Timing & Preparation: The Common Application

The Common App makes it easy to apply to multiple colleges and universities.

by Lee Norwood, Annapolis College Consulting, July 1, 2019

Junior year is in the books. Summer is finally here. You have a moment to exhale……… Done? You had your moment. Now teens and families need to start thinking about other things like your final college list and the applications for numerous schools.

In the old days, applying to 12 colleges meant 12 different college applications; now things are much easier.  The Common Application, which is accepted by more than 800 schools, including some located outside the U.S, is one place where a student can enter their basic demographic information and extracurricular activities that will be able to be sent to multiple schools. You do not have to use the Common App, but it certainly makes life easier.

“The idea behind the Common App is to try and reduce the barriers that students face when applying to college,” says Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of The Common Application.

The Common App may be confusing for some families who are new to the college application process.  So, we decided to answer some of the burning questions of the day.

[Get tips and tactics from college students on how to use the Common App.]

Starting before the Common App opens August 1

By working with us on your resume and personal statement, you are already preparing for the Common Application which opens August 1st.

You want to dig deep, discuss as a family, and include your extracurricular accomplishments on your resume. Gather details and show an impressive story. Perfecting your resume first really helps because it makes the application a bit easier because you will already have strong statements and utilize the specific number of characters in the best possible way.

To stay on track, we love the Common App’s mobile app to stay on top of deadlines, invite recommenders, and set reminders.

Students don’t have to submit their college applications during the summer, but starting the Common Application in August will give them the opportunity to review the specific additional requirements for schools they’re considering, draft supplemental essays and get some of the tedious background information completed before they start their busy senior year.

To start, applicants can go to commonapp.org and click on the “Get Started” button to get details about how to create an account and log in to work on an application through the platform. The official application opens August 1st, so don’t fill in the details in your Common App account yet.

SOME GOOD LINKS TO HELP YOU

 [Avoid these big college application mistakes.]

WHAT CAN YOUR ESSAY/PERSONAL STATEMENT BE ABOUT?

Essays are 10-30% of the admissions decision, so take your time and answer with interesting details. The Common App essay prompts for the 2019-2020 school year will be the same as the seven prompts used last year and have a 650-word limit.

Your main personal statement essay really needs to show the admissions department who you are and why you would be an asset to their campus. The prompts are just that, you want to tell an impressive story that compels the reader to want to learn more about you. Differentiate yourself from others. Don’t write the essay that has already been written: sports injury, church mission trip, grandmother being your idol, etc.

Some colleges will ask you to write additional supplemental essays. Each essay should be completely different and focus on different aspects of you while answering the specific question. The essays should be able to tell the reader who you are, what core values are important to you, if you have a unique skill or ability, and that you will bring something of unique worth to their campus.

Not all schools require students to submit an essay and some require additional essays or information. Applicants can see the requirements for all schools on the Common App when they log in to their student accounts or download a PDF from the Common App’s website.

Students can also preview supplemental questions for schools before they start their applications through the platform’s Applicant Solutions Center.

[Learn common reasons why college applications get rejected.]

Is the Common App Mandatory?

No. But it sure makes life easier. Many schools allow students to apply online through their websites. Some states have application systems that students can or must use in order to apply to schools.

Other platforms accepted by some schools include the Coalition Application and the Universal College Application. And while there are some exceptions, many schools that use those platforms also use the Common App.

Do Schools Prefer to Get the Common App?

Colleges that allow students to submit applications through multiple platforms don’t have a preference on which one is used, but high school counselors might. The Common App’s integration with Naviance, a college and career readiness software provider, makes it easy for counselors to submit documentation for colleges, experts say.

 A few colleges require that you do use their specific application, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgetown University in the District of Columbia only accept applications through their school websites. The University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, and University of Washington in Seatlle only accept the Coalition App.

5 Things About College Roommates Incoming Freshman Ought to Understand

1. College Roommate=Friend?

Maybe, maybe not.  Surviving and thriving as a freshman can be rooted in maintaining a healthy roommate relationship. Your dorm room is your home, and the person(s) you share it with is an important part of your college experience. Some relationships seem to evolve naturally and are comfortable, but even the most agreeable relationships require a bit of effort. Rule of thumb-behave towards your roommate the way you want your roommate to behave towards you.

