Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Two More Options as Colleges Send Decisions

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D.

Most of the Ivy League college news will land today, Thursday, at 5 PM.  We’ve discussed some of the options students will receive when they open their e-mails or letters, but there are two other trends that deserve a little attention from the Class of 2012:

January Admission  Seniors expecting to hear an answer from an admissions office may instead be asked a question—“How About January?”  A growing number of larger universities (most of them public) started using this approach about four years ago.  Knowing some freshmen who arrive as part of a large class in the fall will not be returning in January, these colleges invite some applicants to plan on coming to campus in the middle of the year, where they will have a bed, a room, and class sizes that don’t require the Superdome to seat the class.

Students see some clear plusses in this offer.  First and foremost, it gives them something many students crave—regulated time off from school.  Knowing college awaits them in the winter months, students travel, complete volunteer work, or more often find fall jobs to make sure their college experience is well-financed once it happens in January.  Parents should also see the plus of sending their student off to campus well after the Fall Frenzy, when energetic freshmen find try out ways to test their new-found freedom in ways that are, well, interesting. 

On the other side, students will also miss some of the safer fall rituals.  Football games are a big part of many schools that offer January admission, and many students make lifelong friends during those crazy fall days.  Some colleges might be talked into offering football tickets to January admits (hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask), but think carefully about saying yes to a later start if you’re worried about making friends.  You may need to work a little harder at building friendships in January; on the other hand, you could be the hit of campus with stories of your fall adventures, and you could find it easier to get better grades now that everyone’s a little more settled.

Transferring  Record applications and high college costs are leading more students and families to decide their senior will start at one college, then transfer to another college.  If this is something you’re considering, keep these points in mind:
·         Make sure your dream college accepts transfers.  There are some colleges that don’t accept transfer students, or admit so few that it’s impossible to achieve the dream.  Ask ahead.
·         Check transfer requirements.  Students often assume they can transfer to another college after just one semester, but that isn’t always the case.  Ask the college you’re transferring to for a transfer guide; this shows the classes you should take at your first college, and it outlines what grades you need to have for transfer admission.
·         Beware of electives.  You don’t always get the classes you want at your first school, which may tempt you to sign up for an elective not on the transfer guide.  This may still work out, but don’t waste your time and money; call the transfer admission office at your future college to see if this class will count as an elective, a requirement, or as nothing.
·         Enroll early.   Many transfer students start at colleges where enrollment for Fall classes starts in late June.  Don’t get five 8 AM classes by accident; apply to your first school now, take their placement tests now, and register—well, you get the idea.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Three College Admission Trends That Are Only Getting Bigger

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Hollywood might think The Hunger Games is being released this Friday, but school counselors know the craving for meaty college messages has been on for three months. Early returns suggest applicants will be seeing an increase in three trends that could make April fools out of student and counselor alike, unless we plan ahead.  Here’s what to expect when decisions come out next week:

Another year of increased “no’s” The US birth rate may suggest a decline in the number of high school graduates, but colleges are still receiving record numbers of applications.  Two years ago, the University of Michigan received 32,000 applications, and that number jumped to 40,000 last year when U-M joined the easier-to-complete Common Application.  Predictions of a flat 2011-12 fell flat themselves when U-M announced they received 43,000 applications this year, leaving less wiggle room in the class than ever before.

Since colleges aren’t getting any bigger, more applications mean more rejection notices, including no’s to students who would have been sure bet admits two years ago.  There’s a good chance one or two of your students will get caught in the surprise; be ready to talk about the number of applicants again this year, confident you can say it was a record-breaking year.

Waitlists are something more and something less  Increased applications also means more students will be hearing “maybe” on a day when they had hoped to hear “yes.” More than one student has told me that being on the waitlist of a college is actually worse than being denied, since you have no idea if your name is going to be taken off the list, *and* you still have to make plans as if you weren’t going to be admitted.  It’s a good thing senior prom doesn’t work this way; imagine how a student would feel on the dance floor when their partner points to someone across the room and says “There’s my first choice.”

Waitlists may not be new, but their function took a big turn a couple of years ago, when more Duke applicants were waitlisted than admitted.  Now most colleges use the waitlist as both an economic necessity and a kind of beauty prize for applicants who would have been admitted just a couple of years ago.

Students know this, but still hope against hope they’ll be called off one of the six waitlists they may be on.  Make sure to bring them back from their journey to the World of What If long enough to put a deposit in at a school they will love, just in case all six “could be” schools turn in to “could have been” schools.

July-applying juniors  If you think all of next week’s action will involve only seniors, think again.  Hundreds of juniors will see the solemn faces and quiet tears of their role models and decide they know how to make sure this doesn’t happen to them—they’ll just apply earlier.

