Category Archives: Letters of recommendation

Why you should stick to an early decision agreement

If you’ve been accepted by a college through its Early Decision (ED) plan you may consider yourself fortunate, as you should.  You’ve applied to a school that’s at or near the top of your target list because the likelihood of acceptance for ED applicants is higher than the overall rate Early decisionfor the college. You’ve been admitted before most of your fellow students have even submitted applications. You can rest easier than your classmates and enjoy the rest of your senior year without the stress of admissions hanging over your head!

And yet, some students who have been accepted through an ED plan want to renege on their agreement later because events have transpired that cause them to regret their commitment. At that point they want to know if their ED agreement is binding and if they can disregard it without consequences.

Consider the Early Decision agreement you’ve signed

The answer isn’t simple. You, your guidance counselor, and your parents signed an agreement that stipulates that you understand that you’re committing to attend the institution if admitted. So, yes, it’s binding. But an ED agreement isn’t a contract that, if breached, can subject you to civil liability.

Consider the agreement that you’re asked to sign. A majority of the colleges that offer ED options do so under the Statement of Principles of Good Practice of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), which guides the institutional treatment of students. Section II of the NACAC document, titled “The Responsible Practice of College Admission”, includes this definition:

Restrictive early application plansEarly Decision (ED): Students commit to a first choice college and, if admitted, agree to enroll and withdraw their other college applications. This is the only application plan where students are required to accept a college’s offer of admission and submit a deposit prior to May 1.”

When you submit an ED application, what you’re agreeing to do is clear. While pursuing admission under an ED plan, students may apply to other institutions under an Early Action (EA) plan, but they may submit only one ED application. If an ED applicant is not admitted but is deferred to the Regular Decisions (RD) cycle, they’re immediately released from the ED agreement and are free to accept any other colleges’ offer of admission.

There are changes in a student’s circumstances that will induce a college to release him or her from their ED commitment. Before we review these circumstances, you should understand what may happen if you  simply ignore an ED agreement after having been admitted.

What can happen if you ignore an Early Decision agreement

You may wonder why a college administration even cares if you break your ED agreement, given that many of them admit only a small percentage of applicants. They can readily fill your slot with another well-qualified applicant. Administrators care because they use ED as a tool to improve the quality of their freshmen classes and raise their yield rate. Yield rate is the percentage of applicants who are offered admission, accept it, and go on to attend the college. It is an important variable in a college’s planning, and colleges strive to keep it high. If applicants admitted under an ED plan can renege with impunity, the purpose of an ED plan is defeated and its value to the institution is nullified.

At the same time, colleges are reluctant to compel students to attend their school if they don’t want to be there. So the college whose ED acceptance you turn down isn’t going to come after you with bloodhounds and a posse. “In some ways, early decision is a gentleman’s agreement”, according to Dave Tobias, vice president of enrollment for Ursinus College in Pennsylvania.

Backing out of an Early Decision raises questions about the student’s ethics

Most importantly, when a student backs out of ED agreement without cause, it raises questions about the student’s ethics that could impact decisions elsewhere. Some guidance counselors and colleges take steps to discourage reneging on ED agreements. For example:

  • If an admissions office finds out that a student has applied to their institution and another via ED, they’ll contact the other school. The student risks being denied consideration by both schools.
  • A cooperative ED plan is operated by five Ivy League schools: Brown, Penn, Columbia, Cornell, and Dartmouth. If an ED applicant is admitted to one of them, they must honor Early decisions at Ivy league schoolstheir agreement or be ineligible for admission to any of the others. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton share a similar plan.
  • Many guidance counselors place a hold on sending transcripts, letters of recommendation, and other admissions materials on behalf of students who have applied via ED until the decision is known. This step is taken because a guidance counselor’s credibility with admissions officials is at stake.
  • A group of 30 liberal arts colleges share lists of students admitted to each of them via ED so that the others don’t unwittingly admit them. They also share the names of students who were admitted via ED but were released from their commitments.
  • Admissions officials sometimes discover from a guidance counselor that a student has submitted two or more ED applications. Counselors will warn students ahead of time of the impropriety of submitting multiple ED applications and, if the student persists, will contact the affected colleges, both of which will terminate consideration of the applicant.

Legitimate reasons for backing out of an Early Decision

As noted above, there are a number of legitimate reasons why a college will release an applicant from an ED commitment without any negative repercussions. Below are a few common examples:

  • Necessary financial aid from the college didn’t develop as originally planned,
  • A parent or other family member has died or fallen ill and enrollment at a college is no longer feasible or desirable,
  • A family business or a parent’s career has suffered a setback, and,
  • The student has suffered a serious health issue.

