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  • Helen H. Choi

    Title: Owner

    Company: Admissions Mavens

    • verified

    College Specializations
    University of California-Berkeley, Harvard University, University of Southern California
    Years of Experience
    7

    Colleges I Attended
    Harvard Law School, UC Berkeley, UCLA Extension
    Degrees
    Bachelor's Degree, Professional Degree
    Certifications
    UCLA College Counseling Certificate 2009
    Professional Affiliations
    WACAC, HECA, TOEFL, Harvard Schools and Scholarships Committee
    Prior Job
    California Bar, New York Bar
    Prior Title
    Attorney, Adjunct Instructor USC Law School/USC Language Academy
    About Me
    attorney, law professor, independent college counselor, former Harvard alumni interviewer and college fair representative, writing and ESL tutor for over 20 years, award winning blogger, and mom of two. My private clients have been admitted to Harvard, UC Berkeley, all other UC campuses, Boston College, Stanford, USC, NYU, University of Hong Kong, University of San Diego, and more!

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  • Admissions Expertise

    • Any tips on getting the most out of campus tours and info sessions?

       

      You might attend some tours with a lot of knowledge about the school beforehand and you might attend others without too much knowledge about the institution. Either way -- try to go with an open mind. Try not to let others' perceptions and opinions about a school cloud YOUR feelings about the place. You might be surprised at the things that appeal to you and the things that don't. And try not to be too stressed out as you visit colleges and attend informational sessions. You are just gathering information and facts -- not committing to four years!

    • Are there activities/organizations that impress highly selective colleges?

       

      The question isn't which activities "impress" colleges, but rather which activities interest you? Colleges aren't impressed by particular activities per se -- they are impressed by your commitment, talent, and passion for an activity! It doesn't matter if you are one of the "smart kids" who love Model UN or one of the 'artsy kids" who love Drama Club or one of the "athletic kids" who spend hours in the pool swimming laps. What counts is that you show a deep commitment to doing something that you love. And remember -- that could mean something that you love to do outside of school like ballet, writing comics, skateboarding, or community service!

      Here's some advice that we heard from a Harvard admissions officer a few years ago when she was speaking on the subject of extracurriculars:

      1. Do what you love;

      2. When you do what you love, you'll do it a lot;

      3. When you do something a lot, you'll become very good at it;

      4. When you are good at something, you can be a leader in your field!

      Pretty good advice, right? And you'll note that she never mentioned that you had to be 'well-rounded" and she never said that playing violin or playing water polo or helping the homeless was essential to getting into college. Just do what you love and do it well. Impressive.

    • Can colleges revoke admissions offers? What behaviors can cause this, and how can students protect themselves?

       

      Colleges can and do revoke admissions offers for poor academic performance during 12th grade, violations of school rules, violations of laws, and other behaviors for which the admissions committee has grave concerns.

      Stay the course your senior year with respect to your conduct and your grades, and you won't have anything to worry about with regards to your admissions offer(s).

    • Do prep school students have an automatic advantage?

       

      In the sense that many prep school students come from affluent backgrounds and are privy to some of the best educational opportunities around -- they do, in my opinion, have distinct advantages.

      However, it is one thing to have advantages and it's quite another to make the most of them! Coming from a prep school won't help you in college admissions if you don't work hard in your classes, challenge yourself inside and outside of the classroom, and prepare yourself for the rigors of college academics.

      In addition, it's important to remember that there are many students from middle and lower middle class backgrounds at prep schools who attend on scholarships. Just because you come from a prep school -- doesn't necessarily mean you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth!

      And don't forget -- there are many many public schools in affluent areas that rival and sometimes surpass private prep schools in terms of prestige, resources, and opportunities.

      The most important thing is to make the most of your circumstances -- whether you are in public school, private school, an urban area, or the suburbs. It's you (and not your high school) who can give yourself "advantages" by working to your full potential.

    • Do you need to have a prospective major, or is it okay to be undecided?

       

      Not many high school students know what they'll major in at college -- especially since they haven't been to college yet!

      You don't need to worry if you haven't settled on a major yet -- most colleges do not require that you pick a major until the end of your sophomore year or the beginning of your junior year. That gives at least 4 semesters of exploring your interests and by that time -- you can make an educated and informed decision. Also - during your time at college, be sure to take advantage of student advisory, counseling and career services so that you can choose a wide but smart range of courses. Many college students -- over 50% -- come in as undeclared and once students decide their majors -- many change them two or even three times! So while flip-flopping majors aren't uncommon -- you don't want that to be you -- especially when time and money are at a premium at college.

    • Does class size matter?

       

      Your engagement, involvement, and participation as a member of the class matter much more than the size of the class. Of course - if you are in a smaller class -- it will be much easier to participate in class discussions, engage with the professor and other students, and obtain answers to any questions you may have. These things are much harder to achieve in a large lecture environment. However, even if you are in a large class, that should not stop you from stopping by a professor's office hours and participating in discussions before, during and after class!

    • Can the number of times you contact a college impact your chances?

       

      It is important to contact a college if you need information, set up appointments for interviews, arrange for tours, etc. This is critical not only just for practical purposes, but contacting the college is important as it demonstrates a student's interest in attending the school. "Demonstrated interest" is becoming more and more important in the crazy calculus of college admissions!

      However, don't confuse "demonstrated interest" with annoying and overburdening the admissions office! No need to inundate them with too many phone calls, emails, postcards, and other displays of your affection for the school. Too much contact may be more of a hinderance than a help.

    • Does it matter how many contacts a student has with the school?

       

      The precise number of contacts isn't as important as the quality of that contact. Some kids just "like" the school on facebook and call it a day. Other have long chats with admissions officers at college fairs or school visits. Still other attend campus tours and informational sessions, and even sign up for optional interviews.

      Where the precise number of contacts may matter is if a student (and especially his/her parents) contact the school TOO MANY times. No one likes a pest, right?

    • Does your hometown have any effect on your chances of getting in?

       

      I think that your geographic location can have some effect on college admissions in two instances:

      1. some public universities: in California, we have the University of California system and the Cal State University system. Like many public university systems, the UC system gives priority to in-state residents. However, more and more out-of-state students are being admitted in light of their ability to pay higher tuition to cash-strapped UCs. With regards to the Cal State system -- admissions is extremely localized. By that I mean that preference (and for some campuses like CSU Long Beach and CSU San Diego -- heavy preference) is given to students who live in the immediate vicinity of the campus.

      2. extremely selective schools: some highly selective schools consider geographic diversity an important factor in compiling a "well-rounded" class. For that reason, admissions decisions may include a consideration of an applicant's hometown or home state. If you are from North Carolina or Alaska, you might have experiences and perspectives that are different and unique. That sort of diversity is valued by many schools.

    • Has social media impacted the way colleges communicate with students?

       

      With the rise of social media -- colleges have become much more adept at communicating with students, and prospective students have much more access to the daily happenings on campus. Prospective students can get a glimpse of the most current news, hot topics, and dominant issues that affect a school. However, it is important to remember that the information goes both ways. Be careful and use your good judgment when using social media. To put things bluntly, you don't want to embarrass yourself by posting unsavory, misguided, or just plain stupid things online.

    • How do you deal with overbearing parents during the college process?

       

      Parents of children applying to college these days are called "helicopter" parents, and many admissions officers, counselors, and teachers find that their jobs are made infinitely more difficult because of parental interference. But what do you do if one or both of your parents are of the Blackhawk variety? You can't escape them, and they seem to have their hands in everything from your homework, backpack, phone, web history, and of course your college applications.

      Here's our two-step process for dealing with hovering parents:

      1. Be Understanding: college application time is stressful for everybody in the family. For students -- the pressure is obvious since it is their future on the line. For parents -- this time of their lives is an enormous period of transition as well. They have dedicated so much of the past 2 decades raising children -- and now it's time to say goodbye. And even though they shouldn't feel that their child's college choice is a reflection on their parenting achievements -- many parents do. They feel like they haven't done their "job" well if their child doesn't go to the best school possible. So -- try to be understanding that parents are under enormous stress at this point in their lives. Try to see the good intentions behind the annoying nagging. (You can't change them -- but you can change the way you see them!)

      2. Be Responsible. Another great way to deal with parents is to show that YOU are on top of the process. Show them that you are aware of deadlines and are planning accordingly. Show them that you are working on your essays and speaking with teachers about recommendations. Show them that you can handle the process and let them know that you will come to them with any questions. The more you take control of the process and show them that you are capable, the less anxiety and the more PRIDE your parents will experience!

