Allison Barchichat, owner of East Cobb Tutoring Center, offers some sound advice for our students wanting to apply for scholarships…

Over the last twenty years, I have served on several scholarship grading committees. Who decides the winners and how? How can you maximize your chances to win scholarship money? 

Follow the directions.

I know, I know. How basic is this? Seriously though, in every committee I’ve served on there have been students immediately disqualified for not following directions. For example, one scholarship application required the winner to be a member of the school PTSA. Three students were immediately rejected because they never joined the PTSA – the rest of their application packets were complete, with thoughtfully written essays. But ultimately, they didn’t follow the directions and their hard work was for naught.

Read on for more vital information.

Although college may seem like a far-away concept for many high school juniors, the optimal time to begin the college application process is in the spring. One task that can be easily accomplished before the CommonApp even opens in August is to write a personal statement. Getting this one looming task done eliminates the stress of trying to write it during the hectic fall semester of senior year when you’re still narrowing your college list, focusing on keeping up your grades and still participating in extracurricular activities.

The prompts never change dramatically, so take a peek at the 2022-2023 prompts and begin thinking about them. Allow yourself time to really reflect on each; maybe even free-write a few sentences in response to each prompt. What do you want the schools to know about you? How will you show them your strengths?

Use this reflective essay with a maximum word count of 650 to strongly show who you are. If you begin in the spring and give yourself time, you will be able to strategically craft an interesting, vivid personal statement.

By the way, this is the optimal time for high school sophomores to begin a strategic plan for applicaitons. We recommend not waiting until the last minute scramble entering senior year.

 

We at A Starting Line love data, and we analyze all kinds of data to help our clients be strategic in college planning. But, it is very important that we are selective in what data we take into account and how we incorporate it into our strategy.  

Some of the publicly available data that you may be familiar with include US News and World Report rankings and Naviance (if your child’s high school subscribes to this tool).

A working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Why Don’t Elite Colleges Expand Supply?” finds that top colleges care more about prestige as measured against their peers than any other factor when it comes to setting their enrollment numbers.

The four colleges that appear at the top of the annual U.S. News rankings—Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale (HPSY)—increased their enrollment by only 7% even as their applications skyrocketed, especially as the schools have gone ‘test optional’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the past 40 years, the freshman class at Yale has increased by only 14 seats; however, the number of applications has increased 300%, from 9,331 in 1979 to 30,932 in 2015. For the Class of 2021, 32,900 students applied to Yale.

This is not unique to Yale. In fact, the top 20 schools have found ways to increase their number of applicants while at the same time keeping enrollment constant over the years. This is how prestigious schools lower their yields, thus making the school seem more prestigious. The lower the yield, the higher the school sits on some of the most well-known ranking lists.

What does this mean for your student?

We like to say that the top 20 schools are ‘lottery’ schools. Even if Naviance indicates that, based on your child’s test scores and GPA, they are plotted on the Naviance scattergram into Harvard or UChicago, the likelihood of admittance is extremely low.

Scattergrams give data points for each student from a specific high school who has applied to a particular college in the past few years. The data points represent the students’ standardized test scores and GPAs based on your school’s scale. The points also indicate whether the student was admitted, waitlisted, or denied at a particular school. 

The key words here are “data points”. This data is collected from the school over the course of several years, therefore making the data old.

Another point to consider is that if 43 students from your child’s school apply to a lottery school, from the school’s perspective, only a very small percentage from the school will be admitted, assuming that they even qualify, because the university wants a well-rounded freshman class.

We always suggest a variety of schools since not every top tier college is well-suited for a particular student. We want to ensure that a student will find their course of study at a school that is a ‘just right fit’ for them

 

The Ivy League colleges have a long history of being ultra-selective, and many exceptionally-qualified candidates get turned from their doors. Why is that? Let’s take a look into Harvard’s admissions process and find out.

