Universitas Blog

Why You Need a College Admission Counselor

Friday, January 17, 2014

Over the Christmas holidays, I received a most welcome gift.  Well, it wasn't exactly a gift because I had worked for it for over a year.  The non-gift in question was my diploma from UCLA Extension declaring that I finished their six course + 65 hour practicum college counseling program and was now a certified college counselor.  Yay for me, I guess.  I got into this program because I wanted to set up a US college admission consultancy here in Manila.  I looked around and realized there was almost no trained, qualified guidance for local students who want to attend US universities.  For most of them, they simply shotgun their applications all over the Ivies and maybe a couple of other schools they may have heard of and hope for the best.  Sometimes they don't get in anywhere and they walk away disappointed.  Usually, they're turned down at the Ivies and have to "settle" for what a good friend of mine calls "second tier universities".  These guys miss out on learning about great colleges they might not have heard of and where they would have thrived had they gone to college there.  So, at the risk of sounding self serving, these are the reasons why you, the prospective applicant to US colleges, need a certified and qualified college admission counselor.

1.  A college counselor will help you apply to schools which are a fit for you.   In Manila, we are looking at five or six universities.  There's the Big Three:  UP, Ateneo and La Salle.  Then we have UST, College of St. Benilde, UA&P, and maybe UE for pre dentistry types.  But in the U.S. alone, there are over 3000 four year degree granting institutions.  Even if we were to narrow it down to about 500 schools worth considering, that's still a lot of schools.  That's a lot of research.  A good counselor will help narrow down the choices depending on the student's preferences, personality and academic talent.  Without that counselor, most kids again just shotgun their applications all over the Ivies.

2.  A college counselor will keep you on task.  There's nothing quite like procrastination especially for the busy high school senior.  A college counselor will be the voice of your conscience telling you when things have to be done.  No sending of applications the night before it is due.  Essays will be written, cleaned up and edited.  Standardized tests will be taken on a fixed schedule so that ideally they are done in plenty of time for applications.    A really good counselor will insist on working with you beginning your junior year.

3.  A college counselor is a great source of information about US colleges, applications, and college life.  What are the important things to look at when considering colleges?  How seriously should you take rankings?  What is dorm life like?  How do I deal with homesickness?  If you don't have a college counselor, you'll just have to guess.

4.  A college counselor makes a great stress valve.  Hopefully, a good college counselor will keep the stress to a minimum but there is some stress involved.  At times, you need to vent or talk to someone who is knowledgeable about what's going on.  Or you need to ask whether applying to this or that college is a good idea.  A college counselor talks to parents too and is a resource for nervous or anxious parents and if necessary, acts as a mediator.

5.  A college counselor is a good and knowledgeable application essay editor.  Sure you could go to your English teacher or ask your older sister to help you out but will they know what the colleges are focusing on when they read your essays?  A good college counselor will.  Your college counselor will help your brainstorm essay ideas and help you through the many drafts until  you get one that truly shines, makes you stand out, and helps the admissions office realize what a wonderful candidate you are. 

There are other reasons but these are the five I can think of right off the top of my head.  Regardless of whether or not you choose to hire a college admissions counselor, I wish you the best of luck in your applications!



College Profile: New College of Florida

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

If you come, you won't get an Ivy League education.  You'll get something better:  a sense of your own power to learn and discover and achieve.   And unlike the Ivies, where reports of grade inflation is as common as  a 3.9 GPA, New College isn't about the gold star.   It's about the process.  Students who like the pure thrill of learning--of wrestling with tough topics and coming out the other side--will love it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               -Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope.                                                                                         Revised by Hilary Masell Oswald

new college

The New College of Florida (www.ncf.edu) refers to itself as the Honors College of Florida.  It is another one of those small, very intellectual, liberal arts college I seem to be very fond of.  Ensconced in the warm sunny city of Sarasota, Florida, it is home to just over 800 bright and curious undergraduates.   The college was founded in  1960 and unlike Reed and St. John's (which I wrote about in earlier posts), New College is a public liberal arts college, affiliated as it is with the Florida state university system.

