  Applicants can easily create an application to submit to one or more colleges and can just as easily copy, edit or modify to submit to one or more additional colleges. And this is an amazing tool if you want to signal a little extra love in your personal statement or customize standardized test scores to reflect a college’s policy on Score Choice or test-optional reporting. By the way, counselors are also free to customize their recommendations.  With the UCA, there’s no need for a counselor to remain tied to a “generic” document.  If there’s specific information a counselor wants conveyed about an applicant to a particular college, they can submit one recommendation and then easily copy/edit to send something different to another school. And colleges really appreciate having a recommendation that speaks directly to them.

  5. Autosave.  UCA forms now autosave every few seconds so applicants don’t have to worry about losing data if something happens before they are able to save manually. 

  6. Express Delivery.  Electronic recommendations and school reports/transcripts are delivered immediately to the college selected, as soon as the counselor or teacher clicks “Submit.”  It is not the UCA’s policy to hold recommendations pending the submission of a completed application by the student.  If an applicant never submits their application online or chooses a different product, the documents are still sent to the admissions office—free of charge to the applicant, the recommender, or the college.

  7. Multimedia.  Applicants can include a link within the body of the application to provide colleges with additional information that can be found online.  This could be a personal website, video, news story, an art portfolio or any other online content.

  8. Personal Statement.  The essay prompt used by the UCA is sufficiently broad to include most topics including the perennial favorite, “topic of your choice.”  There are no plans to change or otherwise limit this question next year, and the 500-word limit will remain a guideline and not a rule.
This year, the UCA added a First Marking Period Report and an electronic Early Decision agreement both of which come in handy for students applying early. 

But most important, the UCA Technical Support team is at your service.  In addition to providing a comprehensive “knowledgebase,” experts stand ready to patiently answer any questions you submit online.

For more information on the Universal College Application or to open an account, visit the UCA “new and improved” website at http://universalcollegeapp.com.

It’s just a different route to the same end.