A Look Into the College Admissions Scandal

Netflix recently released a documentary/re-enactment of the Varsity Blues scandal over college admissions. You probably heard the news last year about rich parents paying bribes to get their less than stellar students into elite universities. If you have the time, have a student heading to college, or are simply interested to see how the scandal … Read more

12 Facts About College

You can’t dispute the facts. Statistics tell a story. You can use the numbers to get an overall picture of things, evaluate goals, and learn from the trends. College admission statistics and facts are no different. They tell us about college trends, college student behavior, and the future of college graduates. The following are 12 facts about … Read more

Covid-19 And the College Essay

The Common Application has added an additional, special college essay prompt where students can share their COVID experiences if they feel the pandemic has slammed their world in under 250 words.
The Coalition Application (an alternative to The Common Application) has offered a similar COVID-19 prompt. To me, this implies colleges want students to save their main essay topic for anything but Covid.
Even though this new short COVID prompt is optional, essays experts encourage students to address it, since most students have been impacted by COVID. This is an additional opportunity in the application to share something about themselves.
Since it’s so short, The College Solution blog advises students to be direct in their answer. To give it focus and interest, try to think of one or two qualities or values used or developed in adapting to the new pandemic reality and related challenges. And brainstorm specific examples you can use to illustrate them. Then share a specific challenge faced due to COVID, and explain how the problem was managed or handled, and end with the lesson learned (related to a personal quality, characteristic or value).
A simple outline would look like this:
Share an example of a problem you faced related to COVID
Explain how it affected you
Describe how you dealt with it
Reflect on what you learned from handling it (about yourself, others and the world)
The main college essay
Since this topic is offered as supplemental prompt, many experts don’t think it would serve students to use COVID-19 as the topic of the main essay. COVID-19 is a problem shared by all of us, including all other students writing these essays. It’s simply too common.
When a topic is common or overdone, it is more difficult to make it interesting.
One of the main goals of these college application essays is to help differentiate students from the competition–other students. If your topic is one that many others will be writing about, you are already fading into the crowd.
If, however, your COVID experience has impacted you in a way that is far different than how it has affected almost all other people, this might be the only exception. It would need to be something extreme, or highly unexpected, or unusual. Even better, somehow bizarre, or shocking. (Remember, it probably feels as though it has hit you harder than others, but chances are your experience isn’t as radical as it feels. That’s just the nature of this nightmare–everyone feels as though their life has been turned upside down on some level.)
Tragically, those students hardest hit by this pandemic, with parents and loved ones losing jobs, losing homes or getting evicted, or even worse, falling ill, simply aren’t that unusual.
It’s also important to note the idea that finding the positive in your COVID-19 experience, or that you are actually enjoying this time, would not be enough of a “spin” to justify COVID as a topic.
Admissions officials are trying to discourage students from using this as their main college app essay (aka personal statement) topic as well.
Why college essays are more important during COVID-19
College essays should be more important during the 2021-2022 college admission season than in any other admission cycle in modern times.
Why would the college essay be so critical for this admission cycle?
It’s because most colleges – including the vast majority of the most elite and prestigious institutions – have gone test-optional due to the pandemic. Without standardized test scores, colleges will need to rely more heavily on the remaining admission factors. And the college essay is one of the bigger ones.
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COVID-19 and College Admissions

Covid-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into every aspect of our lives. If you have a college-bound teen, you know that the college admissions landscape has changed.
Before the pandemic, test scores were at the top of every college’s list—not true any longer. Before the pandemic, students freely visited colleges, meeting students and admissions officers—not true any longer. Before Covid, the financial aid landscape was simply held in information on the FAFSA—not true any longer. Before the pandemic, the college application and it’s components were set in stone for every college—not true any longer.
Since the college admissions landscape has changed, I’m going to spend a few days outlining the changes to help parents and students understand what’s happening in college admissions since the pandemic.
A quick look at several changes
Road 2 College, one of my favorite sites for college admission information, outlined some Covid-19 developments in a video that you should know about:
1.  The vast majority of colleges and universities are now test-optional. That includes more than 90% of all highly selective and elite schools.
2. Because two-year-old tax returns are used when completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the CSS Profile, many a family’s financial information will be inaccurate when the financial aid forms need to be completed. More families will want to appeal their financial aid awards.
3. It’s not just need-based aid awards that can be appealed. At many schools, students can appeal the merit award they receive. In this environment, it’s likely that more students will be successful.
4. At least for high school seniors planning to start college in the fall of 2021, the merit awards that some schools offer will be greater. Institutions that are more likely to offer better deals include private colleges not located in major cities on the coasts and in areas where there is a shrinking pool of teenagers.
5. You don’t want to select a college that could close or experience severe financial issues. In the video, I talk about an easy way to determine if a school could be in trouble.
In addition to these, the college essay options have changed. Choosing a college has become more difficult based on the in-person visits being hindered at many colleges. Grades are being evaluated in a different way by colleges, due to the absence of test scores and the decision to become test-optional.
Next up: Choosing and applying to College.
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Applying to College: Rolling Admissions