The differences don't end there.  Unlike Reed and St. John's which have strict curricular requirements, New College is more free form.  Instead of signing up for a specific number of credit hours, students negotiate contracts with their faculty advisers on what they would like to learn this semester.   To graduate, a student must fulfill seven such contracts.   These contracts outlines a student's courses, extracurricular activities and what the student has to do to fulfill the contract.  There is even room to fail.  A contract for example, might ask the student to take five courses but earn satisfactory evaluations at only four of them (five, of course, would be better).  But...what will that do to a student's almighty GPA, the academic fuel of many an Ivy League student?  Nothing.  Because at New College, there is no such thing as a GPA.  There isn't even a grade.  All students receive written evaluations of their work.  The faculty and student body here bristle at the idea that getting an A means mastery of a certain body of knowledge.  They would much prefer to see exactly what they did right and what they did wrong.  But don't you need grades to get a job or get into graduate or professional school?  Apparently not.  In 2010, 86% of New graduates who applied to PhD programs were accepted and a full 100% of law school applicants got in.    New is also among the top producers of Fulbright scholars per capita easily beating out the likes of Harvard, Yale and Stanford.

The overriding principle of education at New is that all students should be responsible for their own learning.  It's up to them to decide what they want to learn and up to them to decide how they are going to get there (with help from their faculty advisers, of course).  The emphasis here is always on the learning and not the grades (which don't even exist).   There is no cutthroat culture as there is in so many other colleges simply because there is nothing to compete over.

Along with the seven contracts, students are required to complete three Independent Study Projects (ISP) each during a four week January term between the first two semesters, i.e. you have the first semester, Christmas break, then return to class in January.  You do a four week term that results in an ISP then on to the second semester.  What is the ISP for?  It's to allow student driven research.  In a sense, it's all a rehearsal for...you guessed it, a senior thesis!

Each student at New College is required to write...and orally defend...a substantial academic thesis.  The public is invited to attend and the graduating senior is responsible for emailing all the students an invitation to the big event.

Needless to say, the faculty is very excited to teach students who are in it to learn.  Students are in their class not because they have to but because they want to.  Faculty-student interaction and mentorship is very strong

If this type of learning is exciting to you, the best is yet to come.  The college accepts just about half its applicants, none of the hyperselective nonsense of the Ivy League.  They do say though that if you're the kind of student that needs to be spoon fed  then you should go elsewhere.  The freshman retention rate is only 86% which means 14% of incoming freshmen leave to go elsewhere.  So it's not too hard to get in (assuming you are fairly bright to begin with) but staying in will be the struggle.

So if you're looking for an education and not just a fancy, overrated Ivy degree, and you have a free spirit and the willingness to challenge yourself, New College may be just right for you.  And you can spare yourself the bitterly cold Northeast winters.

new college logo

Selectivity Does Not Equal Quality

Thursday, December 12, 2013

If a college is hard to get into, it must be a very good college.  The harder it is to get into a college, the more desirable it is, hence, the better it must be.

The sentiment above is prevalent among college applicants and their parents.  The harder (or the more selective) the college, the better it is.  This is a natural thing to assume.  Unfortunately, along with its partner in crime, prestige (which I wrote about in a previous post), it has warped many many college searches.  Candidates put themselves through enormous stress in trying to get into the most competitive, most selective universities in America (and the world) in the mistaken belief that because it's tough to get into, it must be good.   All the while, a perfectly good (or even better) alternative may be right there but ignored because it dared accept more than 50% of its applicants.

Selectivity is simply this:  you take the number of spaces available in the freshman class and divide by the number of applicants.  Multiply by 100.  This gives you the percentage of admitted applicants and is called selectivity.  That's it.  It's a number.  Nowhere in the formula for selectivity is there an indicator of educational quality.  It doesn't figure student engagement, accessibility of professors, class size...none of that!  If there are a lot of applicants and not a lot of seats in the freshman class, then the university can be very selective.  Quite simply:  it's a matter of supply and demand;  in the case of very selective universities:  there's a lot of demand and very little supply.

But, many would argue, if the college is truly exceptional then of course people would flock to it, creating great demand.  People aren't stupid.  Or are they?  Think of the role of marketing in shaping people's desires, if it's true for soap it's true for colleges.  If marketing can make one soap more desirable than another then marketing can do the same for colleges.  Think of a movie that drew a lot of people but was a real dud in the end (for me, movies like AVATAR and DA VINCI CODE come to mind).  Just because it's hard to get a concert to see One Direction, it doesn't mean that their music is any good (apologies to One Direction fans).  Besides, what makes the college applicant and his/her parents a discerning judge of colleges?  The college applicant is (or should be) expert in only one thing:  his or herself.  He or she should then use this expertise to find the college with the best fit.

