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March 21, 2015

What Can Your 11th Grader Do Now to Prepare for College Applications This Fall?

If you are a planner by nature and like to avoid last minute rushes, there’s some foundational prep work your 11th grader can be working on now before crunch time hits in the fall of 12th grade. One of the foundational exercises we go through with rising seniors is to have them create an old-fashioned resume. 

That might sound strange at first. It's true that students don’t upload a conventional resume as part of the Common Application (or most other application platforms), but creating a 1-2 page resume the way mom or dad would understand the term helps applicants prioritize what activities and experiences they'll want to showcase not just in the Activities section of the application form, but throughout the entire application. It is a key part of figuring out what to highlight (or deemphasize) in a format that requires prioritization (as the application will, too).

We’ve found that sometimes students are very good judges in deciding which activities deserve priority on the resume (and in the application itself), and sometimes it’s the parents who have the better perspective. Respecting boundaries in the application process is always a delicate balancing act for parents, so the resume is a great place where you as the parent can be a helpful conversation partner and a gut-check before your student starts working on the applications themselves. The key here is to be mindful of Ivey Strategy #2: Think Like an Admissions Officer. (The Ivey Strategies we refer to on our blog are the strategies we use throughout our book How to Prepare a Stand-Out College Application.) It helps if you can take off the mom or dad hat and try to put on an admissions hat. You probably know intuitively that those are very different roles, but in practice it can be hard to separate the two, and it helps to be mindful of the difference.

For example, your daughter might think that having served as chair of the school's Winter Ball committee is the most important activity to feature, whereas you might be lobbying hard to include the fact that she has won top reviews as the Zumba instructor at a well regarded grown-up gym in your neighborhood. Actually, neither activity is as significant for application purposes as the student group she co-founded at school to provide dance classes to students, after having negotiated with the school administration to grant P.E. credits, no less.

Or if your daughter wants to emphasize that she’s a competitive athlete, then maybe "Athletics" should have its own section in the resume, because as a group those activities are a bigger part of her profile than the non-sports activities she's involved in. Because she's not in a time crunch (yet), she has time to play around with different sections and different orders on the resume. What if she puts these three things or those four things together? How does that change the theme and the overall impression? Grouping things together in different ways and in different places on the resume can be much more revealing for brainstorming and strategy purposes than making one giant, jumbled list of activities, or simply putting all of it in chronological order.

The larger purpose of this resume exercise is to be thinking about the bigger portrait of the applicant. What matters more? What matters less? What should or shouldn't make the cut? How much detail and space does one thing or the other deserve? It can be hard to make those positioning decisions when you're not being forced to do so by space constraints and formatting choices. In this case, the constraints are your friend. They give you control over the first impression you want to make. 

Here’s an example. A student might tell us that he wants to focus on tennis in the Activities section of the resume, because he’s been playing for ten years. So we reply, “Oh that’s great! Do you play singles or doubles?” Student: "Uh, actually I haven’t really thought about singles versus doubles.” That reply is a strong signal not to feature tennis in the Activities section, because tennis is more of a long-time hobby for him than a serious athletic pursuit. In that case, we would recommend listing it in the Personal section of the resume instead. That's because anything that goes into the Activities section needs some meaningful detail around it. Michael Phelps can get away with a one-liner for an important activity (“Olympic swimmer”), but most people can’t.

If you want to see what a resume looks like in a teenage context, here are some samples to guide you. Notice how each student has made intentional and thoughtful use of both the space and the formatting for the purposes of positioning. Do you see how those choices influence how you think about an applicant whom you've never met? (These examples and samples are all anonymized or fictionalized, naturally.) Each of the sections and items in these samples reflect choices about what to highlight and what to deemphasize. Now that you know the purpose of the resume exercise, can you figure out some of the the decision-making that went into them and why?

March 17, 2015

What Courses Should I Take in High School?

