Saturday, November 14, 2009

What college-bound high school seniors should be doing RIGHT NOW!

The college application season is in full swing, and deadlines are fast approaching. This month, high school seniors should be working toward the following goals:

  • To meet Early Decision and Early Action deadlines if you have a first-choice school. Note that the majority of these deadlines are in November and December.
  • To continue drafting college essays.
  • To follow up with your recommenders to ensure that your letters will be submitted on time.
  • To research financial aid deadlines for the schools to which you are applying, as this paperwork is sometimes due before the regular application deadline.

Good luck with your applications!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Write a Great Personal Statement!

Many college applications require students to submit essays or personal statements. The college application essay is its own literary genre, its own category of composition with distinctive form, style, and content. To write a strong essay, you must familiarize yourself with the genre as you would any genre.

The best essays mix the intellectual with the personal. Your writing should convey intellect, thoughtfulness, insight, but also express who you are as an individual. In other words, approach a personal topic from an intellectual angle.

A few general tips:
  • Follow the instructions.
  • Make it memorable (e.g., by telling an interesting story).
  • Make it personal—something only you could write.
  • Be sure to actually answer the question.
  • Start drafting early.
For more assistance and suggestions regarding this critical step in the college admissions process, please visit my website, and contact me today!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Narrowing Your List of Colleges

One of the challenges many seniors will face this month is finalizing a list of schools to which to apply. With so many great options, narrowing down the list to a manageable size can seem like a daunting task. Here are a few suggestions for deciding which colleges will receive your application package:

  • Think of your college list as a stock portfolio. Diversify your holdings by applying to programs that vary in their selectivity. Be sure your list includes some long shots, some targets, and some “safety” schools.
  • Apply only to schools where you can imagine yourself being happy and getting a good education. Even your “safety” schools should be ones you would be excited to attend. They should be “safeties” only in the sense that they admit a large percentage of applicants and/or your basic stats are above average for their student body.
  • If you are unsure about whether a school is right for you, try to visit in person or at least correspond with some students and faculty online.
  • Be a critical consumer of college media! Remember that promotional media are designed to entice and recruit you. Look beyond the advertising, and investigate what is actually available to you at each school in terms of majors, courses, faculty advising, teams, organizations, labs, studios, internships, etc.

For more assistance and suggestions regarding this critical step in the college admissions process, please visit, and feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Express Yourself: Generating Content for Your Application

“Express yourself.” This seemingly simple piece of advice is critical to writing a strong application essay or personal statement. However, it is also one of the most challenging suggestions for applicants to implement, as it requires a high level of self-awareness. Below are two effective, easy-to-apply strategies that you can use to generate essay topics, anecdotes, personal characteristics, and meaningful experiences that illuminate who you are as an individual.

Twelve Topics Fast
Come up with a list of 4 ways to describe yourself (athlete, musician, reader, son/daughter). Next, think of 3 stories you could tell about yourself in each of these roles. Jot down a few notes about each story—sensory details about what you saw and heard, how you felt, what happened, what you learned. The result: twelve potential essay topics.

Who am I?
Make a quick list of characteristics that you think describe you (e.g., loyal, extroverted, diplomatic, inquisitive). Focus on positive characteristics that you believe make you a special, appealing person whom others will want to get to know better. Select one characteristic from your list and free write about a time you demonstrated that characteristic. Repeat as desired. You might to try to generate additional evidence about the first characteristic or select another characteristic on your list about which to free write.

Once you have generated notes and jottings, you will move to a phase of selecting from that beautiful mess the best of the best. The stories and themes you choose to expand upon need not be complex, glamorous, or extraordinary. But they should be meaningful, compelling, and uniquely yours. Consider how the information you present will help the admissions committee get to know you. What does it say about who you are?

A few general tips to help you avoid common pitfalls:
  • Follow the instructions. Choose anecdotes that actually help you answer the question posed in the application.
  • Tell a personal, memorable story, but be aware that this is not a private journal entry. Do not include information you would be embarrassed to show your grandmother. Do not include information that will make the admissions committee pity or fear you.
  • Start drafting early. Give yourself plenty of time to reflect and revise as needed.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The A B Cs (and Ds) of Time Management

One of the most common challenges students face is time management. Simply keeping track of commitments from multiple courses, extracurricular activities, family obligations, and paid employment can feel like a full time job in and of itself.