Better than selectIVE colleges are selectED colleges.  These colleges are ones that have such a distinct personality or characteristic that students who are attracted to that personality or characteristic apply there.  Applicants write purposeful applications to these colleges because they want to go there.  What are some of these selected colleges?  Obvious ones come to mind...the military academies for example; West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy.  These colleges obviously appeal to those who want to get a military education.  Well, we Filipinos can't go there, so are there any other places?  The two schools I mentioned in the previous post also come to mind:  Reed is very intellectual and emphasize critical thinking and small seminar type classes.  St. John's College is a Great Books school where one spends four years studying the liberal arts through the works of the greatest minds in human history.  Hampshire College in Massachusetts offers a broad liberal education which is largely student designed, no grades but written faculty evaluations.  Colorado College and Cornell College are the only two colleges in America (Quest University is another but it's in Canada) to use the Block Plan.  Here, a student takes only one class at a time...for three and a half weeks, he concentrates on only one subject and learns a semester's worth of material.  This might seem rather odd and intense but think about it...the class can do field trips, special lab projects, special outings because there are no other classes to worry about.   These places don't appeal to everyone but they do attract certain kinds of students and if you happen to be one of them, you'll be happier here than you will at the super selective (so called) elite universities.

So am I saying that it's bad to go to a selective college?  Absolutely not!  Reed is now quite selective (admits about 40% of its applicants) but back when I was applying to college (in the early 80s) they admitted 95% of their applicants.  What I am saying is that don't let a college's selectivity make you automatically think it's better and that you are better off there.  Don't get stuck in the line for tickets to One Direction!

I wish all a happy, safe, and healthy 2013 holiday season.

The Role of Prestige

Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Tell me if you think this is true: 

 1.  In every college applicant's college list, the most prestigious, most selective college in that list is almost always that applicant's top choice

 2.  A college applicant will almost always attend the most prestigious, most selective college that admitted him/her. 


Prestige and selectivity drives the college search of many Filipino /Chinese students.  If you think about it, that's pretty natural in our culture.  From Day One, we are raised to think that the Big Name and the Big Brand is the way to go.  Go Sony...not Panasonic, Mercedes Benz and not Toyota.  But a Toyota gets you to school just as easily as a Benz will.  But of course, no one turns their head at a Toyota. It's the same with colleges.  As parents, we all want our children to go to Harvard.  That way, when people ask us over the mahjong table where our children go to college, we can say "Harvard" and listen to everyone else oooh and aaah.   It's not always easy to keep in mind that we parents send our kids to college to get an education. 

Massachusetts Hall, Harvard University, Cambri... 

 But,  you might then say, I am sending...or trying to send...my kid to Harvard (or Yale, or Princeton, etc.) because I'm trying to get them the BEST education.  These places admit the best students, have the best professors and have the best programs and facilities because everyone else says so.  They are prestigious for a reason. 

Indeed.  But I posit this:  if you are truly looking for a first rate undergraduate experience for your child (I emphasize the word "experience" because I am referring both to the "book education" and "non-book education" offered by a college) then you do yourself a disservice by limiting your search to the Ivy League and their ilk.  There are hundreds of universities and colleges that offer an undergraduate experience (there's that word again) equal to or even (dare I say it) superior to anything the Ivy League can offer.  The only thing that these "other" schools cannot offer is the brand name. 

What are some of these so-called "just as good if not better than Ivy" schools?  I can think of about forty or fifty right off the top of my head.  But I'll start with what I think is the most intellectual college in the country:  Reed College in Portland, Oregon.  If you subscribe to the notion that students at the best colleges should be working the hardest, Reed is consistently ranked by students as one of the top two or three most academically demanding colleges in the US.  ALL their students must write a senior thesis, not just those in honors programs.  Reed is also notorious for being one of the hardest grading schools in the country:  a student with a Reed C average can get into the top US law schools because these law schools know the quality of Reed students and how hard the grading system is.  Contrast this to Yale where 62% of the grades are A's (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/21/college-grade-inflation-what-does-an-mean/3662003/  And the best part:  Reed is more accessible (admits 40% of their applicants) than Yale (admits only about 6% of their applicants)

 What about uniqueness?  Let's admit it:  you've seen one Ivy you've seen them all (mostly).  Except for Brown's no required classes policy and Columbia's strict core curriculum, you can almost throw all the other Ivies into a bag and they'd be academically indistinguishable.  Not so for a place like St. John's College (www.stjohnscollege.edu) in Annapolis, Maryland and Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Their students study The Great Books, classic works from Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Homer to Aquinas, Hegel, Newton, Pascal,  and d'Tocqueville.  All their classes are small and taught seminar style, no mind numbing lectures here.  Everybody struggles with the material, even the professors (or tutors as they are called).  When they graduate, these students are the most articulate, most critical thinkers in the business.  St. John's is definitely not a place for everyone, though...not everyone can handle this kind of intensity.