Back in the olden days, there was a standard school day, a singular college prep curriculum and very limited “electives.” It made the decisions about what courses to take pretty simple and there wasn’t much way you could go very wrong. Not so in the 21st century. Now, there are multiple structures for school days, multiple college prep curricula, and abundant choices for requirements and electives. Honestly, many high school course listings are indistinguishable from the course catalogs for many small liberal arts colleges. Not surprisingly, the decisions about what courses to take are much more complex and you can definitely go way wrong. How wrong? Total derailment – by that I mean taking yourself completely off track for being admitted to the college of your dreams. Whoa, really?  Really.

That’s why I spend a good portion of my spring advising students (starting in 7th grade) about which courses to choose for the following year. As we work through their choices, I’ve discovered that there are 7 guidelines I use with almost every student and I’m happy to share them with you.

Guideline #1:  Understand the choices available to you. 

You can’t make good choices without information. So get to work and do a full investigation into the choices available to you. Start with actually reading the materials produced by your school. Move on to speaking with your guidance counselor, teachers, and other students. By combining reading with a good grapevine, you’ll have the information you need to make your decisions. 

You’ll know you understand the choices available to you when you can answer these questions fully and accurately:

  • How many class periods do you have in your schedule?
  • What courses do you have to take to meet the graduation requirements at your high school? 
  • What courses are offered as electives? 
  • What do you have to do to be eligible for honors, AP, IB, or other “enriched” courses? Are there any rules that limit the number of AP or honors courses you can take in a given year?
  • Who is considered the best teacher in each subject area?
  • What courses are prerequisites for the courses you want to take your junior and senior years?
  • Are there any scheduling conflicts that force you to make certain choices (e.g. you can't take Math with Ms. Parsons if you want to take English with Mr. Levy)?
  • Does your high school offer you opportunities to take courses elsewhere, e.g. local community colleges or online?

Guideline #2:  Take 5 academic solids each year.

Even though there are now multiple college prep curricula out there, colleges are steadfast in their expectations of the course work high school graduates will have completed (and knowledge they will have acquired) before they begin college. Here is the “can’t go wrong” college prep curriculum – it will prepare you for every college from the least selective to the most selective:

  • 4 Years of English
  • 4 Years of the Same Foreign Language
  • 4 Years of Math (through at least Precalculus)
  • 4 Years of Science (including Chemistry, Biology, Physics)
  • 4 Years of History/Social Studies (including U.S. History and World History)

So before you start exploring choices for electives, do a quick audit to make sure you have the 5 academic solids covered. Because these are pretty much non-negotiable. You need them both to get into AND to succeed in college. 

Of course, this guideline constrains your choices. But no sympathy here. You need to keep yourself focused on the primary reason you are enrolled in a college prep curriculum in the first place – to prepare for college!  If you have a different long-term goal, then by all means consider a different set of core courses. But if you want to get into and graduate from college, this is what you should be learning in high school.

One note for those who attend high schools that aren’t really designed for college prep: If you CAN’T take these classes at your high school, then look into transferring into another high school where you can or getting permission to take these classes at another high school, a local community college, or online. (In my opinion, online should be last resort because I believe that there is value in the interpersonal interaction of a classroom.) If there is simply no way to structure a college prep curriculum for yourself, then do the best you can and accept that you may have to do some pre-college studies before you are eligible for admission to a four-year university.

Another note for international students: high school curricula vary greatly worldwide and are generally designed to suit the needs of a particular higher education system. So unless you are in an American school, you probably will not take U.S. History. These kinds of variances in curricula are understood by admissions officers and can be accommodated.  However, if you are serious about attending college in the U.S., it is particularly important that you pay attention to Guideline #7 -- seeing your courses through the eyes of an admissions officer.

Guideline #3:  Math must be taken and passed in the regular school year, every year. If possible, make it through Calculus by the time you graduate.

