Campus Bound College Admission Blog

Helping high school students and families through the college application process

Posts tagged college essay

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Common App or Confusion App?

You may have heard that the Common Application released a new version this year on August 1. Maybe you’ve heard that there have been technical glitches. Perhaps you’ve even heard high school seniors lament that they won’t be able to apply to college as a result.

My thoughts?

1. Yes, there was a new version released on August 1.

2. Yes, there have been several, lingering technical issues.

3. The problems will NOT impact a student’s ability to apply to college

College counselors wait for August 1 with an anticipation akin to that of a child waiting for her birthday. It is the unofficial start of the college application season, and the first time that high school students all over the world can access and begin to work on filling out their college applications (hopefully students have been working on essays and other supplemental application pieces throughout the summer). 

This August 1 added a level of nervous excitement. We’d heard so much about the release of the new Common Application, the CA4, and attended webinars to help familiarize us with the forms, and now the application was live. Sure, there were a few problems in the first days, which would of course be expected with the release of any new website. At the time, I advised my students to wait a few days for the bugs to be worked out, then create an account and start their applications! Little did I know this was a sign of things to come…

You don’t have to look far in the media to learn about all of the problems that have occurred (a Google search for ‘common app glitches’ returns 1.9 million results). Here is the link to just one article, "Common App glitches frustrate students, expose vulnerabilities in admissions system." 

My students and I experienced a number of the same issues that others did. In some cases, because I was aware of what may happen, I was able to avoid some of the common problems that caused students to submit application fees multiple times. 

I was very concerned that the Common App would not be able to handle the rush of the November 1 deadline and ensured that my students submitted their applications at least a week in advance. To their credit, the Common App has worked furiously to resolve issues as quickly as possible. Although it took them until the 3rd week of October to communicate regularly with counselors and application users, they haven’t shied away from criticism and have taken responsibility for the application’s shortcomings. However, November 1 came and went, and while some students experienced challenges, the vast majority of applications were successfully submitted.

As I’ve had time to reflect on the last month and submitting early applications, a few things stand out:

1. I feel that students who diligently worked on applications and prepared early were unfairly penalized as it was these students who dealt with the bulk of the difficulties. Students who waited until the last minute or who have not yet started the application process will likely not be impacted, at least not to the same degree.

2. This caused an incredibly unnecessary amount of stress and anxiety for ALL involved. Students began to question if they would be able to apply; parents felt frustrated and helpless; guidance counselors took the brunt as the ability to upload transcripts and recommendations to colleges was not fixed until mid-late October! 

3. Regardless of the problems, I continued to tell my students that they would not be penalized by colleges, and that schools would be understanding. In fact, colleges have been very understanding. Schools have extended early decision and early action deadlines, have acknowledged students’ frustrations and ensured them that the Common App will NOT have a negative impact on their application. Some colleges even provided alternative applications through the Universal College Application.

Of course, lots of blame has been placed and fingers pointed, much of it deserved. I’m sure if the Common App had a chance for a do over, there is much they would change. Ultimately, things seem to have worked out OK. Sure, colleges may be a bit behind their timeline because it’s taken longer to receive materials, but the process will continue and soon enough, this will all be a memory. Students will be accepted, deferred, wait listed, and denied, and next fall, hundreds of thousands will enroll at the college of their choice. It’s unfortunate that with perhaps more planning and testing, this could have been avoided altogether.

I sincerely hope that the 2014-2015 is a much smoother process and that the CA5 is many, many years away!

Filed under college admissions common app Campus Bound college college essay applying to college

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Show Colleges The Love

You’ve probably heard about demonstrated interest before - the idea that the interest a student shows in a college (or lack thereof) can impact the admission decision. Submitting strong, error-free, and comprehensive applications are among the most significant ways of demonstrating interest.

When discussing trends in admissions this year, our counseling staff noticed an increased awareness of demonstrated interest, specifically the college visit, in the application process. We saw some students, with academic profiles well in range or above at a particular school, wait listed in large part because he or she had not visited the campus. 

Colleges want to admit students who are truly interested in attending their institution.

In talking with our colleagues in college admission offices around the country, a recurring theme in this year’s applications was that colleges paid very close attention to how much time and care a student took with their application. Thoughtful answers and attention to detail really makes an impact in the admissions process. Colleges want to admit students that are truly interested and want to attend. 

So, how do you balance summer fun with staying on track with the college process? Here are a few tips:

- Check online to see when applications become available or when essay questions are released. In just the past few weeks, Boston College, Georgetown, and Elon have released their applications or their questions. Releasing this information early is a clear sign from colleges that they are giving you ample time to work on your applications - use it!

