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College Planning, Preparation and Applying FAQs

Finding the Right College

Are guidebooks and relatives useful in choosing a school?

The short answer is yes, each of these things are helpful, especially relatives that have had experience at the colleges you are looking at. However, to know if a school is a good fit for you, you have to visit. There is only so much information you can get online, by reading books or talking to people. A number of times those sources come with biases. Only if you get on campus, sit in on an info session, take a tour, eat in their dining facility, etc., are you going to get an idea of how good a fit a college is for you. You should at least eat a meal there and visit a dorm because if you are going to eat there and sleep there for four years, you must be somewhat satisfied with those two things.

Are there activities/organizations that impress highly selective colleges?

The highly selective colleges aren't interested in the amount of things you do (doing 10 things for 10% of your time each). If you only did two things for 50% each of your time, how committed were you? How did you grow and gain more responsibility in those things that you did? Were you a leader in that specific activity? These are things they want to know. These colleges are also looking for spectacular things you did. How did you stand out over your peers and go above and beyond? These are the things that highly selective colleges pay attention to you. No matter what, your grades, course selection and test scores will play the biggest factor. After that though, do well on the essay(s). They also like to see words like "leader", "director", "editor", "president", "founder", etc.

As a high school junior, what are the most important things for me to do before senior year?

As a junior there are a few important things that you have to remember.

  1. Keep up your grades. Do not slack off.
  2. Take your SAT/ACT twice during your junior year. Do not wait until senior year. Use senior year tests to increase your scores if you need to do that.
  3. Create a list of schools that you are interested in. Most students have over 15 schools. By the summer of junior year you should be able to shorten the list to 6-7 and make strategic choices for the application process.
  4. Choose your senior classes wisely. We all know that you have almost finished your high school graduation requirements. Use the free time to take extra math or science classes, or an extra AP class.
  5. Don't dream away your summer between junior/senior year. Use this time to write your college essay and have a few people review and edit them.
  6. Use your summer to enhance your resume. Intern or volunteer in your chosen career path. If you do not know what your career path will be, consider doing an on-line assessment to help you narrow your choices down.
  7. Visit any schools that are on your "short list" of schools to apply to. If you cannot visit the school, call them and ask for information or to speak to an admissions counselor. The least you should do is take a virtual tour to make sure you really want to apply.

Does class size matter?

This really depends on what you are comfortable with, but I can't imagine that being in a bigger class in the hundreds is going to benefit you more than being in a class of twenty five. Just being able to discuss certain topics, ask a question a lot easier, know that you are being taught by a professor and not feel like a number has to benefit a student more and be integral in what kind of grade they will get in a class.

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

I am going to say to take rankings with a grain of salt. It also depends on the colleges you are applying to. A lot of these rankings have to do with national and regional reputation, percentages, how many professors do research, how long the school has been around, etc. There are so many good colleges out there that have professors with great experience and are experts in their field. Colleges like to see their name in the rankings but it will never define them as a school. You have to see the school for yourself. It also depends on the major you may want to pursue because certain colleges have better programs in certain majors but that may not show up in any rankings.

There are so many rankings out there it is baffling. What's even more is that no two rankings share the same methodology. Colleges can post whatever rankings they choose to show you. But, someone please tell me the difference between the number 1 school and the 20th school other than their name and location. For that matter, someone tell me the difference between #20 and #50. Across the country there are great schools that don't get ranked. There are several factors. Maybe they didn't get enough applications, or they didn't reject enough students. Maybe of the students that were admitted, only a certain percent actually decided to attend that college. These are determining factors in several rankings. Does this really measure the worth of a school? Absolutely not. There are countless successful people in this world that did not attend a "ranked" college or university.

How many schools should students apply to?

As a junior, your list of colleges that you are interested in applying to could be as long as you want. I always say 10-15 schools is a good number to have on your list junior year. During the summer before your senior year, you should get that down to 6-7 colleges. Not saying that applying to any more (but it will be expensive) or less (you better be sure you are getting in) is wrong, but it is what I recommend. My advice is to apply to 6 colleges...two that are reach schools, two that are moderately competitive schools, and two safety schools. These reach, moderately competitive and safety schools will be different for each student depending on their grades, scores and other factors involved like athletics. You should always have a "flexible" list though and not a list with all reach or safety schools.

Tuition aside, what benefits and drawbacks exist by going to school in-state vs. out-of-state?

A big benefit that you sometimes can benefit from are state scholarship and grant opportunities. So whatever state you live in make sure you do your research to see if your state offers any scholarship or grant opportunities. Another benefit is distance from home but this may depend on where you live. More than likely you are going to live closer to in-state institutions than out-of-state. Some students would like to just be closer to home so they can come home on weekends and still attend their sibling's sporting events and or be near their parents. Another benefit is that depending on your major, if you attend an in-state school, you may be able to get a job in-state after graduation and they will pay back your loans for you. This is something I know happens for nurses and teachers so it's worth looking into. One drawback I can think of by going to an in-state school vs. and out-of-state school is that you may be compromising going to a college that fits you better and has a better fit for the major you want just to be closer to home.

What are the main differences between large public universities and small liberal arts colleges?

The main difference is cost and access to resources. Large public universities, especially for in-state students, are much more affordable. They come with risks during these tough economic times---larger class sizes, limited classes, overwhelmed professors and campus workers, and tuition increases each year. At larger public universities, students must be independent. They need to find communities right away and establish connections as many kids live off campus. I recommend joining a campus ministry and major activity right away. At small liberal arts colleges, the campuses make kids feel at home with smaller class sizes, dorms that kids live in for 2-4 years, and all kinds of resources. Professors at small liberal arts colleges focus even more on undergraduates. It’s also a lot easier to network and get to know your professors at a smaller university. Another big difference I come across a lot with students is that with large public universities, you have more of a school spirit atmosphere mainly because of the big sports atmosphere that a football or basketball team creates where at a small liberal arts college, you normally don’t have that “major” school spirit atmosphere.

What are the most important factors to consider while researching colleges?

Please see the “Factors to Consider When Choosing a College” chart in the DC Academic Handbook. From these 30 factors you should be able to come down with 3-4 that are most important to you. From there you then need to start finding the colleges that have those factors.

What are the most significant, avoidable mistakes students make in the admissions process?

  1. Choosing your colleges based on where your friends are applying
  2. Not taking the SAT and the ACT in the proper time frame or not knowing which one may be better for you.
  3. Not taking the senior year seriously. Your course selection and grades in the senior year are very important.
  4. “Sticker Shock” - assuming colleges will be unaffordable. Many colleges offer need-based and merit aid. You won’t know if you can afford it unless you apply. In fact, sometimes the private college with the big sticker price ends up being the best financial offer.
  5. Not thoroughly researching admission requirements. Make sure you know what each college requires in terms of high school coursework, testing, recommendations, essays, etc…
  6. Not paying attention to deadlines. Plan ahead and take those deadlines seriously. Don’t wait until the last minute to apply. Also, meet any deadlines your school may have to ensure that your transcript and recommendations are sent to colleges in a timely manner.
  7. Not meeting with your high school counselor. I make things really easy by being proactive about meeting with you. Make sure I know who you are - your interests, your activities, your goals. I submit your transcript and a letter of recommendation and in most cases need to write a letter myself for you.
  8. Getting your heart set on only one college. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. There are several colleges where you can be happy and successful.
  9. Being careless with cut and paste. Your “Why College X” essay better be about College X and not College Y! Double check your work. Edit. Pay attention to details in your application.
  10. Being a “stealth” applicant. Many colleges tend to track something called “demonstrated interest.” Visit the college website and complete a prospective student questionnaire. Attend college fairs and complete the info cards even if you are already on the college mailing list. Visit the campus if at all possible. Request a local interview if offered. Attend any local reception or high school visit that may take place. Email an inquiry about a program or activity of interest. Make sure that your application is NOT the first official contact you have with a college.

What do college students wish they'd done differently in high school?

The response I hear most often with regard to this question is, "I wish I had developed better study and time management habits." In too many cases strong students grew to rely on their intellectual prowess in high school, sometimes mistakenly assuming that the workload in college is similar to that in secondary settings. Courses easily “aced” in high school are often far more challenging in college. Another popular response I hear is, “I wish I took harder classes in high school”. When you get to college, you don’t realize how much challenging yourself academically in high school is going to benefit you in college.

What is the best way to start researching colleges?

Start by first looking inward and figuring out what you want in a college; what's important to you - what are the three or four factors in a college that are most important to you (Christian/Non-Christian, location, size, does it have the major you are interested in). Please see the chart “Factors To Consider When Choosing a College” in the DC Academic Handbook for more of these factors. When you know what you're shopping for, it’s more likely that you'll find what you want. Then use the resources, both online (Naviance account) and in print, to do your research.