I'd like to share four simple time management principles* with you, intended to get you on track and keep you there.

A is for "Anticipate & Plan"
To effectively manage your time and commitments, make friends with some kind of calendar system. Low-tech or high-tech is up to you, the important thing is that it is portable! Log your deadlines, tasks, and commitments on the calendar. Block off time for studying, commuting, and relaxing in addition to blocking off time for classes and meetings. Keep your calendar up-to-date and refer to it often, so you are never surprised by a commitment or deadline.

B is for "Break it Down"
When faced with a complex task, try to disaggregate it into smaller, more manageable chunks. Think about a logical order for completing each smaller parts, and create a timeline for yourself that builds in time to work on each part. For example, do not simply schedule time on your calendar to "write psychology paper." Consider that to effectively complete the paper, you will need to do library research, generate a thesis statement, write an outline and a draft, and edit the draft into its final version. On your schedule, include a realistic amount of time for you to work on each piece of this larger project.

C is for "Cross it Off"
As you meet your goals and complete tasks, reward yourself by crossing them off of your to-do list. Creating a to-do list not only makes you aware of what you need to accomplish, it can also offer a psychological boost as you cross items off. You can see your progress, really see how much you have done.

D is for "Don't Procrastinate"
"Trying to catch up on time management is like trying to catch up on sleep - it's almost impossible to do" (Nist-Olejnick and Holschuh 2007: 78). Small spans of wasted time can really add up, with adverse consequences for your schoolwork, your activities, your health, and your sanity. If you make time management a way of life, you will be less stressed and get more accomplished. Take care of business first, then party.

*I learned these principles from Sherrie Nist-Olejnik and Jodi Patrick Holschuh's excellent book
College Rules! How to Study, Survive, and Succeed in College, Second Edition. (2007) Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. p. 77 - 85. This book should basically be required reading for all undergraduates, as it is chock full of wonderful advice on study skills, interpersonal skills, and life skills. Honestly, much of it is also applicable to grad students and professional students as well. Check it out on!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fall is almost here! Are you ready for college application season?

The beginning of the school year is right around the corner, and college application deadlines will be here before you know it. Be aware that some colleges have early decision deadlines that are as early as October. (That’s less than two months away!)

If you will be a high school senior this year, you should be…
  • Finalizing the list of schools to which you plan to apply
  • Beginning to work on application essays
  • Updating your academic resumes with recent activities & accomplishments
  • Considering which teachers to ask for letters of recommendation

If you will be a junior, sophomore, or freshman, you should be…
  • Preparing for standardized tests (PSAT, SAT, Subject Tests, ACT)
  • Beginning to research colleges
  • Earning good grades in courses that challenge you
  • Participating in extracurricular activities that interest you
  • Building relationships with teachers who might later write letters on your behalf
With deadlines in the near future (especially for seniors), procrastination can be a formidable enemy. Fight it! If you would like help with these and many other aspects of the college application process, I am here for you. Please check out my college advising web page and/or drop me a line.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Keep Track of your Apps!

The fall application season is just around the corner. Many colleges, universities, and graduate programs begin reviewing applications as early as October, and the majority of deadlines will fall between November and January.

If you have been doing your research this summer, you are hopefully zeroing in on a manageable list of schools to which you plan to apply. It is common to submit four or more applications, each with different deadlines, essays, and forms. To avoid becoming overwhelmed and confused by the sheer number of tasks, dates, and requirements you must manage, I recommend using an application tracker, a simple organizational tool that will provide you with a snapshot of what you need to accomplish and when. Here is an example of a basic application tracker that could be used for either the undergraduate or graduate application process:

For a full-size pdf version of this tracker, click here.

Alternatively, you can build your own application tracker and customize it to your process. Depending on how you work most effectively, you may wish to track your applications with hard copy worksheets, in word processing documents, or on spreadsheets (e.g., in excel). No matter what the specific format, be sure to include space to record:
  • The school or program name
  • Key contact information
  • All relevant deadlines
  • A complete list of application requirements (so you can check them off as you meet them!)
As you work your way through the application season, consult your application tracker frequently and keep it up to date. This simple tool can help you stay focused and on schedule.