An ED agreement is a serious undertaking, often among the first formal commitments you’ll make in your lifetime. You should make a good faith effort to stick to it.  Klaar College Consulting can help you understand the commitment you’re making. More importantly, i your decision will be part of a sound admissions strategy that we co-develop with you to help ensure  the success of your college admissions campaign.

 

Waitlisted? Here’s how to handle that

COVID-19 Update alert

This post was written in February, before COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic, and schools and businesses across the country were shuttered.  Please read to the end of this post for updated advice regarding waitlists.

Waiting for something that you intensely want and then being disappointed, is an experience that people would prefer to avoid. So why would a student set himself or herself up for disappointment by accepting a college’s offer to be waitlisted knowing that the odds of being admitted are often slim? The reason is that they’ll recover faster from disappointment than from regret. You’ll never know if you would have been admitted at your dream school unless you wait.

The Rationale for Waitlists

Colleges wouldn’t maintain waitlists if they never had the occasion to use them. They use them because well-qualified students apply to multiple schools and are often admitted to several of them. If fewer students accept a college’s offer of admission than have in prior years, the college will need to rely on their waitlist. Since waitlisted students nearly made the initial cut for admission, a college can confidently admit a sufficient number of them to bring their freshman class up to the desired size.

Application Outcomes

Students aspiring to attend top colleges are advised to submit about 10 applications. This spreads the risk of rejection by one or more schools, especially those in the “reach” category. There are three possible outcomes for an application submitted in the Regular Admission cycle: rejection, acceptance, or an invitation to join the waitlist. The first outcome may hurt, but, in terms of follow-up action, it’s simple… do nothing. You’ll be aware of the second outcome when a thick envelope arrives in the mail, bringing cheer and jubilation with it.

The third outcome is the one that can cause anxiety… you’ve been offered a position on the waitlist. If this outcome is from one of several desirable colleges and one or more of the others have accepted you, it’s no big deal. But if this college was your first choice and you would still prefer to attend it above all others, you should follow your heart and join the waitlist even though getting admitted may be a long shot.

Odds of Admission

Last year, more than 600 institutions used a waitlist, including many selective and highly selective institutions. Nationally, about 150,000 students accepted a spot on one of the lists. Over a recent four-year period, colleges admitted about 33 percent of waitlisted students, according to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors.

They noted, however, that among those institutions with admission rates of less than 50 percent, the waitlist admission rate was only 17 percent. The 30 most highly selective institutions admitted an even lower percentage — an average of less than 10 percent of waitlisted students. Every year, a few colleges admit none of their waitlisted students, depending upon how strong their yield was that year (yield is the percentage of applicants who accept offers of admission and go on to attend that college).

Below is a list of well-known institutions that admit a low average percentage of students from their waitlists:

  • Michigan – 2%
  • Baylor – 3%
  • UC Davis – 1%
  • Vanderbilt – 5%
  • University of Virginia – 1%
  • UMass-Amherst – 2%college waitlists
  • Rensselaer – 3%
  • Carnegie-Mellon – 5%
  • UC San Diego – 2%
  • Cornell – 4%
  • Georgetown – 12%
  • MIT – 9%
  • Northwestern – 3%
  • Princeton – 5%

Among the institutions with the highest rates of waitlisted students admitted are:

  • Ohio State – 100%
  • Clemson – 99%
  • Penn State – 93%
  • Arkansas – 85%
  • UC Davis – 74%
  • UC Riverside – 74%
  • University of Maryland Baltimore County – 69%
  • Saint Louis University – 65%
  • University of San Diego – 64%

Waitlist Action Plan

If you elect to join a college’s waitlist, we advise you to be proactive. Below are steps that we recommend you take to boost your chances of admission from a waitlist.

1. Probability: Get a sense of your chances of admission. Contact the admissions office to find out if the college ranks waitlisted students. If so, most of them will let you know your rank. Next, research the yield rate for the college over the past few years. If they have been experiencing a lower than average yield rate this year and you have a high rank on the waitlist, your chances of admission improve. You can research the yearly waitlist outcomes of a college on the College Board website and the Common Data Set.

2.  Email: Write a brief email to the admission office soon after accepting waitlist status. The email shouldn’t reiterate the main points that you made in your application. You should briefly update the admissions office on recent significant academic and nonacademic achievements that occurred too late to be included on your application. Emphasize your continued strong desire to attend the college and make the case for why you’re a good fit. Tell them that you’ll enroll if they admit you.

3.  Grades: Don’t slack off academically. If you’re waitlisted, you may be re-assessed based on your third and fourth quarter senior year grades.

4.  Letter of Recommendation: Check to see if the college will accept another letter of recommendation. If so, consider asking a senior year teacher who can provide new positive information about you.

5.  Contact: Stay in touch with the admissions office. Don’t overdo it! They want to see that you’re genuinely interested in their institution, but they don’t want to be pestered. Occasional, well-chosen contacts are acceptable.