What kind of student should be looking at a highly selective school?

The kind of student who should be looking at a highly selective college is a student who is very academic (mostly A’s with a few B’s), enjoys being in a high academic atmosphere, has excellent test scores and who is ranked highly within their class. Extracurricular involvement and experiences as well outside the classroom need to be very strong as well. Remember this, highly selective colleges (acceptance rate below 20%) receive applications from highly qualified students, but they still only accept a fraction of them. There will be plenty of National Merit Scholars and Valedictorians in the applicant pool, and many of them will be declined. There are certainly no guarantees, and rigor can be found outside of the highly selective college bracket

What makes a school large or small and what are some advantages and disadvantages of each?

Large = Over 20,000 students , you need to take a bus to class, class sizes (at least for freshman and maybe sophomore year) are in 200-300 range and grad students are teaching classes

Advantages = More majors offered, bigger atmosphere for athletics, normally near a medium to large city, more campus organizations offered, sometimes a better relationship with the bigger corporations when it comes to finding a job after graduation.

Disadvantages = You are pretty much a number, takes a long time to get to class, class sizes are a lot bigger, you are working with grad assistants than professors the majority of the time, anything goes when it comes to alcohol on campus and girls in dorms

Small = 3,000-10,000 students, you can walk to class, your biggest class doesn't get over 100 but the average is 25-30, professors teach all the classes and they are readily available outside of class

Advantages = See above and a lot of small colleges have less (not none) issues with partying, smaller schools will tend to have separate girl/guy dorms

Disadvantages = Limited in amount of majors offered, the athletic atmosphere is smaller because most small colleges are not Division 1, may have more of a regional reputation when it comes to getting a job after graduation, tend to cost a bit more.

What should high school students do before the summer of their senior year?

Each junior at DC receives a “Summer Before Senior Year Checklist” that they can access in their Naviance account. These are the specific things I think a junior needs to do, understand and realize before they begin their senior year. There is no secret summer plan that will ensure admission to your dream college. You do not have to cure cancer or start the next Facebook. Take advantage of any opportunities to identify and explore your passions. It will likely lead to exciting and fulfilling experiences that might help you discover what you want to study in college.

There is a myth that admissions officers count the number of service hours or that applications that do not overflow with volunteer activities go immediately to the reject pile. It’s great if your summer includes time for you to help coach the local youth sports team or to spend time at a retirement home. If not, do not feel that all is lost if you have failed to save a life or cure the ills of society.

If community service is done solely to bolster a college application, then perhaps your time is better spent otherwise, as a lack of legitimate motivation is transparent. However, if you are passionate about medicine, then volunteer at a hospital to see if this interest is well founded. Likewise, if teaching is a possibility in your future, become a camp counselor or volunteer at a local day care or summer school.

If you hope to compete in athletics at the college level, then plan to attend at least one showcase event or a summer sports camp. Not only will you develop as an athlete, but you are also likely to gain exposure to college coaches. Many camps are held on college campuses, which will give you the opportunity to experience college life firsthand.

When should students start the college search?

In many ways it is never too early to start your college search. The college planning process just isn’t researching colleges, visiting colleges and SAT prep. For someone in 7th and 8th grade it is important to begin assessing which classes you enjoy and why. This can help you begin to formulate majors or programs of study which may be a good fit for you. Also, if you get a chance to walk around a campus or two that certainly gives you some insight.

9th graders need to look at what they expect to take for the next four years in their high school. This is where you need to challenge yourself academically. Again, if you get a chance to walk around a campus or two that certainly gives you some insight. The most important thing to be doing as a 9th and 10th grader is getting the best grades you can in all your classes. This will provide you the most options when going through the college application process.

10th and 11th graders need to be attending college fairs, checking out college websites, and visiting campuses. If you don't have the time or money to visit campuses make sure you are checking out their websites and signing up to be on their mailing lists. You should be able to become a little more selective in your visits as you are able to hone in on aspects of a campus that resonate with you as well as aspects that don't sit well. For example, if you have visited two or three large urban universities and have not found them to be enjoyable it is likely time to shift toward either smaller institutions and/or institutions in a suburban or rural setting.

12th graders should have their lists narrowed down by now. You may have some colleges on the list which interest you but you have not been able to visit. Once you have all of your decision letters you will be able to rank them and determine if you need to make any final visits.

Visiting Colleges

Any tips on getting the most out of campus tours and info sessions?

First, you want to make sure that you are attentive and listening to everything that the admissions representative says in an info session and the tour guide says on the tour. You don't want to leave anyone that works in the admissions office with a bad first impression because you were talking, sleeping, texting or goofing around. Second, make sure you prepare a few questions for both the info session and the tour. These questions should be the most important factors you are considering in the college you want to attend. Please see the Knights Code to College Handbook for questions to ask college admissions officers. The info session is a good time to ask admission questions like SAT/GPA numbers, what is their acceptance rate from last year and most popular majors to name a few. The tour is where you can ask more specific questions like placement in jobs for a specific major, how many students live on campus and what the meal plans are. At the end, make sure you introduce yourself to the tour guide and they know you were there because that can help them know how much you want to go there and they have a record of your visit.

Are overnight stays important? How should I prepare for an overnight stay?

If you are given the option of spending the night on campus at a school to which you will apply or to which you have already applied, you should absolutely take advantage of the opportunity. By spending the night on campus, and then subsequently attending classes, you will get a feel for what it is like to be a student, not just a visitor. Though your overnight host may be a student employee that is paid by the Admission Office, the majority of the students in their dormitory will not be...thus you will be able to get a true feel for what a night is like on campus. You should keep in mind that an overnight stay is not just to have fun so don't be surprised if your host needs to spend some time doing homework while you are there. You should bring along your own school work or a book to read, in case this happens.

How should you approach a college visit as an accepted student?

Pretend you are going to attend that college. Then visit classes, spend the night in a dorm with a current freshman or sophomore. Eat in the cafeteria, meet with different people on campus, and get a feel for what your life will be like. Remember that you will spend four years at this college. Do you think you may outgrow it? Can you change majors? Ask the key questions that matter. The admissions officers are there to help you decide so they will help connect you with all kinds of people. Also see who else you may know at the campuses to help make your visit truly personal.

I want to make the most of campus visits. What should I do, look for, and ask while I’m there?

A college visit isn't just about going on the tour and listening to the stories the tour guides want to tell you. It also isn't just about attending an information session where most of the information you are going to hear can be found on the school's website. Instead, what the visit should be about is an intentional effort on your part to form an opinion on the things that are important to you. If you want to know more about your program, arrange a meeting with a faculty member or ask to sit in on a class. If you are interested in campus activities and student life, check out the bulletin boards, and locate a campus newspaper and read it. If you want to know what the food is going to be like, eat in the cafeteria. If you are an athlete, check out the sports and recreation facilities. Know what is important to you before you visit and then intentionally seek these items out when you visit.

Having said that, one recommendation I make to all students is to just spend some time people watching. Grab a seat in the student center or library and, while reading the campus newspaper perhaps, take in the atmosphere around you. Listen to the conversations and watch how people act. Do you like what you see? Do you see yourself fitting in? Can you picture yourself here? Can this place be your home away from home for the next four years? Between admissions reps, tour guides, parents and your friends there will be plenty of people offering advice and opinions. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to sit for a while and just take it all in.

We don't have time or money to visit some schools I’m really interested in. What can I do?

First, I am going to say to go on the DC College Bus Tour because you are going to visit 6 different types of colleges over 3 days, go through an info session and tour at each school, eat a meal at each school and more for only $225. It may be the best $225 you ever spend to help prepare your child for college.

If you can't visit, you should take advantage of the online resources available to you. Most schools will have virtual tours on their websites. These tours are usually quick and showcase the places the college or university wants you to see such as a new building or a sparkling athletic facility.

If you feel that the school's virtual tour did not provide you with a real "feel" for the campus and the student population, check out College Confidential, College Prowler and Campus Tours. Each has reviews, videos, and testimonials from current students.

In the end, there are plenty of online resources at your disposal. Spend the time with them so you get to know these schools and can make an informed decision about whether or not any of them could be the right one for you.

What are the most important questions to ask a tour guide on a college visit?

It’s really going to depend on the school and what you are looking for, but please don't ask anything that can be found by looking the information up. This is your chance to really gain the student perspective. Ask questions that relate to you as the learner or you as the potential student. Look for verification as to why a particular school is on your list. Ask questions that provide proof that what you are looking at is the real deal. Please read the “Questions to Ask College Representatives” page in the DC Academic Handbook.

What types of students, faculty, and staff should I try and speak with while visiting a college?

