Starting Early to Stand Out in College Admissions

Ready to start on your college application, but think it’s too early? Join former Admissions Officer, Lauren Lynch, as she provides an overview on how starting the application process early can help you stand out to admissions officers. The webinar will be a 30-minute presentation and end with a 30-minute live Q&A. Come ready to learn and bring your questions!

Date 07/19/2022
Duration 01:01:14

Webinar Transcription

2022-07-19 – Starting Early to Stand Out in College Admissions

Hello everyone. My name is Juliana Furigay and I’m your moderator today. Welcome to Starting Early to Stand Out in College Admissions. uh, to orient everyone with a webinar timing, we’re going to start off with a presentation, then answer your questions in a live Q&A on the slide bar. You can download our slides and you can also start submitting questions in that Q&A tab.

Now let’s meet our panelist Lauren. Hi, everyone. I am thrilled to be with you tonight. My name is Lauren Lynch. I’m an associate, uh, director of admission at CollegeAdvisor, just briefly about my background. Um, I am, uh, a former Admission Officer at Williams College. I’ve worked as a director of college counseling at a private DC area high school, as well as working for other college consulting companies before landing at CollegeAdvisor.

Uh, for the sake of tonight also may be important or helpful to note that I am a parent of a college sophomore and a high school senior. So I am in the thick of it myself. Um, as Juliana said, we are going to present, obviously I’ll be talking ideally for about 30 minutes. I wanna leave as much time as possible for questions.

Uh, so please write down your questions as, as we go and we’ll get to them at the end. I want to orient you a little bit. Uh, well, I guess we’ll do a poll and then I’ll, I’ll get into it. Sure sounds great. Um, let me release this, poll to everyone. And in the meantime, I would love to ask you Lauren, you know, what drew you to education and, you know, college advising such a, such a great question.

I actually, um, am a psychotherapist by graduate school and training. And I found that, um, what I really wanted to do, uh, was focus on students, uh, because I feel like this is a such a crucial time of life. There’s so many opportunities for, um, thoughtfulness and introspection, and it’s kind of hard to come by sometimes.

Uh, and there’s so much stress at this time of year and anything I can do to set that, uh, set that off to, to help, but that feels very important to me. Yeah, that makes sense. Thank you so much for sharing that. Um, so now to read off the results, we have 4% in ninth grade is 7% in 10th grade, 36% in 11th grade and 54% in 12th grade.

So, you know, pretty good mix today and also heavily on that junior and senior year. Okay, well, hopefully what I’ll talk about will be helpful for everyone tonight. Mm-hmm, , I’m gonna give some generalities, an overview of the application process a little bit, what happens in an admissions office. Uh, and then we’re going to get into kind of the, be the, the benefits, the things that might, um, be enhanced by, by starting early in the process.

And, and I’m actually, um, going to start with that so we can get that framework in place. I think for, for students and for families, there’s a lot of benefit in starting early. And I don’t mean at all to instill panic in our seniors out there. Um, this is stuff that can be achieved at any stage of the process.

Ideally, as you’re moving through the application process, you’re being thoughtful about it. You’re taking the time to get to know yourself what your values and goals are focusing on on that right fit. Uh, you are learning how to communicate, uh, those very things in the application process, through your essays, through how you’re communicating, perhaps in interviews, you are.

Ideally iden or identifying and building a very full, uh, candidate profile. What we mean by that really is the story that you are telling throughout the application process, making sure that that it’s nuanced, that it’s very specific to you, but that it’s also cohesive. We want our students to be able to make an impact.

Uh, your application gets read very, very quickly in an admissions office. And I’ll talk about that a little bit later, uh, and we want you to stand out to, to make an impact with the reader so that you’re memorable. Ideally students are also learning how to think independently. This is obviously a family process.

It’s the child going to college and the parents also getting involved, participating and helping to shape the experience, which is completely appropriate and understandable. Uh, and hopefully students are able to learn to differentiate and find things to, and for themselves that are of value. We want you to be excited about the college application process.

We want you to be excited about college and what lies beyond. And most importantly, we want you to be successful, not just in the college application process, but in how you balance, uh, emotional wellbeing, physical wellbeing, uh, and the demands being placed on you. Uh, I want to be clear that a CollegeAdvisor, when we talk about success, we’re not talking about the name of the college you get into.

What we’re talking about is the right fit, that good fit between students and the colleges they’ve applied to. And ideally the colleges they are choosing between. For parents, there are a lot of benefits, uh, in starting early as well. Uh, college applications, as we all know, uh, is just, it’s very, very stressful.

It can really consume a family experience, arming yourself with information, getting comfortable with the language around the application process, learning to manage the stress that the parent is feeling and the child is feeling is going to make a much more successful experience for the entire family.

It’s also important as parents in starting early. Hopefully it gives you the confidence to let your child drive this process. It is, um, obviously something parents should and could be involved in, uh, and trusting also their children to make the right choices and move through this relatively independently.

We want our, uh, Our parents to learn to support students without overwhelming them, uh, either with their own concerns or fears, uh, but also with their, their perhaps differing viewpoints and goals for their children. It’s important to have conversations as a family, um, about the college list, what the hard nos are, what the limits are and about the process as a whole.

