I’m thinking this article might stir a few pots, so I’m gonna give a standard disclaimer – every case, indeed every student, is a little bit different.  There are times when one student gets admitted to a school over another seemingly equally (or more) qualified student.  Or gets a better scholarship offer than the other.  Or one gets into the ‘harder’ school and rejected from her target.

These are the facts of life in the college admissions process, where ultimately what you have are people making decisions about other people.  So yes, you can expect (and plan for) a few head-scratchers.  Never forget that most of the applicants at selective schools — thousands (even tens of thousands) of them — are outstanding high school students with great GPAs, class-ranks, scores, extra-curriculars etc. coveting them.  So, with that in mind…
On Monday I visited Columbia University and Barnard College (of Columbia University) in New York City (‘the City’ as my New Jersey Jill still calls it).  Before going, I knew that they were both excellent, highly selective institutions with, believe it or not, beautiful somewhat bucolic, suburbanish campuses in the heart of the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  Fantastic educational institutions and pretty amazing campuses with ‘The City’ as a backdrop.  And they’re both generous, but only to students who can demonstrate financial need.  Technically, no merit-based scholarships are awarded by either.  I have a couple of great students happily and affordably studying at both.  What I wasn’t completely sure about and really wanted to probe was the relationship between the two schools.

As in:  “If I don’t think I can get into Columbia Ivy, can I apply to Barnard instead and still feel like I’m at Columbia and get a ‘Columbia’ degree?”

First, this question assumes that the asker is female.  Barnard is one of a handful of outstanding colleges exclusively for women. Sorry guys. Second, the answer is maybe, yeah, sort of.   The entrance standards at Barnard are very tough, but the Admissions process is definitely less competitive than Columbia’s.  For example, though Barnard matriculates about 550 students per year, it admits 23% of its applicants.   Columbia, by contrast, only accepts about 7% of its applicants!  Now once enrolled, Barnard and Columbia seemingly intersect everywhere.  For starters, they’re across the street from each other (that would be Broadway) and the sign on Barnard’s main gate reads “Barnard College of Columbia University.”   And they have the same class registration processes  – students from both schools register together, and can and do take classes on both campuses regularly.  They share athletic and workout facilities.  Note that they do NOT share dorms, but the Freshman orientation program is completely co-mingled.  So yes, I would probably recommend that a student who is in love with Columbia, but not  quite qualified to be in the top 25% of the Columbia applicant pool  (and a girl) look seriously at Barnard.  But I love both schools on their own merits.   They are both elite with incredible and strong alumni(ae) networks (very healthy for future employment prospects).   They are also expensive — on paper — with great financial aid to equalize the burden, but… both will probe deeply into a family’s financials, not just questioning income and assets but asking for the source of each and sometimes for more than the traditional one-year look back.  For those who qualify (academically and ‘financially) and fit (aspirationally), either school is a winner.

As is the ‘City’ school way downtown – NYU!  I love NYU for the right (ambitious, independent and talented) student.  At NYU, NYC is the campus.  But NYU is really, really pricey (perhaps the most expensive school in the country currently) and not so generous.  So here’s a little ‘backdoor’ secret for those who are into the sciences and covet NYU Engineering, but fear the price.  Consider NYU Poly, formerly known as Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.  Much easier to get into and afford, and students who matriculate there will graduate with an NYU degree.

Those are just two examples of how nuanced the Admissions game has become.  The Internet and your neighbors will have many others (many of which are more myth than reality).

If not all, I’ve heard most of ’em.  That’s why I visit schools, meet with the school’s officials personally, and get the real skinny.  And it’s why I can say with confidence (as I did in my article about Vanderbilt) that there are certain points of leverage that can work for or against an applicant.   Take Early Decision — I get asked a lot about that — especially this time of year.  My answer is  Yes. And No (it depends on the applicant and the school)  Yes – it could help you with Admissions… at some/many schools… especially if you’re ‘special’ — like maybe a legacy, an athlete (recruited or unrecruited), a musician, geographically or ethnically desirable, able to self-fund, etc…      And then again, no.  If you can’t or don’t want to risk paying sticker price and/or if you’re a typical ED candidate from say, the 516 area code.

There are many more  ‘inside’ admissions truisms and an equal number of urban legends.  And I most definitely can’t clear all of them up in one short email.  What I can say is that Building the Right College List might just be the most important step in the whole college process — and it should not be taken lightly or conducted in any way other than a strategic manner that considers all of the factors that go into having a successful and affordable college experience.

I’ll be going over all of these factors with my rising 12th graders in my 7th Annual Thick Envelope Admissions & Application Bootcamp on August 17th in Weston.  During the four hour intensive workshop, I’ll also be reviewing the entire Common Application section- by-section and addressing the following topics:

  • The single most overlooked part of the application that can make the biggest difference in gaining admission
  • What Admissions Officers told me will make a file stand out from the pack (among equal qualifications)
  • What is preferred, AP courses or community college courses?
  • Which disciplinary issues may be overlooked, and which will shut the door on your chances!
  • How the high school you/your child attends can affect your/her college admission!
  • The role of social media in the admissions process

It’s hard to believe that the first day of school is less than two weeks away (at least for many of us).  If you have a student entering 12th grade, I suggest you take a look at this class.  I currently have room for six more students and will close the class as soon as it’s full.  You can either call Jill at the office at 954-659-1234 or click here to learn more and to register.

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