COLLEGE ADMISSIONS FROM THE INSIDE OUT

52 Weeks to College: Week 24

Here’s How Rising Seniors Can Get Organized for Application Season
June 14, 2021
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Applying to college is a complex and difficult project. You know that. Your parents know that. Your teachers and college counselors know that. Admissions officers know that. In other words, everyone involved in the process knows that.

So you might be feeling just the teensiest bit overwhelmed. After all, most 17-year-olds don’t have all that much experience managing complex and difficult projects, let alone projects as high stakes as applying to college.

The good news is that you are ready – you’ve been preparing for this for the last 16 or 17 years. The better news is that you don’t have to do it alone. There are tons of resources out there to help you. Like your parents, teachers, and college counselors. Like admissions officers. Like websites, apps, and books. Like this series.

If you’ve already been following along for the first 23 weeks of this series as high school juniors, carry on! If you’re new to the series, you can spend a bit of time reading previous posts and getting up to speed.

Your job? Read each week’s plan and execute. If you do, you’ll have more success and less stress in the process. Guaranteed.

An important heads up: A lot of the work you’ll be doing in the application process is front-loaded. It will get less intense as the weeks go by, we promise.

Let’s get to work!



WEEK 24 TO-DOs

  • Choose your calendar and add events you already know about. You must use a calendar this year, because in order to get everything done, you are going to have to grab free hours whenever you have them. So even if you haven't really used a calendar before, commit to using one this year, whether paper or electronic or whatever method works for you. Start by putting everything you already know about your life for the next six months on it. Know the first day of school? Put that on it. Know that you are going to (try to) take a standardized test on one of the newly offered days? Put that on it. Know that you have a part-time job? Put your work schedule on it, when you get it. Know that you have a birthday coming up and will want a few days off? Mark off the time you want for celebrating. You get the idea.
     
  • Get ahead of the avalanche of paper, emails, and other communication coming your way (if it hasn’t already). The college application process inevitably generates a huge amount of information that you have to be able to access easily. You can’t do it without an organizational system for managing it. Once you’ve set up your system, gather up everything you already have that’s related to the college application process, sort it, and file it. That goes for everything — including your electronic stuff!
     
  • Work on finalizing your college list. You want to have decisions made about where you are applying no later than the first week of August.

    College applications are specific to the colleges where you are applying. Even if the college uses a shared application platform, like the Common App or the Coalition App, each college will have some questions that are particular only to it. Since most applications for this coming application cycle won’t be released or “go live” before August 1st, you are in good shape if you have your list finalized by then. In the meantime, we’ll have you working on components of the application that will be relevant to all colleges.
     
  • Consider whether you want extra help from us. If you are a DIY ninja, you can follow along via our blog posts only, but if you want some extra help, here’s how:

  • You can order a copy of our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application and use it as a companion.

  • You can download Inline, our app that gives you help right in your browser with the questions and essays on the Common App.



THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.



TIPS AND TRICKS

1. USE A SINGLE CALENDAR.

It can be tempting to have a calendar that you use only for college applications. But that is a sure recipe for disaster in the form of double or triple booking yourself and missing deadlines. For most of you, the easiest calendar to use is one on your phone. Personally, we like Google Calendar, because lots of you already use Gmail, but any calendar app will work. For those of you who like to rock it old school, choose a paper calendar that appeals to you and that you will keep with you most of the time.
 

2. SET UP A GMAIL OR OTHER FREE EMAIL ACCOUNT THAT YOU USE EXCLUSIVELY FOR APPLYING TO COLLEGE.

 

A good portion of your communication with colleges will be electronic. Setting up a dedicated email address offers two advantages. First, you can create a grown-up, appropriately serious email identity that is worthy of an applicant to a top U.S. college, and you can still keep whatever separate email identity you want for other purposes. Second, by setting up a separate email account you have also set up an automatic “filing” system for your college related emails, because those are the ONLY emails that will come to that email address (as long as you maintain the discipline of using that address only for this purpose).

3. SET UP THREE IDENTICAL FILING SYSTEMS.

 

One of the problems with figuring out your filing system is that the information will come in many forms — snail mail, email, voicemail, notes, internet research, hard copy brochures and folders, and text messages. Not only do you have to figure out how to store all this various information, you also have to figure out how to retrieve it when you need it.

For most students, the easiest way to go is to have three storage locations that all have the same file structure: set up one storage system in email, set up another storage location either on a hard drive on your computer or in the cloud, and set up a third in old-fashioned paper file folders. To get you started, we've compiled a basic list of files you should set up in each storage location.

4. CHOOSE 8-15 COLLEGES BASED ON FIT, SELECTIVITY, AND AFFORDABILITY.


All of the colleges on your list should be "good fits," meaning that they offer what you want from a college educationally and otherwise.

The colleges should have a range in terms of selectivity. We suggest you balance your list in this way: 2-3 should be colleges where you have a high likelihood of admission (safeties), 4-8 should be colleges where you have a good likelihood of admission (targets or matches), and 2-4 should be colleges where you have a low likelihood of admission (reaches).


Finally, all of the colleges on your list should be affordable for you, meaning that between your family resources and the financial aid you are likely to get from the college, you can pay for it. But don’t make the mistake of assuming that the sticker price is what you’ll end up paying! Some colleges end up being dramatically cheaper after you’ve received a financial aid award, or if your annual family income falls below a certain level. Read the financial aid pages of the college websites carefully.

5. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SCHOLARSHIP SEARCH SERVICES.


There’s good news and bad news when it comes to scholarship searches.

The good news is that there are scholarships out there and that it is relatively easy for you to identify them for FREE thanks to the internet. You can use a tool like Fastweb or FinAid and the College Board’s Scholarship Search.  Just be aware that these sites are supported by colleges and you will likely become a target of lots of marketing when you sign up, but hey it’s free so just delete the emails that are irrelevant to you.

The bad news is that scholarship scams abound, and every year thousands of hopeful college applicants and their families get duped by them. It is so tempting to sign up for a service that "guarantees" you'll get a scholarship, but the only guarantee is that you'll never see the money you paid to this service again. Before you pay a single dollar to a scholarship search service, use this checklist to evaluate whether you are about to become a victim of a scam rather than the recipient of legitimate assistance.

Once you’ve done this week’s To Do’s, you are officially on the way to getting into college. Congratulations!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 23

Here's how to make your writing stand out...
June 7, 2021
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You want to know a secret?


Admissions officers WANT you to have an amazing application.


I know many of you think that admissions officers are basically evil trolls looking for some reason to deny you, but they aren’t.


What they are really looking for is a reason to admit you.


A reason why you stand out from the million trillion other applicants that — on paper at least — look just like you.


Most of you think that the way to stand out is to have better credentials, but spoiler alert, there are over 27,000 high schools in the United States, so that’s also the minimum number of people who graduated first in their class; pre-COVID, about 40,000 students a year scored in the top 2% of the SAT (that’s not even counting the top ACT scorers); and more than 180,000 applicants were good enough athletes that they registered with the NCAA clearinghouse in order to be recruited.


Get the picture? Good credentials are essential, but they aren’t enough. That extra special something that causes you to be a stand-out requires you to let the the admissions officer see your personality, your values, your motivations — the things that make you YOU and nobody else.


That’s why you have to seize every opportunity you are given to reveal essential aspects of yourself. One great opportunity comes in the form of the Why College X essay – the most popular supplemental essay (at last count nearly 50% of the most selective colleges have some form of this essay on their application).


Tragically, most of you blow it when it comes to this essay. You give some “blah, blah, blah” regurgitation of the college’s own marketing materials, or worse still you give an answer that demonstrates you actually know nothing about this college. Are there real access and equity issues around these kinds of essay prompts? Certainly. We want to level that playing field as much as we can by showing you how to conquer them even without a travel budget. We promise: you can write a great Why College X essay without visiting the college in person.


This summer, you can get the information you need to write great Why College X essays. It’s also the perfect way to get started on your college applications because it gives you some essays that are ready to go AND it helps you narrow your college list. Don’t be surprised if you find that once you really, really think about it, a few of the colleges that you thought you wanted to apply to end up falling off your list. Honestly, if you can’t write a genuine Why College X essay for a college, why would you go there?


Not all colleges require a Why College X essay. But even for the ones that don’t, it’s a good exercise to go through in case you’re able to do an interview with an alum, for example. You’ll want to sound well informed and enthusiastic about that college.


A great Why College X essay is mostly about having specific and thoughtful content.  Follow these three rules for developing your content and you’ll be able to write a Why College X essay that makes you a true stand-out!


Rule #1. Your content needs to show that the college is a match for you.
That means that your content should be focused on showing the match between what you want in a college and what College X has to offer. You and the college should be a match on three critical dimensions:


1) academic/intellectual dimension|


2) extracurricular activity/work dimension and


3) life/community dimension.


Here’s an example: You want to attend a college where you can major in biology (academic/intellectual), be part of a volleyball team (activity), and live on campus all four years (life/community). The core of your content is as simple as that.


Rule #2. Your content needs to be specific and demonstrate that you have taken a deep dive into the particulars of College X. Continuing with our example from above, do you have any guess as to how many colleges offer a major in biology? That’s right – almost all of them (although not every single one, so you should double check). Your content won’t be specific enough to make you a stand-out unless you take a deep dive into biology majors at College X. What makes it especially appealing to you? A particular faculty member? A sub-specialty within the major? Research opportunities? A living-learning community? The more specific you get, the better and more stand-out your essay will be. Do a deep dive for every one of the three critical dimensions. Check their website, talk virtually to faculty and staff at the college and current students and alumni, read the school newspaper online, attend the school’s online information sessions, and follow the schools’ social media. It will take some time, but it is time well spent.


Rule #3. Your content should be honest, but steer clear of the less persuasive reasons you want to attend College X. Admissions officers are not stupid. They will see right through you if you are dishonest in this or any other essay. And really, why would you be dishonest in this particular essay? Presumably you have good, solid reasons for why you want to attend College X. If you follow Rules #1 and #2, you don’t need to make up reasons that you think “sound” better. That being said, you may have personal reasons for wanting to attend College X that would not be persuasive to the admissions officer. You want to leave those out. For example, you may want to attend College X because of its stellar reputation as a party school. That might be fine for you, but not persuasive to an admissions officer. So just don’t mention it. Okay, okay, so you probably know that. But what you might not know is that it is also not persuasive to say that you want to attend College X because it is the college highest ranked in US News and World Report that also has a volleyball team. News flash: Rankings don’t reveal anything about why you and the college are a match. In fact, as admissions officers see it, depending on rankings to tell you what colleges are a match for you is actually a very lazy and ineffective way to identify your right fit colleges. (Should those same admissions officers stop marketing their own rankings in that case? Yup. But they’re the boss of this process.) So even if you honestly want to go to a particular college because of its ranking, you should never include it as a reason in your answer.


Now that you know our three rules, get cracking on your research. Amazing essays will follow!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 22

Summer is officially here! Take advantage of the time you have now & be even more productive this fall.
June 1, 2021
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HOW TO PLAN YOUR SUMMER BEFORE SENIOR YEAR


Summer is officially here. Woohoo! And collectively the world is trying to re-emerge and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.


Of course, this is going to be a slow process and it will come in fits and starts. Some experts even predict it will be more of a “two steps forward, one step back” dance for quite some time. 


Regardless, you are still getting closer to peak application season – fall of your senior year. And that isn’t going to change. 


So the question becomes: How you are going to use your summer well?


Take advantage of the time you have now so your fall, whatever its shape, is as happy and sane as you can make it.

The summer is really a pivot in the college application process, where you shift from focusing on building your credentials to presenting your credentials. And along the way, you have to make some big decisions about where you are applying. In a big picture sense, here’s how we suggest you map out your summer and allocate your time:


WEEK 22 TIPS & TRICKS



Map Out Your Summer

June


June is a transition month and it shouldn’t be too hectic. But there are still things to do.


  • Building Credentials: 50% of your time

Wrap up your school year, start your summer activities aimed at credential building (see this recent blog post for ideas for what to do this summer), and stay ready to take standardized tests in the fall (should that be possible or advisable).

  • Making Decisions - Narrowing Your College List: 35% of your time

Start doing deep-dive research into the colleges you are most interested in and start your Why College X essays for those (more about that in a future blog post); identify where you need to round out your list to ensure you have good choices at the end of the process (need more target schools, more safeties, more reaches?)

  • Presenting Credentials - Doing the Application Pre-Work: 15% of your time.

+ Confirm your recommenders. See how to do that in our blog post from a few weeks ago. 


+ Write your story and your resume. These are things that you need to do BEFORE you start drafting essays, so now’s a perfect time. We’ll have more posts on those soon.

+ Gather samples of your academic work and put together an audition video or portfolio (if you are an artist or maker).


+ Create your account on both the Common App and also the Coalition App if your school counselor recommends that. Fill in the basic information about yourself because that content will rollover into your account for next year. You don’t need to work on essays yet. If you need or want help with your Common App information, you can download your copy of Inline here

July


July is a full-steam ahead month. Make sure to keep following this 52 Weeks to College series that will take you step-by-step through the application process. You’ll see that it breaks your work down into manageable chunks and you’ll get pro tips for every element of the application.

  • Building Credentials: 35% of your time


Same as above.


  • Making Decisions – Finalizing the List/Identifying Early Options: 35% of your time


Finalize your list of 8-12 colleges where you intend to apply; have Why College X essays ready for each (we’ll have a post about those); and research what early application options are available. Be sure you read the fine print and be prepared for colleges to have new policies for this coming year.


  • Presenting Credentials – Let the Essay Writing Commence: 30% of your time


Use your story to generate topics for and draft the main personal essay on the Common App, the Coalition app, or the university’s own app. Do NOT bother with working on the essays beyond the main essay unless the college has released the topics for the 2021 application cycle – you don’t want to waste precious time on crafting a beautiful essay in response to a question that won’t remain in the application! If you are an artist or maker, keep working on your audition video or portfolio.

August


August is kick-into-overdrive month. You want to have a couple of applications largely done by the end of Labor Day weekend, so that you are positioned to go back to school and keep up with both school work and college admissions without pulling all-nighters (the surest way to prevent a senior year meltdown is to get good sleep).


  • Building Credentials: 25% of your time


Wind down your summer activities, do whatever summer homework you have for school, and prep for/take standardized tests (if that is possible or advisable). 

  • Making Decisions – Deciding about Early Options: 15% of your time

Decide where, if anywhere, you are applying early, and prioritize completing those applications ahead of the others.

  • Presenting Credentials– Producing Standout Applications: 60% of your time

Most applications will go live for 2021 in early August. That means it is game time for producing standout college applications. There are no shortcuts. You just have to put in the time and make smart choices along the way. Take it application by application. This 52 Weeks to College series will help you pace yourself so that you can produce your best applications while staying sane. Less stress, more success is the goal, but we won’t lie; it will be stressful. That’s a given, so pacing is critical.

That’s the big picture for the next three months. Take a deep breath and get to work. You’ve got this!



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

7 Mistakes For Your Students to Avoid On The Common App

May 25, 2021
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Help Your Students Ace The Common Application

students_in_classroom

Applying to college can be a stressful process for students and parents and counselors alike. From narrowing down a list of potential schools to apply to, to test prep and college tours, it can be easy for students to feel overwhelmed. 


The Common Application (better known as the Common App) was designed to help alleviate student stress. Using the Common App’s platform, students can apply to multiple colleges on the same platform. More than 900 colleges, including institutions from all 50 states and in 20 countries, are members of the platform. Using one platform like the Common App can save an applicant time and stress, but there are still many misconceptions about how to get the best results using the Common App. 


Keep reading for seven common misconceptions about the application and how you can better equip your students with the tips they need to master the Common App. 


Mistake #1: “It’s called the Common Application, so I can send one application to a bunch of colleges… less work for me!” 

 

One of the best ways to equip your students for success on the Common App is to educate them on the ins and outs of how the application works. The first step is to bust the myth that it’s a “one and done” application. While the Common App is great for centralizing general information, it is important to help students understand that the Common App is a single platform, not a single application. Each college the student is applying to through the Common App will have different requirements to meet, and many of them have their own school-specific supplements and essays as well. 

Mistake #2: “My college counselor is nagging me about stuff. I can ignore her until I need her.”

 

Work with your student to help them understand your school’s process and timeline for college advising and for navigating the different components of the college application. That will save everyone time in the long run. Share this post with them to remind them how to work effectively with their teachers and counselors for everything from processing transcripts to asking for recommendations.

 

Remind your students that timelines are very important to the admissions outcome, and that getting their applications started sooner rather than later will help them beat the stress of applications in the long run. Current Juniors can work through our 52 Weeks to College series to keep themselves on track

Mistake #3: “Some of my colleges are test-optional, others aren’t. I’ll just report all my scores on the Common App form.”

 

Hundreds of colleges now offer a test-optional policy. This removes the testing requirement and lets students apply without ever showing their scores to those colleges. This is a good option for students who believe their test scores aren’t an accurate reflection of their high school academic performance or future academic potential. While applying test-optional may be the best option for your students in some cases, there may still be some schools on the Common App they are applying to which require test scores or recommend them. 

 

If a student self-reports scores on the Common Application, then even the schools they choose to apply to as test-optional will be able to see their scores. So it’s important to report scores on a college-by-college basis.

Mistake #4: “Colleges like lots of activities, right? I’ll list everything I can think of, plus the stuff my mom thinks is really important, like Saturday morning Zumba.”

 

The Common Application Activities section is a crucial piece of the application puzzle. 

Not every activity merits space on the college application! Students should focus on what we call the Cour Four when deciding which activities to include, and what aspects to focus on. Here’s a post on the Cour Four that admissions officers look for when reviewing activities, and applications more generally.  

Mistake #5: “I’ll use the same Common App personal essay for every college.”

 

The Common App personal essay is the main personal statement students submit to colleges. We recommend that students ALWAYS submit this essay, even though some colleges make it optional. This essay is a chance for students to share something personal and go deeper on their interests, passions, and strengths. 