If you have questions or would like assistance creating your own application tracker, please contact me by visiting my website.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Reverse Outlining

Sometimes, you know you need to revise a piece of writing, but you're just not sure where to start or what to do. Perhaps you have received comments and feedback, maybe your organization is unclear. Revision can feel intimidating if your document is long and/or if the changes you must make are substantial. To rise to this challenge, I recommend "reverse outlining." Here's what to do:

1. Print out a copy of your draft. In the margins, number each paragraph of the text.

2. Get a blank sheet of paper.
At the top, write the word "Thesis" and then leave some blank space. Then, create numbered spaces for each of your paragraphs (see figure below). Leave enough space between each number to write a sentence or two.

3. Step outside yourself.
Although you are the author of your draft, for the purpose of this exercise imagine that you are not.

4. Locate the central argument or thesis. Read the first couple of paragraphs of the document. If it is a particularly long document, such as a scholarly article or a dissertation chapter, you may need to read the entire introduction. Can you identify the main point of the paper? If yes, write that main point next to the word "Thesis" on your sheet of paper. If no, one of the first tasks of your revision should be to strengthen and clarify your thesis!

5. Read the first paragraph of your paper. Can you identify the main point of that paragraph? What is it about? How does it relate to your thesis? Write the main idea of that paragraph next to the words "Paragraph 1" on your paper.

6. Repeat this step for each paragraph in your paper. You are effectively creating an outline of the paper as though you were reading it to comprehend its content. As you go, be on the look out for paragraphs that have no clear point, paragraphs that contain multiple arguments, and paragraphs that lack clear connection to your thesis.

7. Use the outline you have just created to guide your revisions. Now that you have a concise snapshot of your content, it should be easier for you to identify gaps in your argument, see how to usefully reorder paragraphs, and recognize what content needs to be cut or added.

8. Go for it! Save your old rough draft on your computer. In a new version of the document, you can now begin cutting, pasting, moving text, and adding to your draft.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to Write a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is the distillation of your central argument into one or two concise sentences. If you must write a paper on a topic of your choice, follow these steps to create a strong thesis statement:

1. Choose a topic. When you get to select your own topic, take advantage of the opportunity to write about something that genuinely interests you. You will have more energy and motivation to work if you are investigating a subject about which you are truly curious. For example, one of my students was assigned a persuasive essay on the topic of his choice. He is an avid follower of financial and investment news, particularly as these pertain to politics and the economy. His topic:
The Recent Credit Crisis

This is not yet a thesis statement. It is a topic.

2. Narrow and focus the topic. For a thesis statement to be both (a) strong and (b) manageable within the scope of your assignment, it is usually necessary to take your general topic and make it more specific. This student decided to consider the relationship between the financial industry and the credit crisis:
Financial Institutions & The Credit Crisis

Looking good. The credit crisis as a whole is probably too large and complex a topic to treat adequately in a brief paper. So this student made his topic more specific by identifying what aspect of the credit crisis he wants to focus on. However, this is still just a topic, not a thesis statement.

3. Assert a position in the topic that you can support with evidence. The next step is to take a stand. Your thesis statement must present your central argument. My student's move from topic to statement looked like this:
Changes in legislation governing financial institutions greatly contributed to the recent credit crisis, and were it not for specific provisions in the legislation, the crisis would have been less severe.

Now, we have a statement that the author can support with evidence. His task will be to persuade readers to adopt his position. However, this statement contains some vague language. Thus, the next step is to...

4. Specify vague terms.
The more concrete and specific you can be, the better. In this student's case, his first attempt at making a statement begs at least a couple of questions: What legislation? Which credit crisis? He made his argument more specific with the following revisions:
Provisions in the Financial Services Modernization Act
of 1999 contributed greatly to both the financial credit
crisis of 2000-2001and current recession and were it not
for specific provisions in the legislation, the crisis
would have been less severe.

