College Application

How to Obtain the Best College Recommendation Letters

Throughout four years of high school, you put in a tremendous amount of work to create an excellent college application portfolio. You take – and retake – standardized tests. You write – and rewrite – college admission essays. In other words, dedicated students like you fine tune their applications to match their dream colleges’ expectations. However, there is one part of your application portfolio that’s mostly, but not entirely out of your control:

Your teachers’ recommendation letters.

Yes, these sealed envelopes or confidential online forms contain information that can go a long way in convincing college admissions counselors that you’re a perfect fit. And although you’ll never have the chance to edit, review, or even see what these letters contain, there’s a lot you can do to ensure that your teachers write glowing endorsements of your academic potential and all-around goodness as a human being.

Having been on both sides of the teacher’s desk, let me share my recommendation letter expertise with you.

Why Recommendation Letters Matter

As you know, a lot goes into a college application portfolio. The essential pieces are your grades and standardized test scores. After that, your essays and extracurricular activities allow admissions counselors to see you as a person rather than a set of scores and letter grades.

Last, but certainly not least, come the recommendation letters. They provide a different, fresh, and just as relevant, personal perspective. And since they come from adults who are trained educators, they carry a lot of weight.

And that’s why recommendation letters matter…a lot.

Step #1: Choose Your Teachers Wisely

If you’re an academically gifted student, it’s likely you excelled in the majority of your classes. First of all, good for you. However, having a lot of options raises an issue: which teachers do you pick?

Here’s some all-around good advice:

  • At least one letter should come from a teacher you had during your junior year.
    • Junior year’s the toughest one of all – at least for most students – and a letter from a teacher who had you then can say a lot about how you work under pressure.
  • If you’ve taken AP/IB courses, try to get a letter from one of those teachers, too.
    • Let’s say you excelled in your first AP course and earned a high score on the AP exam, too. Discussing this accomplishment in your personal essay and including a recommendation letter from that teacher would be the perfect combination.

If you struggled in some courses, still consider whether those teachers could write you a good letter. Did you come in for extra help and improve your grades along the way? College admissions counselors love applicants with grit, those who buckled down and invested the time and effort to raise their grades. A turnaround story is just as compelling as a ‘he/she was an academically gifted student’ story.

Step #2: Include an Information Packet

Even if a teacher just had you last year, they may be a bit fuzzy on your personal and academic details. That tends to happen when teachers see 150+ students a day. That’s why when they agree to write you a letter, give them a small info packet detailing your academic and extracurricular accomplishments along with any other information they may need (e.g., a sample of your work from their class) to jog their memories.

Pro Tip: In this packet, include a personal note that discusses what you got out of their class. It never hurts to butter up – compliment – your teacher, too. Just don’t go too overboard.

Step #2.5: Give Them Plenty of Time

Teachers are extremely, significantly, tremendously busy people. They put in a ton of effort, most of which you don’t see. That’s said, please give teachers at least two weeks – preferably three – to write you a recommendation letter.

Step #3: Be Grateful

So, the letters are done and in the physical or electronic mail. As you take that sigh of relief that your college applications are finished, don’t forget about your teachers. It’s time to get them a thank you gift.

Why a gift? Well, besides being the right thing to do, your teachers just did you a HUGE favor. It’s time to show a little gratitude with a gift card or something small that’s in the $10-$20 range. If you’re a bit shy, give it to them just before winter break – that’s when good students like you give gifts to their teachers anyway — and include a personal note thanking them for helping you out.

And when the day comes you get into your dream college or university, please let the teachers who wrote you letters know. It’ll make their day. 🙂

Final Thoughts

Good test scores and excellent grades are a dime a dozen in the college admissions world. Genuine recommendation letters are much rarer and can nudge an application from the ‘waitlist’ to ‘accepted’ pile. Will the letters teachers write for you do this? You’ll never know, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the time and effort to obtain the best letters possible.

So, if you’re a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior, make sure to let your best teachers know they did an excellent job before the school year wraps up. Your teachers will likely remember your kind words…and be more inclined to write you a recommendation letter when you need it. 😉

College Admissions & Demonstrated Interest

Students have a lot of things to get done for college applications. Putting together the perfect application for your dream school isn’t the only thing to do during this time, and the perfect application is not the only thing college admissions officers are looking for.

College admissions officers are starting to look at students’ demonstrated interest (or lack thereof). Demonstrated interest (in regards to college) is simply, going the extra mile to show true interest beyond the standard application.

The remainder of this article will discuss what demonstrated interest is in the traditional way, what it’s starting to look like with the growth of social media, and why this all matters.

 

Demonstrated Interest

Here is a short list of ways to show a college admissions officer your demonstrated interest.

  • Campus Tours
  • Interviews
  • College Fairs
  • Following up/sending thank you letters (when appropriate)

If you want to learn more, click here.

 

Changes in Demonstrated Interest – Social Media

College admissions officers are starting to look at applicants’ social media activity.

Why social media?

Answer: Social media is a great way for college admissions officers to get a glimpse into who you are based on what you follow and ‘like’.

Generally, people follow things on social media that they are interested in. Considering this, if a college admissions officer sees that you are following one or more social media accounts affiliated with the college, they will consider you to be very interested in the college and in turn, more likely to accept an offer.

Below are the results of a survey conducted by myKlovr asking its users if they would feel comfortable if college admissions officers checked their social media.

 

Out of 188 myKlovr users, 11.7% say “I’d love them to do that”, 69% say “I’m an open book, nothing to hide!”, 6.9% say “sure but let me edit first”, and 11.7% say “oh no please don’t”.

 

Why do College Admissions Officers Care About Demonstrated Interest?

Demonstrated interest shows a college admissions officer how likely you are to attend the college if you are accepted. Students who visit the campus, talk to the college representatives at college fairs, follow the college’s social media accounts, have a higher chance of accepting an offer.

