Thursday, December 20, 2012

Deferred - Now What?

Right after the student viewed the admission decision online, I received a text with the news.

The d word.

Not the the black-and-white, upper case D word.

But the grey, lower case d word.

The former involves finality.

The latter involves liminality.

It's that space between.

Between good news and bad news.

Between congratulations and consolations.

Between Instagraming a picture in your new college sweatshirt and having your mom re-attach the price tags and return the clothing item. 

The Catholics have another word for this liminal existence.


It certainly can feel like it anyway, when now the student has to wait another 3 months before they get a final decision.

But oh wait.

Even then the student may not get the black-and-white answer they seek.

There is this other Dante-esque mechanism that highly selective schools have created and utilized more and more in an age of application proliferation.

It's called the Wait List.

That's another blog post.


So back to the defer letter.

It's all part of a new phenomenon where colleges can't make a decision on the applicant because they don't know what's coming in the regular admission cycle.

It's not uncommon then that more and more colleges are either admitting a more liberal number of early applicants to protect yield numbers.

Or colleges are admitting a more conservative number of early applicants to protect their yield numbers.

Check out early admission numbers for schools like Emory or Northwestern - and you'll see the former in action.

Check out the admission numbers for HYP's (Harvard Yale Princeton) and you'll see the latter in effect.

Yes, HYP's admit 18% or so of a much smaller applicant pool in early admissions.  (click here to see 2012 early admission statistics).

But of that18% - you will find that these schools took a liberal number of applicants who have a HOOK - recruited athlete, legacy tie, ethnic demographic, specifically Native American, Hispanic, African American, 1st generation kids.

So take out all of those admitted numbers and what do you have left?

You have Clark W. Griswold's tangled Christmas ball of 250 strands of electro lights!!!


Two things selective/highly selective college admissions want up - application volume and yield.

One thing selective/highly college admissions want down - admit %.

So call defer what it is - it is a way of protecting a key variable like yield in the rankings game.

So what then should a student do if they are deferred?

First off, I tell my students to calibrate their expectations for a favorable result in regular admissions based on the selectivity of the school.

The rule of thumb:  the more selective the schools, the less likely the defer will come out of the cocoon in April shimmering like a bright butterfly.

The Big Three are notorious for deferring the lion's share of applicants.

It's what we like to call a "soft landing" approach for these schools.

They know that the student will be admitted to some schools in regular admissions, and therefore, they won't crash and burn emotionally when they get the disappointing news.

I've heard from countless colleagues with a wealth of experience that many of them have either not had a single student admitted in regular who was deferred by the top Ivies, or maybe one in 20 years.

If you are like Lloyd Christmas, then the whole one-in-a-million odds are still looking somewhat favorable to you.

Now Penn, for example, is an Ivy that publishes their admit numbers from defer. (click here to see profile)

Last year Penn admitted 99 of the 888 students they deferred.

That's about the same % as Penn admitted in regular admission.

But the odds are certainly better.

Now other schools, less selective, will probably admit a higher percentage of deferred students.

For our kids, for example, SMU deferred a number of them in their early action cycle.

They admitted all of them in regular admission last year.

What was critical for those kids is that they really demonstrated a high yield credential.

They stayed on the admission reps radar screen with an occasional e-mail that either highlighted something from the winter trimester, or asked an intelligent question.

For those kids, they took their winter trimester very seriously in the classroom.  They kept pushing even though they wanted to start coasting.

And for some, they had another person write a short recommendation letter that could provide another layer of insight.

One student just asked the admission rep via e-mail if there was something in his application that the rep found weak or in need of improvement before the next application review.

Believe it or not the rep gave this student some excellent feedback.

This student's supplemental "why us?" essay felt "generic and recyclable."

The student then followed-up with a question:  "Well, can I submit another supplemental essay?"

The admission rep said absolutely.


In the end, I try to help my students see the defer letter as another opportunity.

An opportunity to go the extra mile to make your case.

An opportunity to put your money where your mouth is.

An opportunity to showcase some real grit and fortitude.

An opportunity to ferret out on Facebook what kinds of Christmas gift you can send the admission rep for their stocking. (kidding)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Denied! - Now What?

So you found coal in your stocking from your #1 college.

The Grinch stole your Christmas joy.

Now what?

First, take some time to lick your wounds. 

Engorge on Russel Stover's chocolate.  Drown your sorrows in some eggnog.  Suck your candy canes down into pointed darts and hurl them vindictively at your deny letter.


Necessary catharsis.

Remember while you are wolfing down gingerbread cookies that very few students get into ALL the schools they apply to.

In my six years, I can't even count 1 of my students who applied to selective and highly selective institutions that didn't get either denied or wait listed.

None of their application records went unblemished.

And yet all of them ended up at great schools!

Second, replenish your Mojo.

It's never easy to do this once you've expended your Mojo on writing essays and completing applications. 

But nevertheless, life is about finding ways to replenish the Mojo bottle and carry on.

At some point, you got to return to your Common Application portal and click on the supplements and start cranking out drafts, researching the colleges to really nuance your answer to the "why?" questions (click here to read my blog post on compelling supplemental essay writing).

Third, calibrate your Plan B college list.

The impulse in the mad scramble to meet Jan. 1 deadlines is to blast a staccato of applications to colleges that are as selective or more selective as the school you applied to in early admission.

I call this the horizontal approach.

Or the "X axis of selectivity" strategy.

The false logic here is to deduce that the more schools I apply to, the more likely I will get into one of these schools.

