Category Archives: GPA

Insightful Podcasts About Getting into and Choosing the Right College for You!

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.”

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.