AO Advice: Starting Early to Stand Out

Are you an underclassman starting to think about college? Get the inside scoop on how to start planning early for your college applications from

Former Admissions Officer Ferrell Armstrong will share his advice on how to start early to stand out in the college application process during a 60-minute webinar and Q&A session.

In this webinar, you’ll have all your questions answered including:

  • What can I be doing as a Freshman or Sophomore for college?
  • What are the most important parts of the application that I can be working on now?

Come ready to learn and bring your questions!

Date 01/18/2023
Duration 58:18

Webinar Transcription

2023-01-18 – AO Advice Starting Early to Stand Out

Moderator: [00:00:00] Start the recording. Okay. Hello everyone. Welcome to College Advisor’s AO advice starting early to stand out. To orient everyone with our webinar timing, we’re gonna start first with our presentation. Then we’ll answer your question live Q&A. On the sidebar, you can download our slides and you can start asking questions in the Q&A tab.

Now let’s meet our panelist.

Ferrell: Hey, good evening everyone. My name is Ferrell Armstrong. I am a former assistant director of admissions at Vanderbilt University, where I served as the head of international, as well as leading the largest domestic recruitment program. I was also on Vanderbilt’s admissions committee, serving as one of only five people that got to vote on who’s accepted there.

It’s a pleasure to be with you this evening and look forward to your questions later on as well.

Moderator: Okay, so we’re gonna first, before we get into our presentation, we’re gonna start with a poll. So let us know [00:01:00] what grade you are in. So we’re gonna see the responses coming up.

Moderator: Okay, here they come. All right, so we have 55% of our attendees this evening are in the 11th grade, followed by that we have about 30% 10th graders, and then, uh, about a small percentage of eighth, ninth graders and other. So I’ll turn it over to Ferrell.

Ferrell: Awesome. Awesome. Well, definitely an exciting time regardless of where you are in the process and I think, you know, the whole purpose of this process is, is really something that you know, you should be learning something about yourself. You know, as we talk about starting to kind of reframe the college admissions, you know, kind of spectrum. I really want families that are doing this for the second, maybe third time to kind of almost reset your, [00:02:00] your previous, you know, expectations of this.

Because a lot has changed, especially as a result of the pandemic. And we’ll talk about some of that this evening. Um, but this process is something that you can enjoy. This is something that you can really understand a lot more about who you are by the time that you finish it, and it’s something that you should experience personal growth through, um, as you go through the research stages and understand what it is that you are truly looking for.

Not only out of a collegiate experience, uh, but also out of a, you know, potential academic and career field. Um, at the same time, this process is really about understanding. You know who you are, and the reality here is that’s what’s gonna get you accepted to a school. And we want to be starting to develop that as we cultivate your own narrative.

You’ll hear many of us refer to that as a brand. You know your brand, it’s an idea or an image of you, that’s the entire purpose of an admissions application. So the sooner that you can start to be developing this narrative and this brand for yourself, the [00:03:00] better off and, and more established it’s going to be, which will create a greater impact in the, in the final review of your application when that time arrives.

So just a couple things that, you know, start immediately talking about the relevance of starting early. You know, the reality here is that the, the more specific you can be to a school, understanding how selective a school is will allow you to start taking the necessary steps now to be admissible to that school.

And then obviously it’s gonna take time to develop that personal brand. So you have the characters and the, excuse me, you have the characteristics and the attributes that really stand out to a school and make them label you as a proper fit, you know, for the community that they, you know, are there to, you know, continuously be adding to.

Uh, so I, I think the important thing to talk about is, you know the importance of this and why it’ll specifically make you stand out. Just to be very specific, the sooner that you can start something in, in this specific process of admission, the more [00:04:00] tailored your application can be to your eventual schools.

So the sooner that you can actually lock in a school list by looking at 30 to 40 schools and cutting it down to what we suggest here at College Advisor, a balance list is about 12 schools, you’re really now able from that moment on to start addressing, you know, any prerequisites that a, a school might have for you.

Because certain schools have prerequisites for different majors in many cases, uh, or they’re looking for certain types of activities. So now you’re able to truly kind of tailor your experiences both academically and extracurricularly to what those schools are looking for. And, and the reality is that that’s naturally going to allow you to build more experience and the more experience that you have, whether it’s depth and time right, or maybe it’s different, different roles in different organizations.

The greater experience you have is naturally gonna lead to you being rated higher as your application is being reviewed. So we’re gonna talk about all this this [00:05:00] evening and kind of let you see the benefit of it. So the reality this is that there’s never a better time to get started than where you are right now when you’re starting to really establish, you know, your school list and understanding what might be your dream school. What you need to understand is you need to be looking at this from a perspective of what is most important to you, what is gonna make you happy in terms of a community, what is gonna make you happy in terms of the academics that particular school offers you.

What about academic research opportunities, right. Of these things? Are you looking for a large scale campus or are you looking for a more supportive, you know, environment? Or are you looking for a more ultra competitive environment? I, I think it’s important that you realize there are a lot of universities out there today that people don’t realize that you’re gonna be in direct competition with your, with your roommate.

You know, people tell me all the time, I’m, I’m looking for, you know, a very, you know, supportive environment, not really looking to have to be [00:06:00] aggressive in my academic pursuits. I want strong, challenging course requirements, but I, I don’t wanna be, you know, have to feel like I’m competing like I did in high school.

Well, there’s plenty of colleges and universities out there today that are very competitive, and if you don’t do your research, you might end up somewhere where you didn’t intend to be. So, excuse me. The reality is, is that, are you looking for aggressive academic opportunities? Some students are not. Uh, some students are looking for more of a, a laid back academic approach while others are looking for more aggressive academic approach.

Excuse me, one moment. And so, at the end of the day, when you’re putting your school list together, these are the key components that need to start identifying whether a school should be on your exploration list. If they have the different resources, they’re gonna make you happy as an applicant. That is a reason to start digging deeper into that particular school.

