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June 24, 2015

Pro Tip: Don't Disclose Your Grades, Courses, or GPA When Registering for the ACT

If you're a high school student (or the parent of a high school student), you probably thought that the ACT is just in the business of creating and administering the ACT test, right?

Actually, they do quite a bit more, and one of their "side" businesses can affect your college applications without you even knowing it. Please read the following advice carefully:

In order to increase its profitability and market share, the ACT has been developing other "predictor" tools to sell to colleges. Basically they slice and dice any information they have about you, the student/test taker, and they generate performance predictors beyond your ACT scores themselves. You can read more about that product here.

The key thing for you to understand is that the ACT will use all the information you provide when you either (1) register for the test or (2) request that the free test score reports be sent to your colleges. The ACT will factor all the grades, courses, and GPA information that you give them into this predictive tool, and it will transmit the results to participating schools.

The smart thing to do is not to disclose any of this information to ACT, the College Board (the people who make the SAT), or any other service that sells information to schools (for example, online college search or college matching tools), because doing so won't help you, but it can hurt you. 

Here's an example how disclosing that information can undermine you. Imagine that you have solid ACT math scores, but your current math grades aren't so great, and you aspire to enroll at the business school of a college that subscribes to this predictive tool sold by the ACT. Your ACT predictor score will be lower than your ACT math score. That's because the formula that the ACT uses under the hood of that predictive tool will be applied to whatever information you happen to disclose at that particular moment in time. The results will be communicated to the college as a "constant" and will live in your student record forever, even if you subsequently improve your grades.

Bottom line: there is no upside to disclosing that additional information to the testing companies, but there is potential downside. Don't do it.

June 23, 2015

Pro Tip: Register for the October SAT (Reasoning or Subjects) by June 24

As you may already know, there were problems with the June 6, 2015, SAT Reasoning test because of misprints in the instructions on some of the test booklets. It took a little time for the dust to settle and for the College Board to decide how it was going to respond. As of now, the College Board has decided to do the following:

  1. Score the tests without including the scores from the affected sections (the affected sections were the last reading or math section – you might have had reading last or you might have had math last, but neither will be scored).
  2. Waive the fee for the October SAT Reasoning test for any test taker who lets the College Board know that their testing experience was negatively affected by the error.

You can get more information from the College Board’s website post about the matter here.

If you took the SAT Reasoning Test on June 6, 2015 OR you didn't take the June test but are planning to take a Reasoning or Subject Test in October, here's what we are recommending you do:

REGISTER ON OR BY WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24 FOR THE OCTOBER TESTS EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO PAY THE $54.50 FEE.

Here’s why:

  1. Because of the problems with the June test, the October administrations of both the SAT Reasoning and Subject tests are likely to sell out VERY, VERY quickly after the June test scores are released (on Thursday, June 25), and it is very likely they will sell out well before the registration deadline. 
  2. You want to guarantee yourself a seat at your preferred testing center, and the only way to guarantee that is to register yourself. If you intend to retake the SAT Reasoning Test and can obtain a fee waiver without any delay in your registration, then great, get your fee waiver. But if getting the fee waiver will delay your registration, or if you are planning on taking the SAT Subjects, then just pay the fee of $54.50 to register.

You might end up deciding that you don’t want to sit for a test in October and you’ll have spent $54.50 you didn’t need to spend... but consider this an insurance policy that will guarantee that you get to take the October test(s) if you want or need to.

April 21, 2015

Rolling the Dice on Law School

There's an excellent article on the stage of law school education in the Washington Post: "Why Law Schools Are Losing Relevance—and How They're Trying to Win It Back."

Bottom line: "Going to law school used to feel like a no-brainer for college graduates seeking financial security. But that calculus has changed...."

My thoughts, as a I reflect on the article:

Two rules:

(1) Borrow money for a top law school only.

(2) Start law school with some kind of game plan from Day 1.

