Recent Updates (a.k.a. why August is so CRAZY)

Here in Northern Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools have instituted a couple of recent-ish changes that have made life a little more difficult for us here at DC College Counseling. This is not to say that I personally disagree with them (I can see pros and cons) but boy do they present a logistical challenge.

August DC College Conuseling

CHALLENGE #1:

The school board made the decision to shift start times about an hour later during the 2015-2016 school year. I appreciate the rationale (more sleep!) and can identify with the need for it, but it's made an already-short window of time to meet with students after school even shorter. I get home way later each night than most people I know (I try to cut off meetings at 8), but at the same time we're still talking about a pretty limited amount of time in which my team can actually meet with clients.

Because of less time after school, this scenario pushed everyone to feel even more insistent about finishing their applications before senior year. I think this is best anyway, so i’m on board - but it definitely made things a little more hectic for us in August. Remember, the new versions of the applications are not released until 8/1. We do as much as humanly possible beforehand but there’s still some tasks that can’t be completed until that date.

CHALLENGE #2

This has been the real doozy!! FCPS was granted a waiver to begin before Labor Day, and our already-short window of time became even more compressed. In 2015-2016, school began on September 8. This year it's August 26. Suddenly, five weeks of sixty-hour work weeks became three weeks of … well, you do the math. Then you add the Coalition, which didn’t exist a few years ago, and it’s a perfect storm!

Fortunately, we have great systems in place to make things as streamlined as possible, but it’s still quite a month!

I share all of this for a few reasons:

1. To apologize that we can’t be as flexible during this time of year as we’d like. Last week I was in the office most days from 9 am until about 10-11 pm, and then came home and worked for a few more hours each night. So brutal. I’m a pleaser by nature and HATE having to tell someone that I can’t squeeze them in, but it’s truly out of my control at this time of year. I’m sorry!!

2. To beg prospective clients to book the right package from the start. Parents grossly underestimate the amount of time this process takes, and while we do make sure that we have at least some wiggle room at the end for families hoping to add extra hours, we realistically can’t leave half our calendar empty in our busiest month. That would not be a very good move from a business standpoint :) We have to plan based on the packages that have already been purchased, so please take our advice if we recommend more hours from the start. We have plenty of business and are absolutely not trying to up-sell anyone. It’s just that we know what’s ahead and it will be difficult to accommodate last-minute adjustments in our busiest time of year.

3. To explain some changes in our offerings. I recently changed the names of our packages (not the pricing or included services - names only!). I initially chose our former package names a decade ago in a very different landscape, and I realized recently that that are not representative of the services we provide today. When I started this business, we had three packages representing 10, 25, and 35 hours. 25 hours was plenty to get a typical student through the process and 10 could definitely make a substantial dent. Now, 75% of clients choose the 35-hour package and it’s often a struggle on our end to finish in that amount of time. 25 hours makes a substantial dent for a motivated student and 10 will cover a very small component of the total work.

We added a 55-hour plan a couple of years ago to provide a realistic option for students needing more help than others (recruited athlete, an artist with portfolios, etc.), but we never really adjusted the others accordingly. I realized that it made no sense to call our current 25-hour package the standard plan, because it’s far from standard. I was thinking about making the 35-hour package the standard plan, but realized that could get pretty confusing. We ultimately just chose new names (except for the 55-hour plan, which will not change).

Next, we also dropped our 10-hour package after we filled up for the 2019-2020 season. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and just felt like it was the right thing to do. The truth is that I can’t provide meaningful help to an applicant in such a small period of time when I don’t have full control over how each minute is allocated.

Instead, we created an option that I believe to be a much better package for clients who want to stay at the same price point - it’s about the same amount of time, but in a standardized manner that gives families what they actually need, not what they think they need.

You can read the offering updates here.

It’s fun for me to reminisce about how far we have come over the years and all the kids we’ve helped. Actually, as I was writing this post, I received an email from a past client requesting help for her son’s graduate school admissions process. It is so hard for me to picture him as an adult when most of our work together took place during the summer of 2014 or 2015. 2013? The years all blend together! I was still in my K Street office and my second-grader was a baby.

I can truly say that I LOVE what I do, and I know how fortunate I am to be spending my life this way - even if my schedule is a little crazy. Sometimes I really feel sorry for people who have “real jobs.” Honestly, for 11 months out of the year, mine doesn’t feel like work.

And then August comes :)

One week to go!

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

It will not come as a surprise to anyone that our essay coach Jennifer will be taking some time off this fall! We are going to be so sad not to have her around for a while but are thrilled for her to be welcoming her baby girl! McClain will also be taking some time off during the school year and we will miss her a ton too, but she’ll be back next summer!

Some of our students have already met Megan, one of our newest additions to the team! Megan is a Vienna native and a graduate of the Potomac School. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Elon, she was awarded an ultra-prestigious Fulbright Scholarship and taught English in Spain in this capacity. She is currently pursuing her doctorate at George Washington University.

Megan DC College Counseling Essay Coach

Since we’re all about supplements these days, I asked Megan to answer the fun “getting to know you” questions at the end of the University of Southern California supplement.

Describe yourself in three words (25 characters):

Thoughtful, curious, and empathetic

What is your favorite snack?

RX bars or bananas

Favorite app/website:

Duolingo

Best movie of all time:

Shrek

Hashtag to describe yourself:

#alwaystraveling

Dream job:

Child clinical psychologist working with children with autism (and speaking Spanish daily!)

What is your theme song?

Run the world (girls) -Beyoncé

Dream trip:

Tibet and hiking part of the Himalayas

What TV show will you binge watch next?

Money Heist (Casa de Papel)

Place you are most content?

In the mountains or at the beach in Tenerife, Spain

Current clients can book an essay coaching meeting with Megan here!

Meet me in St. Louis?

Another day, another scandal.

What's frustrating to me (and I tried to get it across in this article - but I think a lot of what I said was edited out) is that this is indicative of a FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM in the way that financial need is calculated without taking cost-of-living adjustments in mind. It's just ridiculous.

Why do we live here again? YIKES

Why do we live here again? YIKES

A family with a bunch of kids in a high cost of living area like Northern Virginia could absolutely, ABSOLUTELY struggle to pay the cost of attendance at their state university - over 31k at UVA - with a HHI of $200k. (I do not, for what it’s worth, consider anyone in our area with a 200k HHI to be wealthy. Far from it.)

But many of these people have “no financial need" on paper because the calculators do not take cost-of-living adjustments into account. SIGH!

I do realize that the kids could just attend community college. And I have no idea about whether this had anything to do with the situation in Chicago. I am not saying that it is okay to commit fraud, because it’s obviously not - at all. What these people did was wrong.

