Category Archives: GPA

Insightful podcasts about getting into and choosing the right college

I’ve started podcasting! This article contains important information on college admissions planning in high school from interviews with the Podcast Business News Network’s Jill Nicolini. Read on or skip to the podcasts at the bottom.

I suggest that parents of ninth-graders get together with their students at the beginning of their freshman year to put together a four-year plan leading up to applying for and getting admission to a college that’s a good fit and match (see below). For example, the student could start out with a few honors classes and then take AP courses.  Colleges want students who have challenged themselves with a rigorous curriculum.

There’s nothing worse than graduating with a 4.0 but no challenging classes.  Colleges ask “Where was the rigor, the intellectual curiosity?” Colleges also want students who have tried different things and are well-rounded.  Let your kids explore, that’s how they learn.

At the same time, admissions officers are looking for in-depth experiences.  Showing commitment to a cause or organization is important. They’re also looking for volunteer service.  If a student only does the minimum required number of hours, the college will assume you just wanted to graduate!

Another topic I talk about in my interviews are  the importance of Fit and Match:

  • Will the student like other students there?
  • Will he like the campus and surroundings? Is your student more comfortable in a containedSummer college prep campus with lots of open spaces, or one that’s large and crowded in a city? Close to the beach or the mountains?
  •  How about activities outside the classroom?  This includes more than sports – there’s drama, debate, Model U.N., Beta Club Community service, and more.
  • Also consider the weather.  A northern campus that’s pleasant in summer may be freezing cold in winter!

Also, have a frank discussion about what your family can afford.  There’s nothing worse than discovering after the first year that you really can’t afford your student’s dream college!

Another important consideration – if your student has exceptional talent, private schools who really want him or her have the dollars to provide financial aid. Public schools, while less expensive on the surface, do not have the same amount of financial aid! 

Here’s my May 27 interview.

Here’s my June 3 interview.

 

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Luck Plays no Role in Elite College Admissions

Luck can be said to hold sway over everyone’s destiny in matters large and small. All the same, it’s a mistake to view admission to elite colleges such as Harvard as a throw of the dice. Admission to a top-tier college is the culmination of a multi-year effort on your part to qualify academically and as an individual. This is the only way to achieve your goal if you aspire to attend such a school. If you think that the selection of applicants for admission is arbitrary, you’ll slip up in ways that may Yale Universityprove fatal to your effort.

The bewildering aspects of this year’s admission cycle, heavily impacted by the pandemic, have convinced many that even if you have the best of credentials, you’ll be reduced to crossing your fingers if you apply to an elite college. The fact is that the admissions process at these institutions remains rational and predictable.

One Real Disadvantage That You Will Face

There is one negative aspect of the 2020-21 admissions cycle that affects you and your peers in the Class of 2025. There will be fewer freshmen seats available to you. This past spring, a larger than normal number of students who accepted offers of admission chose to take gap years due to the pandemic. Because they could not travel, international enrollees were also granted permission to put off matriculation until the fall of 2021.

These postponements forced administrators to admit more applicants than usual from their waitlists so that they could fill out the planned size of their freshman classes. Applicants accepted from waitlists this year will continue to matriculate in 2021. The resulting scenario means that the seats that were not filled by those who postponed enrollment for a year will be unavailable to new applicants. This will make admission somewhat more competitive for you and your cohort than it would otherwise have been.

Keep in mind that the long-term impact of the contingencies arising from the pandemic are unknowable. You shouldn’t assume that time-tested methods of improving your chances of admission are no longer useful.

What’s Luck Got to Do With It?

There’s nothing new about skeptics saying that admission to elite colleges is arbitrary and unpredictable. One such skeptic is Michael Kinsley, a graduate of Harvard College, Oxford Early decisions at Ivy league schoolsUniversity, and Harvard Law. He has been editor of The New Republic, the host of a several public issues TV shows, and the start-up editor of Slate. A smart guy — but wrong about college admissions.