While visiting a college you should try to meet with someone from the Admission staff so you can get answers to all of your admission-related questions. This also gives them a chance to put a face with a name...a very important element, particularly if you are applying to a smaller school. If you're given the opportunity to meet with a faculty member you should certainly take advantage of that as they are the best resources for academic-related questions. While you'll most likely have a student tour guide, you should also try to talk with students who aren't necessarily employed by the Admission Office. Take a walk to the campus bookstore or food court and ask random students what they like or don't like about the school. You will certainly get a mixed bag of answers but you'll have a great feel for what the general sense of happiness (or unhappiness) is on campus.

What's the best time to visit a college campus?

The best time to visit a college campus is during the junior year. Colleges love to see juniors because they are still open-minded. Seniors will come on to colleges campuses most of the time with an agenda. Juniors on the other hand are open to what school is going to be the best fit for them. If you visit as a freshman or sophomore, colleges are going to tell you they want you to come back as a junior or senior. As far as when it would be a good time to visit, my opinion is that you want to visit when students are there and classes are going on and it isn't during one of their "Open House" or Preview" weekends. Now, if the only time you can go is when students are there or during an "Open House" or "Preview" weekend, please visit. You need to take advantage of the time you have to visit.

When is the best time to visit a college?

The best time to visit is when the college or university is in session. You will get such a better feel for who the students, faculty and staff are and what the school is all about if you visit during the semester. Think about it, classes are in session so you could always ask to sit in on a class. You could arrange a meeting with an instructor from your program and learn more about the opportunities for someone like you. Check schedules ahead of time and attend a game or performing arts event - get a real feel for activities and student life. Each of these is a valuable experience to have when you visit and much more likely to happen if you visit during the semester. Try not to wait for the summer - college campuses are very different (and much quieter) in the summer when the students, and most of the faculty are gone.

How the Admissions Office Works

Are supplemental materials read? Do they have an effect on admissions?

Be very careful when submitting supplemental materials that have not been requested by the school's supplemental application or do not enhance your application. Supplemental materials may be a valuable addition to schools that have a holistic approach to reading applications. An extra letter of recommendation from a coach, youth group leader or another organization that has come to know you well may support your application. Do not submit a letter unless it can shine light on part of you which has not been demonstrated on your application. The letter needs to detail examples of leadership, character, work ethic or an unusual dedication to an activity.

If you are wondering if you should submit additional information that explains a poor grade, absence from school or other blemish on your high school record you should speak with your school counselor and ask them to help you to address your struggles in a letter directly from your counselor.

Do not submit unsolicited art portfolios or DVDs of a performance etc. unless you have won a distinguished award to accompany the supplemental materials. If you are undecided about submitting extra materials go ahead and reach out to the admissions counselor who is assigned to your geographic region and introduce yourself. Ask them for their opinion. You will be showing a demonstrated interest in the school, and they will appreciate your sensitivity to the subject of supplemental materials. A feather in your cap. Another great piece of advice I received from a Dean of Admissions at an Ivy league school is that if you really want them to read and consider an extra letter of recommendation, send one strong one instead of five because the more supplemental material you send, the bigger chance there is of it being too much for them to read. This letter must also say something different than the other letters you have sent.

Do admissions officers know each high school relatively well?

(From a person who worked at both a small and big university):
When I worked at a small school, I knew my high schools and the counselors incredibly well. When you lobby for a student's admission, you really need to know the school profile frontward, backward, and sideways.

When I worked at a large public school, I knew zero about our applicants' schools. We were on a point system that eschewed any "school favoritism."

In other words, it really depends on the college. Also, it's worth noting that I would only know a student's school had that school had an applicant in the past. There would be no reason to know anything about the school of a stealth applicant in the middle of nowhere. This is where the high school profile and counselor report are invaluable.

Do college admissions officers look at applicants' Facebook profiles?

Sometimes they do and that fact is certainly something that prospective applicants should be aware of. Students can view a school’s Facebook page and get better insight into life at the school, but the school can do the same and that approach can give the school better insight—for good or ill—into the life of the prospective student. This generation has been cautioned about the hazards and the ramification of the online profile that they may, however unintentionally, create, and those warnings are certainly applicable to the college admission process.

Does gender bias exist in college admissions?

Yes it does. Each campus has their own ideas about what makes a high quality freshman class. For some it can mean more men because there are too many women attending, for others it is more minorities and then of course geography plays into this process as well.

Of course, diversity, multiculturalism, inclusivity, etc., are all huge buzz words now, and everyone wants to have a representation of every perspective available. It's just good business. If a school doesn't have "enough" of you, you can rest assured that you'll have an edge in admissions.

Should prospective students contact admissions officers during the application process?

Sure. If you are scheduling a visit, or you have a question that you would like answered, a call is certainly welcomed. If you are calling just to chit chat, I don't think that will help you get admitted. If something occurred in your life i.e. you got some big award, and you want to update the admissions counselor on this new achievement, a call or email would suffice. One thing I feel is an important part of this question is that the student is contacting the admissions officers. In my mind, it is important for the student to be initiating the contact and not the parent. The colleges admissions office wants to hear from the student because this is showing initiative, pro-activeness and leadership in their mind.

How are students judged against other applicants from their high school?

By looking at the school profile, a college admissions representative can see if the student took advantage of courses, outside activities and specialized programs that may make them successful as a future student of their college or university. If most of the student’s peers did tackle those AP courses and the variety of extracurriculars available and he/she did not, then he/she is compared to those other kids and the student’s peers will be looked at more favorably in the admissions process.

How do admissions officers choose among applicants who are on the bubble?

This is where the "less important" factors of the application come into play. For example, demonstrated interest can help sway those admissions decisions in your favor. If they are selecting between you and another bubble candidate, your campus visit, meeting with an admissions officer at a college fair or registration for the campus admissions mailer, can push you over the edge. Maximize your chances for admission by building up relevant reasons for a college to choose you and it may move you from on the bubble to admitted.

How has the current economy impacted admissions offices?

  1. Public institutions are opening their doors to more out-of-staters and international students than ever before.
  2. Mid-level privates are suffering, and they're throwing the doors open to full-pays. "Mid-level private," FYI, does not mean a school like USC or Wake Forest. It means your local Catholic college (with the exceptions of ND, BC, and Georgetown) and most regional private schools. Why? Because what Washington resident, for instance, would want to go to Seattle U. (no offense...a great school in its own right) for $50k per year when she could attend UW for half the cost?
  3. Ivy Schools, as well as the remainder of the top 15 or so, are as selective as ever. Why? I think it's because students are applying in a polar way: They're putting their money on either their state school (for the tuition break) or the sweatshirt school (with the hope that the price tag will be worth it), with not much stock given to the schools in the middle. It's this behavior that leads to both of the issues above, as well.

How much time do admissions officers spend on each application?

The application review process varies from school to school, so there will always be significant variations in the time that is spent reviewing an individual application. Obviously, it depends on the number of applications a college or university gets. A school like Harvard that gets 30,000 application, their counselors read 40 applications a night. The more applications, the less time they may spend evaluating your application. If it is a small, private, liberal arts college, then they tend to spend more time evaluating an application and looking at it more holistically. Also, the applications and the applicants vary so that impacts the amount of time they are given as well. Many applications are “no brainers”—either to admit or to deny--and they do not need the same amount of time or debate that other, more middle of the pack ones do. In the end, it is less a matter of pure time then the quality of the review and given the importance to the institution of the admission process, a process that creates a class and shapes the culture of the school, applicants should feel confident that their application received a fair and thorough review by experienced, dedicated professionals.

Is there any benefit to checking "no race" on the application?

The Supreme Court ruled that colleges and universities may use race as admission factor for the purpose of achieving diversity (an educationally beneficial and desirable quality). Race may be used as a "plus factor" when conducting a holistic review of candidates. Checking "no race" in effect precludes race from serving as a "plus factor" for admission consideration. Students from racial backgrounds that are traditionally under-represented on campus benefit in a holistic review by providing a specific response to optional race questions. Therefore, checking "no race" offers no distinct advantage or disadvantage in the admissions process.

What trends have you noticed in admissions?