 It's hard to swallow that there are schools that might be better than the Ivies.  But it's true!  Even Harvard will tell you that not everyone will benefit from a Harvard education even if they could admit all applicants. Of course, were they to admit everyone, the value of a Harvard degree would diminish greatly in the eyes of the public.  Would you still want to go to Harvard  if it admitted everyone?  If the value of a Harvard degree is in the quality of its education,  should its admission rate even bother you?  Think about it and be honest  It's that prestige thing again. Much of the value of a Harvard (or Ivy) degree lies in its presumed prestige.

 It's okay for prestige to be a part of the equation of your college search but it's not a good idea to let it solely drive your search (as it does for a lot of people but they won't admit it).  Separate the two and don't fool yourself that prestige necessarily equals educational quality.  In the end, the best school is the one that challenges you and forms you into the happy, successful adult you deserve to be.

How to Search for US Colleges

Friday, November 22, 2013

How to Search for US Colleges

I saw this link today on my Facebook feed.  Wonderful stuff and I don't have to write a word of it.  Great web page chock full of great advice and the book it's from College Admissions:  From Application to Acceptance:Step by Step is one I highly recommend.

Quick Tips Regarding US College Admissions

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I haven't posted on my blog for almost three weeks!  I've been so busy with being at the hospital and finishing the final requirements for my online college counseling certificate that the blog has taken a back seat.  So I thought I'd fire a brief one off then take the time to write a longer entry after November 25 when my classes have finished.

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind about applying to US colleges.  I've talked about some of these things in other posts but it would be nice to have some of these tips in one place.

1.  Start the process early.  Sophomore year isn't too early especially if you have to decide whether or not to go abroad for college to begin with.  Ideally, this should be student driven, i.e. if the student is interested in colleges this early, then by all means, start thinking this early in the process.  Nothing concrete has to be done quite yet but get the ball rolling.  Junior year (third year) isn't too late but senior year may be a bit (but not too) late.

2.  Try to get most, if not all,  your standardized testing done by end of junior year (third year).  With all that needs to be done for senior year, it would be great if SATs were something you didn't have to worry about .  If you need to take SAT Subject Tests, you can take those your senior year but ideally,  you should take them as you finish the class.  For example, if you take and pass biology end of sophomore year, it's probably a good idea to take the Subject Test right after when the material is still fresh in your mind.  Note that this works only if you had the foresight to start the whole college application process early.

3.  Visit the colleges you are applying to.  This is the single most important thing you can do.  I know that cost and distance (as well as time) make this prohibitive but if you start the process early you can visit colleges during the summer between your junior and senior year.  Another reason to start early!

4.  Try to get your application papers in as soon as you can.  Don't wait for the deadline.  Don't procrastinate.  Beginning to see a pattern here?  Yes, I'm a big advocate of getting things in early.  But there's also a practical side to this:  a lot of public universities and some private colleges have rolling admissions, which means they will read...and decide on....your application as soon as it's complete.  The earlier in the year they consider your application, the more seats in the freshman class they will have available and the admissions committee will be less (at least subconsciously) strict.  Also, you'll be able to get your decision sooner.  The daughter of a cousin in Texas applied to her first choice school, Baylor University in Waco, TX in September or October.  Since Baylor has rolling admissions, they were able to review her application immediately upon receipt.  By the middle of November, she found out that she was admitted to Baylor even BEFORE most kids who applied Early Decision elsewhere had even informed of their decisions.  Now her college search is over.  She can relax and enjoy her senior year of high school knowing she was admitted to her first choice college.  Such a great deal!

5. If admitted to a US school that you will attend in September, do NOT accept an offer to attend a local school from June till then.  You're taking a slot away from a student who really wants to attend the local school.  You can also potentially jeopardize your admission status with the US school if they find out you are enrolled in a Philippine college as a degree student.  Note that there is nothing wrong with spending the time between June and September as an auditor or non-degree student taking interesting classes at UP or Ateneo.  

I'll write a more comprehensive blog post later next week but until then, please comment and let me know what you think.

