Common App: Optimizing the Activities Section

We have made it to September and seniors are knee-deep in the college admissions process. It’s important to keep an eye out for ways to optimize your applications and on the Common App, one way to do that is through the activities section.

Here are some tips to help your activities shine.  Note that the majority of this advice applies to other applications as well. 

Think outside the box! The Common App has a broad definition of what it considers extracurricular activities.  It does not have to be an organized activity. Do you cook 4-5 days a week, whether it’s due to family responsibility or just a hobby?  Do you babysit your younger siblings while your parents work? Do you fix computers for your friends and family? These are all considered activities by the Common App. 

Choose your activities wisely. The Common App allows students to add up to 10 activities.  While many students haven’t participated in that many activities (which is totally fine!), others have trouble narrowing their options down.  When deciding which activities to include consider the following:

  • The application also asks for the approximate number of weeks/year and hours/week you spend on that activity. This means that you’ll want to first add more time-consuming options before moving to any one-off volunteer days or projects. Admission counselors tend to value loyalty, so if you’ve been part of a tournament all 4 years of high school that should also take priority, even if it’s only once a year. 

  • This section is a great way for the admission counselors to learn about who you are outside of the classroom. Keep the activities that you’re most excited by towards the top of the list, as it helps convey your interests. 

  • Don’t worry if you have more than 10 activities you want the admission counselors to know about. Many colleges allow you to upload a full extracurricular resume as part of your application. Alternatively, you may be able to find ways to reference additional extracurriculars in your supplemental essays. 

Be strategic when describing your activities.  You only have 150 characters to describe each activity (with an additional 50 characters to state your position/title and organization name). Focus on the following to use your limited space wisely: 

  • Instead of explaining what the organization does, emphasize what you achieved in this role. 

  • Be as specific as possible; instead of “fundraised for XYZ charity” write “raised over $1,000 for XYZ charity.”

  • Vary the descriptions, even if the activities are similar. For example, if you tutored students through two different organizations you might say “raised students’ test scores an average of 10 points” for the first activity and “helped students learn their multiplication tables” for the second activity.

  • Make sure your description is easily understood by the reader, even if they’re not familiar with all of your activities.  Let’s say you’re a member of a political club and were chosen to meet with a local representative. Instead of using just his/her name, be sure to also include a title in case the reader is unaware who “Karen Smith” is. 

  • Don’t worry about using formal sentence structure. Feel free to use incomplete sentences, lists, and small abbreviations (such as “HS” for high school) as needed. The admission counselors are aware you’re working with a very limited word count.  

Now’s not the time to be humble. It can be hard to talk frankly about your achievements without feeling like you’re bragging. However, your college applications require you to boast about yourself in a way. Don’t downgrade your success whether it’s how many hours you’ve spent participating in a certain activity, your title/position, or the description. Just be sure you’re not lying or stretching the truth.


Have a question about the activities section that isn’t answered here? Let us know!

Simply College Visits: New Jersey & Montana College Tours

Hope everyone’s enjoying these final days of summer! Lindsay spent the last few weeks attending tours specifically designed for college counselors in New Jersey & Montana, learning about 13 schools total.  Instead of our normal “Simply College Visits,” here are some highlights from the tours.

Princeton University

Location: Princeton, NJ

  • All students have to complete a senior thesis, with most completing independent research starting their junior year. 

  • In each residence hall, there is academic advising and support staff.

  • Along with the FAFSA, Princeton requires the Princeton Financial Aid Application to be completed instead of the CSS Profile.

Majors of Note: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology; Operations Research & Financial Engineering 


The College of New Jersey

Location: Ewing Township, NJ 

  • 95% of classes have fewer than 30 students, with the business school having the largest class average of 27 students.

  • TCNJ tracks demonstrated interest and encourages students to interact with them before applying. 

  • Art & music programs are test optional.

Majors of Note: Integrative-STEM Education; Journalism & Professional Writing 

Caldwell University

Location: Caldwell, NJ

  • Offer a direct admit nursing program, with a 100% NCLEX pass rate for their traditional students & 100% job placement. 

  • On-campus housing is available all 4 years, but the student body tends to be split 50/50 between commuter and residential students. 

  • While students come from a variety of religious backgrounds, all classes are taught through a Catholic lens. 

Majors of Note: E-Sports Management; Public Health Education 

Montclair State University

Location: Montclair, NJ

  • Out-of-state students with a 3.0+ GPA & performing arts students are eligible for in-state tuition.

