Poor Grades. Low SATs. How Can I Get Into College?

News Flash: Not everyone is an academic star. And colleges know that. If you are not happy with your grades or standardized test scores, do not despair. There is much more to an application than grades or scores.

Though the transcript is important, the essay presents another wonderful opportunity to present yourself. Take advantage of this. Write an essay that knocks them off their feet from first word to last. Tell them what your passion is, how you spend your time, why that pursuit is important to you. They want to know about YOU. They want to know what makes you tick. If you are an amateur entomologist, describe how you spend most of your waking hours playing with bugs. Tell them that you plan to make a career of it. If you are a readaholic, tell them about the last six books you read this year, and why you read them, and how reading is important to you. Do not waste the essay opportunity by merely regurgitating what already appears on other parts of the application, like lists of extracurricular activities. Lists will put the readers to sleep. They might be reading your essay at two o'clock in the morning, having already read fifty essays before yours. You want to grab them by the collar with your first sentence and shake them awake. You want them to know that you are more than grades and SATs.

The interview is another part of the application process that presents an opportunity to show the college who you really are. While many colleges do not require an interview, most will arrange one if you request it. Request it. Let the admissions office attach a face and a personality to the application. As you did in the essay, let them know in person how passionate you are about something, how you spend so much time pursuing it, and why it is important. Stay positive and upbeat. Leave a good impression. You want them to remember you. You want them to refer to you in their meetings as “that sincere guy who loves to play with bugs and wants to be an entomologist down the road,” or “that passionate girl who spends most of her afternoons and evenings at the dance studio because she’s committed to joining the American Ballet Theater one of these days,” or “that earnest, articulate candidate with a good sense of humor who likes to read and who – this year alone – has read everything that Jane Austen ever wrote.”

Yet another part of the application that invites you to describe yourself is the supplemental materials section. This presents you with an opportunity to submit an extra paper or report you have written, or a tape or CD or DVD that exhibits your talent in depth. Use this chance to showcase the side of you that the admissions office will find appealing. Are you a singer or a cellist or a dancer or a football player? Send a tape of yourself performing. Have you written a great report that the teacher raved about or a great article that appeared in the newspaper? Have you had a poem published in a magazine? Send it and let the admissions officers see your accomplishments first hand. Give them something to offset the transcript. Let them know how special you are.

Yes, grades and standardized test scores are important. But, by design, applications are multi-faceted. The admissions office wants to know who you are beyond the transcript. They want to know what you can contribute to the college. Use every chance you can find to tell them what they will gain if they admit you. In particular, seize the opportunities presented by the essay, the interview, and the supplemental materials sections.


Applications Up, Seats Down at California Public Universities

As the number of applications received in the public university systems of California reaches a record high this year, the number of available openings will decrease at many of its campuses. As a result, thousands of high school seniors must brace themselves for letters of rejection.

San Diego State University, for example, received 61,663 applications this year, an increase of 6 percent. At the same time, due to projected budget cuts, it expects to reduce the number of those admitted by approximately 25 percent, from 9,813 to 7,323. On a larger scale, applications to the 23 campuses of the California State University system rose by 11 percent this year, to 504,800, as approximately one third of its campuses prepare to admit fewer students.

The swell of applications stems from several factors, not the least of which is the record number of high school seniors nationwide who will graduate this year, more than 3 million. In addition, those seniors are sending applications to more colleges than seniors did in the past. A study at UCLA has found that 4 percent of college freshmen in 1976 applied to six or more colleges, while the number increased to 18 percent in 2006.


Primer on the PSAT/NMSQT

Each October, the College Board offers high school students a standardized test that wears two hats. Sophomores and Juniors take the same test on the same day – for students in Grade 10, however, it is known as the PSAT, essentially a practice SAT, and for students in Grade 11, it carries an additional label, the NMSQT – the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

Sophomores benefit from the test by getting to experience what they will face when they take the “real” SAT in the spring of the following year. One major difference, however, is that the PSAT does not have an essay component, while the SAT does.