Now, obviously you have some big decisions in terms of what type of school you wanna talk about [00:07:00] attending. A liberal arts school, typically it’s gonna be a little bit more socratic in in delivery. You know, it’s a little bit more conversation based in many cases in, in the daily experience. We’re in a research institution, it’s gonna be a little bit more lecture-based, right?

Uh, in some students respond better in different settings. You being honest and upfront with yourself about what type of environment you’re gonna be better. We’ll help you make that determination for you. Younger students that are with us this evening, I compliment you because you’ll actually be in a better position because the more time that you have to develop all this, the more certain you’re gonna be, the more confident you’re gonna be in your school with.

And so it’s important for you as freshman and sophomores to start understanding how you respond best to instruction. Do you enjoy your, your classes in high school right now that are a little bit more conversation based? Do you prefer your com, your, your classes that are a little bit more lecture-based for your, your high school instructors placing a bunch of information on the board for you to write down, copy down, and, and [00:08:00] convert to memory, um, very important things for you to be establishing.

And the reality here is that all this is gonna lead into you finding your proper fit. You know, I, I don’t think families understand the significance of fitting. It goes two ways. Um, families think that they may be the right fit for a school, but you need to also be honest with yourself. Are you gonna be a fit in the eyes of the admissions department?

That’s how we’re reviewing you. Okay. And so you need to understand the differences of what each school is looking for. And the reality here is that while you may think that that school offers you the proper academic opportunities, it offers you the proper, you know, extracurricular activities that you know would supplement your expectations of a collegiate experience.

Um, are you bringing to the academic, you know, merit that, that school’s looking for. Are you bringing a resume to the table that qualifies you, uh, amongst your competition to be accepted there over other applicants? So fit is not [00:09:00] just something where you are getting the best place for you. You also need to be making sure that you’re gonna be the fit for what that school wants in terms of who they’re gonna target for admission.

In a personal application though, it is important for you to start exploring. To really feel out, you know, your, your own personal fit as soon as possible. Um, I tell families to start exploring schools as, as ninth graders. I do. Uh, and the reason for that is the sooner that you start to get to know a school, uh, you’re gonna start getting a better understanding of not only what you need to be doing to get into that school, but also you can start being a lot more honest about the proper environment that you’re gonna flourish in.

I, I think for me, when I was going through this process, Now helping, uh, some very close personal friends of mine, uh, advise them on this process. I think it’s important that when I’m working with the student that we’re taking into account, you know, the different, you know, experience overall. It’s not just about your major of interest, it’s not just [00:10:00] about the graduation rate.

You need to understand at the environment that’s gonna be, as we discussed earlier, supportive or competitive. , is it gonna offer you research opportunities as a freshman as opposed to a junior or a senior? Is it gonna be relative, you know, a relative good distance to where you live? Is that, is that important to you?

That also affects fit? All of these things come together and really kind of compliment one another to give you that overall feeling of whether or not it’s the right place for you or not. But personally speaking, there’s no better way to determine if it’s a school’s the right fit for, other than getting on campus and talking with actual students.

Now what I’m about to say may seem a little bit forward, and it’s not intended to be rude, but I wholeheartedly encourage every member of the audience this evening to get outside of what you’re being told about a school and its community from an admissions department or a tour guide. Admissions departments and tour guides are being paid to tell you that their job is to promote that [00:11:00] school and make it amazing. And in many cases those schools are amazing. However, I want you to get an uninfluenced opinion. You should be speaking as both student and parents or guardians with individuals that are paying to go to that school. And I think you’ll get a much more honest, you know, idea of what it’s like to be a, you know, daily member of that community.

What it’s like to live there, uh, outside of someone that’s being. Pay to, you know, promote it. I think that’s also gonna eventually dramatically increase your application opportunity. Cause when you can take realtime data, realtime information that you’re learning from a current student about a school and build that into your eventual essays, that’s gonna make you seem like a much more connected applicant, much more sincere in your interest, and it’s gonna lead to us giving you a much higher rating, the review process.

So there’s a lot of things that schools today aren’t telling you and, um, it’s, it’s sad. That this continues to be the situation that it is. Um, but the process is only becoming more competitive. [00:12:00] It’s not getting any easier, even with all these schools going test optional. So the reality here is that a lot of students and families today put a lot of focus on their test scores, that they think that their GPA and their SAT or ACT score are the determining factor of, of them getting into school. Uh, the reality is, is that in many cases now your own personal rank, and it has been for a long time, but your personal rank, uh, might be more important than your, your SAT scores. You can have a really good SAT score, but still be low in ranking at your school. Well, if those, if there’s a significant gap there, that’s a problem for me as an admissions department.

I’m gonna put more focus actually on, on your overall class rank, because your class rank is a better indicator of who you’re gonna be as a student. Anybody can game a test and get ready for it and do better on it, right? Test prep is a real thing. Your rank is really built upon the work that you committed to this process as a high school student.

So schools are gonna put more value on that than they actually are your SAT [00:13:00] , your ACT score, and you should be very aware of that. For those of you that may be with us this evening and you’re going, well, my school doesn’t rank. Yes they do. Because how else would they establish a valedictorian? And the reality here is that all colleges and universities have ways of estimating, um, your rank.

And so they will be utilizing some degree of estimating that, uh, for you, even if your school doesn’t establish a rank for you in the transcript, uh, a university will be doing some degree of estimation to determine where you are within your graduating class as they render a decision on your application.

Another thing that I think is important to take into account is the, you know, the interest that’s developing in a lot of schools today. The two primary examples that I’d love to focus on right now are UW, uh, university of Washington, also known as UDubbs to the kiddos. These days I’m learning data at 35.

I’m no longer able to use abbreviated lingo like that, so I’ll just call it U Washington. Uh, and then of course, University of Texas at Austin. You know, both of those schools are, you know, experiencing explosive growth right now. Uh, [00:14:00] Texas is at the popularity level that Michigan was probably eight or nine years ago.

