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The Admissions Mystique: What Do Colleges Expect?

colleges, admissions, students of color, test preparation,, college counseling, GPA, affirmative action, affluent, impoverished, SAT, ACT

What do colleges expect?

The good news about college acceptance? Even “the experts” don’t possess the “silver bullet.”

The bad news? No one does.

College acceptance rates and their corresponding criteria vary from year to year based on a range of metrics including, but not limited to:

  • The pool of applicants and its characteristics
  • A college’s diversity and financial quotas
  • The allowable occupancy of specialized programs such as computer science, engineering and nursing

Nonetheless, there are some readily apparent trends that university data reveals.

According to the New York Times, “What Colleges Want In an Applicant (Everything),”  GPA or grade point average and ACT/SAT scores still function as the gatekeepers of most reputable four year universities.

“U.S. News Data: Admissions Trends at Top Public Colleges” has recently confirmed that student SAT scores are rising, therefore raising the bar for the average student. In layman’s terms, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to compete.

College Acceptance Criteria

Other nuanced factors bear influence on a college applicant’s acceptance:

  • Ability to pay whether through loans, scholarships or family money
  • Family alumni connections
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Socioeconomic status
  • High school class rank
  • A student’s high school state ranking
  • Student educational opportunities and resources

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “What You Need to Know About Race-Conscious Admissions in 2017” asserts that the most contentious criteria are likely policies of “Race Consciousness,” which proponents argue increases diversity and opportunity for underrepresented youth by ”privileging black, Hispanic, Native American, and other disadvantaged groups.” Opponents claim that such policies discriminate against more qualified white and Asian applicants based on GPA and standardized test scores.

Whether we defend or criticize these policies, “affirmative action” policies exist in higher education, the expectation being that if a student has more, he or she can achieve more. Therefore, these policies have not been deemed unconstitutional as educational opportunities remain inequitable and disproportionately allotted to more affluent students.

Regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnicity, every student, with the support of his or her educational “village” of parents, teachers, counselors, mentors and tutors, must work to “make the grade.”

General “Rules of Thumb”

Consider the following models to identify safety, match and reach colleges:

Affluent Students are expected to exceed expectations in school, 3.8- 4.2+, and on standardized tests, 1350-1550 SAT score.

  • Most colleges require parents who claim their students as a dependent to report their financial information via their previous year’s tax return
  • In certain cases, these families also have alumni connections, which aid a student’s acceptance prospects
  • Depending on the university, ethnicity, race and/or religious affiliation may sway admission’s departments to meet a diversity quota; albeit, not all colleges have specified “diversity quotas”

Lower Income Students are expected to meet expectations in high school, 3.0-3.7, and on entrance exams, 1100-1300 SAT score. These students will likely need to secure funding through:

  • Public or government grants
  • Military funding or the GI bill
  • Private “need-based” scholarships
  • A student’s ability to pay tends to be more significant here

Students Living at or Below the Poverty Line are expected to “survive.” These students have a larger margin of grace, particularly for state and certain private colleges. Earning a 1000 SAT and a GPA of 2.5+ is a start:

  • Grants and scholarships abound, particularly if a student belongs to a marginalized group
  • A student’s ability to pay is less significant
  • Colleges analyze “growth” on high school report cards; if these students show progress between 9th and 11th grades, universities often wager these students will continue to show promise, grit and determination

Students Who Do Not Meet the Expectations of their peers may have other options:

  • Family alumni and connections
  • Wealth
  • Athletic talent
  • Severely adverse or difficult childhood experiences, trauma or disabilities
  • Strong resume of sports, art, community service, internships, etc
  • Safety schools with high acceptance rates

                     -Texas A&M, 67%

                     -Wofford College, 72% 

                     -University of Denver, 73% 

  • Community College

Most troubling, recruiting students of color from lower-class and impoverished inner city communities is far from equitable; these students often lack fundamentals from basic necessities such as food security and a safe space to study to adequate educational opportunities such as quality teachers, tutors, and test preparation. Although racially diverse underprivileged students are expected to pass their classes and “survive” standardized testing as prospective candidates of safety schools, the vast majority will not qualify for admission at ranking universities unless they possess:

  • Requisite athletic skills to play college sports
  • Intellectual prowess to perform well without extra support
  • Notable artistic aptitude in art, music or the performing arts

While numerous scholarships and public grants are available once students are accepted, poor minority students confront the steepest upward climb toward university admission’s success.

