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  • Tira Harpaz

    Title: Founder
    Company: CollegeBound Advice

    • verified

    Years of Experience

    Colleges I Attended
    Princeton University Fordham University School of Law
    Professional Degree

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  • Admissions Expertise

    • Are guidebooks, relatives, and rankings useful in choosing a school?


      There are many ways to get information about a school. Guidebooks can be useful if you're at the beginning of your process and don't have too many ideas about what you're looking for. Friends and relatives who attended a school can give you useful information and perspective (but be careful of relatives who are just working off of a list of schools they have heard of, but don't know anything specific about the school). And rankings, if not taken too literally, can be very helpful in telling you both school statistics and what academic professionals think about a school. Ultimately though, the choice belongs to you and your family and I would encourage you to visit, if possible, or, if not, do whatever you can to get firsthand information about a school, whether meeting with a representative off-campus or viewing a virtual tour online.

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


      There are a number of activities that will definitely stand out to a college-competing at the Olympics, being a solo (and successful) recording artist, having the lead in a Broadway show, running a profitable business based on an original idea etc. However, for the vast majority of applicants, who will not fall into any of these categories, the most important thing is to be involved in activities in which you show initiative, accomplishment and growth. Try and find activities you enjoy by 9th grade and pursue them throughout high school. See if there's a way to broaden your interest-if you've founded a high school club, is there a way to establish branches in other schools or join a countywide council of students interested in the same subject? Try to seek opportunities outside of your high school. If you're interested in politics, in addition to being on the Student Council, maybe you could work for a local or state candidate, write a political newsletter or even blog about political issues for a local newspaper. Selective colleges get thousands of applications from students who are president of two high school clubs, have won an award in Model Congress, play a varsity sport and have organized a fundraiser for a charity in 11th grade. See what you can do to stand out and think outside the box.

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


      Yes, in both a good and bad way. Many colleges, and particularly smaller schools with few slots to give out, are interested in students who, if accepted, will attend their schools. A student can and should show interest in a number of ways: visiting a school, having an interview, going to an info session at your high school or at a location in your area, contacting a professor or administrator if you have a question about a particular academic or extracurricular subject, even posting on an online blog or website set up by the school. Not only will you show interest in the school, but you will also learn about the school and may even be able to use this knowledge on one of the application essays. However, you have to be very careful not to cross the line and become annoying. Don't send emails if you have nothing to say or for no reason. Don't visit three or four times, hoping to speak with an admissions officer, if you have been told that no such conversations are possible. And be aware that there are a number of schools, particularly public universities, where interest is not a factor at all.

    • Do prep school students have an automatic advantage?


      Yes and no. There are certain prep schools in the country that are extremely well-known for providing a rigorous education and students from those schools do very well in the college admissions process. However, for the vast majority of prep schools, the main advantage is that the counselors at those schools are not overburdened with students and understand the college application process well. However, students who go to a high school with good counselors or who are helped by private counselors and/or knowledgeable parents should do equally as well.

    • Do rich kids have an automatic advantage in college admissions?


      Not necessarily. Applicants with financial resources generally have access to experiences and services (i.e. tutoring) that can give them a leg up in the admissions process. In addition, they are sometimes legacies at competitive colleges or have families who have connections at some of these schools, which can help. Finally, at certain schools, being a full-pay applicant who does not request financial aid can be helpful. However, many schools are looking for diversity in the student body and may give a preference to minority students, economically-disadvantaged students and/or first-generation applicants. In general, schools want to see that you have taken advantage of the opportunities and resources available to you.

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


      Your hometown should not have a direct effect on your chances of getting into a college. However, certain colleges are interested in having a geographically diverse student body and the state or country where you live can have an effect on your admissions chances. In addition, it is generally easier to be admitted to a public university if you are an in-state applicant.

    • How do you build a good relationship with your high school guidance counselor?


      Your high school counselor is extremely important. Not only can he or she be your advocate throughout high school, helping you deal with any problems that might arise, but you will need a recommendation from your counselor when it comes time to apply to college. I recommend that you go into your counselor a few times a year, starting in 9th grade, to say hello and mention anything noteworthy that has happened. Keep your counselor updated on awards or accomplishments-send emails if you can't schedule an appointment. Make sure your counselor knows about your academic expectations and talk to your counselor about college no later than 11th grade. When it comes time for your counselor to write a recommendation, send him or her your resume with a brief summary of activities or attributes you think are particularly important. And remember, counselors have heavy workloads and are often highly stressed. Be pleasant and patient in all your dealings with him or her and say thank you when appropriate.