Math is pivotal to your future. This is true for anyone who aspires to graduate from college in the U.S. and it is double-triple true for anyone who aspires to be admitted to and graduate from any of the 400+ selective colleges in the U.S. Why do we say this? The data. First, you'll increase your performance on the standardized tests if you learn your math. A study of 2010 SAT test takers showed that students who successfully completed precalculus or calculus had test scores higher than the mean on all three sections of the test (that's right -- higher reading, math, AND writing scores) while students who only completed Algebra II had test scores lower than that mean on all three sections of the test. Second, you'll be more likely to graduate from college if you successfully complete more math in high school. One of many studies on this topic showed that only 34% of those that stop with Algebra II go on to graduate from college, but 55% of those who make it through Precalculus go on to graduate from college and a whopping 73% of those who make it through Calculus in high school go on to graduate from college. I hope I've convinced you -- whatever you do, prepare for success and successfully complete as much math as possible in high school.  

One note: math is not a subject that generally lends itself to compressed instruction, so be cautious about trying to accelerate your math by taking summer school.  

Guideline #4:  Structure your schedule so that it is challenging, but not overwhelming.

News flash -- school is supposed to be hard work. Furthermore, people, in general, find any activity more interesting and satisfying if it poses a bit of a challenge. So embrace the notion that your high school schedule should be challenging. If you understand every single concept right away or can get away without doing homework or can ace a test without studying, then your course load is not challenging enough. Step it up -- take a higher level course or take more courses. But if you are frequently lost in class, spend hours on homework every night and still are behind, or can't sustain a solid B or better average, then your course load is too challenging. Drop back to a lower level course or drop a course. If you are already taking the regular level courses and a minimum load, then you need tutoring pronto. You've missed something along the way and now is the time to get caught up.

So how does this guideline generally translate into real life course schedules? If you are an "above average" student with a typically busy teenage life who also gets a reasonable amount of sleep (in other words, you have a healthy, balanced life), it usually means that you end up with a schedule that has 2-3 courses at the advanced level (AP, Honors, etc.) and 2-3 courses at a regular level.  

Guideline #5:  Think beyond the GPA and leverage your course work -- go for two-fers and three-fers whenever possible.

I find that many high school students use one criterion to decide which course to choose among the several offered -- what grade will I get and how will that grade impact my GPA and/or class ranking? This is particularly true if grades in certain classes are weighted. Students invariably choose the course that is most likely to result in plumping up the GPA. Now many in the college counseling world come completely unglued when students confess that this is their decision making criterion. I'm not in that camp, largely because I think it is hypocritical to evaluate students on their grades and then be appalled that students try to maximize their grades. So it is A-OK with me for students to exhibit some strategic impulse when it comes to choosing courses, but I want to encourage them to think beyond the GPA and leverage their course work for more than the easier A in junior year. Go for two-fers and three-fers whenever possible!

What do I mean by that? Let's say that you could take AP World History or AP Government in your junior year. You're inclined to go with AP Government because you think it will be the easier A, but you are pretty sure you could maintain your current GPA and class rank with a B in AP World History. If you don't think beyond your GPA, you'll opt for AP Government, because why not boost that GPA a bit?

But here's where two-fer and three-fer thinking becomes relevant. You know you want to apply to a college that requires 2 SAT Subject Tests. If you take AP World History, you've prepared yourself for the SAT Subject Test in World History at the same time -- a two-fer. There isn't an SAT Subject Test that corresponds to AP Government, so it doesn't offer a two-fer.  And then you do a smidgeon more research and learn that the same college that requires the SAT Subject Tests allows you to "place out" of the general education requirement to take a course in World History if you complete AP World History and get a score of 3 or more on your AP World History exam. No corresponding advantage for taking AP Government. Now AP World History is a three-fer! So now what do you choose AP World History or AP Government? You know the answer.  

Guideline #6:  With electives, follow the teacher, not the subject.

Often I find that students confront a tough choice when they have to choose between taking an elective course with a great teacher in a subject that they aren't really excited by or a course with an okay teacher in a subject they love. My advice is always the same -- follow the teacher, not the subject. Great teachers make you a better student and learner -- they coax you into better thinking, stimulate you to approach information differently, and inspire you to do more than you ever thought you could. These are things you can't do for yourself. These are the things that make attending a class worthwhile. And if following the teacher means that you have to assign yourself some outside reading or seek out an after-school or summer program to stay current with a subject you love, that's absolutely fine. In fact, that kind of independent pursuit of knowledge is exactly the kind of thing a student destined for admission to and graduation from a selective college does.  

