Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The "Netherland" of College Admission Decisions

We have officially entered the season of regular admission returns.

April 1st is right around the corner.

Which means that for our 84 seniors there are a 164 decisions coming their way


by mail

or email.

There will be thick letters.

And thin letters.

Emails that begin with "Congratulations on being selected to join the Class of 2015."

And emails that begin with "After reviewing your application, we are sorry to inform you..."

For some there will be celebration dinners.

For others there will cartons of Maggie Moo ice cream to spoon away the disappointment.

And then there will be this odd letter and email.

Where you discover that just when you thought the admission process was over,

wrapped up,

done -

you realize that you face another lengthy process.

Another road map.

Another set of sign posts.

Another journey fraught with great uncertainty.

We're talking about the "netherland" of the wait list world.

Let's first talk about the facts.

Wait Lists are the growing trend at many competitive colleges.

Admissions experts anticipate 10% increases at many selective schools.

Last year schools like Duke, Wash U, and Stanford had wait lists exceeding 3,000. (click here to read The Times article on this topic)

Real encouraging, right?

So why the long wait list?

Colleges are doing this to buffer themselves against a possible onslaught of "no thank yous" from accepted students.

To say the least, this is a high anxiety time for colleges.

Who will yield?

Who will take money over prestige?

Who will stay in-state?

By May 1, deposit day, many colleges will know.

That's when they will see the gaps between

the number accepted,

the number enrolled,

and the number of vacancies.

It's at that point that the wait list game is on.

(Yes, I know I'm switching metaphors.)

It's overtime.

Like the Thunder-Golden State game last night.

If you assume the game is lost, you can't win.

If you keep playing - hard and smart - you may have a good chance.

So take heart.

Again most selective colleges in the country will admit students from the wait list every year in numbers ranging from half a dozen to well over 100.

Last year, for example, Harvard pulled 200 off their wait list. That triggered a domino effect among other selective schools. As a result, wait list action was hot all over the US.

So how do you put yourself in the best position to win OT?

My suggestions.
  • Make sure to X the box or click the link that will allow you to indicate to the college that you want to pursue a fall admit thru the wait list program.

  • Email your admission officer a short paragraph. Admission officers won't admit it, but they are exhausted. Brevity, then, is a virtue. In your email, let the admission officer know why you really want X school. Highlight 2-3 specific things you love about X school. Add 2-3 winter/spring highlights. From academics. To athletics. From fine arts. To study abroad opportunities over spring break.
  • If you have not interviewed with the college, ask to see if you could schedule a brief phone interview or Skype interview with the Oklahoma rep.
  • Consider making a campus visit if you have not already and meet in person with the Oklahoma rep.
  • Ask your college counselor to contact the admission officer to advocate for you.
  • If there has been a question about financial aid, be clear about what your family can afford. Your need for assistance could well be a determining factor.

I was reading today from Peter Van Buskirk's book Winning the Admission Game. On Wait List, he writes:

"Contrary to popular belief, most Wait Lists are not usually ranked numerically...Admission committees constantly search for new information upon which they can base an acceptance. The key then is to provide new information...Most importantly, you need to stay on the radar screens of the schools that have placed you on the WL. Make sure they know you are available and ready to accept an offer of admission. Continue to show your interest without becoming a pest....Finally, don't become so preoccupied with the WL situation that you lost track of your more immediate options. You don't want to talk yourself out of another school that you really like."

Good advice.

And insight.

In the end there is no guarantee that you will get off the waist list.

But for most, if not all of you, there are thick envelopes and "Congratulation" emails that you need to revisit to remind yourself that you have excellent options. Remind yourself why you chose those schools. And remember: ultimately you want to end up where you will be validated for what you can bring to that school community.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Should I Take Next Year? Part 2

In late April, Peter Van Buskirk, former dean of admission at Franklin & Marshall, and author of Winning the Admission Game, will speak to 9th-11th grade students and parents about key topics in his book.

In a recent blog post, Mr. Buskirk asserts his insights on the topic of academic programming, particularly for seniors, but germane for all upper division students.

Mr. Buskirk writes:

The basic message is this: “Take courses that present reasonable challenges for you academically, do well in them and choose colleges that value you for your efforts.”

The following are questions I have received since that might speak to issues you are confronting.

