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Proofing College Applications: More Than Just Spell Check

by Alexis Mattera

After hours at the computer, you add the last punctuation to your admissions essay with great flourish. You scan the document for any red or green squiggles and, noting nary a mark, you hit the send button. But before you can pump your fists in victory, you notice something out of the corner of your eye. Is it? It CAN’T be. But it is: You wrote that being “excepted” to Ivy U. has been a lifelong dream of yours. Well, that dream just became a nightmare.

The NYT’s The Choice blog has been running an excellent series of posts this month as the college application process kicks into high gear. One of the most valuable pieces thus far is today’s about proofreading. The author, Dave Marcus, spoke to members from a variety of admissions staffs and they all have seen their fair share of application snafus. The main culprit? Students’ dependence on technology. Here are some of the most memorable misses:

  • An applicant to Oberlin College wrote about her admiration for Julie Taymor, an Oberlin graduate who created the “The Lion King” on Broadway. The essay was passionate…but also inaccurate: The writer kept referring to “The Loin King.”
  • An admissions officer came across an essay that said, “It’s my dream to go to Boston University.” That’s fantastic…except the essay was being reviewed at Cornell.
  • An applicant to Molloy College wrote "Steve" in the field asking her expected graduation date. Um, what? The applicant later explained she was in a relationship with a man named Steve and hoped he’d be her date at graduation.

The moral of the story? Technology is helpful, but not magical. Instead of immediately taking Word’s suggestions, print copies of your application and essay and review the hard copies with a real or metaphorical red pen in hand; giving it to a friend or parent to review is beneficial, too, as a fresh set of eyes can catch something you as the writer missed. A few typos won’t necessarily kill your chances of acceptance but its inn sane to think you’re spell check is all ways write.

Yep, I’ll be here all week.


The Early Student Gets Admitted

Colleges See More Interest, Accept More Students Early

October 21, 2010

The Early Student Gets Admitted

by Alexis Mattera

Hiring managers and interviewers like to say “If you’re early, you’re on time and if you’re on time, you’re late” and over the course of the most recent recession, that motto has been unofficially adopted by admissions committees and prospective college students.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)’s annual “State of College Admission” report, many colleges (private and public) have reported increased interest from applicants in applying early and a jump in the number of students admitted this way. The former remained relatively the same as over the last two years but the latter – 65 percent of schools accepting more early decision applicants compared to 43 percent just one year prior – is pretty remarkable. The same can be said about the growing gap between the admissions rates for early decision and regular applicants at the same institutions: Colleges with early decision admit about 55 percent of all applicants, but 70 percent of early decision applicants, though only 7 percent of applications received take advantage of the early decision option. Another facet of the NACAC report is the overwhelming popularity of applying online, up to 80 percent in 2009 from 68 percent in 2007.

Does this mean schools are becoming less selective and simply rewarding the early birds in their quests for the worm? Not entirely…and not at all for the Ivies. The top criteria remain grades, the strength of the high school curriculum and admissions test scores but what NACAC calls "demonstrated interest in enrolling" is also climbing those ranks. Does this info change how you plan to apply?


Is Your School Transfer-Friendly?

Why it Pays to Accommodate

November 2, 2010

Is Your School Transfer-Friendly?

by Alexis Mattera

Transfer students have long been afterthoughts at many schools but they are beginning to be viewed as quite the opposite. Just ask Bonita C. Jacobs, a woman aiming to increase transfer friendliness one college at a time.

Jacobs, the executive director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Texas, recently spoke to the Chronicle about the integral pieces of the higher education puzzle transfer students have become. More schools are thinking harder about the needs of transfer students and the advantages of enrolling them - benefits discussed by Jacobs and others at the College Board’s annual conference. Jacobs and Alfred Herrera, the assistant vice provost at the University of California at Los Angeles, detailed how four-year colleges can better serve students coming from community colleges by making transfer students’ success an institutional priority as opposed to seeing such students as a way to “backfill” freshman classes to meet enrollment goals.