College admissions officers are also looking for those students who are not only interested in their college on paper (college applications) but are actively going out of their way to learn more about the college.

Think about it this way, it is standard to send in an application, transcripts, test scores, and an essay. Demonstrated interest is going above and beyond what is required for college admissions which ultimately demonstrates the level of your genuine interest.

How to Pack For College

My daughter Sydney leaves for college in five days. Currently, her room is full of boxes and containers. She’ll be sharing a small dorm room with two other girls and has been advised not to take too much. So what exactly is essential?

“I didn’t take anything to college,” Sydney’s dad said last night. “I think I brought a toothbrush and a clock and that was it.” He is not a fan of the two-inch natural latex bed topper that we purchased. A mattress topper is on the college suggestion list of what to bring. Her dad remembered tripping over his GE electric clock that plugged into the wall. He kicked it repeatedly across the dorm room because he had no side table and his mattress was on the floor so the clock was also on the floor. He didn’t even have furniture in his dorm room. He told us this story as Sydney was packing her essential oils.

Sydney found her roommates online through a Facebook group established by the college. She was able to pre-screen and interview her potential roommates. Once they agreed to live together, they put their names on their dorm preference list and the college agreed. They’ve met each other once during the summer registration and have been in constant communication since. They determined who should be on the top bunk, who should have the bottom bunk and who gets the top bunk with no bed underneath based on a roll the dice app. They have also discussed room decor and texted each other pics from Bed Bath and Beyond getting approvals on purchases from each other.

Like Sydney’s dad, I had no mattress topper or pick of roommates or beds prior to my arrival at college. My roommates told me after I moved in, they snooped through my things and were confused when my record collection contained Broadway show tunes and Sex Pistols albums. Yes, I brought my stereo and record collection to college. We all did, so we had four stereos in our dorm room. I was relieved that my roommates didn’t have unicorns and rainbow posters on the walls, I didn’t really care what their music preferences were.

The important thing is that our children will sleep well. If the mattress topper and essential oils will help with that, then I am all for it. A touch of home doesn’t hurt, but starting fresh in a new place with new friends will be the true test of the freshman year. Fastweb has a pretty comprehensive list of what to bring to college, but be prepared, there is a lot more on it than a toothbrush and alarm clock!

How Important Are Extracurricular Activities to College Admissions?

I’ve been around this great big world, and it seems that of all the cultures I’ve come across, the good ole’ U.S. of A. puts the most emphasis on high school students participating in extracurricular activities. Oh sure, high school students in other countries play sports and participate in clubs, but doing so doesn’t have much of an effect on college admissions.

For you see, in the rest of the world a high school student’s chances of getting into a good college rest entirely on grades and test scores, especially the latter. Seriously, being a high school student in some countries is just like that ham-fisted YouTube movie The Thinning, except without the threat of euthanasia because you scored lower than the mean.

So before we dive into the world of extracurricular activities, let us take a moment to appreciate the fact that your academic future isn’t 100% riding on standardized test scores.

*Moment of Appreciation*

That was nice. Now let’s talk extracurriculars, and how you can use any one of them to work for YOU during college admission season.

So which one should I do?

Simple Answer: Something that interests you.

Complex Answer: No matter which extracurricular or two that you pick, doing two things will help set you apart from the bulk of the competition. First, stick with an extracurricular for at least two years. Second, take on a leadership role where you get to show off your responsible/organized side. Consistency and leadership experience under your belt, you’re already a step ahead of the majority of college applicants.

Just the majority? How do I stand out from high achievers like me?

Simple Answer: Apply a personal touch, even if it means creating your own activity.

Complex Answer: If you’re aiming for a top tier school, you’re right to assume that most applicants will have both consistent track records with extracurriculars and hold leadership positions within them. Here’s how you can go a step above:

  • Create a new club, preferably one that does some good for the community. (College admission counselors love applicants who create volunteer organizations.)
  • Take a creative hobby to the next level.
    • Submit a short story for publication. (And get it published somewhere)
    • Submit your photography or artwork to contests.
    • Start your own company. (Think Shark Tank)
    • Take your band on tour over the summer. (But don’t skip school if you should become famous 😉 )

In other words, apply yourself to your passion, whatever it is. Even if you don’t succeed before college application time rolls around, your journey can make for an excellent personal essay.

Okay, my extracurriculars are great. What difference will they make?

Short Answer: They’re a tiebreaker.

Long Answer: Everyone loves a good story, and for college admissions counselors, an engaging story about an extracurricular activity can act as the tiebreaker between two highly qualified applicants. So, at the end of the day, you need extracurriculars just in case. Doesn’t matter if it’s the French club or your second studio album.

What you’re telling me is that extracurriculars are like an insurance policy?

Short Answer: Yep.

Long Answer: With college admissions getting more competitive seemingly by the minute, there’s a good chance that your extracurriculars will come in handy when the admissions counselor at Your Dream School reviews your application. You’ll never know if they were the deciding factor, but you wouldn’t want to be without them.

Final Thoughts

In summary, it matters less what extracurricular activity you choose than how you approach it. Like most things in life, the more you put into it, the more it’ll give back. You’ll make some friends, have fun, and hopefully do a little good in the process.

Let me leave you with some sage advice in the vein of homemaking guru Martha Stewart. “An extracurricular activity: it’s a good thing.”

 

 

What Looks Good on a College Application?

After attending multiple seminars with admissions directors and meeting with college counselors, it seems to be agreed upon that a well rounded college application is ideal. So what’s that look like for your high school freshman or sophomore?

Colleges expect a schedule full of rigorous classes, but they also expect to see room on the student’s schedule for electives. And consistency is important with electives. For example, a college tends to be more impressed if they see a student take art all four years of high school rather than art one year, drama the next, music the next and then skip an elective the senior year. Colleges look for growth and commitment in electives.