1+1+1+1+1 = at least 1+> admit. 

The truth is that the more schools you apply to in the same band of selectivity you were denied/deferred in, the less likely you will get into one of them.

The math in highly selective admissions just doesn't work that way.

Many times then 1+1+1+1+1 = 0.

My first college coaching video, in fact, explains this.

My advice then:  take a vertical approach.

Apply on a "Y-axis of selectivity".

If you weren't admitted to schools that admit 6-20%, then look to apply to schools that admit 25-50%.

If you weren't admitted to schools that admit 25-50%, then look to apply to schools that admit 51-60%.

We talk to our students about the 50/50 rule.

At least 50% of the schools you apply to need to be in a selectivity range where your credentials (GPA, test score) are equal to or above the school's profile.

We call these "likely" or "target" schools.

And 50% are below the school's profile.  

We call these "reach" schools.

Fourth, avoid recycling essays.

Everything inside of you is going to want and recycle essays.

In some cases this may work effectively.

But not when it comes to the "why"? supplements.

It's critical that you start over.

Do your research.

Focus on why you think that particular college fits you.

I had a colleague tell me after reading a student's "why"? essay that they could tell it was recycled.

It smacked of the generic.

This savvy reader could tell the student had simply inserted the name of their college.

"It's like a pick up line," the admission officer confided in me.  "You can tell this student had used it to court many colleges."

Fifth, control what you can control.

There is a lot in the college admission process, especially in highly selective admissions, that is beyond your control.

You can't control, for example, when a school like Vandy gets a 20% increase in ED I applications.

Or your gender.

Or the color of your skin.

But you can control, for example, if you are going to recycle essays or write new ones.

You can control how you perform academically in the classroom during the winter.

You can control whether or not you demonstrate interest to the colleges you are applying to in regular admission - emailing the rep occasionally with a winter highlight or an intelligent question.


Getting over a deny is much easier said than done.

But it's just part of the college process in finding that right fit.

And know that you are not alone.

Most seniors out there are going through the same motions of returning to their applications over the holidays, writing supplemental essays, and clicking the submit button.

And know that all will work out.

In fact, I just had an alumni who popped in to say hello.

She was denied from her first two schools in ED 1 and ED II.

And guess what?

She loves where she is.

Her Plan C is now her happy Plan A.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is your student receiving an early admission decision soon?

It's that time of year again.

Early admission decisions are coming out.

The wait will finally be over.

And reality will come to roost.

I was asked by my headmaster yesterday what the "early forecast" looks like for our students.

Talk about being put on the spot in our administrative meeting.

My response.

The weather doppler shows an early winter mix of snow and sunshine.

Emily Dickinson gave great advice when she poetically waxed:

"Tell the truth but tell it slant."

Metaphors are helpful "slants" (/) to convey hard truths.


Just today The Choice blog published a post on advice for parents and students who are receiving news from colleges.

Many of my colleagues had excellent insights and anecdotes to illustrate the do's and don'ts.

The story of the mom recording "the moment" and failing to see her daughter sobbing because of the bad news - that's a "parent fail" moment (not that I haven't already had a bevy of fail moments with my 6 year old)

Or the parent who ordered two different Christmas cards.

One with the daughter in her Duke sweatshirt.

The other with her daughter in another outfit.

Truth is stranger than fiction sometimes - isn't it?


One thing I have to keep in mind is that this is not my moment.

It's not about me.

This is the student's moment.

My job in that student's moment is to try and practice what Harvard professor and theologian Henri Nouwen called the "ministry of presence."

To minister presence simply means being present in the present with the person in my presence.

This is never easy to do.

I have to resist the impulse to "fix" the situation.

I'm learning though that it is OK for things not to be OK.


All of us deep down hate to see our kids suffer disappointment.

We are a pain aversion society - aren't we?

We're a Happy Meal culture.

We're a Lake Woebegone world where every kid is now well above average.

We don't want to acknowledge that most meaningful success stories are shaped by a trajectory of suffering.

People who end up really mattering to the world are people who end up enduring great suffering to matter to the world.

I'm reading Team of Rivals right now, for example.

I've been amazed in just the first 100 pages by how Lincoln's suffering in his formative years molded his character.

And I've been equally amazed at how Lincoln handled personal loss and political defeat.

He wasn't a Clint Eastwood type.

He didn't just grit it out.

Lincoln grieved it out.

He had unstinting bouts of "hypocondria" that drove him to the edge of despair.

But it's that emotional edge that ultimately gave Lincoln his moral edge.

Lincoln wouldn't have been Lincoln without the personal and political set backs.

One salient thing Lincoln possessed during his lifetime was the ability to navigate those painful moments through story telling and good humor.  

Lincoln found ways in moments punctuated by grave disappointment or ferocious intensity to keep his sanity and perspective by telling a funny, homespun anecdote he gleaned from his father while growing up in the backwoods of Kentucky. 

The film "Lincoln" illustrates this poignantly when Lincoln tells a crude story about a toilet and portrait of George Washington that had his entire cabinet in raucous fits just moments before they received critical news from the Civil War battle front.

Perhaps there is something we can all glean from Lincoln here.


Often times the best thing to do when it is bad news for kids is not to say anything all.

Chicken Soup words just don't warm the soul.

It's best to do what Jews down through the centuries have done amid suffering.

Call it the ancient practice of just shutting up and being silently with. 

A hug.  Tears.  A steaming cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows bobbing on the frothy surface.