  • Test optional, even for BSN students. 

  • Recently partnered with Sony to build a state of the art production facility for the School of Communication & Media. 

Majors of Note: Medical Humanities; Sports Media & Journalism

Drew University

Location: Madison, NJ

  • Drew’s new “Launch” program will require students to integrate practical experiences (internships, mentorships, etc.) with their liberal arts education.

  • Drew is committed to affordability: 2 years ago they lowered their tuition 20% and the average freshman scholarship is about $21,000.

  • The RISE program recruits retired researchers & scientists to work individually with undergrad students on research projects. 

Majors of Note: Environmental Management; Pan-African Studies

University of Montana

Location: Missoula, MT

  • Emphasize cross-training students in multiple disciplines to prepare them for post-graduate life.

  • “Four Bear”, an opt-in program that helps ensure students graduate in 4 years, is available to everyone.

  • Freshmen are required to live on campus. 

Majors of Note: Forestry; Parks, Tourism, & Recreation Management


Montana State University

Location: Bozeman, MT

  • Approximately 53% of freshmen and 40% of transfers are from out of state.

  • The architecture program does not require a portfolio.  

  • Students from any major can use the entrepreneurship center. 

Majors of Note: Environmental Design; Sustainable Food & Bioenergy Systems

Is there a topic you would like us to cover in a future blog post? Let us know!

Simply College Visits: Rice University

While you may want to wait until the temperature cools down before actually visiting campus, this month we’re talking about Rice University in Houston, Texas.  The leading research university tends to be known for its STEM programs. However, there are plenty of amazing opportunities for students with other interests, as majors range from Cello Performance to Sports Management. Social life for Rice students tends to be campus-focused, but they still take advantage of everything Houston has to offer!

Eat:

  • Rice Coffeehouse (6100 Main St, Houston, TX 77005): Located inside the Memorial Center on campus, this is the perfect spot to sip a cup of coffee and observe the student body.  It’s also completely student-run, making it a great future extracurricular for a prospective business school student. The coffeehouse is actually one of three student-run establishments on Rice’s campus. 

  • Guad Texas Chef Mex (2925 Southwest Fwy, Houston, TX 77098): You can’t visit Texas without getting Tex-Mex. While you’ll find all the basics here, you can also try uncommon dishes such as chorizo hash browns.

  • Local Foods (2424 Dunstan Rd, Houston, TX 77005): Craving a killer sandwich? Look no further than Local Foods. Using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, it’s obvious why they were featured on Eater’s “11 Essential Sandwich Shops in Houston.”

Stay:

  • Houston Marriott Medical Center/Museum District (6580 Fannin St, Houston, Texas 77030): Not only is this hotel essentially across the street from Rice, but it’s also by the METRORail red line, making it very easy to visit downtown Houston. 

  • Hotel ZaZa Museum District (5701 Main St, Houston, TX 77005): This boutique hotel offers beautiful rooms and views.  It’s also conveniently located less than a mile from Rice University, the Houston Zoo, and close to many museums. 

  • The Sam Houston, Curio Collection by Hilton (1117 Prairie St, Houston, TX 77002): The historic hotel in downtown Houston may be a good choice if you’re going to see other colleges in the area.  It’s also only half a mile from the Minute Maid Stadium.

Play:

  • Space Center Houston (1601 NASA Pkwy, Houston, Texas): Since NASA oftentimes works with Rice in various capacities, it only makes sense to check out the Space Center while you’re in town.

  • The Health Museum (1515 Hermann Dr, Houston, TX 77004): Houston’s Museum District boasts 19 museums and arguably, the most unique is the Health Museum.  This interactive museum provides opportunities to ride a bike with a skeleton and see a 4D movie. 

  • Houston Zoo (6200 Hermann Park Dr, Houston, TX 77030): Did you know that the Houston Zoo is the 2nd most visited zoo in the country? With activities such as a Texas Wetlands Exhibit and Silent Discos, it’s definitely not a surprise!

Simply College Visits: Bentley University

This month we’re heading north to visit Bentley University. Bentley is an undergraduate business school in Waltham, MA. They offer amazing resources for future business leaders including access to a Bloomberg terminal, business case competitions, and career communities.  Located less than 12 miles from Boston, Bentley students also have the opportunity to intern at a wide variety of companies.

Eat:

  • Moody’s Deli ( 468 Moody St, Waltham, MA 02453): If you’re in the mood for a bagel or pastrami sandwich, you will not be disappointed by Moody’s. Check out Moody’s Backroom for a slightly higher-end meal, where they offer a full-service dining room with a different menu for lunch and dinner.  