And the earlier you start to do that, um, the more organic the process becomes in terms of shaping those expectations and outcomes in a really productive and successful way. Okay. Um, I’m gonna talk a little bit about the Common Application, which is the ubiquitous main application that most students use, because I think, uh, I’m not gonna go into it in great deal, but I do think it might be helpful to know how each of these components of the application is used in terms of evaluating a student’s candidacy.

Um, demographics is the first thing that is being looked at by the admission officer. And this is basically telling kind of the story of the student’s family and home environment. Um, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, uh, languages spoken at home family education. These are all used as the foundational knowledge base from which the admission officers is reading further and gathering more information.

Academics come, uh, next and are very, very important. This is a way for the, uh, admission officer to get a sense of the student’s strengths of their intellectual passions, of the ways they perhaps have differentiated themselves academically. If they have a very, very strong interest in a particular area of study, they’re looking at the curriculum, uh, as well, the rigor of the curriculum and how well a student has performed within a difficult, uh, appropriately difficult coursework.

I do want to say that colleges understand not every high school offers the same range of IB or AP or honors courses. So students are not being evaluated in a kind of general, uh, context they’re being looked at within the context of their high school setting. We all know that testing has been waived for, for pretty much every school during COVID.

Um, some schools have really taken that to heart, the university of Maryland system, for example, uh, just announced they will no longer be, uh, going forward no longer be looking at standardized testing the UC system as well, uh, has abolished testing as part of the application process. Uh, but for some colleges testing is still looked at if it’s submitted and perhaps also used for the sake of scholarships and financial awards.

So that’s definitely something to be aware of. Activities are very, very important, um, in that they are helping to kind of build out this sense of who the student is, the, the admission officers looking at their academic performance. They’re looking at those kind of personal values, qualities, the interests, activities, and hobbies that have drive driven their free time and their time outside of the classroom.

So in the activity section, you really wanna be sure students, even if it’s something that you haven’t necessarily done long term, that you’re really, um, being thoughtful in terms of how you’re communicating these activities. So the admission officer can get a sense of your. Passion and relationship to those things.

In this context, I do want to say admission offices are keenly aware that, uh, many students’ activities have been impacted by COVID. Um, so I know there’s a lot of concern around that and, um, admission officers are, are very aware of that. Awards and honors is a section that not every student can fill out.

And if you can’t, that is okay. A lot of high schools internally offer awards, scholar, athlete, award, deans list, or honor role. Some students are national merit. Um, so these are things that would go in that section. And again, if you are concerned about it or have questions about it, definitely feel free to consult with us, uh, and we can help you figure out how best to answer that, that section.

Most colleges require two teacher letters of recommendation, as well as the counselor letter and teachers ideally are going to be able to speak to the students, intellectual engagement, uh, citizenship in the classroom participation, willingness to engage with difficult material. Keep in mind the best teacher recommendations I’ve read have not necessarily been in classes where students have gotten easy A’s.

They’ve often been in classes where students have had to struggle, really seek extra help, have really proven a work ethic and a dedication that shines through in those letters. The counselor letters is the recommendation that really ties the entire school experience, uh, for the student together. And the counselor letter will be the vehicle through which the, uh, the big, the, the other components of a student’s academic and citizenship experience in a high school environment are being highlighted beyond what the two teachers have referenced.

then we get to the writing and this is honestly why most students and families come to work with us because even for the best writer, this is a very, very tricky thing to get a handle on the main essay, as we know is about 650 words, you can basically write about anything. This is not a, a formal academic essay.

This is more of a personal reflection, often hard for students to, uh, to grow that kind of introspection and share some internal experiences. Um, but that is the goal of the personal essay school specific supplements, uh, can range in terms of the questions that are being asked, but often range around helping the school and the student identify whether they are a mutual, good fit, having a student talk about their academic interests, a community or a group they’re a part of and their impact on.

That perhaps a hardship or a setback, and then you get some really fun and silly questions as well. Like if you were a superhero, what would it be? And why? Uh, if anyone has questions about that, we can, we can definitely get to that later. So you will often hear the term holistic review. When you go on college visits, when you’re reading literature, you’re going to hear, um, that admission officers give students a holistic review.

What exactly does that mean? Every student is looked at in their own setting and, you know, in on the basis of their, their background and the skills and experiences that they are bringing to the table, the admission officer is trying to understand how the student’s environment, background and opportunities has shaped them. They’re, we’re looking at every component of a student’s application. We’re looking at how they come together. And what makes you as a student unique in this process? I know a lot of you are in a panic because you don’t feel like there’s anything unique about you. You worry that perhaps you haven’t had enough life experiences to really stand out.

I promise you, every student has a story to tell and we can certainly help you find what yours is. Admission officers look for reasons to include. We are looking for the best in the student and trying to pull those qualities through, to see how they’re going to impact the greater community. This is where we get to the next component of what a holistic review is because an admission officer is reading each individual application, but admission offices and admission committees are looking at a more comprehensive, holistic experience.

So how are all of these different students? How are all of these different candidates going to merge together to create a dynamic, intellectually and socially diverse, uh, pool of students to choose from? Admission offices also are dealing with internal mandates. Um, for example, development, uh, athletics, uh, alumni, children.

Um, these are things that are not necessarily, um, In the control of the student who’s applying, but definitely can shape the entering class. And also the thing that you may not know about is kind of what’s going on behind the scenes, if the admission office, for example, or if the, the university or college has just completed a new, um, symphony hall, they might be looking for cellists.