    • How important can athletics be as a hook for college admissions?


      If you are an athlete and the coach has told you that you are one of his or her top recruits, that will have a very strong and favorable impact on your chances for admission. In fact, any recruited athlete has an advantage over applicants without such a hook. However, if you are a high school varsity athlete who is not recruited, athletics will not be a hook for you (although it may well be looked upon as a strong extracurricular activity).

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


      There's no right or wrong answer here. Some students need to be commuters or attend a school close to home for financial or family reasons. Some students like the comfort of knowing that family is close by and that they can return home for weekends. Other students love the idea of traveling across the country for college, to experience a different state, culture or climate. And many students want to go to a school that is within driving distance of home, but not too close.

    • What are the most important factors to consider when choosing a college?


      Although each student probably has a different list of criteria for selecting a college, there are certain areas which come up frequently:

      1. Can you afford the school?

      2. Does the school have the major or the program you're currently interested in?

      3. Is the school's location appealing or practical?

      4, What is the school's reputation and how good are your job prospects if you graduate from the school?

      5. Are students overall satisfied with the school (check out the retention and graduation rates)

      6. Does the school have a religious orientation that you're comfortable or uncomfortable with?

      7. And if you're at the beginning of the admissions process, how easy or difficult will it be for you to be accepted to the school?

    • What should students consider when choosing between a small and large school?


      I would look at the following factors when deciding between a small and large school:

      1. Do you like the idea of personal attention from your professors or are you more comfortable being anonymous?

      2. Does the small school have all the programs you might be interested in and are there any barriers to participating in a program? For example, many small schools have 3-2 engineering programs which mean that you would finish your degree at a different school.

      3. Does the small school have all the extracurricular activities you might be interested in?

      4. Does the large school have a smaller program, such as an honors college, that will enable you to have a more personal college experience.

      I would be very careful, however, in basing your decision on the fact that you don't want to go to a school that is smaller than your high school. At your high school, you knew many people in your grade before you got there and moreover, you knew kids in the classes below and ahead of you. At college, you will know very few people when you arrive and each year a completely new group of students will matriculate. It will not feel the same as high school.

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


      Studies have shown there are college admissions officers who will look at a student's Facebook posts. In general, you should be very careful about what you post on Facebook. Pictures that show a student doing something illegal or posts showing bias or negative speech should be avoided (and not just because college admissions officers can look--law enforcement personnel can also become involved).

    • How do I choose between two very similar schools?


      After all your acceptances are in, if you are choosing between two similar schools, there are a number of things you can do to make a decision. First of all, if at all possible, visit the schools during their "accepted student" programs. You might find that you feel much more comfortable at one school than another. Secondly, see if there are any financial reasons to pick one school over another-for example, while school costs might be similar, maybe one school will require you to fly home over vacations which will cost more money. Thirdly, take a look at the programs or majors you're interested in-does one school have a much better program or reputation in any of those fields? Finally, join the accepted students Facebook group for both schools. You might find that you just like one group of students better than another or you might learn some facts that will help you make a decision.

    • What are the most important questions to ask a tour guide on a college visit?


      I would let the tour guide run the tour and ask questions if something seems interesting or if the guide doesn't discuss a subject you want to know about. Some questions that you might ask about would be the availability of dining at all hours, how long it takes to traverse the campus from the dorms to the academic buildings, whether the student center is used for numerous activities, whether students turn out for athletic or theatrical events and whether lots of kids leave campus on weekends. Try and ask questions that can't be answered by looking at the college website.

    • What should I make sure to do and see on a college visit aside from the tour?


      If you don't get to see a dorm on the tour, see if there's any way you can glance into one (you can often just ask a random student if you can take a quick peek into his or her room). Look around the area immediately adjoining campus to see what types of stores, restaurants and services are within walking distance. If there's any specific academic area you're interested in that you didn't get to visit on the tour (i.e., the engineering quad or the music building), try and take a look at it.

    • What types of students, faculty, and staff should I try and speak with while visiting a college?