2.  Communication is Essential

As the initial excitement of being away from home begins to wear off, you will settle in to a new routine. You and the people you share a dorm with all come with your own personalities and habits. One of you may like to go to bed early, the other stays up late. One of you may like to have friends over often, the other not-so-much. Be patient, have fun, and do your best to communicate clearly. Contribute to building a solid relationship based on respect. If things don’t go well, and you’ve spoken directly with your roommate(s) about the issues, you should consider talking with your RA. 

3. Responsibility, Yours and Mine

Are you living with a rule-breaker? Know this: you are not responsible for anyone else’s behavior. You are responsible, however, for your own. If your roommate is breaking campus rules, and you do not agree with the rule-breaking, start the conversation. Once you have addressed these issues with your roommate, you should consider talking with your RA, if the behavior continues. Rules are there for your protection. Don’t jeopardize all your hard work by disregarding what could become a problem for you. Ignoring a problem won’t make it go away.

4. Respect Goes Both Ways

This one seems really simple, but you’d be surprised how we sometimes miss clues others are sending that are meant to signify a breach of trust. Sometimes we cross invisible lines of tolerance and need to deal with the consequences. You are joining a campus full of students who come from many different lifestyles. As you begin this college journey, be mindful of others and of yourself.  Building strong relationships with people who are positive and trustworthy requires patience, accountability, and kindness.

5. Privacy, Please

Privacy today extends beyond the obvious. A decade ago, the word privacy implied discretion in its simplest manifestation. In other words, a few years ago, a roommate who was comfortable exiting the shower without covering up in a reasonable amount of time, was considered an invasion of your privacy. Today, an invasion of privacy has much greater and far-reaching implications. In a matter of seconds, someone’s privacy can be shattered by the seemingly innocent posting of a photograph or comment on social media.  Long story short, some errors in judgment cannot be corrected. In the name of fun, think before posting anything!

The Summer After Senior Year First, breathe. Second, read below.

By Lee Norwood  
We know this is a busy month with AP testing, graduation, parties, life, etc., so we are hoping this message helps ease some of the stress you may be feeling about your student heading off to
college later this summer.  If your student is still trying to make a final college decision, we are here to help!  Please reach out to us to set up a meeting or a phone call.  We understand this is a big decision and choosing the right college will not only impact your students’ life, but yours as well.   Most of your students have already paid the Freshman Enrollment Deposit and completed the housing contract.  The next step is to complete registration for your college’s summer orientation.  Please remember that the date will not be confirmed until your student’s orientation registration is paid in full. And make sure your student has their college e-mail set up and that they are checking it regularly.   College websites should have a full checklist including information on everything from Placement tests, housing needs, and hotel options, to exactly what forms are needed for immunizations.   When thinking of moving and packing to begin your student’s freshman year, it is a good idea to coordinate with your student’s new roommates as to how to furnish their new “home.” You only need one microwave, one fridge, possibly an icemaker (the newest cool dorm accessory) and the right tools in case you are lofting, lifting or assembling bunkbeds, shelves etc. For students who will be traveling from far distances, shipping your items to the college is a great option and waiting to shop locally can help too.  You will receive your college address after room selection and will be able to ship items shortly.

For room ideas and other interesting tips, you and your student should follow us on Instagram @annapcollegeconsulting.

Enjoy your summer! It will be a short one.  
 

Ethics in the Independent Education Consultant (IEC) Profession

On Tuesday March 12, 2019, a nationwide bribery and fraud scheme to help students gain admission to elite colleges and universities came to light.  This has shocked members of the Independent Education Consultant community and, I’m sure, many parents of students who are currently using or considering using a college consultant to help their son or daughter navigate the college admissions process.  So, who can you trust and how can you protect yourself?  There are two main ways families can ensure they are working with an individual or organization that abides by ethical consulting practices: fully vetting the college consultant and the consultant’s participation in appropriate associations.

First, when deciding to work with a college consultant, it is very important that you vet them fully.  There are several red flags that families should be aware of when working with a College Consultant; IECA has come up with a list of 12 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an IEC and 12 Warning Signs that an IEC is Not Worth Hiring.

