I worked at the University of Chicago admission office back in the dark ages, around the turn of the century, when we still read our applications on paper. Around the time you, if you’re a senior in high school, were born. Back then, under a previous Dean of Admission, we were already careful not to weigh test scores too heavily. Sure, they mattered, but the student with the perfect 1600 whose activities were middling and essays were uninteresting did not have an advantage over the student with the 1450 who wrote an excellent essay and whose love of learning and intellectual spirit shined through the app. So while UChicago has momentarily rocked the admission world by being the first major research university in the top tier of selectivity to go test optional, in some ways I expect that the admission process will not change too much. The importance of a student’s love of learning and their intellectual spirit will continue to be a priority in the application over their test scores.
Here at College Coach we get this question a lot. I recently talked to a father whose son was a senior in high school and although it was October, his son had made no strides in researching colleges though his parents had been asking him to do so since his junior year. Just as concerning, their son was consistently earning more Cs than Bs, and not because he had trouble understanding the material. Rather, he simply wasn’t completing his work. His father described him as a good kid, but a little immature for his age and grade level.
With the redesign to the SAT exam that was introduced in 2016, there is no longer a Writing Section to the SAT. Instead, it has been subsumed into the Reading & Writing section. However, there is still an optional Essay section. Given that the SAT essay is optional and not scored on the 200 to 800 score range like the Reading & Writing and Math sections, it appears devalued and many students may choose not to take it.
The University of Chicago’s essay prompts get a lot of attention, and rightfully so. They are typically some of the most interesting and thought provoking that an applicant will encounter. When I was an admissions officer at the University of Chicago, I would regularly hear from applicants that part of the reason they applied was those essay prompts—they couldn’t wait to grapple with them. By contrast, in my later life as a high school counselor, I’d hear from some students, “I don’t want to apply there—those essays look too hard!” Clearly, the essays are serving their purpose for the admissions office by attracting the right students, those who find Chicago’s eccentric brilliance (cough, nerdiness!) to be a match for their own spirit.
So let’s dig into the essay questions themselves. First, just like all supplemental essays at schools which read applications holistically, the Chicago essays should be understood as puzzle pieces that form part of a whole. Each essay fulfills a different part of the application, and each is important.
We’re bringing back our popular series, Meet an Admissions Counselor, where we introduce students and families to a different member of the College Coach admissions team. Drop in to see what we’re reading, where we went to school, and our strategies for beginning the college essay. As you work with us to find an educational consultant who best fits your needs or the needs of your child, we will help you consider the personality and working styles that will bring out the best in you or your student. Today we introduce Sally Ganga, who works with students both remotely in our Westport, CT office.
Where are you from?
Sally: Born in Detroit, MI, but my family moved to Los Angeles when I was two years old. I attended Santa Monica High School.
Where did you go to school?
Sally: Reed College in Portland, OR. I’m currently in classes for an MS from Fairfield University.Continue reading
Applying for college is a confusing and overwhelming project, one that is already challenging for students lucky enough to live in school districts that offer well-funded college counseling offices at their local high schools. Students who attend less well-funded high schools, or who are taking a non-traditional path to college, often fall through the cracks. Here at College Coach, we believe deeply in the power of education, and we are committed to helping everyone access it. To that end, we developed a Community Support Committee a few years ago and are always looking for opportunities to help under-served populations with the college application process by working with the non-profit organizations that serve them.
Workforce Development Program at Dana Farber
A recent highlight of our activities includes volunteering for the Dana Farber Workforce Development Program. The Workforce Development Program mentors students, giving them internships and providing them with job training. In addition, they assist their students with their college applications.
Most students picture opening the envelope or their email, and finding the announcement of their admission to the college of their choice: the ultimate fulfillment of their dreams as a high school student. In general, I find students don’t think much beyond this moment, aside from imagining how great college will be. (For the record, college is pretty great!) Most parents, however, realize that this celebratory moment is just the beginning. The transition to college is really exciting on paper, but it is also one of the most challenging moments in the life of a student and her family.
The College Transition for Parents
Parents, as you try to help your student with the transition to college, you must first and foremost be aware of how different college is from when you attended. Technology, specifically the internet, has dramatically changed how students and parents conduct business with the school.
I was really pleased to hear Tufts University’s announcement that they will be offering a funded gap year program for students. As someone who deferred college for a year to attend a Youth For Understanding (YFU) program in Belgium and benefitted enormously from the experience, I’ve never understood why more U.S. students don’t take gap years.
While many students can’t afford it, which makes Tufts plan to pay students to go abroad all the more exciting, students whose families have the financial means also choose not to go. When I’ve talked to students who are interested in international politics, cultures outside of the U.S., and foreign languages—students who I would think would be very interested in learning more about another country by immersing themselves in the culture—they often say that they don’t want to be “behind.” I think this means they feel that as their peers go off to college and start on the next phase of their lives, they will somehow be left out of that very important experience.
A recent article from WBUR Boston described the terrible tragedy of three Newton South High School students who recently committed suicide. Newton South High School is known as an excellent school with a high-achieving student body and a very rigorous curriculum. The article, written by a Newton parent who is also a professor of psychology, asked what high school administrators and faculty could do to address the enormous stress of the student experience.
While the tragic situation at Newton is thankfully uncommon, many high school students feel enormous stress and pressure to succeed. So what can you, as a parent, do? As a student, how can you help yourself and your friends to get the most out of high school without being overwhelmed? How can families prioritize health and well-being in the midst of everything else that is happening at a child’s high school?