 

Students do NOT have to submit the same Common App personal essay topic to each college, and sometimes they shouldn’t. For example, if a Common App personal essay topic works really well for an essay on a college-specific supplement, then students should use that essay topic for the supplement, and pick a different topic for the Common App personal essay for that particular college.

Mistake #6: “I see schools asking for my social media handles. I should include those, right?”

 

Nearly 70% of college admissions officers believe students’ social media accounts are fair game in the admissions process. However, according to Inside Higher Ed’s survey of admissions officers, only about a third of admissions officers actually look at students’ social media accounts. They simply don’t have time. But it’s is still important that students err on the side of caution online. If a college asks for social media handles, students should leave those blank.

 

Encourage your students to audit their social media accounts, delete any fake accounts, and think about how they want to present themselves to the outside world, including admissions officers. 

Mistake #7: “Once I’ve hit the Submit button, my work is done.”

 

Once a student submits their application, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s all done and they just need to wait it out. But there’s so much students can be doing while waiting! 

 

  • They should confirm directly with each individual college that the application has indeed been received. It’s not enough to rely on Naviance, for example.
  • Work with your student to promptly resolve any issues that come up, like missing files or test scores. 
  • Use this down time to help your students prepare for college admissions interviews

 

The college application process can be confusing, especially for students whose families are new to the process. Equip your students with the knowledge they need to master the process and submit their very best college applications.

Help your students ace the college admissions process. Get our free checklist for Juniors and Seniors.

Download The Checklist


52 Weeks to College: Week 21

Our advice might surprise you
May 24, 2021
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The optional arts supplement is a component of the college application for which we have some strong (and sometimes controversial) advice for at least 75% of you. 

 

Here it is in a nutshell: just don’t! 

 

Why? Because unless you are in the top 10% -25% or so with regard to your talent in the arts, an optional arts supplement will hurt you more than it helps you. 

 

If you think you might be in the top 10%-25% and want tips for preparing your submission or you would like to know more about why this is our advice, we’ve got some tips for you below. 

 

Otherwise, just mark optional arts supplement off your list of things to do and go enjoy your summer day.


Should I Submit an Optional Arts Supplement? 


In order to understand whether you should submit an optional arts supplement, you need to understand how these supplements are handled by admissions officers, and you need to have a realistic assessment of your own talent. 

 

Admissions officers know their limits, and generally they are not qualified to evaluate the talent and quality of your optional arts supplements. Instead, your arts supplement will be sent to the college’s arts faculty. These faculty have deep expertise in your particular arts discipline,and they will be asked to evaluate your demonstrable talent as well as your potential to be a meaningful contributor to the campus arts community. 

 

If you get a stellar evaluation from the faculty, then there is no doubt that it will boost your chances for admission. 

 

But if you get a mediocre or negative evaluation from the faculty, then it will diminish your chances for admission. 

 

Here’s the thing: arts faculty are tough graders. Only the best of the best arts supplements are going to get stellar evaluations. That’s why you need to have a realistic assessment of your own talent. 

 

Don’t confuse your talent with your passion or effort. Just because you love it or do it all the time doesn’t mean you have extraordinary talent. 

 

Instead, consider whether you have independent validation of your arts talent such as all-state honors, prestigious audition-based arts programs, work presented at important festivals, etc. 

 

If you don’t, seek out an independent evaluation. Ask for a brutally honest review by your teacher or someone recommended by your teacher. If they tell you that you are a great hobbyist, but not in the top 10%-25% of arts students, then feature your arts on your activity list, your resume, and in your essays, but do not submit an optional arts supplement.

Can I Submit an Optional Arts Supplement?  


Let’s say you are among the best of the best. YAY! Then there’s only one more hurdle before you get to work on your arts supplement: you have to find out if the college will accept it. The vast majority do, but there are notable exceptions. 


For example, neither Northwestern nor Claremont McKenna have accepted optional arts supplements in the recent past. Before you commit the time to preparing one, find out the policy at the colleges on your list for the coming cycle. The easiest way to do that is to simply google “[name of college] arts supplement” and find out what they say on their website about optional arts supplements. If you don’t see a stated policy, contact the admissions office for confirmation of their policy.

While you are checking to see if they accept an optional arts supplement, also check out what the college’s definition of “arts” is, because it varies widely. The vast majority define arts in a traditional way and include dance, drama and theatre arts, film, music and visual arts. But others reach broader and include architecture (e.g. Columbia) or creative writing (e.g. Princeton). Those that are the most inclusive and contemporary also include so-called maker projects (e.g. MIT). 


What Should I Prepare and Submit?

There is no “standard” arts supplement; each college has its own requirements by arts discipline. You’ll find specific instructions on what to submit on each college’s website, and you must follow the directions of each college precisely. That being said, here are five tips to follow when preparing your materials for submission: 

  • Pick thoughtfully when choosing which examples of your work to submit. Select works or performances that go beyond showcasing your technical ability – you want to include works that tell your story as an artist, illuminate your singular perspective on the world and/or add to the story you are telling about yourself throughout your application. 


  • Pick quality over quantity. Be choosy and select the very best examples of your work, rather than including every single thing you have done. Less is truly more here. Don’t turn your arts supplement into a scrapbook.


  • Write a short artist statement that describes your process and inspiration for your art. A great resource for helping you figure out how to write an artist statement is a short guide available for free here.


  • Include an arts-specific resume that describes your arts education, awards, honors, achievements, and special programs. 


  • Line up one or two arts recommenders who are willing to submit recommendations that speak to your current talent and your potential for further artistic development as a member of a college arts community.

52 Weeks to College: Week 20

6 Tips for Submitting Samples of Your Academic Work
May 17, 2021
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Asking applicants to submit samples of their academic work as part of their application has been a growing trend over the last few years. 

And, while all the application requirements for the 2021-22 admissions cycle are not yet fully known, we suspect that more colleges may add this requirement to compensate for having no test scores. 

Why? Because to quote Princeton (admission.princeton.edu/updated-application-requirements), which has a graded work requirement:

"The graded written paper will help the admission office assess the student’s written expression in an academic setting. This will further the holistic understanding of the student’s application and help admission officers evaluate the student’s potential contributions to and ability to thrive in the University’s rigorous academic environment."


In other words, they think your graded work in high school will help them predict your ability to succeed in college.

For that reason, before you delete, trash, or otherwise lose access to your work from junior year, take some time to get one or two samples ready to submit later when you apply. It will give you one less thing to stress about in the fall. 

Details about what graded work to submit and how to submit it will vary from college to college, but here are 6 tips that hold true for pretty much all of the colleges that will ask for one.


WEEK 20 TIPS & TRICKS

 

If you pick samples that meet these criteria, you’ll be in good shape when the time comes:

  • Work that you did in junior year for an English, literature, history, economics, or other humanities or social studies class. You might have work from another subject that would qualify, but most colleges prefer work from these subjects, and some even require it to come from these subjects. Also, it needs to come from a class that appears on your transcript, so the work should not come from a program outside of school (even if it was a summer program at the college where you are applying).

  • Work that is an analytical and expository essay, not a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample, or in-class essay. It should represent your best thinking skills, make a persuasive and well-supported argument, and showcase excellent grammar. Steer clear of essays that merely summarize research or report other people’s ideas. 

  • Work that was “graded,” meaning evaluated by your teacher, whether there was a letter grade or not. The evaluation you received, along with any comments by your teacher, should be included. If there was a grading rubric for the work, you want to include that as well. (We’re guessing that you know you should pick work for which you received a high grade or strong evaluation.)

  • Work that is between 4-8 pages in length. Anything beyond 10 pages in length is probably too long, but you can check with the admissions office when the new admissions cycle opens about using an excerpt or submitting an extra-long sample if it is truly your best work. 

  • Just for International Students: Work that was submitted in English. The graded written paper and teacher comments should not be translated from another language into English, they must be written in English. If you are also submitting a grading rubric, that must also be in English. 

  • Just for Homeschool Students: Work that was graded and commented upon by the person who was your teacher in your course – that might be your parent. 


If you have one or two samples that meet these criteria, then save them electronically and you are good to go. 

If you have reviewed your work and you don’t have anything appropriate, then you will need to submit work you produce in the fall of your senior year. Start next year with that as a major to-do and make sure that you will have something worthy of submission by the early deadline (November 1) so that you leave those early deadlines open as options.

Of course, if you have samples from junior year ready, but you do something in the fall of your senior year that is BETTER, then you can always choose to submit that instead.

Finally, here are some troubleshooting tips for common problems: 

  • If there is no grade written on the paper, you may ask your teacher to write a note that attests to the grade you received. You will simply include that teacher’s note with your submission.

  • If your school uses Google Docs and the grades/comments appear on the work as Google comments, then convert the doc to a Word document with the markup feature, which will show your teacher’s comments, and then save it as a PDF with the comments showing.  Alternatively, you can submit a screenshot of your graded written paper as long as the comments and grade are included.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 19

What’s our formula for an awesome summer for a rising high school senior? Find out in this blog!
May 10, 2021
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Summer Projects



What are you going to do this summer? It’s a looming question for most of you, as all previous plans have been upended by the pandemic. We’re confident that you can still have a great summer!


What’s our formula for an awesome summer for a rising high school senior? Two parts of creative productivity balanced by one part of lazy fun.


WEEK 19 TIPS & TRICKS


You probably already have some idea of how you want to occupy the one part of lazy fun, so this post is dedicated to creative productivity. When it comes to figuring out how to fill your hours in a way that is both creative and productive, we’re big fans of chores and self-assigned projects.

Chores? That’s right, chores! You know, the basic tasks of living that someone else has probably been doing for some of you, like changing the sheets on your bed, cleaning the bathroom, doing your laundry, preparing meals, washing dishes, vacuuming.

In a little over a year, you will leave for college and become responsible for doing at least some of this stuff for yourself (top of the list – laundry). You want to be ready, and there is no better way to develop these skills than to have some practice while you are still at home.

Plus, doing chores is a great way to help out during this period when everyone is at home and there are more chores to do overall. If you aren’t already pitching in, tell your parents you’ll be doing your own laundry this summer and that you’d be happy to do the laundry for the household too. Then ask if there are one or two other chores you could do that would help.

Once you’ve decided which chores you are going to do and blocked out time for those, you get to assign yourself some projects. Projects are anything that transforms your creativity, initiative, and effort into a tangible thing that can be used by you or shared with others... or an accomplishment that can be documented.


The possibilities are endless — building a birdhouse, sewing a T-shirt, organizing photographs into a scrapbook, reading the classics, learning a language, cooking the perfect brownie, inventing a new one-person game with a broom and a tennis ball. You get the idea.


Your goal should be to assign yourself three to six projects that you can complete this summer. Need some help generating ideas for projects? Go to this wonderful website, which documents 52 creative projects that author Jeffrey Yamaguchi designed and did himself. To quote the author:


The idea of 52 Projects isn’t necessarily for you to do exactly these projects. Following something to the letter is never that much fun. The main intention is for you to do projects. Hopefully these projects will give you a starting off point, or maybe the spark that ignites the idea, perhaps a reminder of the thing that you’ve been wanting to do.”


You can also check out this list of virtual volunteer opportunities or consider becoming a citizen scientist and helping with important research.

If you’re not convinced that chores and projects are a way to spend your summer that will impress admissions officers? Just read what Emily Roper-Doten, current dean of admission and financial aid at Olin College of Engineering and former Tufts admissions officer, has to say on the subject:

Treat this time as a gift. We—those of us who will eventually read your application—know that life is slowing down around you and that your plans may be coming undone. Every junior out there is in the same boat: school is online, you can’t participate in your spring sport or try out for a role in the musical, test dates are canceled. Take the time to mourn these things and when you’ve done that, think about what you CAN do in this time.”

Can you spend time with family? Can you read that book you haven’t had time for? Can you learn to play the guitar or learn to draw cartoons from one of the amazing free tutorials that are online? Can you learn how to change the oil in the family car? Can you shave that minute off your 10K time? Can you learn to make dinner for your family? Can you write letters to loved ones or residents of a local nursing home? This is not dissimilar from the advice I give students who are considering a gap year or when it’s time to take back your Saturdays and NOT take the SAT or ACT again. I don’t want you to think about what the college admission process wants; I want you to think about how to be a whole, connected human.

You can have a productive and interesting summer — all it takes is a bit of planning, and you might even look back on as the best summer of high school!


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 18

Everything you need to know about asking teachers to write college recommendations, one step at a time...
May 3, 2021
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Lining Up Your Recommenders




You are coming into the home stretch of the school year. Whew!


It has been a rocky ride thanks to the pandemic, but one of the great things about a school year is that it does end.


Last week we gave you a checklist of things that you want to handle before the last day of school. One of the things on that list was to ask two teachers if they are willing to be recommenders for you.


Since you probably haven’t done this before, we thought it would be helpful to walk you through how to do it. It isn’t hard, but there is a bit of an art to it.


WEEK 18 TIPS & TRICKS



1. You have to decide whom you are going to ask.


There is a core set of recommendations that will be required in one combination or another for virtually every college that uses holistic admissions (aka the selective colleges). That core set consists of a counselor recommendation and one or two teacher recommendations. So we recommend that you ask two teachers to make sure you have what you need to apply to any college on your final list.


When it comes to teachers, admissions officers at top colleges are most interested in hearing from teachers who have taught you in a core academic subject — Language/Literature (English or other), Mathematics, Science, or History/Social Studies) — in 11th grade. In other words, the teachers you have now!


Which two of these teachers would be your best recommenders? Choose the two teachers who know you well, who can speak about your positives and negatives based on direct experience, and who like you.


If you have significant negatives to overcome (e.g. very low grades, a disciplinary or criminal record), consider whether one of your teacher recommenders could address these negatives based on their knowledge of and experience with you. If not, your counselor will be the recommender who addresses these issues and you should think about trying to schedule an online one-on-one meeting to discuss them now.


2. You have to ask.


Currently, the best way to ask is via an email. Compose the email in a way that reflects that you are approaching the college application process with great seriousness and allows for a gracious “out” should the teacher not be willing or able to write you a positive recommendation.

It doesn’t need to be long. In fact, this short three sentence email would do the trick:


Dear Mr. Smith:

I am writing to ask if you are willing to be one of my recommenders for college. Are you able to write a positive recommendation for me? Please let me know at your earliest convenience.

Thank you.
Sam Jones


However, if you are going to ask a recommender to help you overcome a negative aspect of your record, you need to include that request in your email as well. You could write a longer email with language something like this:


Dear Mr. Smith:

I am writing to ask if you are willing to be one of my recommenders for college. One of the reasons that I was particularly hopeful that you would be willing to write my recommendation is because you know how I have worked to make up for my poor performance in 9th and 10th grades and really turned things around in 11th grade. Are you able to write a positive recommendation for me that would address that?

Please let me know at your earliest convenience.

Thank you.
Sam Jones



3. Follow up if necessary.


You should receive a response to your request within a couple of days. If you don’t, send a follow-up email that has a gracious nudge in it. Something like this strikes the right tone:

Dear Mr. Smith:

I’m just following up on my email requesting that you write a recommendation for me when I apply to college next year. Did you receive it and have you had a chance to think about my request? If you could let me know, I’d really appreciate it.

Thanks.
Sam Jones



4. Reply with a confirming email.



Whether Mr. Smith says yes or no, you need to conclude the exchange with a confirming email.

If Mr. Smith replies with a “Yes,” then your confirming email can be something along these lines:

Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you so much for agreeing to be a recommender for me. I’ll follow up in the fall when my list is finalized and provide you with any supporting information you need. Will this email be the best way to reach you?

Thanks again.
Sam Jones


If Mr. Smith replies with a “No,” don’t plead your case. Trust us, you do not want to have to talk someone into writing you a good recommendation; the ambivalence will always come through in the recommendation. And don’t lose sleep over it – there are any number of reasons a teacher might say no. Simply move on to another teacher who is excited to write on your behalf. But before you do, respond with a courteous email thanking him for considering your request. Here’s straightforward language you can use:


Dear Mr. Smith:


I’m disappointed that you cannot write a recommendation for me, but I appreciate that you considered my request.

Thank you.
Sam Jones


Once you’ve gotten a “Yes” from two teachers, you’re all set. That’s one more thing you’ve done that will make next fall saner. Hooray for you!


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 17

Now is the time to finish the school year strong and get prepared for a fun summer. Here’s your checklist for May…
April 26, 2021
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May Checklist for Juniors Working to Get Into Their Dream College




As we enter May, we are coming to the end of a truly unusual school year, since most of you have spent the majority of the final term at home. And you are facing a summer that is likely to be just as unusual.

The traditional summer programs have moved online, many summer sports are still solo adventures, and internships remain tricky.

The temptation is to just give up and become a quasi-comatose person who does nothing but stare at a screen all day.

RESIST!


Now is the time to finish the school year strong and get prepared for a fun summer. Don’t let your disappointment about what isn’t happening get in the way of what great things could happen.

Here’s your checklist for this month…


MAY TO-DO LIST



  • Finish the school year strong. Do your best work on your last assignments for the year and study hard for exams and APs so you can knock it out of the park on all the tests you take. This will make you feel like a superstar and leave your teachers with a positive impression of you as a student. BUT… if taking standardized tests endangers your health or the health of those around you, sit tight. You can take them later. Or not take them at all if need be.

  • Ask teachers for recommendation letters before the school year ends. It is a good idea to ask two teachers to serve as your recommenders for college at the end of this year. It takes pressure off you next fall when you will be crazy busy, and if any of your teachers aren’t returning next year, you’ll be able to get information from them about how to be in touch. We’ll have a blog post soon about the nitty gritty of asking for recommendations, but for now, just put it on your list.

  • Prepare for summer by developing a list of projects that you’ll be able to do on your own and at home. Self-assigned projects are the best alternative to (and maybe even better than) the structured activities you might have hoped for. We’ll have a blog post soon with advice for coming up with your list of projects. For now, just start letting your brain wander and jotting down any idea that comes to mind.

  • Continue doing what you can to get a jumpstart on college applications. Here are some things you can be doing:


    1. Create your account on the Common App. Fill in the basics regarding yourself because that stuff will rollover into your account for next year. (But don’t insert essays or anything like that because it will be wiped when they load next year’s applications.) If your school-based counselor recommends that you set up the Coalition App as well, do that as well.