Guideline #7:  Analyze your schedule through the eyes of a college admissions officer at the colleges you aspire to attend and see if that pushes you one way or another.

One thing that most high school students simply don't understand is that college admissions officers at different colleges will analyze a transcript differently because each of those colleges will have their own preferences regarding college preparatory curriculum. Visit the websites of the colleges on your list and read what the admissions says about what they prefer. You'll find some subtle but important distinctions. In fact, even colleges with the same "general focus" and level of "selectivity" will vary in their recommendations.  

For example, three of the "top" math/science focused colleges in the U.S. look for slightly different things -- MIT wants biology in addition to chemistry and physics, but Caltech and Harvey Mudd don't include biology in their recommendations. All three expect calculus, but Harvey Mudd offers an alternative path if you won't complete calculus by senior year.  None of them recommend as many courses in history/social science or foreign language as I've suggested above because they are ALL ABOUT THE SCIENCE AND MATH. So how will the admissions officers at each of these colleges analyze your transcript if you decide to take a third year of Latin instead of doubling up on science and taking both Honors Physics and AP Environmental Science? Easy, right? They'd all say take the second science.  

But what if your choice were between taking a second year of Chemistry or a year of Biology? That one is a bit tougher. It seems that at MIT, the admissions officers won't be pleased, but the admissions officers at Caltech and Harvey Mudd would be fine with it.  (Of course, they'd all probably be happiest if you could take BOTH the second year of Chemistry and Biology, but that may not be your choice.) See why researching college preferences now can help you decide? If you want MIT, Caltech or Harvey Mudd more than life itself, your choices now matter!  

But what if you don't know exactly which colleges, but you do know you want to be competitive at the MOST selective colleges. I'd encourage you to get on the web and do a little research -- take a sampling. In general, you will find that the most selective colleges expect that you will take the most challenging course load available at your high school AND do well in them all. But remember the advice above about "challenging, but not overwhelming."  

"Most challenging" usually doesn't translate into 5 APs or Honors; it usually translates into 2-3 APs as noted above. But don't take my word for it -- go visit the college counselor at your high school and ask him/her how he/she will rate your proposed schedule. Why ask the college counselor? Well, because he/she will be asked on his/her recommendation to rate your course selections and will be given the opportunity to rate it from "most demanding" to "not demanding." If you are aspiring to the most selective colleges, your schedule should elicit the "most demanding" rating from the college counselor. So ask him/her NOW before you finalize the schedule. If the counselor tells you your schedule will be "more demanding" but not "most demanding," ask him/her what it would take to move to a "most demanding" rating. Then consider adjusting your schedule accordingly.  

But again, REMEMBER the "challenging, not overwhelming" guideline. Getting C's in the "most demanding" courses gets you nowhere -- you won't be competitive at the most selective colleges and you will have damaged your chances at the other 375+ selective colleges where As and Bs in a "more demanding" courses are competitive, but Cs (even in the harder courses) aren't.  

One final note.

I have discovered that many students, parents, high school teachers and/or high school guidance counselors take issue with one or more of these guidelines. They typically challenge the guideline on the grounds that the guideline will dissuade the student from pursuing the "best educational path." Without even debating the definition of the "best educational path," I have two responses to these challenges. First, I'm not purporting to steer students along the "best educational path"; I'm giving students help navigating the best path to their desired destinations -- admission to a selective college. Second, I firmly believe that all students have both the right and responsibility to determine their own destinations and select their own paths. So I've got no problem with students deciding that they don't really want to be admitted to a selective college and/or they don't want to follow the path I suggest. But I also believe that these choices should be INFORMED choices. These guidelines provide more information and thus help students make better choices.  