  • Tempo (474 Moody St, Waltham, MA 02453):  You don’t have to go all the way to Boston’s North End for great Italian food. Right in downtown Waltham, Tempo has been said to have “Greater Boston’s Best Bolognese” by Phantom Gourmet.

  • Cafe on the Common (677 Main St, Waltham, MA 02451): Looking for a quick cup of coffee between campus visits? Check out Cafe on the Common - not only do they have great coffee, but they also make their own baked goods from scratch.

Stay:

  • Westin Waltham (70 3rd Ave, Waltham, MA 02451): Less than 3 miles from Bentley, this hotel is convenient and comfortable.

  • Courtyard by Marriott Boston Waltham (387 Winter St, Waltham, MA 02451):  Ask for the Bentley rate and 10% of the proceeds will be donated to the school.

  • Hilton Garden Inn Boston Waltham (420 Totten Pond Rd, Waltham, MA 02451): Only about 2 miles from Bentley, this hotel offers an indoor pool perfect for an after visit dip.

Play:

  • Gore Place (52 Gore St, Waltham, MA 02453):  This historic house is now a museum open to the public.  While they offer house tours daily there are often workshops, concerts, and moonlight tours as well.  

  • Prospect Hill Park (314 Totten Pond Rd, Waltham, MA 02451): Take in amazing views of the Boston skyline, while taking advantage of the beautiful trails and grounds.  

  • Fenway Park ( 4 Yawkey Way, Boston, MA 02215):  What better way to truly understand how close Bentley is to Boston than visiting Fenway Park?  If you’re going during baseball season you can take in a game or they offer regular tours of the stadium all year-round.  

Moving on From Operation Varsity Blues

By now you’ve probably heard about the admissions scandal that put Aunt Becky and Lynette Scavo behind bars.  Here are Lindsay’s responses to a few of the questions she’s been frequently asked since the news broke:

How will this impact students with learning disabilities?

As parents of students with 504s/IEPs know, it’s already an arduous process to obtain the testing accommodations your student needs to excel.  Unfortunately, since the scandal involved wealthy families manipulating the system it may become even more stressful. We will have to wait and see what the long term impacts are, however; I would not be surprised to see high schools, colleges, CollegeBoard, and/or the ACT requiring families to jump through additional hoops before granting accommodations.

That being said, I don’t believe it will have as much of an impact on students who already have an up to date education plan, and supporting evaluations/documentation in place.  This should allow families to prove historical use of the accommodations the student is requesting, making their case stronger.

How will this impact student athletes?

I believe that student athletes will see the biggest changes come from this scandal.  It’s already been reported that certain schools will be adding additional checks & balances to their recruitment process, standardizing protocols, and/or completing annual audits of their athletes.  

How will this impact the educational consulting industry?

My hope is that the scandal causes the educational consulting industry to be better regulated.  Many educational consultants, including myself, are members of professional organizations such as IECA and NACAC.  These organizations essentially work to ensure that educational consultants are maintaining high standards. This includes visiting a certain amount of colleges per year, attending industry conferences & workshops, refusing bribes or kickbacks, and maintaining professional integrity - what I actually consider the basics of doing our job well.

It’s important to realize that Rick Singer, the “college coach” at the heart of the scandal, is not a member of any of these organizations. Right now, it’s voluntary for educational consultants to join these organizations. I would certainly not be against federal regulations requiring IECs to acquire a certificate or degree specifically in educational consulting and abide by specific ethical standards.  

If you’re considering working with an educational consultant, I recommend that you do your research to understand what educational consultants should (and should not) offer.  IECA has very helpful materials on this topic, such as “12 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Independent Educational Consultant” and “10 Important Ways IECA Members are Unlike Other Independent Educational Consultants.”

What can we learn from this scandal?

When I work with my students, we speak a lot about college fit.  For example, what size student body are they looking for? Urban or rural campus?  Greek life or no Greek life? While it takes students time to understand what their answers are to these questions, it’s worth the wait. Helping students find colleges that are a good match for them means I’m helping them find schools where they will flourish academically and socially.  

When I learned about this scandal, I was of course outraged by the families’ actions.  I was also saddened by how the name brand and reputation of the schools in question were so important that these people would lie and cheat to gain admittance.  While Stanford and Yale can be a great fit for some students, there are others that would truly do better at schools that may not offer the prestige but do offer the support, programs, and culture they need.