And, uh, that might give someone a certain, you know, a little bit of a leg up where in another year, they may not have gotten that little extra boost. And it’s important, um, to know as you’re going through this, that what you can control in this process is the strength of your application and having an appropriate and well balanced list and having really well written and well refined essays.

What you as students and families cannot control is the outcome in the admission office. And we’re gonna talk a little bit about that. There are a lot of myths about the application process. One of the things I hear most often is concern that a student has to be well rounded and that a student has to have done community service in order to be admissible or compelling in the application process.

Another myth is that students have to be leaders in everything they do, and that they’re at a disadvantage. If they are more of a behind the scenes, uh, activity member, rather than being a leader, we often have students who have stellar scores and perhaps have not really shown up well in the classroom.

So just to address this myth, the most important thing is going to be your academics. Uh, good scores are great. If colleges are looking at scores, but they are not going to compensate for, uh, poor academics. One of the biggest myths. And one of the biggest heartbreaks in this process is that, uh, just because your profile looks like you should be admissible, uh, that you are going to be admitted.

And this is a very, very hard thing to understand. I want to make it absolutely clear that this is not a negative commentary on any particular student who may not get admitted to a school that they ideally should be a perfect fit for. This comes down to the mere number of applicants. And again, some of these internal processes and decision, uh, decisions that have to be made internally in admission offices.

I think one of the biggest myths out there is that there’s one right school for everyone. I know a lot of students are, are heartbroken when they don’t get into the school of their choice and elated, if they do get into their school of choice. Uh, and there’s, there’s a lot of, uh, belief built up around that one, right school syndrome.

One of the myths also is that there’s a certain gamemanship in terms of applying early decision and that, that is going to boost your chances if you use it strategically. And I, another myth clearly is one. You probably hear a lot of which I would imagine adds to some of the stress of the process, which is that the school you go to is going to be, uh, profoundly impactful on what your experiences are going to be in the future.

What your opportunities and advantages will be going forward.

The most important thing as we’re dis dispelling, some of these myths colleges don’t mean to see well rounded students. They do not wanna see students who’ve bounced around from activity to activity. What they want to see is students who have demonstrated a depth and a passion for even just a few different activities.

Students who’ve really clearly articulated in their activities, what it is that differentiates them, what drives them, what motivates them students who’ve shown that they have a level of commitment that is going to translate to that college environment. Colleges absolutely do not need to see community service on a student’s resume unless community service is something that’s really actually meaningful to you in which case have added and enjoy it.

Uh, I referenced this before, but strong academics are going to be much more important than good scores, strong academics, speak to a student’s work ethic, uh, a student’s academic integrity, uh, follow through, uh, ability to organize themselves and, and meet deadlines. Uh, and that’s something that colleges really like to see.

Uh, again, this is something I, I talked about a little bit, but just a reminder that you, as students and families cannot control internal college mandates, you don’t know what decisions are being made in committees. You don’t know how you are being evaluated, uh, against other applicants and what particular quality or element is going to make the committee decide that yes, you are going to be included or no, unfortunately they are not able to admit you.

And students are being evaluated on their own terms, but certainly being looked at in the context of the greater applicant pool, in terms of the greater university as a whole, what, how are you going to fit into this? How are you going to add and what are you going to add and how are you gonna fit into the mix socially, culturally, um, they, universities thrive on differences.

They thrive on diversity, um, but they also thrive on a certain sense of unity and cohesion. Uh, so that is an important part of the process as well. And one of the things we talk about a lot in our work with students is having a really well balanced and realistic list. Uh, we, we know how frustrating it is to look at the paper and see that you meet all those numbers and that you should be admitted.

We want you to have the best possible outcome and in doing so, uh, that has to come from having a really, really strong, realistic list. And that’s why, uh, as we’re going through this, we’re really gonna focus a lot as we’re going through the application process with our students, we’re really gonna focus a lot, dig in on helping you create a list that you’re genuinely excited about.

Uh, many of you know, that the application process has gotten a little bit out of hand over the last few years with COVID with the elimination of testing requirements, with space on campus being limited by the fact that a lot of students have deferred over the years because they want a more typical, uh, college experience.

So colleges are able only to admit slightly fewer students. Um, so we really want to help ensure as we’re working with you, um, that you are going to achieve the best possible outcome.

As, as you’re moving through the students, whether you’re ninth graders or 12th graders, there are things that are going to fall squarely on your shoulders. It is your responsibility to figure out how to study, how to do the work that’s required of you, how to balance the demands that are being placed on you.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for and receive help. But unfortunately that does fall to you. It’s also a very exciting process to figure out things that excite you, areas of study that, that you get genuinely excited about. Um, which homework do you look forward to doing? If any, uh, at the end of a long day, And we really encourage our students to come become involved, be open to trying new things.

I wanna make it very clear that students who may have family obligations or work obligations to help support family, um, colleges love that we don’t ever want students to feel at a disadvantage if they don’t really have the means or the opportunity to get involved in a lot of different clubs after school.

Um, but it is important to find ways to show impact, um, to show a level involvement in something that entrusts you and for all of you out there who are not leaders, who don’t really like big groups, um, and may have more private pursuits. That’s absolutely fine. If you’re a distance runner and you like to do that on your own.