    • How do you go about contacting alumni from a school you're interested in?

       

      Many colleges have alumni associations which you may contact. You can access those associations via the school's main website. In addition, if you contact the admissions office, you might also be able to find alumni who volunteer with the admissions office to act as liaisons between the school and prospective students.

    • How many schools should students apply to?

       

      There's not really a magic number, but I do think that there are 3 categories of schools that students should consider when compiling their college lists: safety schools, realistic schools, and reach schools. Be careful about those "reach" schools because some schools (the fancy pants ivies, for example) are "reach" schools for EVERYBODY. When categorizing the colleges on your list, be sure to check the median GPAs and test scores (if applicable) for the entering freshman class for the prior year.

      And remember, choose wisely. Choose schools to which you would be happy to attend if you were admitted. That way -- you are practically assured to have many awesome options in the spring!

    • How much do alumni recommendations matter?

       

      Alumni recommendations don't matter more than other recommendations -- just by virtue of coming from alumni.

      It's the substance of the recommendation that counts much more. Therefore, it's really important for the recommender (no matter WHO they are) to KNOW you well so that he/she can write a letter that is meaningful and possibly -- helpful.

    • How should expat applicants approach the admissions process?

       

      If you are an American expat attending school abroad -- you are LUCKY! What a wonderful experience to live and grow up in a foreign country. If you are lucky enough to attend an American or international school -- I'm sure you have friends from ALL OVER THE WORLD. That experience is absolutely priceless!

      When it comes to college admissions, make sure that you make it clear that you bring something special to the table! You bring a great global perspective, and you certainly bring a wealth of information and experiences that can't be duplicated in the U.S. Many college admissions officer appreciate the unique perspectives that expats can bring to their campuses.

      Are you worried about the lack of AP courses at your school? No problem. Colleges (even selective ones) look at whether or not the student has made good use of their school's resources and has challenged herself. They won't punish the student if his school doesn't happen to offer a gazillion APs! By the way, if you attend an IB school and are taking IB coursework, you get all of the benefits of AP students -- and in some instances, college credit. Colleges are familiar with the IB program -- which is growing in popularity in American high schools as well!

    • Once accepted, how do you choose between colleges?

       

      If you are accepted to more than one college and you are torn about deciding among them -- then --- congratulations! Congratulations on your admission and congratulations on intelligently designing your college search so that you now have wonderful options.

      That said -- how DO you choose? I highly recommend visiting (or re-visiting) each of the campuses and attending admitted student events. Also -- check out the admitted student Facebook pages and Twitter feeds for each of the schools. You can learn much more about a school once you are an admitted student and this added information can be extremely helpful to you deciding on which lucky school gets to count you as a student!

    • Should students approach the college process differently in this economy?

       

      Regardless of the current state of the economy, students should pursue college educations in order to strengthen their position in the job market.

      However, in times of a struggling economy, students are right to be concerned about the kinds of colleges they attend, the tuition bills that will result, and the majors that they study. Wondering which majors result in the most jobs and the highest salaries?

      For a look at a very large study conducted by Georgetown University that tracked college majors, their rates of unemployment, and salaries, please see the Wall Street Journal here: http://graphicsweb.wsj.com/documents/NILF1111/#term=

    • What are freshman retention rates and why do they matter?

       

      The freshman retention rate refers to the number of freshmen in a college or university who return for their sophomore year. This is an important number because it tells prospective students how many freshmen liked their experience enough to return to that same school as sophomores. Colleges with low freshman retention rates may be experiencing high rates of drop outs and transfer students, so it is very important to make sure you find out the freshmen retention rates of the colleges that interest you! An easy way to find out the freshmen retention rates (and 4, 5 and 6 year graduation rates) of any college, just go to www.collegeresults.org. They have that information for almost every school in the U.S.

    • Is it better to stick close to home or go to school far away?

       

      Like most things in the college admissions journey -- the answer is... it depends on your individual situation.

      Factors such as personal preference, family concerns, financial issues, quality of the school, and choice of major, and many more -- all play a part in answering this question.

      A student must take a look at her priorities first in order to answer this question in a meaningful way.

    • What are some questions you should ask on an overnight stay?

       

      During an overnight stay, you will be around many current students attending school there so you can really get the inside scoop!

      Here are some questions to consider asking:

      1. are you glad that you decided to come here?

      2. what aspects of the school didn't meet your expectations?

      3. what aspects of the school exceeded your expectations?

      4. what do you wish you could change about your school?

      5. what are you looking forward to doing this school year?

      I would also really recommend that you observe the living habits of the students around you. Do they seem to focus at lot on studying? Partying? Socializing? Working? What's the atmosphere? Casual? Happy? Intense?

      Staying overnight can be very eye-opening for high school seniors! However, remember that you are there for less than 24 hours so while you can get a glimpse of a school's community -- it's only a snap shot.

    • What are some tips for college visits?

       

      Before you visit a college -- ask yourself a few questions about what YOU want in a college. Once you do this -- you will be able to pinpoint the qualities that are important to you.

      Think about the kind of geographic location you are looking for in a college. Think about the subjects that interest you and new topics that you'd like to explore. Think about your personal, academic and career goals that you'd like to achieve in college. And finally, think about what kind of learner you are. Are you the kind of person who learns just fine in a large lecture setting or are you more comfortable in a small classroom setting with lots of discussion? Are you the kind of person who learns best by doing? Are you interested in research? Are you interested in traveling and studying abroad?

      Once you begin to know yourself better, you will be able to ask the questions that most relevant to you, your experience, and your priorities.

    • What are the benefits of taking AP exams in high school?

       

      There are many academic and economic benefits of taking AP exams in high school. Not only does the AP experience help to prepare you for college courses, but if you pass an AP exam, you can show colleges that you are ready for college-level work. In addition, many college accept certain passing scores on some AP exams for college credit -- which means that you can enter your freshman year with some requirements already met! In some instances, students with many APs can finish college on an accelerated schedule. This can be a definite time and money saver!

    • What are the best ways to navigate a college's website?

       

      The best way to get real statistics regarding admissions rates, academic profiles of admitted students, and the availability of financial aid is to Google the name of the school you are interested in along with the phrase "Common Data Set." The Common Data Set is "a collaborative effort among data providers in the higher education community and publishers as represented by the College Board, Peterson's, and U.S. News & World Report. The combined goal of this collaboration is to improve the quality and accuracy of information provided to all involved in a student's transition into higher education, as well as to reduce the reporting burden on data providers." It has all kinds of juicy information like number of applicants, number of applicants accepted, AND the number of applicants enrolled. It also provides information on how much need based and merit based financial aid a college has given each year. The CDS also provides information as to the numbers of students in various majors and degrees earned. For more information about the Common Data Set, please see http://www.commondataset.org/. If a school chooses to share its CDS answers with the public, it will usually be part of their Office of Institutional Research. If a school doesn't provide their CDS on their website, you should ask for it or ask why they don't share this information.

    • What are women's colleges like?

       

      For young women who are looking for challenging, yet nurturing college environments -- women's colleges can be a great fit.

      Most women's colleges are small liberal arts colleges that provide small class sizes, lots of opportunities to interact with faculty, and a strong, cohesive community. Many women's colleges are also part of a large network of colleges so that students can cross-register and also participate in many activities outside of their home college. Mount Holyoke and Smith College are two women's colleges that are part of the Five College Consortium along with UMass Amherst, Amherst College, and Hampshire College. Similarly, women who attend Scripps College in Los Angeles can also take courses at the other schools in the Claremont Consortium -- which includes Pitzer, Pomona, Harvey Mudd, and Claremont McKenna.

    • What can high school seniors do to enhance their chances of admission?

       

      Seniors can best improve their chances of admission by committing to a solid course of study (challenging classes), maintaining and/or improving their grades, and preparing diligently for their standardized tests.

    • What do college students wish they'd done differently in high school?

       

      Most college students wish that they would have gotten their academic act together a bit sooner in their high school careers. Why? Having better grades and possessing more finely tuned work habits -- lead to more college options and better college performance!

      College students also counsel high school students to worry less about college admissions. This is great advice because worrying never got anyone into college! Instead of worrying or regretting -- put your energy and resources into making the most of your present!