 

First, it is important to note that certain groups get preferential treatment in the admissions process. At Harvard, family members and friends of donors get flagged by the Office of Development for special consideration. While this flag doesn’t automatically mean that the student will be admitted, it does substantially tip the scale in the student’s favor.

 

Similarly, relatives of alumni, called legacies, have an advantage over non-legacies too. In fact, legacies are admitted at a 33% acceptance rate, a gigantic leap from the 5% acceptance rate experienced by non-legacies. Ultimately, about one in every seven Harvard students is a legacy.

 

The last group that has a significant edge over other applicants are athletes, particularly ones who play sports generally favored by the more affluent American population, like sailing, squash, fencing, and crew. Recruited athletes are accepted at an astonishingly high rate of 75%, but about 70% of these admitted athletes would not be considered qualified when compared to other applicants in the pool.

 

So what can you do to boost your chances of getting into an Ivy if you do not meet any of the above criteria? 

 

Fortunately, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Harvard does not look only at academic scores, but instead assigns each application a personal and extra-curricular rating, as well as an academic one. Among this criteria, the academic rating has the least weight, because in reality, most applicants vying for spots at the top schools are academically qualified.

 

To stand out then, it is necessary to come across strong in the other two categories, the personal and extra-curricular areas. When writing your application, consider all of the aspects of what makes you YOU, and weave them together to create an effective narrative. Use the supplements to focus on an aspect of yourself that you didn’t reveal in the common app essay, and spin the whole picture. By the end of reading your application, admissions officers should be able to feel like they know the entire you!

 

To read more, check out this article, written by Jerome Karabel in The American Prospect.

 

We recently heard a heart-breaking story. The father of a graduating senior came to us seeking guidance and insight after his child graduated and applied, mostly unsuccessfully, to universities. This family was NOT our client. They didn’t understand why, with a 3.9 GPA and 1560 SAT, the student was rejected from over 15 US schools. We explained about how some schools want to see demonstrated interest. Other schools are looking for non-academic activities to round out their incoming class. But it seemed to fall on deaf ears. The parent repeatedly, in a mixture of disbelief and denial, came back to the scattergram which plotted his child’s theoretical admittance to most every school. We want to emphasize that each student is more than a combined GPA and test score, and that those scattergrams show data that is at least one year old.

Equally important, and usually understated, is having passion and showing passion. It is demonstrated in various ways. It’s not enough to focus on summer and holiday classes and competitions. Yes, that math olympiad competition is a passion, but it is only as a participant that a student contributes. And it’s yet another academic endeavor. Not every student is cut out to be the president or captain of various teams and clubs. Therefore, it’s important to find the passion and show potential colleges (and employers) how that passion has been realized. It’s something you do for the sheer joy of it, and the love of what you are doing outweighs any other considerations.

If a student’s  passion is math, then show us the passion. If the student can’t be THE leader of the math olympiad team, then it’s important to find individual ways to show a passion for math. How about tutoring and mentoring younger students either in the community or inner city, or even internationally via zoom? Or organizing math related games for neighboring children over the summer?

Identifying one’s passion is an exercise in emotional growth and maturity. It takes fortitude and a real evaluation of beliefs and perceptions, something generally new to teenagers,  to find out what makes a student truly light up, excitedly coming up with tons of ideas.

Essentially, a passion project is a first-hand experience with the innovation process, of bringing a service or product to life. It should have benefits for and also  impact upon other people. Showing us your passion will help the chances of being admitted to the dream school. And this process is also transformative and transferable to life.

And about the father’s child…the good news is that the student was accepted to one prestigious school – an international school that only looks at the hard numbers rather than the person.

Amy Garbis

Partner-Consultant

Engaging customer experience so that as an end result, we be CMSable. Leverage below the fold and finally gain traction. Generating bleeding edge and creating actionable insights.

Marcus Abbott

Brand Expert | Mantell Design

Generating best in class in order to improve overall outcomes. Inform outside the box thinking and finally target the low hanging fruit. Repurose big data and possibly gain traction.