Simply College Visits: The Claremont Colleges

For our third, and final (for now), installment of Simply College Visit Guides, we’re heading to the West Coast. Just north of Los Angeles are the Claremont Colleges: Pomona, Scripps, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, & Pitzer.  

All 5 campuses are within 1 square mile and each college has a unique mission. Students are able to take classes at any of the colleges and have access to most of the other campuses’ facilities, creating a unified atmosphere.  Here are Lindsay’s personal recommendations on where to eat, stay, & play in Claremont, CA.

Eat:

  • I Like Pie (175 N Indian Hill Blvd #102b, Claremont, CA 91711): Located right in Claremont Village, this is a “must stop” with seasonal savory and sweet pies.  They also host an annual pie festival in March!

  • Bert & Rocky’s Cream Co. (242 Yale Ave, Claremont, CA 91711): If ice cream is your dessert of choice, you’ll love Bert & Rocky’s. This old-fashioned style shop handmakes all of their 200+ flavors.

  • Tutti Mangia (102 Harvard Ave N, Claremont, CA 91711): When you’re ready for a full meal, make a reservation at Tutti Mangia. They also have an amazing brunch every Sunday.

Stay:

  • Hotel Casa 45 (425 W 1st St, Claremont, CA 91711): As part of the Claremont Village, Hotel Casa 45 allows easy access to the campuses, as well as the restaurants and shops the area has to offer.

  • DoubleTree by Hilton (555 W Foothill Blvd, Claremont, CA 91711): Just over a 1 mile from campus, the DoubleTree is another convenient choice.

  • Sheraton Fairplex Hotel & Conference Center (601 W McKinley Ave, Pomona, CA 91768): About 5 miles from campus, this hotel offers a beautiful location with a great patio.

Play:

  • Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (1500 N College Ave, Claremont, CA 91711): Stroll around the gorgeous gardens, which focuses on native California plants.

  • Mt. Baldy Ski Resort (8401 Mt Baldy Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759):  You may not automatically put California and skiing together, but this resort is less than 16 miles from the Claremont Colleges.

  • Explore Los Angeles: If you would like to take a little drive (about 40 minutes), head south and take in everything Los Angeles has to offer.

Simply College Visits: College of Charleston


For our second installment of Simply College Visit Guides, we’re focusing on the College of Charleston.  Upon arriving on campus, you can quickly see why CofC was named America’s Most Beautiful Campus by Travel & Leisure in 2017. However, there is so much more than a pretty campus to explore.  Here are Lindsay’s personal recommendations on where to eat, stay, & play in Charleston, South Carolina.

Eat:

  • Second State Coffee (70.5 Beaufain St, Charleston, SC 29401): Less than a 10-minute walk from CofC, Second State is the perfect place to start off your day. Try their flavored lattes - the lavender and honey lattes are especially delicious.

  • Husk (76 Queen St, Charleston, SC 29401): By using local & seasonal ingredients, Husk continually delivers a fresh and amazing meal. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culinary culture of Charleston.  Reservations are recommended.

  • Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ (1011 King St, Charleston, SC 29403): It’s definitely worth the trip for this Lowcountry-style BBQ from the 2018 James Beard Best Chef: Southeast winner.

Stay:

  • Meeting Street Inn (173 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401): Not only is this charming inn less than half a mile from CofC, but it’s also said to be haunted! If you’re in the mood to see a ghost ask to stay in Rooms 303 or 107.  

  • Hyatt Place Historic District (560 King St, Charleston, SC 29403): Located on iconic King Street, you’re not only close to CofC but steps away from amazing shops & restaurants.  

  • AirB&B: If you really want to see how a local lives in Charleston, stay at an AirB&B.  There are tons of quaint & affordable options to choose from throughout the city.

Play:

  • Beaches: While the city of Charleston is tons of fun, don’t forget that there are multiple beaches about 30 minutes away. Explore Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, & Isle of Palms.  Each has a slightly different vibe, which gives you an excuse to visit all three!

  • Culinary Tours: Looking for a reason to eat more? Sign up for one of the many culinary tours Charleston has to offer.  As you walk through the city sampling traditional local dishes, your tour guide will also provide you with a great history lesson.

  • The Battery: Finish out your visit by walking through this historic harbor. The Battery offers beautiful views, gardens, and Civil War-era monuments.