    • What do current students wish they had known when applying to college?

       

      Most students wish that they had studied a bit more in high school so that they were more prepared for the rigors of college.

      Jeremy Lin, a Harvard graduate, basketball team co-captain at Harvard, and current development team member of the Golden State Warriors, is a wonderful source of inspiration for high school students. He recommends that while high school students should work hard and be diligent, they should also try to relax a bit and enjoy high school because the four years pass so quickly.

      That's great advice -- not just for college but for life!

    • What do students really think about their school?

       

      Sites such as Unigo and College Prowler are great ways to collect a students' opinions. Be careful - though -- people who go through the trouble of commenting are sometimes either really happy with their school or really unhappy.

      Colleges are microcosms of society in that you will find people with varying degrees of enthusiasm for their circumstances. Some people will rave about small classes. Other will complain about them. Some might bemoan the lack of faculty accessiblity -- while others will regale you about having lunch with their professors every day --- all at the same school!

      So -- rather than focus too much on gathering information from others -- try and get a good grasp of your opinions about a school -- based on solid research. Your opinions count more than others' when it comes to your own college experience.

    • What exactly are US News and the College Board?

       

      US News and World Report is news magazine -- similar to Time and Newsweek. US News has branched out into the "ranking" industry. Every year, it ranks colleges, law firms, hospitals, cars, vacations, etc.

      The College Board corporation is a company that sells and administers the following exams: PSAT, SAT, SAT Subject tests, and the Advanced Placement exams.

    • What extracurriculars are most important?

       

      Only you know the answer to this question, because the only extracurriculars that are truly important are the ones that are most meaningful to you! As a busy high school student, you probably don't have much time -- so choose HOW you spend your time in a meaningful way. Don't just join a club or participate in an activity because you think that it will "look good" on your college application. Choose activities that you enjoy and that motivate you to work hard to get the most out of them. Meaningful engagement is definitely more important than joining a club/activity to look "well-rounded." And believe it or not -- the difference is readily apparent to admissions officers. They have seen thousands of applications -- and they have the experience to see the difference between students engaged in activities they feel truly passionate about and students who are doing things to impress others.

      So... if you want to spend your time doing things that you actually ENJOY AND things that will "impress" admissions officers -- choose activities for which you have an authentic and meaningful interest.

    • What if you can't visit a school?

       

      If you can't visit a school in person -- you can still visit a school's website and get tons of information about it. You can access virtual campus tours, speak to student ambassadors, and obtain extensive and up to date news and developments about the college community.

      In addition to studying schools' websites, you can also obtain student perspectives on colleges by going on sites such as Unigo and College Prowler. You can also make sure to contact the admissions offices of the schools in which you are interested to find out if and when admissions officers will be coming to your region for school visits and college fairs. In this day and age when colleges are broadening their search for students -- many will come to you!

    • What should high school students do before the summer of their senior year?

       

      While this may not be a popular answer -- we highly recommend that students start on their college essays during the summer. At the very least, students should review essay prompts and begin the brainstorming process.

      While fall and winter application deadlines can seem very far away in July and August -- the first semester of senior year is an intense whirlwind of activity -- and before you know it -- it will be Halloween and early decision/action deadlines will be right around the corner.

      In order to write a solid, authentic, and compelling essay, a student needs to devote some time and careful thought to the process. By starting in the summer -- away from the crush of academics and extracurriculars -- you can build a strong foundation to crafting essays that truly reflect the great person that you are.

    • What should you do if your high school doesn't offer advanced classes?

       

      First off -- don't worry. Individual students will not be penalized for the curricular and institutional policies in their high schools which limit advanced course offerings. Colleges will know which courses your school offers because your high school submits a "school report" which describes what kinds of courses it offers.

      That said -- if you have exhausted the course offerings at your school -- consider pursuing some intellectual interests on your own. Check out your local community college or reputable online schools for AP or other advanced offerings. In addition, remember that you can take the AP exam without taking an AP course! So if you are taking a course at a local college or online that essentially covers AP material -- you might want to consider looking into taking the relevant AP.

    • What's the best time to visit a college campus?

       

      Most people advise students to visit college campuses when classes are in session during the fall or spring. That's good advice because high school students can then talk to lots of students, drop in on a class or two, and get a good idea of student life (clubs, sports, dining facilities, etc.)

      However, because juniors and seniors in high school have insanely busy schedules during the fall and spring, many families choose to visit in the summer, spring break, or winter break. If you end up visiting during this time -- don't despair! You can still get a feel for the campus and its surrounding environs, and you will always see a student or professor around the library! And... you never know...if you are lucky enough to be on campus during a college's "jan term" or "winter intersession" -- you might be able to get a sense of what special offerings the college offers during that time.

    • When should students start the college search?

       

      I recommend that most students start seriously thinking about their individual colleges searches during their junior year. There is really no need to start researching individual colleges prior to that time.

      However, in order to give themselves the widest array of options available when senior year rolls around, I always remind students that they can start preparation in the 9th and 10th grades by building strong study skills, self-discipline, and a solid academic record.

    • Where should students begin with the college search?

       

      Junior year is probably a good time for most students to begin thinking about college in earnest. However, in terms of college preparation and building up your academic record, I feel that 9th grade is when students need to really think about time management, academic diligence, and personal accountability.

      Once you are a junior in high school, it's too late to "fix" your 9-10th grade GPAs. It is also difficult to change deeply ingrained habits.

      So -- while thinking about colleges can probably wait until your junior year -- PREPARING for college needs to start in 9th grade.

    • Who should come with you on college visits?

       

      You should come with any family members or trusted friends that you choose. You might want remind them (gently, of course) that this is YOUR college visit and that YOU will be in charge of the agenda!

      Of course -- this means that you will have to take the initiative and really study up on the college and think about what kinds of qualities you are looking for --- rather than relying on mom and dad. But you are up to the task, right? If you are responsible and self-motivated -- there's no reason that you can't be the driver of your college journey!

    • How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

       

      How important are college rankings? It depends on who you are.

      If you are a magazine like US News and make huge profits off of those rankings, rankings are very important.

      If you are a college, rankings are important to you if your ranking is high or is improving. If you are a college and your ranking is on the low-ish side -- well then -- they probably aren't very important to you.

      If you are a high school student, rankings should not be of great concern to you. Sure -- you probably have a few peers who are crowing about how they are going to apply to Stanford because its ranking is higher than that of USC, but really -- are you that shallow?

      You -- being the highly intelligent, strong, motivated, and deep thinking individual that you are -- are probably looking at what YOU want out of colleges FIRST and THEN look at colleges that have those characteristics, right? Right!

      Besides, rankings are so variable. One ranking's number 5 might be another's number 35. There are so many rankings out there now (US News, World University Rankings/Thompson Reuters, Forbes, Washington Monthly, Parade), you will probably be able to find a ranking to justify your college choice!

    • Can what I post on Facebook affect my chances of getting accepted?

       

      Kaplan Test Prep conducted a survey recently and found that 24% of admissions officers checked an applicant's Facebook page and about 20% of admissions officers admitted to "Googling" an applicant! What do you think of those odds?

      Do most admissions officers spend their precious time trolling Facebook? Probably not. But what about an ex-girlfriend or jealous frenemy? What about a really competitive fellow classmate? What about your cousin who likes to play practical jokes? Could they possibly forward that onto the colleges to which you applied?

      You just never know so take precautions! Double check your friend list, your privacy settings, and your common sense before posting online. If you're unsure about some information or photos that you've posted online, ask yourself -- "what would grandma say?"

    • I want to make the most of campus visits. What should I do, look for, and ask while I’m there?

       

      Before you attend a campus visit, ask yourself what sorts of things you want out of college. By knowing yourself -- you can really streamline the college admissions journey for yourself and save time, money, and energy.

      Think about the kind of geographic location you are looking for in a college. Think about the subjects that interest you and new topics that you'd like to explore. Think about your personal, academic and career goals that you'd like to achieve in college. And finally, think about what kind of learner you are. Are you the kind of person who learns just fine in a large lecture setting or are you more comfortable in a small classroom setting with lots of discussion? Are you the kind of person who learns best by doing? Are you interested in research? Are you interested in traveling and studying abroad?

      Once you begin to know yourself better, you will be able to ask the questions that most relevant to you, your experience, and your priorities.

    • As a high school junior, what are the most important things for me to do before senior year?