And so, you know, University of Texas, you know, it’s a reach school now, it’s a 30, 31% acceptance rate. You have to treat it as a reach school, uh, just like you would, you know, a UCLA just like you would a Duke or Vanderbilt, um, it is much a reach school, and so taking into account the growth of these schools, you need to take out your own opinions of a school and understand what that individual school’s current situation is so you can really understand how you might fall in that school’s review process.

If it’s gonna be a reach school for you, a target school, or at safety school Now of. As more and more schools continue to not be in the best financial situation, um, this was certainly affected by covid. Um, your financial need will play a significant role in your decision. Um, more schools today are accessing an enrollment crisis while applications have gone up, as you’ll see there under the impact of Covid 19, there’s been a 20% [00:15:00] increase in annual applications to elite level schools just in the last two years.

That increase in applications is up. Enrollment is, is at a career low for most of these schools. And so a lot of schools are, are not taking the finances that they normally do, and they ironically don’t wanna pull upon, uh, their endowments to operate off of, so your financial need as an applicant could play a role against you in your decision making process.

Schools that are called need aware schools reserve the right to use your financial need in the decision making process. So when putting your school list together, you wanna make sure that you are attempting to at least limit the amount of need to wear schools that end up on your school list. Um, you don’t want to end up applying to seven and eight out of 12 schools that are need aware, you ideally can limit that as much as possible. And ideally you want to be, you know, focusing on schools that are need blind, right? That are not gonna take your financial situation, uh, into, you know, whether or not [00:16:00] you’re making the decision whether or not you’re admitted.

Um, of course, The test optional admissions policy that’s come outta the pandemic is it’s, frankly, it’s all over the place at the moment. We are seeing schools going back to, you know, requiring, uh, test scores. MIT went back to requiring them this cycle that we’re currently in right now and about to finish.

Um, other schools are remaining test optional through 2025 and even 2027. I would still encourage every to take a test score, excuse me, take a test, ideally do well, and submit a good test score. Uh, the reality here is that if school is evaluating you without a test score, now your activities, your essays, your letters of recommendation, those are now, you know, being evaluated two to three times more in terms of weight than they would’ve been if you submitted the test score.

So now, if you have a weakness in your activity section, if you have a weakness in your essays, that’s gonna. Okay. Uh, and so you really do wanna be a complete applicant and submit a [00:17:00] test score. Now, obviously the UC’s, Cal States, Harvard, they’re not taking test scores, okay? That’s okay. For every other school that’s out there that’s accepting them, optional or not, if they are saying they would accept them, if you submit them, it’s in your best interest to take test prep and submit good quality test scores.

It will only help you in this process no matter what a school’s saying. And if you need additional evidence of this, there is a reason why schools are, uh, that have gone test optional. Primarily, the Ivys have not released their common data set for students that apply under the test optional policy. The last two cycles, the uh, Ivy League schools have only released their data set for students that applied using test scores, and the reality is, is that we are seeing weaker applicants being accepted by these schools through the test optional policy. And so you are gonna start seeing schools eventually go back to putting priority on test score requirements. Um, it’s already being rumored in the industry currently, more and more schools are [00:18:00] slowly starting to announce their, the reliance of going back to them. So do plan on testing.

Of course, the the COVID 19 piece, you know, with the increase in applications I really just covered. Um, but what that really means for you is a dramatic reduction in the amount of time that is gonna be given to your application. So, prior to the pandemic, right, the, the average review time was 12 to 14 minutes in terms of how much time we would spend reviewing your application.

Now the average read time is between four to four and a half minutes. Uh, Harvard specifically is about two. Before they make a decision on your application. So understanding that schools are incorporating, you know, the use of algorithms at a higher rate. Now, all of this should be influencing you to be doing everything you can to become more specific and more unique to every school that you intend to apply to, and to be giving yourself every opportunity to build a stronger resume.

Um, cannot be competed against by people starting as late a senior year in this process. The more time you have to build up a resume, the [00:19:00] stronger you’re gonna be.

So what we talk about here, when we, we say create a narrative or create a brand for yourself, what we’re really talking about, is creating this overall awareness of who you are. I try to you know, make this relative to your major. So if, if you are applying for, you know, biology with the intention of going into medical school, the overall theme of your application needs to be relative to that.

It needs to be relative to the fact that you are probably a servant leader that wants to serve others through a medical pathway, serve others through a medical pathway in the future, right? And so the way that you create, uh, a, a narrative or a brand for yourself is by what you start involving yourself.

Yesterday, right? So you should be using your essays to kind of establish what it is you are in, pursuit of what you’re, you know, wanting outta life, what you’re trying to go do specifically eight or nine years from now. And you should be using your activity descriptions and the, obviously from the activities you’ve involved with.

To kind of illustrate what you’re [00:20:00] doing already to try to work to that point that you’re telling these schools, you’re in pursuit of that major, right? So your activities should be tying into what you’re saying you’re in pursuit of with your activity descriptions and your assets. Okay? And then your letters of recommendation should also be able to highlight you know what you’re illustrating about yourself and your own essays and activity descriptions. These mentors or teachers that are submitting these letters of recommendation should be using similar lingo and similar information to describe you in your pursuits and what your interests are, you know, your brand.

In this case, when I’m get, if that’s done clearly, I’m gonna be as an admissions officer, getting a much more comprehensive understanding of not just what you are in pursuit of, but what that’s gonna do for me is it’s gonna get me to understand why you’re applying to my school. And you see that’s kind of the secret here, is that the majority of applicants today cannot clearly establish why they wanna be at the school.

They can certainly tell me what they wanna major in, but they really can’t get me to understand why they want to do it at my school. So as you choose a major, the [00:21:00] earlier that you can do that. Now if you do that as a sophomore, you can use the rest of sophomore of junior and the first part of senior year and the numbers in between to be establishing credibility for that.

Internships, shadowing experiences that makes you more realistic as an applicant, cause now you have historical proof, multiple years of proof and experience that you are relative and real for what you’re applying for. You know, the reason that matters is that the most common applicant today is an undecided applicant.

