Category Archives: college admissions

Grammar and Writing Style Tips

Even the most talented writers make grammatical mistakes! Whether writing is a favorite pastime or a dreaded task, if you are a college applicant then you will have to compose essays. As such, we’ve compiled a list of grammar and writing style tips to keep in mind when you are creating your personal essay or supplemental essays.

Grammar Tips

Check for run-on sentences.

A run-on sentence occurs when two independent clauses (or complete sentences) are improperly joined. For example:

 “Sheila wants to go to college she is working hard to attain her goal.”

You can correct a run-on sentence with a period or a semicolon:

“Sheila wants to go to college. She is working hard to attain her goal.”

“Sheila wants to go to college; she is working hard to attain her goal.”

You can also correct a run-on sentence with a comma and coordinating conjunction:

“Sheila wants to go to college, and she is working hard to attain her goal.”

On that note, avoid comma splices.

Put simply, a comma splice is essentially a run-on sentence that uses a comma as an accomplice (in its crime against grammar). Building on the example above, one might write:

“Sheila wants to go to college, she’s working hard to attain her goal.”

Or, to add a subtler example:

“Tomatoes aren’t actually a vegetable, they’re a fruit.”

Both can be fixed using the methods above.

Make sure it’s a sentence!

Sentence fragments occur when a piece of a sentence is missing (noun or verb) or if a complete idea is not expressed. Let’s use the following example:

 “Writing is hard work. Which is why you have to keep practicing it.”

The second sentence is a fragment and can be easily fixed by joining it to the main clause:

 “Writing is hard work, which is why you have to keep practicing it.”

Use serial commas consistently.

When listing items in a serial sequence, a comma before “and” is optional in the English language. However, omitting it can cause confusion. As a result, one may choose to include a comma after the penultimate item in a series, known as the Oxford comma, which we recommend. For example, the following sentence is grammatically correct:

 “During the speech, she thanked her friends, the president and God.”

However, without the last comma, this sentence reads that the speaker’s friends are the president and God. The Oxford comma does not allow for this misperception:

“During the speech, she thanked her friends, the president, and God.”

Whichever approach you use, make sure to be consistent.

Get rid of dangling participles!

A participle is a word or phrase that looks like a verb, but acts as an adjective and modifies a noun.

A dangling participle occurs when the participle is not tied to a subject. First, let’s take a look at correct usage:

“A speeding train entered the tunnel.”

In this sentence, “speeding” is the participle and “train” is the subject. Another example:

“Speeding faster than a locomotive, the train entered the tunnel.”

Here, the phrase, “Speeding faster than a locomotive,” is a participle describing the noun, “train.”

Here’s an example of incorrect usage:

“Walking along the road, a tree blocked our way to school.”

The participle “walking along the road” is meant to describe the narrator. But instead, this dangling participle modifies the “tree” instead. To fix a dangling participle, make sure that the participle comes right before or after the noun that it is describing:

“Walking along the road, we noticed the huge tree had fallen and blocked our way to school.”

Watch for consistency of verb tenses.

Do not switch between verbs in the past, present, or future within a clause. For example:

“On Monday, the children walk to school, but rode the trolley home.”

The fix:

“On Monday, the children walked to school, but rode the trolley home.”

Writing Style Tips:

Your writing should have a cohesive flow.

Each essay should have a main theme that you should build on throughout the essay. Try not to jump from idea to idea in an unrelated way, or you will lose your audience. A good exercise to do after you have written an essay draft is to see if you can summarize your main theme in one sentence.

Each paragraph should have its own idea.

There should be a main idea with supporting points in each paragraph.

Vary your word choice.

Make sure that you are not using the same word more than twice in a grouping of sentences. Varying your word choice is more interesting and allows you to choose words that convey more clearly what you want to express. Don’t be vague or choose large words out of the dictionary. Simple is better.

Vary your sentence length 

There’s no firm rule governing the length of a sentence and in theory a great sentence could go on forever. However, take a pass through your writing and make sure that all your sentences are crisp, clear, and easy for your reader to digest. Going on too long often results in confusion.

Similarly, keep your reader engaged by varying the length of your sentences. Too many short sentences in a row make your writing feel choppy. It gets repetitive. It feels unsophisticated. People start to get annoyed. Do you see what I mean yet? On the other hand, too many long sentences can become soporific and difficult to follow, so for the sake of keeping you awake, I’ll spare you a demonstration and just ask you to imagine four sentences in row as long as this one. So, switch things up. And, while you’re at it, use sentence length to your advantage. Longer, flowing sentences like the one that I’m writing right now allows you to add details, probe your ideas thoroughly, and create interesting descriptions. Short ones make a point.

Always read what you have written aloud.

When you are editing, reading aloud often helps you to hear your syntax errors and grammatical mistakes in addition to seeing them. Most importantly, make sure that your writing sounds like you! It should be in your own voice.

Each college applicant has his or her own voice and ideas to convey in the personal statement and supplemental essays. Writing your truth and expressing a piece of who you are as a person and student may seem like a complicated and intimidating process. Here at Collegiate Gateway, we’re always happy to help!

Crafting Your Ideal College List

With over 3500 colleges in the United States to choose from, it’s no surprise that many students struggle to decide which of them to apply to. This blog will provide a step-by-step guide to making this process effective and even fun! We recommend that you explore and visit colleges throughout junior year and finalize your college list in the summer before senior year.

Finding Your “Best-Fit” College Features

The most important aspect of the college admissions process is FIT. Which colleges will be the best fit for you as a unique individual? At which colleges will you be most able to grow academically, socially, and personally?