How are they planning to achieve this? At UCLA, for example, reps from various campus offices that serve transfer students meet regularly to discuss their strategies and progress; the university also has a dedicated resource center that caters to transfers. “These students add to the richness and diversity of our campuses,” Herrera said. “When we don’t look at the transfer experience, we’re really in trouble.” Jacobs added, “We often put transfer students in this package, and they don’t all fit neatly into that package. They’re a distinct population, but they’re very diverse. Some of them see their first semester as their first-year experience. Others are older, with children, and are totally different. So many times, campuses will look at transfers as an admissions issue. But it’s also a student-affairs issue.”

We know some of our readers are considering transferring from a community college to a four-year institution so what do you think of the work Jacobs, Herrera and others are doing to make your transition more seamless? And for students who have already transferred, is there anything you wish your school had offered you when you were the new kid on campus?


What the Blank?!

Experts Say Filling All Application Fields Isn’t Necessary

November 5, 2010

What the Blank?!

by Alexis Mattera

You’re applying for a job, seeing a new doctor or creating a Facebook page and you’re asked to tell the powers that be a little bit about yourself. This information could range from work history to preexisting conditions to favorite bands, respectively, but what do you do when there’s still space left on the form? That’s right: You scour every square inch of your thinkspace for relevant (and maybe not-so-relevant) information to fill in the blanks.

College applicants know this situation well during this time of year and for those who don’t have a laundry list of extracurricular activities or community service hours at the ready, filling out applications – like this year’s Common App, which has 12 blank fields for “Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience” – can cause some serious anxiety. Admissions officers, however, say there’s no need to input something into each field. “The perception is that you have to fill in all the blanks,” said Jennifer Delahunty, the dean of admissions at Kenyon College. “What we hate to see is when students do things like check ‘9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades’ and then write ‘personal reading.’ Yes, we’re glad you’re a reader. But it looks decidedly like filler.” Monica C. Inzer, the dean of admissions at Hamilton College and a member of the Common Application board, agrees: “We’d rather see depth than a longer list. I think students think we want well-rounded kids. We do. But we really want a well-rounded class. That could be lots of people who have individual strengths. Distinction in one area is good, and better than doing a lot of little things.”

So, college students to be, does this news warrant a gigantic sigh of relief or are you worried the 12 blank fields won’t be enough to hold all of your accomplishments? If you’ve already been through the process (this year or 20 years ago), did you find the application process daunting?


GPA, SAT, and a Great Sense of Humor Walk into a Bar

by Suada Kolovic

When you envisioned what your college application process would be like, I’m sure you anticipated stress and anxiety but I doubt you expected a joke could get you in. This was the moment you were told to draw on your strengths and articulate every achievement – countless community service hours, stellar GPA, and the fact that you were senior class president. Every sentence would be so perfectly and meticulously thought-out that who you were just leapt right off the page. You prepared your answer on why you belonged at your dream college and pinpointed what you had to offer…until you opened the actual application and found a serious curveball.

In addition to common essay prompts, more and more institutions are jumping on the unconventional question bandwagon and are interested knowing not only in why students want to gain admission but just how creative they can be when challenged. Here are the far-from-average questions schools are asking this year:

California Institute of Technology

Caltech asks applicants to not overanalyze:

  • “What are three adjectives your friends would use to describe you?”
  • “Caltech students have long been known for their quirky sense of humor and creative pranks and for finding unusual ways to have fun. What is something that you find fun or humorous?”

University of Chicago

Each year the University of Chicago asks newly admitted and current students for essay topics:

  • “Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?”

Yale University

Yale asks applicants to write essays, plus answer the following questions in 25 words or less:

  • “If you could witness one moment in history, what would it be and why?”
  • “Recall a compliment you received that you especially value. What was it? From whom did it come?”

University of Dallas

Along with three conventional questions, including “What influenced you most to apply to the University of Dallas?” the school also asks:

  • “Tell us your favorite joke or humorous anecdote.”

