I have found that the majority of students I talk to know that they need to diversify their college applications and apply to a variety of schools. They know that they should apply to at least one (1-2) Safety school, a few (2-3) Target schools, and a couple (1-2) of Dream schools and already have the schools picked out. Most families are even prepared to pay for the 6-8 college applications this would require, despite the fact that most applications are around $50.
The only problem is...the students only like their dream schools.
While it's most common among my students who want to apply to a dozen schools, I encounter a good deal of students who are literally padding their application process with schools they don't like. There are thousands of 4-year institutions in the US, but students seem to consider the categories a reflection of how much they should like the school. They routinely find Dream schools they love, Target schools they find tolerable, and Safety schools they can barely stand.
This inevitably leads to a sad turn of events. The student doesn't get into their Dream school or finds the Dream school cost-prohibitive and ends up with a selection of Safety and Target schools they hate.
Hate seem a bit strong? Imagine that you just found out that you aren't going to Princeton, Harvard, or Yale despite the fact that you've wanted to go there for your entire life. Doesn't that make you hate the Safety school you are being forced to settle for just a bit?
So before you whittle down your list of colleges this summer, take a few minutes to throw out any school that you don't absolutely love. Redefine your categories not by how much you like the school, but instead by how likely you are to get in to the school.
Here's a guide to help you out:
Guarantee Schools (Apply to at least one)
This category includes any college at which you are absolutely, positively, 100% guaranteed admission. Most community colleges fall into this category, as does your local state school if you have the appropriate ACT/SAT scores and GPA. For example, University of New Mexico will automatically admit any student that graduates from an New Mexico high school, has a 2.25 overall GPA, and a 21 on the ACT.
Safety Schools (Apply to at least two)
Contrary to popular belief, these are not schools that you will settle for if you can't go to schools you really like. Instead, they should be colleges you love where your application will fall into the top 25% of all applications. In other words, they would be lucky to have you at their institution and might even offer you a scholarship! In fact, your Safety schools are the most likely to offer merit-based aid, since your application will stand out above the general population.
Target Schools (Apply to two or three)
As the name implies, Target schools are the colleges that will consider you an average applicant because you fall into their target applicant population. Your GPA and ACT/SAT scores will match the range that the school publishes as their "average" scores, meaning that they admit students just like you all the time. Admission at a school like this isn't guaranteed, though. You will still need to write a killer essay, carefully document your extra-curricular activities, and find good letters of recommendations from teachers to stand out enough to get admitted.
Dream Schools (Apply to two or three)
It's likely that you already have your Dream school(s) picked out. These are the college where you fall into the bottom 25% of applicants and your GPA and ACT/SAT scores are significantly below the average range for the school. You are unlikely to be admitted to these schools, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Remember that the most exclusive schools, such as Ivy League schools, are always Dream schools since they take less than 10% of students that apply!
While it's likely that your Dream schools will be your favorite colleges, they don't have to be the only ones you care about. If you invest the time and energy into finding a few great Safety and Target schools, you can absolutely fall in love with schools that aren't as exclusive as your Dream schools. And that means that when it comes time to make a decision, you don't have to grin and bear a school you hate.
Over the last two years, Omniac Education has embarked on a number of different projects to help kids understand the college admissions process. We've held free ACT and SAT exams, hosted college nights, and traveled far and wide to explain the mystery that is financial aid. And while we've always had a focus on preparing students for the ACT and SAT, we see it as our primary mission to aid college bound kids with the entire process.
Yet, I see time and time again that students have difficulty making the college process a priority early enough to make a difference. This is especially true during the summer months of July and August. Between summer jobs and the start of the next school year, most students watch summer vanish before they've had any chance to use it!
We know kids can make a difference for themselves over the summer. We know it requires just the smallest push to make it happen. So...we're going to give away some prizes to kids who are willing to use their summer in a way that will make their college apps great.
Today we are launching Commit 2 College, a free program that enters students in a drawing to win an iPod Touch when they complete some basic college preparation. Entering students will need to take a free ACT/SAT, fill out a basic college questionnaire, and meet with an Omniac College Consultant to talk about their options for college. There's no purchase required to win, nor do students have to pay for any part of the college prep we are offering.