5. Provide a road map.
The thesis statement is improving, but it lacks a critical element. Strong thesis statements give readers a clear sense of not only what you will argue, but how you will support your position. Accordingly, I urged this student to enumerate his main points of support. He responded with the following revision:
Provisions in the Financial Services Modernization Act
of 1999 contributed greatly to both the financial credit
crisis of 2000-2001 and current recession because U.S.
lawmakers ignored the lessons from the Great Depression,
failed to promote a competitive business environment,
and allowed several institutions to become too large to fail.

Through a series of thoughtful revisions, this student developed a thesis statement that is focused and specific. The statement takes a clear position and provides the major points of support that will be developed in the essay that follows.

By following these simple steps, you too can write great thesis statements!

Many thanks to Mike for permitting me to use his excellent work as an example in this post.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summertime is a Great Time to Research Colleges

Summertime is an excellent time to research colleges and think about where you might like to apply. Now that school-year activities are on hiatus, why not make the time to give the college search process the time and attention it deserves? Researching colleges is a good idea no matter what grade you are in—there’s no reason to put this off until the summer before your senior year.

Here are a few suggestions to get your summer college search started:
  • Use an online search tool such as The College Board's College Matchmaker
  • Look at school, department, and faculty websites
  • Find schools on Facebook, join affiliated groups, correspond with current students
  • Read school profiles in the Fiske Guide to Colleges
  • Contact Admissions Officers at colleges and ask questions
  • Visit campuses in person
These are only a few of many effective ways you can research colleges. Please visit my website and feel free to contact me for more tips and strategies. Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Write an Essay, Win Money for College

FIRE’s “Freedom in Academia” Essay Contest

U.S. high school seniors are invited to watch two short videos about real students who were censored and punished for speech that is protected by the U.S. Constitution. Then, "in 700-1200 words, please discuss the videos you have seen and explain how these universities betrayed the purpose of a university and violated the constitutional guarantees of free expression. Focus on why such codes and practices are incompatible with higher education and why free speech is important in our nation's colleges and universities." Visit the contest link for more information and details.
Deadline: November 6, 2009
Prize: $5,000

First Freedom Student Competition

U.S. high school students in grades 9-12 are invited to submit essays examining religious freedom and its relevance in their lives. This year's topic: "Why should international religious freedom matter to you as a young American? Is the United States commitment to monitor and advance religious freedom consistent with American legal and political history? Why should it be United States policy to advance this international human right? How does this responsibility lie 'in your hands' for you both as an individual and as a member of a community?" Visit the contest link for more information and details.
Deadlines: Register online by November 23, 2009. Submit your essay by November 28, 2009.
Prize: $3,000

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Parsing a Prompt

Having a hard time starting that paper? You're not alone. Many students have difficulty beginning an assignment, often because they do not fully understand what they are expected to accomplish. Here's how to figure it out:

1. Your instructor has probably given you an assignment sheet - a prompt - that describes what you are supposed to do. If you don't remember receiving this, look for a description of the assignment in your syllabus, or ask your teacher, professor, or TA if such a document is available. Assignment prompts provide detailed instructions about the requirements. Sometimes these prompts also include a grading rubric with specific information about how your paper will be evaluated.

2. Once you have a copy of the prompt, read it carefully. Ideally, read it through more than once!

3. Next, analyze the assignment prompt by asking yourself questions such as:
  • What is the purpose? (What am I supposed to learn or accomplish in writing this piece?)
  • What are the stated substantive requirements?
  • Who is the audience?
  • How does the context influence the assignment? (How does this assignment connect to course content? How does it fit into my professional training in this discipline?)
  • What is the scope of the assignment? (How many sources? How many examples? How broad or specific should my topic or argument be?)
  • What style is appropriate? (Formal? Informal? What discipline-specific style conventions am I expected to observe?)
  • What format is expected? (Citation format, length, margins, headers, etc.)
If you can answer these questions, you'll have a much stronger sense of how to approach your paper.