Although he’s an alumnus of Harvard, Mr. Kinsley doesn’t appreciate the sophistication of the admissions process at elite institutions. He wrote the following a while ago in a column for Vanity Fair magazine:

“The number of slots at highly selective College X has stayed the same or increased only slightly. When you put it all together, it’s amazing that anyone bothers to apply to College X at all. This may be of doubtful consolation to an applicant and his legacy parent, but it all really boils down to luck. Nobody ‘deserves’ a place at College X. The luck may be… in the dubious meatloaf the dean of admissions had for dinner the night before your application was considered.”

The dubiousness of meatloaf notwithstanding, let’s infer that Mr. Kinsley thinks that a college’s decision to accept or reject you depends on the mood of the individual who, through luck of the draw, reviews your application. So, what is it about Kinsley’s take on the elite college admissions process that misses the mark? Let’s consider what are referred to as the factors of admission:

  • Academic Index (AI): Your academic data is processed by a computer program that assigns an objective, quantitative score known as an AI. This program uses a proprietary algorithm developed by the college to calculate an objective measure of your academic success. The scores are ranked and only applicants with an AI score above a predetermined threshold are considered to be eligible for admission.
  • Soft Factors: Elite institutions have many more applicants with AI scores above the thresholds than they can admit, so they must apply subjective, qualitative measures to narrow the pool of applicants down further.
  • Essays: Essays, unlike academic records, are unique. The quality of the essays that you submit is one of the key subjective means that colleges have to identify the best applicants. Based on each school’s approach to evaluating essays, admissions officers are able to recognize the ones that are strong enough to make a case for an applicant’s admission. Elite schools also consider Letters of Recommendation, and, in some cases, Interviews as factors in admissions, although they carry less weight than essays.
  • Extracurricular Activities: This is another important subjective variable in admissions. Activities highlight the talent that you have developed and proven during high school and which you have emphasized in your application. Kinsley dismisses this factor too when he says, regarding luck — “Still other factors—the college orchestra needing an oboe player—are complete wild cards.”  Kinsley assumes that your highly developed talent can help you only if a college is looking for exactly that talent when your application is reviewed. Although colleges do consider student body needs, there is a wide range of reasons why they might reward your talent by granting you a higher probability of admission. A college seeks not only demographic and geographic diversity, but also diversity in the talents, skills, and interests of the student body. College administrators consider student diversity to be beneficial to the education of all their students.

You can’t defy the power of the pandemic to change the process of admissions, at least not this year. But for the purposes of gaining admission to elite colleges, you should approach matters as if this year were no different from any other.

And as far as luck goes… “Never give up and luck will find you.”

SAT and ACT Testing Upended!

COVID-19 has disrupted many college admissions processes, including SAT and ACT testing, for students who will be seeking admission in 2021 — high school juniors.  Almost all colleges are now closed and the ad hoc methods adopted to provide admissions-related services are still focused on the needs of current seniors who were admitted this year, but they’ll soon be able to devote more attention to your needs. Events are unfolding at a rapid pace and you need to stay current on changes that affect you. Please follow my Twitter feed (@charlotteklaar) for up-to-the -minute information.

 The SAT and ACT Exams

Perhaps the most annoying issue facing juniors is standardized tests. Scores from the SAT or ACT exams remain a requirement for admission at the majority of colleges.

On April 16, the College Board announced that it had canceled the June 6th testing date for the SAT. The Board also announced that there will be a test in August and an additional test in September, pandemic or no pandemic.

Since all of the spring SAT dates have been cancelled, one additional test in September won’t satisfy demand. If you want a test seat, try to register early. Seats are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. The SAT test schedule for the fall won’t be released until May, but it’s safe to assume that there will be a test offered every month after July for the rest of 2020.

The same holds true for the ACT;  when new seats open up in August or in the fall, you should promptly book a seat for any date that you can get.

Due to the spring cancellations of the SAT and ACT, and even with an added test, it’s expected that the shortage of test seats will be in the hundreds of thousands. Even if you prefer the SAT to the ACT or vice versa, take any test for which you’re able to register. Studying for one is almost the same as studying for the other. Just make sure you familiarize yourself with the different formats, timeframes, and essay requirements.

It has been announced by both the SAT and ACT organizations that, if closures prevent the resumption of tests at central locations, it’s highly likely that there will not be enough seats for all of the students seeking one. As a result, they’re developing digital versions of the tests for students to take at home if needed. Since the College Board will be offering AP exams online, it’s already building an online testing capability that could also be used for the SAT, although the SAT will be harder to reproduce online due to its length, complexity, security requirements, and volume.