A fun Christmas movie like Elf.

Moreover, it's best for this moment to occur in a private place with supportive people.

It's days or weeks after that I will try to reasonably explain the hidden perils that may have factored into the unfavorable application decision.

Especially at highly selective institutions where the goal is for the admission officer to find a reason not to admit the student.

I often begin by reminding the crestfallen student that the college made a decision on a 5 to 15 minute application review, as well as a set of institutional goals that the student may or may not have fit into as an applicant.

In other words, this college didn't deny you.

They denied your application.

Sometimes the college is denying your application because on page one they saw that you didn't fit a certain geographical demographic or ethnic demographic.

Or you checked off one gender box instead of the other. 

Or that you chose an academic discipline that is full.

Or that you have a smattering of B's and C's from your freshman year.

Or that you took a freshman level course like Chinese 1 in your senior academic program.

Or that you took Honors US History instead of AP US History. 

Or that your activities chart was too thin.  (They needed more generalist).

Or that your activities chart was too thick.  (They needed more specialist).

Or that you didn't check the "plan to participate in college" box.

Or that your parents didn't attend this particular college.

Or that your test score was "profile negative" by a single point.

Or that a teacher checked the box "Excellent - Top 10%" in their Teacher Evaluation form instead of "Exceptional "Top 2-3%".

There are a myriad of reasons that a student's application is admitted, deferred, or denied that is beyond one's control.

Beyond my control.

Beyond your parent's control.

Beyond some rich alumni's control.

Just beyond.

And not being able to manipulate the results just plain sucks.


Life is moments.

And this will be for your student one of those moments.

It's not the ultimate moment.

It's just one moment among many moments that will shape them.

Looking back, I realize now that often the moment isn't about the news.

It's about the person's response.

I also realize that the moment isn't meant to be a solitary event.

It's meant to be a communal moment.

Some moments, in other words, are meant to be shared.  

Any disappointment can be absorbed and overcome in the presence of someone who cares, supports, encourages, and ultimately loves you.

I often remind parents in our first college meeting that a study has shown that a parent has roughly 3000 hours to influence a child.

That's 3000 dots.

No dots are more impacting than dots of love.

For in the end, love is always presence.

Every one of us needs to hear, regardless if we are hearing back from a college, that we are loved simply because.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

@UVADean Eyebrow Raiser!

I call it the C.A.E.I.

I'm guilty of it.

You (the parent) might be too.

It's the result of a conundrum, really.

If I don't do it, the student's application might turn into a paper airplane.

Destination - the deny bucket.

But if I do do it, then I risk taking something away from my student.

The feeling of authenticity.

And personal ownership.

And the idea that the college journey is the student's journey.

But nevertheless, more often than not, we succumb to the C.A.E.I.

My favorite dean recently tweeted out a possible C.A.E.I. violation.

It's the College Application Editorial Impulse.

It's one thing to edit out a typo.

A misspelled word.

An upper case word that needs capitalizing.

But it is another thing to shape the story.

Or to pepper the essay with octosyllabic, SAT, Ph.D.-level words where a small, ordinary, Joe 6-pack set of words would suffice.

Or to imbue the essay with little poetic touches.

Like a nice sounding simile.

Or silver tongued metaphor that would make Scott Fitzgerald bow a knee of reverence.

Or worse - turn a self-effacing moment in the essay into a self-triumphal moment.

Where instead of the student revealing themselves to an admission officer.

They end up packaging themselves.  

Nevertheless, I try my best to resist the impulse to edit the student's voice and style and worldview out of the essay.

There is, no doubt, a lot at stake in the college essay.

But to write the essay for the student, or to write the student out of the essay - in the long run it will do far more harm than good.

My hope is always that the whole college process is self-reflecting, self-revealing, and self-validating for the student.

The essay or essays is just one way that the student is able to reflect, reveal, and invite the reader to get to know them in an authentic way.


Almost every dean of admission out there shares a common desire to see students reveal the true self.

Here is one example from the dean of admission at Princeton.

Here though is my confession.

As an English teacher, I'm conditioned to want to improve the quality of content in a student's work.

But in the end, this is not my essay.

It's not my application.

It's not my journey.

So I'm trying to do a better job of correcting the typos, grammar gaffes, and punctuation errors, but not tampering with the animating core of a student's essay.

So I guess I am a recovering C.A.E.I.

I need tweets like @UVADeanJ to keep me on the road to full recovery.

All of us do - don't we?


Monday, December 10, 2012

College Coaching Video #1

Over the next six months, I will be adding a weekly college coaching video.

They will be short instruction videos that essentially are "chalk board chats" I often have with students and parents in my office as we discuss a range of college related topics.

The first coaching video has to do with regular admissions.

Many students will be hearing this week regarding early college admission decisions.


Some students will hear good news, specifically in Early Decision programs, and their college selection process will conclude by adding their new college's decal to their car.

At the same time, other students will hear disappointing news, either being deferred or denied in early admissions, which will send them scrambling to their Common Application portals to add more schools.

This first video is an attempt to coach students/parents through the application decision process.

There is a common mistake students make in regular admission.

I call it the horizontal mistake.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How do I interpret my student's PSAT score report?

Today I sent out a push page to UD parents in regards to PSAT score reports being distributed back to their students.  

I told the parents to keep seven things in mind as they discuss the PSAT report with their students.

First, PSAT scores are NOT reported or used in college admissions.   However, colleges do purchase student names from the PSAT to begin recruiting prospective students.