Soon-to-be college applicants, what do you think of this technique? Are you a fan of the challenge or frustrated by the fact that not only are you expected to impress them with your achievements and extracurricular activities but now you’re expected to be witty, too?


The Evolution of College Admissions

Eight Changes Geared to Weeding Out the Wheelers

November 16, 2010

The Evolution of College Admissions

by Alexis Mattera

You all remember Adam Wheeler, right? If not, he’s the kid who lied his way into Harvard and Stanford and made a mockery of the college admissions process along the way. Though his actions were definitely considered, what Wheeler did is just part of the reason why these two schools – and many others – are revising their admissions rules to ensure only the most honest and qualified candidates get in.

According to a U.S. News and World Report article, eight major changes are afoot, ranging from limiting the time admissions counselors spend reviewing each application and relying less on recommendations to setting earlier deadlines and placing more emphasis on the application essay. Each modification is twofold: It will expedite the process for admissions committees and separate the truly worthy applicants from the ones trying to game the system.

The more noteworthy changes include the diminished emphasis on high school class rank. Where a student stood amongst his or her peers used to be quite weighted but a survey by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) found that from 1993 to 2009, its importance dropped from a “considerable” 42 percent to 15 percent with admissions officers. Also changing in prominence is the emphasis on high-caliber coursework, even through senior year. The rationale? Students who take more rigorous courses in high school have a higher likelihood of collegiate success. Think you’re a shoo-in because you got all A’s in moderate classes while your best friend pulled B’s in her honors and AP courses? Hate to break it to you, but your buddy is the better candidate for admission. Senioritis is no longer tolerated, either: Last year, the University of Washington withdrew 27 offers of admission of students who goofed off too much during senior year. Lastly, quality control is through the roof thanks to Turnitin, an anti-plagiarism software that scans essays for similar or identical phrases found on millions of websites, articles and books. Sorry, Wheeler wannabes.

The full article is pretty interesting (view it here), as is the united front these schools have created to ward off scammers and slackers. If you’re just applying this year, do you think these changes will affect your chances? And if you are currently in college or have already graduated, would you be where you are now if these regulations existed when you applied?


From Hogwarts to Harvard

How Would “Potter” Characters Fare in College Admissions?

November 19, 2010

From Hogwarts to Harvard

by Alexis Mattera

After you rub the sleep out of your eyes left over from the midnight “Deathly Hallows” showing, consider this: How well does Hogwarts prepare its students for college? Well, we Muggles would have some definite competition if our applications went head-to-head with Harry Potter's, Hermione Granger's and Ron Weasley's before They Which Shall Not Be Named (aka admissions committees).

First, there’s Harry. From losing many people he loved – parents, godfather, mentor and friends – to having the Dark Lord trying to kill him at every turn, his application essay would tug at the heartstrings but also reveal a young man able to succeed against all odds. He’s as skilled with a quill as he is with a wand and admissions committees would be impressed with his ability to work with others toward a common goal. He’d gain admission because he’d be an asset to any department (I’m thinking his major would be chemistry or political science), study group and, obviously, the Quidditch team.

Next, Hermione obviously has the brains and could dominate the SATs or ACTs just like she owned the O.W.L.s…but what about extracurriculars? In her case, wizarding and witchery definitely count as community service and her compassion for oppressed individuals (mudbloods, ogres, elves, etc.) hints at possible careers in social work, nursing or medicine. Maybe the actress portraying her can put in a good word with the dean at Brown, though Ms. Granger would surely gain admission on her own merit. She wouldn’t have it any other way!

Lastly, we have Ron. As one of seven Weasley kids, Ron knows a thing or two about standing out in a crowd…even if he does so while wearing his older brothers’ hand-me-downs. His athletic skills may garner a scholarship or two but admissions committees will be most impressed with his essay, which would detail his problem solving skills and loyalty demeanor. His innate investigative skills are top notch and could easily translate into aced journalism and criminal justice classes. And don’t worry, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley: Not only will Ron get in but he’s also going to get an excellent financial aid package!