That’s valid. If you’re a nature photographer and you go out on long hikes on the weekends, that’s great. It does not have to be an organized club in order to, uh, have an impact. Just find things you love and stick with them. You also should ideally do some test prep, um, in order to be well prepared for the standardized testing.

Um, and ideally if you’re working up with us, we are gonna help you, but it’s a good thing to get familiar with the Common App, um, play around with it, even if you’re a ninth or 10th or 11th grader, the Common App goes live August 1st, uh, for you seniors out there, but everyone else get on there, make an account play around with it.

Um, get a sense of it. Understand kind of what questions are being asked. So at least you have it in the back of your mind. Students have to write their own essays. That is crucial, uh, admission officers know right away. If students have not generated their own essays, they can tell if it’s not your genuine voice, obviously you want to edit them.

And, and we urge you to get support in editing them through us or through elsewhere. Um, but it does have to be your story and your voice, and you do of course have to do all of your own college applications. Again, this is something that, that we help with. Um, but the, the legwork has to be, you. We want you ideally to, as you’re moving through this process, really focus on getting to know yourself, uh, learning some of the independence that you’re going to need going forward in college.

And most importantly, in the stressful process, we really encourage students to find that right balance of all of the demands that are being placed on you and your emotional and mental wellbeing. And I think, especially in today’s world, it’s really crucially important that students find that spot of self care when things get overwhelming and you need to step away and go have a pillow fight or go for a run or listen to really loud music, find those moments and take advantage of them.

For parents, the list is a little bit different and, um, a little bit nebulous. It’s not always concrete. What you can do. One of the hardest things you can do as a parent is support your child’s independence by letting them make some mistakes, uh, and letting them learn from them, uh, letting them learn their own identity and articulate their own interests.

Um, parents ideally are able to create that infrastructure by that. I mean, Ideally buying a computer, renting one, getting one from the school. If you can’t afford to buy, buy one, creating, helping your child create a, a quiet study space, if that’s what they need, perhaps being the carpool, um, to, and from activities before they’re able to drive or have friends who drive, um, so kind of creating that framework, but allowing them to do the exploration and really invest in the activities.

And it’s hard as a parent to watch your child grow up and move away. This process is not just about college. It’s also about your child leaving home. And I can tell you from experience, it’s very, very bittersweet, um, and also a profoundly beautiful thing to see how capable they are. And part of that is you trusting them to, uh, to thrive.

It is absolutely okay for parents to handle logistics around the process. While I mentioned that it’s important for students to fill out the applications. Um, there are some things they’re gonna need from parents, for example, what exactly your job title is? What year did you graduate? What degree was it?

Um, I also am a huge believer in parents taking over, um, scheduling college visits, for example. Um, that’s something that students don’t necessarily need to be involved in is figuring out the driving distance between this and the school. And we have time to get to both in one day if students wanna do it great.

But that’s not something that I think, um, parents need to shy away from if, if they prefer to do it themselves, uh, this sounds really obvious, but it is shocking how many students go to college and don’t know how to do personal banking, manage a bank account, um, pay expenses, manage a, you know, Payment card or whatever it’s called on that particular campus.

Um, I’ve known students who go to college and don’t know that they have to change their sheets and do laundry. Um, making not every dorm is gonna have a kitchen, but just some really basic, you know, healthy, healthy food choices, um, help them learn some, you know, stress management, um, and help them learn to be a good citizen.

Uh, there are a lot of students who go to college and have never been told that they need to clean up after themselves or that it’s not respectful to play loud music when someone else is sleeping. I’m stating really obvious examples. I think we all know what I’m, what I’m talking about, but as parents, this is something that I think you can really help instill in your children so that they can be successful in college.

And obviously in adulthood as well. Uh, parents, the financial aid and scholarship applications, um, Are largely going to fall on you, um, scholarship essays, and most of the scholarship applications that are school specific are going to be the student responsibility. Um, but the FAFSA, um, the profile, those are things that, that students will be fill.

Uh, I’m sorry that parents will be filling out because it’s all of your, your family financial information.

As you move through this process. I, I know I’ve, I’ve kind of referenced this in a lot of different ways, but I, I do want to state, um, because to me it’s not there. There’s no way to say this too much. That getting into college is not just about getting into college. It’s about, um, really integrating that independence, that identity, that sense of personal pride, uh, that students can generate in themselves and in this process.

And it’s also setting them up. For their future. And I don’t mean that to be dependent on the name of the college they get into. I mean, that based on the kind of experience the student is prepared to have in college, that if a student is genuinely excited about the experience and goes in with really, um, open eyes and open arms, they are going to thrive.

They are going to have a tremendous experience wherever they go. They’re going to try new things. They’re gonna meet new people. They’re gonna take classes in, in disciplines and departments they’ve never even heard of before. And that really is the ideal goal of a college experience. Um, Hopefully students can be their ideal and genuine selves.

And one of the things I didn’t really talk about before, but I think is important to address is that often there is a disconnect. We see it all the time. I’m sure Juliana has many stories about this, where students want one thing and parents are really firmly convinced that the path should look different.

Um, this is a really important family conversation to have, because it is very hard for students to get excited about a process where they are not feeling connected to the outcome. Um, the student really wants to be an architect and the parent really wants the student to be a doctor. That’s a conversation that the family needs to have.