 Second, PSAT categorical scores are easily converted to a SAT score by adding a 0 (i.e.  M:  -> 55; 550,  CR:  60 -> 600, W:  49 -> 490).

 Third, most college admissions still ONLY use the Math and Critical Reading sections (1600 scale) in their application assessment.  Moreover, colleges are required to only submit Math and Critical Reading averages (75th-25th percentiles) for ranking purposes to magazines like US News and World Report.

 Fourth, for 11th grade students, the 2012 National Merit qualifying score for Oklahoma was 206.  This score changes each year and for each state.  We won’t know what the 2013 NM qualifying score is until August.

 Fifth, studies show that most students average a 30-150 point improvement on their SAT score.  This normally occurs when a student re-takes the SAT for a second time.  A 300 point spike is very matter the amount or quality of test prep.  (This Times blog post attempts to debunk myth of test prep.)

Sixth, Casady students generally perform better on the ACT.  Last year, for example, 89% of the Class of 2012 scored highest on the ACT.

Seventh, the SAT and ACT are interchangeable credentials to college admissions.  In fact, this year was the first year nationally that the ACT was more popular than the SAT (see article).  In addition, some colleges are “test flexible” in that they will take 3 SAT II Subject Tests or 3 AP scores (i.e. NYU) instead of the ACT or SAT.  Moreover, 800+ colleges are “test optional” in that they don’t require a test score (Bowdoin, Wake Forest, Middlebury, Sewanee).  Go to this link to peruse this list:

It's important then that you reach out to your college counselor if you have any follow-up questions about the PSAT score report or standardized testing in general.

If they aren't available, please don't hesitate to email me at  I'd be glad to help. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Waiting on an Early Admission Decision?

It's the hush and quiet pause in our office before the storm arrives with admission news.

Fresh acne has already broken out on my chin.

My finger nails are chewed down to salmon colored nubs.

And I have to resist the impulse to harangue admission officers to share early decisions.

Most of my emails to admission reps start with a Shakespeare quote (I'm teaching Macbeth right now to 10th graders).  

"The readiness is the all."

Forewarned is forearmed - right?

I've found that college counseling is a lot like coaching.

When you win, it's the players.

When you lose, it's the coach's fault.

Colleges never fire losing players.

So far, I've gotten a mix of responses from admissions reps.

Some say, "Because of the sensitivity of the admission decision, I can not reveal to you the results.  We wish the candidate the best of luck."

That's code for deny.

Then there are other colleges that have entrusted the decision to me.

Probably the worst part of the job is having to hold onto bad news for weeks before the student receives it.

It's also the same with good news.

Hard to repress the excitement for them.

Tomorrow, my colleague and I are getting an "admission preview" phone call from a highly selective school in regards to two of our candidates.

"Admission preview" - I like that.

Regardless, this is an unnerving time for all parties involves - students waiting, parents waiting, counselors waiting, friends waiting, communities waiting, board of trustees waiting (ugh!).

What then do you do during the waiting season?

For me, I've found that three things help me pass the time.

Books.  I just started Team of Rivals.  I saw the movie "Lincoln" on Friday and immediately went to Barnes and Noble and bought the book.  It's 996 pages of distraction.

Exercise.  I'm hitting the weight room a bit more these days.  Lifting and running helps relieve pent-up stress.  I always feel a bit more like a balloon inside instead of a bar of lead after I work out.

Fun.  There is nothing like a nerf gun war through the house with your 5-year old, or sumo wrestling on the bed, that doesn't bring perspective.  Or correction in terms of what is most important.

While I was walking back from lunch today, I saw one of our seniors in the quad area who is waiting on an early decision.

In between flinging the neon orange Frisbee, he was doing handstands.


You ought to try it.

The smile on that student's face told me that regardless of the news he hears next Friday, he's going to be alright.

So will you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

December College Check List

Yesterday we met with seniors to discuss the "December College Check List".

If you have a senior in the college application process, it is worth noting a handful of these.
  •  College Decisions and Scholarships.   Between mid-December and mid-January, students will be hearing back from colleges about early admissions decisions.   It’s important that students inform their college counselor of the admission decision, as well as any scholarships offered by the colleges.  
  • Admission Deadlines (Regular).  Many schools will have regular admission deadlines over the Christmas holidays.  The good news is that all of these schools will take electronic submissions.  This then will make it easy for college counselors to upload and submit from laptops in Des Moines(my holiday destination) or the comfort of their living room.  It’s important though that we know when students have submitted their applications over the break.    
  • Application Checklist (Regular).  It’s important that students check off ALL application requirements.  Some colleges, for example, require 2-3SAT II Subject Tests.  The last date to take SAT Subject Tests will be January 26th.  It’s also important to make sure that all test scores and supplemental forms have been submitted to the school by the deadline.  This is the student’s responsibility.  Our office submits all transcripts and recommendations.    
  •  Final Testing.  The last dates seniors can take the ACT for regular admission consideration are December 8th and February 9th.  Last date for SAT I/SAT II is January 26th.  Make sure to have test scores sent directly to schools. 
  • Plan B or Plan C.  For some students, Plan A isn’t going to work out.  It’s an unfortunate part of the college admission process.  To alleviate additional stress on all parties, it is important that every student has a Plan B, even Plan C in place.  You know the sapient maxim:  Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.  College counselors are there to discuss a new strategic plan going forward in regular admission, 
  • Final Thought.  I shared with the kids in closing a bit of my own journey, and how I was wait listed at my #1 college.  I still can recall the visceral wallop that the WL letter left on my stomach region.  It took days, even weeks, for me to recover as an 18-year old kid.  Undoubtedly, this is a very personal process…and in a small, tight knit school like Casady, this process is a very communal one. But what I reminded the kids – and remind you -- is that these colleges aren’t accepting, deferring, or rejecting you.  They are making a judgment call on a 15 minute review of an application.