    2. Gather samples of your academic work and put together a portfolio (if you are an artist or maker). Currently, most of you would not need samples of academic work or a portfolio because only a few colleges and programs require them. But we’re speculating that more colleges may ask for samples of academic work in the coming year because so many of you will not have grades for the final term of 11th grade or standardized test scores. So go ahead and gather these things up right now when you have time on your hands. The worst that will happen is that you’ll rediscover your best work and remind yourself what a good student you can be! We’ll have more about what makes for the best academic samples in a future blog post.


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 16

How to explore campuses, no travel required! Discover educational resources for adding colleges to your list...
April 19, 2021
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Expanding Your College List


Putting together your final list of colleges when it comes time to apply is an art as much as it is a science.


One mistake we see many students make is that they zero in on a few colleges early on, before they have really explored all the options out there. And they often rule out colleges that would be great fits because they really don’t know anything about them.


Our favorite way for students to learn about colleges without having to travel is to make use of an old-school resource: the most recent edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges. An oldie but a goodie, the Fiske Guide has narrative descriptions of more than 320 selective colleges. The descriptions are short and easily digested and should give you a good sense of whether you’d like to learn more about the college or not.


If you’re up for the challenge of opening your mind to adding colleges to your list, then order a copy of the Fiske Guide and do the following exercise…


WEEK 16 TIPS & TRICKS


  • Consult this list, which breaks the colleges found in the Guide into categories based on selectivity (selective, more selective, most selective, uber selective).

  • Two important notes about the list:

  • The Canadian, British and Irish colleges in the guide are not included on this list.

  • Public colleges are placed in the category appropriate to in-state residents. For out-of-state residents, assume that the chances of admission will be lower. So a “most selective” college might become an “uber selective” college for an out-of-state applicant.

  • Pick one category of colleges where you might want to add some colleges to your list – it is always good to have some balance in your list, so it is good to pick a category where you don’t have any colleges, but want some. For example, if all the colleges on your list right now are in the most selective category, you might choose from the more selective category or the uber selective category depending on how you would rate your chances of admission to the colleges on your list right now. Need schools where you’d have a higher chance? Then go for the more selective category. Need schools where you’d be reaching? Then go for the uber selective category.

  • Read the Fiske Guide descriptions for EVERY college in the category (don’t groan – the descriptions can be read in 1-2 minutes max!) and pick at least three to investigate further by taking yourself on a virtual college visit.

  • Decide which, if any, of the three you are going to add to your list.



Another way to do this exercise is to involve your parents or your friends and get their insights on colleges that you should investigate further. If you are involving your parents, then you give them the list for the category you have chosen. Have them read the descriptions and pick three colleges for you to investigate further. If you are involving your friends, then you swap lists – you read the descriptions for the colleges on your friend’s list and suggest three that your friend should investigate further and your friend reads the descriptions for the colleges on your list and recommends three colleges for you to investigate further.


Even if you don’t end up adding any colleges to your list from this exercise, you’ll benefit from knowing that you explored your options!



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 15

Ace the April ACT with our tailored approach! Use these tips to maximize test performance…
April 12, 2021
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ACT Test Mojo


Some test advice applies to all standardized tests. Other advice is test-specific. So for those of you taking the ACT in April, this is a redux of our SAT post from a few weeks ago – this time tailored specifically to the ACT. These are our favorite tips for things to do during the week to maximize your performance.


Important: That assumes you’re taking the test at all. If you can’t take the test because of lack of availability, or taking the test would jeopardize your health, it’s OK to hold off. There are plenty of great test-optional colleges out there, or you can take it this summer. So take the test if you’re feeling good about it. If you can’t, don’t lose sleep.


WEEK 15 TIPS & TRICKS


STARTING TONIGHT


  • Get a good night’s sleep every night, but especially the night before the test. Studies show 7 hours is the optimal amount of sleep for a teenager.


A FEW DAYS BEFORE

  • Make your plan for getting to the test location. Confirm where you are taking the test and how you are going to get there in advance so you don’t have added stress before the test. For most of you, the test center will be your own high school. But if you are taking the test at another high school, find the test center and check out the parking situation ahead of time.


    Once you know where you are going, make your plan and determine when you need to leave in order to arrive at the test center no later than 7:30am on Saturday. Communicate your plan to everyone who needs to know. Be sure that if you are going with a friend or parent, everyone agrees to the plan and knows when you have to leave.


  • Check for test center closings and rescheduling. Some test locations have already been cancelled, but even for those that haven’t, check updated test center closings on Friday night and on Saturday morning before leaving for the test center. You can check their list of cancelled and rescheduled test centers on their website.


    Here is what the ACT currently has posted on their website about notifications:


    It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us. Unfortunately, this means continued limitations in test center capacity and inevitable cancellations and unexpected changes for upcoming test date(s).


    Whether your test center must make a change due to COVID-19, inclement weather or other unexpected reasons, ACT sends email updates Monday through Friday by 6:00 p.m. CT to notify you of changes in your registration, so you can take action.


  • Make sure you have a test-approved calculator and know how to use it. The ACT allows you to use a calculator throughout the Math section, but not all calculators are okay. Check that your calculator is test-approved and then make sure you know how to use it. You need to be calculator-proficient to answer all the questions on the Math section in the time allotted.


THE DAY BEFORE

  • If you are driving yourself, fill up your gas tank. You don’t want to have to stop for gasoline in the morning. If someone is driving you, then ask them to make sure they have a full tank of gas.


  • Pack up everything you need to take to the test in a “go bag.” The folks at the ACT have a checklist for you to use, but in our humble opinion, there are a few “must haves” that they don’t list: at least three No. 2 pencils, an eraser, a handheld sharpener, and extra batteries for your calculator. Also remember to bring your mask. Do yourself a huge favor and leave out all electronic devices. They are absolutely banned at the test center, so make your go bag an electronics-free zone.


  • Plan for a quiet relaxing evening at home. Last minute cramming will not help you on the ACT. So you don’t need to block out the evening to study, although 30-45 minutes of review of test-taking strategies is not a bad idea. Once you’ve done that, chill out and do something to keep your anxiety at bay. Don’t stay up too late.


  • Have a healthy dinner. Drink lots of water and eat a meal with protein, vegetables, and a few good complex carbohydrates. In other words, tonight is not the night to order in your favorite fast food, nor is it the time to binge on a few pints of ice cream.


  • Get one more good night’s sleep. Your brain will perform best on the day of the test if it is well rested. One mistake students often make is trying to turn in super early on the night before the test. That usually doesn’t work well – you end up tossing and turning and get less than 7 hours OR you sleep 10 or more hours – both will make you feel sluggish in the morning.


  • Set the alarm and have a back-up. You don’t want to oversleep on test day, so make sure you will wake up on time.


MORNING OF THE TEST

  • Wake up and turn on your brain with a little exercise, a shower, and a healthy breakfast. Today is not the day to roll out of bed and go straight to the test. You need to turn on your brain. Get started with a little exercise – 10 or 15 minutes of anything that will increase your heart rate and start oxygen going to the brain. Run in place, dance, do push-ups, whatever. Then take a shower and have a healthy breakfast. Reach for a bowl of oatmeal or have an omelet instead of a doughnut or sugary cereal. You need something that will sustain you through the morning until early afternoon.


  • Stick to your routine when it comes to caffeine or other stimulants. If you usually have a Red Bull before school, then have one today. But if you don’t, then don’t try it out today. Unfamiliar stimulants can turn you into a jittery mess.


  • Dress in layers. The temperature of the room is unpredictable and if you are too hot or too cold, you may have trouble concentrating. If you dress in layers, you can be comfortable no matter the room’s temperature.


  • Leave on time (or better yet, a little early). There are no “late arrivals” on test day. Doors will close and you will not be admitted to the testing center after 8:00 a.m. Usually the doors open at 7:45 a.m., but do yourself a favor and arrive by 7:30 a.m. Then you don’t have to worry about being late – and it can be a bit of a zoo getting in and getting to your test room. Double check your admission ticket to make sure that your test center is observing these standard times: it will say when doors open and close.
  • Don’t forget your pre-packed go bag!


  • Give yourself a pep talk on the way. Corny as it may sound, your inner dialogue can shape your mindset at the test. So say encouraging things to yourself on the way. “You’re going to kill it” is always a good mantra!


DURING THE TEST

  • Breathe. Believe it or not, you may discover that you are holding your breath — often when people are concentrating, they hold their breath. Doing so deprives your brain of much-needed oxygen and it heightens anxiety. So breathe. Here are some other tricks to help you relax if you feel yourself starting to stress out during the test.

  • Use your break effectively. You only get one break during the ACT and it is only 10 minutes long. So don’t miss out on this opportunity to refresh yourself. Leave the room, stretch your legs, go to the restroom, and eat your snacks. One important note – take your ID and admission ticket with you so you can get back into your room!!!


AFTER THE TEST

  • Celebrate your accomplishment. You’ve earned it!



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 14

Learning on your own is tough, especially with limited access to teachers. How can you meet this challenge? Let us help...
April 5, 2021
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How To Learn on Your Own


It’s not easy to learn on your own. Having teachers who structure your assignments and hold you accountable is really valuable.


But for many of you, access to your teachers might be limited right now, so learning is more challenging. What are you going to do in the face of that challenge?

  1. Celebrate and devote yourself to the longest spring break ever?


  2. Shrug your shoulders and just wait until you get assignments from your teachers?


  3. Use your initiative and creativity to figure out a way to keep learning and maybe even go deeper and further into a subject than you could if you were constrained by the same old daily school schedule?


Any one of these responses is possible, and many people will want to opt for #1 or #2.


However, if you have your sights set on being admitted to a selective college, then you should choose #3. Selective colleges want excellent students, and excellent students are so crazy in love with learning that nothing can stop them!

You only have to check out what admissions officers look for and value in applicants. This list of questions that Harvard uses in their application process is representative:


“Have you been stretching yourself? Have you been working to capacity in your academic pursuits, your full-time or part-time employment, or other areas? Do you have reserve power to do more? How have you used your time? Do you have initiative? Are you a self-starter? What motivates you?”


Okay, so you’re convinced, but you’re still a bit unsure about how to go about taking responsibility for your own learning.


After all, for most of your life up until now, being a good student meant doing your assignments and conquering tests. True enough, but we’re confident you can do it! Here are our tips for meeting that challenge…

WEEK 14 TIPS & TRICKS


  1. Take yourself to class online. Thanks to the range of free online resources out there, you can choose to learn from world-renowned experts. Make a commitment to watch or listen to at least one lecture per week for each of your core subjects. We bet you’ll get sucked into more. This curated list of TED talks on fiction will only take a few hours to watch in its entirety and it may change how you approach your literature classes forever.  Likewise, Richard Feynman’s lectures on YouTube are an amazing way to learn Physics.


  2. Read, read, read. Put a couple of hours into reading every day. You’ll be expected to do at least this much reading in college, so practice now. At a minimum, you should read your high school textbooks through to the end. But why stop there? Pick 2-3 subjects you really like and expand your reading list beyond your high school textbooks. You can get ideas from syllabi (the list of reading and assignments) for college courses on these subjects — those are easy to search for online. MIT, for example, has a super-expansive collection of syllabi from more than 2400 courses. They even have a resource specifically for high schoolers that will help you find materials relevant to your current courses. You can also check out websites for colleges on your list and see what syllabi you can dig up. they are often posted in the course description.


  3. Assign yourself projects to ensure that you are really learning stuff. We all know that it is one thing to watch a lecture or read a book, but an entirely different thing to have to write a paper, complete a problem set, conduct an experiment, or take a test on what we watched or read. If you really, truly want to learn, then you are going to have to assign yourself projects related to your various subjects. But don’t stress – these projects are designed and assigned by you, so structure them in a way you can enjoy. For example, you could do chemistry experiments that use the kitchen as your lab. Test yourself on your understanding of the Maillard reaction by figuring out the best way to get crispy golden French fries. Or decide that you will write a short essay in response to the weekly poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction prompts on the Poets & Writers website.




So keep learning! Not only will it help you on your quest to be admitted to your dream college, it will also make your daily life much more interesting!


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 13

April? Already? Time flies! Here are the things you should be focusing on this month...
April 1, 2021
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April's To-Do List for Juniors Working to Get Into Their Dream Colleges



April? Already? Time flies! Here are the things you should be focusing on this month...

WEEK 13 TIPS & TRICKS

  • Do your schoolwork, so you finish the year strong. Of course it is challenging to do your schoolwork remotely. But you can finish strong. First, make a schedule and stick to it. That’s what you have to do in college, too, when you will be in charge of the vast majority of your time. Second, beef up your skills at being an autodidact. What? An autodidact is a self-taught person.  We’ll have a blog post soon about some tips for teaching yourself. In the meantime, get your schedule up and running and do whatever assignments your teachers give you. Your final grades will matter, so put yourself on track for the year-end grades you want. 


  • Dial back, but don’t give up, practicing for standardized tests. Sure, it is unclear if and when you’ll take these tests, and it likely won’t be until the summer at the earliest, but you want to keep up your skills. So slot in 15-20 minutes of practice for standardized tests on every school day. If you know that you really need work on a particular type of question or section of the test, then start devoting more time to that now. 


  • Be creative about activities. Group-based, in person activities are not happening, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something meaningful while these things are on hiatus. Devote time to a solo hobby, help your parents manage the household (maybe you could cook meals, clean, or occupy a younger sibling), or find a way to do some community service (shop for and deliver groceries to a family who is quarantined or self-isolated, help people who aren’t internet-savvy with scheduling their vaccine appointments online, make calls to the elderly to make sure they are okay, etc.). Admissions officers will look favorably on those who were productive despite these unusual constraints. Plus, you will get bored and depressed if you do nothing but stare at a screen! 

  • Get a jumpstart on college applications. Here’s a short list of do’s and don’ts:


  • Do create accounts on both the Common App and the Coalition and fill in the basics about yourself, because that stuff will rollover into your account for next year. (But don’t insert essays or anything like that because those will be wiped when they load next year’s applications.)


  • Don’t write your primary personal statement or essay yet – it will go stale over the next five months.


  • Do start researching different colleges and what attracts you about them. That will be important prep work for your applications down the road. Even if the colleges on your list don’t have a “Why College X” essay in their application, doing that research now will help you clarify your thinking about your college list and your possible major. Also, it will give you a potential supplemental essay to submit and help prep you for interviews. Plus – biggest bonus of all — you’ll get a head start on how to answer those questions, which all the adults in your life will invariably ask you! We’ll have specific tips for those essays later in the year, but you can start getting the lay of the land. Remember that you’re still in exploring mode right now; you’re not finalizing any lists yet.


  • Do start investigating any portfolios or other artistic supplements if you think you might be submitting them. We’ll have more advice around these later in the year as well.


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 12

Enhance the learning experience and tackle test prep! Learn how to build a productive study group with these tips…
March 22, 2021
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How to Create Your Own Study Groups



How are you faring at keeping up with your schoolwork and squeezing in regular test prep for any tests you might be preparing for?


What we hear is that most of you are settling into a rhythm, but the quality of the experience varies a lot. Maybe you don’t have a great internet connection or maybe your favorite subject doesn’t translate well into remote learning or maybe you miss having the opportunity to just drop in on a teacher during a break and ask your question. Some of you are also thinking ahead to the upcoming AP tests.


We get it. These obstacles are real and not really anything you’ve prepared for. That being said, you are not powerless! You have skills and resources that you can use to overcome these obstacles, and learning how to use these resources will have a huge payoff for you when you get to college.


One thing that you could do that will help you with your schoolwork and test prep is to form a study group. Study groups are a highly effective way to enhance your learning. Here are just a few of the benefits of having a study group…

WEEK 12 TIPS & TRICKS


  • You’ll have the benefit of different perspectives and insights. The other members of your group might uncover themes or theories or problem-solving techniques that you don’t. They may have experience or knowledge that is eye-opening to you.


  • You’ll improve your notes. Comparing your notes to other people’s in your study group can help you see where you might have missed something important or where you misunderstood your teacher.


  • You’ll get your homework done better and more quickly. Working through a tough problem set together is much more efficient than tackling it on your own or getting stuck when you come to the part you don’t understand.  


  • You’ll motivate, support, and inspire each other. Everyone can use an encouraging or compassionate word when it’s tough. And when you’re feeling on top of your game, nothing is more satisfying than helping someone else.


Here are a few guidelines for getting a study group started:



The perfect size for your study group is 3-5 people. You can choose your friends, but you might consider mixing it up a little and choosing people who you know will take the study group seriously and have different skills or perspectives than you. Ultimately it is important that everyone contribute and that the group stay focused on studying, not just hanging out.


Use your first meeting to agree to set goals and protocols for the group. For example, you might have a goal to study Physics together or to prepare for the upcoming AP US History test. Your protocols might be that you will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour and that you will rotate who leads the group for each meeting. Or your protocols might be that you will meet the night before a problem set is due and that you’ll meet for a couple of hours and walk through every problem together.


Since you can’t meet in person right now, you’ll need to decide what online platform you are going to use. It will help if it is a video-conferencing platform, with screen sharing and chat capabilities. But if you can’t video-conference, phone calls will work too. If you can’t screen share, use Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides so you can collaborate in real time together. If you can’t talk, message each other.


That’s all there is to it. Your study group will absolutely help you overcome some of the obstacles that learning during a pandemic presents. But even better, it is a strategy for academic success you can use in college too.



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 11

What can you do to make your school counselor your best ally and advocate? Let us guide you…
March 15, 2021
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Make Your School Counselor Your Best Ally and Advocate


Your school counselor has a big job, and part of that job is helping you (and all of your classmates) navigate the college admissions process. In that way, your school counselor is your ally.

But that is not all your school counselor does in the college admissions process.

Your school counselor can also be your best advocate through their counselor recommendation and conversations with admissions officers. Many of you do not appreciate how much influence your school counselor can have on the admissions officer’s evaluation. Admissions officers place a good deal of weight on what school counselors have to say about an applicant.