Second, there are three main college consultant associations.  Each association has a strict Code of Ethics that the consultant is required to follow and Annapolis College Consulting is proud to be a member of all three associations.

  1. Independent Education Consultants Association (IECA)
  2. Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA)
  3. National Association for College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) or their local NACAC group

Here, you can view the Code of Ethics for IECA, HECA, and NACAC.

In Mark Skarlow’s (IECA’s CEO) State of the Profession 2018 presentation, he stated:

  • 30 years ago, the percentage of IEC’s that “belonged” to a professional association was over 80%
  • Today the 2,700+ affiliated IECs represent only 20% of the total

This means that families who fail to fully vet their college consultant have an 80% chance of working with someone who has no standard of ethics that they are being held accountable.  This is not to say that all unaffiliated college consultants are unethical people, however, families can rest much easier at night by working with someone who is affiliated with at least one of the professional organizations that were mentioned previously.

It is without a doubt disheartening to have this scandal drag good, caring, ethical college consultant’s names through the mud.  However, I am confident that the light this is shedding on the profession will bring more awareness of the services that are available to students and families and encourage them to seek out the “good ones.”

Financial Information and Scholarship Websites

Financial Information

FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid portal, provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

FAFSA4caster is a college cost forecasting tool that estimates your eligibility for federal student aid.

StudentAid.gov has resources for learning about federal student aid, how to apply using the FAFSA, and get information on repaying student loans.

A video that talks about what to expect when your federal student loan enters repayment.

FinAid! – The SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid is a free resource for information, advice and tools about student financial aid, college scholarships and education loans.

CSS Profile – the financial aid application service of the College Board (required by some colleges in order to apply for financial aid).

The College Board’s Net Price Calculator allows you to estimate your net price to attend a specific college.

 

Scholarships

SchoolSoup scholarship database

FastWEB scholarship database.

Chegg scholarship database.

CollegeXpress offers college search tools, a scholarship database, lists and rankings, and online articles.

Scholly –  an easy way to find scholarships for high school seniors, current undergraduates, and graduate students.

 

diploma and gap

What Will a 4 Year College Degree Give You vs. Just a High School Diploma?

About $1M more dollars in salary over your lifetime

A Longer Life Expectancy

More Savings as an Adult

The Ability to Move From Job to Job and City to City if You Want to

Better Decisions on What You Buy

More Hobbies & Leisure Activities

Better Health

More Job Security

Feeling More Optimistic About the Past and Future

Why Go To College:

Where Else Can You Live with Tons of People Your Age

Meet Interesting Fun People

Try New Activities Free

Go To Concerts Free

See Free Movies Shown at the College Before They are on Video

All You Can Eat Buffets Everyday

Join Weird Clubs

Start a New Weird Club

Travel Abroad

Options for College Visits

Which type of visit would be best for you: Open Houses, Autumn Preview Days, specific Major or Honors College tours, Personalized Visits, an Overnight Visit, or a regular tour? Many times families are constrained by the calendar, but it may be worth finding out about your alternatives. Larger colleges have open houses while smaller schools can accommodate more individualized visits.

Open Houses

Many of these take place on Saturdays, Columbus Day, or President’s Day. The advantage can be many extra activities to participate in versus just a tour and information session. They can have specific tours or sessions on majors, study abroad options, meetings with faculty and financial aid representatives, and lunch in the cafeteria. Open Houses can last anywhere from 4 – 6 hours.

Tours of Majors / Schools

Quite often colleges will offer tours of specific programs so you can learn more in-depth what is offered and what differentiates them. This is worthwhile if you are sure of what you want to study.

Personal / Individual Visits

If you have narrowed your list to a few schools this type of trip can be well worth the time. A personalized experience allows students to observe classes, and meet with professors and other students. In order to arrange a personal visit, call the admissions office and give them at least three weeks notice.

Overnight Visits

Not all colleges allow this due to liability issues and past students getting drunk on their visits. For schools which will, a prospective student stays overnight on campus with another student. You have the ability to spend time with students and see how they spend their days and nights.