Monday, December 3, 2012

New @UVaDeanJ Tweets!

My favorite dean of admission has had some tweet gems lately. 

Here are 5 of my favorites.

No preferential order.

Enjoy a good laugh.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Is applying Early advantageous?

It's a common question my students and parents ask.

Is there a decisive advantage to applying into a binding Early Decision application pool?

My answer hasn't changed...yet.

And that is.

"It depends."

It depends on the school.

Take Elon, for example.

They admitted 86% last year through their Early Decision program.

Elon only admitted 51% in their Regular admission program.

That's a 35% difference of advantage.

Here is an example where applying Early Decision is like turning in your "Selectivity Coupon". 

By applying Early Decision, you give the college what they want - a 100% yield guarantee. 

The college gives you want you want - better odds to get in.

 Take the University of Pennsylvania as another example.

You can see the difference accented here between ED and Regular admission pools.

Fewer applications in ED (4,526).

More admitted (1,148).

And almost half the chairs are filled (43%).

The other major factor involves the difference between who a student is applying against in Early versus Regular admission.

In Early Decision it is only against other ED applicants to Penn.

In Regular admission, it is against applicants who may have also applied SCEA and Regular admission to Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

Quantity and quality both go thru the roof!

Vanderbilt is an example of this.

A 30-32 ACT score may make the cut in Early Decision at Vanderbilt.

But it won't in Regular admission.

33-35 is the cut line. (unless your student has a hook - athlete, legacy, international. 1st gen, diversity, etc.)

Why is this?

Quality of the applicant.

Ivy admits or Ivy admissible defers/denies are bringing stronger credentials to the applicant pool.

Now having said that, in an article released this week, NACAC statistics show that there is still a slight advantage to applying into an Early Decision program, citing that 59% overall are admitted through ED programs versus 53% through Regular programs.

So that's a 6% advantage...but that % continues to decline as more students are trying to gain an advantage by applying Early Decision.

It sounds like soon there will be no real advantage statistically wise.

And the hard truth is that 90% of the time at the Ivy-level, it really doesn't matter which pool you apply into if you don't have a hook.  Unhooked students (legacy, athlete, international, 1st gen, student of color, etc.) with the same credentials as the hooked kids are going to lose out almost every time.

In the end, I never counsel a student to apply into an Early Decision program for strategic purposes.

Only best college fit purposes.

If there is a fit - go for it!

But have a Plan B.

And maybe a Plan C.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Dreaded "Why?" Question, Part II

The first post on the dreaded "Why?" question focused on research.

Every "Why?" question, in other words, is a small research project.

But research without proper packaging just won't pop.

 Imagine if all your Christmas presents were just sitting out under the tree unwrapped.

Where is the excitement in that, right?

Often then I tell my students that the best wrapping paper is a story.

Earlier in the month I worked with a student on his "Why U of Chicago?" essay.

His first draft read like a set of bullet points.

Some great points.

Just no bow and bright ribbon.

So we discussed what kind of stories he might tell from his own experience that would connect with the essay prompt.

In the end, he unearthed one story that really tied in creatively and cogently with what he loved about U of Chicago's ethos.

In preparation for the spring English final, my teacher, Dr. Powell, drew six big buckets and added the following -isms over each bucket: Puritanism, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Transcendentalism, Realism, and Modernism. He then asked us to put each author, poet, and literary work that we read all year in American literature in their appropriate bucket. At first, some students in my class just assumed that each writer belonged in only one bucket. Nathaniel Hawthorne was a Romanticist. Emily Dickinson was a Transcendentalist. Twain was a Realist. But then I raised my hand and asked Dr. Powell, "Well, couldn't Dickinson also go in the Modernist bucket too? Her poetry reflects anxiety, uncertainty about the world, and a fragmented confidence in institutions like the church. Isn't that 'modern'?” Dr. Powell wryly smiled and quipped, "Right." Before I knew it, my classmates and I were debating which buckets the writers fit into, and if they could fit in more than one bucket. Dr. Powell never told us if we were right or wrong. He never forced his opinion on us, and he never forced a writer into any bucket. We instead had to “do the bucket work”.  In other words, Dr. Powell made us take ownership of our educational experience.

The University of Chicago is a learning ethos where one will find buckets without lids.  Students are invited, like we were in Dr. Powell's class, to fill the buckets up with "outside-of-the-box" kind of thinking. So often we want only one answer to our question. We desire an equivalency where A=B. At the U of Chicago, A can equal B, but it can also equal C, D, E, and F.  What Dr. Powell's class did for me is solidify that the most effective way I learn involves dialogue that allows something organic, synergistic, and seminal to emerge from the seeming chaos of open-ended debate and free inquiry.  U of Chicago fosters this kind of democratic pedagogy, and I sense, therefore, that I would fit within this learning environment the way, I concluded, Emily Dickinson belonged in both the Transcendentalist and Modernist buckets.  

It's a good thing to tell U of Chicago that you love the way they teach students.

It's a great thing to show U of Chicago that you love the way they teach students.

Research tells.

Stories show.