4. If you are uncertain about any of the requirements, ask your instructor for clarification. Once you know exactly what you are expected to do, you will be able to meet the objectives of your assignment more effectively, efficiently, and confidently.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

How to Wait for SAT Scores

After months of preparation and perspiration, your SAT test date looms large. And then suddenly, it’s passed. But now what? The test is over, it’s out of your hands, but you still lack that all-important nugget of information: THE SCORE. At least two and half weeks will elapse between the test date and when scores are posted to the web. Though this period might feel like an eternity, it does not need to be excruciating! Here are a few tips for teens and their parents trying to weather this potentially stressful period.

For teens:
  • Manage your stress levels in all of the usual ways: get enough rest, eat nutritious foods, exercise, stretch, meditate.
  • Go easy on yourself, for at least a couple of days. Allow yourself to veg out and recover. Play some video games, hang out with your friends, get a pedicure, take a nap.
  • Reward yourself for getting through the test, no matter what your score.
  • Keep the test in perspective. Your score does not determine your value as a person. Though important, it is just a number. Colleges see you as more than just your SAT score. And, of course, so do your friends and family.
  • Focus on other ways to strengthen your college applications: work on your essays, keep up with your courses, and stay involved in your extra-curricular activities.
For parents:
  • Don’t hover, don’t hassle, don’t count down the days. Your teen is probably fixated on waiting for the score report. Don’t encourage this! No need to add your own anxiety to the mix.
  • Instead, encourage your teen to unwind.
  • Plan something simple, fun, and relaxing to celebrate that the test date is now behind you. Suggest an activity you both enjoy, prepare your kid’s favorite dessert, or take the family out to the movies.
  • Remind your child that he or she has already made it through the toughest parts—studying for and actually taking the test!
  • Most importantly, in subtle and unassuming ways, make sure your kid knows that self-worth and SAT scores are not related in any way whatsoever. No matter what, you love your child and are very proud of him or her.

Note: This piece originally appeared as a guest post I wrote for Vanessa Van Petten's website

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cool Scholarship Opportunities

Krylon Clear Choice Art Scholarship

High school seniors, college freshmen, and college sophomores majoring in a visual arts program such as painting, drawing or sketching (excluding graphic design, interior design, film, music or the performing arts) are invited to submit portfolios of 3-6 high resolution images of their art work. An artist's statement, letter of recommendation, and transcript are also required to apply.

Deadline: May 31, 2009
Prize: $1000 + gift package of Krylon sprays and adhesives
Rules & Application Form:

National Sculpture Society Scholarship

Scholarships are awarded for figurative or representational works of sculpture. Students must submit images of their sculptures on a CD. Applicants must also submit letters of recommendation and proof of financial need. Complete rules and additional details are available at the NSS website.

Deadline: June 1, 2009
Prize: $2,000

Swakhamer Video Contest for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

President Obama has stated, “This is the moment to begin the work of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons.” How can we achieve a world free of nuclear weapons by the year 2020? Once this is achieved, how can we make sure that the “nuclear genie” stays in the bottle forever? Make a video of 3 minutes or less addressing these questions.

Deadline: June 15, 2009
Prize: $1000

Voice of Democracy Audio Essay Contest

The Voice of Democracy National Audio Essay Contest is open to students in grades 9 through 12. You must write and record an essay of between three and five minutes. The theme of your essay must be "Does America still have Heroes?"

Deadline: November 1, 2009
Prize: $30,000

Monday, April 20, 2009

Don't wait until Fall to think about College Admissions!

Though the college admissions game might feel like a "fall sport," there's plenty of training you can do in the "pre-season" to get ready to hit the ground running.

Here are just a few key tasks that high school juniors should start working on right now to keep from falling behind and facing an overwhelming first half of senior year.

You should be...
  • Researching schools that are a “good fit” with your academic record, interests & goals
  • Attending local & national college fairs
  • Visiting campuses of interest & meeting with admissions officers
  • Developing relationships with high school teachers who can later be asked to write letters of recommendation
  • Thinking about your essays. Although the "official" essay questions will not be released until the applications become available in August or September, many essays for many colleges assume one of just a few formats. Begin brainstorming and drafting ideas for responding to prompts in the general realm of...
    • Your most meaningful activity or experience
    • How you overcame a difficult problem or challenge
    • Why you are the "best match" for a particular university (with lots of juicy specifics like course titles, program names, professors you want to work with, orgs you plan to join, etc.)
I can teach you tools and strategies for meeting all of these important objectives and more. Plus, summer is a great time to work on these tasks because your commitments and schedule are probably lighter during the summer than during the school year.