But I do know that the FAFSA calculation methodology is a real problem that's affecting so many families in our area, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why the government can't stick some kind of cost of living adjustment on there. This is NOT a hard problem to solve!

For what it’s worth, I’m not even saying that I think financial aid guidelines should be loosened, or that a Bernie Sanders type of “free college” system is what we need - I actually really don’t think that. I work my tail off and pay a fortune in taxes already.

But if we’re already giving this money away, why are we doing it inequitably? And why are the families in high cost of living areas just sitting by and letting it happen without throwing a fit?

Differentiation in College Admissions

I haven’t really discussed this much, or at all, but over the past year I have started providing coaching services to other independent educational consultants. To be honest, it’s been really fun for me- like a “brain break” of sorts from working with teenagers all day (obviously, I love working with my students but sometimes it’s nice to interact with adults too). I didn’t intend to go down this path at all, but other educational consultants kept coming to me for advice and the opportunity just sort of just fell into my lap.

Through these conversations, I’ve been thinking a lot about a lesson I actually learned back during my own freshman year in college. (Little known fact: even though I graduated as an English major, I entered Wash U as an accounting major despite the fact that I hate math and I’m terrible at it. My mom thought accounting would be practical. I mean, she was right, it is practical, but not for someone who is terrible at math!).

I learned in Management 100 that the most successful businesses don’t just do things better than other businesses - they do things differently.

Case Study #1 on Differentiation: Southwest Airlines

Case Study #1 on Differentiation: Southwest Airlines

If you really think about it, this sort of goes against our natural inclinations - or at least mine. I am a little (ok a lot!) Type A and competitive, and I want to be the best. At everything. If I’m going to be a college counselor, you better believe I’m going to be the best one out there!

That’s not going to result in a successful business, though. The reality, we learned, was that there’s always going to be someone else who can do things faster, better, cheaper. And if there’s not someone better today, there will be tomorrow. The companies thinking outside the box and really differentiating themselves are the ones that win in the long term.

From a business perspective, I’ve always done that with DC College Counseling. Obviously, like I said, I do want to be the best and I think I am :) but I also do things very differently than others. I provide an unparalleled level of project management support that I’ve discussed before. I honestly think I’m the only college counselor in the country that operates this way and it makes a difference in my bottom line. People trust my team to get things done. Or, I should say, people trust us to make sure their kids get things done!

I had a dad call me from his vacation in the South of France last week in a panic. He asked me to call his daughter, a former client, to make sure she took care of something important because she wasn’t listening to him and he didn’t know what else to do. We laughed about it together because it was funny, but at the same time it warmed my heart that to know that he would think to call me of all people. He was right, though: I was able to resolve the whole situation in five minutes. Vacation saved! And that’s why people hire me.

Teenagers can learn from this too. I see so many students trying to be the “best,” but in a really generic way. And again, I can understand and identify with this mentality. But sometimes you have to ask yourself - to what end? Recently I had a student in my office who earned a 1580 on the SAT on the first try (I know, right! Smart kid). I told him not to worry about retaking it. His mom looked at me like I had three heads. I’m sorry, but there is zero reason why that kid should be forced to retake the SAT. He might get in to his top choice school and he might not, but his admissions decisions will have absolutely nothing to do with whether he applies with a 1580, 1590 or a 1600.

Don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying that test scores don’t matter. Not even a little bit. They matter A LOT. You can differentiate yourself all day long and it won’t matter to a highly selective school if your test scores and grades aren’t strong.

It’s just that once you get to the point where you’re already excelling, you don’t need to make yourself crazy by attempting to achieve the tippy-top level of mainstream perfection. Sure, you can take six APs during senior year but there’s always going to be that girl who took seven. Or who self-studied for AP Music Theory on the side. It’s so much better to put that effort into differentiating yourself from the masses.

Here are a few examples of memorable ways that some of my students have differentiated themselves:

  • An absolutely BRILLIANT student whose resume would put a grown adult’s to shame wrote his college essay about how the best part of his ultra-impressive internship was eating lunch with his coworkers. It was such a funny, amazing essay. I still think about it. 99% of the other kids in his position would have written something really boring about programming to try to look smart.

  • A current student studied abroad during high school - not just a summer program but actually took it upon herself to enroll at a high school in a foreign country. This isn’t typical at her school at all - she just did it on her own for the experience. How cool is that!

  • I’ve told this story a million times, but a student with whom I worked a few years back set up this really interesting neighborhood website to connect elderly people needing snow removal with high school students looking to make money. Ultimately it expanded to include babysitters too. It ended up being a HUGE success and he became a local celebrity of sorts, no kidding! I think it took him something like three hours to set up while he was watching tv on a snow day, but now he’s at an Ivy League school.

  • One of my favorite graduating seniors was actually NOT a perfect straight-A student but was probably the most interesting person I’ve ever met. She has a very unusual interest (so unusual I can’t even really write about it without outing her) and she was able to monetize by turning it into a profitable local business.

  • Another favorite graduating senior wrote her essay about her favorite reality tv show. IT WAS SO GOOD. It started out with her mom yelling at her for watching “that trashy show” (lol) and led into the unexpected lessons she learned from it. Wow, I loved that essay!

I could go on and on.. but the point is, differentiate! And pay attention in class because you may just remember snippets of useful information fifteen years down the line :)

Sleep Training and the College Admissions Process: Different Ages, Same Lesson

Did anyone else have kids that were awful sleepers as babies? I was always so envious of parents whose babies slept all night or woke up just once or twice.

That is NOT how things went in my house! When I had my daughter, I thought there must be something wrong with her because she just wouldn’t sleep. It was like she was nocturnal or something. Then I had my son and realized that maybe my daughter wasn’t quite so bad after all.

Election Night 2016. A terrible night in every respect! We found out later that he had acid reflux.

Election Night 2016. A terrible night in every respect! We found out later that he had acid reflux.

He routinely screamed all night long. Every night. For months. It was extremely unpleasant and ultimately got to a point where I just couldn’t take it anymore.

As soon as he was old enough to sleep train, we sought the guidance of a sleep trainer who we also used with my daughter five years earlier. (If anyone knows a parent with an infant, her name is Suzy Giordano and an hour with her is probably the best gift you could ever give someone).

I can honestly say that this woman saved my sanity and my marriage. Probably more than that. My business. Everything. I could not function because I was not getting any sleep and had to work all day.

So now that I have finished singing her praises, I will tell you that Suzy is not cheap. At all. I gave her information to a friend in an equally awful situation, and she was appalled that I would pay so much for sleep training. She clearly thought the sleep deprivation had gotten to my head.

Don’t get me wrong - I know she’s expensive, obscenely expensive. I am not the kind of person who routinely pays people $500/hr to do things for me, let’s put it that way. But the one thing I learned from paying Suzy Giordano was the difference between cost and value.

