Universitas Blog

Where Do You Get Your (College Admission) Advice?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

If you're very sick, who do you seek help from?  You go to a doctor, right?  You don't go to a medical student or a witch doctor.

Do you seek legal advice from a lawyer or from a law student or someone who hasn't passed the Bar Exam?  I'm going to take a wild guess and say you will look for someone legally qualified to give legal advice.

So why should you treat US college admission advice any different?

Over the past few weeks, I've been aghast, frustrated and downright alarmed at the casual attitude most candidates have about where they get their college advice from.  I'll give you some for examples.

I had a client tell me that they decided to seek advice from a cousin "who has experience applying abroad."  I was flabbergasted.  Experience applying abroad?  What does that even mean?  If I have experience with cancer, does that make me an oncologist?  Absolutely ludicrous.

Most applicants like to get their advice from their peers.  I can understand that, it must be more comfortable for them to talk to someone who is at their level instead of someone a generation (or two) older than they are.  Even here, they have to be careful. These peers, who are international students themselves at universities in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK, hand out free college admission advice.  But are they qualified to give such advice?  No, they are not.  Don't get me wrong, current students and recent alumni are great resources FOR THE SCHOOL THEY ARE CURRENTLY ATTENDING.  The problem is that they don't know much else about colleges beyond their own and maybe the six to ten others they applied to.   Does that qualify them to help you find the right college for you?  Not really.  They also don't update their knowledge about colleges and the admission process and they don't do professional development the way professional counselors do.  

More than a few times, these students give absolutely wrong advice.  Here are some doozies I heard at a study abroad conference recently.

1.  You can take advantage of SAT super scoring (super scoring is the policy some colleges have of taking  the best Critical Reading score and the best Math score from multiple SAT administrations.  Think of it like a Greatest Hits album)  like this:  take the test the first time and concentrate only on (study for) the Critical Reading and punt the Math.  Take the test a second time and do the opposite, i.e. punt Critical Reading and concentrate on the Math.  This way you'll maximize your Critical Reading and Math SAT scores.

Wrong!  First of all, not all colleges superscore.  But most importantly, colleges hate it when you game  or artificially manipulate their application process.  This is classic gaming and manipulation.  A fellow counselor labeled this tactic "SAT suicide".  It's the surefire method of getting your application to land on the reject pile.

2. Transfer applications can be more competitive than freshman applications because few students transfer (true).  So when transferring from Philippine universities, simply apply as a freshman and don't tell the university abroad about the year or years in college spent here.  (yikes!)

How are you going to explain the fact that you graduated high school in 2015 and you are applying as a freshman in 2017?  What did you do those two years? I guess you could lie about that time and you can spin some yarn about working or traveling or some such thing.  But you'll be asked to talk about or verify that time.  And if they find that you've been dishonest in your application, not only will you be rejected but if you've been admitted, they'll rescind their admission offer.  They are such sticklers about this honesty thing.  Bottom line:  if you've attended college and gotten credit, you must apply as a transfer.

But bad advice comes not just from students.  Some so-called counselors here have a bad attitude.  These are the ones who claim to give advice to get you into the most competitive, sought after universities in the U.S. (read, the Ivy League, Stanford, and other brand name schools). Because their magic is so sought after, they have no qualms about charging an arm, a leg, and  your head and neck as well. Consultation fees of up to a million pesos is not unheard of with these people.  They will proceed to package the student to such an extent that the packaged applicant bears no resemblance to the actual student.  It's insulting to think that admissions officers won't see through all this.  If you take away only one thing from my blogs about what US college admissions officers want, it is this:  authenticity.  If a student is authentic it doesn't guarantee admission.  But if they sense a student is packaged or unauthentic then they will reject.  Sure, a few will slip through but most will not.

Along with these are those who offer SAT training for an enormous sum.  As I've stated in a previous post, SAT scores, while important, are only a support for your grades. Stellar SAT scores, by themselves, will not get you into a brand name school.  By all means, study and prepare for the SAT and try to get the best score you can.  But you certainly should not spend an inordinate amount of money on these hucksters who sell the snake oil of high SAT score equals automatic admission to Stanford.

So mind where you get your advice from.  When it comes to college applications, see a qualified college counselor.  

Q and A with the College Counselor

Friday, August 08, 2014



I ran into the article above and thought heck, I'll try to give my own answers to the questions in there!  I won't answer the last question because that is about in state and out of state students and international students are all out of state (no matter how hard we try!)

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

This is quite common for us here in the Philippines.  I talked about the importance of college visits in a previous post.  Usually people don't visit because they don't want to spend the money (a ridiculous excuse) or it's a time issue.  If you start the college research process only as a senior, it's a little late to be visiting colleges.  This is a very good reason why you should start researching US colleges in your junior year.