For help with the college admissions process, please visit my website:

Note: Suggestions for summer essay prep are excerpted from p. 164-165 of Elizabeth Wissner-Gross's awesome book, What Colleges Don't Tell You.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

National College Fair in Los Angeles!

The 2009 Greater Los Angeles National College Fair will be held at the Pasadena Convention Center on Monday, April 20th and Tuesday, April 21st.

A National College Fair presents a wonderful opportunity to learn about many schools at once. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of attending:
  • Before the fair, check out the list of schools that will be participating. Decide which booths you want to be sure to visit.
  • Print out adhesive labels with your name, contact information, and graduation year to stick on information cards and mailing lists at the fair.
  • Bring your questions, plus a pen and small notebook to jot down the answers you obtain.
  • At the fair, when you visit a school of interest, be sure to put yourself on the mailing list. Introduce yourself to the college rep at the booth, ask questions, and politely request a business card.
  • Save some time at the end to browse other booths. You may discover a wonderful school you had not previously considered!
  • Look for RED CURTAINS to find the COUNSELING CENTER. Here, you'll find local high school counselors who can talk with you about the college search process and make suggestions about which schools to visit, based on your interests and intended major.
  • Look for YELLOW CURTAINS to find the RESOURCE CENTER. Here, you'll find financial aid representatives who can talk with you about scholarships and financial aid.

For more details about the 2009 Greater Los Angeles National College Fair, visit:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Before you write, WRITE!

One of the most important steps in the writing process is also one of the most overlooked. I'm talking about PREWRITING, people.

Before committing yourself to sentences and paragraphs, get into the habit of simply playing with ideas for approaching your assignment. Prewriting allows you to generate content, develop ways to assert authorship (the expression of your own unique intellectual contributions!), and think about your assignment at a global, "big-picture" level.

A few ways to play:

Create an unstructured list of ideas that come to mind as you think about your assignment. Just brainstorm. Let one idea lead to another. Jot down all your ideas, even those that seem half-baked or disorganized.

Sometimes just chatting is a great way to get your ideas flowing. Talk about your assignment with someone who is willing to listen attentively, ask questions, and be encouraging. Talk to colleagues, friends, advisors, professors, etc., to get comfortable with the practice of thinking through your ideas out loud. After a good conversation, be sure to take a few minutes to write down the great ideas it yielded!

Flip through key texts to get ideas for approaching your assignment. Do these texts contain problems, controversies, or unsolved puzzles that would be interesting to address? Closely review a portion of the text that you found particularly compelling, confusing, or complex. Consider the arguments in the text: how are they supported? Do you find the evidence convincing? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments? What counter arguments can you pose?

For five or ten minutes, simply write anything and everything you can think of in connection with an assignment. Anything goes. Just keep writing! After you’ve written for the allotted amount of time, go back through your writing with a highlighter or color pen/pencil and underline the best and/or most interesting ideas you generated.

Also known as webbing or mapping, clustering can help you move from a general idea to a nascent structure for your paper. Put the main idea in the middle of a piece of paper. Draw lines out from the center to possible subheadings. Draw lines out from those subheading notes out to subheadings at the next possible level.

Adapted from Hendengren, Beth Finch. 2004. A TA's Guide to Teaching Writing in All Disciplines. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's. pp. 29-32.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How to Appeal a Rejection

It’s a bummer to get rejected from a college you were excited to attend, but it happens to even the best candidates. Really. So don’t be too hard on yourself.