Let’s think of the value that woman brought to my life. I am not exaggerating when I say that I would have taken out a second mortgage on my home at that point to get some sleep. I was in a seriously desperate situation. Paying Suzy $500/hr actually represented an incredible value when you consider how working with her turned my life around. She was worth sooooo much more than we paid.

Recently I had a mother ask me to tell her point blank why my team is worth the cost of the prices we charge. In almost a decade, no one has ever actually asked me that.

After thinking about it more, I decided we probably weren’t worth it for every family. I’m being honest. There are definitely cheaper options out there - much cheaper - particularly if you’re willing to work with someone that doesn’t have college admissions experience but has helped their own child, or maybe knows absolutely nothing about college admissions but is a good writer who can help with essays.

If your situation meets all of these criteria, you are reading correctly - we are not worth the cost. Find someone cheaper!

  • Your student already knows exactly how and where he wants to apply and the schools aren’t all crazy reaches (I say this because someone who only wants to apply to crazy reaches has a very high likelihood of ending up at NOVA when they don’t get in anywhere at all. Then they call me in May and the whole family is in tears and can’t figure out what went wrong. Every year this happens.) I’m talking about the straight-A kid with a 35 ACT who is involved in every activity under the sun and applying ED to UVA/ED II to William & Mary, as well as a number of other safer options. No out-of-the-box strategy or tough conversations about being realistic needed. Just write strong essays and make sure that the recommendations and applications are also done well.

  • Your student is 100% (or at least 95%) motivated and does not need constant reminders to stay on task. You tell him that he needs 20 essays by August 1, he is able to self-regulate his time while meeting with a tutor once per week for extra help, and has 20 perfect essays ready to go on July 30. This kid does not need Rebeccah reminding him multiple times per week about every individual task he needs to finish in order to meet his ultimate goal and then checking up to make sure he completed each of them.

  • Your student appreciates constructive criticism from his parents and takes it at face value without giving pushback or needing an intermediary to deliver tough messages. No fighting. “Thanks for your input, Mom! I’ll make that edit right away!”

  • Your student is good at developing original ideas (he doesn’t have to be amazing in terms of style- you can hire a writing tutor on the side to help with that - but somebody familiar with the school, without the voice of a 50-year-old mom, has got to be able to help with content creation for that 600-word “Why College X” essay!).

  • Your student has taken detailed notes from every college visit, is a regular on “College Confidential” and generally understands the specific unwritten requirements that many individual schools have. Yes, that means that the “Why Columbia” supplement needs to reference the core curriculum and the “Why Penn” supplement needs to reference the city of Philadelphia.

Okay, so I was kidding a little bit about having a teenager that appreciates constructive parental criticism, but other than that, there really are families out there whose kids meet the other criteria. They typically do not work with me on an ongoing basis but I see them for strategy sessions.

For the other 90% of families, it’s important to consider the difference between cost and value. College is likely the most important investment you will make as a parent - ever. I’ve written about this before in our FAQ: while we are not the cheapest option in town, there is absolutely zero question that we provide the best value.

P.S. My friend’s kid did not sleep through the night until 18 months. Mine did by 5 months. She will be hiring Suzy the next time around.

Smarter Supplements: Digging Deeper

Last week, I shared our approach to supplemental essays and discussed a specific example of the way that one general answer could be modified to fit four separate schools’ prompts. Today, I’m going to dig a little deeper to model the DC College Counseling approach to the entire supplemental essay writing process.

Let’s pretend I’m the student.

STEP ONE: Outline a plan of attack during an essay coaching meeting.

College Essay Help Northern Virginia

My essay coach would work with me to complete the tasks in the last post, mapping out common themes between supplements and helping me select an appropriate text. This may involve needing to read a new book if I hadn’t read anything appropriate (but we try to avoid extra work as much as we can!).

If students want (or need!) to start fresh with a new book, we often recommend the New York Times bestseller list to choose something that’s not too fluffy (but that also sounds like a piece of fiction they might actually read in their spare time). It’s better to pick something recent because it sounds like the student reads on a regular basis and isn’t digging up the one book he read on vacation three years ago.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to have to use a book from 2016 because… I’m digging up the one novel I read on vacation three years ago :) Don’t judge - I read a lot, but it’s all non-fiction! I am choosing to write about “Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice” by Curtis Sittenfeld. I was an English major in college so this isn’t too out of left field for me. An admissions officer would see that it fits with the rest of my imaginary profile. It was also a New York Times bestseller as well as a “Best Book of the Year” from NPR, so it’s not quite as random as it seems.

STEP TWO: Free-write some general thoughts on the book without responding to any of the specific prompts.

Note: I wrote these as myself as if I was actually completing the assignment. So, if this sounds like the voice of a 35-year-old instead of a high school student - that’s why! As we have covered before, we work very hard to help our students maintain their own unique voices.

Here’s my stream-of-consciousness free-write: In addition to being a fun book for me to read, this book also pushed me to think critically about myself as a reader. I chose to major in English in college because I really enjoyed writing (and I knew that I was good at it). I also absolutely loved to read, but not obscure texts from centuries ago. What I didn’t realize at the time is that English majors don’t read or write any more than other humanities majors - they just stick to English literature rather than history, politics, or other subjects. Eventually, I got really sick of analyzing decades or centuries-old literature that actually didn’t interest me all that much. I spent a lot of time skimming and reading Spark Notes (are Spark Notes still a thing?).

Eligible showed me that a “boring” or “outdated” read can actually be exciting if one gives it a chance. I was able to step back and think about how centuries-old language can mask relevant themes, and I wondered about how much I had missed over the years because I was turned off to various texts for superficial reasons.

I also thought about how our struggles as individuals persist over the generations. Pride and Prejudice was written more than 200 years ago, but women are still thinking about the same kinds of social and economic issues - just in a different context.

STEP THREE: Use information from the free-write to craft a RESPONSE TO EACH PROMPT.

NOTE: I’m not going to write out a full essay for each prompt in this blog post the way a student would, but I’ll give a general idea of the approach I’d take.

Boston College Supplement Essay #1 (400 w): Great art evokes a sense of wonder. It nourishes the mind and spirit. Is there a particular song, poem, speech, or novel from which you have drawn insight or inspiration?

I have always been an avid reader, but Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible gave me important insight into the value of broadening my literary horizons to include classic works of literature. I used to avoid these books, believing them to be outdated and difficult to read; yet, as I tore through the pages of this re-imagined version of Pride and Prejudice and acknowledged the present-day relevance of Austen’s original themes from the 19th century, I realized that social and political issues are often timeless, persisting from generation to generation. Moreover, I recognized that I had likely missed important lessons by always reaching for the latest best-sellers. With Eligible in mind, I felt inspired to read some of the texts that I had avoided over the years: 1984, Animal Farm, and Fahrenheit 451.

