Aug 29, 2013

Applicants beware: ‘Stealth’ essays can result in incomplete applications

Cornell University (Wikipedia)

Now you see it.  Now you don’t.

If you’re looking for the Cornell University writing supplement in the new Common Application, you might be lulled into thinking that one of the most selective colleges in the country has suddenly dropped its writing requirement.

But beware.  Cornell is one of many Common Application member colleges with “stealth” essays that don’t appear until college-specific questions have been fully completed.  And “undecided” is not an option when it comes to selecting one of Cornell’s colleges or schools.

You have to answer all the questions to submit the application.  And once you answer the college/school question, an essay will be “unlocked.”

In fact, it could be two additional essays—if you select the “Alternate” admission option which allows students two shots at receiving a golden ticket to Cornell by permitting them to select two different colleges for admission consideration.

“I had a student in yesterday who swore up and down that Cornell has no supplemental essays.  I knew that this couldn’t be correct,” said Gordon Kirtland, an independent college consultant in Singapore.  “The Writing Supplement section for Cornell shows no essays until you fill in the Member Questions section, indicating which school at Cornell you are applying for.”

Prospective Cornell students will find that until they’ve completed the college-specific questions, there will be no indication on Cornell’s landing page or the on the student dashboard that a writing supplement even exists.

And you wouldn’t see the essay prompts that are specific to the individual colleges.

Taking it one step further, a student could conceivably complete the Cornell application, submit it and still not see that there is an essay (or two) required if he or she doesn’t check back to the landing page or the dashboard where the writing supplement has quietly appeared—no fanfare or warning.  Just appeared.

Naturally, we hope that students would be on top of requirements as posted on a college admissions webpages.  Cornell is very clear there about what is required. 

But a student in a hurry or one with utter confidence in their understanding of the Common Application could easily think they were finished and possibly miss a deadline.

And if you’re a procrastinator or basing time management decisions on what is immediately presented, you could find yourself in the position of having to crank out additional essays at the last minute—never a good plan!

Cornell isn’t the only college with stealth essays. Until you commit to one of UVa’s colleges, you won’t know there is a second essay prompt determined by which program you’re applying to.  Or if you don’t check that you’re interested in Boston University’s Kilachand Honors College, you won’t know that there’s an extra essay required for that as well.  The same goes for the Emory University Scholars Program.

The relationship between college-specific questions and the writing supplement is part of the new “smart” technology the Common Application introduced to improve user experience.  In this case, the smart questions essentially unlock honors, scholarship, or school/program-specific requirements found only in the writing supplement.

For the record scholarship questions appear to be located in the “General” subsection, while honors college and program-specific questions tend to appear in the “Academics” subsection. 

And it would help enormously if the Common App would complete the Writing Supplement column on the application requirement grid it provides for all member colleges.

Moral of the story:  complete the questions before making assumptions about writing requirements.  In fact, feel free to experiment—change your answers and see how the writing supplement responds. 

Also, check with the college website to be sure that you have all your requirements in order.

But whatever you do, don’t wait until the last minute to start your application or you risk having a big surprise very late in the game.

And most college applicants hate surprises.

Aug 28, 2013

12 Excellent Essay Tips from Essay Readers

Yale University
College applicants and those who advise them love to debate the role of the essay or personal statement in the admissions process.

While no essay will make a patently unqualified student suddenly acceptable, a good essay can help a qualified applicant stand out from the competition.

And a great essay might just be what turns a “maybe” into an “admit.”

You'll find all kinds of advice on the internet on what makes a great essay. But perhaps the most useful may be found on college websites and comes from those who read them.

Here are 12 excellent essay tips from admissions offices and those folks who are likely reading your essays (click here):

Aug 26, 2013

UVa Class of 2017: Largest Entering Class in School History

University of Virginia

Closing the books on the 2012-13 admissions cycle, the University of Virginia welcomed over move-in weekend an incoming class of 3,515 first-year students—“the largest entering class in school history.”

On top of that, 675 students transferred to the Commonwealth’s flagship university as undergrads, including 350 from Virginia’s 23 community colleges.

And they come from all over the world. Between newly-minted freshmen and this year’s transfer class, students will be coming to Charlottesville from 44 states and 72 countries.

They are also very smart. About 92 percent finished in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, and their average combined math and verbal SAT scores was 1,349—topped only by the Class of 2016, which boasted a combined total of 1,351.

In fact, seven entering students dialed “toll free” (earned perfect scores) on all 3 parts of the SAT, and 23 posted perfect scores on the Critical Reading and Math sections.

In addition, the class is diverse. Twenty-eight percent are minority students, 35 percent are receiving financial aid, 240 qualify for full scholarship support and 348 represent the first generation of their families to attend college.

“Every year, we endeavor to build a strong, well-rounded class that maintains the University’s highest standards,” explained Greg Roberts, dean of admission. “We’re attracting record numbers of applicants, and enrolling terrific students from all walks of life.”