Colleges also want to see that the student has participated in any extracurriculars the school has to offer, whether that be sports, orchestra, musical theater or the school newspaper. These extracurriculars are just as important as the academics and electives. Schools don’t want to see that the student went home at 2pm to play video games on a daily basis.

Student leadership and community service rank high with admissions directors as do participating in clubs. But again, they want to see the student attending these clubs for four years and perhaps growing into leadership positions within the clubs. Starting a club is often an option in high schools, so if you child has a good idea, encourage them to partition the school to begin a club. Make sure they follow through and grow the club over their four years. Usually a club will need a teacher advisor. If the club is successful, perhaps that teacher would write a stellar letter of recommendation for the student. Seeing that a student can balance academics, create something new and navigate through the schools administration will bound to impress a college admissions director.

Obviously grades are an important factor in getting into college, but being well rounded is as well. Just as in life, being well versed in different topics will only help to expand your child’s world.

4 Steps With myKlovr That Will Help You Write a Compelling College Application Essay

The changing landscape of college admissions

Technology has facilitated many aspects of our lives including college applications. With The Common Application platform, it has become easier than ever to apply to many colleges at the same time. In 2015, According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 36 percent of first-time freshmen applied to seven or more colleges, while 10 years earlier, this number was only 17 percent. What are the consequences of this increase in applications? College applicants can ‘cast their net wider’ and increase their odds of admission. On the other hand, college admissions officers have to review this ever-growing number of applications. The average number to be reviewed is as high as 850 applications per admissions counselor.

These changes pose new challenges for the high school seniors preparing their college applications. Transcripts, grades, and test scores remain very important, and nothing can compensate for poor academic performance. But when there are hundreds of applicants with similar academic results like your own, how can you increase the chances that an admissions officer chooses your application among many? A college application essay may be the answer.

The importance of the application essay

According to the research that we conducted in 2017, an application essay plays an important role in the candidate assessment process. In general, there are three types of essay topics:

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • Tell us why you have chosen to apply to our college.
  • Write a creative essay.

Colleges ask for essays to evaluate students’ writing skills and his or her ability to formulate a logical argument, as well as to learn more about them. This task helps to assess the student’s overall fit with the college, along with understanding how a student can contribute to the college’s community and culture. Last but not least, colleges want to see how well a candidate can complete a major piece of work that assignments like writing an essay constitute.

When working on your essay, you have to make sure that it is well structured and written, factually true, and meets all the formal criteria that a college expects to be met. But an essay is also an opportunity to tell your personal story, engage your reader: the admissions officer. It helps to make you stand out in a crowd of applicants. Just imagine how many essays an admissions counselor has to read. Do not fall into the ‘dull’ category.

At myKlovr, we propose that you take four steps to be better prepared to tell your own story.

1. Discover what makes you special

College admissions officers are not looking for personal essays that are biographies or full of dates and places. They are in search of young people who will be successful in college and will make great contributions to the school.

We believe that everyone is special, but not everyone has discovered what it is that makes them special.

The research that we conducted among college counselors and admissions officers revealed 12 personal qualities that are associated with college success. Six of them, which we call interpersonal, are related to how we interact with other people (e.g. collaboration, empathy, leadership), and the other six, intrapersonal, describe traits in themselves (e.g. enthusiasm, critical thinking, perseverance). In the Personal part of the myKlovr Student Portfolio, you will find a short assessment where we invite you to reflect on which of these character features define you as a person. It is a great idea to ask others for their feedback. Remember that your parents, friends, and teachers may see you differently than what you think.

The objective of the assessment is to help you identify what makes you special and which personal qualities can constitute the main thread of your own story. Do not expect to max out on every personal quality. This is unrealistic and perhaps not very helpful when you want to tell a unique and compelling personal story.

2. Don’t tell, prove it

Admissions officers are skeptical by nature. They need to be great listeners but equally, they need to read between the lines and to separate ‘the wheat from the chaff’. They will expect you not only to tell them how great of a candidate you are, but to prove it and convince them of this.

How do you do that? With facts. Your myKlovr Student Portfolio has a few sections where you can capture your experiences, roles, achievements and recognition that you were awarded. These parts are there so that when you are writing your essay, you can look there for evidence that endorses your story. Claiming that you have great leadership skills is one thing, but explaining how you organized a group of fellow students to clean up your neighborhood’s  animal shelter after it was flooded is quite something else.

Sometimes, it is hard to remember these events when you need them. Details may be difficult to recall. This is why we encourage you to include all these events in your Student Portfolio. You will not need to use them all, but a well selected, relevant story can give your essay a lot of credibility and make it a more memorably engaging read for an admissions officer.

3. Engage through storytelling

Everybody has heard about the power of storytelling. Human beings pay more attention and better remember stories than data. In fact, our ancestors accumulated and passed knowledge on from generation to generation via stories; think only of the ancient Greek mythology or the Bible.

Once you have chosen what personal qualities will provide the backbone for your own story, and selected the facts and events to substantiate them, it is time to articulate your story. The ‘About Me’ part of your myKlovr Student Portfolio is there specifically to help you put together, practice, and elaborate your story. Start writing it early and come back to change and improve it as often as you want. Invite other people to read it and offer you their advice. If you do that early enough, you will be less nervous in your senior year.

We also encourage you to produce a personal video. All it takes is a script that you can write yourself, a smartphone (plus a tripod if you want to be really fancy), and a free YouTube account. Why would you produce a video? Just think about an admissions officer who is reading through a pile of essays. Wouldn’t it be a welcome change for them to check out an applicant’s video and see a real human face? Your video (must be under 2 minutes or otherwise few people will watch it) gives you an opportunity to connect with an admissions counselor, tell your story, convey your emotions, and ultimately be remembered.