Start by thinking about your preferences. Here are some features to consider as you build your list of “best-fit” features:

  • Size. A small college (with fewer than 4000 students) tends to offer a more close-knit sense of community, with smaller, discussion-based classes, and closer relationships with professors. On the other hand, a large college (with more than 10,000 students) tends to offer more options of courses, specialized programs, clubs and organizations, and even friends. And a medium-sized college (with about 3,000 – 10,000 students) provides a blend of qualities of a small and large school.
  • Liberal Arts vs Specialized Programs. Smaller colleges tend to offer a “liberal arts” curriculum, with courses in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, such as psychology, history, and biology. On the other hand, larger universities often include specialized, pre-professional colleges within the school, and focus on areas such as business, engineering, communication, and architecture. Your academic interests and preferences for a certain size of college will help you decide which type of school is best for you.
  • Academics: Majors and Minors. What subjects interest you the most? Which classes have you most enjoyed? Research academic programs on colleges’ websites. See how many faculty members are in your areas of interest and review the departments’ courses and research opportunities. If you have a few different academic areas of interest, you will likely be able to pursue multiple subjects at college through a double-major or a major and minor. In colleges in the US, typically you can choose any combination of fields for a double-major or major/minor. For example, I have worked with students with a major in engineering and minor in studio art, a major in physics and minor in dance, and a major in Spanish and minor in biology!In addition, colleges are increasingly offering degrees in interdisciplinary areas, such as Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at University of Pennsylvania, biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis.  An academic area that has been growing at many universities is STEAM, the combination of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.
  • Distribution Requirements. In addition to the courses in your academic major, think about whether you have a strong preference for being exposed to a broad-based curriculum, or having the freedom to construct your entire course of study. Most colleges require that you take 8-10 courses (about a third of your total coursework) in a variety of academic areas in order to receive a broad-based education. Colleges range from having no distribution requirements (such as Brown University) to having a prescribed core curriculum (Columbia University). Most colleges fall in between, offering choices of courses in a variety of categories. For example, Princeton University has distribution requirements in the areas of Epistemology and Cognition, Ethical thought and Moral Values, Historical Analysis, Literature and the Arts, Social Analysis, Quantitative Reasoning, and Science and Technology.
  • Study Abroad. Most colleges offer the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or year and provide credit for coursework at other universities. Some colleges, such as New York University, have developed their own programs abroad, staffed by their own faculty. How important is it to you to study abroad? If so, research colleges’ study abroad policies to see how feasible it would be given your intended major, and find out the percent of students who typically do study abroad to determine if it is part of the school’s culture.
  • Internships. Would you like to work for an organization for a semester or more during your college years? This opportunity can be an excellent supplement to your academic coursework and expose you to potential careers. Some colleges build internships into the curriculum by requiring that you participate in one or more “co-op” semesters. Additionally, internships are more available in cities than in remote areas.
  • Extracurricular Activities. Are there clubs and organizations that are very important to you in college? These might include a cappella groups, theater, athletic clubs and intramural teams, religious organizations, or community service opportunities.
  • Location. Do you prefer a certain location in the US or beyond? Do you want to be in or near a city, or do you prefer proximity to nature? Is it important for you to be close to home?
  • Social Life. What is your preference for the social life on campus? How important is it to have strong athletic spirit or the presence of Greek life?

What is your personality like? As you reflect on these features, take into consideration your personality! Are you more extraverted or introverted? Would you prefer meeting a lot of people or spending time with a small group of close friends? Do you prefer a more structured or laid-back environment? Do you like to learn from classroom instruction or do you prefer a more hand-on approach? The more you understand yourself, the better equipped you will be to find a college that is a good fit for you.

Making the Most of Your College Visits

Now that you have identified features that are important to you, what’s next?

Research colleges to decide where to visit:

  • Research colleges online. Look up their websites, and read about their academic programs, extracurricular activities, and college culture.
  • Read college guidebooks, such as The Princeton Review and The Fiske Guide.
  • Speak with college students.
  • Attend local information sessions of colleges.

Plan to visit colleges. Now that you have identified schools that could be a good fit for you, visit their admissions websites to see if you need to register in advance for a tour and information session. Plan to eat in the dining hall so that you can speak with students and get a feel for the culture of the school. Try to arrange meetings with professors in your fields of interest; you can ask them why they chose to teach at the college and how they would describe the student body. You can also meet with staff in specialized offices, such as honors programs or learning centers.

In gathering all this information during your visits, you will begin to discover your college preferences.

Creating Your College List

Now that you have visited colleges and evaluated whether they are a good fit for you, you can develop your college list. Keep evaluating their features to make sure that your colleges suit your needs. The goal is not only to be accepted, but to succeed and thrive at your colleges!

Decide on 10-12 colleges to apply to. We recommend that you end up with 10-12 colleges on your list, with a combination of reach, target, and safe colleges.  Generally speaking, here are your admissions chances at these categories of schools:

  • Safe: more than a 75% chance of acceptance
  • Target: about a 50% chance of being admitted (your profile matches the profile of admitted students)
  • Reach: less than a 25% chance of acceptance

Assess your candidacy!  The most important factors in college admission remain the numbers:

  • Grades, especially in the core curriculum courses of English, history, foreign language, math, and science;
  • Rigor of curriculum, evaluated within the context of what’s offered at your high school;
  • Standardized testing, including the ACT or SAT, Subject Tests, AP exams, and IB grades.

Learn about your high school’s admissions history. Most schools use Naviance, a web-based software program that presents the admissions outcomes of students from your school, based on their GPA and test scores. Compare your academic profile with students from your school who have been accepted to colleges in which you are interested.

Below is a scattergram of students who applied to Emory University from Schreiber High School in Port Washington.  If your GPA and test scores place you in the top right of the scattergram, near all the green squares of accepted students, you have a strong chance of being accepted, if you meet Emory’s other criteria.  If your GPA and test scores place you in the lower left below the icons of accepted students, Emory may be a reach for you, unless you have a strong admissions “hook,” such as being a recruited athlete, legacy, under-represented minority, or first-generation student.