The new report from the National Association of College Admissions Counseling on 2011 State of College Admissions reports 15 things to know about what’s happening now in college admissions:

  1. The number of high school graduates peaked in 2008 at 3.3 million and will continue to decline through 2014-15, but the number of students enrolled in college is expected to continue to increase until at least 2020.
  2. Approximately 20.4 million students are enrolled in college and that number is expected to swell to 23 million by 2020.
  3. In every year since 1976, women have completed high school at a greater rate than men. Currently the gap is 1.2 percentage points.
  4. Fifty-six percent of enrolled college freshmen are female.
  5. During the last admission season, colleges and universities were accepting slightly fewer applicants. The typical school accepted 65.5% of its applicants. Back in 2001, the average acceptance rate was 71%.
  6. Seventy-three percent of colleges and universities in 2010 experienced an increase in applications from the previous year.
  7. One out of four teenagers submitted seven or more college applications.
  8. The average application fee was $40. Larger institutions and more selective colleges tended to impose higher fees.
  9. The typical school’s admission yield was down. Yield refers to the percentage of applicants that a college accepts who ultimately end up attending the school. The latest yield is 41% versus 49% in 2001. The shrinking yield is not surprising since students are applying to more schools.
  10. Colleges typically spent $585 to recruit each applicant during the 2010 admission season. 11. Forty eight percent of schools used a wait list. Wait lists were far more popular with selective schools that accept fewer than 50% of its applicants. More than 63% of those schools used a wait list compared with less than 12% of schools that accept 50 % to 70% of its applicants. 12. The acceptance rate gap between those who apply early decision versus regular decision has shrunk. The acceptance rate for students who applied early decision was 57% versus 50% for regular-decision applicants.
  11. While the college admission landscape has become tougher to navigate, getting help from high school counselors remain challenging. NACAC notes in its survey that federal statistics indicates that the average counselor/student ratio is 460:1.
  12. The average public high school counselors spend just 23% of their time on college counseling, while the average private school counselors devote about 55% of their time to college issues.
  13. Only 26% of public schools have at least one counselor who works exclusively on college counseling issues. In comparison, 73% of private schools have a dedicated college counselor.

Early Action and Early Decision

Do I have a better chance of getting accepted if I apply early action or early decision?

Please note that you can apply to both. If you apply early decision to a college, you can still apply to any other school who had an early action, rolling or regular decision deadline. You can only just apply to one college through early decision. If you apply early decision you are definitely letting that school know that they are your top choice. If you apply early action, they know you are definitely interested, but they also know you did not commit to attend their school if you got in like you did if you applied early decision. If you apply to either of these deadlines you want to make sure your grades and SAT/ACT scores are in the top half of the mid-50% or above it. I definitely recommend applying early action to a college if you can because you do not have to go into the 2nd semester waiting for a decision.

Early, rolling, regular: When should you apply?

This all depends on the interest of the top schools on your list, do you feel that you performed your best when it comes to your grades and the SAT/ACT by the end of your junior year and what deadlines the schools have that are on your list. Please see “Types of Admission Deadlines” in the DC Academic Handbook for an explanation for all of the types of deadlines. Here is my advice on the “Big 3” deadlines:

Early Decision - Most colleges that have early decision deadlines are the more competitive admission schools. You want to make sure that a school you apply to early decision is one of the top schools on your list because you are committing to go there if you get in. One big advantage of applying early is that you are telling the school that they are your top choice. This is why colleges that have early decision take a larger percentage of their incoming freshman class from the early decision pool. You also want to make sure that you are in the upper half of the mid-50% or above it when it comes to SAT/ACT scores and you have performed well in the classroom

Rolling Admission - Colleges that have a rolling admissions deadline will begin taking your application early and then once they have all the required documents they need, they will make a decision on acceptance within 2-3 weeks. I recommend you apply to any school on your list as early as possible. They will not deny you if don’t meet a criteria they want to see. They will most likely just postpone your decision until you meet their criteria. You don’t want to wait too long to apply to a rolling admission deadline, however, because they fill up spots as they continue to accept students and there have been schools that have filled their incoming freshman class by February/March.

Regular Decision - This is the latest deadline a college will have so you DO NOT want to miss this deadline. This is normally a set date and they have a set notification date to go with it. A number of students will be deferred to this deadline if they did not get in after applying early but they did not get denied either. Regular decision deadlines will normally be from December 1st-March 1st. There is normally a longer waiting time when applying regular decision. Some colleges do not notify you of your decision until April 1st. Use this deadline as a safety net to apply to the bottom half of the schools on your list (unless they are rolling admission). Applying regular decision allows you to improve on grades and scores a bit before applying and putting your best foot forward.

How do you indicate to a school that they are your first choice besides early decision?

Let the admissions counselor know. When an admissions counselor visits your school, or you go to the college on a visit, let them know. They will certainly take note of that. You also want to make mention of it whenever you can in an essay, a teacher and counselor recommendation. Also make sure you remind them a couple weeks before the notification date because this is when they are reviewing your application and a reminder is always helpful to make sure they know who you are.

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

The short answer is “yes”, it is really binding. You should not apply to a college under the early decision deadline unless you are confident that you will attend that school if you get in. Nevertheless, there are two reasons a college will allow a student to get out of their early decision agreement. First, if you and your parents have attempted to work with the financial aid office when it comes to cost and you still can’t afford the “best” offer the college is giving you. The other reason a college may let you out of an early decision agreement is if they cannot accept you into the major that you wanted so they accept you under an alternate major.

The Application

Does submitting your application ahead of the deadline improve your chances?

In some cases it can, in others it won't. If a school reviews applications on a rolling basis, getting your application in early can make a difference. It can also help ensure that you'll have access to housing and financial aid.

But if a school will release all of its admissions decisions at the same time, it's less likely that submitting your application ahead of the deadline will make a great deal of difference.

How can students stand out on their application?

In order to gain a competitive edge for college applications, students need to begin preparing by fostering their passions during their freshman year of high school. While many students and parents recognize the need for academic excellence from day one, many fail to recognize the importance of building a resume early on. Just as one builds a strong GPA, transcript and test scores over the course of four years, so the resume needs to be built.

While college admissions officers expect academic excellence, they also want to see well-rounded and involved young adults - students that demonstrate an interest and investment in the world around them. They want individuals that will not only contribute to their college campus, but also to the world at large.

The activities and accomplishments on a resume are some of the crucial ways in which a student can reflect his or her individuality. The nuances of a student’s personality are best reflected by the way they spend their time and energy. Similarly, important qualities that demonstrate a student’s ability to thrive in the college environment are shown through the student’s involvement. Maintaining commitment to an activity or organization over a long period of time, demonstrates a student’s dedication. Balancing academic work with extracurricular activities shows a student’s ability to prioritize and manage time. Taking on prominent positions in a group, organization or team, and excelling in these positions, shows vital leadership skills. Involvement illustrates a worldliness in the student and a desire to make a contribution.

While these qualities are important, showing your individuality is also of the utmost importance. There is no golden activity that is going to impress a college admissions officer, the impressive part is what you do within your activity and how you demonstrate those qualities mentioned above. It is your level of involvement, the amount of leadership and initiative shown, and the desire to make an impact that truly make an impression. There is no need to force any particular activity on a student. The important thing is to find activities that the student is interested in and passionate about. If you’re not interested in the debate team, join the French club and find ways to organize cultural events and get the club involved in the community. If you play in a rock band – great, but don’t just hang out in the garage – find a way to organize a charity show or enter a local band competition. If you enjoy playing basketball – join your high school team and work towards being the team captain and making the varsity team. If you like designing clothes - get involved with your school’s theater department and design costumes. Be creative with your passions and try to find ways to turn your hobbies and interests into ways to make a difference. Accomplish something meaningful with the things you love to do.

How tailored to each school should an application be?

Given that The Common Application is used now by 456 schools, it has become progressively more difficult to “tailor” your college applications. While the Common AP is a great time-saver and many colleges use it as their only application; it definitely does homogenize the applications. So it becomes even more important for a student to try to stand-out in their essays. It is in the supplements however, where one is often asked “Why do you want to attend our college” (what I refer to as “The Love letter” essays) which offers the best chance to focus on the individual schools. You need to make those essays as specific as possible- try to focus primarily on why exactly each school matches you! And try to avoid crafting generic essays that might fit a hundred colleges.

What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?

Poor grammar or text speak is a pretty poor first impression. Putting the wrong name of the college at the top of your essay or an arrest record are pretty big red flags that go up for us. Slacking off your senior year is another red flag for admissions. If you were making excellent grades and then your grades plummet your senior year or you barely take an English class because you would rather go home and sit by the pool...Red Flag!

A student, who has strong test scores but poor grades or vice versa, sends a very clear message to a college admissions office; he might be perceived as a “bright underachiever” or a “grade grind” without real intellectual abilities. Having a consistent profile can be key to having a successful outcome. For a student, with a high GPA to have any D’s or C’s on their transcript would indeed be a “red flag” and might require an explanation. Additionally, if a student’s english grades and Critical Writing SAT scores are not in line with the quality of his or her essays that will certainly set some alarms off. At selective colleges, there is the expectation that a student would challenge herself to the extent of her abilities. So, a student with a high GPA but no or limited AP level classes might be seen as inconsistent and lacking in genuine achievement.

What are the most important components of the application?

This is a loaded question because the entire application is important or else the college wouldn't be asking you for the information they are asking in the application. The most important part is the transcript and your grades. Nothing will be more important that the work you put in over the four years of high school so make sure you continue to bring that GPA up until the very end. Make sure if you want to pursue a math or science field that you do well in your math and science courses. The next part that is most important to colleges that most students overlook are the courses you take. Colleges want to see that you have challenged yourself each year by taking the most challenging classes that you could have. This means that if you did well in an honors course, that you took the AP course the next year. Then come the SAT/ACT scores. After this the essays are still important and the extracurricular activities. There are a lot of colleges that only consider the grades, courses and scores though.