The challenge then involves trying to find ways to integrate both research and story in a dynamic and ingratiating way.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Early Admission Stats, Doug Flutie's Hail Mary, and "Business as usual"

Early admission statistics are beginning to pour in.

And as one of my colleagues points out in this article, it is "pretty much business as usual" at the elite schools.

No shocker here.

Applications to many of the most coveted institutions are...drum roll...up.

Yale received 4514 applications.

Penn 4780 apps.

Brown 2957 apps.

Dartmouth 1526 apps (only Ivy down in volume).

And the outright winner by a landslide.

U of Chicago with 10,316 apps.  A 18.6% increase.

Well played.

The game is certainly on.

Or maybe we should say - the game is pretty much already over for many applicants.

Cue the Jaws soundtrack.

If apps are up that means then that admits will be down.

Which means more bloody carnage.

Yale, for example, anticipates they will admit between 650-750 students.

They admitted 726 last year in early admission.

Now subtract around 180 of those admitted students.

That's the number of recruited athletes who will get in.

So now instead of a 14 to 16% admit rate in SCEA, we are really talking about a 10 to 11%.

So the difference between SCEA and Regular admission isn't as pronounced as it seems.

The only major difference is going to be the crushing volume of applications in regular admission.

Everyone who got deferred or denied in ED programs will dump their application into regular admission.

Heck, even students admitted in SCEA cycles might decide to throw their application into regular admission buckets.

So come March and April it's going to be Jaws meet Freddie Krueger (dating myself here).

As one consultant points out, however, for many in this early admission cycle, they are simply throwing up a "Hail Mary" by applying, where their credentials are profile negative, but who want to give a gambling try anyway.

These are the kind of applicants who are going to play the Doug Flutie clip over and over again, nurturing as long as possible their (and their parents) illusions of grandeur.

In the end, we are not going to see anything different in the admit pools than we did last year.

We will see the same usual suspects admitted.

Hooked kids.

Kids with the profile positive credentials (GPA, class rank, test score, AP's) along with an institutional credential (legacy, recruited athlete, 1st gen., diversity, international, engineering).

Business as usual, in other words.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Vanderbilt Census Report (Class of 2016)

The transformation of Vanderbilt's admission profile over the last decade has been truly fascinating to document.

Not to mention truly frustrating to experience for some highly qualified students who apply to Vandy and get disappointing news.  

What other institution has gone from admitting 46% to 14% in such a short span of time.

Not to mention also growing their application pool from 9,000+ to 28,000+.

It's a brave new world in highly selective college admissions.

A reality rife with vagaries that few really want to face or accept (these changes apply to everyone else but me).

I spoke, consequently, with our Vandy rep and he informed me that they are anticipating a 30,000+ pool this year.

And a 13% admit rate.


Just today, in fact, Vandy sent out its "Census Report" that contained interesting facts about their incoming admitted Class of 2016.

It caused me to think about our applicants this year, and which of them would qualify for which of the below categories, if any.

It's daunting to think about the credentials kids today must obtain to compete for a spot at a highly selective school.

If anything, this list below reinforces the weight that schools like Vandy put on leadership, excellence, passion, influence, and diversity...not to mention a high test score (wink wink).
  • 98% held the highest level of leadership or scholarship, or were engaged in national-level honor societies: for instance, student body president, class president, student senator, editor-in-chief of school newspaper or yearbook, Eagle Scout, and National Honor Society
  • 14% were student government leaders
  • 49% held a service-related leadership position
  • 67% were academic leaders
  • 35% were athletic leaders or champions
  • 21% demonstrated leadership in the fine arts
  • Undergraduates represent 49 states and 44 countries
  • 5.9% of students graduated from an international high school
  • 65% of freshmen received financial assistance
  • 13% of freshmen received Pell grants
  • Of those from high schools that report class rank, over 90% of first-year enrolled students ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class
  • Middle 50 percentile for SAT ……. 1400 – 1560
  • Middle 50 percentile for ACT ……. 32 – 34
  • National Merit Scholars…217
  • National Achievement Scholars….19
It's clear from this data that Vandy is benefiting from the "bucket down" effect.

So many admissible Ivy students are not getting admitted, which as a result, sends them looking for admission at the next bucket down.

Vandy then is getting Ivy admit credentials for their profile.

And it won't be long before SMU has a profile that looks more and more similar to a Yale and a Vanderbilt.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Impact of International Students on College Admissions

One of the major forces in place that is shaping college admissions today is the growing international application pool.

Janet Rapelye, dean of admission at Princeton, mentioned this reality in a recent blog post for The Choice, referencing the Institute of International Education for verified data.

Last year, for example, Princeton's early admission acceptance pool was made up of 10% international students.  

This trend was pretty much the same at highly selective schools.

And this trend isn't going to change anytime soon.

China, in particular, will continue to flood American colleges and universities with full paying applicants.

This cohort continues to represent US colleges/universities burgeoning cash cow.

This was, in fact, the topic of today's Higher Education article. 

Here are just a handful of facts gleaned from both articles:

  291,439 undergraduate international students (764,495, a 5.7-percent rise over the year before)
  $21.7 billion into US economy
  70% funding outside US
  158,000 Chinese
  104,000 India
  73,000 South Korea
•  Top Schools for International Applicants:  USC, NYU, U of Washington, Purdue, Columbia, UCLA, Ohio State, Michigan
  Top Majors:  Business, Engineering, Math, Computer Science

What does it all mean?
Well, if it means anything, it's that international applicants will continue to be a major player in college admissions.