Boost your candidacy through your personal qualities. Although colleges place significant emphasis on your grades and test scores in their evaluation of your candidacy, qualitative factors have increased in importance over the last decade.  Colleges are interested in all the ways that you will contribute to campus life outside the classroom. To that end,  engage in extracurricular activities that genuinely interest you.  These activities can play a positive role in the following aspects of your application:

  • Essays and Interviews: you can discuss your involvement in activities in your Personal Essay, colleges’ supplemental essays, and interviews;
  • Recommendations: you can ask for letters of recommendation from people outside the academic courses, such as research mentors, coaches, clergy, supervisors of employment or internships

Balancing “Reach” With “Realistic”

Keep in mind overall admissions trends. The numbers of students attending college has been increasing and is projected to continue to increase over the next decade. More students are applying to college, and each student is applying to an increasing number of colleges. As a result, admissions rates have declined, and selectivity has increased. It has become increasingly more important to have a realistic list.

Make sure your college list is balanced. In a typical college list of 12 colleges, about 5 should be “target” schools (you have about a 50% chance of being admitted), with about 3-4 each of “safe” schools (more than a 75% chance of acceptance), and “reach” schools (less than a 25% chance of acceptance).

Tailor your list. Each individual’s college list should be suited to their academic and personal needs. If you would like a very challenging academic environment and have a strong academic profile, you could have more reach schools. If you would like a more manageable course load, or are trying to manage learning, emotional, or psychological challenges, you may want to increase the number of safe schools.

The process of deciding which colleges to visit, which to apply to, and which college to attend is complex! If you would like individualized guidance, feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

A Summer Timeline for Starting Your College Applications

You’re about to finish a hectic junior year of working hard at school and participating in extracurricular activities—not to mention going on college visits, taking standardized tests, and possibly learning to drive! As your summer stretches before you, here are some ways to consider getting a jump start on your college applications so that you are in great shape for early and regular admission deadlines in the fall and winter.

June, July, and August

  • Continue to visit colleges. For an in-depth look at how to make the most out of your summer college visits, read our blog. Take copious notes and research your programs of interest. These noted details will come in handy when writing an academic “match” essay, which will be your persuasive argument about why you are a great “fit” for this school and academic program.
  • Prepare for standardized tests. If you plan on taking the ACT or SAT in the summer or fall to raise your scores, continue your test prep.
  • Research national and local scholarships. Create a list of deadlines and required materials, such as essays or recommendations. See our blog about the benefits of seeking local scholarships.
June 
  • Set up a Common Application account. Even though colleges do not release their supplemental questions until August 1, it is a good idea to set up your account in advance and familiarize yourself with the Common App platform. You can fill out your personal information and begin to create a college list. This information will be saved when account rollover occurs on August 1. Do not begin to answer any supplemental questions specific to a college, as this information will not be saved during account rollover.
  • Draft a College Resume. Not all colleges accept a resume on the Common Application, but it is still a great tool to have for college interviews and for applying to jobs and internships. Additionally, having a resume will also make it easier to complete the Common App Activity Sheet. In your resume, be sure to include high school honors and awards, as well as any summer courses that you have taken for credit or enrichment.
July 
  • Begin to brainstorm your Personal Essay topic and create an outline. Look at the personal essay prompts from the 2018-19 application cycle. These prompts tend to remain the same from year-to-year, with minor changes. You will use your personal essay for every application that you submit, so spend some time thinking about topics that really speak to how you would like to best present yourself.
  • Look at the supplemental essays previously required for your top schools. Check the Common App or a college’s website to see which supplemental essays were required by your top schools for early and regular admission during the previous application cycle. This will give you an idea of how to prepare for the types of essays that you will be asked to write. For example, the University of Michigan has previously required a supplemental match essay, activity essay, and community essay. Occasionally, colleges do change their essay requirements from year to year. Washington University in St. Louis has not required any supplemental essays in the past. However, beginning in the fall of 2019, WashU will now require a supplemental essay about an academic area of your choice. This essay will be used in considering all applicants for merit scholarships.
  • Begin to brainstorm your Activity Essay for use in a supplement. Narrow down which of your activities is most meaningful to you and create an outline with specific accomplishments and leadership moments. Describe why you love the activity and how it has impacted you.
  • Begin to brainstorm your College Match Essay for use in a supplement. One of the most common supplemental essays is the “match” essay, which asks why you want to attend the particular college; in other words, why is the college a good match, or fit, for you? Check the Common App to see if your top schools for early or regular admission had an academic “match” essay for the previous application cycle. If the college has had this type of essay in the past, outline a “match” essay for this school. Think about what you will bring to this institution and what this college will offer you in terms of academics, culture, and activities. Identify the specific features of this school (for example, urban setting, Greek life, strong athletic program/school spirit, or religious affiliation) and discuss why these factors appeal to you.

Research your field of academic interest at the school and mention specifics like courses offered, professors, research, and relate this to your plan for a major/minor and future career goals. Mention activities that you are involved in now, which you would like to continue, as well as new activities offered by the school that you would like to try. The more specific details that you use, the better! You are demonstrating your high level of interest by showing how much you have researched a particular school.

August 
  • Begin to fill out the Common Application. On August 1, the Common App “goes live,” which means that all information, including essays, is ready to be input. If you have not already done so, fill out your personal information and activity list. Complete the Common Application form by September 1.
  • Finalize your College Resume. Ask at least one person to look over your resume.
  • Complete your “core” essays. Draft, create multiple edits, and finalize your Personal Essay, Activity Essay, Community Essay, and College Match Essay (for a favorite college). Many of these core supplemental essays can be tweaked for various colleges.

Enjoy your summer! Completing your college applications in a timely manner can alleviate much of the stress caused by the college application process. Here at Collegiate Gateway, we are always happy to help!

Who Benefits From Early Decision?

Early Decision is a relatively new phenomenon in the college admissions landscape. But in the few decades since its inception, it’s become such a prominent feature of college admissions that many colleges fill up to half their freshman class through Early Decision applications. There is much controversy surrounding its impact on students and families because it tends to advantage affluent students who attend top secondary schools. This blog explores who stands to benefit from Early Decision, and how it affects the constituent groups of students, families, high schools, and colleges.