WEEK 11 TIPS & TRICKS


Tip #1. Do your part to make their job easy. School counselors work with LOTS of students, and the only way they can do that effectively is to use tools and systems to handle the load. You need to do your part by educating yourself about the tools and following the rules. Does your school use Naviance or some other online tool to help you with making your college list or handling your applications? Log on and explore what’s there. Are you required to turn in forms on certain days? Turn them in on time and fully completed.


Tip #2: Help your school counselor get to know you.
It is easier to be an ally and an advocate for someone you know. So help your school counselor get to know you. If your school counselor offers individual appointments, schedule an appointment and meet face-to-face or virtually. If your school counselor distributes questionnaires, fill them out completely and thoroughly. If your school counselor holds group sessions, attend them and participate. They make these opportunities available for a reason.


Tip #3: Communicate any special requests respectfully and with as much lead time as possible
. School counselors want to help you — that’s why they got into this profession. So even though they are busy, they are usually willing to grant special requests if you ask respectfully and give them as much lead time as possible. Respectfully means recognizing that your school counselor is obligated to follow policies and the law. Lead time makes it possible for them to squeeze a request into an already packed schedule. Need a recommendation for a summer program? Ask as soon as you know, not the day before the application is due!



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 10

‍Can’t afford the time or money necessary to visit colleges in person? No worries – take a virtual visit with these online resources...
March 8, 2021
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Take a Virtual College Tour


Can’t afford the time or money necessary to visit colleges in person? Or is Covid still messing with your travel plans? No worries. You can make a virtual visit! Just follow the virtual tour directions below. It should take you a couple of hours and by the end you’ll feel like you’ve been there!

WEEK 10 TIPS & TRICKS


You’re going to start your tour by imagining you are on campus right now. The easiest way to do that is to google images for the college. It never fails that the iconic buildings on campus will come up. For example, if you google images for Princeton, the first images that come up are those of the Tower on the Princeton campus. And, of course, you can imagine you are there on a picture-perfect day because those are the images that you’ll see!


Now that you are on campus, orient yourself by downloading a campus map and marking where you are starting. You can usually find good maps on the college’s own website. Sometimes there is not a downloadable map, but instead an interactive map. If so, keep a tab open for the interactive map because you’re going to come back to it at each stop. That way, you can get a feel for navigating the campus.  


Stop 1. The Registrar’s Office
. What’s a registrar and why are you going there first? Well, the Registrar’s Office provides support for your academic life. And since college is first and foremost an academic experience, it is your first stop. You’ll find a page for the Registrar’s Office on the college’s website. Explore and see if you can find out a few key things:

  • What are the requirements for graduation? Believe it or not, they vary A LOT from college to college.


  • What majors (or concentrations) are available to me?


  • What are three classes I’d be excited to take?



Hint: The answers to these questions can ALWAYS be found in the University Bulletin (a bulletin is an official legal document that the university is required to maintain and it will include this information). For example, here is the current Bulletin for Duke’s undergraduate program. You can also google the school name with the word bulletin and it should pop right up.


Stop 2. A Classroom Building. Now that you know the basics when it comes to your academic life, you’ll want to see where you are going to be taking your classes. You can choose a classroom building at random OR you can visit the building where one of the three classes you’d be excited to take is being offered (you’ll have to find the class schedule to do that). Again, google images for the particular building. See if you can find interior shots of the classrooms.


Are they large lecture halls (auditorium style), smaller “desks forward” classrooms, small seminar style classrooms, or a mix? Try to imagine yourself there with other students. For science types, you might want to find out what a lab looks like.


For example, here is a picture of a 140-student auditorium style classroom at USC’s Taper Hall where the Principles of Microeconomics class often meets.

Stop 3. A Professor’s Office. Okay, you’re not really going to stop at a professor’s office, but you do want to find out exactly how accessible your professors are. Why? Because students who engage with their professors are generally more successful. Frankly, the campus grapevine is the best source of information for professor accessibility: the online version of the campus grapevine on this issue is the Professor Accessibility information found in the campus topics section of the Unigo page for that college. What you find might surprise you – for example, see how Northwestern stacks up to Harvard. If you really want to dig into this topic, you can research some of the professors at the college and see if you can find their office hours. It is often found on their faculty web page or on a syllabus for a particular course (which you can often find linked to the course listing you located on Stop 1).

Stop 4. Campus Life. Your next stop is the hub for campus life — usually that is a student center, but sometimes it has a different name or things are spread out across campus. For example, at the University of Chicago, there are several hubs for campus life, but the hub for the student organizations and campus-wide social events is the Center for Leadership and Involvement. Locate the list of active student organizations (or clubs). Now  pretend you are at the involvement fair and every organization has a table and a couple of representatives there to talk with you. Which tables will you visit? You’ll no doubt have an opportunity to attend a fair like this in the fall of your freshman year — almost every college has one. If you want insight into the arts culture, Greek life, sports, or political activism, go back to Unigo and look to see what students have to say by looking at those headings under campus topics. You’ll see that University of Chicago is a place where arts and politics dominate campus life, sports aren’t their thing, and Greek life matters only to a small minority.


Stop 5. A Freshman Residence Hall
. Even if you only sleep at your residence hall, you’ll spend at least one-quarter of your freshman year there. So you owe it to yourself to check it out. Freshman living accommodations vary widely — some are housed together without upperclass students; some are housed in “live and learn” communities where you share interests and coursework as well as living together; some are in traditional single-sex dorms and the list goes on. For example, at Georgetown, freshmen live in one of four residence halls, of which one of them houses the Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community. Read up on the options for freshmen and take yourself on a tour. Look for floor plans, interior images, and details that bring your future home to life. And when you’ve finished checking things out, head over to the ratings on Niche.com and see how recent and current students rate the on-campus housing. In our experience, these particular ratings are usually pretty spot-on. (Georgetown, despite it’s A+ for location, only gets a C- when it comes to dorms.)


Stop 6. The Dining Hall
. Now that you’ve seen where you’ll live, it’s time to find out where you’ll eat. “The dining hall” is usually a set of on-campus eateries where you can eat using your meal plan. For example, Notre Dame offers its students two traditional dining halls, along with several restaurants, express eateries, and a food court. And its meal plan includes an option where you can buy “Flex Points” to spend at select off-campus restaurants. Check out the places you could dine and find out what’s on the menu. Does it sound tasty? Meet your dietary needs? Again Niche.com is your go-to source for getting a feel for the quality of the food. They give Notre Dame an A+ in that category.

Stop 7. The Fitness Center or a Sports Field. Sleep, food, now exercise. Yes, we think it is important that you stay healthy at college! What activity are you going to do? Work out, play sports, some of each? Every college will have opportunities for you, and most colleges have gotten very serious about promoting student wellness. For example, at Yale you could workout at Payne Whitney Gymnasium (described as a fitness enthusiast’s dream), play an intramural sport, or head over to the Good Life Center and do some meditation to reduce stress.

Stop 8. Participate in a College Tradition. Nothing says more about a college than its traditions. Google the name of the college and the word “traditions” to see if you can find out a few. Often you’ll find descriptions of traditions on the college website, on a Wikipedia page, or described in articles from the school’s newspaper. Here’s a good rundown on traditions at Penn — who knew toast throwing was a thing? — from the “new student orientation issue” of The Daily Pennsylvanian.


That’s it. Your virtual tour is done – and you didn’t even have to go anywhere!



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 9

It’s the week before the March SAT, otherwise known as “Build Test Mojo” week. Get prepared with our advice!
March 1, 2021
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SAT Test Mojo: Tips & Tricks to Build Your Testing Confidence


It’s the week before the March SAT, otherwise known as “Build Test Mojo” week. IF you are taking the test (do NOT put your health at risk to do so), these are our favorite tips for things to do throughout the week to maximize your performance on the test.

WEEK 9 TIPS & TRICKS



STARTING TONIGHT

  • Get a good night’s sleep every night, but especially the night before the test. Studies show that 7 hours is the optimal amount of sleep for a teenager.


A FEW DAYS BEFORE

  • Make your plan for getting to the test location. Confirm where you are taking the test and how you are going to get there in advance so you don’t have added stress before the test. For most of you, the test center will be your own high school. But if you are taking the test at another high school, find the test center and check out the parking situation ahead of time. Once you know where you are going, make your plan and determine when you need to leave to arrive at the test center no later than 7:30 a.m. on Saturday. Communicate your plan to everyone who needs to know. Be sure that if you are going with a friend or parent, everyone agrees to the plan and knows when you have to leave.

  • Check for test center closings if there is bad weather on the horizon or if you live in an area where there are travel restrictions or school closings due to COVID-19. The College Board posts test center closings a few days before each test date. The list hasn’t been perfect. During COVID, there has been much confusion about which test centers will actually be open, and there have been last-minute cancellations of test center sites. It’s frustrating. Be prepared for last-minute changes like that and don’t let that throw you. You still have opportunities in the future to take the test if you decide you still want to.


    During bad weather, also check test center closings on Friday night and on Saturday morning before leaving for the test center.


    As for the evolving situation regarding closings due to COVID-19, the College Board has already announced that it is closing all test centers in several countries and may close other centers as well. You can check here for updates.

THE DAY BEFORE

  • If you are driving yourself, fill up your gas tank. You don’t want to have to stop for gasoline in the morning. If someone is driving you, then ask them to make sure they have a full tank of gas.

  • Pack up everything you need to take to the test in a “go bag.” The friendly folks at the College Board have a handy dandy checklist for you to use. One quibble we have with this list: the College Board thinks a watch, snacks, and water are simply “nice to have,” but we consider them “must haves.” Also, do yourself a huge favor and make sure you leave out all electronic devices. They are absolutely banned at the test center, so make your go bag an electronics-free zone.

  • Plan for a quiet relaxing evening at home. Last minute cramming will not help you on the SAT. So you don’t need to block out the evening to study, although 30-45 minutes of review of test-taking strategies is not a bad idea. Once you’ve done that, chill out and do something to keep your anxiety at bay. The absolute no-no? A late night partying with friends. That is just a set-up for failure.

  • Have a healthy dinner. Drink lots of water and eat a meal with protein, vegetables, and a few good complex carbohydrates. In other words, tonight is not the night to order in your favorite fast food, nor is it the time to binge on a few pints of ice cream.

  • Get one more good night’s sleep. Your brain will perform best on the day of the test if it is well rested. Part of the reason that we recommend you start paying attention to sleep at the beginning of the week is that it should help you be in the rhythm of getting a good 7 hours. One mistake students often make is trying to turn in super early on the night before the test. That usually doesn’t work well – you end up tossing and turning and get less than 7 hours OR you sleep 10 or more hours – both will result in you being sluggish in the morning.

  • Set the alarm and have a back-up. You absolutely, positively don’t want to oversleep on test day, so make sure you will wake up on time.

MORNING OF THE TEST

  • Wake up and turn on your brain with a little exercise, a shower, and a healthy breakfast. Today is not the day to roll out of bed and go straight to the test. You need to turn on your brain. Get started with a little exercise – 10 or 15 minutes of anything that will increase your heart rate and start oxygen going to the brain. Run in place, dance, do push-ups, whatever. Then take a shower and have a healthy breakfast. Reach for a bowl of oatmeal or have an omelet instead of a doughnut or sugary cereal. You need something that will sustain you through the morning until early afternoon.

  • Stick to your routine when it comes to caffeine or other stimulants. If you usually have a Red Bull before school, then have one today. But if you don’t, then don’t try it out today. Unfamiliar stimulants can turn you into a jittery mess.

  • Dress in layers. The temperature of the room is unpredictable and if you are too hot or too cold, you may have trouble concentrating. If you dress in layers, you can be comfortable no matter the room’s temperature.

  • Leave on time (or better yet a little early). There are no “late arrivals” on test day. Doors will close and you will not be admitted to the testing center after 8:00 a.m. Usually the doors open at 7:45 a.m., but do yourself a favor and arrive by 7:30 a.m. Then you don’t have to worry about being late – and it can be a bit of a zoo getting in and getting to your test room. (Double check your admission ticket to make sure that your test center is observing these standard times; it will say when doors open and close.)
  • Don’t forget your pre-packed go bag!

  • Give yourself a pep talk on the way. Corny as it may sound, your inner monologue can shape your mindset at the test. So say some nice, reassuring, and encouraging things to yourself on the way. “You’re going to kill it” is always a good mantra.

DURING THE TEST

  • Breathe. Believe it or not, you may discover that you are holding your breath, which is common when people are concentrating. Holding your breath deprives your brain of much-needed oxygen and it heightens anxiety. So breathe.


  • Use your breaks effectively. Don’t miss out on these opportunities to refresh yourself. Leave the room, stretch your legs, go to the restroom, eat your snacks, and socialize with friends (but don’t talk about the test and don’t let yourself get sucked into chat with a hyper-anxious friend). One important note – take your ID and admission ticket with you so you can get back into your room!!!

AFTER THE TEST

  • Celebrate your accomplishment with something fun. You’ve earned it!



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 8

A break from school is ahead, plus extra time to catch up & get back on track. Seize the opportunity to build momentum with these tips!
February 22, 2021
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March To-Do List for Juniors Working to Get Into Their Dream College

Yay! Spring is coming, bringing you a break from school and a little time to catch up if you’ve had a tough time staying on track in January and February. Seize this opportunity to build momentum by getting these things done in March...

WEEK 8 TIPS & TRICKS


1. Keep your eye on the prize when it comes to your grades. Do what you need to do to put yourself on track for the end-of-year grades you want. Analyze your performance thus far and see what you need to improve. More timely submission of homework? Better performance on in-class quizzes or tests? A little extra-credit work you could do over the break? Whatever it is, now is the time.

2. Work your plan for standardized tests. If you are operating on the schedule we suggested, you’ll either be taking no tests at all because of Covid, or taking the SAT in the middle of the month, or doing final prep for the ACT at the beginning of April. Keep working your plan and look for our post coming soon that has tips for how to find your test-day mojo.

3. Review your activities and see if there is an opportunity to do something by year-end that would add to your “impact.” When it comes to activities, admissions officers are on the lookout for impact. In admissions speak, you’ve had an impact when you’ve done something that has contributed something positive to your community – whether that be your family, your school, or your town. Where do you have an opportunity to contribute something positive before year-end? Focus your energy there.


4. Make your college visits – in person or virtually.  For those of you who are lucky enough to be making in person college visits while on break (Covid permitting), be sure you make the most of them. For those of you who can’t swing in-person visits, you can use the time to go on virtual visits by digging into some online research. Look for our upcoming post on how to take yourself on a virtual tour of a college.


5. Familiarize yourself with the college admissions resources offered by your school and, if possible, make an appointment to meet with your school-based counselor in the next month or so (either before or after break). Your high school has resources to support you through the college admissions process, and you owe it to yourself to find out everything you can about what those resources are. Educate yourself by poking around on your school’s website, visiting the counseling offices, and attending college planning events offered by your school. Find out if your school-based counselor schedules one-on-one appointments with juniors. If they do, sign up for one — this is an important first step for establishing a positive and productive relationship. Read our post coming soon with more tips about working well with your school-based counselor.



6. Work on locking in your plans for summer. What you do this summer is important.
Check out our previous post on how to make the most of it.



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 7

Organizing a college visit isn’t like planning a vacation. It should be fun, but take our strategic approach with these tips...
February 15, 2021
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Making the Most of College Visits

Planning a college visit isn’t like planning a trip to Disney World or some other vacation destination. Sure, it can and should be fun, but there's a definite strategy for getting the most from these visits.

When it’s safe to travel again – and if you have the opportunity to visit colleges in person – you have two objectives. First, you want to learn as much as you can about what it would be like to study and live there for four years of your life.  Second, you want to take advantage of any opportunities you might have to get a competitive edge in the application process. So how do you achieve those objectives?

WEEK 7 TIPS & TRICKS


1. Learn about the college on and off the tour.


You definitely want to do the official information session and tour: they are really the most efficient way to get the basics. If you are interested in a particular program and there are specialized information sessions or tours for that program, then do those too.


But if you really want to figure out whether this college is right for you, you want to go off the tour and gather more information. Here are the things we recommend:

  • Do something that gives you insight into the academic experience at the college. We’re always amazed at how little attention is given to this aspect of college life on visits. There are many ways to go about finding out about what it will be like to go to school at this college. These are a few of our favorites:

  • Attend (or eavesdrop on) a class. Note that you should get there a few minutes early and ask the professor’s permission to sit in on the class, and you should be prepared to sit through the entire class so that you don’t disrupt it with your coming and going. If you can’t sit through an entire class, stand outside the classroom and unobtrusively eavesdrop on the class for a few minutes.

  • Chat up a professor. Locate the building that is “home” for your potential major (it will be where the department has offices). Wander the halls and notice the posters and other information on the walls, while checking in on what the classrooms are like. See if you can find a professor in their office who is having “office hours” (times when they are available to talk with students and you can just drop in) or is just available for a few minutes of conversation.

  • Check out the library. Libraries are where you’ll do a lot of your schoolwork and they all have their own ambience. Stroll around and observe students at work. You’ll probably find some social/chatty areas and some super quiet areas.  See if you can find the place that you’d feel at home.

  • Do something that relates to your life outside the classroom. What do you do besides go to school now? What would you like to do in college? Be on the lookout for whether you’ll have the opportunities you want during college. For example, go to the student center and check out the clubs and activities on campus.  Identify a few that would interest you.  See if you can find a student who does one of them (maybe in an office for the club) and talk with them about it.

  • Do something that reveals what daily life will be like on campus. Sleeping, eating, socializing – these are the fundamentals of daily life. Hang out in front of a freshman residence hall and ask a student going in to let you see their room, the common areas, a bathroom, and the laundry area. Check out the dining hall by having lunch there if possible. Get a feel for what students do for fun by asking students you meet about school traditions, big “all-­school” events, and what happens on a typical weekend.

2. Getting a competitive edge.

There are several ways that a well-orchestrated college visit can give you a competitive edge in the application process.