4. Share your vision

Colleges look into their applicants’ pasts, but also assess their future students’ and graduates’ chances. Once a college admits you, they really want you to do well and graduate successfully. They care because a graduation rate. It is an important indicator that affects a school’s reputation.

Admissions officers would like to know what your vision of your future is so that they can assess if their college is the right place for you to achieve your goals. If you love animals and want to become a veterinarian, and they do not offer a relevant major, there would be high likelihood that you’d not be happy at their college and transfer to another one – something that colleges do not like.

In your myKlovr Student Portfolio, we have included a section entitled ‘Statement of Purpose’. We invite you to write about your future here. What do you want to achieve in life? How do you want to get there? What is a college of your dreams? What majors are you excited about? These reflections are important for two reasons. First, they will help you formulate your expectations, and secondly, you will be much better prepared to choose a college that is right for you. Moreover, you will be able to convincingly explain to an admissions officer why you are applying to their college and how you expect it to help you achieve your life’s destination.

Nobody can write your college application essay for you better than you will because an authentic and emotionally engaging essay has to come from a true source.

Juniors! Use Summer Break to Starting Writing Your College Essays

It’s May, which means the school year is winding down like a neglected grandfather clock. The days are warmer, the seconds seem to tick by slower, and the only reason high school students like you endure it at all is that summer break is just a few short days away.

For you juniors reading this article, the next few months will be your last summer break as a high school student. By all means, indulge in some rest and relaxation. However, if applying to college is on your radar, you need to set aside some time for activities that will increase your chances of college admission success. For some students, these proactive steps include college tours and retaking the SAT or ACT. These activities may also apply to you, too, but I want to discuss something else entirely: getting a head start on your college admissions essays.

Though I understand your distaste at the prospect of writing one or more essays over the summer, let me use this article to convince you that summer break is the perfect time to write the first draft.

Why Not Wait?

To be honest, I didn’t start writing my college admissions essays until the fall of my senior year. And as a result, they weren’t that great. To this day I still believe that the University of Chicago rejected my application due to my poor, hastily written essays. Also, admissions essays were just one of the dozens of things I was juggling that fall: AP/IB courses, ACT/SAT retakes, keeping everything organized, etc.

Learn from my mistake: start early. The more time you can commit to college application essays during the summer will translate into both better essays and a less stressful fall semester.

Distractions Are at a Minimum

Initially, I was going to write “There Are No Distractions,” but then I remembered that the summer break before senior year isn’t totally free: studying for ACT/SAT retakes, summer jobs, family vacations, etc. For some up-and-coming seniors, summer can feel just as busy as the school year.

Overall, you should have fewer distractions during the summer months. With less on your plate, you can dedicate not only time but also energy (and hopefully some passion, too) into writing the best first draft you can.

Just like with writing an academic essay, select a time and place that fits your writing style. If your room is too distracting, go to the library. If writing on the computer means that you’re tempted to go online or play games, use a paper and pencil for your first draft.

Review Your myKlovr Student Portfolio

The summer before your senior year is a great time to review your myKlovr student portfolio. Reading through your academic, extracurricular, and personal progress will help you brainstorm anecdotes that will eventually appear in your essay.

Begin the Editing Process

Let’s say you finish the first draft over the summer. First of all, that’s great! You’re already ahead of the game. Though I wouldn’t begrudge you if you decided to take the rest of the summer off, you may want to begin the editing process.

Here’s one thing you can try: email one or more of your teachers over the summer and see if they will critique your draft. As long as you’re polite, it never hurts to ask. Many teachers don’t check their email over the summer, which means you may not hear back. Please don’t feel offended if this happens to you.

Let’s say you get lucky and your teacher agrees. You’ve just won the lottery. Why? Just like you, your teachers aren’t as busy over summer break. They will be able to read your essay without a thousand other things vying for their attention. As a result, their feedback will likely be better than if you had asked for it after the school year begins.

Final Thoughts

Depending on the colleges where you will apply this fall, your essay ranks second or third in importance in your college application portfolio. Your words give college admissions counselors a personal view of you as an individual. By starting the writing process in the summer, you guarantee that your best self shines on the page.

How to Distinguish Yourself to Your Dream College

Okay, high school juniors, listen up: college admissions season begins in just a few short months. Now is the time to start thinking about how to stand out from the other applicants competing with you for a seat at your dream college.

“But,” you protest, “colleges haven’t even made up their minds about this year’s incoming freshman class. Why worry about next year?”

Well, your buddy (INSERT NAME HERE) just got back from a humanitarian trip to (INSERT COUNTY HERE) where (HE/SHE) helped build a (SCHOOL/HOSPITAL/HOUSE). And you know what, (HE/SHE) wants to go to (YOUR DREAM COLLEGE), too. What have you done lately to better humanity?

Fortunately, distinguishing yourself is a lot easier than flying halfway around the world to do a good deed. In this article, we’ll explore a few ways to make your best qualities and accomplishments shine.

First Things First

What are your best qualities and accomplishments? Get out some paper and brainstorm. Here are some possible categories to get you started:

  • Academics
  • Extracurricular
  • Volunteering
  • Other Community Involvement

Be sure to include ongoing and planned events, not just things you’ve completed in the past. For example, if you’ve signed up to take four APs your senior year, write that down. Colleges love students who excel in APs.

After making your list, I bet you feel a bit better about what you’ve accomplished in high school so far. Also, before we go any further, let me emphasize that despite my joke at the beginning of this article, stop comparing yourself to other applicants. After all, many of those so-called ‘humanitarian trips’ cost their volunteers thousands of dollars and might do more harm than good. Check out Habitat for Humanity if you want to build something for the needy.

Examining Your Strengths

So you have your list of best qualities and accomplishments. Here are some questions to consider at this stage:

  • What is my best strength and accomplishment?
  • How do I brag about myself without sounding arrogant?
  • How do I bring up these strengths in my essay?
    • How do I bring up these strengths if my dream college has a specific essay question?