Historical Background

In the early centuries of college admissions, say from 1636 through the 1950s, all students applied through a Regular Admissions process, in which the deadline typically was January 1, and students received notification decisions by mid-April. But that all changed in the 1950s when a group of five smaller colleges that dubbed themselves the “Pentagonals” – Amherst, Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Wesleyan, and Williams – decided to offer a binding Early Decision option in order to grab top students before they applied to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

As Early Decision became an increasingly popular option—and admissions became increasingly competitive—students felt increasing pressure to apply early, in order to maximize their chances of admission. In 2004, Yale and Stanford switched from ED to SCEA in order to decrease the stress on students. The non-binding option, they argued, would alleviate the additional pressure students face in having to commit before they’re fully ready.

Objections to Early Admissions, however, soon took on an additional dimension. In 2006, Harvard, Princeton, and UVA made the bold move to no longer offer any kind of early admissions program because of research suggesting that such programs disadvantage students from lower socioeconomic groups for a variety of reasons. These families needed to compare financial aid offers from more than one college, and often students in under-resourced high schools were not made aware of early admissions options, often missing out altogether.

Harvard, Princeton, and UVA hoped to serve as role models, and expected that other colleges would follow suit. While other colleges, such as Stanford, publicly supported their new policy, no colleges followed. This strategically disadvantaged Harvard, Princeton, and UVA, since other colleges could now grab top students through binding early programs, and within several years, all three resumed an early admissions program, with Harvard and Princeton offering SCEA, and UVA offering EA.

In fact, more and more colleges are now offering binding ED plans. In 2016, University of Chicago, Haverford, Wake Forest, and Wellesley added ED plans; and Tulane replaced its SCEA with ED. Very few of the most selective private colleges in the country now offer a non-restrictive early admissions option; these include Georgetown and MIT.

Impact of Early Decisions on Regular Decisions

37 colleges are now filling at least 40% of their incoming freshman class through Early Decision, as we discuss in our blog on trends in the Early Admissions process. This leaves significantly fewer spots for the vastly greater numbers of students who apply through Regular Decision. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, 7,110 ED applications were submitted for the Class of 2023, and 18% were accepted, filling about 53% of Penn’s incoming freshman class. That means that the significantly larger regular pool must compete for the remaining spots. For the Class of 2022, 44,482 students applied in Regular Decision, and only 8.4% were admitted.

These numbers can affect the quality of review of an applicant’s file. On the one hand, admissions officers have about twice as much time to review applications in the Regular Round, as they typically have three months for RD applications, from January 1 through April 1, and 1 ½ months for ED applications, from November 1 – December 15. But if the admissions staff receive a whopping 5x as many RD applications, as in Penn’s case, the review process will be much more compressed, and students who have a unique story to tell may not receive the same quality of consideration.

Who Benefits from Early Decision?

Students

  • Students from families who do not need to compare financial aid packages
  • Strong academic students who have sufficiently compelling GPAs by the end of junior year and test scores by October of senior year, and who do not need further testing or 1stsemester grades to bolster their candidacy
  • Students from top high schools with sufficient resources to provide individualized guidance in educating students about the benefits of early decision
  • Students from educated parents who are familiar with early decision options
  • Students who have private test prep tutors who advise them to take standardized tests in junior year so that they will have scores in time to submit for early deadlines

High Schools

  • Top high schools whose students take advantage of early decision to selective colleges; and who consequently are admitted at higher rates. High schools publicize their college acceptance and matriculation outcomes, and successful outcomes makes the school district more desirable for families who value education, increases property values, and draws new residents.

Colleges

  • Colleges who value students’ demonstrated interest. ED is often used by small to medium sized colleges who want to build a tight-knit community of students who are especially loyal to the school.

How Do Students Benefit?

  • Great acceptance rate. Simply put, students are more likely to be accepted. Typically the acceptance rate is higher for students who apply through a restrictive early program, such as ED or SCEA, because the applicants are demonstrating a strong degree of interest in attending the college. A landmark study conducted in 2001 by Christopher Avery, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, along with colleagues, found that applying ED provided the advantage of an additional 100 points on the SAT.
  • A more relaxed senior year. Students know where they will be attending by December 15. This eliminates the stress of waiting to find out where they have been accepted, enables the seniors to have a relaxed second semester, and provides them with a longer time in which to plan for the start of college.
  • Access to scholarships. Many merit scholarships are open only to students who apply by fall deadlines.
  • Access to interviews. Some colleges, such as MIT, only offer interviews to students who apply by fall deadlines.

How Do Colleges Benefit?

Early Decision plans benefit the college in numerous ways:

  • The accepted students are more devoted and loyal to the college; they will be stronger spokespeople for the college, and their positive feelings will affect other students
  • As alums, the graduates will likely donate more money because the college was a top choice, and that college accepted them in the early round
  • The colleges’ “yield” (the percentage of accepted students who choose to attend) will increase, which increases predictability in calculating the freshman year
  • With increased yield, US News & World Report’s rankings increase

Who is Disadvantaged by Early Decision?

Students

  • Students from families who need to compare financial aid packages
  • Students from large public high schools with over-burdened guidance counselors who do not have the resources to educate students about the benefits of early decision
  • First-generation students whose parents may not speak English, may not be as actively involved in the high school, and may not be as aware of all the options of admissions plans
  • Students who do not have the financial resources for private test preparation, and are not knowledgeable about the timeline required to obtain scores in time for early deadlines

High Schools

  • Under-resourced high schools whose students do not take advantage of ED options, and have a lower chance of acceptance through RD

Colleges

  • Colleges who philosophically oppose ED, such as Catholic colleges, and may lose out on top students who would rather have the certainty of an ED acceptance.

Solutions

White House Report in 2014 cited that “While half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just 1 in 10 people from low-income families do,” concluding that “college access and attainment remains unequal.” It is widely acknowledged that early admissions policies reward the affluent and penalize the poor. Yet it is strategically challenging to address this issue at the level of college institutions, due to the zero- sum-game element in which a small number of colleges with a steady number of slots compete for an ever-growing number of talented applicants.