       

      Study, study, study!

      Study for your coursework to ensure that you are learning and getting the most out of your classes. Your GPA is important no matter where you decide to apply and no matter if you are an athlete, artist, or student body president!

      Study for your SATs, ACTs -- as well as your SAT subject exams. Prepare as much as possible so that you can minimize the number of times you need to re-take the exams. While colleges don't seem to mind if you take exams multiple times -- YOU should! You don't want to be cramming for the SATs in your senior year -- do you??? (Make sure you keep on top of all the exam dates! AP exams are in May so you might want to take the March or June SAT. For more information on the SAT, SAT subject tests and the AP exams -- please go to collegeboard.com)

      Study a college guide or two so that you can obtain a general lay of the college landscape. One guide that I find very helpful for students is the Fiske Guide to Colleges. Of course, Unigo is also a great resource to find out what students have to say about colleges.

      You probably have a busy summer planned -- but I hope that you at least try to take a look at the Common Application -- which goes live every August 1. You can register and set up your account, and perhaps even get started on brainstorming or drafting your essays! The fall of your senior year will go by faster than you think!

    • We don't have time or money to visit some schools I’m really interested in. What can I do?

       

      In addition to studying schools' websites, you can also obtain student perspectives on colleges by going on sites such as Unigo and College Prowler. You can also make sure to contact the admissions offices of the schools in which you are interested to find out if and when admissions officers will be coming to your region for school visits and college fairs. In this day and age when colleges are broadening their search for students -- many will come to you!

    • If I haven’t found the right extracurriculars, can I still appear to be a dedicated student?

       

      What's more important? Appearing to be a dedicated student or actually being a dedicated student?

      If you are genuinely someone who is hardworking, dedicated and passionate about academics -- you are probably also someone who can bring those characteristics to activities which really interest you. Try to look beyond what others are doing and look at what really interests you.

      Any activity (inside or outside of school) that you love and are passionate about -- can be the "right" extracurricular activity. Remember -- it's not whether you are president of Spanish club or co-capt of the dance team that's important -- it's whether or not you can demonstrate your commitment, dedication, passion, and enthusiasm for a particular venture that really counts.

    • What are the most significant, avoidable mistakes students make in the admissions process?

       

      Here are some significant and sadly, common mistakes:

      1. grammatical and spelling errors

      2. submitting the wrong essay to a school

      3. procrastinating with regards to deadlines and having to deal with crashing computers, overloaded online application systems, and.... freak October snowstorms that knock out electricity!

      4. failing to "demonstrate interest" in a school. (This one is particularly sad because it's such as easy requirement. All that you need to do is to get on their mailing lists, attend a campus tour (in person or virtually), talk to a college rep at a college fair or on the phone, or even just "liking" them on facebook.)

    • What are the most accepted or exaggerated myths about the college admissions process?

       

      One of the most pervasive myths regarding college admissions in America is that it is absolutely impossible to get into your first choice school these days! You have probably heard about all of the perfect students/athletes/musicians/etc. who have been rejected by every school on East Coast, right? Well -- as the kids say, "whatever."

      According to a survey of college freshmen by UCLA, 79% of students said that they were accepted into their first choice school. That's almost 80%!

      Instead of relying on word of mouth, urban myths and parental paranoia -- get the facts! You can find out more about UCLA's annual survey here: http://www.heri.ucla.edu/

      Also -- check out the National Association for College Admissions Counseling's 2011 State of College Admission report at http://www.nacacnet.org/AboutNACAC/PressRoom/2011/Pages/SOCA2011.aspx

      According to NACAC -- the average rate of admission for the colleges participating in the report was over 65%! That's right! Over 65%!

      Once you get the FACTS about college admissions -- you'll see that you won't need to get so stressed out. Knowledge is power!

    • Does gender bias exist in college admissions?

       

      As you flip through your guidebooks, you might notice that in many schools, there seems to be more young women than young men in the entering freshmen class. In instances where there are significantly more female students than male students, I think that some schools are somewhat sensitive about an applicant's gender to a small extent. Remember -- schools are interested in compiling a well-rounded student community -- and that means a relatively equal distribution of female and male students.

      On the flip side, you might notice that in some science/engineering colleges, there are decidedly more men than women. Does being a women benefit you in those instances? Not really. I don't think so or else there would be tons more women admitted, right? However, in cases where the admissions committee members are 'on the fence" about an applicant -- gender might be one of the deciding factors when the admissions staff is putting together a cohesive class.

    • Do admissions officers know each high school relatively well?

       

      Admissions officers usually have specific regions of the country for which they are responsible. That means that they don't need to know the merits and strengths of every high school in the U.S.! They are focused on smaller regions. Admissions officers also have the benefit of studying the school reports submitted with each application. School reports provide admissions officers with information regarding the strength of curriculum, student achievement levels (grades/test scores), and other information like extracurricular offerings for the applicant's school. That way -- admissions officers can get an idea of the quality of the high school -- and also -- where the applicant falls within the student body. Admissions officers also visit specific schools and participate in regional/local college fairs so they can also get to know high schools in these ways as well.

    • How much time do admissions officers spend with each application?

       

      As you probably guessed, it depends on the school. For some large schools like UCLA, chances are that your application won't get much more than 10 minutes by 2 people. (They have to read over 50,000 applications after all!

      At smaller schools, your application might get a bit more time -- perhaps 15-30 minutes for each reader. Depending on the school, there may be more than 1 or 2 readers per application.

    • Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

       

      Many colleges have supplements to the Common Application for two reasons:

      (1) to determine how much the applicant knows about and wants to go to the school; and

      (2) to ask specific questions of the applicant that the general Common Application prompts do not cover.

      Many schools include the following question in their supplements: "Why us?" They want to know why the applicant has chosen to apply to their particular school. Schools use this question to determine an applicant's "demonstrated interest" and to gauge the student's enthusiasm for the school. If a student knows quite a lot about the school through alumni, school visits, etc., a student will be able to answer this question with lots of telling details. This signals to the school that the student has a strong interest in the school and is more likely to accept an offer than a student who has less of demonstrated interest.

      Schools also use supplements to gauge a student's "fit" with the general tenor and vibe of the school. Some schools have a unique personality, and they want to make sure that students can find a solid place within that community. For example, the University of Chicago offers students extremely unusual essay prompts such as "Don't write about reverse psychology" and "Tell us about your non-scientific method." You can really tell a lot about this school and about the type of students they attract by such creative, whimsical and thought-provoking prompts!

    • How can students stand out on their application?

       

      Students can stand out in the application process by standing out in real life. If you challenge yourself academically, choose your activities thoughtfully, and pursue your passions authentically -- you will stand out.

      Don't be lemming and don't follow others' leads blindly. Just because "everyone" joins Model UN because it "looks good" on your application or "everyone" says you have to be "well-rounded" -- doesn't mean it's true. Think about the choices you make and don't be afraid to choose the path that speaks to your heart.

      If you follow the path that "everyone" else is taking -- it will be very difficult for you to show your humanity and individuality during college admissions time. So -- do you have to do well academically? Yes. Do you have to challenge yourself? Yes. Do you have to engage yourself outside of the classroom? Yes. But if you can do those things thoughtfully, deliberately, and with courage and verve -- you can stand out and show that you are more than the sum of your test scores and GPA.

    • Can students apply to college online?

       

      In fact, the vast majority of colleges in the US offer (and prefer) receiving applications online. Over 400 colleges and universities accept the Common Application, and over 50 schools accept the Universal Application. In addition, many public universities, such as the University of California, have their own online applications.

    • Do colleges view online applications the same as paper applications?

       

      While the vast majority of students apply to college online, there are a few here and there who apply using paper applications. If you do decide to use paper applications, you should remember to give yourself a bit more time to gather your teacher recommendations and school reports -- as your recommenders and counselors will have to use snail mail for their components as well.

      Whatever mode you choose, remember that it's what on the INSIDE of the application that matters rather than how the information is presented!

    • Does it help to include supplemental materials with your application?

       

      What are supplementary materials? In college applications, supplementary materials could include CDs of your musical performances, DVDs showcasing your acting skills, blogs highlighting your writing skills, and websites presenting your artwork or writing, etc. Visual artists, writers, and performing artists can really benefit from submitting supplemental materials because the quality, depth, and breadth of their talents can be difficult to ascertain within the four corners of an application.