Why Applying to 22 Colleges Is Not a Good Idea

Sunday, November 03, 2013
I was browsing through my Facebook page today and I ran into this while on the Overseas Association of College Admission Counseling (OACAC) page that I happen to belong to: I intend on (sic) applying to 22 colleges.  I know the work that is required for this but I am prepared. It was a quote from a student and the counselors on the board just went to town on this.  I thought about it a bit and realized that there was a message here that I want to share with all you Filipino students who are applying to colleges in the US right now.    In some schools (Xavier School and ISM come to mind) there is a strict upper limit of 10 colleges where a student can apply to but in others, especially those high schools without any kind of guidance to applying abroad, there really is no limit.  But there are many reasons why applying to more than 10 or 12 colleges is a terrible idea.  By the way, there is nothing magical about the number 22... it was just the number given by the student.

  1. If I only apply to a few colleges (say 10 or so) then what if I don't get into any?  This is probably the most common reason why.    It's actually an understandable sentiment.  If you read magazine articles about college admissions in the US, you'll be convinced that there is a crisis...that US colleges are getting more and more difficult to get into.  This is only true for the most elite name brand colleges, say about 100 or so of them.  The truth of the matter is getting in is actually easier now, many top notch (not necessarily name brand) institutions take as many as 50% to 80% of their applicants.  Some will say that schools that are less selective are not worth attending so why bother with them?  I'll address this issue in more detail in a future post but I'll just say right now that selectivity is not equal to quality.  Selectivity is only because a lot of kids apply relative to the number of places in the freshman class. If you take the time to sit and reflect and apply to colleges with a wide range of selectivity or what is known in the business as "reaches", "probables", and "safeties", your admission to a school that you like is guaranteed.


 2.  If I apply to a lot of elite name brand colleges, maybe I'll get lucky and get into one.     You look at the current admission statistics:  Harvard has a 5% admission rate and so does Stanford.   Penn and  Cornell have rates above 10% (I heard a friend call Penn the "easiest" Ivy to get into.  I almost spit out my food when I heard that) and you figure I have good grades and good board scores, I should get into at LEAST one.    The problem with this attitude is that college admissions is not a lottery although it may seem that way to the uninitiated.  When Stanford quotes a 5% admission rate, it doesn't mean YOU have a 5% chance of getting into Stanford.  Given your records, you may have a 0% chance of getting in! Or a 100% chance of getting in if you are the child of a rich alumnus who contributes generously on a regular basis or Barack Obama's eldest teenage daughter.   A sobering fact:  if you take the high school academic record of the 2000 entering freshmen at Harvard and compare that to the academic record of the next 2000 they rejected, you will not find a significant difference.  Lesson:  apply to the Ivy League or the name brands if you must but volume doesn't guarantee anything.

3.  It shows you didn't do your research.  A good college search requires research and most students just don't do this.  Their preferred method of applying to college is what I like to call the shotgun method.  They take a bunch of schools (usually the top ranked schools in US News) and blast their applications and hope that one sticks.  And maybe add one or two schools that aren't ranked so highly.  If you're lucky, one of those applications will stick and you end up going to that school, probably without much enthusiasm because you didn't get into your "dream" school:  Princeton or Stanford.  If you do your research carefully and visit colleges, you'll find a number of colleges which are not only good but you are absolutely thrilled about.  You'll apply to these five or six schools absolutely positive that you would be deliriously happy at any one of these choices.  As long as these schools are within your academic range  or at least fall into a range of selectivity, then you can be assured of a deliriously happy ending in April.

  4.  You can't possibly make a good application to all 22 colleges.  Oh sure, you only have to write one personal statement for the Common App anyway, right?  But what about the rest of it?  Don't forget the supplements and the short answer essays too.  If you did your research and are enthused about the school, you will prepare a great application and your answers to those short essay questions (which are just as important as the longer personal statement) will really shine.  What do you think of the quality of your application will be when you're working on your 22nd college?  The admissions people will know their school is just another potential conquest for you.

  5.  You're just being a jerk.  Sorry, but you are.  When you apply to a college you have little or no intention of attending, then you're just making work for the already overworked admissions people.  You are also competing...or worse...taking away a spot from someone who really wants to go to that college.   If you have no intention of attending, why are you applying?  Just to see if you can get in?    Collecting acceptance letters for its own sake is called trophy hunting and is a real low rent move.

So do yourself...and others...a favor.  Take the time to narrow down your college choices.  Spamming your applications just makes the college application process more competitive...and thus more stressful for everyone.   With people applying to so many places, colleges are finding it more and more difficult  to predict the exact number of people to admit for their freshman class thus making their waiting lists longer.    I can understand if this doesn't concern you and you don't care enough to be part of the solution.  But for God's sake, don't be a part of the problem too.