And for anyone considering a non-top law school:

Investigate recent employment stats (at Law School Transparency, because many law schools themselves fudge their numbers), and look up the bar passage rates, too. There's no shortage of grim data. And go into the process assuming you *won't* be a special snowflake in law school and defy all the odds. How does the average student fare at School X, Y, or Z?

And a note to parents, who often have totally outdated assumptions about the security of a law degree, any law degree: Those days are long gone for all but a tiny number of law schools, and even there, students are pounding the pavement more than they used to.

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. 

April 13, 2015

Super Secret Application Instructions

Law schools can be terrible about including their application instructions in the application form itself. Always — always! — check their websites, where they often bury important instructions on random sub-pages. You'll find them after lots of clicking around.

Here's an example. University of Louisville gives these instructions for the personal statement in the application itself:

A personal statement is required. Please upload your personal statement.

Here's what it says on its website, on a page called Application Checklist:

A personal statement must be submitted with the application for admission. The personal statement is an open-ended essay written on any topic the applicant chooses. The statement should be two to three pages in length and well written. It is recommended that you have several individuals proofread and edit your statement prior to submission. Ideally, the personal statement will provide insight to the admission's committee about the applicant's personality and what they will bring to the University of Louisville. The personal statement is uploaded to your credential assembly service account. 

And that's if you happen to spot the "Application Checklist" link on this page, which you get to from a tab called "Future Students":



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That's just one example; there are lots more out there that could serve as illustrations. Hats off to schools that do a good job incorporating their instructions into their application forms. They are few and far between! In the meantime, as an applicant, the burden is on you to go hunting for instructions. Go figure.

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.
April 7, 2015

52 Weeks to College: Week 41 -- How to Evaluate Your Financial Aid Awards

You've been admitted to the college of your dreams and now you're wondering whether you can really afford to go to school there. You want to compare your financial aid packages before you choose between where you are going to college. You really need (or would really like) an increase in your financial aid award, but you are not sure if you should. Any of these circumstances apply to you? If so, this week's tips and tricks are just what you need.

Week 41 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

  • Continue evaluating your choices for college. 
  • Evaluate your financial aid offers and decide if you are going to ask for a revision to any.
  • Schedule/plan your post-acceptance visits.

Tips & Tricks

1. When evaluating whether a college is affordable for you, be realistic about your actual cost of attendance.

The college will set a "cost of attendance" based on its own policies and standards and your financial aid award will only provide funds to cover the specified "cost of attendance." But the college's policies and standards may or may align to your particular circumstance. For example, Boston College allows a total of $2200 for books and miscellaneous expenses, including your travel expenses to and from your home. But what if your home is in Honolulu instead of nearby New York City? Your travel costs will obviously be more. Will their allowance be enough or do you need to find additional funds to cover the extra costs you will incur? The time to consider whether you will REALLY have enough money to pay for your first year of college is now. 

2. When comparing financial aid offers from different colleges, compare the components of the aid as well as the total amount of aid awarded.

College X and College Y have the same cost of attendance and both have offered you $25,000 in financial aid. So the awards are equal, right? Maybe,but maybe not. You need to read the details to determine what makes up the $25,000 in aid. As it turns out, College X has offered $15,000 in scholarship and grants that do not have to be repaid and $10,000 in loans and work-study. College Y has offered only $5,000 in scholarship and grants that do not have to be repaid and the $20,000 balance in loans and work-study. From a financial perspective, College X's financial aid package is much better for you. 

3. Courteously asking for an increase in your financial aid award is wise if your circumstances support such a request.

There are two circumstances when you should ask for an increase in your financial aid award. The first circumstance is when your family's financial situation has changed substantially since you filed your financial aid applications. For example, if one of your parents has lost his or her job, it would be appropriate to request a review of your financial aid award. The second circumstance is when you have received a higher award from another comparably selective college. In this circumstance, you should investigate whether the college you want to increase your aid has a policy of "matching" awards. Some colleges do. For example, Cornell will match awards made by other Ivy League colleges, Stanford, Duke, and/or MIT. If you cannot determine what a college's policy is regarding "matching," then politely inquire. 