      If you feel that supplementary materials can enhance the admissions staff's picture of you as an applicant, you may want to consider submitting them. However, be sure to keep in mind that supplementary materials most likely will be forwarded to the appropriate departmental staff for review. For example, if you submit a CD of you playing the piano, it will be forwarded to the music department for review. If you submit a link to your art portfolio, it will be forwarded to the art department. In other words, experts in the field will be reviewing your work so make sure you submit your best efforts.

    • Does submitting your application ahead of the deadline improve your chances?

       

      I always recommend submitting your application ahead of the deadline because I find that by doing so, students can avoid any last minute problems with online submission. That very practical reason is really the main one for why I suggest students submit application early.

      Submitting an application early will not enhance or decrease one's chance of admission. Many admissions officers are traveling in the fall and early winter and do not have the time and opportunity to review applications that have trickled in early.

    • What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?

       

      Two very common "red flags" that can be detrimental to an applicant are:

      1. carelessness: sometimes students do not proofread their applications and as a result, spelling errors and other "typos" are not corrected. Take the time to read your application out loud and ask someone else to read it as well. In addition to these small errors, another very common mistake is to submit the wrong supplemental essay to a school. For example -- submitting your "why I love USC essay" to the University San Diego! Be careful and check your work!

      2. inconsistencies: one very glaring "red flag" is inconsistency within one's academic record. This commonly occurs when a student with average grades in English courses and 500-ish scores on the verbal section of the SAT submits a super high-quality essay that conveys a mature and seasoned writing style. This sort of inconsistency can certainly raise the suspicions of admissions staff!

    • Is a student-submitted resume suggested? How/when/where?

       

      I think that it's important to know how to compile a solid resume because resume writing is definitely an important life skill.

      However, I don't recommend submitting a separate resume along with your college applications for the following reasons:

      1. some colleges expressly tell applicants NOT to submit separate resumes;

      2. most applications (including the Common Application) provide ample space for you to list your activities, accomplishments, and honors;

      3. most of the student resumes just repeat information that is already set forth in the application;

      4. some application readers find having to read additional materials annoying; and

      5. many resumes are not read at all and therefore are a waste of your time.

      If you do decide to submit a resume, make sure that the colleges to which you are applying do not expressly request that you do NOT submit them. Also - craft your resumes with care. Do not list the same activity/accomplishment more than once in order to "beef up" your accomplishments. Many students will list membership in "honor" societies under "honors" and "activities." Once is sufficient. "Double dipping" just makes your look bad. In my many years of interviewing applicants for Harvard, I found that having to wade through 3-4 page resumes only to find that the same activity was listed two, three and sometimes four times -- was a truly negative experience and duly noted on my interview report to the school.

      Don't make it difficult for admissions officer to find out who you are. Keep it simple and direct and put forth your best efforts on the application. If you have the time to devote to agonizing over a resume, you have the time to craft an elegant application that sets forth the best version of you. Your application readers will be able to "get" you quickly and THAT is the goal -- right?

    • What exactly is the common app?

       

      The Common Application is an online undergraduate first year and transfer application that is currently accepted by over 450 colleges and universities in the U.S. Once students complete and submit the application and Common App essays -- it will be forwarded to the schools of the students' choosing. In addition, the Common App also provides students with access to particular schools' "supplemental" information requests (essays). Students can submit their answers to the supplements online. School reports, teacher's recs, and counselor recs can also be submitted online through the Common App.

    • What is the universal application?

       

      The Universal Application is an online application service -- very similar to the Common Application. The big difference is that the Universal Application has a little over 50 schools in its consortium and the Common Application has over 450. There's no advantage in using one service over the other. If you decide to use the Universal Application this year, just be sure that all or most of the schools to which you are applying are members so that you save time, energy and anxiety! For more information on the Universal Application, check out their site: https://www.universalcollegeapp.com/index.cfm?ACT=Display&APP=APPONLINE&DSP=COLLEGEINFO

    • What are the most important components of the application?

       

      The most important component of your application is your transcript. Your grades and academic performance in college prep courses and general courses are most important.

      In the frenzy and confusion over millions of extracurricular activities and gimmicky essays and trying to track down the "best" letters of recommendation -- sometimes the most basic and fundamental element of a college application gets lost in the shuffle -- ACADEMICS.

      Choose coursework that challenges you. Be diligent about your classwork. Take initiative and interest in your education. Almost every college in America points to the transcript first and foremost.

    • How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?

       

      When students think about teacher recommendations, they usually first consider asking the teacher in whose class they received the coveted "A." That sometimes leads to them receiving a letter that says something like this: "John is a good student. He received an A in my class."

      Now -- that doesn't give the admissions office any information that the transcript doesn't already provide, right?

      Let's think about why college ask of letters of recommendation. Colleges look to teachers for information about the student's class behavior, character, and personality. The best letters of recommendation, therefore, are the ones that can provide insight into a student's work habits, strength of character, and intellectual curiosity. That might mean that a student might receive a stronger letter from a teacher in whose course she struggled mightily to get a B- than from a teacher in whose course she received an A without much effort.

      So -- think about which teacher knows you best in terms of who you are as a student and as a member of the school community when considering someone as a provider of a recommendation letter.

    • How can planning increase a student's chance of getting great teacher recommendations?

       

      The best way to plan ahead with regards to letters of recommendation is to be an active and engaged student in class. Pay attention, ask thoughtful questions, and be a considerate student and classmate to your teacher and peers. If you are particularly interested in a specific topic -- ask your teacher for further resources. You don't need to "kiss up" to the teacher or pretend to have an intellectual interest. However, if you are genuinely interested in something -- try to pursue it -- regardless of any "extra credit" involved.

      Being an active participant in your learning process (rather than being a whiny grade grubber) is a great way to show your maturity and character in the classroom. By doing this, you will not only learn for enjoyment -- but you might also receive a great teacher evaluation!

    • Can students speed up the recommendation letter process and still get great results?

       

      The best way to make sure that all of your recommendation letters are submitted by your teachers in a timely fashion is to show courtesy to your recommenders by informing them of your requests as early as possible. Ask them if they would write you a letter as soon as possible -- even as early as the spring of your junior year. Provide them with the requisite information as soon as possible. If you are applying through the Common Application, let your recommenders know this so that they can choose to submit their letters electronically.

    • What is the best way to handle getting waitlisted or deferred?

       

      If you get waitlisted or deferred, try to move on with your life! Sure -- you can let the school know that you are still interested (if you are), but other than that -- try to look at your other options rather than dwelling on your waitlist or deferred status.

      For many schools, the number of waitlisted students often EXCEEDS the total number of freshmen spots! Isn't that incredible? In addition, despite the sometimes 1000s of students on a waitlist, a school will only end up admitting a few dozen (or sometimes ZERO) students!

      For your sanity (and your family's sanity), treat your waitlist status as a "soft" no from the school, and move on and examine the other options that you have. If you did a good job of selecting a variety of schools on your college list, you probably have more than a few great options for your college future!

    • How can you get in off the wait list?

       

      If you decide to remain on a school's waitlist, be sure to let them know of your decision. Once you have done this, you might want to write the admissions committee a letter informing them of any new (and relevant) developments in your life. After that -- the ball's in their court, and there's not much you can do. Don't bake cookies and send them to the school. Don't e-mail your regional admissions officer every day/week asking them for updates. Why? Well -- bombarding admissions officers with desperate-sounding emails and baked goods just don't work. Remember that application that you sent off in the winter? THAT'S what they'll be looking at if they decide to re-visit your application -- not your scary emails and double fudge brownies!

    • How can you get in off the waitlist?

       

      If you decide to remain on a school's waitlist, be sure to let them know of your decision. Once you have done this, you might want to write the admissions committee a letter informing them of any new (and relevant) developments in your life. After that -- the ball's in their court, and there's not much you can do. Don't bake cookies and send them to the school. Don't e-mail your regional admissions officer every day/week asking them for updates. Why? Well -- bombarding admissions officers with desperate-sounding emails and baked goods just don't work. Remember that application that you sent off in the winter? THAT'S what they'll be looking at if they decide to re-visit your application -- not your scary emails and double fudge brownies!

    • How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

       

      Some schools are test optional -- which means that you do not need to submit test scores if you feel that test scores do not accurately reflect your academic abilities! For a list of test optional schools, please go to www.fairtest.org.