UVA College of Arts and Sciences Supplemental Essay (250 w): What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible challenged me to push beyond my natural inclination for modern literature. As I tore through the pages of this re-imagined version of Pride and Prejudice and acknowledged the present-day relevance of Austen’s original themes from the 19th century, I realized that social and political issues are often timeless, persisting from generation to generation. Moreover, I recognized that I was likely missing important lessons by always reaching for the latest best-sellers. With Eligible in mind, I resolved to read some of the texts that had intimidated me over the years: 1984, Animal Farm, and Fahrenheit 451.

Dartmouth College Supplemental Essay D (250 w): “Yes, books are dangerous,” young people’s novelist Pete Hautman proclaimed. “They should be dangerous—they contain ideas.” What book or story captured your imagination through the ideas it revealed to you? Share how those ideas influenced you.

Through Eligible, her re-imagined adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Curtis Sittenfeld helped provide new meaning to the old adage: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Eligible captured my imagination with the idea that the core challenges of modern life are not so different from those with which Jane Austen’s 19th-century characters also struggled. I realized that social and political themes are often timeless, persisting from generation to generation, and that I was likely missing important lessons by always reaching for the latest best-sellers over classic works of literature. As I tore through Sittenfeld’s pages, I resolved to use her influence to choose to read some of the texts that had intimidated me over the years: 1984, Animal Farm, and Fahrenheit 451.

Emory University “Tell Us About You” Essay 1 (150 w): Which book, character, song, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) represents you, and why?

Reading has always been my guilty pleasure. For as long as I can remember, I got my fix wherever I could: under the covers with a flashlight as a child, slipped between textbooks in high school math class, or by the dim light of my iPad while feeding my newborns more than a decade later. Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld’s re-imagined modern-day version of Pride and Prejudice, represents me in that it mirrors my long-standing ability to find relevant meaning in text, regardless of setting. My love for reading has always aligned with my ability to grasp themes and connect them to my own experiences, hopes, and dreams, despite superficial differences.

Points to notice:

  • Even though my responses didn’t require me to be all that specific, this would have been really difficult to write if I hadn’t read the book.

  • I was able to cut and paste a lot between the first three answers, giving myself a solid base from which to approach each of these prompts.

  • None of these answers are exactly the same: I had to modify each individual answer to bring language from the prompt into my response. In order to do this, I had to constantly ask myself: are you answering each question that the prompt asks?

  • The last response was ultimately very different and I had to take some creative liberties with the actual content: that’s fine. Remember, colleges will only see the essays submitted to their own school: they won’t see what is sent elsewhere. It’s okay if the various answers don’t perfectly align with one another when they are all on the same page together.

STEP FOUR: Bring drafts to essay coach meeting.

After receiving TONS of reminders about completing the step three drafts in a timely manner, I would then bring my drafts to my next scheduled essay coach meeting. During the session, essay coaches would help me to further develop and edit these initial pieces.

STEP FIVE: Look for follow-up edits from Colleen.

Okay, this is getting confusing now with “Colleen-as-student” and “Colleen-as-Colleen,” but hang in there with me. If I were a student, I would wait a day or so for the actual Colleen (me!) to follow up with an additional level of edits above and beyond those completed at the essay coaching meeting. I do this for all of our students without charging them for any additional time beyond their essay coaching appointment, because I think that it’s helpful to have another layer of review.

STEP SIX: Finalize edits at home before next essay coaching meeting.

After “Colleen-as-student” receives her additional edits and suggestions from “Colleen-as-Colleen,” “Colleen-as-student” would then finalize them at home before bringing them back to the essay coach meeting for final approval.

STEP SEVEN: Make additional changes with essay coach during the meeting and begin to plan out the next round of essays.

I would go back to meet with the essay coach to put the finishing touches on everything and we’d begin Step One again with our next round of essays.

STEP EIGHT: Approve any additional post-meeting “finishing touch” edits from colleen, confirm with Rebeccah that the essays are considered complete, and write the second round of drafts for the new essays.

As of mid-July, we have extremely limited availability for ongoing work with seniors in the Class of 2020. If you’re interested in grabbing one of the very last first-round slots or having first priority for the second-round waitlist, don’t wait to book your Meet & Greet session.

Work smarter, not harder (but don’t take it too far!)

In our work tracking the pre-release of the HS Class of 2020 / College Class of 2024 supplemental essay prompts, we have begun to link similar prompts together. This allows students to reuse as much material as possible while making modifications to existing essays, rather than reinventing the wheel for each school.

We share this information with our students to try to make things as easy as possible for them as we help them outline their essays.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The key to success with this method is making sure that students ACTUALLY ANSWER THE QUESTION ASKED IN EACH PROMPT. Most of these can’t be copied verbatim- they need some adjustment.

Here’s an example:

Boston College Supplement Essay #1 (400 w): Great art evokes a sense of wonder. It nourishes the mind and spirit. Is there a particular song, poem, speech, or novel from which you have drawn insight or inspiration?

UVA College of Arts and Sciences Supplemental Essay (250 w): What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?

Dartmouth College Supplemental Essay D (250 w): “Yes, books are dangerous,” young people’s novelist Pete Hautman proclaimed. “They should be dangerous—they contain ideas.” What book or story captured your imagination through the ideas it revealed to you? Share how those ideas influenced you.

Emory University “Tell Us About You” Essay 1 (150 w): Which book, character, song, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) represents you, and why?

By choosing to write about a novel, a student could theoretically write about one work while meeting the requirements for each prompt:

  • A “novel” for BC

  • A “work of literature” for UVA

  • A“book or story” for Dartmouth

  • A “book” for Emory.

2020 Supplemental Essays

This is SO much easier than writing about a song for Emory, a story for Dartmouth, a work of science for UVA and a speech for BC.

However, the prompts aren’t all the same: the student would need to modify the response for each school to varying degrees.

BC and UVA are pretty similar - drawing insight and inspiration from a book can be discussed in a way that = feeling challenged from a book. On the other hand, Emory’s approach about how the book represents the student would require substantially more tailoring. The reason I keep emphasizing the modification is because a lot of students miss this step, for some reason. They see a similar prompt and just copy verbatim and call it a day. I’m all about shortcuts but that will NOT work!!

To recap:

  1. Look for themes across prompts.

  2. Adjust the responses to fit the exact questions asked.

2019-2020 Coalition Updates

Anyone who has set foot in my office during the last twelve months or so has heard me complain about the Coalition Application. It’s seriously the most user-unfriendly software I’ve ever used. It’s also hard to fully grasp how frustrating it is until you’re in the midst of using it.

