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.

Purgatory.

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.

Good.

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.

Authenticity.

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.

Gulp.

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.

video



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 rare...no 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: http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional.

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 bottomlyj@casady.org.  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.

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.