Thursday, May 28, 2009

Countdown to college: Juniors, get serious about college now

Monday, May 25, 2009

- McClatchy Newspapers

OK juniors, you just witnessed the seniors stroll through the college admissions process. For some, perhaps it was more of a hobble, but you can learn from their missteps. Now it's your turn.

Whenever I am asked about what juniors should be doing at this time of the year, I am reminded of the Plan Ahead graphic where there was no room for the "d" in ahead.

If you want to de-stress the college admissions process, it is all about planning ahead. Here are some tips for juniors/rising seniors:

Study hard for finals, AP exams. etc. In many cases these are the last grades colleges will see. They will see the course selections for senior year, but many colleges now offer Early Action and Early Decision programs and their decisions to accept, defer or reject are based on a student's transcript through junior year.

Prepare the first draft of a resume or brag sheet. List all the extracurricular activities, community service, honor/scholarships/awards, summer experiences, internships and employment. Spend the time now to add in the number of hours per week and the number of weeks per year you've been involved in each activity since most applications will request this information.

Talk with guidance counselors, teachers, parents and students about the college search process. Now is the time to actively pursue as much input as possible.

Research colleges of interest. Contact colleges and universities and request DVDs, brochures and other materials.

Visit as many colleges on the list as possible. There is no substitute for a well-planned campus visit. Students will never learn as much from a DVD or even talking to an alumni representative as they will from roaming the campus and talking directly with students.

Begin to work on college essays. Check out the questions on the Common Application ( The essay prompts will likely remain the same for 2009-2010. Many other colleges release their applications around July1.

Stand out this summer. Do something distinctive that speaks to who you are as a person. Try and find something you're passionate about that reflects your community service or academic interests.

Connect with your favorite teacher before the end of the year and ask if he/she will be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. You are just seeking a commitment now and will provide the appropriate paperwork in September.

Create a calendar with realistic deadlines and manage your time well. Set yourself up to succeed. The summer seems like such a big block of time, but it disappears.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissions;

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit

Private admissions advisers gaining respect


The number of private admission counselors has grown in recent years – especially in hyper-anxious, high-achieving communities — and colleges are more open to talking with them about the students they represent, say counselors and college admission officers.

Danielle Toglia, an admissions director at George Washington University, recently polled counterparts at 25 colleges and found that most now take calls from independent counselors to discuss specific students or the college’s needs for an incoming freshman class.

While about 30 percent of admissions officers won’t take calls from private counselors, she said, "The trend has been that the college side sees independent counselors more positively than it used to." She said they’re particularly open to those who had experience as high school guidance counselors or college admissions officers, because they know the ins and outs of the process.

Toglia’s comments came at a conference of the New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling in Parsippany this month. Several independent counselors, high school guidance counselors and college admission officers echoed her view.

Private counselors have long been a controversial part of the admissions frenzy. Critics charge they give an unfair leg-up to affluent students who already have extra advantages of expensive test prep classes, enrichment activities and homes in neighborhoods with better schools.

One college that won’t communicate with independent counselors is Georgetown. "There’s an equity issue here," said Bruce Chamberlin, senior associate director of admissions. "We need to make sure we are as accessible to students across all different socioeconomic diversities."

Chamberlin said his office can’t always tell if an independent counselor has helped a student, but sometimes efforts to polish students’ applications go too far. "We find ourselves yearning to understand the adolescent in the essay or the interview," he said. "Be it the coaching or the rehearsals for interviews, both mask in many ways what we’re hoping to get a feel for — the kid."

Independent advisers say they help clients choose where to apply, organize visits and give feedback on personal essays but don’t actually write them. They say they can give students more individual attention than high school guidance counselors swamped with disciplinary problems and escalating caseloads, especially at a time when public districts are cutting budgets. Private advisers also say they calm overwhelmed parents and spare them from the unsavory job of nagging young procrastinators to finish applications.

According to the Independent Educational Consultants Organization, the average cost of a private counselor nationwide runs about $125 per hour, or $3,600 for a three-year-package, with rates slightly higher in the northeast. Rates at the high end hover around $7,000 for a three-year package, with a scant handful charging more than $20,000.