  • It demonstrates interest. Some (not all!) colleges consider how interested you are in the college when making admissions decisions. The more you can demonstrate a true interest in that kind of college, the better your chances for getting in. Taking the time and investing the resources in a college visit are one good way to demonstrate interest. Make a note of the date you visit, who you meet, and what you do, since many colleges will ask those questions on the application or in an interview. If Covid or your budget or your schedule prohibit in-person visits, take advantage of all the virtual opportunities a college gives you to get to know them.

  • It gives you great content for your Why College X essay (if the college has one). Many colleges have some version of an essay that asks you why you are interested in that particular college. If you have done what we suggest above, then you’ll have interesting anecdotes and concrete details to make your essay memorable and impressive to an admissions officer. Take the time to do a college visit debrief afterwards and jot down your discoveries and reactions right after your visit so you don’t forget anything!

  • It may offer you an opportunity to have an interview. Some colleges offer on-campus interviews as an optional component of the application. Research whether the college offers them. If you can schedule one while you are there, go for it so long as you do some pre-visit homework and know why you are interested in applying to the college. An interview is a wonderful opportunity to add something to your application, provided you can do the interview well.


  • It may offer you an opportunity to meet with a coach, a faculty member, or someone else in the university community who can become your advocate in the admissions process. Although admissions officers will ultimately make the decision about whether you are admitted or not, other members of the university community can be advocates for you in the process and boost your chances of admission. The most common opportunity of this sort is for those of you who are potential recruited athletes. If you fall into this category, then you will definitely want to schedule a meeting with the coach for your sport and talk with that person. But there are opportunities for advocates beyond coaches. For example, if you have an unusually deep background in a particular academic discipline or are a talented performance artist or musician, you might be able to meet with the faculty or staff in your area of specialty and have them promote your admission when the time comes. Likewise, if your family members have been very active alums or generous donors to the college, you might be able to meet with someone in the alumni affairs or development office and have them advocate on your behalf.



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 6

It's already time to lock in summer plans! What will you achieve between your junior and senior year?
February 8, 2021
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Making the Most of Your Summer After Junior Year

Summer is coming, and it’s time to start locking in your plans.


In order to make the most of your summer between 11th and 12th grade, you’ll want to be focused on giving your credentials that extra boost and getting a head start on the college application process.


Also, you should definitely squeeze in some R&R. Here’s how we suggest you do all that!

WEEK 6 TIPS & TRICKS


1. Do something that adds to your either your academic or activity credentials in a meaningful and distinctive way.

A meaningful and distinctive experience during the summer gives your credentials that little extra something and that ultimately makes you a stand out as an applicant. Don’t let the words “meaningful and distinctive” throw you. You don’t have to cure cancer or travel across the world to do something meaningful and distinctive. You just have to do something that adds to the credentials you’ve been building for the last three years. Here are some questions that should help you determine what you could do this summer that would be meaningful and distinctive:

  • Do you have an academic passion? If so, look for a summer program that allows you to study your passion at an advanced level. Even better would be a summer program that allows you to do an independent project that you could refer to in your application. For example, if you are passionate about science, you could do a summer program that includes science research in addition to classroom study.

  • Are you an athlete with the possibility of being recruited onto a college team or qualifying for national or international competitions? If so, you’re looking for opportunities to show off your skills to college recruiters and compete at the highest levels possible. You can also look at a good training/skills development camp or program (Covid permitting).

  • Are you an artist, writer, performer or all-around creative type? If so, the summer is your chance to have a gallery show (virtual is fine!), write and self-publish a novella, or mount a production. You can do that at a summer camp (Covid permitting) or seize the initiative and do it on your own. Whatever you do, work on improving your craft and think about documenting as you go because it could give you a great start on a required or optional artistic supplement in your applications.  

  • Are you a community-service volunteer? If so, use the long days of summer to take your volunteering to the next level by doing something full-time for several weeks in a row. Working as a volunteer every day rather than once a month will give you a very different perspective.

  • Are you someone who has a definite career in mind for yourself that you’d like to explore? If so, then you’ll want to secure an internship (volunteer or paid, virtual or in person) that lets you see what people in that career do.  


  • Do you want or need to earn some money this summer? Start looking for a job now. You might be able to start working part-time right away and then bump up your hours during the summer. And don’t worry that having to work is a mark against you in the admissions process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Admissions officers are always impressed by an applicant who can juggle the demands of the working world with school and other obligations or interests.



2. Get a head start on college applications.

Taking time during the summer to get a head start on your college applications is the key to a sane fall of your senior year. We’ll have a full list of everything you can get done in a separate post that will come out in the late spring. For now, you just need to be aware that you’ll need time to work on your college applications throughout the summer. One other heads up: if you have colleges on your list that offer on-campus interviews during the summer (Covid permitting), you’ll want to take advantage of this opportunity if your schedule and budget permit. Otherwise, virtual visits are fine too.

3. Squeeze in some R&R.


Junior year is tough and the fall of senior year is jam-packed, so some rest and relaxation is absolutely necessary during the summer. You can absolutely build your credentials, get your work on applications done, AND squeeze in R&R. We suggest you schedule time off during the week, enjoy your weekends, and have some true vacation time – a couple of weeks when you do absolutely nothing other than enjoy life.



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 5

College admissions officers use a three-prong analysis to evaluate academic records. Your senior year will count, so prepare accordingly!
February 1, 2021
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Senior Year Courses: What to Take to Get Into The College Of Your Dreams

For most of you, it’s time to choose which courses you will take in your final year of high school. While it might be tempting to dial it back academically, you really can’t if you aspire to get into the college of your dreams.


College admissions officers use a three-prong analysis to evaluate your academic record:

  1. Curriculum: What courses you take


  2. Rigor: How demanding those courses are


  3. Performance: How you do in those courses.Your senior year will count in that evaluation, even for those of you who apply and get in early.


Admissions officers get periodic reports as you progress through senior year, and any offer of admission will be contingent on your completing the courses you showed you were taking on your application AND getting grades consistent with your prior performance.

So, for example, if you have a 4.1 GPA going into senior year, they expect you to finish senior year with pretty much a 4.1 GPA.


Given what matters to college admissions officers, here are some guidelines for choosing your courses for senior year.

WEEK 5 TIPS & TRICKS


1. Curriculum: You must take English and Math and at least 3 other academic solids.

Even though there are now multiple college prep curricula out there, colleges are steadfast in their expectations of the course work that high school graduates will have completed (and the knowledge they will have acquired) before they begin college.

Four years of English and Math are non-negotiable. If you have already taken every English and Math class you can at your high school, take a course at a local community college or nearby university. If that isn’t an option, take a for-credit online course.

Along with English and Math, you should take at least 3 other academic solids. An academic solid is a course in one of these 5 core areas of study:

  • English Language & Literature


  • Foreign Language & Literature


  • History, Philosophy, Religion & Social Sciences


  • Mathematics & Statistics


  • Natural & Physical Sciences


Note that you can double up on English and Math if you are really engaged by those subjects. For example, you could take AP English and a Journalism elective.


You’ll see that music, visual arts, and performing arts are not listed as academic solids. That’s because colleges are split about whether they count those as academic solids. So if you want to make choices that give you the most options, you don’t include those in your 5 core courses. Luckily, most of you get to take at least 6 courses, so you can add music, visual arts, or performing arts into your schedule without a problem.


For those of you intending to pursue music, visual arts, or performing arts as college majors or careers, you may find it hard to take the courses you need to take if you do not count music, visual arts, or performing arts as academic solids. In that case, contact the colleges where you will be applying and get their advice about what courses you should take in your senior year. All admissions officers are happy to give this advice and would much rather help you now than deny you later!


A note for international students
: High school curricula vary greatly worldwide, and U.S. college admissions officers understand that. Generally, the curriculum mandated by your home country will be acceptable to U.S. colleges, but you should consult with colleges where you are planning to apply just to make sure.


2. Rigor: Create an overall schedule that either maintains your level of rigor or takes your rigor up a notch.

The rigor of your schedule is determined by the level of the courses you are taking. Your high school probably has some way of distinguishing the courses that are harder and more academically demanding.


Courses that are more advanced in particular subjects are considered more rigorous, so Spanish V is harder than Spanish IV. Accelerated, honors, AP, and IB courses are also considered more rigorous.


So if you are taking 3 courses this year that are more rigorous, then you want to take at least 3 courses next year that are more rigorous. It is even better if you can take your rigor up a notch and manage to include 4 courses that are more rigorous.


Why do admissions officers care about rigor? Because they want students who are ambitious learners and who can manage the increased rigor of college courses when they arrive.


3. Performance: Choose courses in which you can maintain or improve your grades.

Most of you put more emphasis on this third prong than you should. You are on the quest for the easy A in the hope of bumping up your GPA in your final year.


But here’s the reality:


A high GPA that you earn by avoiding academic solids or by reducing the rigor won’t help you at all. Admissions officers aren’t fooled. They know that an A in Beginning Guitar or in French for Travelers isn’t the same as an A in Honors Physics.


That being said, feel free to use this third prong, performance, as a tiebreaker when it comes to making choices that are equal in terms of the first two. For example, let’s say you are choosing between AP Statistics and AP Computer Science. If you think you are going to nail it in AP Statistics, but will struggle in AP Computer Science, then by all means, take AP Statistics.


One thing you should definitely take into consideration is the interaction between rigor and performance. Should you take the more rigorous course if you will get a lower grade? For example, should you take AP Physics and get a B, or take regular Physics and get an A?


Our recommendation is that you take the more rigorous course so long as your grade is likely to be no more than one grade lower than your grade in the regular course. A B is one grade lower than an A, so take the more rigorous course. But if your grade is likely to be a C in the more rigorous course and an A in the regular course, then take the regular course.



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 4

February is almost here! It’s a short month, but there's plenty to do. Juniors – read on for next tips to tackle!
January 25, 2021
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February's To Do List for Juniors Working to Get Into their Dream Colleges

February is almost here! It’s a short month, but there is plenty to do. Hopefully, you’ve gotten everything done that was on your list for January. If not, do your best to catch up now. You’ll ultimately achieve more if you work steadily over the next several months than if you try to cram it all in at the end of the year. With all this in mind, here is your monthly to-do list for February...

WEEK 4 TIPS & TRICKS



1. Keep working on getting your best grades ever.
When you get your midterm grades, you can check your progress towards the goals you’ve set. If you aren’t on track for the grades you want, do some analysis to determine what you can improve.  See our tips for study techniques here.


2. Register for your standardized tests and execute on your test prep plan.
Remember that practice is the absolutely best way to prep, so be sure you’ve included plenty of it in your plan. In case you missed it, here’s our most recent post on what tests to take, when to take them, and how to prep.


3. Sign up for your senior year courses
. These are the guidelines you should use when making your schedule for your final year of high school: First, make sure you fulfill all your graduation requirements. Second, make sure you have at least five academic solids each term. Third, English and Math are a must. Colleges expect you to have four years of each. Fourth, add as much rigor as you can without compromising your grades. Rigor is college-admissions-speak for the hardest courses – honors, AP, IB, dual enrollment/college courses.


4. Finalize your plans for college visits (whether virtual or in-person), and finalize your plans for meeting college representatives if they are doing events with your high school
. We will have a blog post soon about what you should do when you are doing a college information session and questions you should ask when meeting college representatives. Right now, you just need to finalize your plans. One thing about planning your college visits – once they are in-person again, be sure to give yourself at least a half-day (4-5 hours) on campus.


5. Start planning your summer. Yes, it seems far away right now, but it will be here sooner than you think. The summer is a great opportunity to add something to your academic or activities profile. We’ll have a blog post dedicated to how to make the most of summer soon, but you need to start planning NOW because many of the selective summer programs have application deadlines in February.



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 3

Standardized tests are still a major part of the college admissions process. Read on for everything you need to know...
January 18, 2021
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Which Standardized Tests to Take and When



Everyone has an opinion about the standardized tests that are used for admission to many selective U.S. colleges. We do too, but that is not the subject of this blog posting. (Why? Because we’re admissions coaches, not policymakers.)


As coaches, we know that love ‘em or hate ‘em, standardized tests are still a major part of the college admissions process for many students at many colleges.


It’s true that the list of test-optional colleges continues to grow, but there’s a lot of fine print involved. Many colleges that identify as “test-optional” still require standardized tests for certain majors, or scholarship eligibility, international status, homeschooled students, etc. These policies are usually found in fine print somewhere on the admissions websites.


We also don’t know yet what the Covid situation will be by test-taking time. If you’re immunized and can take the tests in person, lovely. If you’re not immunized, then taking the tests may be too risky, either for you, your loved ones,  or others around you. You’ll have to play that by ear.


If you are going to be taking tests, what you need from us is ruthlessly practical advice about how to get the best scores to build credentials that will serve you well when applying to colleges. But we’ll say it again: Your health matters more than these tests. Many colleges won’t require standardized tests at all, if you decide not to take them.


In this post, we’re focusing on which tests to take, how many times to take them, when to take them, and how to prepare for them.

WEEK 3 TIPS & TRICKS



1. Which tests should you take?

The only way to know about college admissions requirements is to do your research. Visit the colleges’ websites and see what their policies are. READ THE FINE PRINT to check whether or not you’ll still have time to take tests, even if the college is otherwise “test-optional” for most applicants. If you don’t have your college list completed yet or want to maximize options, we have this general advice:

  • If you need a standardized test, take the ACT OR THE SAT. You don’t need to take both.


    Which One? Even though the tests are similar, there are some key differences, and you may be better suited to one or the other. The best way to find out which test suits you best is to take practice tests for both and see if you score better on one or the other.


    Writing Component or Not? The College Board is discontinuing the writing test starting in June 2021. You will not need to take it for your applications.

  • You may need to take SAT Subject Tests, depending on test-optional policies at individual colleges. You should take SAT Subject Tests only if you are pretty sure you’ll do well on them. Otherwise don’t bother – focus instead on getting a higher score on the ACT or SAT. AS OF JANUARY 19, 2021, the College Board is no longer offering Subject Tests in the United States because of Covid. They are still being offered outside the United States. Check this page for updates. They may resume in the U.S. at some time in the future; right now, that’s unclear.


    A special note to international students: some people suggest that you take an SAT Subject Test in your primary or native language if one is offered. We disagree. These tests are not designed to measure the abilities of a native speaker of a particular language, and admissions officers know that. You should be able to score practically perfectly on these tests, so a high score doesn’t really mean anything anyway.

  • You need to take the TOEFL if your primary language is something other than English or if English is not the language of instruction at your secondary school.


2. How many times should you take the tests?

  • ACT/SAT: If you plan to take the ACT or SAT, plan to take them at least twice and leave room in your schedule for a possible third time.


    Why? Because some colleges permit “superscoring” (the policy of taking your best subscores from multiple tests to create your best composite score), and that favors having taken the test more than once. Not everyone can afford to keep taking the tests, or you might sit them out entirely because of Covid. Adapt this advice to your individual circumstances.


    Do NOT take the tests as many times as you can. Most students don’t have the knowledge or skills to perform well until late in their junior (11th grade) year, plus you can only take it so many times between then and when application due dates. Your scores are only likely to improve significantly if you have time (2-6 months) between test administrations to improve.

  • SAT Subject Tests: There is no superscoring for the SAT Subject Tests, because there are no subscores. You should only take it more than once if it is being offered AND it is safe to do so AND you have reason to believe that you will do better. For example, you have completed coursework that has expanded your knowledge considerably or you have devoted significant time to preparing for the second test.

  • TOEFL: There is no superscoring for the TOEFL, so you should only take it more than once if you have not achieved the minimum score required for admission, or if you have barely achieved the minimum and you have reason to believe that you will do better.


3. When should you take the tests?


We recommend the following schedules for taking the tests, but you can and should adjust this schedule for personal or school conflicts and for the Covid situation. Also, be aware that not all tests are available everywhere and at all times.

  • ACT: April, June or July, and September

  • SAT: March, May or June, and August

  • SAT Subject Tests: May or June, and August (if offered at all)

  • TOEFL: Early summer (after ACT/SAT), late summer, and early fall (second and third dates if you need/want to retake). Check the TOEFL site for more info.


4. How should you prep for the tests?



You should not take these tests without preparing for them, but HOW you prep for the tests is largely a matter of time, resources, and personal preference.

At a minimum, you should take advantage of the free resources provided by each testing agency and follow the advice we gave here on proven strategies for improving scores. If you want to do more prep, then you’ll need to invest in study materials (either paper or online), group courses, or one-on-one tutoring.



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 2

Applying to college requires some big decision making. However, it’s all about working smarter – not harder. Get our tips & tricks...
January 11, 2021
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The Keys to Improving Your Grades and Test Scores



Conventional wisdom about how to improve your grades and test scores goes something like this: Buckle down, work harder, and devote more time to studying.


But conventional wisdom is just plain wrong. You don’t have to work harder; you have to work smarter.


WEEK 2 TO-DOS



1. Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.

A good night’s sleep every night is the first key to working smarter. Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep every night. One study showed that college students who increased their nightly sleep from 6 hours to 7 hours showed a whopping 10% boost in exam performance. That’s a big improvement for just giving your brain the sleep it needs!  For great tips on sleep improvement, check out this article from Dr. Craig Canapari, director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center.

2. Take practice tests.

According to this article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, taking practice tests is a far better way to study than highlighting, rereading, or summarizing (the most common ways students study).

What kind of “practice test” should you do? Ideally, you use a practice test that is as similar as possible to the real test. So if you will have a multiple choice test in your Chemistry class, then ideally you would study using a multiple choice test that had previously been given in that Chemistry class. BUT you might not have access to a prior test.

Doesn’t matter.

It turns out you will still benefit from practice testing as long as the practice test addresses the same subject matter. So where do you find practice tests?

  • For standardized tests of any variety, there are practice tests available from many sources. (AP,IB, SAT, ACT, SAT Subjects, TOEFL – use them!


  • For tests in your school courses, you can get the same effect by treating the questions at the end of a textbook chapter as a test, using homemade or purchased flashcards to test yourself, or searching online for tests in the subject matter. You can also see if your teacher will release old tests for you to use as study tools.


3. Set a study schedule that includes shorter sessions over time rather than a giant cram session.


After comparing what scientists call “distributed practice” to “massed practice,” the results were pretty clear that distributed practice wins. Great. But what does that mean?