Comments or Questions?

Do you have you own dilemma regarding what courses to take?  Post your quandry and we'll give you our best advice about how to decide.  

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (most recently at Dartmouth College). She works with students and families throughout the U.S. and abroad.  Follow us on Twitter (@IveyCollege) and find us on Facebook.

March 9, 2015

Get Your Game Face On for the SAT!

This SAT is just a few days away. Here are a few suggestions to put you into the test zone so you can do your best :) .

1. Get good sleep — that means a good 7-8 hours per night for 4 nights before the test! (Teenage brains perform best on tests with 7.5 hours of sleep, and your brain registers as "sleep deprived" for at least 3 days after you shortchange yourself.)

2. Feed your brain with healthy food — have a good breakfast and take some nutritious snacks that you can eat on the day of the test during your breaks. (No — Coke, Fiery Hot Cheetos, and Sour Patch Kids do not count as nutritious.)

3. Use this checklist to double check that you have everything you need for the test: https://sat.collegeboard.org/register/sat-test-day-checklist. Hint: put in your bag/backpack the night before just to make the morning easier.

4. Know where you are going for the test and give yourself plenty of time to get there.

Good luck!

March 6, 2015

Low PSAT / SSAT/ PLAN / Achievement Test Scores — Now What?

If your child is testing low on the SSAT, PSAT, PLAN, or Achievement Tests in grades 7-10, that’s a sign to start thinking about adding a test prep protocol, or reevaluating one you might already have in place. That’s also a sign to do a full battery of learning disability testing to figure out the underlying cognitive issue.

The goal isn’t necessarily to get accommodations for standardized tests, because not every kid with learning problems has those kinds of learning disabilities. Instead, you’re trying to figure out more broadly how your child's brain works. What skills or developmental things are missing, or haven’t been completely nailed down? Now is the time to go back and nail down those skills (if possible), but you won’t know how best to do that if you don’t know what the underlying problem is. 

The right testing might also uncover something that nobody else saw simply because your kid has gotten so good at compensating for and camouflaging the real issue. For example, your child might have gotten really good at decoding words to compensate for his dyslexia, and he might have been doing just well enough in school that nobody has flagged it. 

Test Prep Tutor or Reading Specialist?

Reading fluency is a hot topic in the study of learning development. If cognitive testing reveals that the underlying problem is reading fluency, there is frankly no test prep tutor in the world who is going to fix the reading fluency problem, because it’s not a test prep problem. Take the money you’d be spending on test prep and put at least some of it toward a reading specialist. (You can alternate it with test prep if you want to mix the two.) We can’t overstate how important it is to work on developing reading fluency and to intervene as necessary if your child's reading fluency isn’t where it should be.

In fact, some kids get tracked as learning disabled when the problem is really that they never learned how to read properly in earlier grades. If children haven’t developed good reading fluency in grades 3-5, they are going to have problems with all their learning going forward, and boys are especially vulnerable. That can snowball quickly. As Annie Murphy Paul puts it, "Children who have made the leap to fluent reading will learn exponentially, while those who haven't will slump" (from "Why Third Grade Is So Important: The ‘Matthew Effect’").

It turns out that third grade is a very important juncture in a child's longer-term learning development (i.e. learning how to learn). So what do you do if third grade has already come and gone? Assuming you can’t hop in a time machine, you have an opportunity, now that those SSAT and PSAT scores have come back, to identify and fix problems that might have been lurking undiagnosed for some time. There’s no shame whatsoever in getting the testing done and figuring out how to get things back on track.

 

February 25, 2015

52 Weeks to College: Week 35--When and How Colleges Notify You of Their Admissions Decisions

Waiting, waiting, and still more waiting. That’s what February and March are about when it comes to college admissions. When will the waiting be over? When will the college where you have applied notify you of their decisions? How will they notify you? Fat envelope means good news, fact or fiction? These are the questions inquiring applicants have on their minds right now and they are the questions we show you how to find the answers for in this week’s tips and tricks.