It’s something that we do a lot with our, with our students and families, and it’s a hard conversation, but an important one. Whether you start early or not. I hope that you students out there really allow yourselves an opportunity to be mindful about this process. I, I know it feels like a rat race. I know it feels like everyone around you is doing something better or faster or different or more efficiently than you are.

Just take the time to check in with yourself. This is your process. Your process is not gonna look like anyone else’s and that’s the way it should be. You will have just as positive and exciting and outcome, whether you do it differently, um, or very differently from the person next to you. And. The other kind of crucial aspect of this for the family.

This is overwhelming, no matter how organized, no matter how much help you’re getting, no matter how diligent and, and, um, effective the student is in getting the work done. This is stressful because again, it’s, it’s certainly about getting into college. It’s also about growing up and leaving home. I think it’s really important to understand that stress is, uh, integral to this process.

Uh, I know a lot of families have made a kind of rule that like talk about college two hours a week with your kid, but never at the dinner table. You set aside time to talk about college. So it doesn’t consume an entire family for an entire six month period of time. Students and families out there.

Everyone has a story to tell. We have a lot of writing exercises and writing prompts, a lot of, um, advisors who are really great at helping pull out that narrative and, and helping students identify the thing about themselves that will indeed set them apart in the process. And you owe it your, to yourself, students, uh, to take the time, to really, uh, allow that to evolve and, and work that into your application.

And you absolutely will thrive where you land. I think it’s a choice. Um, I have, I have worked with hundreds of thousands of students in this process. I’ve never had a student come to me, uh, within a year or many years after getting into college and experiencing college, even if it wasn’t their first or second, or EV E even their third choice, um, saying that they haven’t had an extraordinary opportunity and an extraordinary experience.

And I know that will be true for you as.

Sure. Well, thank you so much. Your insights are so insightful there. Um, so that’s the end of the presentation part of the webinar, and I hope you found this information to be helpful. Um, now we’re gonna move on to the live Q&A, um, and just remember that you can download the slides from the link in the handouts tab.

Um, so how this is going to work is I’m going to read through the questions that you all submitted in the Q&A tab, uh, paste them into the public chat so you can see them and then read them out aloud. Um, and just as a heads up, if your Q&A tab, isn’t allowing you to submit questions, uh, just double check that you joined the webinar through the custom link in your email and not from the webinar landing page.

Um, and now moving on to the questions. Uh, so the first one we have here is from a student who’s wondering, you know, how could they maximize, um, and make the most out of their summer to, you know, increase their college admissions chances. Um, and what should they be doing right now? Um, great question a little bit hard to answer specifically.

So I’m gonna just do some generalities. Um, the summer is, is a great opportunity in a lot of ways. Um, some colleges actually do ask what a student has done like in the summer before the application or the summer before that, although not every college does, um, students can use summer experiences as part of the activity section on the Common Application.

Um, Ideally you are relaxing for one thing. I never want a student to jam packed their summer with stuff. Um, I think it’s really important to have some downtime. Um, however, beyond that, I would ask each student to think of what is, is genuinely exciting to them. What would enhance their personal or intellectual exploration of a topic or experience that they want to learn more about?

Um, for students who are really interested in pre-med, for example, maybe wanna shadow a doctor. Um, I know a lot of hospitals aren’t allowing volunteers because of COVID and, and obviously that’s been limited. Um, so there might be some online opportunities or some volunteer opportunities, even, uh, ways to get involved.

Um, if you’re an artist maybe you want to do, um, you know, work at an art camp as a counselor, or take a, take an art class in Florence. If you’re really, really lucky and you have an opportunity to do that, uh, for others of you, summers are gonna look different and you are gonna have to work to help bring in money for the family, which is also very, very valid.

So in terms of increasing your chances at college, um, there are a couple ways to think of it. One is that you’re building your resume, you’re building, what’s going to go into your activity section and the others that you’re furthering the story of the things that genuinely interest you and appeal to you.

Uh, one of the things students seem to fall into, or, or have a kind of false belief about is, is the notion that doing. Pre-college summer at a college campus is going to enhance your chances of being admitted to that college. Um, that is a fallacy. Uh, it’s a great opportunity to experience the school, see whether it’s gonna be a good fit for you.

See if you like the food and the dorms. Um, but it is not going to increase your chances of being admitted. Um, but doing an academic course is something that tells a story about your academic interests and how you’ve chosen to spend your time. Thank you for answering that. That was really helpful. Um, so one student here is looking at, you know, those quantitative metrics, you know, how can we start preparing for the ACT and SAT you know, what’s the timeline there?

Great question. Um, typically what I recommend to students is that the summer between 10th and 11th grade is a great time, depending on your personal schedule, um, to start doing some prep work and students have different ways of, of doing it. I mean, you have to kind of base it on your work style, um, and your learning style.

So some students prefer independent study. They’re very diligent. They’ll do self-paced work and they’ll manage it perfectly. Do all. Practice tests. Um, others prefer working with tutors or perhaps their classes that are offered in your area. I know a lot of high schools do offer SAT and ACT prep classes, usually in the fall of the student’s junior year or the spring of a student’s sophomore year.

Ideally students are continuing with some preparation, uh, into the, the fall and even the winter of their, uh, of their junior year. Typically I recommend that students do whether you’re working with an organization or independently, you can do a bunch of sample questions for the, SAT and the ACT and figure out, um, which you prefer.