On the other hand, no matter who a student is categorically speaking, college acceptance remains a “cloak and dagger” enigma.

However, students and parents can prepare.

Start with a simple checklist:

  • Maintain 3.5+ GPA
  • Strive to perform on college entrance exams
  • Rise to meet college admission standards
  • Secure college funding (FASFA first)
  • Analyze college freshman profiles (GPA, test score and demographic data)
  • Identify safety, match and reach schools- There’s no shame in attending community college first
  • Seek sound college counseling advice and often

University entrance is an uphill trudge no matter who you are, but colleges are well within reach if students and parents know where they stand, have a plan and stick to it.

Stay tuned for my next article regarding college admissions and the “nature vs nurture’s” impact on university candidates.

College Planning 2017; It Just Got Real

University, College Planning, academics, College Campus, College Planning,

The College Planning Saga

How do we know the college planning season is upon us? When the phone starts ringing off the hook! Concerned parents on the other end are desperately seeking a strategy, any strategic means by which to navigate the university application maelstrom.

“My son’s a junior. He’s a 4.2 GPA student, and such a good kid, but he struggled to perform on the SAT. He finally did alright, but he’s not sure what he wants to study or what colleges will take him. I just don’t know, but I know he doesn’t want someone making his decisions for him. What should I do?” As college planning season quickly ensnares panicked parents, high school juniors and seniors struggle to access the college admissions guidance they need.

Even in affluent public school districts, many high school administrators hope students will just “figure it out” on their own. Unfortunately, lack of funding is the frequent culprit. As a result, high school college counselors across the US are overburdened with an average of 436 students per individual counselor according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and a 2013-2014 U.S. Department of Education survey, which is nearly double the recommended 250 students per one counselor ratio. Most public high school counselors do their best to meet with students once or twice in a semester, leaving parents who haven’t attended university in decades terrified for their students who are unprepared to dodge the treacherous landmines of college admissions.

Daunting issues include soaring tuition and living expenses, selecting the right school and major of study, completing scholarship and FASFA applications, and the lengthy college essay process. Despite its difficulties, college acceptance within reach!

The Right College Planning

Not every student requires a personal college counselor. As long as your student possess a combination of the following characteristics and resources, enlisting additional help may not be necessary.

The Checklist

Your student:

___ Is intrinsically motivated

___ Has access to consistent, quality college counseling at school

___ Has an available parent, guardian or caretaker who is willing and able to research current college planning metrics

___ Has a good working rapport with his or her parent or primary caretaker

Some students will need personal college guidance. If your student requires or lacks the following, hiring a reputable and qualified college planner who is an experienced educator is a plus. (In many cases, credentialed teachers make the best college planners; they are not only professionally trained, but they also interact with high school students far more than administrators and keep up to date on college requirements and processes.)

The Checklist

Your student:

___ Requires hands on assistance and step by step guidance

___ Has limited college counseling opportunities at school

___ Does not have access to sufficient college planning resources at home

___ Experiences difficulty communicating or working with parents to achieve goals

Although many teens continue to respond to their parents advice and guidance, others are often at odds with their caretakers in the waning days of their high school careers; a combination of hormones and the youthful yearning to be free from parental restrictions can strain the college scouting partnership. According to the Kid’s Health’s article, “Butting Heads,” “The primary goal of the teen years is to achieve independence. To do this, teens must start pulling away from their parents — especially the parent whom they’re the closest to.” Without an interdependent and respectful relationship between parent and teen, such a duo is likely to accomplish little progress, which is not an option when its crunch time; deadlines are non-negotiable and quality applications must meet if not exceed standards for the competitive edge.

Effective parental college guidance is a viable option if a parent can navigate the current college application maze, doesn’t work grueling hours outside of the home, and possesses a working rapport with his or her young scholar. Otherwise, there are other viable options; seeking the support of a professional educator and college planner to lighten the load and secure success is just one!