What exactly is the Common Application?

It is one application that over 400 colleges in the country will accept as their application when applying to their college or university. This way you only have to complete one application instead of 10 different ones if applying to colleges that accept it. Colleges like it because it is a lengthy and detailed application. It is online and very comprehensive when it comes to teacher and counselor recommendations. So don't think it is an easy application but you do only need to do it once if applying to schools that accept it. The only part of the Common Application that will be different for each school is the supplement section. If they ask for supplemental materials, these will need to be completed differently for each college.

What is a college admissions hook?

The hook is any or multiple elements of your profile that stand out and could be used by admissions officers to describe you during committee discussions or written evaluations. As admissions get more and more competitive the hook becomes more elaborate. It’s not enough just to be the valedictorian or the star swimmer. Now it might sound something like: the valedictorian, star swimmer, boy who loves poetry and has won several national competitions; or, a girl in the top 10% of her class who has won film competitions for directing and who is graduating one year early to volunteer providing HIV/AIDs Prevention Support at a pre-school in South Africa; or a student who works 40 hours/week to help support their family financially and is still in the top 10% of their graduating class. I should say that these profiles are made up, but represent the caliber of achievement and experience that a competitive applicant to a top university would have. To find your hook, think about 1) activities you’re good at 2) activities you enjoy 3) how to tie it all together.

Why do some colleges have supplements to the Common Application?

Colleges have supplements to the application because they are requiring more information from you than the normal Common Application asks for. The schools that are satisfied with the personal statement that the Common Application requires will not have a supplement, but a number of schools that use the Common Application will ask that you write a few more specific essays tailored especially for what they are looking for in students who they want to admit. Some have athletic supplements in case you are interested in playing intercollegiate athletics at their school. Make sure these supplements are completed thoroughly and accurately. They are important to the application.

The SAT and ACT

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

The GPA on your transcript will always be the most important piece of information that colleges look at. That GPA and the grades you received over four years of work in high school tell colleges the most as to whether you will succeed at their school or not. The second most important piece of information is the strength of the courses that you take. Colleges really like to see that you took that next level course, if possible, if you did well in the previous course. SAT or ACT tests will be third in the order of importance. After the SAT's it really depends on the college. Some may put more weight on the essay or interview but that depends on the college. If athletics or a special activity is involved, that may affect the college's decision as well.

Is the SAT still as important as it used to be? If so, how?

In some ways, the SAT is as important as ever. It still represents just one of two tools (ACT being the other) college admission offices can use to academically compare students from different high schools. The void created by the absence of any universality with regards to course offerings, requirements, and grading in high schools is still filled reasonably well through standardized tests. However, most colleges and universities conduct full-file, holistic review processes in which the SAT (or ACT) is just one factor among many in determining admission offers. One sign that points to the SAT's diminished value in the admissions landscape: an increasing number of schools enable students to opt out of submitting standardized test scores. Fair Test ( maintains a complete list of schools that have optional test score policies.

Standardized tests: Which ones? When? How many times?

My advice is that you take both the SAT and ACT once to see which test you do better on. You may hear that a certain type of student does better on one that the other but these circumstances are not normally consistent across the board. There are ways to take practice tests like the PSAT or ACT PLAN to get an idea of whether you score better on one test than the other.

Once you determine which test you do better on, I recommend that you take that test twice before the end of the junior year and then once at the beginning of your senior year. You may determine two times is enough and that is fine, but I see more scores come up when seniors take it in October of their senior year than at any other time. Another plan may be to take the SAT for the first time in January, ACT for the first time in February and whatever test you do better on, you take that one in June.

The SAT is more critical thinking and the ACT is more subject based. The ACT includes a science section that is more science terms and interpreting charts than anything else. The ACT math has some Trigonometry on it. The ACT is also a bit shorter and doesn't take any points off for a wrong answer which helps some students with test anxiety.

What are great ways to manage time effectively while taking standardized tests?

First rule of thumb when it comes to the SAT is that you should spend about a minute on each question. If you go over a minute you are taking time away from future questions you need to answer. You should also not be skipping questions in the beginning of each section. The questions are in order from "easy" to "medium" to "hard" difficulty in each section (except the reading passages in the critical reading section...these questions are in order from easy to hard based on each passage) so if you are skipping the easy questions, you are going to have a really difficult time with the hard questions at the end of the section.

When it comes to the ACT, the questions are not as thought provoking or “tricky”, but there are more questions to answer in less time. In the English section there are 75 questions that you have to answer in 45 minutes. For the Reading and Science sections you have to answer 40 questions in 35 minutes. The Math is even at 60 questions for 60 minutes. You also do not get any points deducted for a wrong answer so if you get through a section and only have a few minutes left, you want to make sure you get an answer filled in before time is up.

What are the best ways to prepare for the SAT and ACT?

Start early and read! A lot of students think that the SAT or ACT is a test that they can just study for a week before the test like one of their other classroom tests and it is not. It is a test that takes strategy, clear thinking, critical thinking and test taking skills that need to be learned over time. There are so many ways to prepare out there today. Companies like Princeton Review, Kaplan, Powerscore, Huntington Test Prep are making big money on prep courses these days. I feel like you can prepare just as well as any of these courses would prepare you if you are disciplined enough to put in the time. We have a program through Naviance called Method Test Prep that is really well done in its structure and preparation. You can even take additional online test prep courses through Method Test Prep for an additional fee. It has audio and video explanations after every question you answer. They recommend that you spend a half hour a day up to 15 weeks before the test you are taking to properly prepare. Now, you may miss a day here and there but that is a good recommendation. They say that you should do half a practice test a week 8 weeks prior to a test and then a full-length practice test a month before you take the test. There is the question of the day that you can get e-mailed to you as well. I don't think you need to spend thousands of dollars on test prep to get a great score. I think you need to discipline yourself to spend the daily time preparing and then maybe take a $475 course 6 weeks before the test to learn all the strategies you may need to know. These courses are taught by a Princeton Review instructor and are offered here at DC before the October and June SAT tests.

Is a student-submitted resume suggested? How/when/where?

I am a big believer in the resume. The resume should be one page in length, include a profile picture and include anything and everything you have done outside of your core academic classes in school. Even electives that student took could be included in the resume. A college wants to know how you are going to benefit their school and be involved. They don't want students who are going to stay in their room all day and study. They want students who are going to be an asset to their campus and get involved. A picture is important because it forces them to put a face to the name. At a lot of big universities, an applicant is just a number. When they see a picture, it personalizes you a bit to them and can make a small difference. I send the resume in with the transcript to make sure they get it. You can also use the resume to give to teachers when asking for a letter of recommendation, a college rep when they visit your school, an internship or an interview you have. I have sample resumes if you would like to see one.

Grade Point Average

How do admissions offices compare weighted GPAs to unweighted GPAs?

Admission offices assess student achievement within the context of a student's school. Some schools recalculate averages to develop a consistent number for each applicant. Other schools achieve the same equity by a contextual and holistic application read. But, regardless of the specific process involved, admission readers assess course rigor and academic achievement based on the offerings and scales provided by the high school.

How is a student whose grades improved throughout high school evaluated?

Admissions officers like to see an "upward trend" in a student's grades. Freshman year, especially, can be a time of rocky transition for some kids, and grades from the 9th grade may not be a reflection of the student's true capabilities. If you're making progress by sophomore year, and even more in junior year (and taking a rigorous course load), colleges will recognize your improvement as a sign that you have matured intellectually and started to discover yourself as a learner.

The Essay

How important is the essay?

While rated below GPA, course load, and test scores for most universities, the essay still remains an important factor in admissions. The essay allows the candidate to express something that cannot be determined based on data alone. Make sure you spend plenty of time on this part of the application and that it represents the best you have to offer.

Is every college essay read? How many admissions officers read them?

A general rule of thumb is that if a school is requiring that you submit something with your application, then you should assume it is going to be reviewed. Depending on the school, your essay might be read by one to three people. If you are not a clear admit (based on the school's admission criteria) there is a chance your application materials will be reviewed by other members of the admission committee. Some schools also hire application "readers" who only work during the months when schools are receiving the largest influx of applications. These "readers" are generally former admission counselors, alumni, college counselors, they have experience!

Should you have someone proofread your essay?

Yes, every senior should have at least two different people proofread their essay. One should be an English teacher or someone with an English degree that can focus on punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, etc. The other should be someone that has experience reading essays and can look for creativity, uniqueness, flow, etc.

What are some do's and don'ts for the admissions essay?