Colleges run like corporations today.

And the bottom line is the bottom line.

International students, in general, continue to meet two institutional goals:  1)  diversity of the 
school's profile, and 2) financial solvency of the revenue stream.    

Moreover, we will probably see more liberal arts colleges leverage the international demand for US
higher education to fill in gaps left by US students who no longer see the "market value" of a lib arts 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Dreaded "Why"? Question

I've found the "Why?" supplement question is something students dread.

The lurking fear is that they won't tell the college what they want to hear, and as a result, they will get rejected for it.

So students will often write something safe and generic.

Last week, in fact, I had a student into my office who decided to apply ED to Northwestern.  A quick glance at the essay confirmed my fears - this student had pretty much cut-and-pasted content from a Northwestern web page, essentially plagerizing the college's own stuff.

So I gave this student a different game plan.

He had a desire to study political science. 

So I connected him to the poly sci link on Northwestern's site.

I then asked him to do the following research exercises:

Fall 2012 course catalog.  Find one or two classes that you would get up at 7:00 am, walk across campus bundled up in three layers, willing to endure sub-freezing temperatures with a stiff wind whipping up off Lake Michigan, just to attend.

5000 level courses.  Toward the senior year year - do they offer a seminar?  a capstone?  a research opportunity?  It's always good to begin with the end in mind.  It's where the source of protein can be found to endure the first three years. 

Instructors.  Find out who teaches what and look up their credentials.  See what scholarship they have recently written that you might find interesting for a potential research project.  See if the instructor has been student reviewed and read up on his or her efficacy as an instructor.

Internships.  Thumb down through what internships appeal to you and why.

Research/Study Abroad.  Explore what exotic, travel abroad research opportunities NW offers that overlap with one of the student's burgeoning areas of interest.

After the senior did this set of exercises, he found things in his research that lit his eyes up like Clark W Griswold's house with all 10,000 Christmas lights!

The challenge then for this student was organizing and integrating in a few specific, concrete, and compelling things in regards to "Why NW?" 

Here is just a snippet of that supplemental essay:

When I peruse the Fall 2012 courses, for example, that Northwestern offers in the political science department, I get giddy at the prospect of taking courses like “Law in the Political Arena”, and an “Introduction to International Relations” with renown professor, Dr. Spruyt.  I am energized by the research opportunities that I would have both on Northwestern’s campus through the senior research seminar, as well as beyond through research grants for international programs.  I can already envision doing a research-based project on how religious politics shape political policy in India through Northwestern’s “Buddhist Studies in India” summer program.  It would be a dream come true to get to plunge my intellectual energies into researching the religious and political layers that impact Indian law.  Moreover, I am thrilled by the myriad of internship opportunities that Northwestern offers its political science majors, like getting to intern for the Obama Re-election HQ in Chicago, or interning in the summer for The Diplomacist at Cornell, where I would get a chance to platform a number of ideas about global events.  Our debate team, in fact, uses The Diplomacist as an online resource in our preparations for policy debates.  

Many "Why?" questions require incisive writing.  NW didn't.  They gave the student as much "character space" to riff.  This is the exception to the rule in an age of volume application crush.

Most schools put a tight "character limit" on their "Why?" question.

They want you to get in, drill down, and get out.

To drill down means that the student demonstrates what they know what animates the sub-strata regions with each academic, research, internship, residential program on campus.  

One of my favorite short "Why?" supplements this year was written by a student applying to Yale.

He had visited Yale's campus the week before and came back rife with fodder to answer the "Why Yale?"

But the "Why Yale?" prompt limited his response to 150 words or so.

After story boarding and drafting multiple times, this student distilled five specific, concrete, "drilled down" sub-strata reasons as to why Yale.

My campus visit over fall break solidified Yale as my top choice. The first thing I love is the shopping period. I want to “bluebook” and shop classes like "Infinity" or "Political Psychology". Hopefully, I get the opportunity to take a small discussion based course on economics with Tolga Koker. The sense of community and the residential college system sold me on Yale. I would love to experience the freshman holiday dinner at Commons. I want to join an intramural swim or basketball team and help my residential college vie for the Tyng Cup, and help inspire students with the Future Project.

My final advice to kids regarding the dreaded "Why?" questions involves approaching it as a mini-research paper.  

Here is where a student gets to put to good use what he or she learned in their US History class.

The dreaded "Mr. Wiley" US History research paper will pay off dividends here.

 The best compliment, in closing, I've ever received after a job interview was, "Our committee could tell that you really did your homework on us."

That's what every student should strive to receive as a response to their response to the "Why?" question. 

This student really did their homework.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Context matters." - DeanJ@UVadmission

My favorite twitter dean is at it again.

It must be application reading season.

This is the time DeanJ@UVA Admission tweets out things about a student's applications or a school profile that makes for good fodder.

Either to debunk a prevalent myth.

Or draw attention to a comical aspect.

Or help us know that these admission folks know what they are doing.

Take this tweet today.

I've had countless conversations with concerned parents who think that admissions people don't know what to do if they get a non-traditional grading methodology.  (in our case, a 4.33 GPA scale)

Or that the admission folk don't know Casady's academic rigor.

Or how difficult it is to get an A+ average.

The truth is that schools like UVA that review an application holistically will take the time to understand the culture and context of the applicant's performance.

Today, in fact, I got a call from a liberal arts college about one of our applicants.  This admission rep wanted to know our top GPA for this year's senior class.