But given that you didn't (can't) visit, what else can you do?  Outside of the usual avenues of research (Internet, college guide books, etc.), try emailing the admissions office people regarding questions you may have.  See if they have students you can email and ask questions.  On a lot of college websites, they have a "virtual tour" button but that just shows off the pretty campus buildings and quads, etc.  Also, don't forget YouTube!  A lot of colleges post videos of themselves and their programs online.  You can look at the dorms, maybe even listen to a lecture.  

2.  What makes a school large or small and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

For me, a large school is anywhere there are more than 10,000 undergraduates.  A small school is maybe less than 2,000 or 3,000 undergraduates and between that is medium sized.  Obviously, this is a subjective assessment and you may have different parameters.

I'm often asked if a large school is better than a small one or vice versa.  For me, it's a matter of taste.  Some people find the atmosphere of a small school stifling or claustrophobic while others find the anonymity of a large school isolating.  I have a bias and that I think small schools provide the best undergraduate education.  It's in small schools that you will find the intimate student-faculty relation that gives rise to great mentoring.  I think faculty mentoring of students is one of the biggest benefits of a college education.  I'm not saying that faculty mentoring can't happen at a big school...it can but not as readily perhaps as a small school.  It's true that a large school might have more course or class offerings or fancier facilities than a small one.  But I ask you:  how many courses or classes can you possibly take anyway?  Sure, grad level classes are available at your university but will you have the time or the prerequisites to take those classes?  Same with fancier facilities....sure, you have them but do you have use of them?  Or are they generally the preserve of graduate students?

I once talked to a couple of students who were keen on doing scientific research in their prospective college careers in the States.  They figured their best bet would be to go a large research university.  I told them that would be a mistake.  If it was the opportunity to do research is what they wanted, they should go to the small liberal arts college.  At the large research university, most of the research opportunities go to the graduate students.  At the small college, there are no graduate students so guess who gets to use the fancy microscope?

3.  If I haven't found the right extra curriculars, can I still appear to be a dedicated student?

Ideally, colleges like to see students who have dedicated their efforts to two or three activities the student is truly passionate about.  They like to see that the student has gone out of his or her way to develop his skills in this area or made a distinctive contribution to the community as the case may be.  But not all students are like this.  Many students haven't really found an activity they really really like...and there's really nothing wrong with that.

Applicants are always asked by colleges to be authentic and if that's what you are, then so be it.  

To show you are a dedicated student, study hard, learn and get the best grades you can.

4.  What are the most significant, avoidable mistakes student make in the admission process?

Oh boy....not starting early is probably my top choice here.  When should we start?  For me, students should start thinking about studying abroad (specifically the US) about TWO YEARS before the date of prospective enrollment, i.e. August or September of JUNIOR year (not senior year!)  This gives one the time to think carefully about their decision whether or not to go abroad in the first place and to begin looking at colleges and starting the research process.  This also allows them the chance to finish all testing by end of junior year or beginning of senior year.  Try to take the SAT by January of junior year.  And get at least a tentative list of colleges together to visit in the summer.

Another mistake is overdoing the SAT preparation and underestimating the importance of the essay.  I've talked about this in previous posts but it's worth mentioning (again) that a perfect SAT score, by itself, will never get you into any college.  It is a support for your grades.  Your college application essay, on the other hand, depending on where you apply can be absolutely crucial to a successful application.  In general, the more competitive the admission, the bigger part your essay will play.  Also, make sure to get qualified help for your essay.  What's qualified help?  Help from someone who knows what US college application essays are about.  Most people here don't....even teachers here don't really know.  Get professional help on your essay and again, start early.  Christmas vacation senior year is not the time to start work on your essay.

Finally, seek qualified professional help in your college search.  While this is not a requirement, qualified college experts (like myself!) can make finding your college fit easier and quicker....especially important if you are starting out a bit late (senior year).  Don't rely on whoever or whatever.  I had a client who decided to rely on the advice of cousins "who had experience applying abroad".  I ask you:  if I had "experience" with cancer, does that make me an oncologist?

5.  How important are college rankings in choosing a college?

Most counselors say that one should consider rankings as only one factor in choosing a college. I'm going to go out on a limb and say you should try to ignore them altogether.  I think rankings can be good in that it might introduce you to colleges you may never have heard of before but that's it.  Remember that there is no such thing as a best college or university....only a best college or university FOR YOU.  Rankings will never determine this for you.  You need to go out and do the spade work and strive to find your ideal college fit.

John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

+63 (917) 833-3825

John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines


+63 (917) 833-3825

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