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.

April 2, 2015

Will Law Schools See My Non-US Transcripts?

I had about two semesters worth of credit from US undergrad schools, then another two from St. Andrews in Scotland, before leaving school for awhile. I’m finishing up through the University of London International Programme this May. The LSAC put my US GPAs on the report and then just put “foreign” for the st. andrews and uol grades. How might law schools consider this? Do they look at the individual transcripts or just the lsac report? My US GPA was really great, but the uol classes have been so-so given that I also am working beyond-full-time while finishing.

It sounds as if you have a lot going on, my friend! Life is like that sometimes. Not everyone experiences one smooth, contiguous journey through college. In fact, the majority of college students don't. 

Let's unpack the two questions that are bundled together in this scenario.

Will law schools see your international transcripts?

For readers who aren't familiar with how LSAC handles international transcripts, you can find their rules here. Since you'll be receiving your college degree from a non-US/non-Canadian institution, there are also separate rules around that here. You might have the option, or even be required, to submit your University of London transcript to LSAC's "authentication and evaluation feature" for international transcripts (which is separate from, and sometimes additional to, the Academic Summary Report that regular US-based applicants have). Will law schools see the underlying transcripts in the application stage? Here's where it gets tricky, and I'm bolding the relevant bits:

The Credential Assembly Service's (CAS) authentication and evaluation feature is a convenient and efficient processing service for international documents used in the law school application process. All non-US/Canadian transcripts with combined work totaling more than one academic year should be listed during registration for CAS and sent to LSAC. They are forwarded to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), where they will be authenticated and evaluated. There is no charge for this evaluation other than the standard CAS registration fee. The data is assembled into a credential evaluation document that contains AACRAO's summary, copies of the transcripts (and translations, as necessary), and a TOEFL or IELTS score, if applicable. All of these documents will be incorporated into the law school report. Upon submission of a matriculation decision, the original non-US/Canadian transcript(s) received by LSAC will be forwarded to the law school. Law schools can choose their level of participation in this service. The following links list law schools that require use of LSAC's authentication and evaluation service for JD applicants or law schools for which LSAC authentication and evaluation is optional. [Source here.]

So whether the individual law schools will see the international transcripts or not is up to them, and you'll have to dig through those LSAC lists linked to above to get a definitive answer. If you're still not sure after wading through all that wugga-mugga, call or email LSAC directly.

How will schools evaluate your so-so grades at University of London?

Admissions officers are pretty powerful people, but — for better or worse — they can't read minds. So if all they have in front of them is a transcript, with no further explanation of what's behind certain grade trends, you leave that backstory to their imaginations. Not all backstories are worth sharing. Hypothetically, if your grades had been so-so because you were spending too much time drinking at the pub, you'd be better off not trying to justify or spin your grades. As I like to say about a lot of addendum ideas that applicants have, it's best to let that sleeping dog lie.

But if you were working beyond full-time, as you say, that's important backstory for them to have. There are sections in the application form that ask you to list your work history along with dates and time commitments, but you'd be relying weary-eyed admissions officers to be able to connect the dots and piece all that together in a quick read-through, that might be expecting too much. In that case, I'd write a short addendum explaining the commitments you had outside of school during that time period. Or you can add a bullet in your resume, in the University of London section, where you say that you were working full-time while taking classes. Either of those solutions would get the point across.

Good luck!

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.

March 31, 2015

Juniors: Common Application Essay Topics are Out, But Don't Start Writing Until July!

Juniors, have you been on pins and needles wondering what the essay topics will be for next year? If so, your agony is over. The Common Application released the 5 essay topics that will appear on next year's Common Application today. They are:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

In case you are wondering, only topic #4 is new; the others have been options for the last two years. (Although the wording of topics #1 and #2 got streamlined and modified slightly, they really didn't change.) 