The answer to the first question is completely up to you. Let me help with the others.

How do I brag about myself without sounding arrogant? How do I bring up these strengths in my essay? 

Arrogance is a deal breaker for college admissions counselors. Bragging or even ‘humble bragging’ can’t seem explicit. The solution to this problem is all about framing your accomplishment or strength within a larger story, or in other words, bury the lead.

For example, let’s say you organized a local blood drive. You wouldn’t want to start your essay with ‘I organized a local blood drive.’ You would begin by discussing an event, such as a natural disaster, that caused a blood shortage. You would then transition to feeling compelled to do something. Finally, you would discuss the steps you took to organize the blood drive and the positive results it had, such as a how many pints of blood were donated that day.

How do I bring up these strengths if my dream college has a specific essay question?

At first glance, an assigned essay question or prompt may not seem like a vehicle for your positive qualities to shine. However, just like any piece of personal writing, there are always ways to insert yourself into the story. Let’s look at two examples:

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?

At face value, it doesn’t seem like you could talk up your accomplishments. But let’s say that you’re a history nerd, and you’re taking honors or AP U.S. history this year. Use this prompt as a way to bring up a paper/test/presentation/project/etc. where you excelled.

Are we alone?

Again, another ambiguous question that inspires thoughts of slimy extraterrestrials rather than your accomplishments. For the science geeks reading this question, this one is for you. Discuss your best biology/chemistry/physics class experiments and projects that lend towards your discussion of the possibility of life beyond Earth.

In summary, the key to answering these and other odd prompts is to gradually make the answer about you. You won’t be great at this right away; that’s why you need to have an adult, hopefully one of your teachers, critique your essay’s first draft.

Did You Overcome Adversity?

I know that adversity can be a private and sensitive subject. If you went through something traumatic or painful in the last few years, you might not want to discuss it with someone you’ve never met. However, explaining these life experiences in your essay puts your accomplishments (or lack thereof) in a whole new light. They complete a picture that college admissions counselors need to see before they make a final decision about your application.

Another reason that you might include adversity as part of your essay involves a single word: perseverance, a trait that all colleges and universities want to see in their applicants. So if you have that kind of story to tell, make sure that you tell it in your essay.

How myKlovr Can Help

If you need extra assistance listing and categorizing your accomplishments, consider downloading the myKlovr app. The app’s digital portfolio can help you keep track of this and other important information which will make the college admissions process less stressful.

Final Thoughts

In an applicant pool where just about everyone has good standardized test scores and a boatload of honors/AP courses, your college essays are THE WAY the distinguish yourself from the pack. And though you may not yet know your essay prompts, reviewing your accomplishments now will make your essays shine just a bit brighter than those of your competition.

So shine on, college applicants, shine on.

SPOTLIGHT: Gwen Shares the Ups and Downs About Helping Her Daughter Audition for Performing Arts Colleges

Gwen and I have been friends forever. Our daughters were born two weeks apart. I’ve watched her daughter, Anne, grow into a talented singer, dancer and actress. Witnessing Gwen navigate through the college application and audition process with Anne is overwhelming. I’ve  asked her to share her story. 

Hi Gwen, I was blown away by your recent trip to Chicago with Anne for her Performing Arts college auditions recently. How many auditions did Anne have and how many days did that span? You then went on to Los Angeles for several more, is that right?

National Unified Auditions take place in NYC, Chicago and LA. It’s a way for colleges to see everyone at the same time rather than students making ten plus separate trips to each college. As we live in the UK, this was the only way we could do it. Anne had ten auditions in Chicago over eight days. Then there were two more auditions in Los Angles over four days. And let’s not forget about the twenty-two hour trip to Pittsburgh for the on-campus Carnegie Mellon audition!

How many students auditioned that week in Chicago?

The hotel where most of the auditions took place was like a zoo. The security guard told me there were about 2,000 kids there. The corridors of the audition rooms were littered with students. It was very overwhelming. Then there were also several other locations that you had to get to in the freezing Chicago weather.

Can you tell us about the cut process. Were the kids expected to extend their stay in Chicago if they were called back, or did the callbacks fall within the same week?

Only a few places had cuts at the time of the auditions. Mainly they were same day cuts, or they didn’t ask you to attend the dance portion of the audition (normally later in the day or the next day).

Anne only had one cut in the second round of four rounds. There were fifty kids at this session (there were many sessions) and of the fifty only two were called for the afternoon session.

What was the competition like for Anne? Were there a handful of uber talented kids or were all 2,000 kids super talented?!

They don’t normally audition them together. They are only together in the dance portion, so you don’t see the other kids sing or do their monologues. They all seemed pretty amazing. Most schools pre-cut before you’re asked to a live audition. For the dance there was a lot of intimidating stretching going on. Anne said in general only a handful really had ‘it’.  There were many technically good dancers, but you need to be good to look at too.

How many girls vs. boys auditioned?

WAY more girls.  If you are a talented boy, you have a much greater chance of getting into your school of choice.

What was the logistical process for Anne? I imagine it was 1.) Send in Common App with audition tape and resume. 2.) Anne was invited to audition in person 3.) Anne was cut or called back 4.) Anne was offered a position during audition or will wait with all the other applicants to hear in March/April. 

Basically yes. As we live in the UK, she has also applied to UK schools. I’m not sure they all took Common App, but she did have to do that. A lot you apply directly to the school via their portal.

The applications were all slightly different. It was complex and time consuming. I was out of town for the process and we would spend hours on Skype over the weekends just going through them together and cross checking. So, she and my husband really had their work cut out for them, not just prepping and applying, but finding somewhere to record the required materials.

As well as the recorded audition (two monologues, two songs and a self-choreographed dance example) you’ll need a headshot and resume to take with you to the auditions. We had a friend take the shot, but the printing was around $150.