So head on over to http://www.commit2college.com/ to enter if you are a New Mexico/Arizona High School student in the Class of 2009 or 2010. We'd love to see your test score and help you understand the whole process!
It's time to commit!
Once upon a time, the makers of the SAT and ACT published a table that showed how scores from one test compared to scores from the other test. They called this a Concordance Table, and it was beloved throughout the land. Students would be able to take both tests and then compare their scores to learn which one they were naturally stronger at taking.
Unfortunately, in 2005 the SAT screwed it all up by adding a new section (Writing) and reworking some parts of the Math and Verbal sections. While recent studies have proved that the new sections didn't really change anything of importance, the previous Concordance Table was rendered out of date. Everyone was very sad and students no longer could accurately compare scores from both exams without guesswork.
This week, the ACT and SAT released a new Concordance Table in an attempt to make students happy again. Guess what? It's not the same kind of table...and very few people are going to be happy with it.
The new tables no longer contain a straight score to score comparison. Now they show you two distinct tables:
- The SAT Critical Reading + Math vs the Whole ACT
- The SAT Writing vs The ACT English + Writing
Le Sigh. As my loyal readers know, I'm not a fan of the College Board or the ACT. They both have a unique way of providing data that is not just useless, but frustrating. This is a classic example. Todd Johnson does a decent job explaining what the College Board has provided, but I think these tables are really just a waste of time.
Students should not be comparing the Whole ACT against just the SAT Math and Reading; it's not an accurate picture. It's also silly to have a separate table to examine how well students did on the Writing section of the SAT alone. Finally, nobody is really ever clear on how to calculate the ACT English + Writing anyway, so understanding that score is really difficult for most students and isn't something they want or need to compare.
A Concordance table needs to provide test takers with a clear picture of which test they did better on, not a confusing algorithm that makes the test seem important.
So, for the good of students everywhere, I submit to you a "Simple ACT/SAT Concordance Table." We use this with our students and it's proven to be very effective at helping them understand their score quickly and easily. It's based on the percentiles provided by College Board and ACT Inc and will help students to understand not just which test they scored better on, but also how college admissions officers will view their score...
This past weekend I began working with my rising seniors on their college essays. Although it may seem strange to start in July, one of the best ways to write a great essay is to get started early!
With that in mind, one of my students and I sat down to read over and discuss a few sample essays. The first one can be found here. Take a minute to read it! The second was a more traditional essay documenting a student's trip to Africa and the great life lessons she learned while she was there.
After my student took a few minutes to read over both works, we had the following conversation:
Me: What did you think of the two essays?
Student: I thought the first one was funny and interesting, but the second one was deeper. So I think the second one is a better essay.
Me: Really? Why?
Student: Because it shows how the writer thinks. She cares about the people in Africa and she's a good thinker. She's traveled a lot, so I bet colleges will like her. I don't know much about the writer of the first one.
Me: Okay...what can you tell me about his personality?
Student: He's funny and creative. He's also pretty weird. He's really brave. There's no way I'd send in an essay like that.
Student: Because the college wouldn't know what you've done.
Me: Do you think the college cares about what you've done? Do you think your experiences are unique enough for them to admit you because you've won an award or gone to a different country?
Me: High school experiences are kind of universal. Everybody has won something important, gone somewhere interesting, or met someone special. That stuff doesn't matter.
Student: So even though he just made all that stuff up, he told the college all about who he was?
Me: Yup. He's a creative, dynamic, intelligent student. Although both essays are really strong, his will definitely stand out in the crowd. Trips to Africa are commonplace. Good writing isn't.
Student: My mind is blown.
Most essays that college admissions officers read are incredibly boring explanations of some accomplishment that the student thinks will impress the school. Schools want just the opposite! They want to know who you are and what you care about. They want to hear your voice ring through and feel confident knowing that your will add something new to the student body.
Anything you write that reeks of "college essay" is probably dull, uninteresting, and repetitive. They've read it before. If you want to stand out, write something worth reading. Then they remember you!
Want help with your college essay? Contact us today and we'll do a free review of what you've got so far!