Week 35 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Research notification dates and methods for the colleges on your list.

Tips & Tricks

Finding out when and how you will be notified of a college’s admissions decision is a pretty straightforward research task. Start by checking your correspondence from the college. Very often, the college includes the information in their post-submission correspondence to you. If you can’t find it there, then try this simple Google search: “notification date” admission [name of college]. The most reliable information will be on the college’s website, so scan the search results for the college’s URL first. Even if there isn’t any official information, your search will probably turn up a conversation thread on College Confidential or some other college admissions related website that will give you some information. Of course, remember to consider the source. The only information you can DEPEND on is information from the college itself.

If the college has given you a link and log in information for an applicant portal or website where you can find out the college’s admissions decision, TEST IT before the big day. Your meltdown when you encounter technical difficulties on decision day will be EPIC. Guaranteed. So, test your log in now and avoid the epic meltdown.

The “Fat Envelope” is still most often a signal that “good news” lies within, but in the 21st century, you rarely have to wait for the envelope to arrive in order to know whether you have been admitted or not. The majority of colleges will either notify you by email or post your admissions decision on your applicant website on the day that the “envelopes” go in the snail mail. There are, however, a few colleges that still notify ONLY by snail mail and for those the “Fat Envelope” is what you want to see!

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.

February 17, 2015

LSAT Score Jumps and Averaging

How do the top schools evaluate multiple LSAT scores? I know a few of the t14 schools claim they average the scores and a few others claim they take a holistic approach. However, I have also read that since the ABA changed their reporting policy, law schools have every incentive to evaluate the highest score. 

Also, what if there is a huge disparity in the scores...something like 155 to 174? Can one expect to receive admission into an elite school with such a significant difference? I'm talking Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc.

Check out these two posts:

The short answer is that you have a score jump that big, pop the champagne. That's great news, even for the top schools.

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college and graduate school applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and submit their best applications possible. Read more law school tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions.

 

February 17, 2015

52 Weeks to College: Week 34 -- Last Chance to Complete or Update Your Application is Now!

Mid-February is the peak of “Reading Season” in college admissions. During reading season, admissions officers read, evaluate and DECIDE the fates of applicants. Hopefully, you’ve been following the 52 Weeks plan and you’ve done everything possible to make your best case for admission. You’ve submitted a standout application, you’ve submitted any required or helpful updates, and you’ve confirmed that your application is complete. If so, all you have to pay attention to this week is staying up with the financial aid application process. If not, this week is really your last chance to submit application updates and/or complete your application. If you don’t act now, then the colleges will make their decisions anyway. This week’s tips and tricks are focused on helping you take the necessary final steps across the finish line.

Week 34 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Confirm that your applications are really truly COMPLETE at each and every college on your list.
  • Send any application updates that are required (e.g. Midyear Reports) or that would be helpful.
  • Interview with colleges.
  • Provide the documentation necessary to support your financial aid application if required by the college or if you are selected for verification.

Tips & Tricks

1) Take action.

Procrastination is always a bad strategy, but it is deadly at this stage in the process. Colleges are making hundreds – that’s right hundreds – of decisions each and every day right now because they must notify applicants of their decisions within weeks. So you’ve got to act now if your application is incomplete or if there is anything you want to add to your application before a decision is made.

For International Students only: If the college requires you to submit financial documentation regarding your ability to pay (ultimately necessary for the visa process) before the admissions decision, then you need to confirm that you have sent what is required and that the college has received and processed it. Otherwise, your application will be considered incomplete and either no decision will be made or you will be automatically denied.

2) Don't panic if you are chosen for financial aid verification.

About 30% of FAFSA applicants are chosen every year and most of these applicants are chosen randomly. If you are selected then you will be asked to submit a verification worksheet, tax returns, and perhaps other supporting documents.

You can read more about what to do during this phase of the process in Chapters 22 and 23 of our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application.

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.

