Oct 30, 2015

20 VERY SCARY and common application mistakes

Based on informal feedback from students and counselors, 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 Day of the Dead (November 1) early deadlines, Halloween might seem really scary at this point.

But before you start trying to make up for lost time by mindlessly pushing out applications, remember that errors due to carelessness or misunderstanding can be costly.

To avoid ghoulish results, 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. The application dictionary provided by the Common Application is a handy reference tool for understanding various terms you might encounter while completing your application.

2. Waiting until the last minute. Stuff happens. Your computer crashes, electricity goes out, 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.

6. Not checking EACH individual college’s requirements and deadlines. The information is all there—deadlines, fees, and supplementary information.  But don’t rely on information gathered last summer. Go back and confirm that nothing has changed.

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 below 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.  Meant to apply early but checked regular decision. This is an easy mistake to make especially if you’ve changed your mind a couple of times about which application strategy works best for you. Be careful that your application says what you mean.

12. Not thoroughly reviewing the application for spelling or grammar errors and truncated text. Use the print preview function (if there is one) to print out your completed application or application summary before submitting. Proofread very carefully—look for omissions and typos. Make sure nothing important was cut off (this has been a reported problem for the 2015-16 Common Application). If things don’t make sense, revise and use commonly accepted abbreviations to fit in the space provided. Note that you may need to download the most recent version of Adobe Acrobat to preview your document. Do not skip this step!

13. Not submitting all signatures for the Early Decision Agreement. Be aware that the Early Decision agreements generally require 3 separate signatures—student, parent, and counselor—to be complete for most colleges.

14. Using an alternate application and failing to arrange for supporting documents.  VIP” or “snap apps,” are offers to short-circuit the process by offering special applications. Sometimes the fee is waived and sometimes the essay is waived. There are many different variations on the theme.  If you go this route, don’t forget to tell your school counselor and arrange for required documents like transcripts or test scores to be sent.

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

16.  Opening multiple accounts.  The Common App warns against opening 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 confusing the process by trying to open additional accounts.

17. Forgetting to sign the document. The completed application will not submit until the document is signed electronically. For the Common App, the submission process involves three steps:  review, payment, submission. Even if you’ve reviewed the application and paid the fee, it is still considered NOT submitted until you complete the final signature and click on the submit button. Be sure to check for confirmation that the application has been submitted.

18. 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. Again, check for confirmation that the application has been submitted.

19. Not following up with required supplements. The application and supplements are generally separate processes. Just because you’ve submitted your application does NOT mean required supplements will “automatically” follow. One more time: check for confirmation that all parts of the application have been submitted.

20. 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.

Oct 26, 2015

Colleges cope differently with ACT headache

Yale University

The complaints began with a vague rumble. While ACT scores were coming in slightly slower than in previous years, the Writing portion of the test was taking much longer.   More than a month after the September test, and most test-takers were still waiting for Writing scores.

From the beginning, it was assumed the problem was a combination of an unusually high test volume and slower than usual scoring because of a new scoring rubric. Instead of a ‘holistic writing score’ ranging from 2 to 12, students would receive a subject-level Writing score on the more familiar 1 to 36 scale. According to ACT, the new scale would allow for “precise evaluation of student writing and a more detailed score report.”

As the earliest application deadlines approached, students began to get anxious about scoring delays and contacted ACT. In response to their complaints, students were told:

“This a routine part of our quality assurance and scoring process. We apologize for any additional stress this messaging has caused you. Quality assurance steps may include, but are not limited to, incomplete answer documents and test center irregularity. We are unable provide a specific time frame for when your scores will be available; however, we are working diligently to make scores available as quickly as possible. We will continue releasing scores on Wednesdays and Fridays until November 6th.”

November 6? These tests were taken on September 12.  And what about all those early deadlines? In the past, ACT had very reliably provided scores within a couple of weeks after the test. This time, ACT indicated it might take as long as eight weeks to score the tests.

And the problem wasn’t going to be limited to September scores. October test-takers could also expect delays in their score reports, which again would be held-up by the absence of a Writing score.

Because ACT would not release “partial” reports, no scores would be sent to colleges until the Writing portion was scored and posted—even for colleges neither needing nor requiring a Writing score. It wasn’t the policy or it cost too much. Take your pick.