You know, I, I understand not knowing what you wanna do with your life that. understandable, but it’s still not as strong as someone that’s able to tell me, Hey, this is what I want to pursue and here is what I’m already doing to make it happen. And your own personal opinions on it may be very against what I’m saying, but the reality here is that the student that is able to identify a major and build a resume in portfolio and brand around that is always gonna be the primary applicant that schools are.

It’s the simple fact of the admissions [00:22:00] process. Unfortunately, with how these schools make their decisions, you are actually being rated and based upon your involvement. So when we see three and four activities that directly relate to your field of interest that you’re applying for. You’re gonna be much more significant to me than someone that is involved in eight or nine different activities and maybe only one of those being relative to what you’re applying for.

So I, if you’re starting something at the latter part of your high school career, it it, it’s not gonna do as much for you as someone. It is here this evening as a sophomore or even as a freshman, having multiple years of experience that they can show with their interest in computer science by taking part in the robotics program at school and being a coder on the robotics team.

Or, you know, doing some research experience in the summertime at a local, you know, university working under their professor, having, you know, one or two years, one or two summers of that. That’s, that’s depth. Depth gets you rated significantly higher than being well [00:23:00] rounded, that’s an idea that we wanna put to that permanently.

I would much rather take a student that is defined and well angled for one thing than someone that’s been involved in, you know, 10, 11 different things, but can’t gimme any real sense of direction. Okay? The example I love to share with families all the time is that if we’re building a house together, right?

If we’re we’re a contracting company that’s building a house and we needed to wire that house for electricity, we are more than likely gonna select a certified electrician to wire that. Instead of, let’s just say a neurosurgeon, and the reason that we would more than likely agree not to speak for all of you, but the reason why we more than likely agree to select that electrician is because he or she would have certifiable experience that they can safely do to work well, if you’re in the position that I used to be in at an elite level school that’s getting 40, 50,000 applications a year, or in the case of UCLA, over 170,000 applications a year, when we are reviewing that are [00:24:00] telling us that they want to do something, we’re gonna put a lot more belief and trust in applicants that can show us they’re already doing it and have multiple experiences to show for that. That’s always gonna be the first primary applicant that we’re looking for and that we’re dragging through the process.

So the way that you obviously established this, I’ve been hinting at at the entire time, internships, research. Okay. Passion projects are a huge, huge benefit as well, uh, because these are things that you can be doing in your own time. Passion projects can be done during the school year, during the summertime, and it’s something that you can build on your own.

And, and why I love passion projects and I, I rate them as high as, you know, a strong internship or strong research opportunity is because when you have an idea, or a passion for something and you’ve built out something to show for it, and then you’ve maintained it for two to three years. That is a heck of a lot more significant than going and joining an organization and being a member.

That just shows up to one meeting a week for two years. Right? But when you’ve built and developed [00:25:00] something and then shared that with others, that takes a lot more time and commitment. That is a, that’s a leadership role in and of itself, and it shows us that you’re way more committed to something than, Hey, I’m a member of said organization that likes to talk about the the medical pathway. There’s a difference in talking about a medical pathway or talking about an engineering pathway versus creating an opportunity to bring knowledge to others, like maybe a coding camp that you established, or if you’re computer science interest and you are in an area that maybe some kids don’t have access at an earlier age to learn a little bit of you C++ or Python or Java, right? You can do that experience, create that experience for them, bring awareness to something that you’re passionate about, and then be showing that with other, or sharing that with other people. That’s an amazing way to demonstrate your area of interest. Uh, not only, you know, to these universities and colleges, but also to others.

Okay, so to that,  as you continue through this process, you, you do have to bring it all together. [00:26:00] Uh, you know, the reality here is that when you’re doing this, you should be building this brand around several different things. You need to know what type of school you wanna go to, you know, and you also need to understand what’s gonna make you competitive at that school.

And then your brand really, your personal brand needs to kind of be in alignment with the type of, you know, persona that that school’s looking to add to their, you know, is your personal brand? Is, is it gonna add to the conversation within that school? Uh, is it going to bring, you know, a benefit to that school by having you there?

You need to understand, you need to have answers to all three of those questions before you should be in the application stages. The reality here is that when you can do this over a longer period of time, you’re gonna de-stress the process, right? The pressure of now, now, now is gone, you’re able to take more breaks in between and not feel the burnout that unfortunately a lot of families do in fact feel.

And so wherever you are in the process, it is imperative that you get moving [00:27:00] immediately. This is not something that you wait on if, if you’re a junior, I’m gonna be very direct to you right now. Your application is the first one is due in nine months. Okay. If you’re a, BSMD interest, your very first application can be due at the end of August.

Okay? Um, and so you could also have some other applications, uh, non BSMD majors that are due the end of right, excuse me, right at the beginning of October. So you’re eight to nine months away from submitting your very first applications. Right now, if you don’t have a school list, you need to get moving immediately.

If, if you don’t have activities that are relative to your area of interest, you need to begin planning your summer around that. These are the steps that you need to start making to get where you need to be. The reality here is that it’s worth it if you put this work in, it will be seen and recognized by the admissions departments that you’re applying to, and if you present this correctly, if you understand the significance of how certain parts of the process work, keywords and algorithms, things like that, you will have the outcome that you’re hoping for, but you’ve got to give yourself the time to.[00:28:00]

And if it’s seeming confusing, if it’s seeming like you’ve got more questions than you have answers, then that’s probably a really good reason to start reaching out and getting some help. And so the reality here is that you don’t have to do this on your own, and you shouldn’t do this on your own. I would encourage you if you’re looking to get some assistance to, at the end of this call this evening, there’s gonna be uh, I believe a web form for you to fill out and you can feel free to enter that and we’d be more than happy, uh, enter your information on that, I should say.

And we’ll be more than happy to have a conversation with you about where you stand in the process and maybe some things that you should be considering, uh, to get you where you wanna be. Uh, but with that, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you this evening and I look forward to taking questions.

Moderator: Okay.