Now that you know the topics, should you get to work on writing your essays? We don't think so. Essays written now tend to go stale by the time it is time to submit them. And for more than half of the colleges that accept the Common Application, this essay isn't going to be the only essay on the application. To produce your best application, you need to approach it as a whole, so you need to know what the other essay questions on the application are before you tackle this Common Application essay. Experience has taught us that the optimal time to begin working on your essays in late July-early August.

So what should you be doing now to get a jump on the college application process? First things first -- focus on building your credentials. That means:

  • Finishing your junior year with your best grades ever.
  • Preparing for and taking the standardized tests.
  • Making plans for doing something during the summer to take your academics or activities to the next level.

Once you've got your credentials in order, then you can move on to the essential "pre-work" you have to do before you are ready to dig into the applications themselves. As we explain in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Applicationyou've got to do three things to before you are really ready to begin completing your applications (or drafting your essays). 

  • Make the big decisions regarding your college list -- Where are you going to apply? And where, if anywhere, are you going to apply early?
  • Write "your story" -- a summary statement of who you are that will be your guide for choosing the right essay topics.
  • Put together your resume. 

You can read more about how to do the pre-work by consulting the blog postings for week 2 and week 3 in our 52 Weeks to College series based on our book.

March 31, 2015

52 Weeks to College: Week 40 -- I've Been Wait-Listed...What Should I Do?

Being wait-listed may be the cruelest fate of them all. You want a decision. You need a decision. And instead, you get a decision that isn't a decision. What do you do now? This week we offer you 5 essential dos when it comes to handling being wait-listed.

Week 40 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

  • Decide which, if any, wait list offers you are going to accept and then take the recommended steps below to maximize your chances of being admitted from the wait list.
  • Continue evaluating your choices for college. 
  • Schedule/plan your post-acceptance visits.

Tips & Tricks

1. Do hold a spot on a wait list if you know that if you received an offer from this college, you would accept it immediately, and you would happily turn down all of your other offers of admission. If you would not accept that offer of admission, then there is no reason for you to be on the wait list. Staying in limbo keeps you from moving forward, directing your energies to ending your senior year well, and investing emotionally in the college you will attend. Keeping yourself in the running for a college you will not attend is also unkind to others on the wait list who really do want to attend that college. Be a good applicant citizen and do the right thing.

2. Do send an update to be added to your application file with any positive news you have to share. Good grades on your most recent report card? Forward a copy of your most recent grade report and ask your school counselor to send an optional report in support. Any new academic honor or award? Share the news in your email update. Likewise, if you have had major developments on the activity front, let the admissions office know – especially if they demonstrate passion, talent, initiative and/or impact (the core four)! (If you've forgotten about the core four, refer back to chapters 4 and 8.)

3. Do communicate that you will accept an offer of admission if made in your update. Colleges are not interested in admitting applicants off the wait list who are going to say “no.” It decreases their yield (yield is the percentage of applicants who accept offers of admission), and yield is important to rankings. Communicate your intentions directly and forthrightly to the college in your email. If you have never answered the “Why College X?” question (because it was not asked on the application), then incorporate a brief answer to “Why College X?” in this communication.

4. Do ask anyone you know who has influence with the college to send a note of support for your admission. Because the college is focused on serving its institutional goals when admitting from the wait list, admissions officers are very attuned to who is advocating for particular applicants. Here is the short list of possible influential advocates:

  • Your school counselor, if he or she has a relationship with an admissions officer at the college or your school is a feeder school for the college (feeder schools provide a steady stream of students to the college every year) 
  • Anyone you know who is a graduate of the college, if he or she has been involved with the college since graduation as a volunteer, donor, and so on Anyone you know with a high-level contact at the college (a high-level contact would be someone like the president or one of the vice presidents of the college, a board member at the college, or a particularly influential faculty member at the college) 
  • Anyone you know who is on the board, faculty, or senior staff at the college Anyone you know who has been a major donor to the college (a major donor would have been recognized for at least a six-figure gift and might have something at the college named in his or her honor).

