News and Events
It’s time to get ready for early applications; meanwhile information from last year’s application cycle is still trickling out.
The Application Scene for 2017-2018
If you are just starting out, you might want to scan the terminology on the basic kinds of early and regular season applications here: Application Terms
I also suggest that you take a look at how college applications are evaluated here: The Secret to College Admissions
When it comes to college applications, it is indeed the best and the worst of times. In terms of overall opportunity, things have never been better–there are literally thousands of good to great colleges, universities and a specialized schools of advanced education in the United States. When you add Canadian universities, with several that can compete with the top schools in the U.S., and which do so at a discount, then expand your view to Great Britain and Ireland, which are also relative bargains compared to many out-of-state opportunities in the U.S., the opportunities are astonishing–even for students who have a relatively mediocre track record.
The facts about higher education belie much of the current narrative on U.S. higher education and education in general, and while there are worrying trends, there has never been a better time to apply to the majority of colleges.
On the other hand, when we look at the elite schools, from Stanford on the West Coast, through the great Midwestern schools, like the University of Chicago and Northwestern to the East and take-your-pick of the Ivy League, the story is different. The competition for seats in the twelve to fifteen schools that everybody knows about is more than fierce. With Stanford leading the way and several Ivies close behind, the acceptance rate at the most elite schools is in the 5-7% range. Stanford has become the first university in the United States, and the first university in history, to accept fewer than 5% of its applicants for the class of 2020. (That would be students who will enter as freshmen in the fall of 2016.)
If you want to do more math on that, that 5-7% is largely drawn from the top 10% of all students–so in reality, most of the seats at schools like Stanford, Harvard, Princeton and Yale are taken in a duel between the top 1% of all students in the country. And at most of the elites, the average G.P.A. and test scores are actually too low–due to special admissions categories for athletes, prodigies who have uneven skills, efforts to give a boost to kids from rough communities and poor schools and the like. A place like Stanford, with under 8,000 undergrads, and hundreds of athletes actually has a higher average GPA requirement for a student who does not fit a special category. Applications at Stanford and the top four Ivies are a bit of a throw of the dice for even the most qualified.
What To Do
Be yourself, but with a little enhancement. Grades and test scores get you in the door. Activities and essays will set you apart. Strategy is important, but before you create a strategy, you need to follow the adage, Know Thyself. As one example of what I mean, early applicants to some of the most competitive Ivy League schools this year were being admitted at around double to nearly three times the rate of regular admissions–this is significant, but to put it in perspective, that means you have about the same chance of admissions to an elite Ivy as you would to U.C. Berkeley, which had a 14.8% admissions rate for the students who enrolled this year. So knowing yourself includes knowing if there is a school you absolutely want to gamble a binding early decision application on.
Whatever path you choose, from those focused on a broad range of excellent schools with low brand recognition to those aimed at the Stanford-Ivy League or MIT-Caltech tier, you need to work with your strengths and look for activities and work that comes naturally out of your strengths and interests, while you also work to balance out or offset your weaknesses.
The idea that universities require all applicants to be good at everything is not accurate, but the competing idea that you only need one area of excellence or one deep passion is also false (unless, of course, you are a prodigy or have a very marketable dimension, like size, speed and a great jump shot). And keep in mind that there are places–good places–for even C+ students. You must have to have an open mind about it. Contact me, and I can help you.
If you are a junior, this summer is important. Consider final opportunities to develop interesting aspects of your persona–of the self that will appear on paper or on a screen. A strength or special interest can be an area to differentiate yourself, what is called by some the “spike” in your application. It should involve additional work or activities in a particular area of interest and it is best if the spike comes from an authentic interest or concern. In recent years, I have had clients work on a variety of ways to differentiate themselves. High school sophomores pursuing the tougher admits will hopefully be initiating activities that build that foundation for essays and extracurriculars.
What that means depends on you–whether you have been coached and molded for Ivy League and Stanford admissions since 8th grade or are a “free range” applicant, just doing well and taking classes you like with applications barely on the horizon. One applicant I help who loved sailing started to sail more competitively, traveling to class races beginning in the junior year; another client went beyond normal community service to set up and run a training class in computer and social media use for the large number of unemployed adults in his area; another applicant founded and runs a nonprofit that provides tennis equipment and training for underprivileged youth. All of these students had a genuine interest that lay behind the area of emphasis, but the college application process was part of their decision to take if even further. On the other hand, your area of emphasis might be the fact that you work to support your family as well as go to school–so don’t assume it takes money as well as time (or the legal help needed to get a nonprofit off the ground) to create the part of your application that sets you apart.
As you approach your senior year and the application season, you should be building on what you’ve done and do a bit of exploring where you have the space–but most importantly, you need to be considering how to polish the picture of yourself that you will present to your application readers and officers. Grades, activities and interests define you, but what you are will ultimately amount to ten to fifteen pages of writing. To an app reader, you are what the a thin folder of paper or a half-dozen screens of material on a computer say you are. What you do lays the foundation for what you present, and I can help you with each step of that process.
For more information on my services, please Contact Me.
Get Started Now
For freshman and sophomore students, now is the time to start assessment and planning. Getting a good look at how you stack up and evaluating your strengths, weaknesses and interests should all be done before the crunch time of Junior year, if possible. Grades and classes accumulate slowly; it’s like trying to guide a raft down a river–steady effort and a clear idea of where you want to be are the best way. A lot of last-minute, desperate paddling is not much fun and may not do the job in time.
In the end, the question for most people is much whether you will get into college as it is how you feel about your results. You can get into a good school if you have a good strategy and B-/C+ grades with decent SAT scores. I had several clients last year with C-range GPA’s who were each offered admission to a half-dozen good public and private schools after they widened their search and applied to multiple states. These students were very happy with their results. On the other hand, I encounter some who set the bar high but don’t provide enough alternatives in their application list, or don’t do the necessary preliminary work needed for a realistic chance at a super-selective school. I want to ensure that you have all the opportunities possible and none of the regret that comes with feeling you could have done more to prepare or could have had a better strategy.
For juniors, the application process formally begins in the spring the year before applications. While I do have clients come in “over the transom” for essay and application advising help in the last month or two of the process, after they encounter my CollegeAppJungle blog (see below), it’s far better to work with me from at least the spring of the junior year. Summer is a great opportunity to build on what you’d done or try something new, and while the colleges have released their essay prompts much later in recent years–most in August, if not later–the Common App beta prompts are up and some of the old standard prompts remain in place.
The Most Important Things
Above all, whether a student or parent, I hope you look at the whole application process as a time to grow and to have fun. I find working with today’s students a tremendous experience. Like any great undertaking, the application process will teach you an enormous amount about yourself and about the world. There are an amazing number of fine schools located in beautiful spots around this country and the world and I always encourage clients to research and visit a wide variety, in person if possible, in the virtual world if not. So let’s get started.
You can learn more about me using the menu bar, above, or contact me at my contact page, above, for more information on my services, as well as start learning more about colleges via links to my CollegeAppJungle website and mulitple pages on the menu bar, above. You’ll find both the basics and very specific insights into the process and what you need to plan and do by using the links and information I have written and posted over the last fifteen years as well as what I will be providing in the coming months.