Thank you so much. So we are now gonna skip this poll question and go right into our question and answers. Um, so our first question that we have is, um, hello. I’m a high school junior. Is it too early to start my personal essay for the Common App? I have started on scholarships, but not that as of yet. [00:29:00]

Ferrell: No, no at all. I mean, I, I routinely work with students that are starting

personal statements as well as school specific supplemental essays as early as October of junior year. Now, that’s a pretty aggressive timeline, uh, but there are, there are opportunities for you to do that. The most important part is you need to understand if those topics are being reused next year before you start working on it.

But as long as those topics are being reused next year, there is absolutely no reason why you cannot start going ahead and working.

Moderator: Thank you.

Okay. And then just to let everybody know, um, again, this is our question and answer time, so feel free to ask your questions in the public Q&A so that we can make sure that our presenter, um, is able to get to them. So our next question is, I’m currently working on my college list. Great job.

Um, and I’m currently have about 20 schools on the list. Um, how would I go about breaking it down to get it to a smaller number?

Ferrell: Yeah. So I, I think you need to be doing a variety of things. [00:30:00] One, you need to be taking part, um, in tours as much as possible. Uh, I know that can get expensive quickly. You know, we have virtual tours, uh, that are a part of our website.

They’re totally free. Highly encourage you to go through that. Um, but I, if you’re not, you know, getting direct help, like we could facilitate you need to be using, you know, things like LinkedIn, and it’s a little bit odd to say this, but try to slide into the DMs of current students that are at those schools and see if they can share a little bit about their experience.

Um, if they wouldn’t mind spending any time with you on that. Um, it, it’s really the only way for you to start getting more, you know, familiar with what that community is gonna be like. Um, but nothing, nothing can make up for getting connected, not only with current students, but also getting on that campus and feeling it out.

Moderator: Okay, so next, uh, question just says like, what if I live in Montreal? So is there any advice you can offer?

Ferrell: I mean, where you live doesn’t change the process. Um, it, it doesn’t matter if you’re, you know, based in the [00:31:00] United States or internationally. All this is applicable timeline. Everything that we’ve discussed this evening should be immediate.

So depending upon what your graduation is, you know, what graduation year. You should still be trying to put your school list together and get your, you know, get your activities in order, you know, plan around your summer breaks that you get, you know, within your school system. Um, and, and start executing school visits as much as you can and developing a, a pathway to the eventual schools that you wanna, you know.

Get it, cut it to, um, where you live doesn’t change anything. It just changes, you know, the, the course type that you have. Um, and your school will be, I’m sorry, your application, you’ll be evaluated based upon your school curriculum. Um, you’re not at an advantage or a disadvantage as an international applicant.

You’re only compared to what was available to your school. And how will you perform just like every other athlete.

Moderator: All right. Um, what are some topics you should stay away from when writing a personal essay?

Ferrell: [00:32:00] Politics.

Moderator: Okay, thank you. Um, next question is, uh, for a junior, is it too late as of today to start showing the interest in the field you want to major in, what would you recommend for extracurriculars, et cetera?

Ferrell: No, not at all. I mean, if, if you, if you don’t do anything, you, you’re gonna be in a worst position. So, I mean, you, you should be looking for shadowing opportunities, you know, immediately, whether you can use your spring break to do that, your summer break, to do that, um, you know, you can be doing, you know, what I like to call career-oriented interviews.

This is where you, you know, maybe you offer to take somebody to you know, coffee or tea and, and, you know, spend an hour with them asking ’em about what it took to get them to, you know, where they are in their field of interest. Right? Uh, that’s another great way that you can establish a connection to your area of interest.

Um, you know, it’s, it’s not too late to join clubs at your school, so there are variety of different things you should be doing. [00:33:00] Um, but the worst thing you could do is not do anything. Um, you, you need to start exploring any and all avenues to gain knowledge and experience of a field that you might have, you know, potential.

Moderator: How do you create a narrative as an undecided applicant?

Ferrell: Excuse me. Um, it’s difficult and it’s ideally you need to be trying to narrow down what it is you want to do. And as an undecided applicant, you’re not really gonna have necessarily a strong narrative. Um, and until you can say, , you know, Hey, I’m at least trying to narrow it down between these two or three things.

You know, most undecided applicants when they apply, I, I’m being a little extreme here, but most undecided applicants when they apply, literally give us zero indication of what direction it could go. Right? If, if you could show us that, hey, you’re at least trying to cut it down between field A, field B, or field C

and say, Hey, I’m still undecided. But then [00:34:00] you can show us how you’ve been trying to narrow it down. I’ve done a little shadowing experience here. I’ve did a summer program here. That’ll give us a better understanding of, okay, this is what, you know, he or she may end up doing, or what they, where they may land, they’re not just, you know, blindly applying to our school.

Moderator: Okay, so this question might connect to like back to the fifth. How do you know what the right college is for you is?

Ferrell: I mean, just, you gotta go and get on that campus as much as possible and, and see if you think that you’re gonna be happy there. If you’re gonna feel safe there. Um, can you, you know, it’s guys, it’s not the, excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not the right school for you if it’s gonna leave you the quarter million dollars in debt for the next 30 years, right?

So name and rank of a school is one thing. It’s awesome. And, and we, we send students to the top schools in the world and we’re, we love doing it, [00:35:00] but the very first thing that we’ll also talk to a family about is, Hey, let’s also talk about the financial cost of this. You know, how are you, how are you planning on, you know, paying for this?

And so if, if a school is financially out of your, what you would consider a comfortable budget for you, then that’s definitely not a school for you, no matter how much you love the community and the culture, right? So you’ve gotta be honest with yourself, not just on the everyday experience, but the cost of it as well.

Um, the final part of it is like, you know, do they, do they have the resources that you think are gonna make you successful? Um, and do they have ongoing resources for graduates? You know, it’s not, where you go to school is not just about the four years that you’re there. It’s a, it’s, it’s a lifetime decision that school should be able to provide you support.