They are different stylistically. Some students have a strong preference for one over the other, and then focus on that one. And you do that early on in the process. So you’ve identified which test you wanna take, and you are learning that, um, and then ideally students are taking the first test in somewhere between like December and April-ish December and March, maybe of junior year, and then taking it a second time towards the end of junior year.

Um, the reason I recommend doing it both tests junior year is because, um, although testing is largely optional, uh, for you younger students, it will probably shape your college list. So it’s helpful to know what your test results are. Um, as you’re working on, on that college list. And, uh, most colleges do super score.

Um, not every college super scores, the ACT, but certainly for the SAT. Uh, so it’s definitely in a student’s best interest to take it twice. I recommend, even if you’re applying to, to test blind schools or test optional schools, I just feel more comfortable having students take it. Even if you’re juniors this year or seniors this year, if you haven’t done it yet.

Um, because I just never want a student to get to that application deadline and have something, uh, not have something that they need for the application. Sure. That makes sense. Thank you. Um, so this student is wondering about what kinds of activities and awards they should include, um, and how that’s kind of weighted across different grade levels.

So are they allowed to include activities from middle school? Is it more important to have more activities later on, um, in your high school career? Great question. So on the activity section of the Common Application, it is strictly things you’ve done ninth grade. And on having said that for many students, there are things you’ve done for ninth grade on that you started when you were five years old.

So you put that in the text of your activity, write up. So you’ve been dancing since you were five years old, you’re on the dance team. You, you, uh, are an apprentice with the American Ballet Theater. Um, so you know, if you’ve done that nine through 12th, we’re putting that on your, on your application. We’re putting that in your activity section.

And then in the language you’re saying started dancing at the age of five. Um, so we’re, we’re definitely including that, but things that were specific to middle school, um, and are not continued beyond that, do not go onto the Common Application. If there’s something that you were involved in, in middle school that was profoundly impactful on you for a particular reason. Um, that’s something you can talk with your advisor about in terms of weaving it into an essay question. 

Great. Um, so I have some students wondering here about common pitfalls and biggest mistakes that you see, um, in college applications, as well as if there are any taboo topics, um, for the common.

Yeah, great question. Um, one thing for sure on applications is you cannot lie. Um, it’s really important. Excuse me, to be honest again, to make sure your essays are your essays. You do not wanna be, um, you know, caught out, uh, plagiarizing. Um, not that any of you would, but I just kind of need to, to put that out there.

Um, it’s also important to be thorough. I think students sometimes feel like, oh, I only did that for one year and, and it didn’t really count. Put it on your application if you were involved in it, or again, for those of you who may have responsibility for three little siblings after school, and you don’t think that’s, that’s an activity that is an activity.

If you are not putting something in the application that you’re involved in, the admission officer will have no idea what you are involved in and will think of you as a blank slate. So it’s really important to be descriptive and inclusive. In, um, you wanna avoid kind of generalities when it comes to the school specific applications?

Like why do you want to go to X college really make it about X college. You’re trying to make a case for why you are a good fit for the school and by the school is a good fit for you. And you want to avoid the generalities of, you know, it’s a world class faculty and a beautiful campus. That’s true of probably 98% of the colleges out there.

So really try to be specific and, and relate it to your personal, um, experience on that, on that college campus or on, you know, with the college research that you’ve done. Um, I will also say that that one thing that’s really important is, um, the personal statement. And again, that’s why so many students come to work with us because your entire application gets read in like five to 10 minutes.

It’s a very quick read, and it’s really important that you make an impact that your voice, your warmth, your humor, your experience, your quirkiness, whatever it is that it really shines through, and that you become very three dimensional to the reader. And, um, I know that’s hard to achieve, um, and it takes a lot of work and it’s important to put the work into it, to get that outcome.

Uh, for those of you, especially who are seniors, I will say one big mistake is, uh, social media presence clean up your profiles. Be sure friends aren’t tagging you in inflammatory or derogatory posts of any kind. You do not wanna be one of those students who gets an admission decision rescinded, um, because of, um, bad behavior.

thank you. Um, so I saw a couple of students are wondering here about awards. Um, they’re wondering, you know, can there be nonacademic awards here? What kinds of awards have you seen on students? Applications? Uh, questions like that? Yeah, unfortunately I, I can say generally sure. I’ve seen all kinds of different awards.

Um, and it kind of depends what it is in terms of where you’d put it on the application. Um, some awards you may not end up putting in the awards section, but might be more, uh, relevant to put in the activities section depending on what it is. Um, so it kind of the, the, the activities, I’m sorry. The awards section is local national and international.

Um, Right. Juliana. I think those are the three categories of, I believe so. Yeah. So, you know, if that’s, um, or school, local and national, maybe I think, um, so if it doesn’t fit in one of those categories, there’s always another way to incorporate it into your application. Um, one of the things I definitely recommend for students out there ninth through 12th is start a, um, you know, notes on your, on your desktop or, you know, pen and paper, start a list of everything you’ve done.

Uh, the activities you’re involved in, the things you participate in, any awards or honors you’ve gotten, um, because even if they’re small, they could have an impact and you wanna be sure to remember them and, and put them in your application if it’s, if it’s important to do so. Sure. Thank you so much for explaining that.