      Try and speak with random students (i.e, students you see in the dining halls or on the quad) about whether they like the school and whether there's anything about it they're not happy with. If you have a specific academic interest, see if you can sit in on a class in that area and possibly speak to the professor.

    • Are overnight stays important? How should I prepare for an overnight stay?


      Overnight stays can be extremely important in getting a real sense of campus life and how students interact. However, if you can't stay overnight, don't worry, because it's certainly not essential. In addition, you should understand that you might not always be compatible with a student who agrees to host you, and I wouldn't make a decision about a school on the basis of your overnight host.

      In terms of preparing for a stay, make sure that you have emailed your host to get information about where and when to meet and make sure you get a cell phone number if possible. Be polite, be neat and don't expect too much attention from your host and you should be fine.

    • Should I try and network with admissions officers or professors during a college visit?


      Yes, if there's a way to do it without being too pushy. You can try and sit in on a class in which you have a particular interest and approach the professor after the class to ask a question. Although it's often difficult to meet an admissions officer unless you have a scheduled appointment or interview, if you do have such an opportunity, make the most of it by introducing yourself and saying how much you loved the tour and the campus. If you have met an admissions officer at your high school, send an email before you visit the school to see if you can stop in to talk. But whatever you do, be genuine and enthusiastic.

    • What are the best ways for students to manage their college expenses?


      There are two parts to the financial equation; the first is choosing a school where you can afford the actual and necessary college costs such as tuition and room and board and the second is living on a weekly or monthly budget. Students and parents should have discussions about finances early in the college application process so that the student understands the options and the choices. The student should try and identify schools that may offer the type or amount of aid needed and should make sure to apply to a financial safety school. In addition, the student has the obligation to meet scholarship deadlines (often applications for college scholarships are due earlier than the normal application deadline).

      In terms of day-to-day expenses, it's helpful to make a budget and see if you can stick to it. If you need a job, make sure you look at all possibilities on and off campus (if you can't get a job through your school, maybe there's an opening in a local store or restaurant). Most schools have options for purchasing used textbooks, or, if not, there are online sources. If you need furniture for your room or an off-campus apartment, see if you can purchase something from another student (often at the end of the school year, students sell or even give away unused furniture). If you have a car, make sure that you've found the cheapest places in the area to get gas and arrange for any necessary maintenance. If you are using public transportation, either to get home on holidays or to commute to school, look for reduced rate tickets for students and student discounts. And try to make as few "impulse" purchases as possible. Research what you plan to buy online and see what the cheapest options are, whether it's using a coupon, a discount online site or going to a store with a good deal.

    • How can a student get accepted at Harvard, rejected from Brown, and waitlisted at Yale?


      That is actually not that uncommon a scenario. Schools may have different institutional priorities (i.e., one school is looking for top science students and one school is looking for strong theatrical performers) which can lead to different outcomes. In addition, given that most Ivies practice "holistic" review of applications, your essay or entire application may stand out to one admissions office and not another. In general, when acceptance rates are under 10%, almost any outcome is possible.

    • Can students appeal a rejection? Does that ever work?


      There are some schools that will allow a student to appeal a rejection and others that will not, so you need to check the particular school's policy. Even if a school allows an appeal, it is difficult to succeed. You often have to show new information that was not available previously (i.e., significantly higher test scores based on a test that you just took and that the school is willing to accept) or that a mistake was made (something was inaccurate in your transcript).

    • If rejected from my top choice, is it worth it to apply again after a year at a different school?


      Generally no. If you have gotten into other strong schools, I would usually not encourage you to dwell on your first choice school. Move on and enjoy college at another school. However, if you have no other choices that are feasible, you could take a gap year and reapply. Do things during the gap year that could strengthen your application. If your standardized tests were an issue, consider retaking them. If your extracurriculars were not strong, delve into a project or a subject in depth. Be aware though that if you have applied to an extremely competitive school, it is unlikely that you will get into the school when reapplying.

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


      Hopefully, you have chosen a list of schools that you would be happy to attend. If you haven't gotten in to your first or second choice, I would make a list of factors that you view as important-i.e., location, financial costs, programs and/or majors available-and then try and winnow down your choices. In addition, I would send a letter to my second choice school, indicating my continued interest and describing any new developments since you applied--have you won a new award, become involved in a community service initiative or improved your grades? Let the school know about it.