In any case, we have two major updates today:

  1. The University of Florida, one of the first schools to go Coalition-Exclusive (before Virginia Tech), made the decision today to join the Common App. This is HUGE for Floridians! Here in the DC area, most kids don’t apply to UF, but there’s a lot of chatter that maybe some of the other Coalition-Exclusive schools will follow suit (cough cough Hokies cough cough).

  2. The 2019-2020 Coalition Application launched without much fanfare. I tried to log on to update my guide for students, and… well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

2019-2020 Coalition Application

Welcome to the new season, folks!

In other news, I have continued to update the database of 2019-2020 Supplemental Essays - check out the latest additions!

Common App's New (Grammatically Dubious) Member Question

Who in your life is depending on you? What are they depending on you for?

You heard it here first! This query will be added to the Member Screen short answer questions that colleges will be able to include on their individual supplements. Start thinking about this- who depends on you?

Siblings, parents, neighbors, club members, teachers, volunteers.. there will be many ways to answer this question.

Northern Virginia College Counselor DC College Advisor Common Application New Member Questions

We don’t have any information about word limits yet, and it’s likely that they will vary on a school by school basis. My prediction is that most schools will choose limits between 100-250 words.

You can actually see all of the Member Screen questions here. Again, schools decide on an individual basis which questions they would like to include, so every single school will not ask every single one of these questions.

Current clients will work on these questions during the first few days of August before coming in for editing sessions during their two-hour individual college counseling meetings that begin on August 5.

P.S. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t point out the fact that this question ends in a preposition. #smh

Database of 2019-2020 Supplemental Essays

We are knee deep in supplemental essay work over here (for schools both on and off the Common Application), and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon!

Rather than continuing to compile various blog posts with updated essay topics, I decided to create a separate page that I will continue to update as the season continues. Click here for the latest, and don’t forget to bookmark the page for future reference!

2019-2020 Common Application Supplemental Essays

Since the last time I posted, we have a number of new essays, including University of Richmond, Tufts, and more. We also have confirmation that Villanova will not be reusing the same essays that they used last year, so don’t start on those!

Common vs. Coalition vs. Institutional: How to Choose?

With so many choices, it can be hard to know which application to submit for which school, so I thought I would provide some guidance to help families navigate the various application options.

Always choose the Common App

If a school accepts the Common Application and ANY other application, always go with the Common App. Always. Regardless of the other factors involved (the only exception to this rule would be for a “priority” application that waives the application fee, IF AND ONLY IF the application fee represents a financial hardship or concern). This will save you a lot of time!

Coalition App vs. Institutional/Systemwide Apps

Unfortunately, this decision isn’t as clear-cut because there’s more to consider. This became lengthy as I typed it out, so I decided to put together the infographic below to make it easier to understand.

Don’t Forget: Not every school offers a choice!

There are still plenty of schools out there that do not offer an alternative to their institutional and systemwide applications. When you’re considering the infographic below, make sure that you only include the ones that offer a choice when asked to do so.

Which schools require the Coalition Application Common Application Northern Virginia DC College Counseling

Examples of Schools in Various Categories

Schools requiring institutional or systemwide applications:

The University of California system-wide application, College of Charleston

Schools requiring the Coalition Application (a.k.a. Coalition-Exclusive):

Virginia Tech, University of Maryland

Schools with abnormally difficult institutional or systemwide applications that offer the Coalition Application as an alternative:

ApplyTexas (the University of Texas systemwide application)

Schools with typical institutional or systemwide applications that offer the Coalition Application as an alternative:

JMU, Clemson


Note: All requirements are accurate as of June 11, 2019

#ThursdayThoughts

  1. Have you read the newest on Sidwell from The Atlantic? Sigh.

  2. UVA has now released their 2019-2020 supplemental essays! I knew they’d be coming soon, but I didn’t anticipate them quite this soon. Regardless, I’m happy, because they didn’t change very much from last year.

  3. A lot of kids will need to be able to write about a book for the first UVA essay (I personally think that’s the easiest way to approach that prompt). I suggested some options here back in January but will do another post soon about some new summer releases. In the meantime, I’m just loving this throwback from The New York Times. So many fun memories associated with reading some of these.

  4. Southwest is having my favorite sale of the year! There are a ton of round-trip options from the DC area under $100 - perfect for college visits all over the country. The reason I love booking Southwest for my own college visits is because of their cancellation policy, which makes everything so much easier. I don’t have to stress about whether the dates will work or if something is likely to come up. If something comes up, I just cancel.

  5. I can’t believe this is the last full week of the school year. CRAZY! We are getting so booked up for August and are in the process of adding additional essay coaching meetings for kids that want even more support. We just added a few Sunday afternoon slots with Alan earlier today.

Supplemental Essays 2019-2020: First Round

And they begin!

Northern Virginia College Counselor DC College Advisor 2019-2020 Supplemental Essays Common Application

In the past week, three schools have released supplemental essay topics:

University of Georgia

University of Chicago - boy are these rough, as per usual!

University of Texas - Austin - scroll down to “essay” and “short answers”

These join the personal insight questions (otherwise known as essays) from the University of California system, which have been out for a little while now.

In our office, all of our clients are either finished or nearly-finished with their main essays, so we try to knock these supplemental essays out when we can to avoid scrambling during the month of August after they are officially released. To do this, we stay on top of everything in advance to make sure we have the most up-to-date information on which essays are released and when. This way, we can plug away at them with our students a little bit at a time, all summer long.

We have family meetings in June or July, after we have final junior year grades and all standardized test scores are in. At that point, we try to finalize the college list. We keep a very large master list with each student’s name on the x-axis and every college you can imagine on the y-axis. As schools begin to release their prompts, Rebeccah keeps track everything on the master list and will notify students accordingly.

Some more recent news: there will be a variety of updates to the Common Application that will be rolled out in July. I’m a little nervous about what this will mean for the activity section, because it sounds like that part has the potential to result in substantive changes. This part of the application hasn’t been updated in any meaningful way for a very, very long time, and I’m crossing my fingers that the changes won’t be too dramatic!

Happy writing!

Impact of College Admissions Policy Changes at UVA and Virginia Tech

What is it with 2019? Just as it seems as if the college admission world is coming to terms with a recent scandal or seismic policy change, something new hits!

This week, everyone is talking about two major pieces of news from public universities in our very own state. These announcements from UVA and Virginia Tech will dramatically impact the admissions process for the state’s residents, especially students in Northern Virginia who generally face more competition in contending for spots at the most selective Virginia schools.