Moderator: Do colleges value weighted or unweighted GPA

Ferrell: If your school reports the weighted GPA on your transcript that they submit to that university, then that’s how your application will be reviewed. They’ll just remove any [00:36:00] non-academic curriculum, so choir, band, physical education, things like that will be removed.

Um, your decision, your GPA will just be calculated based upon core curriculum, uh, but the weight would remain as long as it’s on that transcript.

Moderator: Okay, so this student is a junior in high school. Uh, do you think it is too late to start a passion project? I was thinking about starting but decided to focus my time on internships.

Ferrell: No, I, I think it’s a perfect time and I think you can do both. I do. Um, so a passion project, the thing is, is that passion projects can be both very large and very small.

Uh, it depends on the scale that you’re wanting to take it. Um, just be honest with yourself and, you know, with your relative time that you have left and with what your actual schedule’s gonna be. Don’t try to make it bigger than what you really feasibly have the, have the, you know, time to scale it towards, or two, I should say.

Um, so just be honest with your time limitations, um, and, and try to, you know, build a, you [00:37:00] know, a passion project. Something that you can handle within that, you know, time limitation that’s still going to allow you to do internships, build your school list, do your essays, get your applications out the door.

Moderator: Okay, so this question reads around what ranking is a good place to be at if you want to attend a university.

Ferrell: So the reality here is that that’s variable by school. Um, the reality that I, I have to be honest with you about is that some schools, you know, are gonna prefer that you may be in the top 10%. Some schools are gonna be looking in the top 20, some schools aren’t gonna look at rank at all. Um, so the reality here is that you need to get to understand each school on a micro level. Um, the number one thing that I think families do wrong here is to try to generalize this process. Um, and we generalize this process. You, you’re taking away from the, the impact that you can have within your application. , [00:38:00] every part of your application should be tailored to that particular school that it’s going to.

So when you’re looking at, you know, kind of the average rank of an applicant of that school, if you’re 20% out of that, it’s, it’s probably not the school for you, right? Um, but if you’re within that range, great. Um, but then, you know, what are the other parts of their process? You know, how are they gonna be evaluating your application?

You know, understand each part of that school’s review process before you decide to apply to it as well.

Moderator: Okay,

uh, hello. I’m a junior in high school. As a homeschool student, what can I do to make the college process easier?

Ferrell: So, as a homeschool student, I mean the number one thing here is. if you’re taking an accredited program. Um, I, I love homeschool. Um, I actually, uh, was the, the backup, uh, to the homeschool, um, director at Vanderbilt. So a [00:39:00] lot of schools today have dedicated admissions officers for homeschool applicants. The number one thing that creates problems is that frankly, you’re not in an accredited program. So if you can get into an accredited program, if you’re not already, that’s a big change and a big upgrade for you. Um, because if you are not in one, there will be, um, extra, you know, steps that you might have to go through, um, to kind of prove that your academic qualified, things like that.

Um, but from an extracurricular perspective, the expectations are the same, right? Um, you know, passion projects are great for homeschool students. Um, you know, finding internships, they’re. just as easy for you because you can do that around your availability of time. Uh, so being the fact that you’re in a homeschool and not in a, you know, in school situation does not take away from your ability to do an internship or research.

Now, from a, a club perspective, DECA, you know, things like that, you know, national society, yes. Those are limitations. Like a homeschool student is gonna have, however, just being a member of those clubs [00:40:00] isn’t really significant, right? Um, what means something is when you’re a leader in some of those roles.

So as long as you’re doing things like a passion project and getting internships and research in the summertime, you’re gonna be fine.

Moderator: Okay, so next question is how can I tell the difference between too many extracurriculars that are not related to my interests, and enough  extracurriculars that show that I’m well-rounded?

Ferrell: So, I mean, the reality here is that you don’t have to report everything, right? So that, that’s the number one thing here, is that you can, you can do those things too, but you also just can choose what you decide to report, not report. Um, so if you have more than 10 activities, you don’t have to put, you know, even 10 of your 15 on there, you can put six.

Right? So it’s, it’s, think of this more or less. You know, do you have the credentials to begin with that are gonna qualify [00:41:00] you for the field that you’re applying to at a school? Do you have experiences, two or three experiences in that field? If you don’t, that’s the problem. Address that. If you have two or three, four of those experiences, that’s great.

That’s, that’s more than enough at that point. Um, now it comes down to what you’re presenting and how you’re presenting it. Um, so if you’re in a position where you’re trying to say, am I, am I too heavy in, you know, non, you know, Activities that are not related to my field of interest? Well, that’s a fair question to ask, but my response is don’t necessarily step away from those if it’s not costing you, you know, academic.

It’s not, you know, costing you academic performance wise or anything like that. You don’t have to step away from those, you just don’t have to highlight those in your application.

Moderator: Okay, so we’re gonna give our presenters just a moment cause I am now gonna share with you all more about College Advisor. So for those who are in the room who aren’t already working with us, [00:42:00] we know how overwhelming the admission process can be, um, you all are already getting a early start by trying to get an understanding of what it takes to stand out in the application process.

Our team of over 300 former admission officers and admission experts are ready to help you and your family navigated all in one-on-one advising session. Take the next step in your college admission journey by signing up for a free consultation using the QR code on the screen. During the consultation, a member of our team review your current extracurricular list, discuss how it lines up with your college goals and help you find opportunities for growth and leadership. I know that I got a few messages around how can I, um, you know, work with a, you know, personalized college advisor. And so please go ahead and scan that and you will be able to select a date and [00:43:00] time for a phone conversation with a member from our team.

And so as we continue to go through our questions and answers, I am gonna leave the QR code here for you all. Um, and we’re gonna get back into the questions and answers and thank you all. Um, for those who’ve been asking questions, because there’s a lot, a lot of great questions in here. We’re. Try our best to get to as many as we can, but just to let you all know we might not get to everything. So the next question we have, are SATs still allowed on your application.