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


      Many many colleges are just wonderful places and even if a school isn't your top choice, I can assure you that you can be happy at your second, third or even last choice school. Seize opportunities at the school you chose to attend, whether academic or extracurricular. Join groups that are inclusive, including faith-based groups or outing clubs, so that you gain friends with similar interests. Visit your professors during office hours so that you can take advantage of their knowledge and expertise. And don't look back and spend your time bemoaning the fact that you didn't get accepted to your first choice school.

    • How important is ranking and reputation in evaluating a college?


      It depends on who you are and what you're looking for. Absolute rankings (i.e., saying a school is #2 or #5), don't really make a lot of sense because there are too many variables and people are looking for different things in a school. However, a student can definitely have a preference for a school that is highly regarded, either because they think it will give them greater professional opportunities, better academic options, smarter peers or better-known professors. I would recommend taking a look at the various rankings, but I would never recommend making ranking or reputation the sole or even the most important determining factor in your college search.

    • How important is the official website in evaluating a college?


      The official website is a good place to start looking for information about a school. It will tell you about statistics, new developments on campus, interesting research and campus life. It will also generally allow you to take a virtual tour of the campus. However, because colleges vary in the amount of time and money they spend building and developing their websites, I would be careful not to be overly swayed by a great website, or overly turned off by a more basic website.

    • How important is selectivity in evaluating colleges?


      I would be very careful about using selectivity as the sole or major factor in evaluating a college. There are some wonderful schools that are not incredibly selective (often state schools fall in this category) and some not as good schools that spend a lot of time trying to expand their applicant base in order to become more selective. However, you should certainly look at the average test scores, average GPAs and acceptance rates to see if a school makes sense for you to apply to.

    • What are the best ways to get unbiased opinions about a school?


      It's actually hard to get unbiased opinions because most people have an opinion one way or the other. To get a range of opinions, look at rankings and opinion sites that give student views on the school, try and speak to alumni and current students, talk to your guidance counselor and look at fact-based information such as the common data set or the US government's college navigator site. In addition, I would take a look at the college newspaper, which often gives information on campus issues.

    • What are some important facts or statistics to consider when evaluating a college?


      Two of the statistics I consider to be very important are the freshman retention rate and the 4 and 6-year graduation rate which can be found in the US News rankings or on the common data set for a school. Ideally, you want to be at a school where most freshman return for a second year and where most of the students graduate in 6 years. Other statistics I would look at include the SAT/ACT averages (to see if your scores are within range), the percentage of in-state and out-of-state students in a public university, and the diversity of the student body.

    • Should students include a resume in their college application?


      If you honestly feel that the common app spaces for extracurricular activities as well as the essays do not allow you to describe your extracurricular activities in enough depth, then you can add a resume or at least expand on some of your extracurricular activities in the additional info section. In addition, if you have a particular expertise, for example in performing arts, then you could add a resume highlighting your accomplishments and training in that particular field. However, what you don't want to do is just regurgitate the common app answers without adding more substance, because the admissions office might think that shows poor judgment.

    • What are some do's and don'ts for an applicant's resume?


      Don't just repeat the same information you have stated on the common app. Give some depth or context for your activities, i.e., you might mention that you have been pursuing a particular activity since you were 5 and that you have spent several summers attending programs related to that activity. Try not to exceed 1 page unless you have some major accomplishments-admissions officers have limited time and no one wants to read 5 pages relating every participation award you ever received. Make sure you place the most important activities in the beginning of the resume, check for typos and keep the format consistent. And make sure that whatever you write does not conflict with your common app extracurricular descriptions and that you don't lie or overly exaggerate about your accomplishments.

    • What are colleges looking for in an applicant's resume?


      Some colleges, generally state schools, are not particularly interested in a resume and make decisions mainly on the basis of GPA and standardized tests. However, for schools that are interested in extracurricular activities, your resume should show that your activities were long-standing and showed some depth and possibly leadership qualities. Don't just be a serial joiner of clubs. Join one or two clubs and try and become an officer or lead a project. If you feel that the leadership of school clubs is often a popularity contest, start your own school club or outside project. Schools like to see that an applicant has taken advantage of existing opportunities and maybe even created new ones. Engage in meaningful community service. If your school has a community service requirement, go beyond the hours required. This will show that you really cared about a project or population and weren't just doing it because of a school mandate.