The issue may be most effectively addressed by individuals and organizations that provide outreach to lower-income students. Former NYC Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy is now Executive Director of the Cooke Foundation, whose mission is to award scholarships to high-potential students with financial need. He is an ardent advocate for the end of early admissions, and argues that not only do such policies disadvantage low-income students, but that “our nation is being deprived of the talents of young people who could go on to become doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers and government leaders — and who could fill many other vital jobs if only they had the chance to get a college education.”

For guidance on the college admissions process, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!

The Role of Grades in College Admissions

Your grades throughout high school remain the most important factor in college admissions.  While colleges also look carefully at your standardized test scores, essays, recommendations, and other personal factors, they view your grades as the strongest predictor of your academic success in college. This blog explains how colleges view your grades and curriculum in the overall admissions process.

Grades are #1

81% of colleges surveyed by NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors) give considerable importance to both grades in college prep courses and grades in all your courses. The chart below shows the percentage of colleges attributing different levels of importance to various admissions factors:

 Why Do Grades Matter?

 Admissions officers consistently say that your day-in-day-out grades are the best predictor of your academic performance in college.  Research shows a strong correlation between high school grades and not only academic performance in college, but retention and graduate rates as well.

While standardized test scores still play an important role, admissions staff recognize that your one-day test score may be impacted by a variety of factors such as test anxiety, inadequate sleep, lack of exposure to test-taking strategies, and test center distractions. But your grades show whether you have demonstrated persistence and focus on academic performance throughout your high school years.

Which Grades Matter?

The trend in your grades is important as well.  Often students take time to adjust to the greater freedom and responsibility of high school, and this is reflected in weaker grades during freshman year. Some colleges, such as Stanford University, explicitly state that they do not place importance on 9th grade grades. “We will focus our evaluation on your coursework and performance in 10th, 11th and 12th grades, primarily in the core academic subjects of English, mathematics, science, foreign language and history/social studies.”

All colleges place more emphasis on your grades in junior and senior year.  Your junior year grades are included on your official transcript, and colleges see your first-semester senior year grades in the Mid-Year Report (which is required by all colleges). And colleges also require your final report card for senior year, and occasionally rescind their acceptance offer if your grades significantly drop.

In addition, if you are applying to a specialized field, your grades in certain courses will receive more attention.  For example, for business or engineering programs, your math grades are particularly important.  For nursing, your science grades will be looked at closely.

How Important is the Rigor of Your Curriculum?

The strength of your curriculum plays an equally important role. Rigorous courses include accelerated, honors, AP (Advanced Placement), IB (International Baccalaureate), and dual-enrollment courses (in which you receive college credit as well). Admissions officers encourage students to take the most challenging curriculum that they can reasonably manage. Williams College advises, “Applicants to Williams should pursue the strongest program of study offered by their secondary schools.”

Students who are especially ambitious and talented sometimes choose to take courses beyond what is offered at their high school at local colleges or online; one of the most common is Multi-Variable Calculus, which is the next course in the math sequence after AP Calculus BC, and rarely offered in secondary schools. So if you are planning to major in a math-based field, such as engineering or physics, and you complete AP Calculus in junior year, your candidacy would be enhanced by taking Multi-Variable Calculus in senior year, in a local college or an online course.  Similarly, students interested in pursuing art in college often take specialized art courses in their community if their high school has a limited selection.

For admission to the most selective colleges in the US, competitive students typically take courses to the end of the sequence in four or five of the core curriculum subjects of English, history, language, math, and science.  The “end of the sequence” would be defined as an AP-level course or a High-Level IB course.

If a student has a particular interest in one of the core subjects and is planning to major in that area, a competitive curriculum might include high-level courses in four of the five core areas, with a doubling-up in the student’s area of interest. For example, a future history major might take AP Government, AP Economics, AP Calculus (AB or BC), and AP science, and not take a high-level language course.

Trends in Admissions Factors

Over the past decade, grades in college prep courses has remained the top factor, and over the past few years, grades in all courses has become an equally important factor.  The next most important factor is the strength of the curriculum.This year, strength of curriculum is viewed as more important than standardized testing. The chart below shows trends over the past decade.

How Do Admissions Officers View Your Transcript?

 Admissions staff always view your transcript within the context of your high school. Colleges recognize that schools vary greatly. As Northwestern states, “Every secondary school is different in its level of competitiveness and in the range of courses offered. These factors are also considered when admission decisions are rendered.”

In addition to evaluating your school’s transcript, colleges typically recalculate your GPA using a standard formula, so that they can compare students from different schools with different GPA scales.  Usually, colleges will use a 4.0 scale, where A+ and A = 4.0, B+ = 3.7, B- = 3.3, B = 3.0, and so on.

Action Plan

We recommend that you develop a preliminary plan of courses when you begin high school as a freshman. You can then re-evaluate your plan each year, based on your academic performance, your interests, your college goals, and your commitments to extracurricular activities. Your coursework should be your top priority in high school, and at the same time try to live a balanced life with sufficient time for activities, family, friends, and sleep!

There are many ways that you can reach your potential with your academic performance.  Most importantly, engage in your courses. Keep up with homework, try to review your notes regularly, and don’t wait until the last minute to study for tests or write your papers.  If you need help, see your teacher, work with other students, and use review books.

The college admissions process is complex, and success requires thoughtful planning from the start of high school. Feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

Who Benefits from Test-optional and Test-flexible Admissions Policies?

As the role of college entrance exams continues to shift, many students find it difficult to navigate evolving and variable testing requirements. The process is made even more complex by the growing number of “test-optional” schools that do not require students to submit the SAT or ACT.

Over 1000 colleges and universities have decided that standardized test scores are not as predictive of academic success in college as the day-to-day academic performance reflected by a high school GPA. Current test-optional colleges include Wake ForestSmith, and Bowdoin.

Several others, including NYUMiddlebury and Hamilton fall under the category of “test-flexible,” meaning that applicants have the option to submit alternative college entrance examinations, such as SAT Subject, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate examinations in place of SAT and ACT scores.