Distributed practice is a fancy way of saying that you break your studying into shorter sessions over time, rather than cramming everything into bigger, less frequent sessions.

The science says that you should have a gap of time between study sessions equal to 10-20% of the time that you want to retain what you are learning. So if you want to retain something for a month (30 days), then you would space your study sessions out so that you have one session every 3-6 days.

But that formula is a bit tricky for most students to apply, since it is pretty unclear how long you really want or need to retain what you are learning. Based on our experience working with students, here is what we suggest:


  • For standardized tests: Commit to doing at least 2 study sessions a week for the 10 weeks prior to the test.


  • For tests in school courses: Commit to adding at least 1 study session of the practice-test variety into your “homework” each week for every course.




Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

52 Weeks to College: Week 1

It’s time to kick things up a notch when preparing for college...
January 1, 2021
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January’s To-Do List for Juniors Aspiring to Get Into Their Dream College

Welcome to the last half of your junior year! It’s time to kick it up a notch when it comes to all things college related.

We know, we know. You probably already feel stressed and overwhelmed, so how do you kick it up a notch and not lose your mind?

It’s all about pacing, and that’s what our 52 Weeks to College series will help you do. From now through the end of the calendar year, we’ll be posting every week. Here’s how that will work:

  • The first week of each month, we’ll post a short to-do list for you. Then every following week, we’ll post with some tips and resources for getting that to-do list done. The important thing is to find a way to get that to-do list done by the end of the month, and that way you’ll be on track for submitting your college applications when the time comes. 


  • Most months you’ll be able to polish off the items on that list with a few hours focused on “college stuff” and a little bit of extra effort directed at things you are already doing. 

Ready? Here's your to-do list for January:


1. Pick 1 or 2 classes where you could bump up your grade up with just a bit more focused attention. These are the classes where you have the B that could be a B+, or you have the B+ that could be an A-. Figure out what it takes to get that higher grade and start doing it! If you have no idea what it would take, go and talk with your teacher. Trust us, your teacher will be happy to give you some suggestions to help you perform better! Also, we’ll have a blog post in the third week of January with some tips for studying more effectively.

Why do this? Your grades in the last half of 11th grade are the most recent evidence college admissions officers will have about the kind of student you are. So better grades are very helpful. Plus, it contributes to an upward grade trend, which is also impressive. Finally, it lays great groundwork for an OUTSTANDING recommendation from the teachers in those classes where you demonstrate your commitment to performing to the best of your abilities.


2. Make your schedule for standardized tests and a plan for test prep that starts at least 8 weeks before your scheduled test.
We’ll have a blog post next week to help you do this one. 

Although many colleges do not require standardized tests for admission, some do. If the pandemic still makes testing too risky at that time, you can always cancel (and we strongly recommend that you NOT take standardized tests if that would put your health at risk). There are so many test-optional colleges out there for the time being (including most of the highly selective colleges) that you can play that by ear as you get closer to that 8 week prep window. 


3. Plan on doing virtual visits to colleges. They will be offering virtual alternatives to the more conventional visits when people used to go to campus in person. We’ll have a blog post about planning college visits the last week of this month. If and when the pandemic finally stops posing a threat, you can work on travel logistics for schools that you want to visit in person. Our guess is that schools will continue offering virtual visits even after the health risks go away, because it is such a benefit to people who in the past wouldn’t have been able to afford to make those trips in person.

You should definitely do those visits, virtual or otherwise, because they help you make better choices about where to apply, which saves you wasted application fees and long term can also save you from paying wasted tuition to a college that isn’t the best fit for you. Second, your chances for admission at many colleges will be higher if you “demonstrate interest,” and a college visit is one really good way to do that.


When travel is safe again, you’ll find that representatives from the colleges might also be coming to your high school or town or region in person, and when that’s the case, make a plan for attending the event. It is the next best thing!


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 26

You're Done – Celebrate!
December 28, 2020
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It’s Week 26 and you are DONE!


You have prepared and submitted your applications to every college on your list. You may or may not have gotten into one or two. Most of you are left with nothing to do but wait to hear from the colleges – and that is likely months away.


But a few of you have made enrollment deposits. Regardless of your particular situation, this is an awkward time in the college admissions process. So now what?


WEEK 26 TO-DOS



THIS WEEK

  • Celebrate!


  • Wrap up doing anything you need to do in response to the colleges you’ve heard from. Get tips from Week 25’s post.


  • Finish submitting your applications if there are any lingering. (If the deadline is in February, then you can take time off for the winter holiday, but then get those applications in by January 15 at the latest.)


  • Finish your financial aid forms if there are any lingering.


  • Respond to any invitations for interviews and interview. See Week 18’s post for tips.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary. See Week 19’s post for tips on how to handle being contacted by colleges.


  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.


TIPS AND TRICKS



Celebrate. We doubt you need a huge amount of help figuring out how to celebrate, but you may not be sure exactly what you are celebrating, especially if you haven’t gotten into any of the colleges where you’ve applied. So let us tell you!

  • You are celebrating that you have crossed a major milestone on this seemingly endless journey to college.

  • You are celebrating all the accomplishments that you highlighted in your applications — every grade, every activity, every idea presented in your application represents an accomplishment. There are lots of them!

  • You are celebrating all the life skills you’ve learned in the last 26 weeks, including how to manage a major project, how to roll with the punches presented by a global pandemic, and how to present yourself in your best light.


This is all huge. HUGE. Celebrate it!



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 25

Accepted, Deferred, Denied – What to Do Now
December 21, 2020
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If you submitted early college applications, some decisions are rolling in now (some won’t come until later). You’re no doubt doing a happy dance if you were accepted, scratching your head if you were deferred, and nursing your wounds if you were denied.


Regardless of your situation, we’ve got tips about what you need to do now. Remember – it isn’t truly over until you’ve arrived at college next fall!


WEEK 25 TO-DOS



THIS WEEK

  • Do what you need to do in response to the decisions you receive from the colleges about your early applications.

  • As soon as you’ve heard from your early schools, you will know which, if any, regular applications to submit. Do it now! (Aren’t you glad you had them ready to go?)

  • Check in with your school counselor and your teachers to get anything you need from them before the holiday. Get tips about this in Week 24’s post.

  • Continue doing what it takes to finish the term with great grades. Get some study tips in Week 22’s post.

  • Get all your financial aid forms as close to finished as possible. Delay any that aren’t due before your holiday break so you can stay focused on schoolwork.

  • Respond to any invitations for interviews and interview. See Week 18’s post for tips.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary. See Week 19’s post for tips on how to handle being contacted by colleges.


  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.


TIPS AND TRICKS



If you were ACCEPTED:

1. Share the happy news with your high school counselor and your recommenders and thank them.



2. If you applied EARLY DECISION, then you are bound to accept the college’s offer and you should do the following:

  • Make your enrollment deposit by the stated deadline (usually by January 1).

  • Withdraw your other pending applications and decline any other offers of admission (because Early Decision offers are binding). All you have to do is send a two line email to the admissions office at the other colleges:


    Please withdraw my application from consideration. I was admitted to [name of college] through Early Decision and I will be enrolling there.


    Sign it with your full name, your birth date, and the name of your high school to make sure they withdraw the right application and mark the right offer of admission as “declined.” You must withdraw directly with each individual college. It is not enough to notify your school-based counselor or update your account in Naviance (if your school uses Naviance).
  • Follow through with financial aid deadlines and documentation.

  • Don’t lose steam. You have to graduate, you have to keep up your grades, you still have to stay out of trouble….

3. If you applied EARLY ACTION, then you have some decisions of your own to make because you are not bound to accept the college’s offer.

  • Decide whether to accept the offer now or whether to wait and apply elsewhere and decide after you’ve heard from your other colleges.

  • If you decide to accept the offer, follow the checklist above for Early Decision.

  • If you decide not to accept, then submit your remaining applications and wait.


If you were DEFERRED


1. Treat your deferral as a second chance. Being deferred is a bit disappointing, but you haven’t been denied. Instead, you have a second chance to be admitted! Your deferred application will be reconsidered in the regular round of decision making. Assuming you have continued on a positive course in the first part of your senior year, you have new information that can and will make the application you've already submitted even better.


2. Update your application in one go. Rather than sending things in dribs and drabs, assemble all your updates into one package of materials and submit them all together with a short and polite cover letter. That way, all the updates together will make a cohesive and persuasive statement about you. (Sending updates individually also makes it more likely that something will be misfiled or lost.) If that college remains your first choice, make sure to reiterate that in your cover letter.



3. Use good judgment about what to send in your update. Here are the five kinds of updates that can help your deferred application (listed in order from most influential to least influential):

  • New (and good) grades

  • New (and higher) test scores (if you managed to take a test this fall and your test scores stack up favorably, send them even if you didn’t send test scores initially)

  • New academic honors or awards

  • Anything that demonstrates your Core Four – check Week 2’s post if you don’t remember what the Core Four are.

  • Anything you have done that demonstrates interest in that college.

  • A positive word from someone who has a deep and influential connection to the university (major donor, board member, alum, tenured faculty, high-level staff).



You can, of course, also submit other kinds of updates, like additional essays, recommendations, or supplementary materials. But we're not as enthusiastic about encouraging you to submit those, because those kinds of updates get mixed reviews from admissions officers. They tend to be more of the same, and they usually serve only to make your file fatter and more time-consuming for an already harried admissions officer to get through.


If you were DENIED


1. Wallow in your misery for a short time and then move on. No question that being denied by a college where you applied feels bad. So let yourself feel bad for a little bit. Allow yourself as much as 48 hours to rant, rave, cry, or be grumpy. You just don’t want to get stuck here.


2. Then regroup quickly. Remember life isn’t over and you can go onto a perfectly wonderful future. So dust yourself off and get back in the game. You still have the option of applying to other colleges for their Regular Decision or Rolling deadlines. Sometimes we take a shot and we miss. We all do at one point or another. Don't quit now...tap into your inner resilience and keep going.


3. Do some deep analysis of what went wrong this time. Then set about doing it differently. Was that school a long shot because of your credentials? Do you have newer, better credentials that you can showcase for your next batch of schools? Do you have a more realistic list of schools to pursue? Did you lose steam when you got to the application forms themselves? What can you do better or differently going forward? Do you need to take a gap year to fix bigger problems? Consider both your short-term and long-term options.



Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 24

A Few Final Things to Do Before You Break for the Holiday
December 14, 2020
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Most of you are getting close the time you will break for a winter holiday. And when you have a holiday, so do your school counselor and your teachers.


There are a few things you’ll want to do before everyone has some much-needed rest and relaxation.


And, of course, I haven’t forgotten that it’s almost time to hear from the colleges where you applied early. Next week’s post will be all about how to handle the news – whatever it is.


For this week, stick to the plan to get the things done that you need to do before the holiday. You’ll thank me next week, when you can be singularly focused on the big news. Promise.


WEEK 24 TO-DOS



THIS WEEK

  • Check in with your school counselor and your teachers to get anything you need from them before the holiday.



  • Continue doing what it takes to finish the term with great grades. Get some study tips in Week 22’s post.



  • Hold one more week on submitting your finished applications if you have early applications pending and your regular applications aren’t due yet. See why in Week 21’s post.


  • Get all your financial aid forms as close to finished as possible. Delay any that aren’t due before your holiday break so that you can stay focused on schoolwork.


  • Respond to any invitations for interviews and interview. See Week 18’s post for tips.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary. See Week 19’s post for tips on how to handle being contacted by colleges.


  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.


TIPS AND TRICKS



1. Update your school counselor and recommenders about where you are in the college application process and thank them for their help so far.


Your school counselor and your recommenders WANT to know what’s happening. So give them a brief update along with a thank you before you go on break. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just an email along with these lines will do the trick:

Hi Mr. Delaney:


I just wanted to let you know how things are going with college applications. I’m waiting to hear back from three colleges where I submitted early. Depending on what I hear from them, I plan to submit one to three more applications by the end of the year.


Thank you so much for all you’ve done to help me. I
really appreciate it. I’ll keep you updated about decisions as they come in.


Have a wonderful holiday!

~Stephanie Student




2. At the same time you send your update, confirm that your school reports, counselor recommendations, and teacher recommendations will be submitted before the holiday IF you are submitting applications with deadlines that come during the holiday.


Many of you will be submitting applications with due dates during the holiday (think of all the January 1 -15 schools!). That means you’ll have school reports, counselor recommendations, and teacher recommendations due then too. So it is vital that you line them up before the holiday comes. Do it at LEAST A WEEK BEFORE THE HOLIDAY STARTS.


Confirm that these have already been sent or are in line to be sent in, whatever way makes the most sense. You’ll know the system at your school by now. But do yourself a favor and double-check everything. If you submitted the form to request one of those items, check back with your school counselor or recommender and make sure they got it. Same if you sent an email request or made a request online through Naviance or something similar.


You can also just add a sentence or two to the email you’re already sending with the update to confirm. For example, Stephanie Student could modify her email this way:

Hi Mr. Delaney:

I just wanted to let you know how things are going with college applications. I’m waiting to hear back from three colleges where I submitted early.

Depending on what I hear from them, I plan to submit applications to the following colleges before January 1st: College 1, College 2, College 3. I have already requested that you send your recommendation to those colleges, but could you please confirm that you will do that before the holiday? I want to make sure they receive it by the deadline.

Thank you so much for all you’ve done to help me. I
really appreciate it. I’ll keep you updated about decisions as they come in as well as let you know if my application plans change.

Have a wonderful holiday!

~Stephanie Student



Stephanie should get a reply from Mr. Delaney confirming that he has sent the recommendation to Colleges 1, 2 and 3 AT LEAST TWO DAYS before the holiday break. If she doesn’t, she should follow up with Mr. Delaney and make sure he’s going to get it done. You can and should be diligent without being a pest. Just be polite, but firm, that you need to get his confirmation that the recommendation has been sent.


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 23

When Will I Hear Something From Colleges?
December 7, 2020
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I know you are freaking out about when you’ll hear from your early schools. It’s totally normal, but you need to manage your freak out by getting information about when you’ll hear and then refocusing your energy on the things within your control – like your schoolwork! We’ve given you the tips and tricks for how to find out when you’ll be notified below.


WEEK 23 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Do a quick check of when you are supposed to hear from your early colleges, so you can halt your freak out.


  • Return your focus on your schoolwork so you can finish the term with great grades. Get some study tips in Week 22’s post. 


  • Hold off on submitting your finished applications if you have early applications pending and your regular applications aren’t due yet. See why in Week 21’s post. 


  • Get all your financial aid forms as close to finished as possible. Delay any that aren’t due before your holiday break so you can stay focused on schoolwork.


  • Respond to any invitations for interviews and interview. See Week 18’s post for tips.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary. See Week 19’s post for tips on how to handle being contacted by colleges.


  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.


TIPS AND TRICKS



1. Finding out when and how you will be notified of a college’s admissions decision is usually a quick and easy research task.


Start by READING the emails that the college has sent you and CHECKING your admissions portal on the college’s website. Very often, the college either tells you or posts their notification dates. Some even give you real time updates. 

If no joy there, then try this simple Google search: “early notification date” admission [name of college here]. Scan the results looking for the most current information and give preference to information that is posted by the college itself because that is the most reliable. If you can’t find anything from the college, then and only then should you scour the discussion boards. Fair warning: the discussion boards are usually full of anxious applicants like yourself who mostly know nothing for sure. So take anything you find there with a BIG grain of salt. 


2. You’ll probably know before the FAT ENVELOPE comes


The majority of colleges will either notify you by email or post your admissions decision on your applicant portal on the day that the envelopes go out via snail mail. There are, however, a few colleges that still notify ONLY by snail mail and for those the Fat Envelope is what you want to see!


Since you should be getting your decision via computer, there are a couple of things to do to get prepared:

  • Make sure that email from the college is not going to your SPAM folders. If you find anything from the college there, then be sure to look there on a regular basis, especially on the days around the time you expect to be notified.


  • If the college has given you a link and log in information for an applicant portal or website where you can find out the college’s admissions decision, test it before the big day. Your meltdown when you encounter technical difficulties on decision day will be EPIC. Guaranteed. So, test your log in now and avoid that drama. Don’t log in every five minutes, though. Colleges can see your log in history if they want to, so keep that in mind.



3. When the FAT ENVELOPE arrives, take the time to read everything inside it. There will be important information about deposit deadlines, housing, and financial aid. You don’t want to miss any of this critical information.



Now back to studying – remember to finish strong!!!


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 22

Back to Your Senior Year in Progress...
December 1, 2020
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Hopefully you got your applications done and dusted over the Thanksgiving holiday and even managed to catch up on your sleep, because now it is time to refocus on your schoolwork.


Why?



Because, the end of the term is coming and your grades this term matter!



In fact, this year when standardized testing is optional at virtually every college, your grades matter more than ever. So add some focused studying to your to do list this week as you work on wrapping up the tasks related to applying. We’ve given you our best tips for effective studying, so you can make the time you spend really count!




WEEK 22 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Refocus yourself on your schoolwork so you can finish the term with great grades.


  • Check in on all of the applications you’ve submitted and make sure they are complete. Chase down any missing pieces and resolve any problems promptly and politely. See tips on how to resolve problems in Week 20’s post.


  • Hold off on submitting your finished applications if you have early applications pending and your regular applications aren’t due yet. See why in Week 21’s post.


  • Continue working on your financial aid forms. You have probably completed the FAFSA and CSS/PROFILE forms by now. So what’s left are the college-specific financial aid applications and local scholarship applications. Aim to submit these forms within a week of submitting your application to the college.  


  • Respond to any invitations for interviews and interview. See Week 18’s post for tips.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary. See Week 19’s post for tips on how to handle being contacted by colleges.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.


TIPS AND TRICKS



1. Take practice tests for the material you are studying.

Ideally, you use a practice test that is as similar as possible to the real test. So if you will have a multiple choice test in Mrs. Adams’ US History class, then ideally you would study using a multiple choice test previously given in Mrs. Adams’ US History class. BUT and this is a big BUT, you will still get benefit from practice testing even if the practice test is not in the same format as the real test, provided it addresses the same subject matter.

