Mar 31, 2015

The Common Application announces 2015-16 essay prompts

With feedback provided by nearly 6,000 individuals, who participated in a survey conducted earlier this month, the Common Application announced today final language for the 2015-16 essay prompts.  And without further ado, here are the five questions from which applicants using the Common App will be asked to choose to form the basis for their personal statement (new language appears in italics):
  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Although minimal, the changes for next year reflect majority opinion from those who took the time to respond to the brief survey circulated within the admissions community.  Of the 5667 “constituent” responses received (not including Common App member institutions), 64 percent came from school counselors, 14 percent from students, 11 percent from independent educational consultants, 4 percent from parents, and 2 percent from community-based organizations.

And collectively, they made their views clear:
  • 82% of members and 90% of constituents agree or strongly agree that the current prompts generate effective essays on the whole
  • 62% of members and 48% of constituents believe the “story/background” prompt is the most effective
  • 76% of members and 44% of constituents would like to see the “place where you’re content” prompt replaced
  • 35% of members and 30% of constituents feel that analytical ability and intellectual curiosity (as a combined percentage) are most the difficult attributes to convey through the current prompts
  • 85% of members and 82% of constituents feel the prompts should be left open to broad interpretation
  • 3% of member respondents suggested “Topic of Your Choice” as a new prompt
  • 6% of constituent respondents suggested “Topic of Your Choice “as a new prompt, with the breakdown as follows: independent educational consultants (47%), community-based organizations (7%), school counselors (5%), parents (2%), other (2%), students (<1 span="">

Beginning next year, Common App members will have the choice to require or not require a personal essay as part of the application for admission.  If the personal essay is required for a particular college, that requirement will be enforced during the submission process.  In other words, students will not be able to submit an application without this particular required element.

And responding to complaints about restrictions in the number of essay versions allowed in previous years, the Common App announced that like all other parts of the applications, “the essay will remain editable for all applicants, at any time.”

The announcement of next year’s essay prompts signals the start of a new year.  College-bound high school students along with those who advise them can look forward to the challenge of coming up with the kinds of personal statements that add dimension to other information provided in the body of the application.

And they have months  to think it over before the Common App comes on line August 1, 2015.

Mar 30, 2015

Waitlisted or learning to live with uncertainty

The University of Richmond took 12 students off the wait list last year.

For the admissions office, it’s a safety valve—useful for controlling the flow of students admitted to the institution.

But for the applicant who has waited six long months for a decision, the wait list feels like a one-way ticket to nowhere.

And for students manipulated by enrollment management systems designed to attract thousands only to admit a select few, all we can say is, “Welcome to admissions purgatory.”

Unfortunately, even the concept of purgatory is more hopeful.  At least the souls ending up there have a clear road to heaven. Waitlisted students can only rely on anecdotal evidence of what has worked in the past to move an application from wait list to admit.  And what worked for one student, won’t necessarily work for another.

The entire scenario is particularly frustrating for the subset of applicants who submitted earlyEarly Action, Early Action II, Single Choice Early Action, Restricted Early Action, Early Decision I or even Early Decision II—only to be shunted off to the wait list.

You really have to want it to go through all that.

But hope springs eternal.  And that’s why there are lotteries and wait lists.

For the most part, colleges are entirely unapologetic about using the hopes of waitlisted students to further enrollment goals designed to fill freshman classes with only the best and brightest high school students.

After all, the wait list is simply a tool used to shape a class profile that will be balanced between males and females, is geographically and racially diverse, meets legislated residency requirements, fills the needs of obscure departments or sports teams, and still covers some part of the college operating budget.

Wait lists are very seldom prioritized and are almost always unpredictable. 

And all too often, schools advertising “needs blind” admissions quietly convert to “needs sensitive” when it comes to plucking a few lucky students from the list. Consequently, most bets are off for financial aid if you come through the wait list.

In other words, there’s no ranking, no money, and not too much hope. 

And sometimes, the list is hardly more than a thinly disguised PR scam designed to keep agitated parents, alums, and other interested parties at arm’s length. 

Waitlisted is an uncomfortable place to be. If you’ve been accepted or rejected, your status is clear. You can move on with your life. But waitlisted is like learning to live with uncertainty.

Face it:  very few waitlisted students are eventually invited to the dance.

Here are some Common Data Set (CDS) statistics (Question C2) published by local colleges and universities for students entering fall of 2014:

University of Virginia
Waitlisted: 5,543  (3,456 accepted a position on the waitlist)
Admission offers:  42 (185 the previous year)

Christopher Newport University

Waitlisted: 1592 (513 accepted)
Admission offers:  66 (137 the previous year)

College of William & Mary
Waitlisted: 3603 (1526 accepted)
Admission offers:  59 (96 the previous year)

George Mason University
Waitlisted:  2310 (1109 accepted)
Admission offers:  684 (252 the previous year)

Waitlisted:  3684 (1987 accepted)
Admission offers:  166 (405 the previous year)

University of Mary Washington
Waitlisted: 468 (113 accepted)
Admission offers: 105 (55 the previous year)

University of Richmond
Waitlisted: 3621 (1466 accepted)
Admission offers: 12 (95 the previous year)

Virginia Tech
Waitlisted:  2294 (1587 accepted)
Admission offers:  750 (110 the previous year)

Washington & Lee University

Waitlisted:  2271 (827 accepted)
Admission offers: 72 (96 the previous year)