Many students question how to handle test-optional policies, and are unsure of whether or not they should submit their scores. In this blog, we will take a closer look at student choices in applying to test optional colleges and why more and more schools are offering test-optional admissions policies.

Which colleges offer test-optional policies? Are all policies the same?

FairTest.org offers a comprehensive list of the colleges that currently offer test-optional and test-flexible admissions policies. While colleges offering these policies include a variety of institutions, it is notable that many are small liberal arts colleges, public universities, and small Catholic colleges. With few exceptions, the most highly selective colleges continue to require standardized testing; besides being a standard indicator of college readiness, test scores can create a benchmark of acceptance for schools that are becoming inundated with ever-increasing applicant pools.

It is interesting to note that of the 50 highest-ranked national universities, only four have test-optional or test-flexible policies, including Wake Forest, University of Rochester, Brandeis, and NYU, whereas 21 of the top-ranked liberal arts universities offer such testing options. One possible reason is that to attract applicants, the national universities rely more on US News & World Report’s rankings, which factor in test scores. In addition, small liberal arts universities are typically more holistic in their evaluations of candidates.

Test-optional and test-flexible policies vary widely, and the best way to make sure that you are submitting the correct testing requirements is to research the details on the specific college’s website.

For example, NYU (test-flexible) requires testing but students have a variety of options:

  • ACT (writing test not required)
  • SAT(essay test not required)
  • 3 SAT Subject Test scores
  • 3 AP exam scores
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma
  • 3 IB higher-level exam scores if not an IB Diploma candidate
  • Nationally accredited exam that shows you completed your secondary education

Many test-optional schools require students who are not submitting test scores to meet additional requirements, including interviews, writing samples, teacher recommendations, or completing a Test-Optional Form. For example, Franklin & Marshall College requires students who choose to opt out of testing to submit two graded writing samples (creative or analytical), preferably from a humanities or social science course. Loyola University Maryland asks applicants who take advantage of their test-optional policy to submit an additional teacher recommendation and/or personal essay. At Virginia Commonwealth University, high school applicants must have at least a 3.3 GPA to bypass testing requirements.

Interestingly, many test-optional schools, including Marist College, require students to submit standardized test scores once they have been accepted and enroll. The schools use these test scores for the purposes of academic advisement and course placement.

Why do schools offer test-optional policies?

Increasing ethnic diversity

Many schools, including Wake Forest, claim that test-optional policies have led to a more diverse student body with no notable difference in academic achievement between students who opted out of testing and those who submitted scores. Wake Forest also states that ethnic diversity increased by 90% since the Fall of 2008 when their test-optional policy went into effect. A 2014 report from two former Bates College admissions officials, William Hiss and Valerie Franks, also found an increase in racial and socio-economic diversity at test-optional schools.

Focusing on holistic admissions

In determining whether an applicant is a good fit, test-optional schools stress the importance of examining the student’s complete academic profile. The College of the Holy Cross states, “We are test optional because we have found that a student’s academic history in high school is a better indicator of their scholastic ability than an exam taken on a singular Saturday morning.”

Fairness

Many institutions are disillusioned with current standardized testing, and feel that the test preparation available to the wealthy creates an unfair advantage. For example, Marist College states, “Many studies indicate performance on standardized tests is closely linked to family income and education level, while others suggest a possible bias against certain minority students. Our experience shows that the rigor of a student’s program and overall academic performance can best illustrate commitment, motivation, work ethic, and a willingness to take on challenges.”

Improved US News Rankings

Intentional or not, the schools offering test-optional policies also tend to see improved U.S. News rankings. A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Georgia examined data from 32 selective liberal arts colleges, and found that, after going test-optional, these schools received an average increase of 220 applications and their mean SAT scores rose by an average of 26 points.

Selectivity and test scores are important factors in the U.S. News rankings. US News is transparent about the components that comprise its ranking methodology. 7.75% of rankings derive from the SAT critical reading and math portions; and the composite ACT score.

Test-optional policies tend to increase applicant numbers, creating higher selectivity for the schools, and since students who did better on standardized tests report their scores, while students with low scores often do not, the school can report artificially inflated test scores of accepted applicants.

Notably, the only “test-blind” school, Hampshire College, is unranked by US News. Hampshire College does not consider any ACT or SAT scores as part of its admissions policy, and therefore has no scores to report. Sarah Lawrence was once “test-blind” as well, from 2003 to 2012. In 2012, Sarah Lawrence switched to a “test-optional” policy, presumably to rejoin the ranks of US News, among other reasons.

Bottom-line: Should I send my scores?

At the end of the day, you might be deliberating over whether or not to send your scores. Here are some considerations to assist in your decision:

Research the range of standardized test scores for accepted students

According to U.S. News, “If you do some research and find that your results fall below those of the top third of accepted students at more selective schools or below the median at more inclusive institutions, you may want to hold them back.”

Decide if your test scores accurately represent your potential as a student

At the College of the Holy Cross, Director of Admissions Ann McDermott writes, “If you feel your testing says something about you and your abilities, feel free to send them along. We will look at them in conjunction with your transcript, your recommendations, essay, and interview (if you have had one) and make our assessment.  If, on the other hand, you feel that your test scores do not represent you well, then do not hesitate to withhold them. We will not make any assumptions about your testing, and will focus our attention on your transcript and the other accompanying credentials that are contained in your application.”

Take a hard look at your academic performance and activity list

Jane H. Dane, associate vice president for enrollment management at Old Dominion University in Virginia, notes that applicants who withhold scores are “particularly scrutinized for other evidence of potential for success, like challenging course work and leadership skills. The more well-rounded you are, the better your chances of impressing without scores.”

Remember that regardless of testing policies, all schools look at more than your scores

Try to remember that test scores are just one part of your college application, and not even the most significant one. As the College Board reminds us, “College admission officers give the most weight and importance to your high school grades and whether you’re challenging yourself.”