  1. Make sure that your essay actually addresses the topic you have chosen or been asked to write about. Avoid digressing.
  2. Include information about yourself, what you have experienced, or the way you see things that will distinguish you from others. (I know this may seem difficult. It may help to brainstorm some possible ideas with others whose opinions you trust.)
  3. Remember that your essay will be read by an actual person - in many cases, several. Consider how you can appeal to the reader’s emotions in your essay. This does not mean writing a sad plea of "Oh, please accept me!", but to grab the reader's attention through any number of a variety of emotions - humor, irony, excitement, fear, heartbreak, triumph, defeat, adventure. You name it - whatever fits your theme.
  4. Write analytically, rather than just descriptively. Instead of just stating that an event happened, tell how that event affected you or made you feel.
  5. Proofread carefully for obvious mistakes in spelling, grammar, sentence structure, paragraphing, and so on - all of the things your English teacher has been nagging you about! Ask someone else to assist you with your editing; we often don't see our own errors.
  6. Proofread to make sure that a reference to how much you love a specific school only appears on the essay(s) which will go to THAT school! (See number 6 below.)


  1. Don't merely regurgitate information that already appears elsewhere on the application. Your essay should reveal in more depth other aspects of your personality, interests, abilities, and experiences. It's okay to reference something that appears in another part of the application, but only to establish a context for what you want to describe/reveal about that experience.
  2. Don't let someone else write your essay. It should speak in your own "voice".
  3. Don't overdo the humor. I mentioned using humor as a possible "do" in the section above, but use humor selectively. Unless you're very clever with it, the script for a stand-up comedy routine probably won't make the cut and may not even seem very funny.
  4. Don't ramble! Don't stick in irrelevant information just to pad the essay. When you're doing your final editing, remove irrelevant information that may have crept in.
  5. Don't repeat things you've already said (unless you're doing it very deliberately for a certain effect).
  6. Don't accidentally mention that another institution is your absolute favorite, top choice! This happens more often than you would think. (See number 6 above.)
  7. Do not write about your experience on a sports team or a week or two long missions trip you went on. Write about a dream, passion, desire or goal that you have.

What makes a great college essay?

Many books have been written about what makes a great college essay, or even more generally, a great essay of any variety. To be succinct, however, there are a few general rules that will help you write an essay that will draw positive attention from the admissions counselors who read your essay.

  1. The essay has to feel authentic. This is not a place to brag about your GPA or standardized test scores. It should be a window into who you are as a person, a human being with unique experiences and a perspective on the world that you call your own.
  2. The essay has to be about the writer, i.e., you. But it not only has to be about you: it has to be about you in a way that no one else is like you. Your job is to write about yourself as an individual that stands out amongst the other students applying to the same college. Horror stories have been told about the number of essays that are written about summer camp or the winning football game. Be wary of these and other topics! Many other students write about them as well, and unless you believe that you have a really, really different perspective, avoid throwing yourself into the pile of humdrum essays on the same topic. Think instead about how you can bend a little to the unusual, the catchy, the thing that makes the college admissions officer sit up and read a little more closely. This is not just about your skill as a writer, but about your experiences, about your *life*. Who are you, at the core of your being? Share that through the words you have put on the page.
  3. The essay must be clearly written and grammatically correct. Even an essay that tells a great story and serves a meaningful introduction to the student's personality can be marred by run-on sentences, comma splices, and lack of capitalization (the last of which, though stylistically acceptable in text messages and friendly emails, is a major no-no in the college essay). Read, reread, revise, and revise again. And revise again until you are certain that the words flow and that you have eliminated any embarrassing grammatical gaffes. Remember, you are applying to college, and though a grammatically impeccable essay might not be the one thing that gets you in, poor editing and unchecked mistakes can leave a lasting negative impression on a reviewer.


The Interview

Are there things a student should never say during a college interview?

From someone who interviews for their college:

I do alumni interviews for my alma mater, and I'm always turned off when a student admits to knowing next to nothing about the school. It happens much more often than you'd imagine. The rise of the Common Application has made it much easier to apply to a large number of schools, and inevitably the students who are least prepared for the interview are the ones applying to twenty schools!

Before your interview, scour the school's website for programs/classes/clubs/dorms/sports that interest you and ask for more information from your interviewer. You are applying to the place after all, and I'd hope you've done at least a little research to know if it's a good fit. For example, my alma mater doesn't offer a business major. If you're looking at business as a major, you need to be looking elsewhere for a school that meets your needs.

Interviews DO matter in the admissions process for selective schools so don't take them lightly. Use the opportunity to exhibit yourself "beyond the numbers," but also don't forget that it's an opportunity for you to get personalized information about the school. Good luck!

Does the college interview really count?

It really depends on the college. If it is required then yes, it will count. If it is recommended then I am going to say yes, it will count as well. If it is optional, then I will say that it will not count that much. Now, it may all depend on how you interview. If you interview well and that person is really excited about having you attend that college or university, they may really put in a good word for you and that interview just played a more important role. Most of the time, colleges will answer this question directly if you ask them and let you know if the interview means much in the admissions decision.

How can a student prepare themselves best for a college interview?

First of all, relax! An interview isn't an interrogation, but a conversation. This means the student has to play her or her part in the process. Prepare for your interview by learning all you can about the school and then developing genuine questions you'd like to discuss. Put some time into thinking about your strengths, your challenges, and why you believe the school is a match for you. Be sure to dress appropriately (ties, jackets and high heels aren't necessary, but no flip flops or shorts). Have something to eat and drink beforehand so you're not distracted by gnawing hunger or thirst. Take a book you're currently reading along with you; it will come in handy if you have to wait and can also be a good ice-breaker to start conversation with the interviewer. Most importantly, be yourself. Remember that you have a lot to offer and let all that you can bring to the school community shine through. And, of course, don't forget to breathe.

How does the interview work?

An interview can happen in several different environments, your school, a coffee shop, or the college itself. Admission officers give the interviews that mean the most to the admission committee. Alumni interviews can vary from meeting with someone wonderful and meeting with someone who is not very nice. When you can interview with the college admission counselor, do it!

What are some tips for acing the college interview?

Interviews vary from school to school but there are some important things to remember no matter where you are interviewing: 1) The interview should be a conversation. No interviewer wants to just fire questions at you without any kind of dialogue. Make sure you are prepared to back up your responses with more than just "because"; 2) You should be ready to ask some questions, too! By asking questions about the school you are demonstrating your genuine interest in the school and its offerings; 3) Dress appropriately! This doesn't mean you need to buy a tux or a new evening gown but remember that you only have one chance to make a first need to decide what you'd like that impression to be; 4) Finally, make sure to thank the person interviewing you both before you leave and then perhaps a quick email or letter when you get home.

What are the best ways to answer the question: Tell me about yourself?

Be ready for this question. Practice your answer in advance, because it will be asked of you at some point during a college interview. Think about who you are, what your interests are, what type of personality you have. Tell me about yourself: " I am a happy person and love to meet new people ", or " I am a quiet person who enjoys learning and studying" or " I am passionate about stray and neglected animals, I guess you could say I am very compassionate." Think about this question, and talk to yourself about who you are and what you do so you are prepared.

Letters of Recommendation

Can students speed up the recommendation letter process and still get great results?

It depends on the teacher but the rule of thumb is to inform them well in advance and make it known to them what deadlines you are trying to meet. Under these circumstances any teacher would be happy to get the letter done in time. If you ask them a few days before the letter needs to be submitted, it is more than likely that they will not be able to write a good letter because they will be rushed and probably perturbed that you didn't give them enough time.

How can planning increase a student's chance of getting great teacher recommendations?

It can really benefit you because you can get a good idea of what the college you are applying to wants to see in a letter of recommendation. Asking around a bit to see what they like to see in a letter is helpful. Planning also lets teachers have more time to complete the letter which in turn will result in a more thorough and thought out letter that is more unique to you. Colleges want teachers to point out how you stick out from the others in their class and if you know this your freshman year, you can remind yourself throughout the time you are in a certain teachers class to do things that stick out and go above and beyond.

How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?

First and foremost: Be involved in the class, perform at your level, and strive to improve (or demonstrate improvement. Being involved in class means that you participate in class discussions (while not dominating them), ask questions, help weaker students, and work well with your peers. Performing at your level means that you are consistently getting doing your work and getting the grades you are capable of getting; few things underwhelm teachers as much as seeing a student who is just phoning it in when they could easily be getting better grades. This also plays into striving to improve: you don't have to be the best student in the class to get a great recommendation. If you are seeking out the teacher to get extra help, working hard, and improving throughout the course, the teacher is more likely to go out of his/her way to write a good recommendation.

