Thursday, November 11, 2021

Tidying Up for the Holidays

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

I don’t know about everyone else, but the award for “Where Did the Time Go?” for 2021 goes to the last eight weeks. It seems like yesterday we were talking about everything new for this application season, and now we’re looking at the other side of November 1.

This is typically the time for odds and ends, and this year is no exception. While we urge students to keep the momentum going, here are some additional considerations that sometimes get lost at this time of year, that, if not tended to, can have the same effect as not applying at all:

Additional forms for November 1 applications. Counselors are reporting an uptick in the number of colleges that are asking students for additional information after the initial application was submitted November 1. In particular, there seems to be a number of colleges asking students to submit self-reported grades; it’s almost as if they are saying “Thanks for the application, but are you serious?”

Providing grades gives the colleges one less piece of paper to wait for, but completing this task with several colleges in the brief interval between November 1 and Thanksgiving is no easy feat. Nonetheless, the problem is what it is. Remind students to check their emails frequently, not only for verification the colleges have what the student has already received, but to see what else the colleges want the student to submit—and when they want it submitted. 

FAFSA Verification. This isn’t a new thing, but its relevance seems to be increasing. Students submit the FAFSA, and many receive a request from the colleges asking that the student confirm parts of the information submitted on the form with additional verification—bank statements, statements of non-support, and more.

As is often the case with financial issues, the biggest burden of proof typically lies with the students who need the most help—who, typically, have had the least amount of experience in financial issues. On top of this, some of the information is hard to get. How exactly do you prove you haven’t heard from a non-custodial parent in five years, when you don’t even know where they are?

Compared to all other parts of the application, verification can truly be the most tedious, and require the most hand holding. Reach out to all FAFSA filers (and their parents) early and often, and ask what you can do to help.

Phantom Students and Hard Lists. This isn’t exactly the time when you have time to close the door and look at the big picture of college applications, but that’s precisely what needs to be done right now. Pull out the roster of your entire senior caseload, and look for two things. 

First, what students have you just not heard from in a long time? Make a list, start with an email, and be ready to follow through. 

Second, look at the lists for all your students, and highlight the ones whose academic plans may not match up all that well with reality. It’s always good to dream, but the window is closing on Plan B schools, and every student needs at least a couple. This news is best shared in person, but if email is all you have time for, put together a thoughtful request, and give them a few schools to consider. 

These steps are time consuming, but they will save a lot of anxiety in the very short weeks between Thanksgiving and December break—a time that flies even faster than the last eight weeks did.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Weekend Deadlines? Yeah—About That…

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

This blog recently addressed a long-standing counselor beef—the student submits an application on Thursday, then gets an email on Friday saying the high school hasn’t sent the transcript. A highly respected enrollment manager suggested that maybe it was time to stop venting and contact the colleges directly—and respectfully—to relate the effect this was having on students. I put together a model letter, hoping that nine more of you would (ideally) find the time to craft and send something similar, or (more likely) copy my letter and send it to the colleges, too. Either way, it’s better than wishing.

Now that your first endeavor in diplomatic college reform is over, I’m hoping you’ll give it one more try, with an issue that hurts students just as much. I’ll cut right to the chase with the sample letter:

Dear Mary (again, use their name. Anything addressed to “Dear Director” gets tossed):

I’m writing to ask you to make a small change to your current application deadlines. While some of these dates have been used for years—November 1, January 1, and May 1—they often cause some unintended damage to the ability of students to respond on the basis of thoughtful advice, something that benefits no one.

The challenge with most of these dates is when they occur on a weekend. Last year, November 1, November 15, and May 1 all occurred on Sunday, where students were expected to submit documents or make decisions without access to college advice the day of the deadline—or, in this case, the day before as well. The mild bedlam that occurs in a high school on an application deadline day is hard to describe, but it can lead to some anxious students in our offices, and some very anxious parents on our phone lines.

I am a big advocate of students using the college application process to assume new levels of responsibility, and support the notion that there’s only so much help one can offer. At the same time, this is the first time many of them have had to take a complex task and complete the individual portions in a timely fashion. If we were talking turning in one paper, that would be one thing. There’s a little more than that to a college application.

This challenge could be met—and students’ minds would be set at ease—if all deadlines were set to a particular day—the first Tuesday in November (replacing November 1), the third Tuesday in November (replacing November 15), the second Tuesday in January (replacing January 1), the first Tuesday in May (replacing May 1). This is especially true for students who attend high schools where counselor caseloads are large, often involving students who need more college help. 

Deadlines that give students the chance they deserve to get the help they need will only increase the quality and quantity of applications. Just ask Georgia Tech, who made this move a few years back and saw increased numbers as a result.

Regarding January 1, high schools are typically closed for an entire week before this deadline, and many are closed days after. This really puts students at a huge disadvantage, and college admissions offices aren’t even open that day. A “second Tuesday” deadline gives students access to the support they need to submit a quality application with as little stress as possible.

I’d be happy to discuss this with you in greater detail, but I hope you can see how these changes could be a huge help, especially to the students who most need it. You can reach me at…