Um, now that it’s 8 :45 Eastern time, I did wanna take this time to do a little plug for CollegeAdvisor. Uh, so for those of you who in the room who aren’t already working with us, uh, we know how overwhelming the admissions process can be. And here at CollegeAdvisor, we do have a team of over 300 former admissions officers like Lauren, um, admissions experts like myself who are ready to help you and your family navigate it all in one-on-one advising sessions.

Um, so you can take the next step in your college journey by signing up for a free 45 to 60 minute strategy session, uh, with an admission specialist on our team, uh, just by using that QR code on the screen. Um, and during that meeting, we can really provide that one-on-one hands on support, um, to help you with your specific application needs.

and moving back to the Q&A, um, so we do have a lot of questions here about standardized tests as well. Um, so just looking to see, when should you decide to opt out of sending in a test score? Like, is there a certain threshold you should be looking at? Does it depend on the student? Um, what advice would you have there?

Um, sure. So, um, And just to start at the very beginning, um, some colleges, as I said, right now, some systems and schools are not even accepting testing. So, um, it’s not even an optional. The difference. Some colleges won’t accept them. Some colleges are test blind, meaning you can submit them, but they’re not gonna look at them.

And some are test optional. Meaning if you submit them, they will look at them. For students who, um, are high achieving academically and poor test takers. I see a couple of those questions here. Um, probably you wanna let your academics stand on their own merit. One of the things you can do, um, every college on their admission page, or if you’re doing info sessions, um, is going to have kind of the profile of the entering class from the year before admitted students from the year before, what the, the mean and median SAT/ACT uh, GPA, all of that kind of stuff.

And you can look at that and compare where your testing falls in the range of, um, what kind of students got admitted. Uh, so. If you’re testing as high, generally speaking, if it’s, you know, above kind of at the, the published, um, median or I guess mean is probably what they publish more often. Um, then you should probably go ahead and submit it.

Um, and if it’s below, but your grades are high. Um, you know, you, you may not want to, um, if you are below the admitted, published, admitted data for testing and grades, um, it probably won’t make much of a difference if you, if you submit your testing, um, that’s definitely someone, something that your, um, your admissions advisor that your advisor or CollegeAdvisor can help you kind of figure out because often it’s a case by case thing where you may wanna choose which schools you are, um, providing your testing to.

Thank you. Um, so I have a student here wondering about letters of recommendation and kind of, you know, how can you improve your chances of having a strong letter of recommendation, you know, early on in high school? Mm-hmm so ideally, um, you are asking uh, teachers, who’ve taught you during your junior year for letters because, um, you know, they, they tend to have the most recent and the most full experience with you.

Uh, so for those of you who are younger, or those of you who are gonna be starting junior year in the fall, think about how to show up in the classroom. And what I mean by that is come prepared, be attentive, be respectful. I don’t just mean to your teacher, but to your peers, um, show some curiosity and. I’m hoping this is genuine curiosity.

You probably don’t wanna ask teachers in subjects where you’re bored outta your mind, or you hate the subject matter and can’t wait for the class to be over. Um, teachers do have to be academic subjects. A lot of students ask about having a band teacher theater teacher. Unfortunately it does have to be, uh, a solid, you know, core subject teacher.

Um, but think of how you can make an impact in the classroom, how you can. Be the kind of person who demonstrates a kind of curiosity, um, and integrity academically that the teacher will respond to and have respect for. Um, for those of you who are seniors and, and may not have asked someone yet, I would recommend if you had teachers you really connected with as juniors, maybe reach out to them.

Um, and otherwise, you know, try during, uh, the fall of senior year, early fall of senior year to really connect with a couple of your teachers and, and see if they would be willing to write letters for you. Thank you. Um, so this student is wondering, you know, what types of questions should they be asking during co campus tours?

Um, and I guess in a similar vein it’s like, what questions should you be? Should you be asking yourself to get to know a college better? And whether it’s a good fit for you? Yeah. Good question. Um, so college tours are great. College information sessions are great. They’re gonna tell you a lot about the character of the school.

Um, one of the things I encourage on college tours is that you are certainly feeling comfortable asking questions, but you’re also doing a lot of observing, um, You learn a lot about a school from watching other students interact with one another. And I know it’s hard during the summer. If you’re doing visits, it’s not quite the same experience as going in the fall, but you, you know, are students all walking independently with their heads down, you know, glued to their phones?

Are students walking in, in pairs or groups interacting and talking and laughing? Um, does the student center, is it, is it a, a busy hub? Is there a lot going on? Are there flyers everywhere for tryouts or activities or lectures? Um, is there a sense of kind of dynamic energy on the campus that appeals to you?

Everyone’s gonna have different, different tastes? Um, I would definitely want to ask about housing. Um, you know, what that, what the housing situation is like in terms of, um, You know, every student, again, may have a different preference about singles or doubles or, you know, beautiful old, charming dorms, or very modern, um, housing.

It’s important to know what those options are. People often overlook the importance of food. Um, definitely you wanna find out, especially if you have any dietary needs, what the food options are on campus. I can tell you, um, that my daughter had a absolutely perfect, brilliant first year in college, except she hated the food.

Um, just hated it. And that was a real downer. Um, so it, it is really important. You spend a lot of your time eating. You also wanna, one of the things I typically want to ask a tour guide is what their favorite experience or, or kind of attribute of that campus is like, what, what do you like most about being a student here?