After you’ve accepted a spot on a waitlist, the best thing you can do is to carefully consider the colleges that have admitted you. If you would be happy attending one of them, send in your deposit by the deadline and plan to attend that college in the fall. If you’re later admitted to your dream college from their waitlist, confer with your guidance counselor or independent educational consultant to consider your options.

UPDATE ALERT

Waitlists in the time of Covid-19:

In these uncertain times, it’s vital to make decisions based on what is in hand rather than hoping for what may never happen. Therefore, if you have been accepted to some of the colleges to whom you applied and would be happy at any of them, decline the waitlist and go with one of these colleges.

Pick the one that is most attractive to you socially, emotionally, and financially.  Send in your deposit and then tell the other colleges who have accepted you that you decline their invitation. This will release these spots for students who may not have been as fortunate as you to have received an acceptance from anyone.

No 4.0 GPA? College is still possible!

Reading the newspapers or listening to other parents, you’d think that the only kids who get into college are those with a 4.0 GPA and a list of accomplishments most adults don’t yet have.

This is simply not true!

In my 20-plus years of working with high school students from all levels of accomplishment, I know that there are colleges for everyone who wants to attend, and work when they get there.

Here are some tips to finding the colleges that value YOUR accomplishments:

  1. Be realistic: If your GPA is 3.0 or lower, don’t aim for the most selective Happy studentscolleges – the 24 – 50 colleges whose names everyone knows. Recognize that in many cases these colleges are not better than ones no one has heard of, and they are definitely not the best for you.
  2. Know what colleges are looking at: they’ll look at your unweighted GPA in your core classes, and at what’s available at your high school. If a student tries to stretch within the curriculum and earns B/B+ in Honors or AP classes, that student is preferable to someone who took only standard level classes and got all A’s.
  3. What you do outside of the classroom is almost as important as what you do in it. Get involved in your school community through clubs, sports, fine arts, and community service. If nothing at your school interests you, find an activity outside of school to become actively involved in. This could be tutoring, a job, community service, Scouting, Big Brother/Big Sister, religious groups, or any of the other opportunities that exist in all communities.
  4. Take the time to really think about your application! Make sure that it is both accurate and complete.
  5. Answer the questions asked in the essays and don’t repeat what can be seen elsewhere in the application. This is your chance to become a human being to the college. Don’t rehash your activities or use it as the place to explain why you are not a good test taker.
  6. Choose your recommenders carefully. They should be teachers who really know you as a person and like who you are. Give the teacher the courtesy of asking well in advance if s/he is willing to recommend you.
  7. Work with someone who knows the college process and can help you navigate it to present yourself in the best light, while still being honest.

I work with students from all parts of the academic spectrum and find that it’s often easier for students not in the top 10% of the class to find the right colleges for them. These students are realistic, know how to work for their grades, and are multi-dimensional. For more insights, I recommend the following resources:

Finally, if the worst happens and none of the colleges you have applied to accepts you, a list is published each year after May 1st of colleges that still have room in their freshman class. Many of the names on this list would surprise you.

If you need more help with this or any other aspect of college planning, please call me at 803-487-977 or email to [email protected].

 

4 Tips for Winning College Letters of Recommendation!

What will your letters of recommendation say about you?  Will they make you stand out from other applicants? Here’s how you can ensure that you receive recommendations that help your college application to shine!

First, who are the best people to ask to write a recommendation?

Standard letters of recommendation: Guidance counselors and teachers from your junior or senior years. If you are a junior, this is a good

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time to ask your teachers for letters. Supplemental letters of recommendation: Coaches, employers, religious leaders, and other respected adults who know you well.

How much time should you give the person to write the recommendation letter?

Don’t make last minute requests and expect a great letter – or any letter at all. Give people at least three weeks to produce a good letter.

What should the person writing the letter say to make you stand out?

First, don’t expect those writing the letters to know everything about you.  Put together a resume that includes:

  • A personal statement that summarizes the skills or characteristics that you want to emphasize
  • Personal information – name, address phone, email
  • Education – including high school, advanced courses, honor rolls and any college courses you’ve taken
  • Skills and accomplishments – Consider the skills you want to focus on
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    and give examples. Athletics, musical talents, leadership through scouting, sports, school or religious activities, and research in which you participated are all great examples.

  • Volunteer activities – school or community service as well as religious groups or personal outreach activities.

How many letters of recommendation do I need?

Most colleges require at least one standard letter of recommendation, but additional letters can help to create a more well-rounded picture of you.

FYI – be aware that counselors do not have to alert you as to whether or not they will send a recommendation letter on your behalf.  Follow up with your counselor to find out whether they have sent a letter.  If not, it’s doubly important that you get a letter from a teacher or other adult as per above!