February 12, 2015

Reapplicant: Proving Your Love to a School

What's your opinion of a re-applicant to Law School A mentioning in his/her application that he/she was admitted to but turned down Law School B last year. The purpose of this is to show Law School A how much the applicant wants to attend Law School A---so much so that he/she is willing to turn down Law School B and risk not having any law schools to attend just for a chance at getting into Law School A. Personally, I thought mentioning this might come off as a bit unprofessional. (A and B are similarly ranked and are both among the top of the T14. Neither of them ask for Why School X essays.)

The short answer: I wouldn't bother mentioning having turned down School B in your reapplication to School A.

That's not because I consider it unprofessional, but rather because School A most likely won't care that you turned down School B. If School A doesn't ask "Why Us?" in its application, it's likely (1) already assuming you really want to go there just by virtue of submitting an application or (2) doesn't care much about your motivations for wanting to go there (although probably does care about plenty of other things). They do, however, have to worry about yield protection (what percentage of their applicants accept their offers of admission), so they do care about the likelihood that you would accept their offer if they made one. Some schools have to care about that more than others, depending on how strong a brand they have.

So perhaps that's what you're getting at: Will it help ease their yield protection concerns if you tell them you were willing to turn down a peer school in order to reapply?

There are a number of ways you can demonstrate your interest that I think would work better. You can visit the school, you can apply binding Early Decision (if they offer that), and you can write an essay laying out the case for why you really want to go there.

Given that School A and School B are peer schools, the argument for preferring one over the other comes down to fit — how School A will do a great job helping someone with your background and goals get from Point A to Point B to Point C, and why it would be a great learning community for you to join. For schools that ask "Why Us?" in the essay, those are essential things to address. For schools that don't as "Why Us?", you don't have to write about that, but in your case you probably should, since you feel so strongly about School A. (I assume you didn't write them a "Why Us?" essay the last time around.)

The bottom line is that if you have important things to say on that subject this second time around, stay focused on School A. You don't need to contrast School A to a different school to make your case. I don't know what other schools you might be applying to this year, but if School A is the only one you're applying to, I would tell School A that it is the only one you want to invest in, and that you're not applying anywhere else.* Bonus: If School A offers binding Early Decision (something that maybe you wouldn't have taken advantage of before, but that you would consider now), that's also a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is way to prove your love to a school.

*Can you get away with lying about that? Don't be tempted. Schools can find out pretty easily where else you've applied.

 

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college and graduate school applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and submit their best applications possible. Read more law school tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions.

February 10, 2015

52 Weeks to College: Week 33 -- Does the Letter You Just Got REALLY Mean Anything about Your Likely Admission?

Waiting for an admissions decision to arrive is torture. No doubt about it. So it is perfectly understandable that you will scrutinize everything you get from a college in the hopes that it will give you a preview of good news to come. And some colleges do send some applicants messages that are truly positive signals that good news is on the way. But, most of the messages you are getting from colleges right now are nothing more than good marketing. So how do you separate the truly positive signal from the marketing? It’s not easy. This week we’ll give you a few tips and tricks for interpreting what messages you’re getting from colleges.

Week 33 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

Tips & Tricks 

An invitation is good marketing, not a truly positive signal. You just got an email from the college where you have an application pending INVITING you to apply for one of their merit scholarships. Surely that means that you are going to be admitted to the college, right? Wrong. Admissions and scholarship selection processes are operating simultaneously, not sequentially. So an invitation to apply for a scholarship is simply the college marketing their scholarships well. Every applicant who meets the basic eligibility criteria for the scholarship got the same invitation without regard to the likelihood of his/her admission.

An encouraging shout out from someone outside the admissions office is good marketing, not a truly positive signal. You just got an email from the faculty chair of the department of engineering saying that she would be excited to have you as part of the incoming class and raving about all the cool engineering projects you’ll get to do in your first year. You ignored the email you got from the student president of the Robotics Club, but an email from a FACULTY member has to be different, right? Wrong. Colleges know that a little word of encouragement in this period goes a long way when it comes to making you think better of the college and will positively influence your ultimate choice should you be admitted. So this college is running a really great marketing effort by sending you all this encouraging email now, but it is just good marketing, not a truly positive signal.