      Many public state schools weigh test scores quite heavily -- almost on par with grades in college prep courses! Still other schools -- really try to look at the totality of your application and view your test scores as just part of the entire picture.

    • What are the best ways to prepare for the SAT and which study methods are worth paying for?

       

      There are lots of ways to prepare for the SAT: self-study, SAT classes online, SAT classes in-person, individual tutoring, and combinations of all these methods.

      First ask yourself -- how do you learn best and most efficiently? Do you like studying on your own and do you have the discipline to follow a self-designed study schedule? Are you able to learn most efficiently and effectively in a group lecture setting? Do you prefer one-on -one tutoring?

      Many students find that they prepare best when they commit to a combination of these methods. SAT classes are great -- but without self-study at home, they might not be that effective. Self-study can also be useful but where do you go if you have questions? Individual tutoring may be helpful -- but it can also be quite cost prohibitive. You might want to receive tutoring on the portion that you find more difficult, and then use a study guide or group classes for the remaining portions.

      There are many online and in-person options available. You can always go to your neighborhood bookstore or library to check out a SAT study guide. I always recommend getting the study guide prepared by the College Board -- since they are the ones who prepare the SAT. In addition, there are also many new apps for your phone available that make your SAT study goals more readily achievable!

      No matter which method or methods that you choose, however, the bottom line is that you have to devote time and quality effort into this endeavor. That's really the only way to prepare.

    • How can a student figure out which standardized tests to take, when, and how many times?

       

      The best way to find out which test (SAT or ACT) suits you best is to take some practice exams, the PLAN in 10th grade and the PSAT in 10th grade.

      I highly recommend preparing and studying for the SAT or the ACT by early to mid spring of your junior year. That way -- you can take your SAT subject exams and any AP exams later that spring.

      If you do well on your junior year exams, you won't be scrambling to study for and take any exams during your senior year. The first semester of your senior is jam packed with activities, academics, etc., and many students find that preparing to take the SAT or ACT again very difficult.

      If you find that your results on standardized exams like the SAT and the ACT do not truly reflect your abilities as a student, please consider the hundreds of top notch schools that are test optional. "Test optional" means that you do not need to submit your scores when you apply. Highly selective schools like Bowdoin College in Maine and Smith College in Massachusetts are just a few of the many wonderful test optional schools. For a very comprehensive list of test optional schools, please check out Fairtest.org.

    • Is the SAT still as important as it used to be? If so, how?

       

      The SAT (along with the ACT) is still pretty important when it comes to college admissions. However, there is a growing list of colleges (many of them highly selective) which are now test optional. "Test optional" means that they do not require students to submit their standardized test scores. For a list of schools which are currently test optional, go to http://fairtest.org/university/optional. Some of the most selective test optional schools include Bowdoin College and Smith College.

    • What's the best way to evaluate an offer of acceptance after being waitlisted?

       

      Whether you receive an offer via early decision/action, regular admissions, or off the waitlist -- an offer's an offer! If you are waitlisted and then offered a spot -- you should accept it IF it is still the number one place that you'd like to attend.

      Be sure to ask about your financial aid package, however! Also -- make sure you have some solid housing options still available as well.

      Once you are on campus, no one will know if you were a waitlisted student or not. However, if you decide to take an offer after being waitlisted, be sure to contact the school immediately to discuss any financial aid issues you have.

    • What are the best places to look for college scholarships?

       

      I highly recommend starting with a large and reputable company like FastWeb for scholarship searches. In addition, check out the merit aid available at the individual schools to which you are applying -- those will usually result in the largest tuition discounts!

    • What types of scholarships might I be eligible for?

       

      You might be surprised at the many different kinds of scholarships for which you are eligible! One place on the internet that provides reliable and comprehensive information is FastWeb. It is one of the best sites for scholarship information. There are scholarships available for all kinds of achievement, ethnic group membership, fields of interest, etc.

      Remember -- the largest scholarships are usually those given out by individual colleges in the form of merit aid. Check out MeritAid.org for how much specific schools give on average.

    • What can I do to increase the likelihood of getting a scholarship?

       

      If you are looking for scholarships based on merit rather than solely on financial need, make sure that you keep your grades up!

      There are many colleges that award merit aid based on academics. You can always contact the financial aid office at a particular school to inquire about merit based awards (because some schools do not offer merit aid at all) OR you can go to a great free service called meritaid,org -- which offers a comprehensive list of schools -- along with all of the school specific scholarships (and guidelines for winning scholarships) right at your fingertips!

    • I was rejected from my top school and waitlisted at my second choice. How do I pick a backup?

       

      When you started this process, you probably applied to three types of schools: reach schools, realistic schools, and safety schools.

      Being rejected/waitlisted from just 2 schools -- is really not a problem in the bigger scheme of things because you still have lots of options among your realistic targets and safety schools.

      Ultimately, it's not about the specific school or brand name that makes an education. It's the student! It's the student who can make the most (or the least) of an experience. If you tackle the opportunities that you have with diligence. vigor, and hard work -- you will succeed in whatever you choose. It's YOU that will make the difference - not your specific choice of school. When you are looking at your remaining options -- think about selecting a school where you can truly flourish.

      Make the most of your individual talents and you will definitely make the most of whichever school you attend!

    • How can students make the most of their second choice?

       

      Think about why your chose that school in the first place! Sure -- you are probably disappointed if you cannot attend your first choice -- but you need to move on and think about the options that you DO have.

      Remember, when compiling a list -- choose carefully and ask yourself, "would I happy to attend any of these schools if admitted?"

      Ultimately, it's not about the specific school or brand name that makes an education. It's the student! It's the student who can make the most (or the least) of an experience. If you tackle the opportunities that you have with diligence. vigor, and hard work -- you will succeed in whatever you choose. It's YOU that will make the difference - not your specific choice of school.

      Make the most of your individual talents and you will definitely make the most of whichever school you attend!

    • How important is the essay?

       

      After your GPA, test scores and extracurriculars, your essay is next in importance! You've probably heard it MANY times before, but the essay is your chance to make your application come alive and to let admissions officers know that there is a living, breathing human being behind the numbers and litany of club memberships!

      Don't procrastinate when it comes to your essay -- start early and re-write often!

    • Is every college essay read? How many admissions officers read them?

       

      As you might already have guessed, some colleges (large public universities) might not have the staff to read all of the essays. They might just read the essays of those who are "on the fence." Other colleges (mostly smaller schools) may try to read every single essay, and in some instances, there is more than one reader for each file, so your essay might receive multiple reads.

      However, to be on the safe side, work diligently and thoughtfully on your essay no matter what kinds of schools are on your list!

    • How should the college essay tie into the rest of the application?

       

      For some students the essay is a great opportunity to explain a discrepancy or a negative in grades or test scores. Remember -- the admissions committee doesn't want to hear excuses for poor grades but they might appreciate some explanations.

      You don't need to write about a particular extracurricular activity or academic achievement unless you feel that it has some special relevance in your personal development. Remember -- the admissions committee already has your application so you don't need to rehash that information.

      While your essay needn't refer specifically to your application, it should "make sense" with your application. By that we mean that if you have poor grades in English or low test scores on the SAT verbal section, it might be a bit suspicious if you submit a spectacularly written and polished essay.

    • What are some do's and don'ts for the admissions essay?

       

      1. DO write "small" -- that means be specific and detailed;

      2. DO be concise – avoid flowery, overwrought language;

      3. DON'T tell me that you are smart or compassionate or brave -- instead, show me with detailed examples;

      4. DON'T use vague language

      5. DON'T use the passive voice

      6. DO use words wisely – don’t show off by using big fancy words that might be on your SAT vocab list but don’t fit your essay. (ex: plethora, myriad, epigram)

    • What makes a great college essay?

       

      A great college essay gives the reader a glimpse of the person behind the page. Lots of counselors tell students to "tell a story only you can tell," and I definitely agree with that. But sometimes students misinterpret this to mean -- "tell me about a totally unique experience" -- and they get totally stressed out because they don't feel that they have any unique experiences.

      Telling a story "only you can tell" means that you tell the reader a story from your perspective. So you don't need to have great exotic vacations or heartbreaking stories of community service in some far off land -- you just need to reveal your point of view about a topic. Let us know about your feelings and opinions. When you can show the reader a slice of your genuine self -- you are on your way to a great college essay. The uniqueness of an essay stems not from some external experience, but your internal responses.