Question #1: “If I know that I don’t want to pursue sciences in college, would it be okay to drop science (probably AP Physics)? I have gotten B+’s in science so far but I have to work real hard in those classes to get the grade.”

Answer: The answer depends on two things: the course you plan to take in place of the science course you are dropping, and the colleges to which you want to apply. As a rule, it is best to replace a dropped course with another that would provide the same level of challenge. Generally speaking, dropping AP Physics for a survey course in government or economics won’t reflect well on you.

That said admission officers at highly selective schools are watching to see what you do when you think the pressure is “off”—when you don’ think you have to push yourself any longer. They’re looking for the slightest reasons to turn students down. Dropping the science course without adding a suitable replacement gives them a reason to say “no.” Less selective schools, on the other hand, are not likely to view your course selection as critically.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Buskirk's answers.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What Should I Take Next Year?

My office has recently been heavily trafficked with students.

My phone, in addition, has been burning up.

Why is this?

Academic programming.

Should I take Honors Genetics or Pre-AP Physics?

Do I have to take a fourth year of language?

Does my rising 9th grader have to take his or her fine arts classes next year?

Can my rising 9th grader double up in math?

It's my senior year, and I was hoping to try to get two "Rumsey courses" - is that possible?

What is college X going to want me to take?

Can you talk to my mom? She wants me to take at least 4 AP level courses!

These are all pertinent and pressing questions.

What is my response?

It's pretty much the same.

And that is...

It depends.

Specifically, it depends on the student.

Some students can juggle more balls than others.

Some students have a greater penchant for time management than others.

Some students (or should I say parents) are more "GPA-centric" than others.

Some students are better in history than science,

or better in math than language,

or better with paints and prints than formulas and test tubes.

Some students want a big, public university like OU.

Other students want a small, liberal arts college like William Jewell.

Some students (and parents) have lofty ambitions to attend an Ivy-caliber school.

Other students have realistic expectations about the price of an Ivy-caliber school.

Some students have dreams of mastering Mandarin Chinese and living in Shanghai.

Other students have dreams of starting a non-profit business like charity:water.

While other students have dreams of their art hanging in the Museum of Modern Art.

And on and on it goes.

It's so important through the whole process of deciding on an academic program that all parties involved keep the student at the center.

As I like to say, It's about the student, not the school.

If we keep first things first, second and third things will fall in line.

And remember - the goal with academic programming is to discern for each student what combination and level of challenge in lieu of extracurricular commitments and college ambitions gives that student the greatest chance to flourish both at Casady and beyond.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

College Seminar Cycle #2: Who am I?

When my juniors entered the classroom for the second cycle of the College Seminar, I handed them a blank sheet of paper and a pencil.

Sitting down, I asked them to draw two pie charts.

The first chart involved them answering the question - how do you spend your time now?

The second chart involved them answering the question - how do you want to spend your time in college?

For many the first pie chart was cut in half.

Half was "Academics".

The other half was sliced into many different pieces.

From "Sports".

To "Theater".

From "Garage band".

To "Youth Group".

From "Dance".

To "Horse back riding".

Heck there were even pie slices for "Thunder games" and "Sleep".

The second pie charts, however, were the most interesting.

Some juniors drew charts that looked similar to their charts now.

But for most there were nuances.

For some "Academics" went from half to a quarter.

For many "Social" went from quarter to a half.

What's "Social" look like?, I asked the juniors.

Greek life.






Road tripping.

For many sports even fell under social.

It wasn't about competing to win as much as connecting to know/be known.

For those who haven't seen the Oscar award winning film, The Social Network, it is a must see.

The film captures the spirit of a generation and helps us understand why kids are far more about social interactions/networks/webs than they are about anything else.

One junior confessed that she wanted a college where the "academics were challenging but not suffocating". She wanted room for more "spaciousness to enjoy friendships".

Quite revealing, don't you think?

Just last week The Times did an article entitled "College the Easy Way" on this trending issue among college-bound students. Worth the read.

Moving on to the next exercise, I had the juniors draw a stick figure of themselves, then a linear line across the page, and then another stick figure with a cap and gown on.

Above this drawing I had them write out this question:

"What do you hope to experience/do in college before you graduate?"