Financial Aid to US Colleges for International Students

Sunday, October 27, 2013
When I went to Santa Clara (back when Ronald Reagan was US President), financial aid for international students was a much simpler topic to deal with:  there wasn't any!  Fortunately for me, my money made 20% sitting in a bank and I rode that tide to four years of undergraduate education.  These days, the picture is (only slightly) rosier.  More and more US colleges are offering some aid to foreign students but the fact remains that an American undergraduate education is still prohibitively expensive for all but the very wealthiest of Filipino applicants. 
American universities see foreign students as an asset; it's a way for them to diversify the student body.  We bring a different world view to the classroom, as well as to the dorm room and the cafeteria.  Because of this, universities actively court  international students to enroll.  For the most part, international students pay full tuition and board which is a great source of revenue for the universities.  But they realize that the high cost of American undergraduate education (the cost of attendance at a typical American university can be over $60,000 yearly) makes recruitment difficult. 

As non-US citizens, we do not qualify for any government sponsored financial aid...whether it comes from the federal government in Washington, DC or the local state governments.  Aid to foreign students is generally limited to the funds that the individual universities have on hand

 Financial aid can be divided into two kinds:  need based and merit based financial aid.  Need based aid is doled out to students simply based on the student's ability to pay.  If she can only pay a fraction of the cost of attendance, need based aid can be allotted to her to cover at least a portion of the balance.  This is done regardless of her academic promise or ability.  Merit based aid is the exact opposite, it is aid that is given based on the student's academic talent regardless of her ability to pay.  I have a friend who is the former chief financial officer of Chase Manhattan Bank, a very well off fellow indeed.  His daughter was such a great student that she got a full scholarship to Brandeis University in Massachusetts.  Her parents pay nothing despite the fact that they could easily do so.  Merit based aid is normally used as a bait to hook superior students to enroll at a university which these students would normally ignore.  Most of the time, students (American or international) get a combination of need based and merit based aid. 

So how does a Filipino student like you go about applying for financial aid?  Normally, you declare on your application that you intend to seek financial aid.  When the college gets this, they will either send you a form called the CSS Profile (from the same folks that brought us the much beloved SAT) or an in house financial aid application form.  Either way, it will ask you about your family's  financial situation in excruciating detail.  Not a fun thing to do.  You may want to get your family accountant involved.  After you've filled out the form and substantiated your claims of poverty, the college will sit and determine how much they think your family should be able to cover of your college expenses.  The difference between the college's cost of attendance and the figure they come up with for your family is what they call "determined need".  

For example, let's say your Beloved College has determined that  your parents should be able to cover $20,000 annually.  If the total cost of attendance at said college is $60,000 annually then your determined need is $40,000.  Note, you and your parents may not agree that you can cover $20,000 but determined need is something the college determines on its own...it doesn't seek your input into the matter.  The amount of determined need is what the college works with in deciding how much aid you should get. 

At some very well funded universities, they guarantee to meet the full determined need of all admitted students.  That means that in the above example, the college will come up with the $40,000 you need to come to the university.  This will normally come in the form of a combination of scholarships, grants and some work study hours (you work part time on campus and part of your wages goes towards paying your college expenses).   But at most universities, they can fund only part of your determined need.  Citing the example above, your determined need is $40,000.  The school aid may only come up to $10,000 leaving it to you and yours to pony up the $30,000 shortfall PLUS the $20,000 they determined you should come up with in the beginning.  So they've essentially decided to give you a $10,000 tuition discount (and that's really all that these grants and scholarships are...dressed up tuition discounts) on the $60,000 sticker price. If that wasn't enough, applying for financial aid CAN  jeopardize your chance of being admitted to begin with.  Schools that have these admission policies are called need aware schools.  They will not admit students who, while academically admissible, cannot pay the fees and the college can't cover the difference between determined need and cost of attendance

 Some places admit students regardless of ability to pay.  These schools are called need blind schools.  We can see now that a school can be need aware but will guarantee to meet full need, need aware yet will not guarantee to meet full need, need blind but will not guarantee to meet full need and need blind and will guarantee to meet full need (the best kind).  It doesn't take much to realize that the colleges that are need blind and guarantee to meet full need are rare...the most common schools are need aware and yet will not guarantee to meet full need.  And when you start looking for schools that meet full determined need, remember to make sure that they do this for INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS.   Most colleges will trumpet that they meet full guaranteed need....for US citizens and permanent residents only (written in very small type of course).    And some universities even lie about their need blind and need aware admission status.   Just a few days ago, George Washington University was caught with its hand in the cookie jar.  They were secretly need aware when all this time they said they were need blind. So what am I trying to tell you?  I'm trying to tell you that while financial aid is there, don't count on it to cover your American college dreams.  For some very fortunate students, they will land coveted "full rides" and for some the aid offered by the university will be enough and that the students can cover the difference.  But for a lot of students, it just won't work and their American college dreams will remain only that...a dream.  After all these years, an American college education is still a rich man's game.         