To find practice tests, first, ask your teacher about releasing old tests for you to use as study tools. If that’s a no go, then search practice tests online – just Google “practice tests” and the name of your textbook. Finally if there is nothing online, then treat the questions at the end of your textbook chapter as a test, using homemade or purchased flashcards to test yourself.



2. After doing a practice test, restudy as needed.

Restudying involves going back to the questions that you got wrong and studying the correct answer. If you can’t understand the correct answer, then ask someone to explain it to you (your teacher, a friend in the class, a tutor). Once you have read and understand the correct answer, you have “restudied” the material.



3. Plan on “distributed” studying rather than “massed” studying (aka cramming).

Distributed studying is a fancy way of saying that you break your studying into shorter sessions over time, rather than cramming.  The science says that you should have a gap of time between study sessions equal to 10-20% of the total study time if you want to retain what you are learning. Assuming you are going to have finals before you leave for the winter holiday, you need to retain what you are studying anywhere for 14 to 21 days, so the easy way to do it would be to add a practice test or restudy session every other day for each class. Divide and conquer! If you have six classes with finals, do three classes on one day and the other three classes on the next day and continue alternating until finals.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of College Application Essays

Almost ready to submit your college applications? Check your essay against this list before you do.
November 16, 2020
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When you're working on the Common Application, you can avoid these critical essay mistakes that admissions officers see over and over again.

Sin #1. Your personal essay is not your work.

Your essay is expected to be your work, and if an admissions officer figures out that your essay is not your work, she will reject you. Don’t “hire out” your essay. Don’t copy or mimic a sample essay you find online (or in Inline!). Don’t let a well-meaning editor like your mom or dad rewrite it or “tweak” it beyond all recognition. Write your personal essay yourself.

Sin #2. Your personal essay is not an essay.

Essays are specific forms of writing. You are asked to write an essay, so write an essay. Don’t write a poem. Don’t write a screenplay. Don’t write an academic treatise. Don’t write an autobiography. Write an essay.

Sin #3. Your personal essay is not personal.

Your personal essay is supposed to be PERSONAL. That means it should primarily be about you, not primarily about the person who influenced you, not about a political issue, not about a beautiful turn of phrase, but about YOU. With each of the Common Application essay topics, notice how the meat of the question or instruction involves the word "you."

Sin # 4. Your personal essay is not specific enough.

Your essay must be specific enough to be about you and only you. You are not the first, last, or only applicant who will write about being a child or immigrants or scoring the game-winning goal or having to pick herself up after losing a school-wide election. In fact, thousands of applicants will do that every year. And that is perfectly fine, as long as your essay is distinctive enough that it wouldn’t work equally well for some other applicant. Your essay will stand out if it is your voice and shares your perspective. Avoid clichés, and avoid generalizations. Even if the general theme is one that admissions officers have heard lots of times, don't forget that you are the unique ingredient.

Sin #5. Your personal essay is off-putting or worrisome.

Admissions officers read all components of an application with an eye for the applicant who is “off” in some way that could be threatening or disruptive in a college community. Diatribes don’t sit well with them, nor do personal essays that are just plain creepy (like an in-depth discussion of your fascination with serial murderers).

Sin #6. Your personal essay is not well written.

Misused words, grammatical errors, and typos are simply not acceptable when you are applying to college. Your personal essay should be your best piece of writing ever. It should deserve an A++ from the most critical English teacher you have ever had (but make sure she understands that you’re not meant to be writing in term-paper language). Polish it until it becomes that A++ essay. You can find more essay polishing tips and checklists in Inline.

Sin #7. You skip the personal essay entirely.

Some colleges using the Common App do not require the personal essay. You should still write it, because submitting a great essay shows a couple of good things about you to admissions officers: (1) you meet at least a competent level of writing skill, something that matters a whole lot for success in college; (2) you care enough about that college to want to stand out from the pack and put in the extra work; and (3) you're seizing one of the few opportunities in the application to let them go beyond your numbers and statistics and get to know you as a person. YOU know you're more than a GPA and a standardized test score, but they can't read your mind. Here's where you can show them you're a three-dimensional person and where you can focus on what you have to offer beyond your numbers. DON'T SKIP THE ESSAY. We've got many more essay tips for you in Inline. You don't have to muscle through on your own.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 21

Give Thanks and Make a Final Push!
November 11, 2020
Permalink


I know you’re tired. It has been a long, hard fall semester. And so you are probably tempted to just plop down on a sofa, celebrate Thanksgiving in whatever way that’s happening in this wacky pandemic year (apologies to those outside the U.S. for whom this is not a national holiday week), and do absolutely nothing on your college applications. 


But I’m here to encourage you to rally for a final push. Use your Thanksgiving holiday for some R&R, but also use it to get every one of your applications done and ready to submit. You’ll be SO glad you did when you get to Winter Break and can truly relax and enjoy having nothing college admissions related to do. Not one thing.


Inspired? Read on and get to work. ☺


WEEK 20 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Check in on all of the applications you’ve submitted and make sure they are complete. Chase down any missing pieces and resolve any problems promptly. See tips on how to resolve problems in Week 20’s post.

  • Finalize the rest of your applications. For tips on finalizing, see Week 16’s post.

  • It’s your last chance to submit any applications that are due by November 30. For tips on submission see Week 17’s post.

  • If you do submit any applications this week, alert your recommenders and your school counselor so they submit the necessary supporting materials and order test score reports to be sent if necessary.

  • Continue working on your financial aid forms. You have probably completed the FAFSA and CSS/PROFILE forms by now. So what’s left are the college-specific financial aid applications and local scholarship applications. Aim to submit these forms within a week of submitting your application to the college.  

  • Respond to any invitations for interviews and interview. See Week 18’s post for tips.

THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK


  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary. See Week 19’s post for tips on how to handle being contacted by colleges.


  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.


TIPS AND TRICKS


1. Summon your inner get-it-done demon and use the school break to finalize the rest of your applications.  It is so tempting to use the Thanksgiving break as a true break and do nothing related to college applications. But here’s why I encourage you to use it to get the rest of your applications ready to submit:


  • You’ll produce better applications now than if you wait until you’ve heard from your early colleges. Trust me when I say no one, NO ONE, writes an upbeat, positive, winning essay two days after finding out they’ve been deferred or denied at their top pick college. 



  • Winter break is just around the corner and that is a much better time to take a true break. You’ll need it, and you’ll absolutely hate it if you can’t hang out with your friends or family because you’re holed up working frantically on college applications.


Of course, you can and should take some downtime during the break. Just balance that with some intense and focused work on your college applications. 


2. If you have early applications pending, don’t submit other applications unless they are due by November 30. Just because I think you should get your applications ready to submit doesn’t mean I think you SHOULD submit if you have early applications pending and there is time before the deadline. Sure, if you are applying to the University of California or the University of Texas or any other college with a November 30 deadline or to a college with a rolling deadline that does rolling admissions, then you should submit. Otherwise, just hold your applications at the ready and see what happens with your early colleges. If you get into one or more, then you may not want to apply (or may not be allowed to apply, if you are admitted under a binding early decision plan), so no reason to spend your money until you have to!



Hang tough, be fierce, and get it done!


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 19

Prepare to Be Contacted by Admissions Officers
November 9, 2020
Permalink

Once you have submitted your applications, be aware that admissions officers or others related to the college admissions process might actually contact you! You need to be on the lookout for their communications and be prepared to respond appropriately. Here are some good habits that will serve you well throughout the process (and beyond).


WEEK 19 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Continue finalizing your applications one-by-one. If you’ve been following the 26 Weeks structure, your essays are finished and it is now just a matter of finalizing things for each college. For tips on finalizing, see Week 16’s post.

  • Submit any applications that are due by November 15. For tips on submission, see Week 17’s post.


  • If you do submit any applications this week, alert your recommenders and your school counselor so they submit the necessary supporting materials and order test score reports to be sent if necessary.


  • Continue working on your financial aid forms. You have probably completed the FAFSA and CSS/PROFILE forms by now. So what’s left are the college-specific financial aid applications. Aim to submit these forms within a week of submitting your application to the college. And make sure that you’ve completed everything for colleges where you are applying early by their early deadline.


  • Respond to any invitations for interviews and conduct the interviews. See last week’s post for tips.

  • If you do submit any applications this week, alert your recommenders and your school counselor so that they submit the necessary supporting materials and order test score reports to be sent if necessary.


  • Continue working on your FAFSA, CSS/PROFILE forms, and any other college-specific  financial aid applications, and make sure that you’ve completed everything for the colleges where you are applying early by their early deadline.

THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.


  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year. 


TIPS AND TRICKS


1. Double down on checking your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications from colleges where you have applied or will be applying. This to-do is on your list every week for a reason. Colleges expect you to read, listen, and respond to what they send you! It's best to respond within 24 hours, so that means checking and responding daily. And really, if you aren’t interested enough to read or listen to a message from the college, why did you apply?


Pro tip: When checking your email, check your spam folders too because stuff often goes there.



2. Answer every call from an unidentified caller. Yes, most of them will be robo-calls or other unimportant sales pitches. But some will be from admissions officers! When you answer, use your professional-level manners. If you're in a place with a lot of noise in the background, let the call go to voicemail, and then call that person back as soon as you can have a quiet conversation.



3. Tweak your voicemail greeting. Or for those of you who’ve never bothered to record one, do it now. Your greeting should be G-rated, courteous, and appropriate for anyone (including admissions officers) to hear.


Not appropriate:

"Sup. I'm busy playing Call of Duty. Message me."


Appropriate:

"Hi, you've reached Josh. Please leave me a message and I'll call you back."



4. If sending or responding to an email, use complete sentences, capitalize, spell things correctly, and follow standard grammar. An email is a form of written communication and should be as polished and professional as every other written component of your application. It is a good idea to include identifying information in your signature block (full name, date of birth, and high school are the usual bits of information they use to connect your email to your application).



You are two-thirds of the way there!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 20

You Submitted Your Applications, Now What?
November 9, 2020
Permalink

You are entering the final stretch and it’s easy to think that once you’ve submitted your application to a college, you’re done and all you have to do is wait.


But there is one more final step you’ve got to take before you go into waiting mode. You have to make sure your application is complete – meaning the college has EVERYTHING they require to evaluate your application.


This week, that’s your focus and we’ll give you some tips for how to do it and what to do if you have any problems. Plus we’ll throw in some tips for scholarships, since once you’re admitted, you’ve got to pay for it. ☺


WEEK 20 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Check in on all of the applications you’ve submitted and make sure they are complete. Chase down any missing pieces and resolve any problems promptly.


  • Continue finalizing your applications one-by-one. If you’ve been following the 26 Weeks structure, your essays are finished and it is now just a matter of finalizing things for each college. For tips on finalizing, see Week 16’s post.


  • Submit any applications that are due by November 30. For more tips, see Week 17’s post.


  • If you submit any applications this week, alert your recommenders and school counselor so they’ll send the necessary supporting materials and order test score reports if needed.


  • Continue working on your financial aid forms. You have probably completed the FAFSA and CSS/PROFILE forms by now. So what’s left are the college-specific financial aid applications and local scholarship applications. Aim to submit these forms within a week of submitting your application to the college.  


  • Respond to any invitations for interviews and interview. See Week 18’s post for tips.

THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary. See Week 19’s post for tips on how to handle being contacted by colleges.


  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.


TIPS AND TRICKS


1. Confirm that the applications you have submitted are complete by checking with the college. Most have some sort of applicant portal where you can confirm, but some give other directions or follow up with email confirmations. Whatever the method is for the particular college, use it. The only way to know that your application is complete FOR SURE is for you to have confirmation from the college. Just because the Common Application says "downloaded by the college," or your counselor has confirmed to you that something was sent, or Naviance shares some sort of status, does NOT mean that the college has put item(s) in your application file. Until you have confirmation from the college itself, you don't have confirmation–period. If you have not received confirmation within two weeks of (1) having submitted the application or (2) the deadline (whichever comes first), contact the admissions office to check the status of your application.



2. Resolve problems promptly. If you discover that something is missing from your application file, then it is up to you to fix the problem. Clarify exactly what is missing. Identify the fastest way to get the missing item to the college and into your application file. Then take action and get it done. Be as proactive as necessary. For example, volunteer to mail the recommendation yourself rather than wait for the recommender to find the stamp and mail it. Let the college know that you are aware of the problem and working to resolve it.



3. Call rather than email. You can often get the whole problem resolved in one phone call, whereas email often requires a long chain of back-and-forth correspondence.


4. Always be polite and respectful. No matter how frustrating these snafus are, being angry with others will probably make it harder to solve your problem, not easier. Any rudeness towards the admissions staff will also be noted and could be held against you.


5. Keep an eye out for the college-specific scholarship opportunities. Often you can’t apply for a college’s scholarships until after you’ve submitted your application.


6. Think local for other scholarship opportunities. Local sources are not as well-publicized and often underused. Many local businesses, civic, business and professional organizations offer small scholarships that can really add up. Don’t limit yourself to an internet search. Ask your school counselor, ask your parents, your friend’s parents, your boss or supervisor from any internship or job, the manager of a local business, the president of a local organization. Network, network, network. It can pay off!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 18

Are you preparing for college admissions interviews? Make a lasting impression with these helpful tips.
November 2, 2020
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Now that you’ve submitted some applications, you are likely to be contacted for interviews at colleges where they are a part of the process.

Interviews are wildly different from every other part of your application – they are a direct interaction between you and another person, and that dynamic changes everything.  

There is information that gets shared in conversations that would never come out otherwise, and there are observations about behavior and demeanor that make lasting impressions.


What happens in an interview is so distinctive that it always either helps or hurts; it is never neutral. Below are our top tips to get ready for your interviews.


(Need to get caught up with previous weeks? We've posted them on our blog here!)


WEEK 18 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Continue finalizing your applications one-by-one. If you’ve been following the 26 Weeks structure, your essays are finished and it is now just a matter of finalizing things for each college. For tips on finalizing, see Week 16’s post.


  • Submit any applications that are due by November 15. For tips on submission, see last week’s post.


  • If you do submit any applications this week, alert your recommenders and your school counselor so that they submit the necessary supporting materials and order test score reports to be sent if necessary.


  • Continue working on your FAFSA, CSS/PROFILE forms, and any other college-specific  financial aid applications, and make sure that you’ve completed everything for the colleges where you are applying early by their early deadline.

THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.


  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year. 


TIPS AND TRICKS


1. Understand the difference between different types of interviews. Is the interview evaluative or merely informational? An interview is "evaluative" if it will become part of your application file — those are the ones that really count. The school website or admissions office should be able to tell you whether it's evaluative or not. If evaluative interviews are optional at any of your schools, we recommend you do them, assuming you will do the necessary preparation.


2. Prepare to answer four types of questions. You won't know the specific interview questions ahead of time, but make sure to prepare for questions around four topics: your academic/intellectual abilities and interests, your accomplishments in activities outside the classroom, your personal background and character, and your interest in the college. You have already worked out answers to those questions in your story, your resume, and your “Why College X” essays in previous weeks, so you do not have to reinvent the wheel. Here's a chance to work smarter, not harder!


3. Do your homework and have your questions ready. At some point, your interviewer will likely ask you, "Do you have any questions for me?" (Often that happens towards the end of the interview.) Figuring out the right questions to ask your interviewer takes some thought, so think about them in advance. The interview is not the time to ask questions about the admissions process or to ask the most basic questions about the college. Instead, you want to ask questions that actually get to the deeper, more interesting information about the college.


4. Use your best pandemic manners. Given the pandemic, it is more likely than ever that your interview will be conducted on via Zoom or some video conferencing platform. Just because you’ve been Zooming all day every day for months doesn’t mean you’re prepared for a Zoom interview. Consult Indeed’s list of tips for how to make your best impression here. If you are asked to do an interview in person, then observe standard pandemic safety protocols — wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet from your interviewer at all times (which obviously means you should not shake hands).


5. Practice. It is easy to practice interviewing. Recruit a parent or a teacher or some other adult to serve as your interviewer. Give them sample interview questions and a sample evaluation form (found at the end of chapter 20 in our book and also in Inline) and go for it! For the best kind of practice, conduct the interview in a setting as close to the actual setting for the interview as you can manage.


6. Do the follow-up. Immediately after your interview, write down your impressions and add them to your personal research notes about schools. Send a thank-you letter to your interviewer, and notify the college admissions office that you have had your interview.


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

What's the Deadline for the Common App?

Early deadlines are coming up! Avoid additional stress by submitting your Common App before the deadline. Here’s how to prepare...
October 30, 2020
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Early deadlines are coming up so make sure to avoid any stress by submitting before the deadline.


For your Common App applications, here is the rule for calculating the deadlines:


11:59pm, the student's local time, on deadline day



Pro tip:
DO NOT WAIT UNTIL 11:59PM OF DEADLINE DAY.


Technical glitches can happen, servers can crash, the tech gods can get angry.


Try to submit the day before so that you have time to resolve any problems that crop up.


Before you submit, save a preview of your application so that you have a copy of it, and also screenshot the page that shows you have submitted. Just in case you need to prove that you did.


And once you've submitted, CELEBRATE. It's a big deal!
🎉🎉🎉

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 17

It's time to submit your first applications! Here's how to tackle everything with a minimum of stress
October 26, 2020
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Woohoo! The time has arrived to submit your first applications.

So, so exciting…but also a bit nerve-racking.

The key to submitting applications with minimum stress is to approach things step-by-step at least 24 hours before the deadline. If something goes wrong, you’ll at least have a day to recover and still meet requirements. We have a bunch of tips below to help you do that.

(Need to get caught up with previous weeks? We've posted them on our blog here!)


WEEK 17 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Submit your early applications and plan a bit of a celebration.


  • Check in with your recommenders and alert them where you’ve submitted applications early and confirm that they are submitting their recommendations on time.


  • Check in with your school counselor and alert them where you’ve submitted applications early and confirm mailing of transcript and counselor recommendation.  


  • Take a break from working on the rest of your applications to focus your attention on actually submitting – you’ll pick it up again next week!