Determining the best testing options for each student requires consideration of a variety of factors and personal preferences. For more information on standardized testing, or any other aspect of the college admissions process, feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway. We’re always happy to help!

The Role of Your Counselor Recommendation

Most colleges request a letter of recommendation from your high school guidance counselor. This letter serves a unique function in the college admissions process. The counselor is expected to describe your high school environment, place you within the context of your peers, and discuss your unique attributes. “Many college and university admission officers use the counselor recommendation to learn more about the school and the community of the student applying for admission,” says Shawn Abbott, assistant vice president and dean of admissions at New York University.

While your teachers will focus on your academic strengths, your counselor can provide insights about your character, values, and goals. As stated by Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, recommendations “help us look past the numbers and learn more about who the student is.”

Hamilton College’s admissions office advises counselors to “take the time to tell us things we wouldn’t learn elsewhere in the student’s application… To be sure, the single most important factor in our decision-making process is the high school transcript. But your comments and insight provide us with perspective and help us assess fit with our community.”

What questions are asked of counselors?

Beginning with the 2015-16 application year, the Common Application developed a new form for counselors to complete. The Counselor Form consists of several prompts to help admissions officers learn more about who you are as a person and as a student:

  • The duration and context in which you’ve known the applicant (short response)
  • The first words that come to mind to describe the applicant (short response)
  • A broad-based assessment addressing topics like academic and personal characteristics, contextual comments for the applicant’s performance and involvement, and/or observed problematic behaviors that an admissions committee should explore further (long response)

Understanding the recommendation process

The ratio of students per guidance counselor varies widely around the country, but the average is a staggering 476 students per guidance counselor. At most public high schools, there is no dedicated college counselor; instead, guidance counselors incorporate college advising within all their other academic and disciplinary responsibilities.

Some high schools have put procedures in place to help counselors obtain personalized information on students. At Midwood High School, in Brooklyn, which has two counselors for 800 seniors, the guidance office prepares a folder for each senior that includes their contact information, test scores, teacher recommendations, a student profile and autobiographical essay, and a “parent brag sheet” with anecdotal information.

But not all high schools have such an organized and comprehensive system for collecting personalized information about seniors. As a result, the more you can do to help your counselor understand who you are personally, the more effective his or her recommendation letter will be.

How can you help your counselor describe you as effectively as possible?

The strongest recommendations paint a well-rounded portrait of who you are. With that in mind, here are some tips:

Develop and maintain a strong relationship with your guidance counselor. Make regular appointments throughout each school year. Keep your counselor informed of your achievements in academics and activities. In the fall of senior year, stop by to discuss how you spent your summer.

Create a detailed resume that describes your extracurricular activities, internships, employment, and volunteer work in detail. Try to be as descriptive and authentic as possible, and don’t use generic phrases.

Write a 1-2 page letter to your counselor describing your strengths, values, and goals—if your counselor does not ask you to complete a form or essays. Reflect on the following questions, and provide thoughtful responses. If possible, provide specific anecdotes to illustrate your points:

  • What are a few significant experiences that have influenced who you are today?
  • What obstacles or challenges have you been faced with, and how did you overcome these?
  • How do you approach your schoolwork?
  • What are your relationships like with peers, teachers, and advisors?
  • How have you improved your community?
  • What academic areas of study in college interest you? How do these areas relate to your academic accomplishments in high school?
  • Do you have specific career goals at this point?

In addition, provide your counselor with a list of colleges you are currently considering applying to, as well as specialized academic programs if applicable.

For guidance on recommendations and other aspects of the college admissions process, feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

What is a High School Profile and What Role Does it Play in College Admissions?

College admissions staff always view your transcript within the context of your high school. Colleges recognize that schools vary greatly. As Northwestern states, “Every secondary school is different in its level of competitiveness and in the range of courses offered. These factors are also considered when admission decisions are rendered.”

Each school’s guidance office develops a 2-4 page “school profile” that describes the community and high school.  While there is no standard format for the high school profile, typical information includes the curriculum, grading system, grade distribution, average test scores, and college acceptances.  The profiles tell colleges how rigorous and competitive the high school is, and this information impacts the way a college will evaluate a students’ grades and course selection.

Your GPA

The high school profile typically explains how your GPA is calculated, which includes what courses factor into the GPA, and whether advanced courses receive a weighting. For example, Schreiber High School in Port Washington, NY gives an extra .5 weighting for Honors courses and 1.0 for AP courses.

Students often wonder how they can possibly be compared with students from other high schools. The answer is that in addition to viewing your high school’s approach to your transcript, colleges typically recalculate an unweighted GPA using a standard formula, so that they can compare students from different schools with different GPA scales.  Usually, colleges will use a 4.0 scale, where A+ and A = 4.0, B+ = 3.7, B- = 3.3, B = 3.0, and so on.

Grade and Test Score Distribution

High school profiles also typically include a grade distribution chart showing the percentage of students at different GPA brackets or the distribution of each grade for each course; as well as average standardized test scores for the SAT and ACT.

When viewed alongside average standardized testing scores, GPA information reflects the degree of grade inflation or deflation, and for private schools may also reflect the selectivity of admissions to attend the school. For example, if most students at a school earn As, but have average standardized test scores compared to national or state figures, colleges would conclude that the school has grade inflation.

Rigor of Curriculum

Colleges also evaluate whether you have challenged yourself in your coursework.  Again, colleges view you within the context of the curriculum offered at your school. The variety of curricula include International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, both, or neither. Each high school profile clearly describes the curriculum available at the school.

For example, if your high school offers a minimum number of AP courses, you will not be expected to have taken the same number of APs as students with access to a large number of AP courses. For example, Great Neck South High School, a public high school, offers 31 AP courses, as compared with Chaminade High School, a private Catholic school, offers none.

Having said that, it is possible to take courses outside your high school to fulfill your intellectual passion and also demonstrate this to colleges. If you have strong interest in a particular academic area in which coursework is not sufficiently offered at your school, you could consider taking courses outside of school – at a local college or online. For example, students interested in pursuing engineering or other STEM fields sometimes opt to take Multivariable Calculus or Computer Science at a local college or through online courses if their high school does not offer these classes.