Colleen Ganjian UVA College Admissions Expert.jpg

Here’s a breakdown of each announcement and what it might mean for your kids:

UVA

The Announcement:

UVA has added a binding Early Decision (ED) option in addition to their existing Early Action  (EA) option.

The Context:

UVA actually offered a binding ED option for decadesbut removed it in 2006. Their purpose for getting rid of it? Equity. Due to the nature of the binding commitment, ED plans favor students who do not need to rely on merit scholarship funding and who don't need to compare scholarship offers to get the best deal. UVA has been pretty outspoken about this issue since they first removed the option, which makes this announcement even more shocking.

What this Means:

Is this good or bad for students? It depends on the perspective of the student and their goals.

For students who have their hearts set on UVA, this is a very good thing.

Especially for students in our geographic area, applying to the school as ED applicants will enable them to stand out amidst a sea of other applicants with similar demographic profiles. Even better, they will hear back from UVA before the holidays.

Because UVA’s EA notification is so late (end of January), students have not been able to strategize with a combination of an EA application to UVA combined with an ED II application to another school if the UVA application wasn't successful. A lot of families struggled with this decision because holding out for UVA meant substantially limiting a student’s chances at other ED and ED II schools. Now, this will not be a problem for students applying to UVA ED, because they will have time to apply ED II at another school if their UVA decision isn’t favorable.

On the other hand, students whose second choice is UVA are more disadvantaged than before. Historically, UVA admissions decisions been very predictable (I previously blogged about this here) because they haven't taken demonstrated interest into account. A student with straight As, the most challenging course load available to them, and a 34+ ACT from any high school in Northern Virginia should have been admitted provided that they had good essays, activities, and recommendations. Now that demonstrated interest is a factor, this won't necessarily be the case.

UVA, like other schools with ED, will very likely select some slightly less qualified candidates-- students who may not have gotten in when ED wasn’t an option-- because they are willing to make the binding commitment. In turn, this will very likely make getting into UVA by applying EA or regular decision more competitive.

Bottom line: for kids who are hoping for an Ivy (or similarly competitive top-tier private school - Duke, USC, Northwestern, etc.), UVA’s ED option is problematic.

Virginia Tech

The Announcement:

Virginia Tech has over-enrolled their freshman class in a very substantial way, particularly in the following majors:

General engineering (or undecided engineering)

Mechanical engineering

Aerospace engineering

Biomedical engineering

Biology

University studies (undeclared)

Exploring technologies (part of university studies)

Students pursuing majors in these subject areas were contacted this past week and offered three options for deferring their admission:

Guaranteed Admissions Program - GAP2020: Take a gap year with guaranteed admission to Virginia Tech in Fall 2020. This option allows you to take a gap year and receive an additional $1,000 scholarship renewable for up to four years. You’ll now have the opportunity to travel, work, engage in a service project, or any other endeavor that is important to you. We will honor your current Virginia Tech scholarships and give you priority for on-campus housing when you enroll at Virginia Tech next year.

Guaranteed Admission Transfer Program GRANT2020: Wait a year to enroll at Virginia Tech while taking classes at your community college. Choose this option and save your first day on campus for fall 2020! You'll still be guaranteed admission and we will honor your current Virginia Tech scholarships and give you priority for on-campus housing when you enroll next year. This option also provides you with a grant equal to the costs you will pay for tuition and fees for attendance at a Virginia Community College System (VCCS) institution during the 2019-2020 academic year. Additionally, you are eligible to apply for a grant of up to $5,000 to support an internship, cooperative learning experience (co-ops), study abroad or other experiential learning opportunities during your enrollment at Virginia Tech. We will provide academic advising support to ensure that your VCCS credits will transfer and count toward your Virginia Tech degree..

Experience 2020: Summer start and summer finish tuition-free, with fall or spring enrollment on campus. Start taking courses at Virginia Tech during our summer session (which begins July 9) with 6 credits (2 courses) tuition-free. Then enroll full-time (15 credits) beginning in either the fall or spring semester. During your term away from Blacksburg, you can choose to enroll at a community college or take a semester off to travel, work, engage in a service project, or any other endeavor that is important to you. Return to campus to finish the academic year in the summer of 2020 with up to 9 credits (3 courses) tuition-free. An additional grant of up to $2,000 will be available to you to support internships, co-ops or other approved experiential learning opportunities during your enrollment at Virginia Tech. Regular tuition and fees apply for fall or spring semesters.

(Source: Virginia Tech Fall 2019 Summer Enrollment Options)

These “opportunities” are purely optional and none of the students are forced to participate.

The Context:

 This past year, Virginia Tech added an EA option to their existing ED offering (essentially the opposite of what UVA will be doing next year). This over-enrollment snafu further highlights the importance of applying ED if Virginia Tech is a student’s first choice, because we will see a major difference in acceptance rates between students applying ED and EA for Fall 2020 admission.

What this Means:

Unlike the situation at UVA, where some stand to benefit, this is not good news for anyone from an admissions perspective.

For the HS Class of 2020, Virginia Tech's over-enrollment will have a trickle-down effect. To make up for the extra 1000 students the school enrolled this spring, they will have to under-admit in the upcoming admission cycle. This will very likely lead to another record-breaking year with the lowest-ever acceptance rate (by quite a large margin). We saw the exact same scenario play out this year at UCLA in the wake of substantial over-enrollment during the 2017-2018 admissions cycle.

 Another interesting part of this announcement to keep in mind is that almost half of the over-admitted students are enrolled in the College of Engineering. And almost half of that particular group are enrolled in just two majors: computer science and computer engineering. Unfortunately, while applicants hoping to pursue these majors will be most substantially impacted, all engineering applicants, and even students pursuing admission in other undergraduate colleges, will face greater admission challenges than previous years. Non-engineering students entering the university with an undeclared major were also heavily impacted, by the way.

--

Now, before you throw your hands up in exasperation, try to find some peace of mind in knowing that this shouldn’t change the way your child is approaching the admissions process.

 No matter what is happening in the news cycle with regard to college admissions, students need to focus on what they can control: trying their hardest and taking every opportunity available to them while narrowing their strategy and approach to the admissions process. The more work completed in advance in terms of research, school visits, applications, and essays, the easier the process will be.

Struggling with these kinds of decisions? Set up a strategy session today to kick off your college admissions process on the right foot!

"Adversity Scores": The College Board's Environmental Context Dashboard

There has been a LOT of buzz over the past week about the College Board’s new “Adversity Score” / Environmental Context Dashboard, which C.E.O. David Coleman discussed publicly last Thursday.

I think that most people reading this blog post probably have a general understanding of what this is by now, so I am not going to summarize it. You can read more here and here if you are interested in a general overview. Instead, I’d like to share a few reasons why I think this is a bad idea.