You might consider appealing the rejection. Appeals are rarely successful, but if you feel strongly that a school should give you a second look, here are the steps to take.
  • Contact the school’s Admissions Office. You, the student, should be the one to place this call. Do not have parents, teachers, or advisors call on your behalf. The school will want to hear from you personally. Your initiative demonstrates your continued interest in the school.
  • Contact the school as soon as you receive the rejection notification, as some schools have deadlines for appeals as early as April 15th.
  • When you call the Admissions Office, calmly and politely express your continued interest in the school without whining, complaining, or being overly emotional about the rejection.
  • Verify that the school received all of your materials—make sure you weren’t rejected due to administrative errors or missing information! Say something like: “Was there anything missing in my folder? Did you receive all the information I sent?” Then list the materials you sent.
  • Request detailed instructions for the school’s appeals process. Follow those instructions exactly. The process typically includes some paperwork and follow-up phone calls, a letter from you, up to three letters of support (e.g., from teachers), and any additional information that would help your cause.
Your appeal will have the best chance of success if you can bring compelling new information to light about why you should be accepted. In your appeal, describe…
  • New achievements (perhaps you took the SAT again and earned a higher score, maybe you just won a major competition)
  • Any personal hardships or extenuating circumstances of which the school was not previously aware
  • Connections you have made with faculty; more concrete information about how that school’s programs and resources are a good fit for your academic strengths and goals.
Even if your repeal is unsuccessful, take the following good advice from The College Board’s website to heart: Consider the upside of a rejection letter. Sometimes it is easier to make a decision if your choices are narrowed down. If you had been accepted all of your wish-list schools, you would be facing a difficult decision. Secondly, if you were accepted to all of your schools, perhaps you would always wonder, “Should I have aimed higher?”

There are many schools out there that can meet your needs and make you happy. Though it might feel pretty crummy right now, a rejection is not the end of the world.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Wish colleges could see only your best SAT scores? That wish just came true…

The College Board has recently decided to allow students to choose which SAT scores to send to colleges. This option, called Score Choice, became available in March 2009. Under the old rules, if a student reported SAT scores to a given college, all of his or her scores went. For better or for worse, this has recently changed.

As of March 2009...

…Students may choose which scores to report by test date for the SAT and by individual test for the SAT II Subject Tests.

...Students cannot pick and choose which sections to send. For instance, you can’t send your May Critical Reading score and your January Writing and Mathematics scores.

…It is free to use Score Choice.

…It is optional to use Score Choice. If a student does not enroll, then all scores from all test dates are automatically sent to the student’s colleges (as under the current system).

…Students must opt into Score Choice prior to their test date—upon registering for the SAT. Score Choice will be available online through the College Board website and by phone through the toll-free customer service line.

The rationale for this policy change was to make taking the SAT less stressful for students, while maintaining the test's integrity. Kids can fight anxiety by taking a “real practice” test to get comfortable. This has obvious benefits for teens’ emotional wellbeing. The change is, understandably, very popular with students.

However, critics of Score Choice argue that it obscures the context in which a score is earned. A test-taker can hide an uncharacteristically low score or the fact that it took five sittings to earn a high one. The kid who gets a 760 Math on his first try would look just like the one who got that same score on his fifth. If the context for earning scores is not transparent—revealed uniformly for comparison to all other test-takers—is the result really a “standardized” score at all?

Just as Score Choice is optional for teens, it is also optional for colleges. If a particular college decides to require students to submit all scores, then applicants will need to comply—rendering Score Choice effectively moot for that school. This creates even more variability: University A might see only a teen’s top score, while University B receives all of the scores.

Opponents of the change also fear that it will further disadvantage youths from underserved populations who can only afford to take the SAT once or twice. In contrast, a more affluent kid could take it repeatedly until he gets his desired scores, and colleges would no longer necessarily see that. A similar concern involves the “default setting”: unless otherwise specified, all scores are sent to all schools. This default may hurt underserved teens as they are the least likely to have access to efficient pipelines for receiving information about SAT policy changes or strategic coaching about how to take advantage of options such as Score Choice. Information about Score Choice must reach the ears of all students in order for SAT scores to remain meaningful.

Though concerns remain about keeping the playing field level, a recent College Board survey of over 3,600 respondents found that students of “all income and ethnic segments” express “strong interest in having more control over their scores.”

So what’s a teen to do? Ideally, students should enroll in Score Choice online when they register to take the SAT. You should sit for the test two to four times, taking comfort in the knowledge that a fluke low score can be suppressed. Next, read college applications carefully, as different schools may have different score-reporting requirements. If a college permits Score Choice, then you should report scores from the test date on which you performed best.