Lucinda Johnson

Support Staff | Gerwyn Financial

 

It’s national ice cream month, but before you go chill with some frozen treats, we have an analogy for you. College admissions requires a strategy, and fortunately for you, we have it—just think of college applications like building an ice cream sundae.

First, you have to have your solid base—your cup. Just like how you can’t build a sundae without a cup, you can’t start your applications without knowing where you want to apply. This summer is the time for college tours for rising high school juniors and seniors. Curate a list of colleges that you want to tour based off of your priorities and qualifications. See our “Time to Tour” blog for tips on how to tour colleges, and make sure you take notes on features that stand out to incorporate in your “Why *Insert School Name” essays later!

Second, it’s time to start building your actual sundae (your application) with your base flavor. Vanilla? Chocolate? Cookies and cream? You choose! This is the essay portion of your applications, and it’s all about making your essay showcase what makes you special and different from other applicants. So what’s your flavor?

Third, you have your second scoop of ice cream—the supplemental essays. This scoop is your second favorite flavor, or the part of yourself that you want to show that is second most important to demonstrating the entire you! Be careful to choose topics that are complimentary to the rest of your essay, meaning that together, the written parts of your essay should weave a narrative about who you truly are.

Fourth, your toppings, the strategic resume portion! So far, your application has the main components, the common app and supplemental essays, but what about the parts of you that aren’t included in just those essays? Everyone is more than just two flavors, so this is your place to show your oreos, M&Ms, and marshmallows. 

Finally, the whipped cream and cherry on top are your letters of recommendation. The key to this step is to ask 2-3 sophomore or junior teachers if they would feel comfortable writing you a STRONG letter of recommendation. Make sure you give them a date that is earlier than you actually need them, and ask early so that they don’t need to rush yours or make it seem generic.

Touring colleges can be tricky, but the summer is the perfect time to hit the road and start touring. We asked a college student her advice for how to best tour colleges, and here are her top three tips!

1) Add college tours onto family vacations to make them more fun. For example, if you are visiting Boston, check out Tufts and Boston University at the beginning of vacation, and Harvard and Boston College at the end. This will spread out the tours, and make them seem like less of a chore.
2) Don’t tour more than 2 colleges in a day. They all start to blend together, and it can get stressful!
3) Ask questions that you can’t find the answers to online. For example, try “What is the typical student like here?” and “What do students like to do on weekends?” These kinds of questions will help you determine what school may be the best fit.

 

Research shows that completion of the first year of college makes you much more likely to graduate college three years later. Here are some tips to starting strong:

 

  1. Go to college for a reason! College is expensive, so if you don’t have a clear end goal, there is no point in accumulating debt without a degree in sight. Talk to your high school counselor and make sure that college is the right decision for you.
  2. Take the time to register for classes that interest you and fulfill your requirements. When building your schedule, make sure that you choose an appropriate combination of classes that are challenging, but not impossible. For example, if you sign up for a hard calculus class, also sign up for a dance class to ease your way into college.
  3. Study hard the first semester. This semester will dictate your baseline GPA, and the better you do the first semester, the better you will do the rest of your time in college.
  4. Talk with professors and connect. Whether through office hours, or just a friendly email, these connections are crucial, and may lead to internships, research opportunities, and jobs. Just as importantly, professors may turn into lifelong mentors.
  5. Don’t go home too often. If you want to make strong friendships, it is important to be on campus over the weekends to cultivate those relationships. Going home only makes coming back to campus harder, but the longer you stay on campus before going home, the better you will adjust and the less homesick you will be.

  • Start researching colleges and universities. Go to college fairs and open houses. Learn as much as you can about colleges online.
  • Begin planning college visits. Try to visit colleges near you over spring break. Include a large, medium size, and small campus.
  • Request recommendation letters from the counselor and teachers.

Spring to-do’s

Juniors, here are tips on what to do as you embark on your college admissions journey.