    • How should a student with little job experience go about crafting a resume?


      First of all, find a resume template that works for you (there are many examples online). Next, instead of having a category called "Work" or "Work Experience", just include a category called "Experience." You can list volunteer activities in this category in which you have had a significant role. If you were the President of a club, mention your accomplishments (i.e., club doubled its membership during my tenure). Also, list relevant coursework and skills related to the job you are seeking. Most employers will understand that you may have limited work experience, but your resume should highlight the skills you have acquired and the leadership and commitment you have shown.

    • How important is a resume compared to other parts of the college application?


      Having an actual resume is not important at all. However, having solid and meaningful extracurricular activities is very important to many schools. While some public universities admit students just on the basis of transcripts and/standardized testing, most private universities want to see some activities. The most competitive schools will want to see activities where you have accomplished a lot and/or taken advantage of all the opportunities available to you.

      That said, your transcript and GPA are still the most important part of your application and you should make sure that your grades don't suffer because you are over-committed to your extracurricular activities.

    • Do employers look at extracurriculars?


      Employers generally focus on grades, work experience and areas of expertise. If your extracurricular activities have added to your skills (for example, you wrote for the college newspaper and you're looking for a job as a journalist), then they will be of interest to an employer. If your extracurricular activities show that you have achieved at a high level, they will also be of interest (if you were a varsity athlete on a strong team, most employers will consider that a plus). And most employers want to hire people who have exhibited hard work, dedication and organizational ability and your extracurricular activities can often highlight those skills.

    • Will athletics take away from my academics?


      Possibly. If you are a varsity athlete at college, the time commitment will be very significant. Although you might have managed such a commitment in high school, college academics can be much harder than high school and you might find your coursework suffering. However, with good time management skills, many college athletes do well academically. In addition, having played a varsity sport in college can be very appealing to employers and studies have shown that athletes often do very well professionally.

    • Can anybody join any extracurricular activity or do I have to be accepted?


      It depends. There are many college activities that are competitive. For example, you often have to audition to be in a dance group or perform in a play. However, some groups and activities are open to everyone (i.e., the outing club, community service groups). If there's an activity you want to join but you don't get selected, see if there's another role you can take on. Maybe you didn't get a part in the play, but you can join the tech crew or become a stage manager.

    • What are the benefits of an unpaid internship?


      The benefits of an unpaid internship are the same as the benefits of a paid internship-you just don't get a salary. You can get experience in an area you might be interested in pursuing professionally, work with strong professionals, possibly find a mentor or at least someone who will be willing to write you a recommendation letter, learn how to behave in a professional setting and have an experience you can talk about in job interviews.

    • What are the best ways to land an internship?


      Ask your parents and your teachers if they know of someone you could send your resume to. If you're a college student, use all the resources available in your college career center. Go online and research internships and submit resumes to ones that look interesting. See if anyone who attended your college has a job at a company you would like to work at and reach out to that person. Keep plugging away and don't get discouraged.

    • How important are internships for college students?


      If you can get a paying job in a field you're interested in, it's always helpful. However, if paying internships are not available and you have to work to make money for school, don't worry. You can get experience in your field through working with professors, doing special projects, applying for fellowships and possibly even doing an unpaid internship during the school year or summer if you can afford it.

    • Does the college interview really count?


      It depends. Some schools have an interview that is strictly informative in nature and it generally does not count. Other schools have an evaluative interview and reports are submitted to the admissions office. However, regardless of the type of interview, you should be polite, dress appropriately, don't chew gum or check your cell phone during the interview and have questions about the school that show you've put a little thought into them. If you are rude, obnoxious or unprepared, it is entirely possible that an interview will have a negative impact on your admissions chances.

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


      Yes, in a couple of ways. First of all, there are parents who call up schools with numerous questions about applications, deferrals and the student's chances and attempt to sit in on interviews. If the parent takes over the process to such an extent that the school becomes aware of it, this can hurt the applicant. Secondly, parents who are overly involved with the application itself (i.e., writing the essay, insisting on certain extracurriculars being featured etc.) can sometimes hurt because the application either becomes too stiff, too formulaic or appears to have been prepared by an adult.

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