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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?

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

November 12, 2010

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?

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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?

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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!

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Scholarship of the Week: STOP Hunger Scholarships

January 31, 2011

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!

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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


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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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Your Score’s in the Mail...or Not

One Hundred High School Seniors’ ACT Results Lost

February 3, 2011

Your Score’s in the Mail...or Not

by Suada Kolovic

What three letters can inspire fear and loathing in the hearts of high school juniors and seniors nationwide? Depending on the region you live in, the answer is either the SAT or ACT. After a tense afternoon of test-taking, the last thing students want to think about is having to take the test again but for a group of Oakland high school seniors, that was their only option because ACT lost 100 of their test scores. According to ABC Local News, the standardized test scores were lost in the mail. ACT informed the affected students of the mishap on part of the organization and said they’d waive the fee for the February test dates. The problem: Some admissions decisions are due by March, so it may be too late for these applicants to be considered by some schools.

A spokesperson for ACT told ABC that the affected students have been “urged to contact the college(s) and inform them of the situation. The students may provide the college a copy of the letter they received from ACT regarding the need for the retest.” The spokesperson added that colleges are usually flexible when such a mistakes occur…and this isn’t the first “mishap” on the part of ACT either: Back in August, a handful of students didn’t receive their marks for months due to postal slip ups and yet here we are once again.

Snail mail is beyond outdated; aren’t there better ways to receive your test scores? ACT, have you heard of e-mail? To those of you who just received your test scores, how would you feel if this happened to you?

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Want to Know the Likelihood a College Will Accept You? There’s an App for That!

February 9, 2011

Want to Know the Likelihood a College Will Accept You? There’s an App for That!

by Suada Kolovic

There’s an app for just about everything these days, so it’s about time that there’s one that will help students determine how likely they are to be admitted at their school of choice. The Facebook application, AdmissionSplash, asks students to submit a personal profile including quantitative and qualitative characteristics, such as test scores, grades and extra-curricular activities, which colleges consider when making admissions decisions. Then the program enters that information into a complex algorithm to predict the student’s chance of getting into any of the 1,500 colleges currently included.

According to tests conducted at UCLA and NYU, AdmissionSplash founders looked at three sets of students – 88 and 73 from UCLA and 75 from NYU – and found that the app was able to accurately predict admissions decisions for 85, 91 and 97 percent from each group, respectively. AdmissionSplash co-founder Allen Gannett views the application as a more-personalized college guide book, calling it “a really good tool for narrowing down your choices,” but is quick to point out that students should not rely on it as a sole indicator. Gannet believes the app will help students navigate through the stressful application process and hopes to develop a program that will predict admission chances for law, medical, business and grad school applicants.

High school seniors, are you downloading this app to help you with your application process? Let us know what you think.

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The Pros and Cons of International Recruiting

Applications, Diversity and Competition are Up at Many Schools

February 14, 2011

The Pros and Cons of International Recruiting

by Alexis Mattera

So you’ve found your dream college. The place where you’ll not only obtain the knowledge and skills to succeed in the real world but will make personal connections and precious memories to last a lifetime. As you take the appropriate standardized tests, schedule an interview with a member of the admissions committee and make sure your applications are in on time, you can’t help but begin counting the days until your acceptance letter arrives. The only problem is that you’re not the only one thinking these thoughts: Your competition has increased thanks to many colleges’ upping their marketing efforts abroad, specifically in China, to increase diversity on campus. And you thought finding a valentine was hard.

According to the New York Times, American institutions are seeing surges in applications from China, where a booming economy means more parents can turn their children’s dreams of American higher education into realities. At Grinnell College in rural Iowa, for example, nearly one of every 10 applicants being considered for the class of 2015 is from China. These applicants also display high test scores and exemplary grades but lack command of the English language (some families even hire agents to pen application essays) and access to Advanced Placement courses, making it difficult for the school’s 11-member admissions committee to determine who gets big envelopes and who doesn’t because they cannot be judged using the same standards as American applicants.

The confounding variables do not cease there – Grinnell is "need-blind" when considering American students but is "need aware" for international students, meaning an applicant could have an edge if he or she does not need financial aid and can pay full tuition – but the school does appear to be selecting the right applicants: About 84 percent of students who enroll graduate in four years and double major in subjects including math, science and economics. Do you think there should be different standards for U.S. and international students applying to college? Would you rather have greater diversity in your classes or a better chance of gaining admission to your first-choice school? Does this information impact the schools you'll put on wish list?

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