In It to Win It: Long-term Test Prep

test prep, tutoring, college, higher education, college admissionsClearly, parents want the best for their children. Unfortunately, many hope for “quick fixes” and short term solutions to catapult their student into test taking stardom. As the college admission season quickly closes in on our high school juniors, many parents still wait to the last minute to plan for crucial college entrance exams. According to Top Universities, “While some students do thrive on last-minute ‘cramming,’ its widely accepted for most of us, this not the best way to approach an exam.” As a test prep provider, I frequently receive requests from parents whose students “just need to score high enough for an athletics scholarship” or reach eligibility for their “dream” engineering college like Harvey Mudd; “Can you get my kid to a perfect score over a weekend? How about in a month?” Unfortunately, unless your student is already nearing his or her ideal score, the answer is a blunt “no.” The reality is that genuine progress requires patience, time and hard work.

In most cases, students are not natural born standardized test takers. In fact, many who need additional help require prolonged investment in personalized instruction, resources, and practice. The SAT and ACT, for instance, are not straightforward exams; they are designed to trick, fool and “weed out” university hopefuls from the competitive pool of potential applicants. College entrance exams are brutal, cruel, and purposefully deceitful, so if students are not already academically strong, they will not meet the necessary score unless they have access to substantial test preparation.

Six Successful Test Prep Tips

1.Avoid large classes through major test prep companies and universities. These are expensive and ineffective, particularly since they only offer  “cookie cutter,” “one size fits all” approaches. The vast majority of attendees walk away with more questions and fewer answers.

2. Go with one-on-one instruction. Find your local highly rated entrepreneurial instructor; they generally offer better service and results at a lower cost. Google, Thumbtack and Yelp are all good places to start!

3. Invest in two to six months of exam preparation in advance of the target test. Meet with an experienced instructor or tutor, ideally a credentialed teacher who can actually teach, once or twice per week for one to two hours. Lessons should be consistent or students won’t retain new content and strategy.

4. Prioritize exam preparation. Its high stakes, so lets act like it. Too often, other interests get in the way. Sports, homework, part-time jobs or even travel often supersede test prep. If these don’t allow for regular practice and meetings with your instructor, something has to change or the score won’t!

5. Practice, Practice, Practice. In addition to instruction, students must take the initiative. Ideally, practice should happen daily, but three times a week is sufficient in most cases. Check out Kaplan’s 8 Practice Tests for the SAT 2017: 1,200+ SAT Practice Questions for independent practice

6. Kindly, but firmly hold your students accountable. “No pain, no gain!” Having worked with teens for over 18 years, excuses arise. Although some are legitimate of course, others are deployed to merely “get out” of doing the work, which is imperative for improvement!

For most students, getting results is far from easy. Dedication on the part of students, parents and teachers must be present to ensure exam day success.

 Stay tuned for the next installment of free college admissions tips!

3 Reasons: Why Rapid Educational Changes Are Unlikely

Educational, K-12, Betsy DeVos, Every Student Succeeds Act, Common Core, SAT, Tutoring, Test Prep, College AdmissionsWhile many Americans vocalize optimism for the advancement of voucher programs and Charter Schools under the potential Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, or express fear of her lack of educational experience and diminished advocacy of public schools, the ultimate authority of public education will continue to reside with local control agencies and school districts themselves. According to FindLaw, “The city or district level school board, or “Local Education Agencies” (LEA), usually has the greatest authority to create, implement, and enforce educational policy.” Additionally, the 2015 bipartisan supported bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, ensures “a significant transfer of power over education policy away from the federal government to states and school districts” according to US News’ analysis, “Education Shifts to the States.”

So whether parents are elated with or dismayed by DeVos’ cabinet candidacy, expectations that the nation will experience a sudden massive overhaul in K-12 education are unlikely.