Simply College Visits: University of Georgia

As 2019 rolls in, juniors will start ramping up college visits.  Taking a guided tour and information session is the best way for students to understand what the school has to offer and if it will be a good fit.  However, registering for the campus visit is only one piece of the puzzle.

To help families plan college visits, we’re introducing a new series: Simply College Visit Guides. Each post will break down where to eat, stay, and play in college towns throughout the country. These will all be places Lindsay has visited and personally recommends. To start the series off here is Simply College Visits: University of Georgia.  

Eat:

  • Zombie Coffee & Donuts (350 E Broad St, Athens, GA 30601): Located in downtown Athens, stopping by Zombie Donuts allows you to get a great feel for the town. The best part? You can build your own donut, with unlimited toppings!

  • Cali n’ Titos (1427 S Lumpkin St, Athens, GA 30605): As someone who lived in Miami for seven years, I was a bit dubious about the Cuban food Athens could offer. However, I was proven wrong by Cali n’ Titos.  Keep in mind that it is cash only.

  • 5&10 (1073 S Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30605): Hugh Acheson, a former Top Chef judge, has several restaurants in the Athens/Atlanta area. 5&10 is less than a mile from UGA and delivers an eclectic menu and fresh food.

Stay:

  • UGA Hotel & Conference Center (1197 S Lumpkin St, Athens, GA 30602): What better place to stay than right on the UGA campus? The hotel even provides a complimentary shuttle you can use to travel throughout the campus and downtown Athens. Ask about special rates for Office of Admissions visitors.

  • Country Inn & Suites (236 Old Epps Bridge Rd, Athens, GA 30606): Around 2 miles from campus, you have easy access to everything Athens & UGA has to offer.

  • Courtyard Athens Downtown (166 North Finley Street, Athens, GA 30601): The best part about this hotel is the quick walk to downtown Athens & UGA.

Play:

  • UGA State Botanical Gardens (2450 S Milledge Ave, Athens, GA 30605):  With over 300 acres and multiple walking paths, you can easily spend an afternoon exploring the gardens.

  • Antebellum Trail (280 E. Dougherty St, Athens, GA 30601): This 100-mile trail begins in Athens and ends in Macon, GA.   Exploring the Athens section will lead you to some of the area’s most historic sites.

  • The Tree That Owns Itself (277 S Finley St, Athens, GA 30605):  A local legend, this tree is said to have legal ownership of not only itself but the surrounding land.  

Acing Your College Interview

Seniors, take a deep breath.  You’re more than halfway through application season! You’ve probably finished most, if not all, of your essays and can now put your focus elsewhere.  For some, this means tackling college interviews. While most colleges do not require interviews, many offer optional interviews with alumni or admission representatives.  These are a great way for the college to put a face to the name on the application, and really humanize the process. Making the effort to interview also shows that you truly care about being accepted to the school.  

College interviews may be your first interview experience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ace your interview.  The key is to prepare and practice. Here are a few dos and don’ts to get you started:

DO

  • Arrive on time.

    • Tip:  Before your interview figure out travel logistics.  Find out where the closest parking lot is, how long the walk will be to the admissions office, etc. This information can usually be found on the college’s website or a campus map.

  • Prepare specific questions to ask your interviewer about the school, academic program, etc.

    • Tip:  Look through the website and confirm that your questions cannot be easily answered there.

  • Offer a firm handshake and keep eye contact when greeting your interviewer.

    • Tip: It can take time to develop a firm handshake.  Be sure to practice before the interview.

  • Send a thank you email to the interviewer within 24 hours.

      • Tip: Refer to something you discussed during the interview or had in common with the interviewer.  

  • Be yourself.

    • Tip: While it’s important to practice, don’t practice too much. The goal is to have a comfortable conversation with the interviewer.

DON’T

  • Dress inappropriately (torn jeans, revealing clothing, too casual, etc.).

  • Slouch or yawn during the interview.

  • Have your phone out or the ringer on.

Have a parent or friend conduct a mock interview to help you develop your interview skills.  It’s also a great time to practice your answers to common college interview questions, such as:

  • Tell me about yourself.

  • Why do you want to attend our college?

  • What can you contribute to our campus?

  • What 3 adjectives best describe you?

  • Why do you want to major in _____?

  • What is your favorite book?

  • What do you like to do for fun?

  • Tell me about a challenge you faced and how you overcame it.

  • What makes you unique?

  • What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?

  • What do you want to do after graduating college?

  • If you could change 1 thing about your school what would it be?

  • If you had $1,000 to give away what would you do with it?