Though Harry, Hermione and Ron won’t be applying for a spot at your dream school, other students possessing equally impressive skills and backgrounds will so it’s important to make your college application memorable. We’ve got plenty of tips on the college application process throughout our site as well as strategies for winning valuable scholarships. Hurry, though: Application deadlines are approaching faster than the Hogwarts Express!


Scholarship of the Week: STOP Hunger Scholarships

by Suada Kolovic

The Sodexo Foundation seeks applicants for the STOP Hunger Scholarships to recognize students in the fight against hunger in America. More than 49 million Americans are at risk of hunger and Sodexo, Inc. is committed to working toward a hunger-free nation. The STOP Hunger Scholarships recognize and reward students who have made a significant impact in the fight against hunger and its root causes in the United States.

Each national STOP Hunger Scholarship recipient receives a $5,000 scholarship and a matching $5,000 donation to their affiliated hunger relief organization. Added consideration is given to those students working to combat childhood hunger.

Applications are available to students from kindergarten through graduate school. For more information on this scholarship and other scholarship opportunities, conduct a free scholarship search today!


How Much Is The Application Fee?!

Top 25 Highest Application Fees

January 21, 2011

by Suada Kolovic

Sure, we’ve discussed the skyrocketing cost of college tuition on a daily basis and considering every other add-on you’ll have to endure when it comes to paying for collegeroom and board, books and supplies – having to pay an outrageous application fee is downright cruel.

According to a U.S. News report, the average application fee to apply to colleges is $38.44 and $46.78 at universities, which is a steal compared to the fees charged by the institutions listed below. Of the 1,474 undergraduate programs that supplied application fee data, only 39 claimed to have no fee. And for those schools that did have fees, many waived them for students with financial need or for those who applied online, U.S. News also reported. Check out the list below and share your thoughts. Let us know if these hefty fees will ultimately decide where you’ll apply.

National University Application Fee
Stanford University $90
Columbia University $80
Boston University $75
Brown University $75
Duke University $75
Drexel University $75
George Mason University $75
Harvard University $75
Massachusetts Institute of Technology $75
University of Delaware $75
University of Pennsylvania $75
Yale University $75
Boston College $70
Carnegie Mellon University $70
Cornell University $70
Dartmouth College $70
Hofstra University $70
Johns Hopkins University $70
Lehigh University $70
North Carolina State University-Raleigh $70
Northeastern University $70
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute $70
Syracuse University $70
Tufts University $70
University of Connecticut $70


The Far-Too-Common Application

Advocates Displeased with Rejection of New Questions

January 26, 2011

The Far-Too-Common Application

by Alexis Mattera

Can you remember the first time someone asked you to think outside the box? Whether it was for a homework assignment, a science fair project or college admissions essay, you probably noticed taking this creative approach was appreciated – and earned you an A, a medal or admission – but sometimes, unfortunately, the status quo wins.

This scenario was recently echoed by the Common Application’s board when it rejected a proposal to add optional questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. The organization – which recently added a LGBT category in the activities section for students who participate in gay-straight alliances in high school – said the questions could "pose problems" now and though it left the possibility of addition open in the future, advocates are none too pleased with the message that’s being sent to the students applying to the 414 colleges that accept the Common App…especially Shane L. Windmeyer.

Windmeyer, the founder of Campus Pride, a national group that works on behalf of gay students and sponsors college fairs at which gay students can meet college representatives, believes the Common App organization is "acting like a parent of the 1950s" because the proposed questions would not be an issue: Since they would be optional, any applicant uncomfortable with them could elect not to answer; he also said a second gender question following birth certificate information would allow colleges to meet reporting requirements while accommodating all gender identities.

You can read more from both sides here but the fact of the matter is this: Many students go to college to find themselves but when they can’t even find a way to identify themselves on the application, is that school really where they want to be?


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