Aside from doing well in class, though, remember to ask a teacher at the end of your 11th grade year and get them to commit to writing the letter, but also provide them with more information about why you want the letter from them. Some teachers have forms to fill out, but if they don't, write them an email explaining why you liked their class, what your favorite activities were, what your favorite project was, what your favorite reading was, and also what you are interested studying in the future. If there are any circumstances that prevented you from doing as well as you could have--you had to work, take care of siblings, had family issues--make sure the teacher is aware.

If you make the effort and give them the appropriate amount of time, a teacher will write you a solid recommendation.

AP Courses

What are the benefits of taking AP courses in high school?

The biggest benefit is that you are taking the most rigorous curriculum available at your school. This is one of the biggest things that colleges look for when evaluating your transcript. They want you to challenge yourself and take the most difficult classes that you can. More often than not, these are the AP courses that your school offers. Another benefit is that you will take a test at the end of the year and if you do well, you will get college credit at the school you attend for performing well on the AP test. Some schools may not award credit for a core class in your major but they will give you elective credit which will still save you a lot of money. Please visit the “AP Score Check” link on the DC Guidance website under Resources to see what scores are passing scores that certain colleges will award credit for.

Picking a Major

Do you need to have a prospective major, or is it okay to be undecided?

It is definitely okay to be undecided. The first year or even second of college is still a time to decide what you may want to major in. You definitely want to know what your strengths and weaknesses are, what you are passionate about, what do you like to do in your free time, what subjects in school to you like more than others and what your personality is like. The Introduction To Life Calling course that you will take as a senior at DC will be speaking to all of this and help you understand how God made you and who you are in Him. A lot of colleges do not even require that you put a major down on the application and it doesn’t affect the admissions process at all. Mainly your bigger state universities are they schools that will want you to put something down. I would encourage you to stay broad if you are not sure what you want to major in. Just list business, communications, education, biology, etc.

The Resume

How important is a resume compared to other parts of the college application?

The resume is a supplementary part of the application. It will not be more important than your transcript, test scores, or essay(s) (if they require them). Nevertheless, it is a creative and important way of letting colleges know how you will contribute to their school community and be involved at their campus which is really important to them when deciding on admission. The nicer you can make your resume, they more it tells them who are really are and puts a face to the name which can also be important if applying to a bigger or competitive university who normally have a lot of applications to review.

How should a student who hasn’t done much extracurricular wise go about crafting a resume?

What are the "right" extracurriculars? Colleges are not looking for involvement in a thousand things. They are looking for a couple of things that you happen to be really involved in. Working in the soup kitchen once in your lifetime doesn't count. Working in the soup kitchen, organizing your friends to help, starting a club for soup kitchen volunteers, commitment to the soup kitchen...That's what I am talking about! If that is all that you do, good for you. You don't have to be the student council president to get admitted to college. There is no "right" extracurricular. Be who you are and explore interests that have meaning for you. Oh, if you work...that is also an extracurricular. That shows maturity and commitment. Good for you!

Choosing the Right College

How do I choose between two very similar schools?

If the two schools you are trying to decide between are very similar and you cannot come up with one of your most important factors being a difference maker between the two, it would definitely then come down to finances. Please go to the school that you will not be borrowing more money to attend there.

Is it better to stick close to home or go to school far away?

This all depends on whether you want to or not. There are however, a few pluses and minuses to both. First for the pluses, you are expanding your options of schools and you may find a college that is a better fit for you than a school that is closer to home. You are also being more independent and taking on an experience that may help you personally down the road a bit more. You also may find a school with a particular major that you couldn’t get at a school closer to home. When it comes to finances, this could go either way. You may be able to get a scholarship at an out of state college or university that allows you to pay less than the schools you were accepted to close to home. On the negative side, if you are deciding between an in-state and out-of-state public university, the in-state one is always going to be cheaper unless you receive significant scholarship money from the out-of-state school. I have a hard time telling a students who is deciding between Penn State and University of Delaware, to go to the University of Delaware when it’s going to be double the price of Penn State. If you are deciding between private colleges it doesn’t matter because tuition is going to be the same for everyone.

Once accepted, how do you choose between colleges?

Because everyone’s situation is unique and different from another, there is no one way to answer this question. The biggest things I emphasize with students is to go back and focus on the factors you have felt were the most important when choosing where to apply to. Are these the same? Has one become more important than another after you have visited, applied and talked to others about the school? It helps to make another visit to the school after you have been accepted. You approach this visit a lot differently than you did when you were applying and just looking at the school. I also take students through the “College Comparison Worksheet” in the DC Academic Handbook. This will allow students to look at the main factors (financial, size, environment, location, etc.) next to each other so they can easily see what sticks out from each school.

What are freshman retention and graduation rates and why do they matter?

Freshman retention rates and graduation rates are a good indicator at a college of how much the students like the school they are attending and whether they complete their education in 4, 5 or 6 years. If the majority of students are completing their undergraduate degree in four years, that means that college doing a great job of educating them, advising them and keeping them excited about completing their degree. If the freshman retention rates are high, that means that students are happy with the school atmosphere, are able to keep paying the tuition and maybe are getting some significant financial aid, and the college is a bit more careful of who it admits. I would definitely make sure I look at these two factors when researching colleges.

What are the most important factors to consider when choosing a college?

This is a very important question that should be different for most students. You obviously can start with location (close to home or far way), do you want a school in the city or suburbs, number of students (small or big school or is class size important), Christian vs. Non-Christian, Cost or the major you are interested in pursuing among others.
Once you pick the one (or more) of the factors above that are important you can start talking about more on campus factors like the dorms, the food, the facilities, library, etc. These are factors that will be decided upon after a visit on the campus.

When visiting you can also ask about real specific factors that may be important to you like placement in jobs after you graduate in the major you are interested in, campus safety statistics, study abroad, etc.

There are a lot of factors that you can consider but it is up to you which ones are the most important and then what colleges match those factors.

Waitlist and Being Deferred

Do students commonly get in off the waitlist?

This depends on the college you were waitlisted at but one thing I always tell students that are waitlisted at a school is to move on to the next school on your list that you were accepted to. Reply and send back everything to the college that you were waitlisted at if you still want to attend there, but don’t assume you will get off the waitlist. You need to decide to attend another school that you were accepted to on your list and if God opens the door for you to attend the colleges you were waitlisted then you have a decision to make. One downside to holding on to getting off the waitlist at a college is that you will most likely lose the deposit you made at the school you committed to before. Just about all deposits you make to colleges to hold your spot are non-refundable.

How can you get in off the waitlist?

If waitlisted, you first need to make sure your name stays on the waitlist. You need to write back to them and tell them that you would like to stay on the waitlist. Over half of a waitlist sometimes will go away because those students don't ask to stay on it. Then it is just a matter of waiting to see when you may get a response from them that you have been accepted off the waitlist. Most of the time, when final decisions come out, there are only a couple SAT tests left to take. If your SAT scores are what are keeping you on a waitlist, definitely take it one more time to see if you can bring your score up. Sending them an additional letter and final grades (if they were good) may help but make sure you remind them once a week that you want to stay on it and their school is on the top of your list.

What is the best way to handle getting waitlisted or deferred?

The best way to handle it is to relax and think of what can be done from this point forward. There is no point in looking back and regretting something you didn't do, could have done better or forgot to do. Those things are in the past now and you need to move forward. If you still would really like to go to the school you got deferred or waitlisted to, then make sure the college knows that their school is on the top of your list. Deferred is a bit different then waitlisted because at least you have "another shot" as you get re-evaluated with the regular decision students. Waitlisted means that you have maybe been deferred already and you did not get in regular decision. Once deferred, you should ask them what you can do to enhance your application. Most of the time it's getting a new SAT/ACT score, writing another essay or submitting another letter of recommendation. If waitlisted, you first need to make sure your name stays on the waitlist. You need to write back to them and tell them that you would like to stay on the waitlist. Over half of the students on a waitlist sometimes will go away because those students don't ask to stay on it. Then it is just a matter of waiting to see when you may get a response from them that you have been accepted off the waitlist. Sending them an additional letter and final grades (if they were good) may help but make sure you remind them once a week that you want to stay on it.


Can students appeal a rejection? Does that ever work?

Yes, most colleges do have an appeals process but in most cases, it is very difficult to get your decision reversed unless you can submit information that is a significant improvement over what you have already sent to the colleges. You can find out about any college’s appeals process from their website.

How can students make the most of their second choice?

I think this is more of a mindset thing than anything. I know that most students have their top choice or reach school they would go to in a heartbeat if they got in, but there are so many great colleges out there that if you do your research completely, you should be as happy to go to the 2nd, 3rd and even 4th school on your list as you are the first. Seniors make the mistake sometimes of putting all their “eggs in one basket” thinking that there is one school out there they will be the most happy at. They are just setting themselves up for disappointment though because the percentages are against you if this school is a reach school. The best way to approach things is to have a flexible list of colleges (apply to a couple reach, moderately competitive and safety schools) you are applying to and be happy to attend either one of those schools after getting your decisions back from each school.