5. Do be prepared to respond to an offer of admission promptly. You are often asked to respond to an offer of admission within a short period of time – sometimes as short as 48 hours. So stay on top of your email and telephone messages and be ready with your answer! 

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.

March 24, 2015

52 Weeks to College: Week 39 -- I Haven't Heard Anything...What Should I Do?

This is the week when all should be revealed. The vast majority of colleges will release their decisions before April 1, so if you haven't heard yet, this is the week you should hear. So what if you don't hear? No news is definitely problematic, especially when you are waiting to hear from your top choice college. This week we focus our tips and tricks on what to do if you haven't heard anything from one or more of the colleges on your list.

Week 39 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

  • Get your decisions -- you should know from every college on your list within the next two weeks.
  • Continue evaluating your choices for college. 
  • Schedule/plan your post-acceptance visits.

Tips & Tricks

1. Verify that you should have heard something. 

Before you take any kind of action, you need to verify that there is something amiss. Just because you've heard that decisions are out for College X via the grapevine doesn't mean that it's true. Check the college website or call the college admissions office to verify that ALL decisions have been released. Some colleges release all decisions at the same time; other colleges release decisions in groups.

2. Doublecheck that you haven't heard something.

Colleges notify applicants of their decisions in different ways. Check these three places before you assume that they haven't notified you:

  • Check your application status online. If the college made it possible for you to monitor your application status online, then they often post decisions online and expect you to check there to get your decisions. 
  • Check your email carefully -- including your trash and spam folders. Many colleges send their decision letters via email and a shockingly high percentage get funneled to your trash and spam folders! So check those. Also open every email in your inbox -- the email may have come from a different address than you expect.
  • Check your snail mail at the permanent mailing address on your application. Admissions letters do still come by snail mail, so don't overlook checking there. Also be sure you are checking snail mail at the right address. These letters are usually sent to the permanent mailing address given in your application. Boarding school kids and gap year travelers need to be especially alert to this possibility. 

3. Take immediate action if decisions really are out and you really haven't heard.

This is the time for an antiquated 20th century method of communication – the phone call.  During this phone call, you have one mission – get the information necessary to resolve whatever is keeping you from getting your decision.  Notice that we don’t say your purpose is to get the decision.  Why?  Mostly because admissions offices generally have policies that prohibit sharing a decision over the telephone.  But, the quickest and best way to learn what you need to do to actually get your decision is to talk to someone at the college.  

  • Go to a private, quiet place and call the Admissions Office during their regular business hours.  Be prepared to sit on hold if necessary.  

  • When you get a live person on the other end, politely state your problem.  “I’m calling because I applied for entry into the freshman class of 2011 and I understand you sent decision letters/emails out, but I haven’t received my letter/email [or when I log in, there is no decision posted for me].  Can you help me figure out why I haven’t gotten my decision yet?”  
  • Regardless of what the reply by the admissions officer is, your primary focus needs to be staying calm and accomplishing your mission.  Say, for example, that the admissions officer says, “You haven’t received a decision letter because we have no record of your application.”  
  • Now this reply completely freaks you out, because you absolutely positively know they got your application and you are beside yourself that your top choice college would screw up your future this way.  How could they do that to you?  But before you share your freak out with the admissions officer, take a breath and remember the mission of this call.  You just need information so that whatever problem there is can be resolved.  Sooner rather than later.  
  • So, take a breath.  Then reply politely and evenly, “Wow there must be some mistake.  I submitted my application on December 15 and I have the email reply confirming receipt here.  What should I do?”  The admissions officer will then walk you through what to do and the admissions office will bend over backwards to correct their mistake.

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.

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?

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