Juniors benefit from the test not only by getting more practice for the SAT, but also by gaining an opportunity for a scholarship. Scores range from 20 to 80 (comparable to the SAT score range of 200 to 800). Students with the highest scores in each state become members of an exclusive club. The top 1% or so of the millions who take the test are declared National Merit Scholars - Semi-finalists and they compete for various scholarships. Below them, the top 5% or so are deemed Commended Scholars, and, though these students do not qualify to compete for scholarship funds, their achievement is indeed noteworthy and certainly deserving of mention on college applications.


Study Says Students Like Their Helicopter Parents

Teachers and administrators at schools and colleges across the country use the term “helicopter parents” every day to refer to those moms and dads who “hover” over their children, especially during the college application process, prodding them, reminding them of deadlines, reviewing their essays, and taking a front-seat role. And, of course, the term is not meant to be complimentary.

But what do the students, themselves, think of this kind of hovering. Before now, it has been assumed that they, too, were annoyed.


A new study at UCLA, which surveyed a whopping 270,000 college freshmen, concludes that an overwhelming number of them think their parents’ hovering is just fine, thank you. Seventy-four percent of them said that the involvement in their affairs was “just right.” Eleven percent said the involvement was “too much” and fifteen percent said “too little.”


Attention, Juniors – Time to Take the SAT and Subject Tests

If you are in the 11th Grade, you should be taking the SAT soon. If you are thinking about applying to colleges that require Subject Tests, you should consider taking them this year also. Here are the dates and the tests offered:

Test Date: January 26, 2008 (SAT and Subject Tests)
Registration Deadline: Passed

(January 26 is this Saturday and the deadlines for registration have passed – if you are not registered and you really want to take it, you can try to take it as a “stand-by”. Test centers usually order extra copies of the test. Report to a test center near you and hope that there is an extra test booklet. Tip: Before Saturday, call the test center and tell them what you want. They will advise you.)

Test Date: March 1, 2008 (SAT only)
Registration Deadline: January 29, 2008
Late Registration Deadline: February 7, 2008

Test Date: May 3, 2008 (SAT and Subject Tests)
Registration Deadline: April 1, 2008
Late Registration Deadline: April 10, 2008

Test Date: June 7, 2008 (SAT and Subject Tests)
Registration Deadline: May 6, 2008
Late Registration Deadline: May 15, 2008

About Subject Tests

Many colleges – especially the Ivy League – require applicants to take two or more Subject Tests. These are given in various subjects, like English, Math, US History, Chemistry, etc., to measure your knowledge. Scores range from 200 to 800. You may take one, two, or three Subject Tests on a test date, but you may not take the SAT and Subject Tests on the same date. Tip: Take a Subject Test at the end of the same academic year in which you have studied the subject in school. For example, if you are doing well in Chemistry this year, consider taking the Chemistry Subject Test this May or June.


Harvard, Princeton, UVA Applications Rise

Applications to Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Virginia increased this year, with Harvard showing the most dramatic rise.

Applications for admission to Harvard rose by nineteen percent to 27,278, and, according to Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzsimmons, the college will accept 2,100 of them – 7.7 percent – to fill the Class of 2012. Last year, with fewer applications but the same number of admitted students, the acceptance rate was 9.1 percent.

Applications to Princeton rose 6.2 percent to 20,118, and applications to UVA increased 4.5 percent to 18,900.

Having eliminated their early action programs this year, which called for candidates to submit applications by November 1 for a determination in mid-December, the admissions offices at all three universities had more time available in the fall to recruit in the field rather than to devote their hours to thousands of early decisions.

This year’s increase in applications at Harvard also may have been influenced by the university’s recent announcement outlining an overhaul of its financial aid commitment, which ostensibly makes the prestigious institution more accessible to low- and middle-income families.


Top Stories This Week

UChicago Early Admission Applications Up 45 Percent
University of Chicago Chronicle – January 10, 2008

College Recruiters Using MySpace and Facebook
Capital News 9 – January 10, 2008