Ferrell: Yeah. So you can put that on your application. I mean, the only thing, the only application where that’s not gonna be put in is, is, um, UC’s, um, and obviously Cal State, and then, you know, Harvard’s test blind right now. The UC’s won’t even open your test scores if you submit them. Please don’t be cute and try to weave in your SAT score into your essays.[00:44:00]

They don’t appreciate that when you’re doing that either. Um, and so for everybody else, you can submit your test score, uh, and in my opinion, as long as you are when the, you know, upper to middle, the upper middle, 50% of a school’s testing average, you wanna plan on submitting that test score that you have.

Moderator: Okay, so next question. Is there a difference on what to focus on when applying to a private or public university?

Ferrell: Uh, can you, what was the question? Is there a difference when applying? Was that the first part of the question?

Moderator: Yes. Sorry, lemme repeat it again. Is there a difference on what to focus on when applying to a private or a public university.

Ferrell: I mean, I wouldn’t say focused on, I mean, I, the thing that everyone’s gonna focus on when they, they think private versus public is the overall cost difference. Uh, and what I will tell you is that, . A lot of times people purposely avoid looking at private schools from the initial price tag, but what you’ll be surprised to hear is that in many cases, [00:45:00] private schools can be more affordable than a public school option, uh, due to, you know, scholarship or other, you know, possible grant opportunities.

Private schools are more likely to give you scholarship because they’re in direct control, their finances, where a public school is simply state legislature running a public school. Uh, so to that end, if it’s, you know, the major difference there in terms of focusing is, you know, the cost, but do your due diligence.

Look at the data for like, cost after aid to then get a better idea of what your cost might be. Another thing is, is, you know, never, never apply to a school, private or public without, you know, completing the, um, the school’s. Uh, net price calculator. I was almost having my first moment as a 35 year old. I’m forgetting what I was trying to say.

Uh, but yeah, you wanna use a school’s net price calculator and you want to go through that process for every different school so you can see what your kinda expected family commitment would be, uh, at that school. And that’s another great way to understand if a school’s gonna be, you know, within what you judge to [00:46:00] be affordable for your family.

Moderator: Okay, so our next question reads, okay, so are sports important extracurriculars while trying to get into the medical field?

Ferrell: So, No, I mean, they, they’re, they’re nice. They, they’re great. I was a, you know, I was an athlete. I’m a massive proponent of sports and, and what I’ve learned from them. But being, unless you’re being recruited, I’ll just be completely honest.

Unless you’re being recruited to a school, sports is not a significant upgrade to your application. Right? So if you’re not being recruited to play that sport at a school on scholarship, then you being a member of a sports team is not a significant upgrade to your application. It’s something you should still be a part of and the life skills you’re gonna learn from it, you should not quit because I’m telling you that, but I [00:47:00] don’t want people thinking that sports is a significant benefit to your application.

Moderator: Okay, so next question is how and what benefit will it give while touring college, I’ve speaking, visiting schools, and the importance of it. So could you share, you know, how and what will give while touring a college.

Ferrell: So how you would tour college, I mean, you wanna go, you know, not just check out, you know, the campus itself. You wanna explore what’s, you know, off campus.

You wanna see the local community, you know, does that local community have the resources that, you know, you have around you at your, your place of residence now? Is it gonna provide you access to the things that you like to do? Um, do you like to go hiking? You know, are there, are there city parks or state parks, you know, within a 15 minute.

That you can go to, to enjoy. Um, are there yoga studios, if you’re a yogi and you want to [00:48:00] continue that, right. Um, is that within walking distance? What’s, you know, what’s the safety like? , do you feel comfortable walking, you know, 10 o’clock at night somewhere? No, I mean, then that’s an answer you, you need to be, you know, getting for you when you’re there visiting these schools.

So it’s not just taking the school’s official tour by signing up on their website, it’s also getting out there and, and feeling out the local economy, the local community as well, connect with the professors. Um, you know, I hate it when students, you know, don’t take the time to try to connect with a, you know, a member of that school’s team that they would be, you know, ideally studying under.

So, set up a meeting to go. You sit down for 20 or 30 minutes with your parents or guardians. Um, you know, with a professor in your field of interest, um, you might have to email them five or six times before they respond. They’re busy. People don’t get frustrated. Don’t hold it against them. It doesn’t mean that they don’t want to.

It’s just that they, they do have a lot going on, but you’d be surprised in most cases, professors love meeting with prospective students. When I was at Vanderbilt and when I was at Georgia, uh, professors would [00:49:00] literally bring us boxes, and I’m not kidding, boxes and business cards and beg us to hand out their cards to people.

Uh, so they enjoy this interaction. So I would do that. Um, what was the second part of that question? I’m sorry.

Moderator: This was, this is the question. Just like, you know, what’s a focus on like for public and private university.

Ferrell: Okay. Yeah, there we go. That’s, I feel comfortable. Yeah, I think,

Moderator: Yeah. I think you got it. Thank you. Uh, next, our next question because we’ve been talking about, uh, passion projects and like when to do them.

So I so wanted to, wanted to know like, what is a passion project?

Ferrell: So passion projects are something that you do to demonstrate your, your interest, AKA a passion for something and you share with others. So these can be like passion project, like I was kinda describing earlier. You can create a coding camp or you do like a free coding camp for kids that may not have access to that, you know, [00:50:00] education.

Um, and you teach them how code, you give ’em a little basic, you know, subset of coding that you teach them over, you know, one or three day period. Um, I had a student that I was working with when I used to live in Dubai. Um, in the UAE you are not allowed to do any kind of, of internship or shadowing until the age of 18.

It’s their law. And so I had a student that was interested in finance that was not able to do anything to show his interest in the finance world. So what we did together is we sat down and we had hypothesized a business opportunity for him and, and what we did is we came up with a business plan for him to create his own microfinancing firm.

So he wrote a business plan for this. He sourced investors and then he, he sourced, uh, entrepreneurs to provide business loans to, uh, in specifically with Ghana. They were, uh, most of those entrepreneurs were freshwater drillers, and so he provided a loan to an individual that normally would not have been able to obtain that business loan in the other way.