Test Optional Policies

 Juniors are forced into a corner due to the spring test cancellations. In normal times, it’s recommended that you take the SAT or ACT at least twice and, in some cases, three times in order to obtain your best possible scores before applying to colleges. Under current conditions, you should assume that you’ll only be able to take the test once. This means that, if you’re only going to get one shot, you’d better prepare diligently for it.

Many colleges were test-optional before the pandemic. For those that were not, the Coronavirus has encouraged many more to adopt test optional policies. But this doesn’t really present an opportunity for you to avoid the tests. The SAT and ACT are tools that applicants use to differentiate themselves from their peers in order to be accepted by competitive colleges. The tests will continue to be essential for that purpose even if the colleges that you apply to have test optional policies.

Ways for Juniors to Remain Engaged in the Admissions Process

 It would be a mistake to NOT pursue admissions-related activities during the coming weeks. Here are some ways that you can stay on track to meet your educational goals:

Virtual Classes – If your high school is teaching courses online, give the classes and homework
Online learning
your full attention. Schools were compelled to throw together modified lesson plans and use unsuitable online tools. There are excellent online classroom systems on the market, and, given time, high schools will upgrade. Meanwhile, put in the work.

College List – Here’s how it usually goes. Your College List consists of the approximately  nine schools to which you’ll apply in senior year because they fit your selection criteria best. They’re divided into three tiers; the colleges you’re almost certain to be admitted to, the colleges you’ll probably be admitted to, and the colleges you aspire to attend but which are less likely to admit you. The characteristic that all colleges on the list have in common is that you’d be happy to attend any of them. It’s best to have this list finalized early in senior year, so by now you should have a handle on it.

That’s how it works in a normal year. The pandemic has changed things. There are now a number of reasons to re-examine your College List because your selection criteria may have changed. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Can I still afford these colleges?
  • Do I want to borrow extensively to attend this college, considering possible changes in future employment opportunities?
  • Is this college experiencing such a reduction in revenue that they’ll need to cut faculty, majors, programs, student activities, or campus amenities next year?
  • Should I stay closer to home due to family responsibilities?
  • Would I be better off attending community college for the first two years?
  • Should I postpone college for a year?

College Visits – Actual visits are the best way to learn about what you like and dislike about a college on your preliminary College List. But college visits have been cancelled. When they’ll resume is unknown. Many colleges are now offering virtual information sessions and directing students to virtual tours of the campus. While a virtual tour isn’t as good as the real thing, it can be beneficial. You can also learn much about a college from a one-on-one conversation with an admissions officer.

Extracurricular Activities – The activities that you were planning to use to enhance your case for admission may have been cancelled. Admissions officers will take this into consideration Playing sportsbecause this has happened to all applicants. However, you may wish to show your creativity by figuring out how to pursue your interests and passions virtually or by finding a way to help your community during quarantine.

Preparing for Applications – Normally, initial preparations for your applications begin in the summer before senior year. But, since you may have time on your hands, feel free to get a head start. Open a Common App account and become familiar with the platform. Brainstorm essay topics and develop an outline of your personal statement. Take a look at the activity section, which may be expanded by the Common App, and consider how to present your extracurricular activities.

 There are ways for students and families to cope with the rapid flow of admissions-related changes during the pandemic. Relying on an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC) such as Klaar College Consulting is foremost among them. We’re professionals who track changes in the admissions field on an ongoing basis, and never more diligently than under current unprecedented conditions.

The College List is an indispensable tool for success in college admissions. This is the set of target colleges that are exceptionally well suited to you as an individual and to which you’ll apply in senior year.

A key consideration in developing your College List is the number of schools that should be on the final version. While there is no “right” number, we advise that the majority of students should apply to nine colleges. Less than nine doesn’t spread your risk sufficiently and more than nine risks dissipating your effort. If application fees are an issue, many colleges allow you to apply without paying a fee.

Set the Requirements for Your List

The first step in building your College List is to establish the criteria against which you’ll compare colleges. You choose and prioritize your own criteria to suit yourself. They may include such factors as the size of the student body, faculty-to-student ratio, affordability, core curriculum, academic reputation, majors, degrees granted, geographic location, local community, campus setting, campus amenities, social life, work-study programs, ROTC options, college abroad opportunities, and mentorship programs.