So now you’ve done your application then you wait to see if you get offered a live audition and if you do, you have to book one. We had a complex excel sheet going with dates and times. One school didn’t have any dates left and so she couldn’t audition (that was puzzling in so many ways).

Then the live audition. In general, they tell you nothing. We know about a couple of places where she’s short listed, but that’s rare to hear. Some places are super nice, but several didn’t even talk to her during the audition.

Once she got back to London, she started the whole process again in the UK. She will not know until end of March for US and she won’t know about the UK ones until May. It’s really stressful and the feeling that you won’t be offered a place is very great and quite real, considering the acceptance rate is around 2% at most of these schools.

Can you walk us through the audition tape process? How many songs/monologues did she prepare? Did she use the same audition tape for every school or did each of the schools require a different tape? (Is “tape” even the right word anymore? LOL. Please correct me!)

Tape, well you and I are old school! You have to upload a QuickTime and it needs to be in a certain format. Each school asks for something slightly different and some want ‘intros’ spoken by the applicant. So, we made about eight different versions, if not more!

Some ask for different styles of songs/monologues – for example, most want one contemporary monologue and one pre-1800s, but some want two contemporary.  They need to be age appropriate, which is hard finding something good for a seventeen/eighteen year-old girl that’s got some meat.

The songs for most, are also contemporary and pre-1950s and need to contrast (i.e. one serious and one funny, to show your range of emotion). Anne went for one soprano and one alto as she has a large singing range, but that’s not necessary.  Also, you only sing one minute of the song, so you have to edit. I can imagine the non-music and non-tech people struggling as we are a family of musicians and techs and even I had help from my office to get these edited and formatted.

Now here’s the rub: You spend an inordinate amount of time choosing these songs and monologues and recording them — then you get your live auditions (hurrah) where you need a whole NEW set of stuff. That took us by surprise, which was silly on our part because we knew beforehand, but it was a scramble to get those new songs up to snuff. It’s very hard to just choose these things in the first place.

How are Anne’s spirits? This seems very intense for an eighteen year-old. Also very exciting! Wondering how she held up and is holding up. 

Oh, it’s a roller coaster. She’s gone from lows to highs and back again within hours. It’s a brutal process and not to be entered into lightly. It’s tough on the parents too.  One mum told me it completely ruined her relationship with her daughter. As a parent, I tried to keep things calm and light and make sure she was never late, had everything she needed and was fed and watered. I planned on working during the auditions, but it was very hard to find the time.

Do you mind estimating how much you spent on this audition week? Including airfare hotels, transportation and food? Also, did the schools require a fee separate from the Common App fee?

WAY TOO MUCH! My husband went for the first week and I joined and took over mid-way through as we both work. So, it was about $4,000 in flights (we live in London), but only a few hundred in accommodations as we mainly stayed with kind friends. We spent a lot on food and taxis as we were running around constantly.  Each audition costs about $100 to apply on top of the Common App and as you are applying to a higher number of schools than you would normally (because of the very low acceptance rate) you have to pay for more AP, SAT & ACT scores to be sent as well.  Plus the Pittsburgh trip — I’d say we spent around $7,000 for travel and applications (I wish I hadn’t added that up!).

Would you do this again, or say, “To hell with it, you’re applying to school as a History major!” What’s your advice to parents thinking about this path for their child?

History!!!! But, that said, if your child is truly passionate about going into theatre and it’s the only thing they’ve ever wanted to do, they’ll embrace this process and so should you.  Expect a hard and stressful time, just try to be ready and organized early.

Should you have a backup plan? Unless you have a super talented boy, or a girl that’s already won a ton of awards, yes, you should. Maybe it’s a foundation course, or a college you can audition into the acting program once there. We don’t have a backup plan and although Anne’s super talented, there are thousands of talented girls and only a few places.

Any parting words?

  1. Start early – we wanted to, but circumstances prevented… I would choose your songs and monologues at the end of 11th grade. Work on them all summer and record just before going back to school. That way, you’re not trying to juggle school, music lessons, the school play, your applications/essays, etc. You’ll also have time to choose your new set of songs and monologues and get them ready before the auditions.
  2. Apply early. The top schools audition slots fill up and you might find yourself taking more trips or not being able to even audition.
  3. Be prepared with clothes. Girls will need several dresses for US auditions. Plain colors, not black, not too low or high. Think Comfortable!!! You’ll need the dance stuff too and shoes. Remember the weather, it’s COLD in Chicago and NYC and warmer in LA. Keep in mind that planes may be delayed with weather, we allowed time in case of snow.
  4. You can do it cheaper — just one parent, book early, etc. I used the trip to take care of some business in LA, so it worked for me. You can also send your kid solo, but I really would advise against that.

Thanks so much, Gwen, for sharing your story with us today!!

You’re welcome and good luck to the parents and kids about to embark on this journey!

 

 

The Final Push for Application Deadlines. How Many Schools Do You Apply To?

So far my daughter has applied to seven in-state schools and one private school. This week she will finish her applications and apply to seven more private schools by January first.

Fifteen applications is way too much in my mind, but seems to be the average. The state schools have a different application than the Common App, but no additional writing supplement required. Some private colleges don’t require any writing supplements, some do. As we enter the last week of December my daughter still has some supplements to write. After final exams and holiday prep, she is exhausted. Senior year is a tough one no doubt. The grades count. The class load is rigorous and the college applications can take over all the free time. Not to mention last minute SAT and ACT tests.

I had hoped she would have completed everything by winter break. But she hasn’t. We aren’t traveling this break so she can focus on the last applications and get some rest. We are all burning out from this process. But it’s an important one so all I can do now is keep the healthy snacks coming, proof read her writing supplements and be there when she is ready to submit.