Extra Curricular Activities and the College Application

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A parent once asked me, "What extra curricular activities (ECA)  should my son be doing in order to become attractive to the most selective US colleges and universities?"  I think this parent is barking up the wrong tree ; her question seems to imply that there's a hierarchy of extra curricular activities.  Is Student Council more attractive than varsity sports?  Will four year participation in yearbook culminating in a stint as editor in chief get my kid into Stanford?  Should I bother with less "important" activities like dance, drama, and chess club?  My answer:  No...no...and yes! 

The thing to remember about ECA is that it helps the admissions committee of the college you are applying to know you better.  It puts flesh in the application in a way that grades and SAT scores cannot.  Is Alice an athlete?  A student leader?  A writer?  Or is she a passionate reader?  Answers to these questions help the admissions committee see how you fit into the incoming freshman class. That said, it's important to remember that ECA plays only a supporting role in your application so the fact that you were editor of your yearbook, captain of the basketball team and president of the student council will not, by itself, get you into Stanford (or any other school for that matter!)    It might even hurt you because if you do too many ECA your grades may suffer...and *that* will matter to admissions committees. 

There is also no hierarchy of ECA.  Student Council is not more important than chess club and it will not necessarily carry more weight with the admissions people.  What's important is that ECA should reflect the student's interests and passions, more depth of participation rather than breadth.  Said another way, it is far better to be involved in fewer activities and do those few with more vigor and leadership than to participate in a boatload of unrelated activities.  The usual pattern is to have the student explore a wide variety of activities in middle school and the first one or two years of high school then spend the junior and senior years honing in on a few activities that truly reflect her interests and passions.  Again, it doesn't matter what those interests and passions are:  it could be tennis, chess, public speaking, writing, church....almost anything! Admissions folks look favorably on students who take up leadership or achieve significant milestones in their ECA.  If you're a Boy Scout, making Eagle Scout reflects dedication and drive, both important indicators of college success. 

 A young man named Josh Waitzkin got into Columbia some years ago.  I'm sure that the fact that he was a passionate chess player, won the 1993 and the 1994 US Junior Chess Championship and attained the title of International Master helped a lot!  Admissions committees are also wary of students who try to fatten up their resumes by suddenly joining a raftload of activities in their junior year...and miraculously, being a leader or president in all of them.  Don't overdo it.  The best approach with ECA is to treat them as a way to pursue one's interests outside of school without worrying too much about how it's going to look to colleges. too much extracurricular-activities

Finally, what if you have NO extra curricular interests besides sleeping and video games?  Ok...as I said, your involvement in ECA should reflect your interests and if you have none to speak of, what are you going to do, right?  As far as college admission is concerned, remember that ECA plays only a supportive role.  A student who is otherwise  academically admissible isn't going to be turned away just because he has no ECA.   That said, your ECAs help you stand out in a sea of similarly qualified applicants.  If you're applying to Harvard and you're thinking your 4.5 GPA and 2400 SATs makes you a shoo in, think again.  You are just one of thousands of Harvard applicants with perfect grades and test scores.  What makes you stand out?  If nothing in your record makes  you jump out among all the other students then don't be surprised if you get a thin envelope from Harvard at the end of March telling you thanks but no thanks.  Put more concisely, your ECAs become more important when you are seeking admission to more selective universities, other than that, don't worry too much about it. Frankly, if you did not have any ECA, I'd be more worried about your sanity than your chances of getting into college!  

Early Decision, Early Action, Restrictive Early Action...Confused?

Friday, October 11, 2013

    With the looming deadline for Early Decision candidates, I thought it might be a good time to post about Early Decision/Early Action programs. It sure would be nice if you could find out before April whether or not you got into your top choice US college.  Well, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.   For the right people and under the right circumstances, not only can you find out by Christmas (as opposed to April) whether you got in or not, but you might actually enhance your chances for admission by quite a bit.  But you would be right to think that there has to be a catch and of course, there is!  Which is why you need to understand the ins and outs of early decision/early action programs. 