Even the most morose senior would tell them this logic is faulty, if they were asked.  But it’s likely juniors won’t be asking anyone about this “discovery”; they’ll just act on it on their own, unless you intervene.  Find a minute among the end-of-March madness to summarize the year in college applications, and e-mail practical advice to juniors and their families about what this means to the Class of 2013.  Mayan predictions aside, students who apply in July really could be the end of your counseling world; make sure they understand there can be such a thing as too early in the college application process, at least for one more year.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

College Decisions: Just say Yes, Just say No, but don’t say Maybe

By Patrick O'Connor. Ph.D

College decisions have already started coming out.  Once again, we’re looking at record numbers of applications, and once again, Harvard, Princeton, Rose-Hulman, Knox and most every other college didn’t spend the winter buying an extra 50 acres and tricking it out with new dorms to double their class size—so there will be more rejections and waitlists than ever as well.

There’s ample advice counselors can use to console students who weren’t admitted and to encourage students who were placed on waiting lists, but there’s another stealth group out there who just won’t be getting a lot of love—the student who has so many admission offers, they just can’t make up their mind.  

On the one hand, this is easy to understand; Meryl Streep wouldn’t have garnered a lot of empathy if her acceptance speech had gone something like “Wow, a third Oscar?  Just where am I going to put this?” On the other hand, it’s important to support these students, not only because they truly need strong guidance right now, but because their problem could easily become everyone’s problem if they decide the best thing to do is to put deposits in at every college that accepted them, then decide in August.

Just to review the ground rules, students have until May 1 to place an enrollment deposit at one, and only one, college.  They don’t necessarily have to tell their other colleges they aren’t coming, but they can only tell one college they are coming, and they do that by submitting a (mostly) non-refundable deposit.  The reasoning here is simple—colleges need to build budgets, hire faculty, design schedules, and order enough mystery meat to make sure they can deliver on all the promises they’ve made students in those glossy brochures.

Students and parents who decide May 1st is just too soon often deposit at more than one college—either they just do see the rush, they think it’s unfair, or they don’t understand what harm it does…

…until they get to the one college they attend.  There, they discover their own college has had, oh, say, 20 students call admissions the day before classes begin to let them know they aren’t coming.  Because of these double depositors, the college has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, and has financial aid that is going unused.  This also means students who were in the advertised 20 student seminar classes are thrust into 30 student seminars at the last minute, leading to schedule changes, unhappy students, and parents who are now consulting attorneys for breach of contract on the school’s part—even though they themselves may have double deposited at a number of colleges as well. 

The moral of the story is to tell all students and parents not to do this, and to say this an awful lot of times in a number of ways between now and May 1.  If they applied on Common Application, they signed a pledge they wouldn’t do this, and if colleges find out a student is playing them against one another (and this happens), the student will have plenty of free time on their hands come fall.  

College is the main thing they’ve been thinking about for the last eight months, and they still have 45 days before an answer is due.  By being available to talk with them, and with a few stern e-mail reminders to parents, good choices can be made by May 1 with everyone’s future looking bright, both now and in August. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shopping for College Help Online? These Three Sites are a Must

Counselors are always looking for online resources to recommend to parents and students.  These sites can’t replace strong school-based counseling programs, but they sure can supplement them nicely.

Here are some new and updated Web sites you’ll want to be sure to look at and pass along to your clients and their families.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling ( has always had a strong collection of publications and resources for parents and students in the college selection process.  Thanks to a redesign of part of their Web site, NACAC has beefed up their offerings and organized them in a dynamic new way. 

This new Web page outlines the ideas and activities students and parents should consider at every grade in high school, and concludes with a fifth tab that addresses the key issues of a strong college transition. Links to five key NACAC documents are on the side of the site, including a list of student rights and responsibilities in the college selection process, and advice on applying for financial aid.  Students and parents will value the clean, clear look of the page, as well as the depth of the advice that’s offered.

While it may not be new, the College Navigator site ( is one of the most overlooked college search tools around.  The page offers an easy-to-use college search tool that becomes more sophisticated only if the user wants more features, and the side-by-side comparison of one college to another is a rare find in college search sites.

CN is also a great place to go for financial aid advice.  Access to the free financial aid FAFSA is just a click away (CN and FAFSA are both run by the US government), and the College Affordability and Transparency Center is the first bold attempt to try and give students a sense if they’ll be getting their money’s worth at that college. Students should never rule a college out just because of price; on the other hand, only applying to colleges that cost $45,000 isn’t the way to go either.  Predicting how much aid you’ll get is never an exact science, but the Center is more than worth a very close look as you build a list of colleges, keeping price in mind.

Finally, students and parents need to take a look at the online version of a classic college guide that changed the world.  Colleges That Change Lives was written by former New York Times Education writer Loren Pope.  Pope’s goal was to highlight colleges that best represented what college is all about—a chance for students to learn and explore the world with the right mix of support and challenge in an individualized learning space.

An updated edition of CTCL is rumored to be in the works, but college-bound families can get the best of the book online for free (  Readers will want to make sure to stop at the News & Resources tab and read the articles “Common Misperceptions” and ”How to Do a College Search.”  The site also includes detailed information on each of the CTCL colleges.

Students may not be interested in applying to small liberal arts colleges, and parents may find the tuition at CTCL schools to be a little steep.  On the other hand, the Web site teaches readers how to look at every college, and to search even the biggest colleges for personalized learning experiences.  Such opportunities do exist at some big colleges, but you have to know what you’re looking for; the CTCL Web page can train your eyes and ears to make the best college match.