The ranks of private advisers have grown rapidly in recent years. IECO claims 750 members, almost triple the count five years ago, and says members helped place more than 40,000 students last year. Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, College Coach and other firms have also launched private advising services.

Most clients are upper-middle class, but the students have become more diverse, said Mark Sklarow, executive director of IECO. Beyond academic stars, some need help finding schools that work well with the disabled, or English language learners, or those with special interests in the arts, for example.

Claire Cafaro, an independent adviser in Ridgewood who used to be a guidance counselor at Ridgewood High School, said many college officials recognized that independent advisers could help them find qualified students who were a good match for their schools.

Attitudes toward independent counselors "have really changed a lot," said Cafaro, immediate past president of the NJACAC. "Some independent counselors have convinced admission reps that they know what they’re doing and are valid people who can be trusted. … There is an understanding that high school counselors may not have the opportunity to advocate for their students as much."

Dennis Vasquez, a guidance counselor in Livingston public schools, lamented that unequal access to private advisers has had a discouraging "psychological impact" on disadvantaged students: "They think rich families have the extra help – ‘I can’t afford it, so it puts me at the bottom of the totem pole.’"

Cafaro acknowledged the inequity but said private advisers had no magic tricks, and noted that outside of the most highly competitive colleges, most schools accepted most applicants. "There’s a notion that independent counselors help kids get in in a secret way," she said. "I’d be the first to say the majority of students can apply on their own. I could do my taxes without help but would rather hire an accountant."

One of her clients, David Zrike of Ridgewood, said the money paid off. His daughter Caroline got into her first choice. Ironically, it was Georgetown.

"Since college is one of the most important decisions we will face bringing up children, as well as the most expensive, my wife and I decided that the relatively small investment in an independent counselor was certainly worthwhile," he said. She "helped to make what is an extremely stressful process a little less stressful."


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Colleges Acknowledge SAT and ACT Score Cut-Offs in Admissions

The New York Times

A study released this morning seeks to weigh the benefits of SAT test preparation, and concludes that gains from such courses can be small, but that small gains often matter to admissions offices.

But the study, which will hardly be the last word on SAT test-prep, struck me as newsworthy for another reason.

As part of the report, which was commissioned by the National Association of College Admission Counseling, researchers asked nearly 250 colleges whether they used SAT or ACT scores as a cut-off for admission. Of those that accept the SAT, 1 in 5 said they used particular scores on the test as a “threshold” for admission, at least in some cases; among those using the ACT, 1 in 4 described similar cut-offs.

The good news for most applicants, or at least those whose scores are not stellar, is that more than three-quarters of the colleges report using such scores “holistically.” That usually means the tests are mixed into a stew of many factors being evaluated, including the rigor of applicants’ curriculums; their grades; their activities; their teacher recommendations, and their essays. In fact, when asked to rank the criteria for assessing applicants, most colleges said they give more priority to “strength of curriculum” and “grades in college prep courses.”

But what of those schools with cut-offs? The report does not identify them, or the scores they use. But their policies could put them at odds with the association’s “Principles of Good Practice,” to which most highly-selective colleges subscribe. Among the provisions in that document is a pledge by colleges that they “not use minimum test scores as the sole criterion for admission, advising or for the awarding of financial aid."

Applications have to attract colleges

Fortifying resume is worthwhile.Unique aspects of students help them gain admission.

For the Journal-Constitution

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hasan Khosravi turned a trip to a science program at Georgia Tech into an ongoing cancer research project.

The Northview High School senior attended a biotech program at Tech with a friend and approached a professor there about a possible research project. The professor liked the idea, and Khosravi is now in the experimentation stage of his research.

“We found a drug and came up with a model to bring a drug inside a cancer cell to rid it of glucose,” said Khosravi, who is the salutatorian of his senior class at Northview. “I took the initiative to start e-mailing a professor about my idea, and he accepted it.”

That golden nugget made its way onto Khosravi’s college application and helped him get accepted to Georgia Tech. He starts in the fall.