In the second year of its “early action” admission plan, UVa’s Office of Undergraduate Admission received a record 29,250 applications from high school seniors.  Patience definitely paid off for a lucky 160 of them, who accepted admission offers after initially being placed on the UVa wait list. 

And if truth be told, a number of these wait listers started their quest for admission as early applicants last October and waited until as late as July to learn their fates.

“Applicants certainly had to be persistent this year—starting early and ending late,” said one independent college consultant who routinely works with many UVa applicants.  “But in the end, all’s well that ends well.”

Aug 25, 2013

15 Common Application Colleges that Welcome Your Resume

Penn welcomes your resume on the Common Application
It’s truly amazing how such a small document can engender so many strong feelings. But when it comes to resumes for high school students, you’re either for them or against them. And shades of gray seldom exist in the debate over whether or not to include them with college applications.

“I find that the resume is a great tool to help students gain insight into who they really are, set goals, prepare for interviews, share more substantive information with recommenders, facilitate the completion of the activity section of applications (not just the Common App), and, finally, and share as an upload or copy-and-paste in an application,” said Judi Robinovitz, a Certified Educational Planner located in Palm Beach and Broward counties Florida. “A well-constructed resume also teaches students how to best market themselves, which they’ll have to do as they compete for spots in graduate school and the workforce.”

Most college counselors agree there’s no reason to include a resume if it exactly duplicates information contained in other parts of the college application, unless of course, the school specifically asks for one. But it’s useful to have on hand throughout the application process and can make life lots easier when you go to describe participation in extracurricular activities.

One resume-related improvement for new Common Application is a reconfigured Activities section. It’s much more generous than in the past in terms of space provided to describe involvement in a list of ten activities.

In fact, the Position/Leadership blank allows for 50 characters to give a solid indication of your position and the name of the organization in which you participate, and the Details, Honors and Accomplishments box allows for 150 characters to provide insight into what you’ve done and any awards you may have received.

But for some students, the structure of the Activities section is still limiting and doesn’t provide enough of an opportunity to showcase specific accomplishments. In this case, the applicant has a couple of options.

First, check the college-specific writing supplement. You may be surprised to find the college has made provisions for an upload of a fully-formatted resume. Or you may find other kinds of opportunities to provide documentation of extracurricular involvement going beyond what you can squeeze into a 150-character statement.

For example, several colleges including Amherst, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Harvey Mudd provide space in their writing supplements specifically for scientific abstracts. Others give more general instructions allowing submission of a paper or additional information usually limited by 500 KB’s (about seven or eight pages or a shorter document with pictures and illustrations).

If this option isn’t available to you, you can use the Additional Information section to copy and paste a simple resume or an edited version of your resume (eliminating overlap with other parts of the application) with formatting limited to what is allowed in that box. Should you go this route, however, be sure to check your Print Preview to make sure the document you’ve pasted is readable and represents you well.

A resume can be a very powerful document for pushing your college candidacy forward. It can serve to color in between the lines or provide extra detail beyond what may be crammed into a standardized application form.

If given the opportunity use it. But make sure it reflects well on you and contains accurate and up-to-date information.

Click here to find 15 Common Application colleges that welcome your resume.

Aug 23, 2013

What exactly is a High School Profile?

It’s surprising how few students and parents are familiar with their high school’s “profile.” 

This important document is attached to every transcript mailed as part of a complete “secondary school report” submitted to colleges.   

And virtually every high school has one.

In a nutshell, your school profile officially translates your transcript into terms college admissions offices can use to compare your record to those submitted by other college hopefuls. It also helps application readers evaluate your performance relative to other students in your school.

In other words, the profile places you in context of your school and your school in context of other schools in the district, state, and nation.

A good high school profile will include
  • Basic school demographics
  • Grading system and how GPA’s are calculated
  • Class ranking policies
  • Grade distribution
  • Class offerings with an emphasis on honors, IB, or AP classes
  • Standardized test score averages
  • AP score distributions
  • Percent of students attending 2- and 4-colleges
The most helpful profiles also explain class selection policies, prerequisite requirements, or general schedule restrictions affecting course options..  For example, if a school has a policy that limits the number of AP classes a student may take in one year, then that policy should be clearly stated.

And be aware that there’s a great deal of information that can be read “between the lines” of a high school profile.   For example, even high schools that claim not to rank students often provide a very exact GPA distribution that allows colleges to estimate or “force” a rank.

But despite the importance of these documents, variation among profiles—even in a single school district—can be startling.

Some are glossy and detailed; others are simple Xeroxed sheets. Some are up-to-date and specific; others are more generic.

And it’s not unusual for pricey private schools to produce 4-color, multi-page marketing pieces on behalf of their students.