Most students weigh affordability and academic reputation most heavily.

Next, assess how well colleges match your criteria. Start with a list of all of the colleges that interest you. Assuming this is a long list, you’ll need to reduce it to a more manageable size through research. With a list of about 15 schools, you can discuss their pros and cons with guidance counselors, admissions consultants, family, friends, and students and alumni of the colleges.

Among the resources available for your research are college websites and course catalogs, shared databases like the Common Data Set (CDS), magazine rankings and the databases that support them, college guidebooks such as the Fiske Guide and Peterson’s, governmental resources like the College Scoreboard, high school guidance resources like Naviance Scatter Diagrams, and certified independent educational consultants like Klaar College Consulting.

The best way to assess the colleges still on the list is to visit them. Take campus tours, set up college visitsadmissions interviews, and meet with students and faculty in your major. Staying overnight in a dorm and interacting informally with students will yield more useful information than any other research. The positive or negative vibes you get may be strong enough for you to reexamine your entire list.

Create Three Tiers of Target Schools

 A common approach to developing a College List is to divide it into these three tiers: 1.) Colleges to which you will almost certainly be admitted, 2.) Colleges to which you will probably be admitted, and 3.) Colleges that you aspire to attend but where you have a slim chance of admission.

At Klaar College Consulting, we refer to the three tiers as Likely, Target, and Reach. They’re distinguished by their academic requirements for admission. You’ll measure your GPA, test scores, and other variables such as class rank against the comparative data for colleges; the academic records of applicants who were accepted last year.

This data is available from a range of sources, but most readily from the Common Data Set, CDS, for each college. The CDS provides substantial detail and breaks down all admissions-related data elements such as freshmen GPA and test scores into percentiles so you can see where your record would place you among previously successful applicants.

Here’s an overview of the tiers:

Likely

A Likely school is one where your academic record falls comfortably above the average GPA and test scores of the last class admitted. You should feel confident that you’ll be admitted to your three Likely schools. You should select Likely schools that you’d be happy to attend if your Target and Reach schools don’t admit you, or you decide not to attend any that do.

Target

 A Target school is one where your academic record falls at about the average level of last year’s freshmen. It’s reasonable to anticipate admission to your three Target schools. However, there’s an immeasurable risk inherent in the variability of the volume and quality of applications from year to year.

Reach

Your three Reach schools are ones that you aspire to attend and where you have at least a students thinking about collegepossibility of admission. Your academic record places you at the lower end of the average of last year’s successful applicants, but not so low as to eliminate you from consideration.

As is true in all three tiers, but especially with Reach schools, your chances of acceptance are much improved if you possess a strong non-academic hook, that is, a highly developed talent or skill that enables you to satisfy an existing need that has been identified by a college. In addition, the degree to which you demonstrate interest in attending the college is also important. Essays, extracurricular activities, and interviews are three additional non-academic ways to distinguish yourself.

Early Application Programs:  Early Decision, Early Action, Restricted Early Action and Single-Choice Early Action

The process of identifying the colleges that best fit you, and narrowing them down to three in each tier, is difficult and time-consuming. Adding to the complexity is the need to consider Early Admission programs.

Early Application programs vary widely in their terms and options. Your chance of acceptance by certain colleges is improved significantly if you participate in their Early program. If you choose to apply early to colleges, you’ll know if you were accepted before the deadline for submitting applications for the Regular Decision cycle. Obviously, you won’t need to submit any more applications if you choose to accept a binding Early Decision offer. In case your dream doesn’t come true, you should have all the other applications ready to submit when the bad news comes.

Summary

The arduous College List process is well worth the effort if it helps you to achieve the desired outcome — acceptance at one or more of your best-fit colleges. Klaar College Consulting has years of experience in assisting students in building effective College Lists. We stay well informed by following college news, attending professional association events, and interacting with fellow experts. We also attend college fairs, visit campuses, and speak with college administrators. Klaar College Consulting is your top choice for guidance in building a College List that suits your personal set of qualifications, needs, and preferences.