Khosravi, who also was accepted to Vanderbilt, Emory and the University of Georgia, plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering en route to a pre-med degree.

Khosravi’s experience is just one way rising high school seniors can beef up their college applications to help get into top colleges.

There is no cookie-cutter formula to bulking up an application. Each should be as unique as the student filling out the forms, and that is what catches the eye of admissions officers.

“It’s a big misconception to say that schools look for well-rounded kids,” Georgia Tech admissions officer Rick Clark said. “A better way to put it is that schools look for a well-rounded class.”

Because of that, college admissions officers aren’t looking for specific types of extracurricular involvement from prospective students. Rather, they seek out qualities students possess as a result of such activities.

Colleges consider grade-point average, SAT or ACT scores and the number of AP classes. But what comes next on the application —- extracurricular activities, personal information and essay answers —- speaks volumes about a student’s interests, personality and dedication.

Clark says an application showing a student worked 20 hours a week for three years in a career-oriented job carries just as much weight as an application that features three years of community-service projects or travel abroad.

Here are some ways high school students can strengthen a college application, according to admissions officers.

Obtain leadership positions

Participation in Governor’s Honors programs or other academic programs like the National Honor Society is impressive. But college officials say that leadership comes in many forms and goes beyond titles. Colleges take notice when students advocate for themselves throughout the admissions process.

“That’s being a leader in a way,” Clark said. Leadership also manifests itself on the job, such as students who may work a part-time job through high school and get promoted or take on added responsibilities in that job, Clark said.

Choose quality over quantity in activities

“We’d rather see quality involvement,” said Jean Jordan, director of admissions at Emory University. Getting involved in things that are important to the student, such as community service, are critical, Jordan added.

Walton senior Angela Morabito and Shorter College freshman Sarah Weaver had what admissions officers are looking for. Both dedicated themselves to intensive extracurricular activities.

Morabito, 17, who will attend Georgetown University, participated in the U.S. High School Diplomats program the past two summers. She spent three weeks in Japan as part of the program last summer.

Weaver, 18, a graduate of Union Grove High School in McDonough, traveled across the country and to Europe as a six-year member of the prestigious Spivey Youth Choir.

These in-depth experiences look good on an application and were instrumental in the students’ choice of study. Morabito will be a culture and politics major in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Weaver is on scholarship as a music major at Shorter.

Set yourself apart in the essay

It’s helpful to highlight these in the essay. “Pick topics that give us information we aren’t going to find on the application,” Emory’s Jordan said. “We want the students to come alive. To use the essay for this is very critical.”

Walton High School senior Brian Slamm, 17, is involved in music and wanted to show that side. He is a percussionist, plays in three youth orchestras and is a member of the marching band and jazz ensemble at Walton.

“In my essay, I compared music to myself,” Slamm said. “Music is an entirely different side of me, and that’s what my essay was about.”

Wear your passion on your sleeve

Students should turn their personal interests into an attractive resume item.

Georgia Tech senior Thomas Christian, a double major in earth and atmospheric sciences, and international affairs, put his passion to work for him. He knew in high school he wanted to pursue a scientific degree and has participated twice in the International Science Fair.

“College administrators can spot students who do something because they want to and those who do it to pad their applications,” Christian said. “Find what you’re passionate about, be it band or the football team. It doesn’t matter. Just engage in something beyond the classroom and be passionate about it.”

That passion also can be displayed in the way students handle the application process. Contact with college administrators, counselors and sometimes faculty members can leave a good impression.

Morabito, who applied to eight schools, kept a list to make sure she had everything covered. She even sent thank-you notes to the schools after the process was over.

Be as detailed as possible

It’s one thing to choose the right activities. Showing that you’ve done them is important, too.

“It’s interesting how many kids are involved in a lot of things but don’t put it down on their applications,” Tech’s Clark said. “They assume that they’ve got this great GPA and that’ll be enough. If it’s (asked for) on the application, then it’s important.”

It’s not enough that students just list their involvement. An accompanying story is always best.

“Everybody has a unique voice,” Clark said. “If you are an Eagle Scout, tell us how you got it.”

Provided by Associated Content