For guidance on how to reach your academic potential, feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

Should You Take the SAT or ACT with Essay?

Few colleges now require the essay when you take the SAT or ACT. In fact, in 2016, the College Board made the essay optional, stating: “While the College Board remains steadfast in its commitment to the importance of analytic writing for all students . . . one single essay historically has not contributed significantly to the overall predictive power of the exam.”

Yet, for the Class of 2017, 1.2 million students wrote the SAT essay (70% of total test-takers), and 1.1 million students wrote the ACT essay (53% of total test-takers).

Currently, there is a strong movement among colleges to no longer require the SAT or ACT essay. According to the Princeton Review, only 19 colleges still require the essay, of which 9 belong to the University of California system. In fact, no colleges state that they use the essay for admission, though some state that they use the essay for course placement.

Harvard explained that its decision was part of the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI), to broaden its outreach. Registration for the ACT costs $46 without the essay, and $62.50 with the essay; the SAT costs $47.50 without the essay, and $64.50 with the essay. The university emphasized that students still have a variety of ways to demonstrate their writing skills – through the Personal Essay required by college application platforms, Harvard’s own Writing Supplement, and an optional writing portfolio.

 

COLLEGES THAT REQUIRE THE SAT OR ACT ESSAY
Claremont McKenna College
Martin Luther College
Schreiner University
Soka University of America
The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
United States Military Academy
UC, Berkeley
UC, Davis
UC, Irvine
UCLA
UC, Merced
UC, Riverside
UC, San Diego
UC, Santa Barbara
UC, Santa Cruz
University of Miami
University of Montana Western
University of North Texas *
Wellesley College *

*only requires essay with ACT
Source: The Princeton Review

OUR RECOMMENDATION

We recommend that for upcoming SAT or ACT tests, you do not register for the essay unless you plan to apply to a college that requires the essay. In other words, even if a college recommends the essay (without requiring it), we feel that you do not need to take the essay because typically it does not play a role in the college admissions review process. Alternatively, if you excel at writing and do not mind the additional expense or time, you certainly can opt to include the essay in your standardized testing plans.

There is increasing complexity surrounding the requirements for taking and reporting standardized testing, including the ACT, SAT, Subject Tests, AP exams, and IB exams.  If you would like guidance, feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

Making the Most of Summer College Visits

Summer vacation is right around the corner, and with it comes many opportunities to visit potential colleges. In the fall, you’ll be incredibly busy with classes, homework, and college applications. Which means that it’s more important than ever to visit prospective colleges while you still have time.

The fact that fewer students are on campus can sometimes make it harder to get a good feel for a school, but that doesn’t mean the visit isn’t worth it. In fact, if you plan effectively, there are even a few advantages. The summer is an excellent time to explore a wide variety of different colleges, and discover what’s most important to you. If a school ends up at the top of your list, you can always plan a return trip for the fall.

Take advantage of extra time and flexibility.

Visiting campuses is an important step in the college admissions process. Since you’ll be visiting in the summer, your visits can last longer. You’ll have fewer responsibilities and will be able to extend trips for an extra day or two. This gives you time not only to see more colleges, but to tour each one in a more in-depth way. You’ll have time to stay overnight, which in turn provides opportunities to meet with professors and explore the surrounding town (more on that below).

Visit far-away campuses.

In order to figure out which schools will fit you best, it’s important to visit as many as you reasonably can – from large research universities to small liberal arts colleges, located in big cities, small towns and everywhere in between. Since you don’t have to worry about missing school, you can explore campuses that are otherwise too far from home; the summer is a great time to drive or fly cross-country – even abroad! Not to mention that, if you’re already planning a vacation, you may be able to visit nearby campuses.

Personalize your tour.

There will be fewer students on campus, but fewer visitors as well. Over the summer, both tour groups and information sessions will be smaller. Take advantage of this, and ask more questions about the specific features that matter to you.

Seek out students who stayed behind.

Even though it’s summer, there will still be students on campus – you just have to try a little harder to find them.  Some will be taking classes, while others will be conducting research, interning, or working. And, luckily for you, admissions offices are generally more than happy to put you in contact with students to talk to you about life on campus. In some cases, they can even pair you with students who share your interest in particular majors, sports, or other organizations. All you have to do is ask!

Schedule meetings with professors in your field of interest.

Visit the home pages of departments you are interested in and find one or two faculty members who teach or conduct research there. Email them to ask if they might have a few minutes to chat with you. You’ll be surprised how often they say yes, especially if you’re visiting during the less busy summer months. Meeting directly with faculty is a great way to find useful information about academic programs that are important to you, and to learn about the school from a unique perspective. Find out why faculty choose to teach at this particular college, and ask about the kinds of students who thrive there. In doing so, you’ll gain a deeper and more nuanced view of academic life on campus.

Hit the town.

The summer also gives you time to explore the surrounding town. In addition to checking out restaurants, shopping centers, and other entertainment venues, make sure to do your homework on more practical places like pharmacies, grocery stores, and bookstores. You may also want to take some time to check out potential off-campus housing, especially if a significant percentage of students choose not to live on campus.

Take notes (and pictures, too).

Once you’ve visited a large number of colleges, you may not remember the specifics of each. Take notes and pictures throughout your visit in order to keep track of the features you like (as well as those you don’t). Capture the architecture, paying particular attention to buildings where you would spend time, such as the student center, museum, and gym.

Remember to register.

Finally, remember to register at the admissions office when you visit. This will ensure that each college has a permanent record of your visit, an important part of demonstrating interest.

Enjoy yourself!

The college process is already fraught with enough anxiety, so make this part as enjoyable as possible. Enjoy travelling, and have fun imagining yourself as a student at different colleges – pretty soon, you will be!

Here at Collegiate Gateway, we’re always happy to help! Feel free to contact us with any questions about the college process.