To help my juniors think about what to put on that linear line, I mapped out with bullet points what I experienced in that bracket of time.
  • played college basketball (on scholarship)
  • lived in a major city with trains (Chi Town)
  • lived in a dorm (three fellow b-ballers and my roommate from Minnesota)
  • rode a bike instead of drove a car my freshman year
  • had a girlfriend (her name was Amy...a different Amy than my bride)
  • got season tickets for football (one year at OU...the Schnellenberger year...enough said)
  • studied literature and education
  • ate Lucky Charms three meals a day
  • knew and was known by my professors (Dr. Grady and Dr. Washington)
  • worked a couple job to pay the bills (bus driving/assistant coach)
  • lived in a house off campus with a bunch of guys (405 Chautauqua Ave)
  • road tripped over spring break (Panama City Beach 08')
  • got an internship (student teaching at OCS)
  • studied abroad (Regent College in Vancouver...does Canada qualify as abroad?
  • wrote a mini-thesis (Tolkien and Lewis: The Christian Imagination)
  • got a job (OCS)
  • got into graduate school (UCO)
  • graduated with minimal debt ($1500 total)
  • bought my first car (silver, 1998 Honda CRV with 42K)

Parents then - don't be afraid to ask your student this question. It really can corkscrew open conversation about what your students desires to get out of those four years.

Because in the end, college is an experience.

Think about what you (parents) remember about college.

Is it really that lab on Friday afternoons?

Or that Pulitzer winning professor?

Or nights curled up with your textbooks at midnight?

Or are the memories you hold dear about moments with people you formed a bond with through mutual experiences?

Certainly there was that professor who helped awaken in me latent desires and gifts.

Dr. Grady comes to mind. His American II class was a turning point for me academically and professionally.

But for the most part, my memories are rife with moments like...

playing Spades with teammates for a penny a point on road trips,

running button hooks on the sugary sands of Florida in a tackle football game with 10 fellas over spring break,

and building a Mountain Dew wall in the Chautauqua house (1076 Mountain Dew cans total).

At Elon, there is a tradition that when a student graduates, they not only get a diploma but they get a resume of all that they have done, experienced, and accomplished during their years there.

Pie charts and sketches.

It's a place to begin.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Casady Advetorial

Our admission/marketing team asked me to write an "advetorial" for a local magazine.

I didn't know what that was.

But I learned that an advetorial is a column that serves as an advertisement.

So after writing, editing (thanks to Mark Hoven), and re-writing, here is what I came up with.


Molly faces a dilemma.

May 1st, deposit day, looms on the horizon.

Back in September, Molly feared she wouldn’t get into any of her top schools.

Now she is cursed with a bright triad of choices.

From the University of Michigan and its top East Asian program; to Austin College and its innovative Language House; to UT-Austin with its live music scene, 50,000 students, and sorority central.

The last option, of course, makes Molly’s dad cringe at the thought of wearing burnt orange.

But every college choice for Molly shimmers with possibility.

Which school though is THE ONE for her?

In those moments, Casady college counselors like to remind students like Molly and her parents that we’re not chasing a trophy we’re making a match.

At Casady School our mission involves partnering with families like Molly’s to discern the best college fit.

Sometimes fit involves admissibility. Can the student get in?

Other times fit involves affordability. Can the family pay the sticker price?

And other times, like in Molly’s case, fit involves pursuing a passion to study Mandarin Chinese and rush as a Theta.

The truth is that there is no perfect college.

That’s a myth.

Instead there are many excellent schools where each student can pursue their passions, make connections, graduate in four years, and either matriculate to graduate school or compete in the job market.

Over the past four years, 100% of Casady graduates have been accepted to a total of 250 colleges and universities (220 private/50 public).

From Ivies like Dartmouth and Penn.

To BCS bowl winners like TCU and Ohio State.

From single sex schools like Wellesley and Hampden-Sydney.

To small, liberal arts colleges like Pomona College and Rhodes College.

Overall, our acceptance rate has shot up in four years from 40% to 74%.

And our merit money from $500,000 to $3.6 million.

As a whole, Casady students are discovering that each of them have a thumbprint that matches what colleges are looking for. Nothing has been more self-validating.

So what school, you might wonder, did Molly end up matriculating to?

Just ask Molly’s dad. He sports a Longhorn baseball cap on weekends. Except, of course, on the first weekend in October.