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Myths and Realities of College Admission

Podcast 193: What’s REALLY Important in

College Admissions?

Many families are confused about where to start with college admissions, and there is a lot of faulty information out there.

In this episode of “The College Prep Podcast”, I lay out, in concrete terms, what’s important when prepping for college and correct some myths that many families have.

Specifically, we explore:

  • 3 great underutilized resources for getting accurate information about colleges
  • 3 main criteria colleges look at when determining if you are a good fit for their school
  • 5 myths about the college admissions process (like: “you have to have top grades and great scores to get into any school”) and what is actually true instead

Listen here. 

Strategic Extracurriculars

Podcast 191: Make Your Activities Work for You in College Admission

 

Do you worry whether your high school student has the right kind of activities to impress the colleges to which they’re applying?

In this episode of “The College Prep Podcast” I present an easy way to think about extracurriculars to help teens make the most of their time outside of school.

I share:

  • what it means to “start with the end in mind” with thinking through a teen’s activities
  • choose an activity that makes sense for your kid without forcing them to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do
  • four ways to find the right activities for your student that will be a) aligned with your kid’s interests and b) show them off in a good light to colleges

Listen here.

(You can find The College Prep Podcast” on iTunes and other popular podcast sites.)

How To Handle College Rejection Letters

Every spring thousands of students receive rejection letters from colleges and universities. While it is disappointing, particularly when a top choice school sends a rejection letter, there are steps students can take to manage upsetting news and move forward in the admissions process.

Acknowledge Disappointment

It is upsetting. No one wants to get a rejection letter. When a student has put time and effort into vising a school, submitting an application, and picturing him or herself on campus, rejection is hurtful. It is okay to spend a day or two grieving the loss of an opportunity. Students who acknowledge their feelings of disappointment, anger, frustration, or loss are better able to move onto new possibilities than those who try to ignore their feelings and end up lashing out at family and friends unexpectedly.

Reevaluate criteria and priorities.

Once the initial shock and disappointment wear off, get back to the big picture of finding a college that is a good fit. This means letting go of the option that is no longer available and getting into the mindset of finding the next choice. I’ve worked with students who ended up with no options by the time they graduated because they refused to get past the disappointment of a rejection and move on to “Plan B.”

This step goes hand in hand with attainable admissions standards. Sometimes rejection letters force students to face unpleasant facts. This is often where good (and great) students are told they are not exceptional enough to gain admission to the ultra-selective colleges on their lists. It is a time to look for great schools with friendlier admissions policies. Reevaluating the initial criteria for selecting colleges can help refocus on the overall goal.

Evaluate Other Acceptance Offers

Hopefully students will have developed lists of potential schools so that they will have other offers of admission. Focusing on the positive acceptances and the possibilities of each can help students handle rejection. This is why I have moved away from the term “backup school” because I want students to see all options as good choices and not feel they have to settle if they aren’t accepted at their top choice school.

Even if all top choice schools sent rejection letters, a student can still find a positive alternative. It is as if a student finds she won’t get a new luxury car, but will receive an economy car. Seeing the benefits of the new car, even if it is an economy model rather than a luxury one, can help. Other acceptance offers are better than no acceptance offers.

Apply to Other Schools if Necessary

If a student has been rejected from all schools to which he or she applied, it may be necessary to submit applications to additional colleges. Students who have reason to believe they will not receive any letters of acceptance should look for schools with easier admissions standards than the ones they applied to before.

I know application deadlines have passed at many schools, but there are still options. Schools with late spring application deadlines or rolling decision options may accept applications as late as May or June for fall registration. These new schools may have friendlier admission criteria, but don’t assume students will get in without trying. (In other words, don’t underestimate these colleges. Later deadlines doesn’t mean they accept everyone; put effort into those applications.)

In May colleges evaluate how many students have enrolled and how much space, if any, they have available in the incoming class. Students in need of a backup school in May, June, or July should contact their counselors to find out which colleges and universities still have openings for the fall semester.

Move On

The final step and handling college rejection is moving on. After a week or two of lamenting the lost opportunity, students need to move on. Accepting rejection, whether from a college, employer, or potential date, is part of growing up. Learning to handle rejection in a mature calm manner will help students avoid potentially embarrassing situations in the future and open their minds to new opportunities.

 

When highly-selective universities have admissions rates below 10 percent, even valedictorians are denied admission. What students do in the days and weeks following will determine if they are successfully able to handle rejection and move on.

 

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Tips For Finding Quality Backup Schools

Last week we passed the January 15 application deadline.  Most high school seniors should have submitted their college applications and now is the time most families wait to hear back from all the colleges on the list.  It is also the perfect time to make sure your child has at least one quality backup school on his or her list.

I stress the word “quality” because many families assume that the ultimate backup will be the area community college.  While community and junior colleges serve a great purpose, most of the students I know who applied to four year universities see these schools as unacceptable alternatives.

A quality backup school is one that is seen as acceptable to everyone in the family, meets the basic criteria (location, major, etc.), and would be viewed as a good alternative if all other plans fell through.  I encourage every student to plan for a financial and admissions backup when they develop their college list.

The financial backup is there in case none of the scholarship possibilities work out or family finances take a downward turn due to the economy or job loss.  The admissions backup is the school that will admit that student.  The state schools in Texas publish automatic admissions numbers, so many of my clients are encouraged to find a school from that list, but I’ve also had clients who have added at least one four-year school with open admissions policies, meaning they accept all applicants.

Part of college planning involves preparing for the worst-case admissions scenario.  I think it’s human nature to think “it will never happen to me.”  I think back to a former student who came into the high school counseling office one spring day.  She had just received her final college admissions notice and the news was not good.  Denied!  She applied to five schools and received five rejection letters.  She was stunned.  This was a good student in the top of her class with plenty of activities and personal strengths.  But she also had a list of five very competitive universities with no backup schools.

We sat down and started brainstorming options.  I suggested a number of universities where the application deadlines had not passed.  Each time she said, “I’d rather go to Columbia” or “Brown or Swarthmore are better.”  I kept reminding her that those ideal dream schools had sent her rejection letters; they were no longer options.  She insisted that she didn’t want to apply to any state universities and she didn’t want to “settle for less.”  It took a couple weeks and a few more meetings before she was ready to develop a better backup plan.

Ideally, students will plan ahead and incorporate quality backup schools in their college list in the fall.  Here’s what seniors can do this spring if they need to add some additional options:

  1.  Reevaluate criteria and priorities.  Get into the mindset of finding the school that would be the next choice if all the others sent rejection letters.  This doesn’t mean settling for less; it means finding a school that offers strong opportunities, but maybe be less well known or have easier admissions standards.  (Think “If I can’t drive the new Mercedes, would I still be happy with a new Honda Accord?”  Personally, I’d rather have the Honda than ride the bus.)
  2. Look for schools with late spring application deadlines.  I’m familiar with the schools in my state that have late spring admissions deadlines.  I also use the Common Application Deadline & Requirement chart.  Keep in mind that schools with rolling decision may not list a final application deadline, but once they fill their incoming class, they stop accepting students.
  3. Take applications seriously.  Just because a school may be a backup doesn’t mean students should assume they will get in without trying.  I encourage my clients to take the same approach they did with all other schools – send quality essays, take time to review and proofread, and send in optional supporting materials.
  4. Check the “space available” colleges.  In May colleges evaluate how many students have enrolled and how much space, if any, they have.  If you are in need of a backup school in May, June, or July, contact your counselor to find out which colleges and universities still have openings for students.

It is best to plan ahead and start thinking about alternatives junior year, but even in spring semester of senior year, students can take steps to add quality backup schools to their list.