In the meantime, a number of tests from the Annapolis, Maryland area were lost or destroyed in route to ACT for scoring. Once the problem was discovered, ACT simply enrolled them for the October test—free of charge. And instead of agreeing to send these tests to the front of the line for scoring, students were advised that ACT had up to 8 weeks to post scores and no exceptions would be made for this group. 

In other words, scores the Annapolis students had expected by the end of September, could take until December 18 to be received—after decisions would be released for many early applicants.

As a stopgap measure, ACT contacted colleges and urged them to accept “screenshots” of scores in lieu of official reports for those students whose scores would not be available in time. ACT contends that for September the number should be small, and those students will be supplied with emails from ACT indicating they are among those without timely reports. 

Many colleges knowing of the ACT problem reacted like Pomona College with some degree of sympathy and provided clear instructions on their websites as to how the screenshots should be provided:

“If you are concerned that your score report may be delayed, please send a copy of the email you receive from ACT, along with a screenshot of your ACT multiple-choice test scores from your official ACT student account directly to admissions@pomona.edu if you are applying Early Decision I or to questbridge@pomona.edu if you are applying through QuestBridge College Match. Please take the screenshot on your computer, not on your mobile phone.” 

Others, like Yale, took the opportunity to increase stress for students who took the October ACT, although their website has consistently offered the October date as acceptable for early action consideration:

“ACT has notified colleges that score reporting from [October] will be delayed due to the implementation of enhancements to the writing portion of the test. Please understand that we cannot guarantee that we will receive October results in time to be considered in the Early Action admissions process. 

Plan ahead! You do not need to wait to take the tests on the very last eligible date.”

Hopefully this lecture doesn’t apply to the students in Annapolis, who made the honest effort to complete testing by September. 

In the meantime, students are caught in a dilemma. Many want to actually see scores before having them sent. Unfortunately, some of these students won’t receive reports until just before deadline. ACT says reports are received by colleges in about 2 or 3 days after an order has been placed, but who knows? There are no guarantees, and some schools are holding very firm to their early deadlines.

Self-reporting on applications is one possibility, but is a little tricky for the Common Application. If the student indicates they have taken the ACT with Writing, the application won’t be complete without all of the scores including Writing. Choosing just the ACT option poses an “accuracy” problem, which can be explained in Additional Information, but just makes things more complicated.

The screenshot solution only works for colleges willing to consider them—with or without the special email from ACT indicating they are among those affected by the problem. And not all colleges will.

For a sample of publicly announced policies, check back tomorrow.

Oct 22, 2015

ACT urges students to send ‘screenshots’ of scores to colleges

In what could be one of the bigger fails in the history of standardized testing, ACT executives today announced that scores from the September test could in many cases be delayed beyond deadlines for this year’s early college applications.

“For students who took the ACT® with the optional writing test, scoring and reporting of results is taking longer than typical due to the introduction of the enhanced design of the writing test, which uses a new scoring rubric,” wrote Steve Kappler, ACT vice president for brand experience in an email to NACAC members. “Students who took the ACT with writing may view their multiple-choice scores—their ACT composite score, subject test scores (English, mathematics, reading and science), and subscores—on the ACT student website. Official score reports, however, cannot be sent to students, high schools or colleges until the writing test scoring is complete.”

The problem appears to be some combination of an unusually high September test volume and slower-than-usual scoring because of the transition to both a new scoring rubric and a new scale for the Writing portion of the test.  Instead of a ‘holistic writing score’ ranging from 2 to 12, students will now receive a subject-level Writing score on the more familiar 1 to 36 scale. According to ACT, the new scale will allow for “precise evaluation of student writing and a more detailed score report.”

So far, ACT has refused to support students affected by the absence of Writing scores by sending colleges official score reports minus the Writing score for students needing these results for early consideration. No reason has been provided, only an indication that it’s not the policy of ACT to send partial results.

So where does that leave students? ACT suggests that they take “screenshots” of their scores as posted on the ACT website and send copies of the email explanation from ACT along with the screenshot to “applicable colleges to verify they are among the students impacted by this situation.”

ACT is urging colleges to consider accepting the screenshots of students’ September multiple-choice scores from their official ACT student account as a provisional measure. Presumably  official reports may be ordered or will be immediately forwarded once Writing scores become available. ACT advises that "the college typically receives the score report within 2 to 3 days" after an order has been placed.