- The Common Application is available online now. Create an account and begin to work on the application.

- Road trip! Get out and visit schools while you have some time. Try to add some relaxing and fun activities to your trip so it feels like a vacation, too. Campus visits are a great way of demonstrating interest and helping you narrow down the schools and types of schools that are a good match for you. It may be hard once school begins in the fall to visit schools that are a plane ride away, so take advantage while you can.

- Work on your essays! I can’t stress enough how much you will benefit from putting in the time and effort on your applications in the summer. The school year will bring with it schoolwork, activities, and other outside distractions. Students often compare completing college applications to having another academic class, and it can be. Getting a head start now will prevent procrastination, unnecessary nagging from your parents, and most importantly, can help prevent careless mistakes that can negatively impact your application.

To learn more about the importance of demonstrated interest directly from college admissions counselors, check out our webinar at http://www.campusbound.com/firststep.

Filed under admissions college admission college counseling common app college essay demonstrated interest

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The Importance of the College Essay

In November, The Daily Beast posted an article taken from Newsweek entitled “The College Essay: Why Those 500 Words Drive Us Crazy.” The author, who has published a book about the college application process of his own children, chronicles a Washington, DC “lawyer-mom” as she navigates the process with her son. Since the essay is one of the most heavily debated and stressful parts of applying to college, I wanted to give a few observations, based on my experience both as an admission counselor and college counselor.

First, I was amazed at how often the words panic, stress, anxiety appeared in the article. In my opinion, this just perpetuates these feelings. Parents (the intended audience) who read the article will either identify with the sentiment because they are feeling the same way. Parents who aren’t in a panic about their child applying to college will think they should be, and parents on the cusp of beginning the college application process might just want to hide under the bed until it’s over.

I was also struck by how the feelings of anxiety expressed in the article mirror those of many of the families we work with at Campus Bound. I also gained a strong sense of pride from knowing how much I am able to reduce the stress for a family by guiding them through the process.

The article largely focuses on the essay and its “mythical importance.” Citing a recent study that 1 in 4 private colleges places “considerable importance” on the essay and only 1 in 10 public universities gives the same designation. By saying that many colleges spend less than a couple of minutes on an application, the author seems to be saying that students and parents spend so much time worrying about a piece of the application that has no impact on the admission decision. So the advice would appear to be not to spend much time on the essay. However, the author then quotes guidance and admission counselors advising what makes a strong or weak essay.

Most colleges require an essay or personal statement as part of the application. The reality is that there are some colleges that simply process so many applications that they don’t have time to pore over every word of the essay, and in those cases a decision really does come down to grades and test scores. That does not give students license to submit poorly written essays. Take pride in your work and in yourself. The majority of private and smaller schools will read your essay and will be looking for some information about you and your writing ability. Some will read every word, with a red pen (guilty as charged), trying to glean some insight into your personality and what you can bring to the school. Some colleges will spend a few minutes to make sure you can write coherently (you’d be surprised what some students submit as essays). At many selective institutions, the essay can be the tiebreaker to admit or not, or even for a scholarship award.

The last line of the article was particularly bothersome to me. It reads, “…He’s a well-adjusted, normal kid. But that doesn’t make for a good essay, does it.” The student’s mom was referring to the idea that if a student hasn’t climbed Mt. Everest or saved the world by age 12, they are somehow “less than” in the admission process. Few things upset me more as an admission counselor than when a student would say, “I don’t have anything to write [my essay] about. I haven’t had anything bad happen to me and I haven’t done anything special.” Where did we go wrong in teaching our children to be proud of themselves, thankful for what they have, and to pursue their own interests and dreams, not ones they think will make them look good to colleges? True, some of the most poignant essays I’ve ever read have been from students who have overcome incredible hardship and tragedy - it didn’t give them an unfair advantage for admission. And I didn’t dismiss a student who had a fairly typical upbringing and wrote about what was important to them. To use the quote from the article, “well-adjusted, normal” kids can write very strong essays that tell the admission committee about themselves and their place in the world.

My takeaways from the article:

1.     Whether your essay will be read for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, make it as strong and personal as possible. Anything less is a missed opportunity and should you get less than favorable news from the college, you don’t want to be left wondering if you could have done more.

2.     Write your essay as if you are talking directly to an admission counselor who will read every word.

3.     Don’t focus on what you haven’t done or on what hasn’t happened to you. Be grateful for what you have, write about something important to you, and make sure your passion comes through. If your essay shows your best self, you’ve done your job.

Filed under college essay admissions important essay newsweek the daily beast getting into college applying to college college counseling