Yet even knowing how crucial these documents are in the admissions process, school administrators sometimes put minimal effort into the preparation and presentation of statistical information critical in evaluating student credentials. Input on what should be included on the profile from those most affected—college-bound students and their families—is seldom sought.

The College Board has developed a detailed set of guidelines for the preparation of high school profiles.  In general, schools should limit their documents to one page—front and back—on regular (not glossy) 8.5” x 11” paper, using computer-friendly dark ink. 

Above all, high schools must update their profiles annually. They need to highlight changes in ranking and/or grading policies as well as document any alterations to curriculum or diploma requirements.

And by the way, the high school profile should never be a confidential document.  You should be permitted to review and maybe even comment on the document that will accompany your transcript to all colleges on your list.

In addition to seeing a copy of your school profile, you may also want to evaluate profiles from neighboring or competing schools to judge how yours compares. In fact, underclassmen and their families may want to use the profile to track how well the school is doing or to set academic goals.

Note that while some profiles are posted on the web, others are only available directly through school counseling offices.

If you think your school is not fairly or accurately represented by the profile, ask questions and get involved.

How you and your school stack up against the competition might well affect your admissions prospects.

Aug 16, 2013

10 Pretty Amazing Science Competitions

Each summer thousands of high school students across the country get valuable hands-on research experience sponsored by a variety of government, academic, and nonprofit organizations.

Local students may be found working in George Mason’s Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program or in one of the two Science & Engineering Apprenticeship Programs (SEAP’s) sponsored by George Washington University, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Navy. They may also be found at NASA or one of several summer programs offered by the National Institutes of Health.

These internships provide incomparable opportunities to gain knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Students meet and interact with scientists, learn lab skills, conduct research, and possibly publish or patent findings.

Some student researchers will be given the opportunity to present their work at poster sessions or similar scientific forums where they will gain self-confidence, hone writing skills, and potentially earn credentials important to colleges and universities as well as future employers.  They also lay the groundwork for admission to post graduate studies in medical schools or PhD programs.

And many students will also be able to turn their summer experiences into competitive science projects and vie for hundreds of thousands in scholarship dollars offered annually by organizations supporting the goals of STEM education:
  1. Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology. Since 1998, the Siemens Foundation, has provided young scientists with opportunities to win scholarships ranging up to $100,000 for original research in team and individual categories. Registration is now open for the 2013 competition, and the deadline for entries is Monday, September 30, 2013.
  2. Intel Science Talent Search. The Intel STS invites the nation’s best and brightest young scientists to present original research to nationally recognized professional scientists. Open only to high school seniors, 40 finalists are selected to come to Washington DC and compete for the top award of $100,000. This year’s competition is also now open, with all parts of the application due on November 13, 2013.
  3. National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. Individual students compete for scholarships and recognition by presenting the results of their original research before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers. Regional scholarships as well as seven national top awards of up to $12,000 and an all-expense paid trip to London are among the prizes available.
  4. Davidson Fellows. This prestigious scholarship annually awards up to $50,000 to students, 18 and under, who have completed a “significant” piece of work in one of seven categories including Mathematics, Science, Literature, Music, Technology, Philosophy, and Outside the Box. The Davidson Fellows application material submission link will open sometime during the summer of 2013.
  5. Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The Intel ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, providing an annual forum for over 1,500 high school students from countries all over the world who compete for over $3 million in awards.  Competition begins at the high school level and culminates at the International Science and Engineering Fair which will be held May 11-16, 2014, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
  6. International BioGENEius Challenge. This competition is designed to recognize outstanding research in biotechnology. Finalists showcase their talent and research before a prestigious panel of expert biotech judges and have the opportunity to win up to $7,500 in cash awards.
  7. Google Science Fair. Beginning with online submissions, this competition invites young scientists from all over the world to compete for up to $50,000 in scholarships as well as a trip to the Galapagos Islands sponsored by National Geographic.  Finalists are invited to Google Headquarters to present their projects before expert judges.  Although this year’s competition is over, Google is already putting together a mailing list for Google Science Fair 2014.
  8. DuPont Challenge. This competition is designed for science students at least 13 years of age who can craft an original 700 to 1000 word science-related essay. Students are judged on their ideas, as well as on writing style, organization, style and creativity, as well as voice.
  9. ExploraVision.  Jointly sponsored by Toshiba and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), ExploraVision encourages collaboration by restricting the competition to group projects.  Although all participants win gifts and discounts, the top four teams receive US Savings Bonds worth $10,000 for each student.  All projects must be received by January 30, 2014.
  10. Proton OnSite.  Worth up to $100,000, this scholarship recognizes high school seniors who demonstrate outstanding achievement and have a promising hydrogen-related business idea.  All three 2013 winners were current high school students, and only 650 applicants competed last year for $200,000 in scholarships.
The opportunities are pretty amazing for high school students willing to trade time at the pool for time in a lab!