What do students need to know about transferring?

  1. It's easier to get admitted to a college as a transfer student than it is as a freshman. Colleges lose students every year so they need to fill those spots or they are losing expenses that are budgeted for. Your chances of admission will depend on the spots that they need to fill but the majority of the time, it is easier.
  2. Early on, it is very difficult socially. Because you are trying to make new friends and break into social circles that are already formed, the majority of the time it is a lot harder to make friends and get to know people fast. When you come in as a freshman, everyone is in the same boat. They don't know you but you all do not know anyone so it is easier to make friends. I just warn those that talk about transferring, that they just need to be prepared to do things on their own for a month or two before they start attending more meetings for an organization and get into their classes.
  3. It can save you a lot of money. If the plan was to attend a cheaper school (branch campus, community or junior college), then transfer to a 4 year college, it can really save you big bucks down the road.
  4. Make sure the courses you take at your current college are going to transfer to the college you will be transferring to. I have seen students lose a lot of time and money because they did not do their homework and make sure credits will transfer.

Parent Involvement

Any advice for parents on paying for college?

  1. Save early!
  2. Take advantage of your child applying to colleges that they are overqualified for. These colleges are more likely to offer a lot more merit based aid and scholarships.
  3. A lot of merit based aid is based on the SAT/ACT scores so preparing your child the best you can to take these tests would be helpful.
  4. You never really pay the sticker price. A college that has a tuition cost of $40,000 rarely ever has students pay the whole thing. These colleges are more likely than most to offer a lot of merit based aid.
  5. Fill the FAFSA and any other financial forms correctly. A lot of people make errors on the FAFSA especially and this makes their EFC (expected family contribution) go way up. Make sure you find out how to fill it out correctly before you do.
  6. A good rule of thumb is that the starting salary one gets right out of college should be higher than the total number of loans they have to pay back.
  7. Don't go to that dream school that you would pay any amount of money to go to because there a number of colleges just like it but cheaper.

How can parents help students with the application process?

Parents need to be there as a support system. Remind your child of deadlines and what they need to do, follow up if things are missing or need to get submitted quickly and make sure that you keep encouraging them through the process. I feel that students need to take the initiative to do the application, essays, requesting letters of recommendation and calling the college to ask questions themselves. They need to learn that they are responsible for getting these things done and not their parents. When parents get too involved and end up doing everything for their child, that child is not going to grow in maturity and understand the expectations that are required of them to meet.

How do you deal with overbearing parents during the college process?

I think you need to define the term "overbearing parent". I am always going to support parents that care about their children and want what is best for them. I am never going to discourage a parent for caring and doing everything they can to help their child. The two questions I like to ask parents who feel "stressed" through the college application process are:

  1. Are you doing more for your child than you should? A lot of parents feel like they need to take control of the application process themselves and they end up doing everything for their child (please see Parent’s Role/Student’s Role in the Knights Code to College Handbook). As a parent, you are there to support, remind, ask and encourage your child. If you are sending in applications, calling colleges on behalf of your child or doing the research your child should be doing, you may need to re-evaluate your role in the college application process.
  2. Are you concerned about things that are out of your control? If you, the counselor and your child have done everything they have needed to when applying to a college and you have applied to an appropriate number of colleges (reach, moderately competitive, safety), you need to give it to God. You have to let go and not keep asking, "is everything in?", "Do you think my son/daughter will get in?", "What could we do more?" These tend to be overbearing questions that even a counselor has a hard time answering.

Student Athletes and Recruiting

How do prospective students get recruited for their sport?

  1. Put together a video, type up a resume, athletic recruiting profile and a cover letter and send these to as many college coaches as you want. I have seen kids send a package to 10 colleges and 50 colleges.
  2. Pay a company to so the work for you but this obviously will cost a good amount of money on the front end, but they do all the work. One company that I recommend and has a great reputation is NCSA.
  3. Pray and hope coaches come knocking on your door. This is obviously not the technique I would recommend, but some decide to do this.
  4. The last thing I would recommend would be to attend a camp during the summers before your sophomore and junior year at the colleges you are most interested in. The coaches for the college will always be hosting this event and the coach is the one you want to get noticed by.
  5. Lastly, get good grades! Grades can play a huge factor in whether you get recruited or not.

How important can athletics be as a hook for college admissions?

It all depends on how good you are and how much a coach wants you to play for them. You need to first get on a coach's radar by completing the "prospective student athlete questionnaires" that are on each college's athletic website for the specific sport. If a coach really wants you to play for them and especially if you will be offered a scholarship, your application will most likely be "flagged" as an athlete and the admissions requirements do come down a bit. How much depends on the college but I have seen them come down a lot for Division I colleges and a good bit for Division II and Division III.

What should prospective students know about intercollegiate sports?

First, you will know you are a Division I athlete if you are participating on the varsity team as an 8th grader or freshman and getting significant minutes. Division I athletes have "freak" qualities. I don't mean that in a scary way, but that these athletes look like a junior in high school as an 8th or 9th grader.

Another important piece of information you should know is that there is more than just playing Division I. To play Division II, III and even NAIA athletics is a great accomplishment. I am a big proponent of the NAIA because they can offer scholarships which is something Division III schools can't. High school athletes need to know though that all of these levels of intercollegiate athletics are very competitive and a great experience. I played NAIA baseball and was amazed at the competition we were facing.

The last piece of information is to start early in visiting schools, contacting coaches and attending camps. Do not wait until junior year to figure out that you want to play intercollegiate athletics. If you do, you can rule out Division I because it is too late. The key is that you should always have started yesterday.

International Students

How many schools should I apply to?

It is always best to apply to six schools. Two schools that are considered "reach" or "highly competitive" schools for you, two schools that are "moderately competitive" or your GPA and test scores are where their ranges are, and two "safety" or "fallback" schools that your GPA and tests scores are above what they are looking for. It should be a flexible list that fits your GPA and test score ranges. You need to be content to attend each of the colleges on your list. If your 1st and 2nd choice colleges don’t work out, your 3rd choice becomes your first choice.

Is early decision important for international students?

International students are normally going to have to pay full price for their education here in the United States so the reason of not applying early decision for financial reasons is out of the question. For this reason I think it is important for international students to apply early decision because the percentages of getting accepted to a highly competitive school are greater in early decision and you are making that school aware that they are your first choice by applying early.

What are the big differences between an international student and a US citizen applying to an American university?

  1. The cost of your application fee will be a bit more.
  2. You may have to complete an additional supplement in each college application.
  3. You will need to submit financial documents that verify that you can pay the full cost of tuition and room and board at the college.
  4. You may need to submit a TOEFL score.
  5. At competitive admissions university, you may be in a more competitive pool of students that includes just the international students applying to that university. This may mean that you would need to have highers SAT/ACT test scores than US students applying to that university.
  6. You need to have your I-20 students visa transferred to the colleges you will be attending before you leave DC.

Students with Learning Differences

Where can I find more information?

I am going to refer you to a couple blog posts that really explain in detail how to approach the college admissions process with you are a student with learning disabilities. There are a lot of great links within these two posts for you to take a look at as well.

Taking a Gap Year

How do colleges view a gap year?

You will still be evaluated as a freshman after a gap year just like any student who is applying coming out of high school. If you did complete some college credits during your gap year, this can help your cause because colleges see you were proactive and succeeded at the college level already. Some colleges will allow you to defer your acceptance to the spring or the following fall as long as you meet a few requirements and submit to them what they need before you take a gap year. Please visit the college’s website to get this information.

Should students consider taking a year off in between high school and college?

It all depends on the student as long as the student knows the positives and negatives of taking a gap year. The biggest positives are that it can provide a year to mature and do something that the student is passionate about before they dive into being a full-time students again. It can give the student an opportunity to work for a year and save up money to pay for their education down the road so that they are not having to borrow as much money when they attend a college or university. The big negatives are that is more difficult to get motivated to go back to school once you have been out of school for a year. That is why I would encourage any student who does a gap year to at least take a few community college classes if possible to keep your focus academically toward getting a degree. Obtaining your degree needs to be the primary goal even if you choose to pursue a gap year after graduating from DC. The other negative is that you will end up paying more for your college education because you are at least setting the timetable back one year of when you will complete your degree. Obviously, if you worked and saved up money in your gap year or took some community college classes as well, this is not as big of a factor. If you go on a trip though or decide to pay to do something fun during your gap year, you are paying money to participate on that plus still need to pay for four years of college.

Art Majors

Where can I find more information?

Once again, I will provide a link that is really informative for students who are interested in majoring in art.

Contact Information

Trevor Creeden
Director of College & Career Counseling
610-353-6522 x2229

Janet Smyth
Administrative Assistant
610-353-6522 x2290