On our profile we provide a grade distribution chart for the Class of 2013.

Admission reps will also see the average GPA.

They will also see what our academic curriculum is, which classes we have dubbed Honors, Pre-AP, and AP, and how much weight we give to each level of rigor.

 Our profile also explains our methodology.

It shows that we provide only a weighted GPA.

It shows that we provide +'s and -'s.

It shows that an A- for example goes from an 85-89.

Every school, therefore, has a methodology that will have certain nuances.

Schools like UVA take the time to understand those nuances so that they can do a thorough and fair review of an applicant.

So then, in the final analysis, whether your school operates on a 6.0 scale, 11.0 scale, 4.33 scale, a 4.0 scale, a P to Q scale, or no scale but only narrative assessments - it doesn't matter.  What matters is what methodology your school uses and how your student has performed within the curriculum that your school provides, and how your student has performed in relationship to his or her peers.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Applying to a highly selective school with an upcoming interview?

This morning Mr. Hank Young, a local Dartmouth alumni interviewer, met with students applying to highly selective schools who are preparing for upcoming interviews.

Mr. Young began by talking about the four "broad categories" that he covers in his interviews with applicants.  

Intellectual curiosity and engagement.  The goal here is to talk about interests beyond classroom content.  Mr. Young shared the story of a recent interview with a girl who is interested in Chinese trade.  It was clear this student had a larger worldview and had burgeoning interests beyond her AP-heavy course work.

Community involvement.  Mr. Young stressed here that sometimes this category involves volunteer work in the community, like volunteering for the Boys and Girls Club.  But again, this also could involve a passion for something like hiking or astrology, and how the student tried to get his or her community involved, like taking a group on a wilderness trip, or starting an astrology club on campus.

Personal.  This is an opportunity for students to expand on something on the resume or to fill in something that a student can't narrate on an application.  This may be narrating something as simple as one's peculiar obsession with Dr. Who (We have a Sci-Fi/Nerd Club on campus that meets to discuss this television show).  Or it may be elaborating on a difficult circumstance in the 10th grade year that caused one's academic performance to dip.   

College.  Here Mr. Young talked about asking informed questions about the university.  If, for example, a student is applying to Northwestern and is interested in studying political science, that student might want to do some research about that department, looking for their course offerings, internships opportunities, and research possibilities, and then asking questions pertaining to that research.  Click here to see where a student might go on NW's web site to ferret this information out.   
Other interviewing tips (aka common sense):
  • sit up straight (Mr. Young told story of one interviewer who was so slouched down in his chair he almost fell out of it)
  • make good eye contact (another story about student who looked everywhere but at Mr. Young)
  • control cadence (nervousness often equates to fast talking)

One student asked if they should bring a resume.

Mr. Young advised the student to email the resume to the interview if possible, but also bring extra copies for the interview.

Another student asked what was appropriate dress.  Mr. Young advised to dress sharp but comfortable.  A suit and tie wasn't necessary.

The last two pieces of advice Mr. Young gave our kids was to 1)  try to make the interview a conversation (not a Q & A), and 2)  to tell compelling stories.

As I listening to Mr. Young, I couldn't help but recall a funny scene in the movie Office Space where "the Bobs"  are interviewing Initech employees, all anxious that they will be downsized.

This scene certainly captures what NOT to do in an interview.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Early Action, Early Decision, Single Choice Early Action vs. Regular Admission

The Times blog has had Greg Roberts, dean of admission at UVA, answering questions about early admission programs.

Yesterday we saw about 75 applications go out into some kind of early admission program.

Last time I counted, I identified only a handful of highly selective schools that do not have an early admission program.

The University of Southern California, UC-Berkeley, and UT-Austin - these are the only three I found that have the traditional "Regular" admission program.

Everyone else is trying to get a jump start on engineering a class profile that has the highest potential yield.

Higher yield = solvent financial revenue stream + potentially higher ranking!

Here then are some of the questions posed on The Times blog that Mr. Roberts takes time to answer.

Q  If a student is on an upward trajectory in terms of grades and course rigor, and the fall senior year performance will strengthen the application, then the student should apply regular decision, as that would give schools a chance to consider this information in their review.

Q My son has great SAT scores, extracurriculars and grades, but four other high-performing students at his academic magnet are applying early action to the same university he is applying to.
He is using early action strategically to improve his chances of admission to a competitive school. Strategically, is it better for him to apply elsewhere for early action, given the unlikeliness of the coveted school admitting five students from one high school?

Click here to read responses.

Q  Are there any disadvantages to applying early action, from an admission or financial aid standpoint?

Q  Students often consider applying early decision because they think it will increase their chances of admission. Do some colleges admit a higher percentage of early decision applicants because they prefer to have students who have made that college their clear first choice? Or are early decision acceptance rates higher primarily because the applicants are recruited athletes or children of alumni? Should applicants try to figure out why early decision acceptance rates are higher than regular admission rates?

Click here to read responses.

Q  My son is in his junior year and has been an average student thus far, done quite well on his PSAT and is taking several A.P. classes and doing better every year grade-wise. He rows competitively and hopes to continue in college. He has his heart set on attending a state university that has a fairly competitive admission process.  Does it increase his chances if he applies early, showing that if he was offered admission he would accept as this is his first-choice school?

Q  Can I apply to the College of William and Mary early decision at the same time I am applying to the University of Virginia early action?

Q  Does applying to the University of Virginia early action hurt the applicant’s chances for admission as an Echols Scholar?

Click here to read responses.