Honors College Programs

These can be a wonderful way for a students in a large university to have a small school experience, and some of the best professors a college has to offer. Quite often they have separate and better dorms as well a special honors classes. They also can have an easier time registering and getting the classes that they want. In many instances these students also receive merit scholarships.

Visiting Colleges

Planning

Plan your college visit ahead of time and see a number of suitable colleges in the same geographic area. You can use the website GoSeeCampus.com, and click on Trip Planner which can show you routing from one university to another, as well as nearby hotels. Also, when you input each college on the list it usually gives you links to the colleges’ websites so that you can sign up to attend the information session and the tour. Then it will tell you the distance between the schools, and the roads that you can take. Google Maps also works well for trip planning. Do not plan to visit more than two colleges in a day, as it becomes very stressful and hard to remember the details of each college.

Do You Need to Visit

The general rule of thumb that college admissions counselors use is that if you are within four hours of the school, you should take the time to visit the college to show that you are truly interested in them. Further than four hours the school does not require it, but you will need to show interest, see this article Demonstrate Interest. Most big universities do not track your interest level at all, as it is mostly a numbers game for them. If you have chosen the right classes, you have a GPA the college looks for, and test scores in the college’s range, you should get admitted. Touring colleges will hep you determine what is important to you and broaden you understanding of choices, Options for Visiting a College.

Being Engaged

This college visit is an important opportunity for you to really understand what the college can offer you, and if it is a good fit. Do not let your cell phone or a conversation with a friend distract you from this task. Decide which of these questions you want to ask the tour guide, Questions to ask on a College Visit. Silence your cell phone and be engaged so that you have accurate memories.

Eat at the College

I generally recommend that people go to the cafeteria and eat, so that you have an idea of the quality of food and the atmosphere. Additionally you can either observe students or sit down and talk to some and get a more candid picture of the college. You can learn a lot from students who are on campus and they should answer your questions honestly. Just remember that there are many opinions, but the more information that you have the better your decision will be.

Interviewing

I always recommend visiting schools when they are in session so that you can get a better feel for their students and the atmosphere. This can be done during any holidays or spring breaks, as well as quick visits on Saturdays. Most colleges give two tours on Saturdays and some also do Sunday tours. Going in the fall can be a very busy time for colleges, so you may need to plan quite a bit ahead to make sure you can be part of the group. If it is a college that recommends that you interview with an admissions representative on campus, make sure that I have time to prepare you for the interview.

Use My Checklist

Use a checklist to write down your thoughts, so you won’t confuse information from one college campus with another. While you are on the tour ask questions that you have to the tour guide or the person running the information session. Just realize that these people are not always candid, and most are being paid by admissions to represent the college.

After the visit take the time to record what you really liked, as well as the aspects that you did not. Think about whether that school could be your home for the next four years. Put an approximate rank on the school and feel free to change that as you go. These notes will help you when you need to make a decision at the end.

Finding the “Right” College

It is a hard question to answer, “what makes a college ‘good’?” the reality is that what makes a college good for you might make it a bad choice for someone else. One thing is certain though, how ‘good’ a college is may have very little to do with rankings or the percentage of applicants they admit. Look past the numbers and try to see what a college can do for its students.

Small vs. Large College: Is the school you’re considering focusing on its students? Institutions with a student-centered approach to education, or with language to that effect in their mission statement, are likely to provide personalized education with lots of student-professor interaction. Large research institutions may receive a lot of grant funding or house esteemed researchers, but that may not be useful if you do not have access to those facilities or chances to interact with those professors in a meaningful way.

Freshman Retention Rate: An often telling statistic is a school’s freshman retention rate (the percentage of students that return for their sophomore year). Most students know after a year whether or not they made the right choice. If you see a school with low freshman retention, it is likely that students are not finding what they were told they would find, the school is not supporting them on campus (be it academically, financially, or socially) or the student did not identify whether or not the college was a good fit in the first place. Schools with high retention tend to do these things well and tend to have strong orientation and first-year experience programs. Students that return after their first year and eventually graduate are likely to have found a school that is engaging and valuable in their personal and professional development.