There are hundreds of colleges who are open to late applicants. There are also colleges who have a rolling admissions policy—apply anytime for admission.
In addition, The National Association for College Admission Counseling publishes their College Openings Update list in May after the decision deadline. Using the list, you can search for member colleges and universities- both public and private- that are still accepting applications.
What is rolling admissions?
Rolling admission is an application option that allows you to apply within a window of time. This window usually opens up in the fall, commonly September 1, and lasts through the spring, or until all spots in the upcoming class have been filled.
About 1/3 of National Universities – schools that offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and that typically produce influential academic research – offer rolling admissions.
A potential point of confusion for students is the priority application date set by most colleges that offer rolling admissions. While many undergraduate institutions recommend that prospective students submit their materials by the priority date to have the best chance of admission, unlike with a fixed deadline, applications will still be accepted after this time.
Apply Today & Don’t Delay
Because housing and financial aid are in limited quantities, it’s important for students to move fast. Once the college’s aid is dispersed, there is no money available. Once student housing is filled, colleges will only be accepting local applicants who can commute.
Even though space is available now, when it’s filled, it’s filled. Even those colleges with “rolling” admissions eventually fill their seats.
Check With Individual Colleges
After reviewing the list of openings, check online with each individual school to see if they are still accepting applications. If necessary, speak with an admissions officer and discuss what options are still available. Once you speak with admissions, talk to financial aid about any type of merit aid that could still be available.
Other Ways to Check Available Openings
Here are a few ways you can also check for available openings:
You can look on the Common Application website, click on the Member Colleges tab at the top, search for colleges, and input the data regarding the deadlines. Choose Spring 2021 and Other 2021 and it will provide you with a list of colleges still accepting applications.
You can also search on the Universal College Application site by clicking on the Fall 2020 link to find a list of colleges that are accepting late applications or have rolling admission policies.
The College Board’s Big Future site allows you to do the same type of search but requires additional input to narrow down your search. Once your search is narrowed, you can click on the Application Deadline and see an extensive list of colleges with their deadlines posted. They are listed by date and start with January, so you will have to go to the end pages to find the schools with late deadlines and no deadlines.
Check out this list from PrepScholar of colleges that have rolling admissions.
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Applying to College: Regular Decision (RD)

The majority of students submit their college application for Regular Decision. Students can apply to as many colleges as they cho­­ose for Regular Decision, keeping in mind that each application adds to the overall workload and application fees to multiple colleges can be costly. Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity in the application process.
Every school you apply to will have Regular Decision as an option. Students applying RD will generally turn in their applications between mid-December through mid-January and hear back regarding their admissions status by March or April. Although the majority of schools set January 1st as their RD deadline, many other schools will have you turn in your application on January 15th, February 1st, or even at an earlier date, such as December 1. Because of the varying deadlines, it’s important to keep track of each college’s deadline.
One of the greatest detriments to applying Regular Decision is waiting to hear back from the college until March or April. Your friends may have applied ED or EA and you will still be unsure of where you are going to college. Waiting is hard, but if you were undecided when you he , you have had that extra time to make up your mind. This will help since the May 1 decision deadline will be close to the time you hear back from the colleges.
Another downside would be that your student will be part of a large applicant pool and standing out is critical. Be sure he or she is at the top of the applicant pool (you can check applicant stats on College Navigator or College Data) so they will rise to the top.
Why should your student apply Regular Decision?
There are several reasons why a student may opt to apply Regular Decision. Here are just a few:
If your student’s grades need improvement
Grades are a crucial part of your student’s application. A strong GPA junior year will ensure your student is competitive with other applicants. If he struggled during junior year, applying RD gives him the opportunity to show an upward trend in his grades during the fall semester which will bode favorably with admissions. Those extra few months could push him over the top in the applicant pool.
If your student hasn’t had time (or the opportunity) to visit
Applying to a college without visiting could be a waste of time. Although many campuses have squelched actual visits, students should make an effort to at least set foot on campus. If the college is open for visits, it’s a good way to demonstrate interest. In-person visits are a good way to get a “feel” for the campus and students. Many colleges have been crossed off the list simply because they just didn’t “feel” right.
If your student hasn’t started on their application
The college application requires time and effort. Waiting until the week before the ED or EA deadline is a bad idea. Rather than rushing to get the application in, it’s better to wait and dedicate the time to submitting a stellar application that will stand out among applicants.
If your student isn’t 100% sure of their top-choice
Applying RD gives your student time to consider all aspects of each college is they aren’t completely sure of where they want to attend. ED and EA applications are usually reserved for the student who has already made their college choice and wants to get into their top choice school.
If your student needs financial aid
Applying EA and RD allows your student to compare financial aid offers. As the offers of admission come in, so will the financial aid package. You and your student can take the time to evaluate the offers and choose the college that is the best financial fit. Applying ED locks you into a decision and if the financial aid is insufficient, your decision is binding. It may force you into taking on more debt than you are comfortable with.
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Applying to College: Early Action (EA)