Simply Admissions is happy to conduct mock interviews with students. Please contact us for more information.

FAFSA FAQs

The year is flying by and October 1st is just one day away. That not only means that Halloween is right around the corner but the 2019-2020 FAFSA is opening!

We can all agree that the financial aid process can be daunting. To help you through the process, here are some Frequently Asked Questions about the FAFSA:

What is the FAFSA? FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The information from the FAFSA is used to award federal & state grants, need-based scholarships, subsidized loans, and work-study opportunities.  

What information do I need to complete the FAFSA? For the 2019-2020 FAFSA, you will need the following information from the student (and parents, if the student is younger than 24 years old):

  • Social Security Number

  • 2017 Tax Returns

  • Bank statements and records of investments

  • Records of untaxed income (ex. child support)

  • FSA ID

There is an IRS Data Retrieval Tool that can be used to access your tax returns.  However, it’s not always reliable, so it’s best to have the information handy just in case!

How do I get a FSA ID? Visit fsaid.ed.gov to register for a FSA ID.  If a student is younger than 24, parents will need their own ID. Tip: Connect a personal email address to your FSA ID, not your school or work email.  You’ll be using your FSA ID for 4 years of college and may lose access to your high school  or work email.

How do I submit the FAFSA? You can complete the FAFSA at fafsa.ed.gov. Part of the application asks which schools you would like to receive your FAFSA. You’ll add the colleges you are planning to apply to in that section. Students can select up to 10 schools for free.

When should I file my FAFSA? While the FAFSA deadline is not until June 2019, it’s in your best interest to file as soon as you can. There is a finite amount of federal money so the earlier you submit the more aid you may receive.  At the very latest, we recommend that you submit the FAFSA by Thanksgiving.  Tip: Many schools have a “priority” application deadline. Students who submit their application & FAFSA before that deadline are given priority in terms of financial aid packages.  Schools may set individual FAFSA deadlines as well.

When do I find out how much financial aid I will receive? Once you start receiving your acceptances from colleges, you’ll also begin receiving financial aid packages from each school. The timing will vary, with financial aid notifications ranging from a few weeks to a few months after acceptance.

My parents are divorced. Which parent’s information should I use on the FAFSA? If your parents are divorced and do not live together, you will use the custodial parent’s information on the FAFSA. If your situation is a bit more complicated, use this flowchart from the Federal Student Aid Office as a cheat sheet.

I believe that my parents make too much money to receive any financial aid.  Should I still submit a FAFSA? Yes! You should always submit a FAFSA regardless of household income. There are quite a few financial aid opportunities, with varying eligibility requirements, that will only be awarded to students with a FAFSA on file.  Examples include the HOPE Scholarship in Georgia and merit scholarships at certain colleges.

Simply Admissions is happy to help answer any financial aid related questions you may have! Please contact us for more information.


Rocking Your College Essay

Students are often intimidated by writing a college essay; perhaps they are self conscious about their writing skills or just not sure where to start. As they say in The Sound of Music, the best place to start is the beginning! If the application has more than one prompt option, choose the one that you’re able to relate to best. Consider which topic will give you an opportunity to show the college a side of your story and personality that’s not already expressed in your application.  

Once you’ve decided on a prompt, begin brainstorming! This can be done in the form of an outline or by simply writing down a list of ideas.  After you have a rough idea of the message you want to convey, take the plunge and start writing. Typing those first few words can be the hardest part - don’t overthink it, just put something down on the page. For the first draft, don’t worry about word count, spelling, or grammar - just write what comes to your mind.  When you have written as much as you possibly could for the first draft, put it aside for a few days.  This will help start the editing process with a fresh viewpoint.

While editing, focus on developing strong introduction and conclusion paragraphs.  The first few sentences of your essay are going to be most important.  Admission counselors read hundreds of essays every application season and an intriguing initial sentence can help grab their interest.  This may mean starting off with a question, statistic, or quote to pull the reader in. Glance through how you’re starting your sentences - are they all “I” statements? If so, how can you vary them? Think about the flow of your essay.  Do you have enough transitional statements? Are you using descriptive words, strong verbs, and details to really “show, not tell” the story? You may find reading your essay out loud helps you find sentences that sound awkward and need to be fixed.

Once you are satisfied with your essay, give it a final glance to proofread and to double check that it meets all of the college’s requirements. Then give your essay to someone else to read to check for any remaining sequencing or grammatical issues.  It’s recommended that this is a teacher, college counselor, or someone else with experience reading college essays. Remember that this is your college essay and it should be your voice - feel free to politely decline any advice they offer.