    • What are some tips regarding video essays?

       

      Focus your video on you telling your story. The video is just another mode of communicating your human-ness to the admissions committee -- so you don't want to sully that opportunity by including silly embellishments and video graphics. It's the person not the medium that they are looking for!

    • Is it ok to have someone proofread your essay?

       

      It's always helpful to have someone proofread your essay, because another set of eyes can catch typos, grammatical errors, and other small problems in your essay. As the author of your essay, you can sometimes become blind to obvious errors because you have read it through so many times (and are probably sick of it by now)!

      Just be sure that proofreading doesn't extend to more substantive changes and edits to your work. Remember -- it's your work and your voice that admissions officers want to hear!

    • Is it okay for parents to help edit their child's college essay?

       

      Now parents -- you all know the difference between fixing typographical errors and making massive substantive changes to your child's essay, right? Of course you do. Be really disciplined about not crossing the line between "good help" and "too much help." To be honest, admissions officers can tell the difference between an essay that presents a 17 year old's point of view and a 40-ish/50-ish/ageisjustanumber point of view. Remember -- the admissions officers read thousands of essays every admissions season, and they can spot an overly polished essay a mile away. They can also check the student's transcripts and test scores if they suspect that the writing quality of the essay seems to be overly "mature." And you don't want your kid to be exposed as the kid whose mommy wrote his essay, do you?

      So -- yes -- it's fine to take a quick read to look for spelling errors, but it's not fine to write your child's essay for him or her.

    • What are some tips for acing the college interview?

       

      First -- relax. Take a deep breath, and try to be the best version of yourself. Don't try to be someone that you're not or try to be someone you think will impress your interviewer. Just be yourself.

      Second -- get to the interview five minutes early and bring a book. If you are on time, you are late.

      Third -- show respect for the school and interviewer's time by researching the school and asking thoughtful questions. Be sure to ask the interviewer (especially if he or she is an alum) about his or her experiences at the school!

    • Who conducts the college interviews?

       

      At some schools, the staff of the admissions officers (which can sometimes include current students) conduct the interviews on campus. At most other others, interviews (particularly off-campus interviews) are conducted by alumni. Most of the alumni attend training and information sessions prior to interviewing prospective applicants.

    • How does the interview work?

       

      For schools where the interview is optional, the applicants need to contact the admissions office to request and schedule an interview. For schools where the interview is mandatory, the admissions office will contact the student to set up a time and place.

    • Does the college interview really count?

       

      A college interview doesn't have as much weight as your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and essays, but a good interview can help your application stand out.

      On the other hand, if you have a really terrible interview, will that negate your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and essays? Probably not.

      An interview is a great setting for you to get to know the school and for the school to get to know you! The school wants to know if you would be a good roommate, classroom participator, community leader, etc. They know all about your academics and activities already -- now they want to know about the person behind the numbers.

      So -- if you're nervous about an upcoming interview, relax. It won't make or break your chances, but it can certainly provide a great venue to show the school what a great person you are and that you are genuinely interested in attending that school. Why else would you be putting yourself through this? Right? Right.

    • Is it possible that a college interview could be conducted by a student?

       

      In some schools where the interview takes place on-campus, you might be interviewed by a current student who is working at the admissions office. This is a great opportunity for you to find out more information about the school so try to view this as a positive rather than a negative.

    • How can a student prepare themselves best for a college interview?

       

      The best ways to prepare for an interview is to remember the 3 Rs:

      RESEARCH

      RELAX

      RELAX

      Ok -- so that's not really 3Rs -- but I think that relaxing is really important so I thought I'd list that twice!

      I have interviewed scores of students over 6 years for my alma mater, and I have learned that nothing makes for a great interview than a student who is informed about the school and relaxed! Students should definitely check out the school's website for the latest school news and information and prepare some questions based on that preliminary research. There is nothing worse that interviewing a student who clearly has done ZERO research on my alma mater prior to the interview! It makes me think that this student does not have a strong interest in attending, you know?

      Now for the relaxed part -- take a deep breath, smile and relax. The interview is going to be about the subject YOU know best! Why? It's going to be about Y-O-U! No one will be testing you on calculus or asking you to recite a soliloquy (unless you really really want to)! They want to know more about the person behind the application! What kinds of books have you read lately? Do you read any newspapers? What do you like to do in your free time?

      Those are the kinds of questions that I have asked in the past, and I suspect that many other interviewers ask similar questions.

      Remember your 3Rs -- and GOOD LUCK!

    • What are the best ways to answer the question: Tell me about yourself?

       

      This is your chance to step beyond the four corners of your application! If you want to talk about your grades and school activities because you feel that they accurately reflect your true and unique characteristics -- then go for it. But if you feel that you are so much more than that -- feel free to share your outside interests, interesting experiences, your family life, your part-time job, etc. You might be an avid reader or a huge fan of movies. You might have a lucrative babysitting business. You might have an impressive collection of rocks! Talk about those things! They make you --- YOU! Remember -- the interview isn't about an academic evaluation -- it's to evaluate your suitability as a roommate and classmate!

    • Are there things a student should never say during a college interview?

       

      It all comes down to common sense. Use your good judgment when it comes to the words that you choose. But in case your common sense eludes you during times of stress, try to keep these things in mind.

      Don't bad-mouth other high schools or colleges.

      Don't bad-mouth other applicants.

      Don't tell your interviewer that they represent your "safety school."

      Don't lie about your accomplishments.

    • Is there anything I need to know about interviews, not just for college, but for scholarships and jobs too?

       

      A good interview -- whether it is for a college, job or scholarship -- is really a good and engaging conversation between two people. One person shouldn't be asking all of the questions, and one person shouldn't be sitting stiffly in the chair provided stilted one-word answers.

      An interview can provide information that leaps off the page -- you can really find out about a person's attitude, personality, and character when meeting him or her on a face-to-face basis. That's why interviews will never be replaced by email or text messages or even phone conversations! Nothing beats the face-to-face meeting.

    • Can body language and position impact the interview?

       

      Body position and body language affect all sorts of human interactions everyday and an interview is no exception.

      Rather than thinking specifically about how to position yourself and your body parts -- just try taking a few deep breaths to relax and SMILE. This can be helpful is putting you and your interviewer at ease!

    • How many schools should I apply to?

       

      There's no formula for determining how many college to which you should apply. Some student apply to as few as 3-4 - while others go a bit overboard and apply to 12-14.

      Rather than focusing on how many schools should be on your list, try to compile your list by including three TYPES of schools: safety schools (schools to which you are pretty sure will accept you); realistic schools (schools to which you have a realistic chance of getting in); and reach schools (schools where your chances of acceptance are very slim). In order to determine which schools are your safety schools, realistic schools and reach schools, look at the median GPAs and test scores of the admitted freshmen for those schools during the previous school year. That information can be readily accessed through individual school's websites and through guidebooks such as The Fiske Guide of Colleges.

      While compiling the list -- be thoughtful and flexible! It's okay if your list changes from time to time. The important thing is to focus on selecting schools that you'd be happy to attend if accepted -- no matter if they are your safety, realistic choice or reach school.

    • Is early decision important for international students?

       

      International students have the same option of applying to early decision and early action admissions procedures as U.S. students. Most colleges will tell you that applying early has little or no bearing on your admissions chances. However, it is definitely true that you will be competing for a fewer number of open spots during regular enrollment -- so you do the math!

      If you do plan on applying through an early decision or early action program, be sure that you understand the details of each program. Many early programs are restrictive which means that you can only apply to ONE school through an early progress. In addition, if you applying through an early DECISION program -- you should understand that you are contractually bound to accept an offer of admissions.

    • TOEFL or IELTS, which test is better for college admissions?

       

      If you applying to American universities, either test for English proficiency is acceptable. The TOEFL is definitely more well known in the US. and the IELTS is more well known in countries related to the British commonwealth. The more relevant question is -- which test is better for you? Check out both exams and see which one feels more suitable to you. Both exams are very similar in their content, but the IELTS has a face-to-face interview component which students either love or hate!

    • How many TOEFL exams should I take before the application deadline and can I ask for a fee waiver?

       

      You may take as many TOEFL exams as you wish, but try to make sure you prepare wisely as you don't want to waste time and money taking exams for which you are ill-prepared.