Discussing the ECD on CNN last Friday

Discussing the ECD on CNN last Friday

THIS ISN’T COLLEGE BOARD’S FIRST RODEO

Almost exactly twenty years ago, there was a similar initiative that was met with similar outcry. I don’t think most people realize this. Why is College Board repeating a failed project? Yes, the other one factored race into the calculations, but the reasons for the backlash are more or less the same.

A VEIL OF SECRECY

College Board is going to assign scores to students without sharing those scores? Seriously? I get it - they’re trying to cut down on potential challenges - but what if there are mistakes? Students’ counselors can’t even see the scores. To make it even crazier, they won’t release the methodology. Why are they making this so difficult? What’s the problem with just being up front? I know this is a wild thought, but what if there’s an error?This happens! It’s a little disconcerting that they won’t even provide school counselors with the ability to glance over scores for a few seconds to consider whether things look more-or-less correct. Although, the more I think about it, I suppose they’d have to release more information about the methodology for counselors to be able to hazard a guess. Either way, this is a real problem.

CONTEXT IS KEY

As I mentioned, we don’t know the methodology in terms of the calculations and weighting. We do, however, know the list of factors that will be considered (although we don’t know how they will measure the factors). Let’s take one of them that hits close to home for me: the score related to single-parent households. When this story first broke, I thought about how I would have been considered a student living in a single-parent household at the time I graduated from high school, but my younger brother would not have. Our father died of cancer when I was 11 and he was 7, but our mother remarried during his senior year in high school. We both certainly faced a lot of adversity, but one could make the (very accurate, in my opinion) argument that I had four more years of a two-parent household than he did and was therefore better off - even though I was the one in a single-parent household at the time I graduated.

Taking this even further, what about kids with divorced parents? I have plenty of clients that are divorced, but both parents are very actively engaged in their kids’ lives. Are those students living in single-parent households? If the very-engaged dad lives in a condo in Tysons and the student lives with mom in McLean, is that student really worse off than the student in Vienna whose parents are married, but dad has been deployed for the last year? I honestly don’t see how you can consider all of these various scenarios without context.

IT’S NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE TO QUANTIFY EVERYTHING

Despite everything I wrote above about the difficulty of calculating some of these factors on a per-student basis, the College Board is making it even worse by calculating them on a neighborhood and high school-basis. So instead of faulty-but-at-least-individualized assessments, they are simply combining general averages to calculate the individual student scores. So maybe the student with the high single-parent score grew up in a clear-cut single-parent situation that no one could argue about, but he doesn’t even get credit for it because his neighbors are primarily living in two-parent households. You can’t quantify individualized information with general data!

THIS IS A BAND-AID

Look - I’m not happy with the current system. I think it’s unfair on many levels. There are SO many things I don’t like about it. But at least we all know there’s a problem and we can try to work on it. I would much rather deal with a broken system that leads to constituents seeking a well thought-out solution than a quick fix that doesn’t make sense. At least in the first scenario, there’s hope for change on the horizon.

Tailoring our work to better serve our families!

Every year, my team and I at DC College Counseling seek out ways to better serve the families and students we work alongside. We thoroughly appreciate that each student’s needs are one-of-a-kind and always try to provide individualized services that meet each client’s needs. This is why we structure our packages differently from many other educational consulting firms. We realized early on, for example, that some students need hours of interview prep and others don’t have a single college interview - every one of our packages is hourly-based, so that it can be customized to meet the needs of the individual.

This spring, though, we decided to take it a step further. We’ve started asking all new students to take a personality test loosely based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I referenced this in a prior post, but it’s been a very useful process and has given us the opportunity to tailor our work to best mesh with each student’s individual personality type. If we can learn about our students prior to their sessions, we are able to gain insight into their motivations and goals. We can even use the information to help develop voice and writing style down the line.

31431e1b-1b94-4c55-ba7f-9e58ca6d9906 (6).png

Personality tests are becoming more and more popular in the professional world, but we believe they can also help parents better understand their children and set them up for success long term.  We encourage you to visit 16personalities.com, take the 12-minute test and ask your kids to do the same.  Don’t forget to ask your spouse, too - the feedback will blow your mind!

3 key benefits to taking the “16 Personalities” test for your family:

1. Parents can learn their own parenting styles and adjust their strategies according to each child’s personality traits.

2. Parents can help their high-schoolers discover career paths and college majors that best fit with their personality type (this alone should be reason enough to take the test!)

3. It encourages students to become more introspective, while appreciating their strengths and working towards strengthening their weaknesses

I’m an “Entertainer” - and while I wouldn’t say that every small detail is accurate (I plan ahead to a fault, while my personality type tends to struggle with that), SO much of it is.

A good challenge is always appreciated by Entertainer personalities, and they make wonderful and inspiring counselors, social workers, personal coaches, and consultants who improve employee or customer satisfaction … People with the Entertainer personality type are able to take a social and relaxed attitude and use it to get everyone else on board with practical tasks that just need to get done… there’s hardly a better personality type to have around in a dynamic, hectic work environment.

Pretty crazy, right? I guess I am in the right line of work!

Practical Tips for Researching Colleges

College List Research Northern Virginia

As we’ve begun the process of finalizing college lists with this year’s junior class, we realized that lists of school recommendations aren’t all that helpful if students aren’t able to narrow that broader list down to one that is manageable. This is especially the case when trying to prioritize which schools to visit.

Below I have outlined our recommendations to help students work toward finding their home away from home for the next four years, once they already have a starting point of schools from which to choose.

 

1. Spend time exploring each school's website. I would specifically recommend looking for information on the following:

(a) General Education Requirements - How strict/liberal are they? How do they align with your preferences?

(b) Career Center - What do they offer? What statistics do they share? Be wary of any school that brags about a 100% acceptance rate to certain graduate programs - this usually means that they restrict where you can apply to manipulate their statistics and is not a good sign, in my opinion, for a number of reasons. What about internship opportunities?

(c) Residential Life - What is the dorm situation like? What kinds of activities are offered on weekends? 

(d) School Mission - A lot of people don't pay attention to mission statements and I think this is critical! This will give you a lot of information about a school's priorities. 

(e) Alumni Relations - Which cities are represented most with alumni gatherings? How often are events planned? This will give you an idea of the strength of the alumni network.

(f) Major Information - What is offered? What are the major requirements and options? What extracurriculars are available in conjunction with that major?

(g) School Newspaper - My secret weapon! You'll learn about everything, good and bad. 

EXTRA TIP: Write lots of notes during this part of your research. These will come in handy during the supplemental essay process.

2. Take a virtual tour, either on the school's website or at youvisit.com.

3. Create an account at Princeton Review's website (review.com) and read their write-ups. I particularly like the "students say" perspective vs. the "school says" perspective.