Um, As a parent, I would wanna know how accessible the faculty are. Does the student feel like they can go into office hours or, you know, spend, find time to meet with faculty as needed or, um, are they kind of off limits and, and hard to get hard to get in touch with? Um, a lot of students and families wanna ask about safety on campus.

I think that’s a valid question as well. Um, but I think it’s important to spend some time before tour an info session and really think of the things that are gonna matter to you personally, are you looking for religious life? Are you looking for Greek life? Um, are you looking for a really robust study abroad program?

Find the things that are going to be the deal breakers for you, uh, and then ask about those. Thank you. Um, so we have a lot of students here wondering about APS, like there’s kind of two sides to it. Um, one student is saying that, you know, their school doesn’t offer AP courses. So what else can they do to, um, kind of improve how their course load looks to, to, to colleges?

And we also have another student here that’s wondering about, um, like how important is it to have like a high AP score? Is it okay to just have a good grade in the course? Um, how, how has everything weighed in terms of looking at AP’s? Okay. So for students who don’t go to schools that offer AP’s, um, your high school has what’s called a profile.

So every high school has, um, something that is sent with your transcript, which tells the college just in case the college is not already familiar with your, with your high school will tell your college what the, um, the curriculum is. Um, so if you have taken a hard, challenging, appropriately challenging curriculum in your high school and your high school does not offer AP’s, you’re not getting penalized for that.

Um, you might be the kind of student who might want to take a summer academic opportunity, just cuz you might want the challenge if you’re not getting it in high school. Um, but you are not getting compared against students. Who’ve had AP’s. If your high school doesn’t even offer AP’s, you are getting compared against other students in your exact setting who might have made different academic choices.

For those of you who are taking AP tests, um, typically colleges wanna see ideally a three, four or five on an AP score. Um, if you’ve done an AP class and you have not taken or not reported an AP test score, the college is going to assume it’s a one or a. Um, so usually it’s better to report it. Um, a lot of students have asked in different info sessions or different, um, sorry, uh, webinars about whether it’s worth taking an AP test.

If you haven’t taken an AP class, I don’t necessarily see the point for that. I think there are a lot of other ways to differentiate yourself and show intellectual passion, um, rather than taking a test just for the sake of, of taking a test. Um, but for those of you who have done AP classes, uh, you definitely need to take the test, um, and ideally do well enough to report at three, four or five.

Sure. Thank you. Um, so I know we touched a lot about, you know, preparing yourself and putting yourself in a good position for college admissions. And the student is actually wondering about, you know, the college application itself. Um, so what advice do you have for those? Why college essays? Mm-hmm . Um, definitely takes a lot of research.

So you ideally, not everyone, obviously it’s not feasible to get to every college campus, but if you can, uh, I would definitely recommend, um, doing a campus visit, um, at the very least, uh, go online, spend time on the college website, see how they’re kind of marketing themselves, see the things that they are describing, um, that in their minds differentiate them academically or kind of ethically or in other.

And, um, touch on those. Um, you know, you can also in the admission offices, there’s a way usually to speak with a current student, even if you can’t get to the campus and you can have that kind of interaction. Um, the blessing of COVID honestly, is that most campuses have really robust online options, uh, for virtual tours and virtual info sessions definitely recommend that you do that.

If you can’t get to a college campus and then you wanna get specific. There’s no right way to answer it, but you are trying to write a story, uh, a very compelling, uh, explanation of why you as a student and as a human being are a good fit for this school, why you’re passionate and excited about going there and why they are a good fit for you.

Um, so kind of how you are gonna take advantage of the resources and opportunities. It’s it’s it’s. You know, going on a date and making sure that you’re compatible and you’re trying to explain all the ways that you are. Um, so really making it as specific and nuanced as possible, whether it’s that you love that they give out free donuts during exams or, um, that they have some quirky tradition.

That really sounds fun to you. Um, so really own kind of the, the, the personality of the college and, and relate it to, uh, how it suits you and, um, how it kind of reflects you back at them. Great. Thank you so much. Um, and I see that we’re right about time here. So I’d love to just ask one last question. Um, you know, what’s the lasting piece of advice you wanna leave our audience with tonight?

Oh, yeah. Um, take a deep breath and just remember, this is a moment in time. I know it feels all consuming. I know it feels, especially for you students, especially for you and seniors. And I do not mean to demean this at all. I know it feels like the only important thing in the most important thing in your worlds.

Um, it, it can really consume you. Um, you all are going to get through this and you all are going to end up at places that really, um, help you be the best versions of yourselves and just have the confidence in that and have the faith that you are gonna end up where you are meant to be. Great. Thank you so much.

I’d love to echo that. Um, and yes. Thank you Lauren, for taking out the time tonight and thank you everyone for joining as well. Um, here is our July series, so we have, um, AO Advice: Crafting the College Essay tomorrow night, on the 24th How to Earn the Highest Grades You Can. The 25th, um, Harvard University College Panel, 26th, AO Advice: What Makes a Strong College Application and 27th Applying to College as an International Student. 

Well, thank you so much, everyone. We really enjoy telling you about, you know, starting early in the college admissions process. And I hope everyone has a good night. Thanks everyone. Good night. Thank you. Bye.