      If you are a college bound non-native English speaker and a high school senior, you may be eligible for a fee waiver if you meet certain other financial requirements. Please check out the ETS site here for more information: http://www.ets.org/s/toefl/pdf/toefl_fee_reduction_service_guidelines.pdf

    • I am an international student applicant, how do I write an effective college admissions essay?

       

      Writing a compelling and memorable college admissions essay is no different for an international student than it is for a U.S. student.

      Be yourself and tell us a story that only you can tell. While you don't need to reveal any deep, dark secrets, you do need to show admissions officers the human being behind the GPA and the test scores.

      Basically -- write about the topic in which you are the expert -- that is, YOU! You don't need to search high and low for a totally unique topic -- just tell us something about your feelings, perspectives, and observations in your experience. Use lots of details to draw the reader into your story, and don't worry about using "big" and "fancy" words. A compelling essay that is genuinely from the heart doesn't need to rely on SAT-type vocabulary.

    • Is a college admissions interview necessary for an international student?

       

      If a college offers you an opportunity to interview, take it! It's a great way to show a school that you are very interested in learning more about it and to demonstrate your keen interested in it. The interview is also a great way for you to learn more about the school.

      Many universities have alumni all over the world who can conduct the interviews. In addition, if you are on a campus visit, you can also interview at that time (but make sure you arranged for an interview ahead of time).

    • Should I apply for financial aid as an international student?

       

      There is very little financial aid available for international students who want to pursue their undergraduate degrees in the U.S. While that should not stop you from applying for aid, you should be aware that chances are very slim that you will receive grants or scholarships. For more information on aid for international students, please check out this site: http://www.edupass.org/finaid/.

      It is a part of FinAid -- which is one of the most reputable authorities on financial aid for college students in the U.S.

    • Are there similarities between US college admissions and the Chinese domestic college entrance exam?

       

      The Chinese National College Entrance Exam ("gao kao" - big test in Mandarin) is a three day exam that is the sole determining factor for the vast majority of colleges in China. About 10 million students take this exam each year, and it has about a 40% failure rate. Many students study 12-16 hours each day for this exam. If they don't do well on this exam -- they must wait (and study) for an entire year before trying again.

      Makes the SAT look pretty great, doesn't it? A 4 hour test given multiple times a year. Not too onerous, right? Also -- consider that the gao kao is the ONLY thing that matters in Chinese college admissions. In the U.S., SAT/ACT scores provide only part of the picture, as grades, curriculum, teacher's recs, essays, interviews, extracurriculars, etc.. are all considered by admissions committees. In fact, there are some schools that are even test optional -- so you don't need to send in your test scores if you don't feel that they reflect your abilities as a student. (For a list of test optional schools, please check out www.fairtest.org.)

    • I am an international student, how do I select the correct major?

       

      There is no need to select a major prior to beginning your college career. You may want to take some time to become acclimated to living in the U.S. and to American college life in general -- prior to deciding on your major. In most universities, you have until the end of your second year of college to decide. In the meantime, you can make the most of academic career by exploring new directions, confirming long-time interests, tackling general education requirements, and building a strong foundation in English.

    • How do I select my first year curriculum during online registration, and how does an ESL program factor in?

       

      If you are selecting your courses online, be sure to take a close look at any general education requirements as well. Try to select courses that reflect a nice balance between general education requirements and courses that really interest you and that might give you some direction for a future major. College can be really exciting time intellectually if you give yourself the opportunity to explore fields that are new to you.

      As for the ESL programs, if you are a non-native English speaker, you might have to submit TOEFL scores and/or take an English proficiency exam. Exam results will determine whether you need to take additional ESL courses at the university in order to continue as a student there. If you do need to take additional ESL courses -- don't despair! This supplemental coursework is designed to help you improve your skills so that you can get the most out of your university experience in the U.S.

    • How are international students evaluated?

       

      International students' applications are evaluated in much the same way as other students' applications. However, special attention will be paid to your English language proficiency -- especially if your first language or the language in which your schooling was conducted -- was not English. In addition, because extracurricular activities and sometimes essays can be difficult to compare and assess across cultural boundaries -- there can be more of a reliance on standardized test scores.

      More and more colleges are becoming aware of the difficulties in confirming the accuracy of information on international applications so there may very well be more intense scrutiny in the near future. This is especially the case for some applications in certain parts of Asia.

      So -- write your own essays and be diligent about your test preparation. Put your best foot forward -- and above all -- present yourself with integrity and honesty. That way -- you'll have an application of which you can be proud.

    • What financial aid is available for international students?

       

      There is very little financial aid available for international students who want to pursue their undergraduate degrees in the U.S. While that should not stop you from applying for aid, you should be aware that chances are very slim that you will receive grants or scholarships. For more information on aid for international students, please check out this site: http://www.edupass.org/finaid/.

      It is a part of FinAid -- which is one of the most reputable authorities on financial aid for college students in the U.S.

    • What can international students do to enhance their chances of getting financial aid?

       

      There is very little financial aid available for international students who want to pursue their undergraduate degrees in the U.S. While that should not stop you from applying for aid, you should be aware that chances are very slim that you will receive grants or scholarships. For more information on aid for international students, please check out this site: http://www.edupass.org/finaid/.

      It is a part of FinAid -- which is one of the most reputable authorities on financial aid for college students in the U.S.

    • If your parents are too involved, can they hurt your chances?

       

      How can overbearing parents negatively affect one's admissions chances?

      1. Badgering the admissions office with question after question. (Who would want to deal with this parent for next 4 years?)

      2. Attending (overtly or secretly) the applicant's interview. (I have been in situations where parents have insisted on sitting in on the interview! However, that pales in comparison to the parents who pretend not to know the student, sit closely to us, and eavesdrop! Oh -- and don't forget the parents who incessantly text the student during the interview. Rest assured, when I was an interviewer, I noted all of this down in my interview report to the Admissions Committee.)

      3. Too much help with the essay. (I don't have to elaborate too much on this point. Let's just say that there is a big difference between a 17 year old writer and a 40-50 year old writer.) You don't want to be the applicant whose essay is subject to suspicion.

    • What should parents do during campus visits?

       

      As much experience, knowledge and good intentions that you have -- try to keep a low profile during a campus visit. Let your student be the leader and the main driver of the process. If you have questions, you should certainly ask them as well -- but remember -- you don't want to be the overbearing parent that we all know who monopolizes a Q&A session with the admissions staff or who expounds on their opinions/experiences during a campus tour.

      Overstepping your bounds doesn't help anyone -- and it certainly makes for a very long and uncomfortable car ride home with your teenager!

    • How can I help my kid manage the stress of the application process?

       

      Kids WILL be stressed out about the application process. That's a given. However, parents can be great role models for their kids if they can show them that the process is manageable with good time management, realistic expectations, and a calm demeanor.

      If parents get hysterical or overwrought -- then kids will respond in kind.

      Here's one more piece of advice for parents that might help them remain calm and retain their good judgment: your child's college options are not a parental report card. If your child goes to an fancy ivy league school -- that doesn't mean you are a super parent and if your child goes to community college -- that doesn't mean you are a bad parent.

    • How should I deal with my parents stressing me out?

       

      Parents of children applying to college these days are called "helicopter" parents, and many admissions officers, counselors, and teachers find that their jobs are made infinitely more difficult because of parental interference. But what do you do if one or both of your parents are of the Blackhawk variety? You can't escape them, and they seem to have their hands in everything from your homework, backpack, phone, web history, and of course your college applications. Here's our two-step process for dealing with hovering parents: 1. Be Understanding: college application time is stressful for everybody in the family. For students -- the pressure is obvious since it is their future on the line. For parents -- this time of their lives is an enormous period of transition as well. They have dedicated so much of the past 2 decades raising children -- and now it's time to say goodbye. And even though they shouldn't feel that their child's college choice is a reflection on their parenting achievements -- many parents do. They feel like they haven't done their "job" well if their child doesn't go to the best school possible. So -- try to be understanding that parents are under enormous stress at this point in their lives. Try to see the good intentions behind the annoying nagging. (You can't change them -- but you can change the way you see them!) 2. Be Responsible. Another great way to deal with parents is to show that YOU are on top of the process. Show them that you are aware of deadlines and are planning accordingly. Show them that you are working on your essays and speaking with teachers about recommendations. Show them that you can handle the process and let them know that you will come to them with any questions. The more you take control of the process and show them that you are capable, the less anxiety and the more PRIDE your parents will experience!

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