Applying to College

Walking the Talk

We wanted to bring to your attention an excellent piece from Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that appeared in Inside Higher Ed. In "More to Life than AP," Schmill addresses the messages that colleges send to students about how they make their decisions and the role colleges play in shaping students' behavior. He addresses the "holistic" process; what MIT is looking for; and why parents and counselors should give students the confidence to pursue their true interests instead of ignoring them in favor of what they think a college wants.  Candid and reassuring, Schmill's commentary is a must-read.

Seniors: You don't have to jump on the early bandwagon

In October of senior year, it may seem like everyone is jumping on the early admission bandwagon. Students report a lot of pressure to apply early. It comes from peers, parents, newspaper headlines— and sometimes it comes from oneself. But there is nothing wrong with sitting out this round and opting for more time and the greater choice it allows. There are distinct advantages to waiting and applying regular decision. Before you jump on the early bandwagon, seriously consider whether it's right for you.  That depends on a number of factors. Most important are the plans offered at the colleges on your list, especially the ones that have emerged as your top choices. Other factors that you must consider include your own goals, your grades and test scores, and your family’s need for financial aid.


For more information about early programs, including a list of questions to help you figure out whether an early program is right for you, see Chapter 15, "Decision Plans," in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.

Juniors: A "practice" visit at a local college


Fall break coming up? Or a long weekend? Do a test-run visit at a local college. College visits provide crucial information for making a good match between you and a school. And at this point, you don't have to venture far. Visits to any campus can help you zero in on what's important to you. So take the tour at a college within driving distance -- even if you aren't considering applying there. You'll experience a tour and a group information session (if offered, not all colleges do) so that you get a sense of a college visit. A "practice" visit like this will help you make good firsthand evaluations later, when you visit the colleges in which you are most interested.

For more on college visits, including campus visit etiquette, getting off the beaten track to learn more about a school, and questions to ask tour guides and admission officers, see Chapter 9, "College Visits," in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.

Thank you, thank you

Thank you to the students, parents, and counseling staff of Palo Alto High School and Gunn High School in northern California! It was wonderful to have the opportunity to talk with all of you about everything from college visits and extracurriculars to AP's and financial aid. And it's great to hear what is on the minds of students and parents when it comes to college admission!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes for the Common App

We just returned from the annual conference for the National Association for College Admission Counseling -- a gathering of admission deans, high school college counselors, financial aid officers, and others who come together to share ideas about everything from scholarships and access to net price calculators and NCAA eligibility.

At one of the sessions we attended, Common Application, Inc., executive director Rob Killion and director of outreach Scott Anderson unveiled the specifics of an $8-million overhaul of the online system that now has 488 colleges and universities as members. As of August 1, 2013, the three million students who use the Common App will see a new, technologically enhanced version -- Common App 4.0. An improved interface and infrastructure will make it easier to use and hopefully reduce the technical issues students often confront. But there will also be other changes that will affect students.

Some of these changes users will likely see in the facelift include:

Juniors: Just Do It


Just do it! There is no list of activities that will guarantee admission to college – you can be involved in soccer, band, debate, student government, hold a part-time job, or have a consuming hobby like cooking.  But colleges do expect you to continue to commit time and effort to an activity or activities that interest you.  Colleges are looking at what you do outside the classroom to understand who you are, but also to understand what you will contribute to the community once you’re on campus. So continue your involvement in extracurricular activities. Start new ones if something excites you. And take the initiative and consider a leadership position.

For more on extracurricular activities, check out Chapter 6, “Extracurricular Activities,” in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step where you’ll find a broad discussion of what colleges are looking for when they look at students’ activities outside the classroom, including what they mean when they talk about depth versus breadth, passion, leadership and hooks.


Seniors: Requesting Recommendation Letters


Most private colleges -- and more and more public universities -- require letters of recommendation from one or two classroom teachers of academic subjects and the high school guidance or college counselor. Make sure you provide the teachers and counselor who will write your recommendations with a list of the colleges to which you are applying, deadlines for the recommendations and any required forms. It may also be helpful to provide the teachers who are writing your recommendations with a note telling them why you have chosen them to write for you.

If you have not requested these letters of recommendation, do so immediately by speaking in person with your teachers and counselor.  And don’t forget to check the policies and guidelines for recommendations of both your high school and the colleges to which you're applying to be sure all requirements are being met.

You can find more information about recommendation letters, such as waiving privacy rights and supplemental recommendations, in Chapter 12, “Recommendations,” of College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.

Ann Kjorstad, Academy of Holy Angels

Our counselor for the month of October is Ann Kjorstad of Academy of Holy Angels, a coeducational Catholic school in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield. A graduate of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, Kjorstad worked in admissions at the college level for sixteen  years, beginning as an admission counselor at her alma mater and rising to Associate Director of Admission. But Kjorstad is a true daughter of Minnesota. She grew up in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and wanted to return. In 2000, she joined Hamline University in St. Paul, becoming Director of Admission there five years later.

Nancy Meislahn, Wesleyan University, Answers Five Questions

Nancy Hargrave Meislahn, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, at Wesleyan University of Middletown, Connecticut, joins us this month and graciously answers -- not five -- but six questions.

 Wesleyan was founded in 1831 by leaders of the Methodist Episcopal Church and began with 48 students (all men); the president; three professors; and one tutor. Tuition was $36 per year.

Today, Wesleyan’s 316-acre campus located in central Connecticut hosts about 2,900 full-time undergraduates – both men and women -- who choose among more than 900 courses offered in 40 departments and 44 major fields of study, taught by 375 faculty members. Its student/faculty ratio remains at 9 to 1, with two-thirds of classes enrolling fewer than 20 students.

Named for John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, the college was never a seminary, but offered a liberal arts program from its inception. Unlike most college curriculums at the time of its founding which were steeped in the classics, Wesleyan set out to put modern languages, literature, and the natural sciences on equal footing.  That orientation continues today with students pursuing a self-directed curriculum, numerous undergraduate interdisciplinary programs, and broad research opportunities.

Juniors: More Resources for Your College Search


Last week, we posted the objective guidebooks that we recommend as you research the colleges for your initial list of schools. For this week, here are the subjective guidebooks we recommend. These books provide basic information about schools, including information on acceptance rates, cost and enrollment. But they also "review" colleges and universities the way critics review movies. Using feedback and input from students, faculty, alumni, high school college counselors and others, the information in these books weaves fact and opinion about the student body, athletics, academics, social life, physical setting, dorms and other aspects of campus life.

The books listed here are available in most bookstores, public libraries and the office of your high school college or guidance counselors.  Websites are available to everyone free of charge.


The Best 371 Colleges, Princeton Review

Big Book of Colleges, College Prowler