He attained a small return on that [00:51:00] investment, a very small interest rate, and then he was able to make a small profit for both himself and his investors while giving support to an entrepreneur that wouldn’t have gotten their start any other way. That’s a business, you know? Or that’s, excuse me, that was a finance related passion project.

Now that’s an extreme example of one. Uh, he ended up going to Wharton School of Business. Another example is, you know, I’ve had students create social media accounts, uh, bringing awareness to something, um, with their iPhone. Now, I don’t wanna rely upon that. That’s what I had to see a lot of students doing during the, you know, the pandemic, the lockdown and all that.

But you can, you know, demonstrate your interest for something, um, you know, through social media. I, I actually had a student write during, uh, the lockdown that I. Not been able to go do a shadowing experience. Uh, and he had medical interest. He wanted to go into orthopedic surgery. What he ended up doing is he was filming with his iPhone, uh, his rehabilitative exercises for both his elbow and his shoulder.

Uh, cause he was a, a pitcher in baseball. And so he put those rehabilitative [00:52:00] exercises out on Instagram and TikTok and Snapchat, um, on a regular basis and built up a following, uh, to demonstrate, you know, hey, by proper warmup, things like that, you can prevent, you know, orthopedic related injuries in in baseball, uh, and other sports for that matter.

And so that was his passion project and now he’s at Southern California.

Moderator: Okay, so we have time for a couple more questions. Uh, so the next question we have is, as a high school student, are AP classes. Or taking a class at a local university since AP classes are college level.

Ferrell: Yeah. Always take AP before dual enrollment. Always. Um, AP is, is always gonna be viewed by a school as more challenging than a dual enrollment course.

Dual enrollment courses. The, and this is the opinion of universities and colleges. [00:53:00] Dual enrollment courses, who’s teaching them who’s leading them is variable every quarter. Um, and so to that end, uh, AP curriculum, you have to be certified to teach that curriculum. So what is being taught, um, is, is typically pretty much the same globally for an AP or an IB class.

So to that end, AP is always gonna be viewed as more challenging. Um, we ironically, when I was at Georgia, we would get, uh, very frustrated families because they would have been told by their school counselors to go do dual enrollment instead of doing AP. We weighted AP much higher than dual enrollment. Um, and so that’s the process at most schools today.

They’re always gonna weight AP higher than they are dual enrollment. The only time I would suggest doing dual enrollment is when you have exceeded the available curriculum. At your school for that particular field. So if you, if you’ve gone through all the science related courses that your school has to offer, like within the AP, you know, classes, then go dual enroll.

Um, if you’ve exceeded all the, you know, English courses, lit [00:54:00] courses, then go dual enroll, right? Uh, but if you still have classes you can take within the curriculum, the AP scale stick to the AP.

Moderator: Okay. Next question. If you are a, if you are a pre-med, , is it advised to apply as a biology or health science major, or do you suggest selecting a unique major to stand out?

Ferrell: It really doesn’t matter what your major is as a pre-med student, it what matters is do you have the activities to back up what you’re saying you’re there to do.

So if you’re gonna come in this biology major, then I hope that you’ve gone in and even maybe done, you know, some bio lab work in the summertime. Right. Um, if you’re, do, you know, health science, hopefully you’ve gone and, you know, done some research under a health science professor over the summertime, so it, naming a major is one thing.

Having the credentials to qualify you for the major is the situation that you need to adapt to. And so don’t worry about choosing a major, have [00:55:00] the credentials to back up your major that you’re selecting. That’s what’s gonna be the difference maker. So, and if I may, really quickly, Lonnie, I did see Preston, you asked about, um, can an Eagle Scout rank slash project be considered as a passion project as an Eagle Scout?

First of all, congratulations dude. That’s awesome. Uh, I did it myself and it’s a big deal. Um, yes if it is relative to what you’re applying for, if, if you’re applying to computer science and your passion project is cleaning up your school library, , right? Like that, that that’s not a passion project that would be applicable to your major here.

So if it is applicable to your intended field of interest, absolutely go for it. Launch that, um, and use that. That’s great. Um, but no matter what, congratulations on being an Eagle Scout. For the record, I always gave, uh, gold Star Awards for Girl Scouts and Eagle Scouts extra review points, uh, when I was still working at Vandy in Georgia.

Moderator: Thank you for [00:56:00] answering that question. Um, our last question, um, it’s gonna be, uh, what are the main things I should be focusing on in my second semester of junior year that will allow me to be prepared when app opens in August.

Ferrell:. Okay. Newsflash. You can already create your common app account right now and. Okay, so don’t worry, you shouldn’t be waiting for the common application to, uh, open in August. You should go create your account now. You should be getting all your demographic information plugged in now. Um, and then all that’s gonna happen on August 1st is that that account is gonna roll over. And then any changes to the, uh, essays for the supplemental essays for the schools we updated at that point in time.

So what you should be doing right now is you should create that account on Common App. Go ahead and knock that out, get that, you know, out of the way. Um, and that’s, I mean, that’s great cause that’s less work you have to do in the summertime. Um, and then be planning summer activities, um, any schools that you can go ahead and confirm that they are reusing the same essays next [00:57:00] year, start prepping and writing those essays right now.

That’s what you need to be doing to get ahead of your competition.

Moderator: Okay, thank you. That now concludes our webinar for this evening. I hope that you all some very valuable information as you start early with figuring out what you need to stand out in the college application process. And so lastly, just wanna share with you all that we do have another webinar that is gonna be happening next week.

And I think you’re actually leading that webinar as well. And so we look forward to seeing you in next week’s webinar. And again, every week we’re offering a variety of different webinars, all geared towards supporting you through the college application process. As you get ready to log off of the webinar, there will also be an additional pop-up screen, so in case you didn’t get to that QR [00:58:00] code, you’ll have the opportunity to sign up to meet with a representative from our team and learn more about how we can support you through this application process. With that, have a great night. Thank you.

Ferrell: Bye-bye.