4. Read reviews at unigo.com (I like the "most answered questions" part).

5. Check out the "report cards" at niche.com.

6. If you want to buy a book to read profiles, I like the Fiske Guide the best, personally, but I also don't really think this is necessary because you will find so much online! Some people like to read a book, though, and that is fine too!

Once you’ve checked off these steps, you should end up with a clear grasp of which schools deserve a planned visit and which do not. Don’t forget that I ultimately recommend a final college list of about ten schools: one dream reach, three “regular reaches,” three middle schools, and three safety schools.

If you have any burning questions about school, college, graduate admissions, or even high school in general, please shoot us an email and we will be sure to get back in touch.

Sorry, JMU! I tried!

I love college visits, and almost always leave campus thinking: “WOW, I want my kids to go here someday” or “No, this one is even better!” It’s rare that I leave a visit without a smile on my face - there are so many great colleges out there and it’s really hard to pick a favorite. I love playing the “If I were going to college today, where would I go?” game with myself!

With that said, it’s pretty rare for me to finish a visit feeling less-than-impressed. For a while, every time I had a visit that didn’t knock me out of the park, I questioned myself a little bit - especially if it was a school that had rave reviews from others.

Prime example: JMU. Every time I visited the campus, I’ve blamed one reason or another for the fact that I didn’t like it. After all, disliking JMU feels sort of disloyal as a college counselor based in Virginia! It’s a really good school, they have some wonderful programs and opportunities, and they are a perfect distance from our area - and my former students there are so happy. And I can’t forget the amazing food!

JMU Visit College Counseling Northern Virginia

So, the first time I visited on a blazing July day, I decided that I didn’t like it because it was just too hot. Not a great way to see a school. Then it was raining - definitely a bummer. Nobody likes a school in the rain. Well, the third visit - on a gorgeous day - solidified the fact that it’s not the weather, it’s JMU. I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I just don’t like the place. I really want to like it, but I don’t. There- I’ve said it!

My most recent visit in April - a GORGEOUS day but that didn’t make a difference.

My most recent visit in April - a GORGEOUS day but that didn’t make a difference.

First, I think it’s a very unattractive campus. A pretty campus means a lot to me, and I wouldn’t personally feel the need to settle if I was comparing options for myself - there are so many other amazing schools that also have gorgeous campuses. I was trying to describe JMU’s aesthetic to someone the other day and explained that it kind of reminds me of mid-90s construction (so many palladian windows- which of course I did not capture in a photo!!) meets corporate campus meets industrial park meets traditional bluestone. The quad is very pretty but the rest of the campus just falls flat to me. Not to mention, the buildings surrounding campus vaguely remind me of post-Civil War dilapidation! I just really don’t like the atmosphere.. and I’m not even going to mention the dorms!

I do like the quad!

I do like the quad!

Sorry, but this is not a pretty library. I just want to attack it with a power washer.

Sorry, but this is not a pretty library. I just want to attack it with a power washer.

The Honors College -this building is pretty.

The Honors College -this building is pretty.

Next, I think that the public streets (and even a highway!) running through campus make it feel very choppy and disjointed. This bothers me a lot.

JMU Streets Northern Virginia College Admissions
JMU College Counseling Northern Virginia

Finally, I absolutely hate Harrisonburg. While I’m a fan of the drive-through Starbucks, I think Harrisonburg would be a pretty unappealing place to live, especially coming from our area. I feel like it’s just seen better days… about 150 years ago! I wish I had taken some photos of the surrounding area but anyone can find them online.

Why am I writing all of this out? Well, I learned from the experience, and I hope you can learn from it too.

First of all, I realized that I just had to follow my gut. If you don’t like a school, don’t force it. Yes, factors like rain can make a huge difference, but at some point you have to trust yourself. I’m obviously not visiting for the purpose of making my own college decision, but most students and parents visiting colleges WILL be. So, trust yourself. This is a big decision and if you don’t like the school, even for superficial reasons, that’s ok. There are so many options.

Secondly, and this is sort of along the same lines, everyone’s individual opinion is based on their own background and preferences. Don’t think too much about what friends or classmates like or dislike about a school. This is YOUR decision.

Lastly, campus visits are a must. Today we have virtual tours, ratings, reviews, you name it - but there’s not really a substitute for a good old-fashioned visit to campus. Maybe you will absolutely fall in love with JMU, like thousands and thousands of other students- but you won’t know until you go see it for yourself!

The Final Decision!

The “National Candidates Reply Date” of May 1 is quickly approaching, so we’ve come up with a few last minute tips to help parents support their children through what may be their first major life decision.

(Side note: it’s also completely okay if parents are the ones making the decision! In my family, s/he who will be paying the bills will be playing a large role in the decision-making process, although I know many families approach this from a different mindset!)

College Admissions Choices Northern Virginia

1. Consider which factors matter most when reflecting on the idea of “best fit.”

This goes beyond a generic pros and cons list. First, think about which factors are most important to your family. Academic ranking in a specialty field? The institution’s post-grad job placement rate? Extracurriculars that the school (and specific major) offer? What about location - do you want to embrace a college town or big city? After answering the questions that your family and student find most significant and weighting the answers accordingly, rank each school and see which name lands at the top.  

2. Reach out to your network.

Do you know any alumni who attended the schools on your final list? If you have any questions about their college experience at said school, general or specific, now is the time to ask. Chances are, if for some reason they cannot give you an answer to one of your questions, they’ll know who can and will put you in contact with the right person to provide you all of the information you’re seeking.

3. You may have to make a decision before you think you’re ready.

Students have to send a deposit to one school by May 1, and yes, this is still the case if your son or daughter is waiting to hear back from a potential waitlist option. Don’t fret if you’re admitted to your top choice school after sending a deposit to another school - you are still able to accept the waitlist spot. Just be open and honest about the situation to that first institution, letting them know right away that you’ve been admitted from the other school’s waitlist. Note: You will typically lose your deposit from the first school, generally $500 - $1,000.

4. Whatever you do, don’t double deposit!

I can’t stress this enough! Some parents may think they are protecting their child by considering a “double deposit,” the term for depositing at more than one school at a time. First and foremost, it is unethical to make this kind of commitment to more than one school, and it takes a spot away from another deserving student.  Colleges can and often do share lists with one another, and it’s not worth the risk.  Institutions almost always rescind their acceptance offers if they discover a student double deposited. 

5. Trust your gut.

You know that this-just-feels-right feeling you experienced when you first visited campus? Well, that means something. Beyond the college’s rankings and all of the other statistics, percentages and numbers thrown at you, the most important question is – could this be your home away from home? Would you be happy here? We can’t stress this enough to the students and families we work alongside. Select the school that lets you answer these questions with a resounding “YES!”