  Early Decision If you have a top favorite among your college choices and its admission application process has an early decision option, this might be a good move for you.  In Early Decision (ED), you have to get your paperwork in much earlier than your fellow applicants.  Typically, you have to get your completed application (which means your SAT scores,  transcripts, teacher recommendations, your college essay, etc) into the admissions office by November 1, typically (three weeks away for the 2014 graduating class).  Some schools have earlier deadlines, some later, so you'll need to check with the individual institutions to see what their deadlines are.  You can apply ED to only ONE school and if admitted ED, you MUST attend that school.   ED is binding and there's very little wiggle room.  The only way to get out of a binding ED agreement is if the financial aid package isn't enough and you cannot afford to attend.    In exchange, by applying ED, you are signalling that this school is your top choice (I choose you, Pikachu!) and the school will reward your interest by giving your application an early look and numbers do suggest that universities tend to fill up to 40% of their freshman class ED.   Word of warning though to all you overshooters out there:  if you are not in any way otherwise qualified to be admitted in April, then applying ED won't make a miracle happen. 

The decision will come before Christmas...around Dec 15.  There are three possible results:  you could be admitted, rejected or deferred.  If you are admitted, then congratulations!  You've been admitted to your first choice college and you MUST then withdraw your regular decision applications to our colleges.  Since you are bound to attend this school, I would suggest that you take any opportunity to visit your new home and get to know your classmates by joining open houses. 

You should NOT apply Early Decision if a) you have no clear-cut #1 college choice b) you need financial aid and have to compare financial aid packages c) if you need your senior year grades to boost up your average d) if you will not have finished all your standardized testing by October of your senior year. 

 You can also be deferred which means a decision on your application cannot be made and you will receive a final decision in April along with the other applicants. You can also be denied admission outright.  If this is the case,  you cannot re-apply as a Regular Decision candidate in the same year. A question that comes up once in a while is:  what happens if I back out of an Early Decision commitment.  Well...don't.  While no one can legally force you to attend a college that you don't want to, really bad things can happen.  The admissions office of the spurned university will be quite upset at you and your high school's guidance office.  Examples of schools that  have Early Decision: Santa Clara, Wesleyan, Bowdoin, Tufts, Harvey Mudd, Penn, Dartmouth 

 Early Action (and Restricted or Single Choice Early Action) Early Action (EA) is similar to Early Decision in that your application will be due sooner and you get a decision before Christmas (admit, deferred or deny).  But the big difference here is that Early Action is not binding; you do not have to attend the school that admitted you via EA.  You don't have to let them know your final college decision until May 1 when all students have to declare where they are going.  

Sounds great, what's the catch?  Well, since you are not bound to the school as you would be in ED, then your admission boost for applying early won't be nearly as great. 

Restricted Early Action (REA) is identical to EA but you cannot apply ED or REA to any other school.  You may, however, apply EA to a public (not private!) institution.   You can also continue to apply Regular Decision to any college, public or private. Examples of schools that have Early Action:  MIT, Caltech, Chicago, Georgetown Examples of schools that have Restrictive Early Action:  Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford (I think these are the only four schools that have REA but I could be wrong)    

  Regular Decision Regular Decision (RD) is how most students go.  Applications are usually due by beginning to middle of January, decisions come out in late April and student decisions about where they want to attend are due May 1.  Obviously, there are no restrictions here,  you can choose among all the schools that admitted you.   

Rolling Admissions Some of the big state universities do what is called Rolling Admissions.  Under this program, applications are read and adjudicated as soon as the admissions office receives them.  It's always a good idea to get your papers in as early as possible to a school with rolling admission since as the number of seats in the freshman class start to disappear as the year goes by, the committee becomes stricter and stricter  about who gets what seat.  Get everything in early enough and you might actually get a decision by Christmas which is like having an Early Decision admission without the commitment.   However, for some really large schools (like Arizona State University), they don't fill their freshman class even after May 1 so you can still submit an application even at or beyond that date up to  just about the beginning of classes. My own experience is that some Canadian universities have rolling admissions but they don't actually say so.  My son Tyler applied to the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada and got all his paperwork in by early October.  We had a (positive) decision just before Christmas.  Again, it was like Early Decision  without the commitment.  Tyler had until June to accept Waterloo's admission offer (which he did).   Still confused?  Drop me a comment and I'll see if I can't help you out. 

early decision or early action  

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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