  • Develop a preliminary list of colleges that interest you. Go online to request additional information.
  • Take a look at some college applications. Make note of all the pieces of information you will need to compile. Make a list of teachers, counselors, employers, and other adults who could write letters of recommendation.
  • Consider lining up a summer job or internship.

 

Tips

  • Find your passion.
  • Secondly, get involved.
  • Thirdly, leadership doesn’t mean ‘president’.
  • Fourth, show initiative.

Admissions: forget the scatter grams


Times have changed

The pandemic has upended college admissions. The top 20-30 schools have seen their applications increase by anywhere from 20 to 50 percent as a result of going test optional or blind. Nearly 168,000 freshmen and transfer students applied to UCLA for fall 2021 admission, a 24.6% increase compared to last year, according to data released by the University of California Office of the President. Of those, 139,463 applied for first-year admissions, while 28,440 applied for transfer admissions. Applications at Tufts were up 35 percent from the previous year.

What college admissions offices noticed with the test optional/blind policy is that many underrepresented students were now applying. These students sometimes had quite stellar resumes filled with community and school leadership roles and landed some sweet acceptances at top schools.

This leads us to data and scatter grams. By the time data points show up in Naviance, the data is at least one year old. But without community and school leadership roles, those data points on scatter grams are meaningless. The top schools want a diverse student body; they want students who show initiative, leadership, involvement, empathy, business acumen, creativity etc. 

So, a near perfect test score coupled with a stellar GPA alone isn’t going to get a student into a top school – those days are gone. It’s all about strategy.

 

 

Happy National Stress Awareness Month! We know that the college admissions process can be stressful, but we are here to demystify the system and give you the information you need to make the right decision for you. They say a little stress is healthy, but if you aren’t someone who thrives under stressful conditions, then we recommend avoiding these schools with the most stressed students:

 

1- University of Pennsylvania

2- Massachusetts Institute of Technology

3- Cornell University

4- Northwestern University

5- Columbia University

6- Harvard University

7- Vanderbilt University

8- Washington University in St. Louis

9- Stanford University

10- California University of Technology

 

Note: This list was compiled from multiple sources that looked at the schools with the most stressed students. We combined the lists, based on how frequently different schools appeared, to form the list you see here.

 

Why volunteer? 

Most schools have a minimum requirement for volunteering in order to graduate. But that should not be the sole reason for volunteering. It’s a way to give back, to help others whether people, land or animals – volunteer for a better world. Volunteering is a great way to help you better understand yourself and what you value. Some people like to work with animals and spend part of a Saturday at an animal shelter; others enjoy serving food or loading trucks with food being distributed to families in need. Each school has its own rules regarding what can be counted for volunteering hours, so be sure to check with your school. And if your school doesn’t have a list of pre-approved volunteer organizations/opportunities, try Youth Service America for some excellent ideas.

Don’t forget, you can also design your own volunteer project, and YSA has advice on how to get started. Ultimately, volunteering should make the volunteer feel good about themselves.

What are your volunteering plans for this summer? How will you help make the world better?

Do you have a high school junior? Winter and Spring are very busy times for Juniors wanting to go to college. Let’s focus on the NOW. Here’s a list of some things you should be doing in your prep for college admissions.

Winter is the perfect time to look at free, personalized, SAT test prep at Khan Academy. Students can take eight full-length, real practice tests and content is created in partnership with College Board (the creators of AP). We recommend getting started here before paying for a test prep tutor. 

There is also the ACT test. On their site, they also offer some free prep materials.

Winter is the time to identify challenging classes for the senior year. For some students, this means honors while for others it means AP. And some students will end up taking a class or two that are mid-level courses. This is fine as long as the student also takes a good number of more challenging classes.

If your 11th-grader takes AP or other advanced classes, have him or her talk with teachers now about taking these tests in May.

Also, from the comfort of home, your student can begin attending virtual college fairs to learn more about schools.