Using these tips will help you develop a strong college essay and hopefully have some fun during the writing process.  Take a deep breath and start tackling those prompts!

Testing My Patience: Preparing for the ACT or SAT

As you may have already heard, the June SAT scores were released and caused quite an uproar. Students found that they missed fewer questions than on previous tests but received lower scores.  The reason is that SAT tests are curved and this exam was easier than earlier versions. This allowed many students to have extremely strong raw scores, causing the curve to be steeper than usual.  

What is the lesson to learn from the June SAT? The degree of difficulty and curve will vary from test date to test date, which is one reason that we recommend that students take the SAT or ACT more than once.  This is also why it’s important to start the college admissions preparation process around your junior year, as it allows you to fully prepare for the ACT or SAT.

At Simply Admissions, we suggest that students begin the process by taking a practice full-length ACT and SAT test. Often students score higher on one test and having both scores allows an informed decision to be made about which test the student should focus on.  

What is the difference between the ACT & SAT?  Both tests are used to assess how well the student is prepared for college, specifically in the areas of reading, writing, and math.  The ACT also has a science section, which is meant to evaluate the student’s data analysis, scientific reasoning and interpretation skills. Students often think they will need to recall scientific facts and theories in this section, which is not the case.

Neither test is “better” and colleges truly do not have a preference.  Therefore, the choice depends on the student’s preferences and skill set.  

How many times should I take the ACT or SAT?  Once the student decides which test to take, the studying begins! The amount of preparation time needed will depend on the student’s needs and diagnostic test scores. When creating testing schedules at Simply Admissions, we recommend that students take the exam 2-3 times.  This allows the student to take advantage of superscoring and optimize their study efforts. After 3 tests, students tend to stop seeing a noticeable score improvement and their time is usually better spent elsewhere.

What is superscoring?  Superscoring is when colleges take the highest section scores students received across multiple test dates to create the highest possible composite score. This can be done for the ACT and SAT. Colleges may choose to superscore only the ACT or SAT, or both.  It’s important to note that many colleges do superscore and it should definitely be considered when creating a student’s testing schedule.

Standardized testing can be a frustrating and tedious part of the college admissions process. However, it’s important to remember that it’s only one part of the student’s overall application. Additionally, starting to prepare early allows students (and parents!) to minimize pressure and stress.  

Demonstrated Interest: How To Show Colleges You Care

Demonstrated interest is a hot topic within college admission circles these days.  It’s become clear that a growing number of colleges are using demonstrated interest as a tool when deciding which students to accept. So, what exactly is demonstrated interest?

Demonstrated interest is how certain colleges track if you’ve taken the time to truly research their school and how likely you are to enroll, if accepted. Many colleges automatically track a wide variety of behaviors, ranging from taking an official campus tour to interacting with the college through social media. The degree of this behavior is then quantified and taken into account when determining an admissions decision.  

Why do colleges care about demonstrated interest?  The world of higher education is changing rapidly.  Many colleges are reporting a record number of applicants each year.  Demonstrated interest is a way for colleges to separate the applicants that sincerely want to be admitted from those who randomly applied to a bunch of colleges without doing any research to make sure it’s a true fit. Additional reasons have to do with enrollment management, which is essentially a set of strategies colleges use to ensure they are meeting their enrollment goals. Demonstrated interest helps colleges determine how many acceptances they should send out, how many students will actually enroll, etc.  

How do I demonstrate my interest? It’s been confirmed that quite a few colleges track the following:

  • Attending an official college tour and/or information session

  • Participating in an overnight campus program

  • Interview with the admissions office or alumni

  • Reaching out to your region’s admissions rep via email

  • Visiting the admissions rep at a college fair or other local event

  • Sending thank you emails after meeting each admissions rep

  • Following the college on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter

  • Interacting with the college through social media (comment, like posts, etc.)

  • Adding yourself to the college’s mailing list

  • Opening emails from the college & clicking on a few links in the email

  • Spending 15 - 20 minutes looking through the college’s website

  • Showing your knowledge of the college through the supplemental essay

  • Applying early

Should I demonstrate my interest to every school on my list? While you should try to visit each school that is on your list, it’s certainly not necessary to spend the time demonstrating interest to 10+ schools. Once your college list is finalized, determine which 3-5 schools are at the top of your list and focus your energy on these schools.  