Another option would be for colleges to make decisions based on self-reported scores provided on applications, contingent on the receipt of official reports later or after admission.  This option opens the door for rejected students not to pay for score reports after the fact.

But the problem doesn’t end with the September tests. October test-takers can also look forward to delays in scoring such that they may be eliminated from early consideration at some schools. In response to a notification received from ACT, Boston College announced:

"ACT has notified colleges that delivery of scores this year will be delayed due to their implementation of an enhanced design to the Writing portion of the test.  While we will make every effort to include October results in our evaluation of Early Action applications, it is likely that they will not arrive in time to be considered.  Students should designate Boston College as a recipient of these results on or before the day they take the exam to ensure their swiftest possible delivery to the Office of Undergraduate Admission."

This, of course, eliminates the opportunity for students to review scores before having them sent directly to colleges.  And in view of some of the extremely low Writing test scores received so far by otherwise outstanding students, this may be a recommended course of action.

Colleges are only now being updated by ACT on the situation, which has been evolving over the past several weeks. Test-takers, who are directly affected by the delays in reporting, will be notified by email in the next several days.

All this is very disappointing for those who looked to ACT as a strong alternative to the confusion arising from the College Board transition to a new test. Hopefully ACT will get scoring timelines back to normal and make administrative accommodations for the larger-than-usual number of students taking the increasingly popular test.

And given the ease with which scores may be sent electronically, ACT should really be willing to  send colleges partial score reports to accommodate test-takers in both September and October, for those schools not willing to accept screenshots or self-reported scores on applications.

Oct 21, 2015

12 prestigious science competitions for 2015-16

Each year, thousands of high school students across the country gain valuable hands-on laboratory and research experience by interning for a variety of academic, government and nonprofit organizations engaged in scientific research.

Locally, high school interns may be found in George Mason’s Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) 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 NIST, NASA or one of many summer programs offered by the National Institutes of Health.

While they vary in terms of content and work experience, each of these internships supports opportunities to explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Students meet and interact with scientists, learn lab skills, conduct research, and possibly publish or patent findings.

In fact, some programs encourage students to present research at poster sessions or similar scientific forums where they gain self-confidence, improve writing skills, and potentially earn credentials important to colleges and universities as well as future employers.  They also lay the groundwork for undergraduate research assignments as well as admission to post graduate studies in medical schools or PhD programs.

And many young researchers 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.

Here are 12 of the more prestigious and well-respected competitions:
  1. AAN Neuroscience Research Prize. Students investigating problems concerning the brain or the nervous system are invited to compete for monetary prizes as well as all expenses paid trips to the AAN 68th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada, to present their work during a scientific poster session.  Applications are due October 28, 2016.
  2. 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 eight categories including Engineering, Mathematics, Science, Literature, Music, Technology, Philosophy, and Outside the Box. The 2016 application will launch this November.
  3. 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. The Official Entry Form will be active starting November 15, 2015 until January 31, 2016.
  4. 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 Wednesday, February 1, 2016.

  5. 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.  To receive information on the 2016 competition, sign-up on the Google Science Fair website.
  6. 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 1,700 high school students from countries all over the world who compete for approximately $4 million in awards.  Competition begins at the high school level and culminates at the International Science and Engineering Fair, which will be held May 8-13, 2016, in Phoenix, Arizona.
  7. 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 by 8 pm EST, November 11, 2015 (transcripts and recommendations are due November 4, 2015).
  8. 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. Information on the 2016 BioGENius Challenges should be available very soon.
  9. Microsoft Imagine Cup.  Microsoft offers three main competitions—Games, Innovation, and World Citizenship—through which teams come up with original technology projects involving software or a combination of software and hardware.  First place teams win $50,000 and all World Finalist teams win a trip to Seattle. Note that The Big Idea: Plan deadline is October 28 at 23:59 GMT.

  10. MIT THINK Scholars Program.  The THINK Scholars program is an initiative that promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics by supporting and funding projects developed by high school students. Finalists receive all-expenses paid trips to MIT to attend XFair (MIT’s spring tech symposium) and winners receive funding to build their projects.  Applications are due January 1, 2016.

  11. 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.  Different regions/states run on different schedules, but this year’s National JSHS is scheduled for April 27-30, 2016.
  12. Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology. Since 1999, 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.  The 2015 competition is currently in progress, and the 2015 class of regional finalists was recently announced.
The opportunities are pretty amazing for high school students willing to devote some time to research!