Here’s why:

  1. Teacher’s Unions: Love em’ or hate em’, they exist throughout the nation, particularly in California, and they are mighty. According journalist Mario Koran’s November 2016 article, “Teachers’ Unions Maintain Grip on County, San Diego Unified School Boards” in the independent publication Voice of San Diego, “Despite unprecedented spending from a group backing charters schools, the two major education boards in San Diego County will remain filled overwhelmingly with union-backed politicians.”
  1. Common Core: While the implementation of Common Core standards has undoubtedly wreaked havoc on older students, the standards themselves and corresponding teaching methods are arguably preferable to the “teaching to the test” motto of the former No Child Left Behind policy, a test that inadequately prepared students for university entrance and attrition. Additionally, Common Core skills have already been readily adopted by the nation’s top college entrance testing service, the College Board’s SAT as well as strongly supported by universities as many colleges have voiced concern about the ill-preparedness of many freshmen college applicants.
  1. Universities: “Colleges report receiving record numbers of applications that push up their selectivity numbers and their rankings on lists of top colleges — and increase the anxiety for students.” Competition is fierce, and while many Charter Schools and Private Schools are successful in helping students achieve university success, so are many public schools. For example, the top 10 ranking high schools in California are a mixture of public district and charter schools according to US News; no private schools make the cut. In fact, San Diego’s own Canyon Crest Academy, a public district school, ranks at an outstanding number five. Additionally, public schools offer more options in terms of athletics, the arts, electives and specialized programs than do Charter and Private Schools. On the other hand, charters boast of higher test scores and privates maintain smaller student populations, and in certain, but increasingly rare circumstances, smaller class sizes.

Most importantly, regardless of school type, top-tier colleges will select undergraduate candidates from more competitive, higher ranking high schools, be they public, charter or private. Perhaps there are many issues of concern in 2017, but an immediate educational upheaval may not be one of them. The debate about which schools will receive greater educational funding or the effectiveness of a voucher system will rage on, and may or may not play out depending upon state and local education agency decisions. 

One objective is certain- providing the most comprehensive, college and career readiness education possible for the greatest number of students as well as protecting our effective teachers who work strenuously long hours in the service of their students are tantamount.

DeVos or no DeVos, educators, schools, districts, parents and students can band together to make the best choices for themselves at the local level, at least for now.

College Admissions- Aiming for the Big Leagues

school, college preparation, test prep, academics, university, hawk educational solutions, tutor“I’m so sorry, but it’s too late. She simply doesn’t have the numbers.” The vacant stares and suppressed tears are almost as devastating for me as a college counselor and educator as the genuine despair of the family that arrives on my doorstep during their teen’s senior year. Sadly, by this point in their student’s academic journey, little can be done to realize the “dream school,” particularly if their student applies to the Ivy Leagues and the UC Schools.

For example, upon closer analysis of Stanford University, the 2016 admit rate is a whopping 4.8%. Out of 43,997 applicants, 2,114 were accepted. The vast majority of those admitted have a GPA that hugged a 5.0, a 1550+ SAT score or a 34+ ACT, and a marathon-long resume of internships and extracurricular involvements, not to mention “connections” to some key personnel.

On the other hand, University of California institutions may appear to be more forgiving, but the rate of competition is accelerating, and rapidly. While UCLA admitted roughly 26% of its 2016 Fall applicants, let’s consider the “shark tank” of your student’s prospective rivals. The UCLA Freshman Profile clearly indicates that 87% of all admits earned a 4.0+, and the sky’s the limit, keeping in mind that the UC’s solely focus on a combined GPA of the 10th and 11th grades. Course rigor is also incredibly significant; honors and AP classes are a must. “Rack em’ and stack em’!” To boot,  64% of all accepted candidates earned between a 700-800 on the SAT Evidence-Based Reading Section, and completed at least one if not two SAT subject tests that earned a 700 out of 800 or higher.

In summary, crossing the threshold of the nation’s top tier universities immediately out of high school is a numbers game that requires five essentials:

Many families plead, “but what about application essays? Don’t those help?” The long and short- yes, if your student has the numbers. Idiomatically, the essay is the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the gravy to your biscuits. The numbers are the bread, the essays the butter; without a hearty foundation rooted in competitive numbers, the butter just doesn’t cut it.

Showing up for assistance without the numbers post 11th grade is akin to popping a tire, driving for 50 wobbly miles, and hoping the tire wall has somehow miraculously remained in tact.

In a nutshell, get a jump on your student’s skill building, academic course selection and college preparation as early as elementary school, and the veritable tire wall, more than likely, may not pop at all.

Stay tuned for my next College Admissions installment, which will focus on alternative colleges and broadening out students’ university prospects!

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