When demonstrating interest, it’s very important to remember not to go overboard.  You don’t want to bombard a college’s admissions counselor with daily emails. Make sure that you’re genuine when interacting with the college.  Are you wondering if they will be attending any local events and it’s not listed on their website? That’s a great reason to reach out to your region’s admission counselor.  Perhaps you’re interested in engineering and the college posted about a new engineering program on their social media account - that’s an awesome reason to comment and try to find out more information. Staying authentic will also help the admissions counselor understand if the college will be a great fit for you!

Can I Play? Student Athlete Recruitment

Many students are interested in playing a sport in college.  However, it’s often assumed that if a student is a strong enough athlete that college coaches will find them.  That’s not always true! Students often have to take the initiative to jump start their own recruitment process.

Prospective student athletes should first check the applicable sport organization website to learn about the rules related to their specific sport. These rules will include when college coaches can begin communicating with you and how official visits work. While you’re doing this research, register with the NCAA or NAIA.  You will be provided with an ID number to share with coaches – be sure to save this in a safe spot for future reference!

Most sport associations will detail academic requirements for their student athletes.  It’s important to take these the minimums into account when completing the your academic planning.

Potential early recruited athletes should also make sure to start studying for the SAT/ACT early, with the goal being to sit for your first test by the fall of junior year. Starting early helps assure coaches that their recruits have their testing under control.

While you’re waiting for the open communication period to begin, use the time to evaluate yourself. As it’s important to get a realistic assessment of your athletic skills, you may want to enlist a coach or private trainer.  

This is also a great time to create an athletic/academic resume.  The resume should list the following:

·      Personal statistics (age, height, weight, association ID, & DOB)

·      Your contact information

·      Parents’ contact information

·      Coaches’ contact information

·      Athletic statistics (rankings, awards, etc.)

·      Academic statistics (GPA, test scores, etc.)

When you’re ready, prepare an introductory email to coaches. Keep the email brief, while stating your interest in the school, expressing a desire to learn more about their programs, and attaching your resume to address your strengths.

Don’t be afraid to follow up with the coaches by phone!  Students often find it helpful to practice, or even write down, what they will say if they’re able to speak with a coach or in a voicemail. If you’re leaving a message make sure to include your name, phone number, interest in their team, and the best time to reach you.

As time goes by, be strategic about how you’re following up with the coaches.  While you don’t want to constantly be reaching out, you do want to trickle in communication to stay at the front of their mind.  Examples of good reasons to shoot coaches a quick follow up email would be new athletic or academic achievements, seeing the college’s admissions representative at a college fair, or visiting campus.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Simply Admissions can help student athletes please contact us for a complimentary consultation.

School's Out For The Summer! Now What?

Even though we may still be dealing with ugly winter weather, summer’s actually right around the corner! A common question that I get from parents is, “What should my high schooler be doing this summer to prepare for college applications?”  While my exact answer depends on the student’s specific situation, there are a few general rules to keep in mind:

  1. Plan ahead. Does your child know what he/she wants to major in? If so, make sure that their current extracurricular resume reflects that interest. For example, a student who plans to major in engineering may want to participate in an engineering camp or robotics competition. A future pre-med or business major may want to explore pre-college programs that offer courses in those subjects. This will show admission counselors that the student is passionate about an intended field of study and has dedicated free time to learning more about the subject.  It also gives students a chance to evaluate whether or not a specific field is a good fit for them.

  2. Think in layers. If your child does have a passion, brainstorm different ways they can expand their interest to create a clear theme and strengthen their application. Let’s say a student is already a member of the high school track team and plans to continue competing in college. Their summer could be spent volunteering to help coach younger athletes or raising money for a charity by running a 5k. Take an existing passion to a higher level!

  3. Explore. Most teenagers do not have a clear idea what they want to major in - summer break is a great opportunity for students to begin figuring out what where their interests may lie! This can be accomplished through traveling, job shadowing, interning, volunteering, or by simply taking the time to research a few different industries.

  4. Make some money. Summer break is a wonderful time for students who are busy during the school year to gain work experience. The job could be related to a student’s passion (ex. a future theater major working at a theater camp) or completely unrelated (ex. a future biology major working at an ice cream shop).  Admission counselors tend to appreciate the initiative necessary to obtain summer employment and know that jobs may lead to improved work ethic, teamwork skills, and independence.

  5. Have fun!  Summer is the time for pool parties, BBQs, and relaxing.  Don’t forget to take some time to decompress from the school year!