Strong Advising: Support on campus needs to take place for longer than just the student’s first year as well. Academic advising can play a key role in on-time graduation and finding engaging academic pathways for students. With strong advising, you can also make better-informed decisions about your academic and career options. Advising may not be something that is important to you in the college search process, but it will certainly be a key factor in your satisfaction with the college you choose when you are on their campus. Will you have a departmental advisor, an advisor for your specific college, or a generalist advisor for multiple parts of campus life? These are all important questions to consider – especially so if you are considering a graduate degree after your undergraduate career. Strong advising can set you up for long-term success.

Learning that Fits You: The academic environment can also play a huge role in determining if a college is ‘good’ for you. Finding a school that offers hands-on learning, cutting edge research, and abundant internship opportunities should be a goal for any student. You will want what you learn in the classroom to be applicable to the real world as well as in the job market, so having an experiential-learning environment is key! You may also want to make note of where students are finding their opportunities for internships and research. Is there a dedicated career development center or undergraduate research office? Will you be prepared to interview and have help with your resume? With which companies do students tend to intern? Will you have a mentor on campus? Will you have a senior project that brings all of your education together? These are important questions to consider.

It may not be as hard as you think to find a school that handles these aspects of academic and campus life well. Rankings and statistics may help you identify some options, but look to these other attributes to help you find colleges that are ‘good’ for you.

Successfully Attending a College Fair

Attending a college fair is a great opportunity to hear from college representatives about their institution, and make an in-person connection while getting your questions answered. Representatives at college fairs are often the same people that will be reading your application, so it is best to be prepared!

Here are some tips to get the most out of your visit to a college fair:

Have a set of schools in mind and research them first. Most fairs will have a website or flyer before the event that lists which colleges will be attending. Find 10 – 15 that you would like to chat with and take a look at their websites for general information first. At the fair, stop at those tables and ask in-depth questions. If you have extra time, chat with any other colleges that pique your interest. Your list should include schools you would not normally be able to visit in person.

Save time and use labels. College representatives are there to not only hand out information, but to gather it as well. Most colleges will have an inquiry card to fill out so they can add you to their communication flows and track your interest. Have some adhesive labels pre-printed with your full name, gender, address, phone number, (appropriate) email address, year in school, potential major, and the name of the high school you attend. The more information you can give the better. Then, instead of spending valuable face time with a representative writing info, you can simply stick the label on an inquiry card and get your questions answered.

Sign in. If you can’t make labels, signing in lets the college know that you attended an event and were interested enough to stop by. Use legible handwriting, the same spelling of your name that you use on the college application, and the same email address you plan to use for all college admissions correspondence.

Make a good first impression. You should be engaged, alert, enthusiastic, acting in a professional manner and dressed appropriately. This may be your first interaction with a college you are interested in, so you will want to put your best foot forward. Get there early, introduce yourself with a handshake, smile, make eye contact, and try not to get distracted by your classmates that may also be attending the fair.

Ask focused questions. You may be one of dozens of students that the college representatives meet. Stand out and ask thoughtful questions. Broad questions get broad answers. Instead of “How’s your business school?” try “I saw you have an entrepreneurship emphasis in the business school. Can you tell me about that?” If you can easily find the answer online or on one of the handouts, then don’t ask it. You may also find it beneficial to ask about the school’s atmosphere, what kinds of students do well on campus, and what are the school’s unique/best features? Be aware that others may want to chat with the representative as well. If there’s a line, keep the discussion short. It’s not the time to cover every aspect of yourself or the school.

Follow up. Ask for the business card of the representatives you meet. Send them a follow up email thanking them for their time and asking any questions that might have popped up after you left their table. Attach your resume to your email and ask that it be added to your file.

Keep it all organized. You’re going to be collecting a lot of handouts and materials at the fair. Separate content by school and have a folder for each institution at home. Write down relevant info like the dates and times of fairs and who you met there. You may have collected material from schools you’re not interested in. Throw it out and focus on the schools you see as a good fit.

Take things a step further. After the fair is a good time to revisit a school’s website, plan a visit, contact admissions or schedule an interview with an alumni representative or college representative. You can use the time at the college fair as a reference point and expand on the conversations you had.