It’s an odd juxtaposition that just as the summer season begins to cool down (in most of the country anyway), college ‘application season’  and its accompanying application anxiety heats up everywhere else.  This particular dispatch is coming to you from way above sea level, at the University of Colorado, in beautiful Boulder, Colorado, where Peter and I had a great visit with Taylor Stratton, the Admissions Counselor in charge of Texas and surrounding states.  CU is the last stop on this, our 8th, College Pete College Tour.

As many of you know, every summer we travel the country meeting with Admissions and Financial Aid Officers to hear what they have to say and recommend to students who are just embarking on the College Admissions journey.  We hope that in doing so, we can help lessen your anxiety (a little angst is normal; too much, a problem), eliminate the confusion andprovide you with some clarity, advice and opinions from the folks who will actually make the admissions decisions in the Spring.   And every year some trends emerge or re-emerge.

So, here’s what three things they were talking about with us this summer:

1. Standardized Admissions Testing:  With the massive changes to the SAT beginning in March, this year in particular, we wanted to talk about the importance of the ACT and SAT in Admissions decisions.  Two things stood out to us as we traveled across the country (Eckerd, USC, Northwestern, Smith, CU Boulder).  The first, and I cannot state this enough, is that every college admissions official we met echo’d Ms. Stratton’s position,”We do not care how often a student takes the SAT and/or the ACT.  They should take it as many times as they want.  We want them to do well, and we’ll ‘super score’ their submissions and consider only their best scores.”    The only caveat to this is that you have to make sure that you have taken all the test(s) you’re going to take by the time your applications are due (so they can be considered).  The second takeaway is that with regards to the new SAT, most colleges are still in ‘wait and see’ mode. Many whom we met with, including Ms. Stratton, said that they would likely accept the old SAT (which will be offered through January) even from rising 10th graders, if it reflected their best score.  And though Ms. Stratton said that CU was not at all considering going ‘test optional’ in the future, many others were on the fence about this.  Smith College already de-emphasizes standardized test scores in its admissions decisions, and as we wrote about a couple of weeks back, more and more schools are opting to do the same (see story on GWU).

2. Submitting Your Applications Early vs. Applying Early Decision:  At this time of year especially, parents and students want to know if they should be applying Early Decision (which is a binding contract) for their top choice college.  Our position on this has always been the following: while Admit Rates are often higher for Early Decision Applicants, the reasons that they are (namely that the schools know in advance that you’ll have to commit) make it a very risky proposition financially unless you know in advance that the school is your first choice by A LOT AND that your family can reasonably afford the expected cost, which at a minimum is your EFC but could include substantially more if a college is less generous.  It’s critical to know this information before you apply.  Universally, the Admissions and Financial Aid folks we met with this year made sure to make this a point of emphasis.  “If financial aid or merit aid is important to paying for college for one of your families, then you simply should not let their student do it .”  We couldn’t agree more:  As we drill into our students’ heads, the goal is to have MULTIPLE Admissions OPTIONS to MAXIMIZE the opportunities for CHOICE and FINANCIAL AID!

Last two points on being early v early decision:  we tell our students to get their applications done as early as possible (preferably Nov 1) whether the schools to which they are applying have a formal early program or not.  It’s a subtle but great way to let the school know that you’re serious about them and your education, AND that you don’t procrastinate.  Finally, while many of the schools we visited are already ACCEPTING applications, none were ‘reading’ them yet.  Most say they’ll start that process in late Sept or early Oct.

3. GPA and Rigor of Your Curriculum:  Once again, on this particular point, Admissions officers are pretty united.  First, most agree that best predictor of success in college is success in high school – and the best indicator that they have of your success in HS is your transcript.  It’s not a surprise that most tell us the transcrip, along with your HS’s profile, is the most important component of your file.  Every school also talks about how ‘holistic’their approach is to making decisions and that they do handle GPAs/Rank in a variety of ways.  Some, for example, will recalculate your GPA – especially if you don’t seem to have a lot of core subjects; all frown upon C’s/D’s, even (especially) in APs/IBs, but  also acknowledge that you share extenuating circumstances if they exist.  So simply put, here’s what do they say is the best strategy for you or your student: Take plenty of core academic classes, especially in the areas that interest you, and to challenge yourself by taking the highest level of those classes offered at your HS (that’s why they get the HS profile) in which you are still able to earn good grades.

Finally a quick word on CU Boulder:  Gorgeous.  See the picture of Pete and me – that’s the view from the Freshman dorms.  Not too shabby.  And the whole place has this really cool, outdoorsy, engaged community, environmental vibe. CU’s also interesting in that it’s the flagship public university in Colorado, but 40% of its student body comes from out of state.  That might be because there are 600 merit scholarships offered by the institution; two of which are handled by Admissions and exclusively offered to the top out-of-state students (those in the top 1-3% of the applicant pool get $55,000 total over 4 years; those in the top 20% or so get $25,000 total over 4 years).  It’s also got a great research reputation and a very large percentage of underclassmen participate directly in their professor’s work – and the average class size is around 19 (which is much smaller than many public universities).

Peter and I recognize that the whole college process has become quite a maze, with so many details to navigate.  We know that no matter what stage in the college process you find yourself, it seems as if there is always something new to think about, something else that you need to be doing.  Hopefully this report and those from the previous stops on the 2015 College Tour have given you some additional insight and direction.  That said, we know that real peace of mind comes from feeling in control of the situation.  One of the things we’re trying to do more of in our practice is to move beyond just giving you the information, but in laying out the EXACT STEPS you should be taking (and WHEN you should be taking them) to SIMPLIFY and DE-MYSTIFY the process.  To put you back in the driver’s seat.

In fact, How to Take Control of the College Admissions and Funding Process is the name of our Fall season, Back-to-School free workshop and web-class.  If you’re the parent of a high school student (in any stage of the process), we’re going to be talking about the steps you can take in high school to make sure that your child(ren) have great admissions choices with maximum opportunities for need and merit based financial aid.

We’re speaking live publically for the last time this summer on Monday, August 17 at Total Wine & More in Pembroke Pines, FL.  And for those who are not in South Florida (or who can’t make it on Monday), we’re holding a LIVE encore webclass on August 27th at 7pm EDT.

We hope to see you soon, either live or on the webinar.  You may register for each by clicking on the appropriate link to the right.

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