American University (fall of 2013)
Waitlisted: 1465  (64 accepted)
Admission offers: 0 (0 the previous year)

Waitlisted:  2188 (1301 accepted)
Admissions offers:  114 (82 the previous year)

George Washington University (fall of 2013)
Waitlisted: 3770 (986 accepted)
Admission offers: 113 (26 the previous year)

Johns Hopkins University
(fall of 2013)
Waitlisted: 2069 (1032 accepted)
Admission offers:   57 (1 the previous year)

Goucher College
Waitlisted: 56 (40 accepted)
Admission offers: 8 (2 the previous year)

Loyola University of Maryland
Waitlisted: 2347 (424 accepted)
Admission offers: 150 (47 last year)

Waitlisted:  433 (433 accepted)
Admissions offers:  281 (21 the previous year)

Numbers vary by year depending on how accurately the admissions office pegged its “yield” or how desperate the need to control the composition of the freshman class. For colleges with unfilled seats after May 1st, the pool of waitlisted students is something like a candy jar from which they can pick and choose depending on wants and needs.

Sure there are steps you can take to try to get off the list—write a letter, get another recommendation, meet with an admissions rep—but there is an emotional cost which must be factored in.

“This is probably the toughest decision to get from a school,” explained Jeannine Lalonde, UVa’s “Dean J.”  For now you need to look at your other options and think about which one feels right to you.  Some of you will want to hold on and see what happens with the waiting list and other will want to fully invest themselves in another school.”

Is it worth the wait?

Sometimes, but not usually.

Mar 27, 2015

Colleges Hit the Road for Spring 2015 Fairs

Southwestern University travels with the Colleges That Change Lives

Once 2015 decisions are signed, sealed, and delivered, admissions staff will hardly have a moment to catch a breath before they’re expected to hit the road again for college fairs scheduled in every corner of the county.   

Here are a few local events to which the public is invited:
  • Annapolis Area Christian School (AACS) Annual College Fair
    Scheduled for Thursday, April 23, 2015,
    the AACS Annual College Fair is open to the public and all students. The fair will take place at the Kilby Athletic Center in Severn, MD, from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm.

  • Colleges That Change Lives
    Since 1998, the Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL)—colleges and universities dedicated to the support of student-centered college search processes—have been traveling together to meet directly with students and families. This year, 42 CTCL members will visit the Washington DC area on Sunday, May 17, at the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner. The program begins at 1:00 pm with a 30-minute information session followed immediately by the college fair.

  • Exploring College Options
    Exploring College Options is a special recruitment program (not exactly a college fair) sponsored by the undergraduate admissions offices of Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford.  This year, events are scheduled in Alexandria (May 4), Bethesda (May 5), and Baltimore (May 6).  Details are available on the Exploring College Options website.

  • Good Counsel High School College Fair
    Sponsored by the Catholic Standard, this event will take place on Monday, March 30, 2015, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm, in the GC’s Alumni Gallery, located in Olney, Maryland. 

  • IB-MA College Fair
    The IB Mid-Atlantic Association of IB World Schools is hosting a
    free college fair on Saturday, April18 2015, from noon until 3:00 pm, at Gar-Field High School, in Woodbridge, VA. This is a large event attracting many colleges interested in recruiting IB students and others.

  • Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) Post-Secondary Education Fair
    In-school and out-of-school youth are invited to explore higher education options with representatives from over 20 colleges, universities, and technical schools.  In addition, staff will be available to help with FAFSA completion.  This event is scheduled for Friday, March 27, from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm, in the Community room at LAYC, 1419 Columbia Road, Washington DC.

  • NACAC National College Fairs (NCF)
    Free and open to the public, NACAC’s fairs annually attract more than 850,000 high school students to forums designed to encourage student and family interaction with representatives from a wide range of postsecondary institutions. This year, NACAC has scheduled two local fairs spanning several days. The Montgomery County NCF will take place on April 21 (evening hours included) and 22, at the Montgomery County Agricultural Center, in Gaithersburg. The Prince George’s County NCF will follow on April 24 at the Sports and Learning Complex in Landover.

  • National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) Health Professional Recruitment Fair
    Organized in partnership with the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), this fair will include opportunities to meet with medical school representatives and admissions staff. In addition, students are invited to attend workshops on how to get ready for the challenges of medical school, the application process, and how to finance a medical education. The workshops and the fair are scheduled for Saturday, March 28, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm., at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. Registration in advance is encouraged.

  • Northern Virginia Regional College Fair
    Scheduled for Wednesday, April 1, this fair usually attracts over 170 colleges and universities, in the Patriot Center Arena on the campus of George Mason University. No registration is required and doors will open at 6:30 p.m., with free parking in Lots A or L across from the Patriot Center.

  • Sherwood High School College Fair
    This free neighborhood fair is open to the public and will feature approximately 60 to 70 colleges.  All are invited for Monday, April 20, 2015, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, at Sherwood High School in Olney, Maryland.
Remember that some fairs offer pre-registration options, but most are walk-in events. You can prepare for the fair by reviewing a list of participating colleges and noting those in which you are interested. It’s a good idea to print out some “mailing” labels with your name, mailing address, phone number, month and year of high school graduation, and email address. These can be quickly applied to information request cards. And bring a backpack or something similar for carrying all the materials you will collect.

Here’s a tip: In addition to admissions information, exhibitors often come equipped with materials introducing summer enrichment opportunities. Be sure to ask about the availability of summer classes, camps, or other similar programs.