A “likely letter” is a truly positive signal. A “likely letter” will have the following attributes: it will be a written communication from the admissions office (usually from the highest ranking person in that office) that includes the magic phrase “likely to be admitted” or something very similar. Likely letters are most often sent to the following types of applicants:

  • recruited athletes applying to Ivy League colleges;
  • visual and performing artists who are applicants to by-audition-only or by-portfolio-review only programs; and, 
  • the applicants who are at the tippy, tippy top of very competitive applicant pools. 

What do these applicants have in common? They are usually going to have multiple offers of admission and the college sending the likely letter wants to beat the other colleges to punch when it comes to good news.

Are you an applicant who is likely (excuse the pun) to get a likely letter? If you aren’t, then chances are the letter you have received is a marketing letter, not a likely letter. If you are someone who might get a likely letter, don’t panic if one isn’t in your box, because here’s the catch. Not every college sends likely letters; and, even if the college does send likely letters, they may not have processed your application in time for you to get a likely letter. One more thing about a likely letter – it is a truly positive signal, but it is NOT an offer of admission. Wait until you get the actual offer of admission to celebrate and withdraw all your other applications. And be sure to stay the course when it comes to doing the things that resulted in your getting the likely letter in the first place!  

For more information on likely letters and how colleges use them as part of their admissions strategy, see this great article in the Yale Daily News

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.

February 9, 2015

Good News for February LSAT Takers

What a glorious week all you February LSAT takers are waking up to. Exhausted, curled up, wrung out? Take heart, you could be these people over in Boston:

Twitter: @OnlyInBOS

Here's some of the best news, though. For many years I've been banging the drum to apply EARLY, EARLY, EARLY in the admissions cycle. Recently, though, it's been more of a finger tapping. 

Many people who submitted their applications last fall are already getting acceptances, so that hasn't changed, and that's a nice bonus for them. But the good news for you, dear Februaries, is that there's never been a better time to be applying late in the cycle.

Many law schools are in wait-and-see mode as application volume has dropped like a stone for several years. The result is that many people who applied early in the cycle are going to be hanging out on waitlists while schools see what applications still come in. That's true whether a school calls it an official waitlist or not. The reality is that many applicants aren't going to get a final yes or no answer until the summer or even early fall. 

And some law schools have been quietly pushing out their application deadlines altogether. At the top law schools, February 1 used to be the norm. Many (but not all) have now pushed their deadlines out to the end of February or even March, so you still have time to submit some applications to top schools this cycle. The biggest tip of my hat goes to UNC Law School, whose deadline is August 1. That's right, August. I give them great credit for being honest and putting it right out there that the application cycle is going to be strettttccchhhhed through the summer. That's going to be true for many applicants at a lot of other law schools, too, whether the schools acknowledge that publicly or not. 

Now that the February test is behind you, it's game time. Wrap up your applications so that you're ready to fire them off when your score comes back. And if your score isn't anywhere close to what you wanted it to be, it's OK and even advisable to push off your applications until this fall. I think that's the better way to go than the alternative, which is: apply in February/March with a score you don't like, get dinged a few months after that, and then submit another application a few months after that. If you've given your written materials your best shot for the first application, it's hard to come up with a brand new, whiz-bang application that is both different and plausible just a few months later. Then you're better off waiting and being first in line in September, with a new and improved June score. First impressions matter. (But if you have already submitted your applications, and February was a retake for you, you can let schools know that another score is coming.)

Side note for future applicants: Don't wait until February to take the test. Ideally, take it in the June before applications open up, with October as your retake option if you need it. Plan on submitting your applications in September/October, with November as your worst case scenario. Among other reasons, that timeline will allow you to remain eligible for binding Early Decision programs if you decide that's the best move. Those ED deadlines are typically in November.

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college and graduate school applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and submit their best applications possible. Read more law school tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions.

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