My tenth grade son is watching all this. He doesn’t say much about college, still focusing on the one school he wants to go to. But his senior year seems like a long time from now. His friends aren’t really talking about college, but they are interested in his sister’s journey. He wants to attend a performing arts school, which require audition tapes and in-person auditions. My daughter’s friends interested in these schools are just beginning the live-audition part. So we will learn from their experiences.

The college application process affects the entire family. It’s time consuming, expensive and emotional. I hadn’t realized how all-consuming it would be. I look forward to when we finally hear and my daughter knows where she’ll be going. But then she won’t be here with us, so there’s that. All this work and effort to watch your child move away from home. Coming to terms with this is the next phase in the application process.

The Early Decision Decision

My daughter Sydney decided to apply Early Decision to her top college. It turned into more of a family decision and a family effort to get out the early application. The deadline being November first.

About four o’clock on Sunday, my tenth-grade son who had burrowed himself in his room all weekend carefully tiptoed between his angst-ridden sister and frustrated father as they proofread her essay for a final time.

“Should I get my hopes up about tonight?” he whispered to me. We had promised a family dinner at his favorite restaurant once his sister submitted, partly to celebrate her submission and partly to thank him for his patience at being ignored during this college frenzy. We’d thought the application would have been done by Saturday morning but Sydney still wanted one more pass at the written supplements, needed to format the essay for the Common App, write Additional Comments, and create a resume for her Slideroom. She had prepped most everything but there were so many more details. Her dad and I took turns reading over things but between the application, play rehearsal and her full load of twelfth-grade homework, she was exhausted. We all were.

Sydney

I can’t help feeling that some of the household stress was based on the realization that if she gets into this college, it’s binding. She will be going. No turning back. How do you make that choice so early in your senior year? Why make that choice? Well, because the odds are much better to get in with Early Decision. In her case, 48% of applicants are admitted during Early Decision, whereas 15% are admitted during regular decision. It seemed like the best bet.

“If you got into all the colleges you loved and money was no object, would this still be your first pick?” I asked. “I can always change my mind, right?” she laughed, “Let’s do this.” So I retrieved my credit card, we paid the fee and she signed her final signature. It was seven-thirty and we were really hungry. We gathered around as she hit the submit button. And it was decided.

The evening ended in celebration at our favorite Mexican restaurant. The staff who have known Sydney since she was a baby brought over a dessert with a candle. We celebrated her hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Wherever she winds up will be the right place. This weekend’s Early Decision was the only first step. There will be many more decisions and celebrations to follow.

Gardening With the Net Price Calculator

With our FAFSA report and CSS profile complete, I started to dig into the Net Price Calculator. Each college and university is required by law to have a Net Price Calculator on their website. About 200 are sponsored by the College Board. The College Board saves your information and makes it easy to estimate your “Calculated Family Contribution.” The other colleges require you to put in basic income and family information.

Once I unearthed our Calculated Family Contribution for our top ten schools, I looked up, bug-eyed, from the computer.

“Give me the rose and the thorn,” my daughter said, using an expression from her counseling class at school.

“Okay, your top school wants to give you a really decent amount of aid. Your second choice, zero aid. Ouch. And your third choice something in between.” The rose, the thorn, and the stem.

But now I wanted to dig deeper. I started checking out lots of schools. Schools we’d never even considered. At the end of the day I think I had looked at about 40 schools, spent over six hours and too much caffeine. It was addicting.

“That’s nothing,” a dad of one of my daughter’s friends told me the next morning. “I ran the numbers for eighty-five schools and I’m still searching.”

The majority of colleges were around the same amount, but there were extremes. I called the top three choice schools asking how accurate those calculations were. The first school told me if my amounts entered were accurate then their calculation would be accurate. The second school, offering us no aid, suggested my daughter might be eligible for merit scholarships, which are not a part of the Net Price Calculations. And the third school said their final package could vary from their calculations based on other factors. I asked if they could tell me what other factors those might be. They said no.

My daughter is planning on applying Early Decision to her top school. This is very tricky since it’s a binding contract financially and I will have to gamble that those estimates are correct. I wonder if it’s better to hold off and have her apply regular decision so that we can weigh the options? Or have her apply Early Decision to her third choice which indicated the best financial aid package, but with unknown factors attached?

We have a week to make up our minds. The Early Decision deadline is November 1. It’s a gamble, that’s for sure. So with a week to go, maybe I’ll rustle around in those rose bushes some more.

Charting Your Educational Path

Today is Columbus Day, and if you have the day off from school, good for you. A lot of high school students don’t, so enjoy your free day. But since you have some time on your hands, let’s talk Columbus, or more specifically, his first journey 525 years ago. Columbus, despite all his promises to the Spanish monarchy, had little to no idea what was he was doing when he set sail. In fact, if the winds hadn’t been favorable, he and the crews of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria would never have made it back home.

Columbus was unsure about a lot of things.

I bet you’re unsure about what this year of high school will bring. Thoughts of college convey the same sense of trepidation, only magnified. Like Columbus, will you make it there? And even when you ‘arrive,’ will your destination be the one you intended? So on this Columbus Day, let’s examine your educational path. Our goal will be to help you create the outline of a map charting your journey to college.

After all, I bet Columbus sure wished he had a map in 1492.

Step One: Determine Where You Are

You can’t figure out where you’re going unless you know where you are. That means sitting down to evaluate everything that makes you, well, you. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What are my interests and passions?
  • What is one thing that makes me unique?
  • If I could change one thing about myself, what would it be?
  • If I could not take one subject in school, what would it be?
  • How have I performed academically in high school so far?
  • Am I enjoying my extracurricular activities?
  • Am I taking an active role in my community?

The answers to these questions will help you create a small, personalized student profile. You’ll have to face a few hard truths, but there will undoubtedly be reasons to pat yourself on the back, as well. No matter what you discover about yourself, you will have taken the first step of your educational path.