If after reading all the stipulations for Early Decision (ED) applicants, your student may want to consider Early Action (EA). Schools generally only offer Early Decision or Early Action—not both.
The most common EA deadline is November 1; however, some colleges have EA deadlines in October. Decisions on EA applications are usually posted in mid-December. Students can apply to multiple colleges/universities that offer Early Action. EA deadlines are non-binding, meaning that if you are admitted to an institution Early Action, you are not obligated to enroll.
Early Action (EA)
Colleges that offer this option promise a quick response if you submit a completed application by their early deadline. Students admitted EA don’t have to promise to attend the college; they just want to hear back sooner than usual. Students can apply as EA candidates to several colleges at the same time, as long as they are submitting a quality application that didn’t get thrown together at the last minute.
Restricted Early Action (REA)
Sometimes known as Early Action Single Choice, REA works much like Early Action, but the student is limited in the number of other colleges where they can submit early applications — and that number is often zero. Colleges do this for a number of reasons, but they most often want the student to show a special commitment to their college without having to promise to go there. This can reduce the number of students who apply early who aren’t really thinking about why the college is right for them , and still reward the students who feel a special bond to the school.
Priority Deadline
Priority is often misinterpreted as just another name for Early Action. While Priority deadlines can be similar in timing to other early deadlines, they are not the same. Institutions that utilize Priority give the most consideration to applications received by this deadline. It is in a student’s best interest to apply by a Priority deadline when offered.
Why apply EA?
If your student is ready and has their college choice or choices locked in, applying Early Action would be a good choice if you need financial aid. Since none of these acceptances are binding, your student will have time to compare financial aid offers before the May 1 decision deadline. 
Be sure to double check with the college and verify the early application deadline. In addition, make sure your student submits a strong application and not just one thrown together to make the deadline.
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Applying to College: Early Decision (ED)

This week, I’m going to discuss the different ways students can apply to college. Each has its benefits and its negative aspects. If your student is trying to decide when to apply, these articles should help.
Early Decision has become more and more popular among students applying to college. A vast majority of students are opting to apply Early Decision to their first-choice colleges in order to get an answer before Jan. 1, rather than waiting for the regular college application cycle in the spring. Not every college offers that option, you can see the complete list here: Early Decision Schools: Complete List of ED Colleges.
Early Decision (ED) is the most restrictive of the early deadlines, Early Decision is a binding agreement between the student and the institution, meaning that a student must enroll if offered admission. The key point to remember is that a student may apply to only one college ED. If you are admitted ED, throw confetti in the air and buy your college sweatshirt! Your college process is done. Some colleges also offer Early Decision II, which typically has a January deadline. If you were denied or deferred from one college in the first round of ED, you can apply to another college via EDII.
What are the deadlines for Early Decision?
Early Decision application deadlines are usually prior to Nov. 1. The deadlines for Early Decision II and regular decision are usually Jan. 1. Decisions for Early Decision applications usually arrive the middle of December. EDII decisions are usually received by the middle of February. Regular decisions usually arrive mid-March.
Why would students choose Early Decision?
Students who have made the decision to pursue one dream college should consider applying Early Decision. If they do, they will know before winter break if they have been offered admission. It’s a huge stress reliever that allows the student to enjoy the remaining months of senior year knowing a college decision is locked in.
And, if you apply Early Decision, your college application will be at the top of the stack and will precede regular decision applicants, giving you an early advantage.
Early Decision students have a significant admission advantage at many colleges. You can check out how much by visiting the college’s page at the College Data website. For instance, overall, 23 percent of Bates College applicants were admitted. But, when you look at the Early Decision applications, 50 percent of those applicants were admitted.
What are the risks to applying Early Decision?
The downside to applying Early Decision is financial. Parents and students will not have the option to compare financial aid packages from multiple colleges. Early Decision applicants could miss out on scholarship and merit aid opportunities at other colleges. Applying Early Decision doesn’t assure a generous financial aid package – and the decision is binding.
If you can’t afford to pay the tuition at the college of choice, it might be better to opt for an Early Action or regular decision application. Neither of these are binding and you can compare financial aid packages before accepting an offer of admission.
What happens when an Early Decision student is deferred?
Being deferred means a school is still interested in a student and will review the application again with the regular decision applicants. The odds of being admitted from a deferral are slim, however. It might be time for your student to move on to other college choices and start those applications.
What is Early Decision II?
A few colleges also offer ED II. Students who apply using this option can apply in early January and receive a binding offer of admission by February. The application deadline for this option is the same as for regular decision applicants, but these students receive word on admittance sooner and must commit upon acceptance.
Does Early Decision mean an easier senior year?
Being accepted early does not mean a student can skate through senior year. Students who apply Early Decision will still be held to the standard of academics under which they were accepted. Since most Early Decision applications submit junior year grades, colleges will require a final senior year transcript. If the grades don’t measure up to the year’s previous grades and/or fall short of the college’s academic requirements, a college can rescind its offer of admission.
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