Step Two: Decide Where You Want to Go

Deciding to go to college is a big step, but after that, you have to find your dream school. With literally thousands of options, the choices can feel overwhelming. If you’re going to ‘set sail’ for college, you must pick a direction.

By completing step one, you already have a powerful tool at your disposal. For example, by identifying your likes and dislikes, you can write off many colleges due to their course offerings or campus culture. Your academic performance plays another significant role. If you’re a junior who has struggled academically, it’s doubtful that an Ivy League or ultra-competitive school will accept you.

The point is that you’re looking for a college that works not for your parents, not for your peers, but for you. And since applying to college is competitive just about everywhere, you need to choose 4-6 possible colleges where you would be perfectly happy. Make sure your list has the following:

  • One reach school (<20% chance of admittance)
  • Two to three maybe schools (40-70% chance of admittance)
  • One safety school (>90% chance of admittance)

In short, cover your bases. To get you started, here are some key self-reflection questions:

  • Which colleges offer majors in the subjects in which I’m interested?
    • Are these programs well-respected? What are current and former students saying? Where do graduates end up working or go on to graduate school?
  • Do I want to stay close to home or explore a new part of the country?
    • This may seem like a trivial question, but your future school’s location will have a large impact on your life outside the classroom.
  • Why do I like ‘College A’ over all the others?
    • Self-reflection can help you identify other colleges similar to the one you prefer the most.

Step Three: Chart a Course

So you know where you’re going. That’s great! Don’t know how to get there? That’s okay! We’ll figure it out together.

Get out your list of potential colleges and universities. For the moment, ignore the ‘maybe’ and ‘safety’ schools. To chart your educational path, we’re aiming for the top of the list. Everything you do from here on out will make you attractive candidate to that one school.

Why shoot for the moon? Easy. Even if you don’t make it into your top-choice school, you will make yourself the best applicant you can be to all the schools to which you will apply.

Let’s dive into our final set of questions to help you chart your course:

  • Are my standardized test scores comparable to what this college expects of its applicants?
    • If not, how can I improve my scores?
  • Are my classes challenging me?
    • Colleges love applicants who take rigorous courses. (I cannot overstate this enough.)
  • How can I set myself apart from thousands of other applicants?
    • For example, if your dream college promotes community service, you can set yourself apart in your application by promoting the community service you performed in high school. (e.g., Make it the topic of your personal essay. Write about how you went above and beyond!)

Final Thoughts

Well, loyal readers, I hope I’ve given you some tools to help you start your academic journey to college. There’s a lot to do, so don’t be shy about going to your parents, teachers, and college counselors for advice or help. Yes, adults are very busy, but the one’s who offer their help will have the best advice.

Finally, may calm seas and good winds bless your journey.

Starting the School Year on the Right Foot

Labor Day is many things to many people. For adults, Labor Day is a well-deserved day of rest, a chance for one last summer barbecue or swim in the pool. But for college-bound high school students, Labor Day is often a day of uncertainty. How hard will my classes be this year? Will I have enough time for my favorite extra-curricular activities? How do I prepare for the SAT or ACT? What are my chances of getting into college? These are just a few of the questions that can make Labor Day a stressful day.

In this article we’ll explore how students like you can start their year with a strong work ethic that will conquer the back to school jitters and impress college application counselors. So if you’re ready, let’s use Labor Day to make this school year a successful one.

The Back-to-School Jitters 

For many high school students, the beginning of the school year can cause the back to school jitters. This is especially true for students enrolled in honors and/or AP courses. By Labor Day, you might already feel overwhelmed by homework, projects, and upcoming tests. Even AP exams, still months away, seem like an impossible mountain to climb.

 sad school upset frustrated adam sandler GIF

The best way to beat the back to school jitters is to face them head on. If the future workload feels overwhelming, use Labor Day to create a plan of action. How will you organize your time? Which class’ homework/projects are best done first rather than last? Though the plan you create now will require editing as the year progresses, you will surely feel more confident about facing academic challenges in the year ahead.

Work Ethic

I’m certain that at least one teacher has told you that a strong work ethic is necessary for college application success. First of all, he or she was absolutely correct. But what does a strong work ethic look like? Is it the same for everyone? Let’s find out.

A strong work ethic boils down to one word: consistency. A student will continue to perform well even when the pressure is on. However, ‘well’ is different for every student. A student struggling to earn Cs can have just as strong of a work ethic as a student making straight As.

You might think that a strong work ethic means giving your 100% throughout the year. Though a lofty goal, that’s impossible, and will lead to burnout and frustration. Instead, promise to give 95% of everything you’ve got 95% of the time. And when you fail, pick yourself up and keep going. That alone is the sign of a strong work ethic that the best colleges want to see in their applicants.

Demonstrating Work Ethic on College Applications

If you’re a high school upperclassman, the beginning of the school year brings thoughts of what’s next. If college is on your radar, it’s essential that your work ethic shines on your college applications.

Again, consistency is key when it comes to grades. If you struggled as an underclassman, demonstrating steady improvement throughout high school is another excellent sign that you applied a strong work ethic. Everyone, especially college admissions counselors, loves an underdog story.

http://www.pearsoned.com/wp-content/uploads/College-students-walking-into-building-on-campus-770x370.jpg

Grades alone can’t give potential colleges a complete picture of your work ethic. Your college application essays are just as important a piece of admissions success. For example, many students who struggle academically do so because of outside factors such as poor home life, poverty, or a past traumatic event. Using your personal essay to discuss these experiences, and how you worked to overcome them, is a powerful statement about work ethic that no high school transcript can convey.

Final Thoughts

Labor Day is just that, a day. Even if you spend dawn to dusk applying the advice in this article, the process will continue long after you return to school on Tuesday. Every day will bring new and unexpected challenges, but you will be ready to meet them.

So yes, definitely take some time this Labor Day to prepare for the future. You’ll feel better, and be ready to enjoy that final summer swim or burger.

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