  • Continue working on your FAFSA, CSS/PROFILE forms and any other college-specific  financial aid applications. Note specific deadlines for any school where you’re applying early.

THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.


  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year. 

TIPS AND TRICKS

1. Print out application checklists and instructions for every college where you’re applying early. Find these checklists on colleges’ websites and confirm that you can submit materials on time. Applications often require supporting materials, including personal recommendations, as well as supplementary materials and portfolios. Instructions may tip off some important detail you’d missed; for example, Georgia Tech will NOT consider your personal essay on the Common App this year – even if it’s submitted by the applicant.

2. Carefully review your application in its entirety. Use the “preview” feature on applications to see what’s being transmitted and how it will likely look to admissions officers. When proofreading, pay particularly close attention to the following:

  • Your Name – Believe it or not, lots of you misspell your name. That’s a nightmare to resolve post–submission, so be sure to double check.

  • Your Contact Information – Emails and phone numbers for you, your parents/guardians, and your school counselor are important so that colleges can reach you if needed – make sure they can!

  • The Start Term, The Decision Plan, and Your School/Major – Make sure you’ve filled these out correctly so that your application goes into the right pile and is reviewed by the right people at the right time.

  • Capitalization – Use old-school, formal capitalization rules, not texting rules. Enough said.

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread – Often the best way to proofread is to speak aloud. You’ll be surprised at how many errors suddenly pop off the page when you hear them!



3. Beat the deadline by 24 hours
. We said it above, but it bears repeating because college application deadlines are not targets. They are not suggestions. They are not wiggly. They are firm. No exceptions! Don't wait until 11:59 pm the night that an application is due to hit submit. Technical difficulties can and do happen. It’s the year of a world pandemic, raging fires, shut-downs, and protests, so why tempt fate with the timing?



4. Be prepared and know what to do if something weird happens. Every year is a new adventure with online applications, and inevitably some college or platform performs strangely. This might throw you for a loop if you don’t know what to do, but it’s really a simple, three-part process:

  • Save everything and then log out and log back in, or even switch computers and log in again. There can truly be a ghost in the machine!

  • If problems persist, read the fine print in the instructions you printed. Often the explanation is right there, so you’ll be able to resolve the problem lickety-split.

  • If the first two suggestions don’t do the trick, contact the college’s admissions office BY TELEPHONE during business hours. You’ll be able to get an answer directly from them if you call and do what you need to do well in time for the deadline. Allow time for stuff like this!
  • PRO-TIP: This year is especially buggy because colleges’ application systems were not designed to handle the “fluid” nature of things in a COVID world.

5. Download a copy. Using the Preview feature of the online application, save a PDF copy of the application you're submitting to your hard drive (or in the cloud), and also print a hard copy. Add each one to your digital and paper filing systems respectively.

6. Print your screen or take a screenshot to confirm that you’ve submitted before logging out. This is super important, because if there are problems, you have proof positive that you can show the college that you did in fact submit on time.


7. Do the happy dance and celebrate. You’ve earned it.


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

What to Do if Your Test Scores are Missing from Your Application Preview

What should you do if test scores are missing from some Common App previews?
October 20, 2020
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You may have noticed that some of your Common App previews show all of the information you entered for some colleges – except your test scores. (Assuming you entered test scores in the first place.)

That omission in the previews is causing some panic among applicants. And that's totally understandable! It is very unsettling if they're not telling you why it's missing. Will they see the information anyway? Is it a glitch? That's left up to your imagination. We've seen that happen with Penn State and UChicago, for example, but those aren't the only ones.

We've been told that even though test score information is "suppressed" in the previews for those applications, these particular schools will still see the test score information on their end if applicant chooses to enter it.

That's all well and good, but... we're feeling risk-averse around that. Here's the guideline we're recommending until schools clarify expressly that they are in fact receiving test score information that you had entered and that is not showing up on the preview:

If you don't see certain information on the preview that you in fact entered (and it's important information), don't assume that it will be flowing through to the admissions side, because you have no evidence of that. Assume that you need to communicate that information to them in a different way, for example by email or some other method that the college makes available to you.


This year has been a bit of a mess because of all the new test-optional policies in flux and that are, frankly, not being communicated well by many schools. We're hoping that things will be settled and corrected by next cycle, but for this one, the burden is very much on you to understand policies are and figure out work-arounds. We're updating our advice in real time.

If instructions are unclear, you can always contact colleges to ask, especially in situations where online instructions conflict with application supplements. That way, you can ensure the admissions department receives the test scores you want them to have (or that they don't get the scores you don't want them to have).

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.


26 Weeks to College: Week 16

Everything you need to know about finalizing your applications before submitting...
October 19, 2020
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It’s midway through October and deadlines for early applications are just around the corner. Everything is accelerating and intensifying, and you may be feeling completely STRESSED out. 


But take a breath. If you’ve been following the 26 Weeks plan, then you are more than ready to finalize your early applications. If you haven’t been following the 26 Weeks plan, you’ve got to play catch up right now. You still have a couple of weeks before most early deadlines. You can get caught up with previous posts in the series here.

WEEK 16 TO–DOS

THIS WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

  • Finalize your early applications. Finalizing is the crucial last step before submission. 

  • Check in with your recommenders and alert them where you will be applying early, so they can get their recommendations in on time.

  • Check in with your school counselor and make sure you’ve completed all the forms your school requires in order for your transcript and counselor recommendation to be submitted. Confirm whether there are any other procedures you need to be aware of from the school side.

  • Revise and finalize your answer to the extra COVID question. See our Tips & Tricks from Week 15.

  • Revise any additional information or required explanatory essays. See our Tips & Tricks from Week 14.

  • Continue working on the rest of your essays. If you’ve been on the three-week writing cycle since Week 7, you will have finished three full sets of essays by now and you’ll probably be close to done. But if you’ve lost a little steam, refocus and pick up where you left off.

  • Revise the last set of short answers that you drafted last week. 

  • Keep checking for virtual college events hosted by the colleges on your list and prepare for/attend those on your calendar. See our tips and tricks in Week 5 and Week 11 for why you should attend and how you should prepare.

  • Continue working on your FAFSA, CSS/PROFILE forms and any other college-specific financial aid applications.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year. 


TIPS AND TRICKS


1. Your applications aren’t final until you’ve answered ALL the questions, including all the pesky ones, like which term you want to start, what decision plan you’re using, what major(s) interest you and the rest. Take your time and work through each application in its entirety. If you need to do some research in order to answer the question, do it! Don’t blow it by winging it with these answers. You can get hints and help with these questions for Common App colleges by downloading Inline, a killer app for giving you hints for all the questions on Common App applications.

2. Your applications aren’t final until they are error-free. Errors in your application detract from the positive impression you are trying to make. Grammatical and spelling errors reflect badly on your academic abilities. Typos or other errors in completing the application suggest carelessness or indifference, both of which work against you. That’s why you have to proofread your application very, very carefully. For a proofreading checklist and further tips on proofreading, refer to Chapter 11 in our book or the relevant sections in Inline.

3. Your applications aren’t final until you’ve arranged for all the necessary supporting documents to be sent. Which supporting documents are required varies from college to college, so check their website for what needs to be sent with each application. A typical set of supporting documents would include your counselor recommendation and transcript (both sent by your school), your teacher recommendations, and — if you are applying with test scores — your official test score reports (sent by the College Board or ACT). (Special note: in this particular season, most of you will not be submitting test scores, because you haven’t been able to take them because of the global pandemic. And that’s completely fine.) 


After you’ve finalized your early applications, take a breath. Submitting them comes next week (if deadlines allow), so you have a bit of time to make sure all your ducks are in a row and reflect on whether there are any final, final changes you want to make.


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 15

The extra COVID question and time for financial aid Forms
October 12, 2020
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Most, although not all, college applications have added an extra question to their applications this year inviting you to explain how the global pandemic (or another natural disaster) has affected you.

The question on the Common App is fairly typical of the questions most of you will encounter:

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces. (2020-21 Common App)

So how are you supposed to handle this question? After all, it IS a global pandemic and pretty much everyone has been affected somehow, right? RIGHT.

So then everyone should write something, right? RIGHT, BUT…

And the “but” is what makes this a tricky question. This week’s Tips and Tricks are how to handle the “but” part of our advice.

It is also time to get to work on financial aid forms. We recommend that all U.S. citizens complete the FAFSA and other college-specific forms because even if you don’t have “need” as defined by the college where you are applying, you will still be eligible for some other financial aid programs, such as unsubsidized Stafford Loans (a loan program through the federal government).

If you are not a U.S. citizen, check the financial aid policies at each college on your list. Some have financial aid for non-U.S. citizens and others do not. Tips for completing the forms are included this week as well.

WEEK 15 TO-DOS



THIS WEEK

  • Draft your answer to the extra COVID question.

  • Begin working on your FAFSA, CSS/PROFILE forms, and any other college-specific  financial aid applications.

  • Revise any additional information or required explanatory essays. You can find our tips for these in Week 14’s post.

  • Continue working on the rest of your essays. If you’ve been on the three-week writing cycle since Week 7, you should be really cranking them out and should have no problem finishing them all well before the deadlines.

  • Finalize all of your really short answers. Do a happy dance at getting these done.

  • Revise your second set of short answers and finalize your first set. Draft the rest (unless you have more than 2-3 to do) after checking your Writing Map to figure out what you have left to do.

  • Finalize your third set of Why College X/Why Major X answers and celebrate being done with these! If your template is working well, you should be able to get them all done in three sets. If you need to tweak your template, go back to Week 10 for tips.

  • Keep checking for virtual college events hosted by the colleges on your list and prepare for/attend those on your calendar. See our tips and tricks in Week 5 and Week 11 for why you should attend and how you should prepare.

THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

TIPS AND TRICKS

1. DO write a full-blown essay IF the pandemic imposed considerable hardship on you and your family. Considerable hardships are things like: your family lacked reliable internet access and you had to take exams in the McDonald's parking lot so that you could use their free wifi, or you live with four other family members in a one-bedroom apartment and had to do all your work in a closet so that you could have some peace and quiet, or you have been seriously ill and had to miss school, or a close family member was seriously ill and that consumed your attention and time.Considerable hardship is NOT: you couldn’t see your friends regularly, or you had to work from your family's second home, or you found it challenging to take classes over Zoom. (Zoom. Oof. You and everybody else, my friend...) If there's anywhere in the application you should be "checking your privilege," this is it.

You are given 250 words to describe the impact these hardships had on you. For most of you, this will be enough because you want to give a straightforward description of the circumstances and the impact. Be sure to include specifics about the impact on your school work and activities. But if your story is complicated and you need more words, put your answer to this question in the Additional Information section, where you’ll have more words, and simply answer: “I’ve addressed this elsewhere in my application.”

2. DO write a 50-75 word description (3-5 sentences) about how school and activities have operated for you during the pandemic IF you are NOT writing a full-blown essay. The purpose of this description is to give the admissions officer some context for how things are working for you. Your school counselor can also explain that in the School Report, but don't assume they will do that. Instead, be proactive and do it yourself.

No whining or excuse making, just a factual description, for example: "I go to school two days a week for in person classes and do the rest via Zoom. All extracurricular activities have either moved online or been suspended." If you've reevaluated your educational goals because during the pandemic, it's also fine to talk about that. Remember, though, that this is not supposed to be another full-blown essay. And it is NOT the place to showcase how you undertook new academic challenges or activities. That is not what they are asking. Do not try to "spin" the pandemic into some kind of positive achievement here.


3. Collaborate with your parents in the financial aid effort. Unless you are declaring yourself financially independent from your parents for financial aid purposes, your parents will be key to filling out these financial aid forms, and you will need their input to secure the best financial aid package possible. It helps if you're all rowing in the same direction when you're working together on these forms.

4. Don’t delay when it comes to submitting your financial aid forms. If you are applying Early Decision, your financial aid forms also need to be completed early. For Regular Decision, it is still important to apply sooner rather than later, because much financial aid is given out first-come, first-served. So the sooner you get your financial aid applications submitted, the more money is left in the pot to distribute.

5. Take advantage of all the resources available to guide you and your parents through completing the financial aid forms.

  • Finaid.org is a wonderful all-inclusive resource for answering basic questions about how financial aid works. It should be your first stop for educating yourself.

  • All colleges will require the FAFSA. The FAFSA help page is remarkably helpful–so many aren’t! Check it first if you are unsure about any aspect of the FAFSA or encounter technical problems. But if you need more help, you can email, call, or have an online chat.

  • Find out here if the colleges on your list require the CSS/Profile form.  
  • The CSS/Profile tutorials are great step-by-step guidance for completing this longer and more complex form. Again if you need more help, you can email, call, or have an online chat.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 14

How to Handle Additional Information and Explanatory Essays in your College Applications
October 5, 2020
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Beyond the standard essay questions found on your college applications, you’ll run across two other types of essay questions on the application that you probably aren’t sure how to approach.

The first is the fairly innocuous question usually found at the end of the application that goes something like this: “Do you have anything to add?”

For example, on the Common App, it is labelled Additional Information and is the last question in the Writing Section.

Answering this question is totally optional, so should you answer it or not?

The second is the required explanatory essay or essays that pop up if you have answered some particular questions, with “Yes” on the application.

For example, if your high school education has been interrupted, you’ll often have to provide an explanation for the circumstances. Likewise, if you have a disciplinary or criminal record, you’ll be asked to address it in a required explanatory essay (aka disclosure essay).

WEEK 14 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Decide whether you are going to develop an Additional Information essay. If so, draft it.

  • Draft any required explanatory essays.

  • Revise your short answers that you drafted last week, and draft 2-3 more after checking your Writing Map to figure out what you have left to do.

  • Continue working on your essays. If you’ve been on the three-week writing cycle since Week 7, you should be really cranking them out and should have no problem finishing them all well before the deadlines.

  • Finalize your second set of Why College X/Why Major X answers and revise your third set. If your template is working well, you should be able to get them all done in three sets. If you need to tweak your template, go back to Week 10 for tips.

  • Keep checking for virtual college events hosted by the colleges on your list and prepare for/attend those on your calendar. See our tips and tricks in Week 5 and Week 11 for why you should attend and how you should prepare.

  • Finalize your third scholarship application. Most applicants will not complete more than three scholarship applications, so we’re winding down the writing cycle as you close in on finishing three. If you have more to complete, just keep going with the three-week writing cycle!

THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

TIPS AND TRICKS

1. The Additional Information section is not the place for you to explain any special circumstances you have confronted due to the global pandemic UNLESS there is no other option. Both the Common App and the Coalition App have separate questions for COVID-related circumstances, and other applications are likely to follow suit. But if there is no other option, it is worth explaining your particular situation during the pandemic and its impact on your educational progress and activities. But don’t work on drafting it this week — next week’s post is all about how to handle this issue.

2.  Do not use the Additional Information section just because it’s there. More is not more when it comes to your college applications, unless it really adds something. You should only include a supplemental essay if it addresses some ESSENTIAL aspect of your story that is not revealed elsewhere in your application. When would that happen? You might have chosen another topic for your personal essay because you did not want this aspect of yourself to be the focus of that essay, but you nonetheless think it is important that an admissions officer know this other thing about you. For example, Jason’s mother died of a heart attack while exercising in their home gym and Jason was the family member who found her when he was 10. This loss and experience have shaped his character in some essential ways. But Jason did not want to make this the topic of his personal essay, because he had other things that were more recent in his life that were equally important to who he had become. But an admissions officer wouldn’t really be able to understand who Jason was without knowing about this other part of his background, so the perfect solution was a supplemental essay that he included as Additional Information. Consider your story and see if there is any critical component that you feel must be included but that isn’t the topic of your personal essay or another essay.  If so, then a supplemental essay is the solution for you, too!

3. Explanatory essays (disclosure essays) should be honest, forthright, and to the point. Don’t belabor things. If you weren’t in school for one semester because you were on a medical leave, say that. It is most important to address why that particular situation that caused an issue in the past is not likely to cause a similar issue in the future. Or if it is ongoing, explain how you are going to manage it in college.

4. You must overcome a disciplinary or criminal record by persuading the admissions officer to give you a second chance. While having either sort of record dramatically reduces your chances for admission to a selective college, admissions officers can and do admit applicants with records. But to persuade an admissions officer to admit you despite your record, you are going to have to present a clear and convincing case that you have earned a second chance. You need to make use of the multiple opportunities you have to make your case (additional essays, supporting documentation, recommendations that address it, and so on). Consult Chapter 13 in our book or the relevant sections in our Inline software for our suggestions about how to build your most persuasive case.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 13

How to Tackle Really Short Answers in Your College Application
September 28, 2020
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Really short answer questions? What are those?

They are the REALLY short answer questions, meaning the answer is not much than a text message or a tweet.

Usually they require you to answer in a single word or phrase. You should be able to own these — they are tailor-made for your generation!

Unfortunately, many of you get a bit paralyzed when answering these questions because you think they are a trick or a trap.

You’re afraid that there are wrong answers to question like, “Who’s your favorite author?” or “What historical moment do you wish you’d witnessed?”

You can’t really believe that they truly care that Toy Story is your favorite movie.

But, we’re here to tell you that they DO because these are the answers that help them get a window into your genuine personality and what makes you truly one-of-a-kind.

The only way to go wrong with your answers to these questions is to try to game them or to be offensive. Other than that, you’re good. And if you want to go from good to great, keep reading and get a few more pro tips.

WEEK 13 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Draft your answers to the really short answer questions for all of your applications. These should be easy to knock out.
  • Revise your short answers that you drafted last week and draft another 2-3.
  • Continue working on your essays. If you’ve been on the three-week writing cycle since Week 7, you should be really cranking them out and should have no problem finishing them all well before the deadlines.
  • Finalize your second set of Why College X/Why Major X essays and revise your third set. If your template is working well, you should be able to get them all done in three sets. If you need to tweak your template, go back to Week 10 for tips.
  • Keep checking for virtual college events hosted by the colleges on your list and prepare for and attend those on your calendar. See our tips and tricks in Week 5 and Week 11 for why you should attend and how you should prepare.
  • Finalize your third scholarship application. Most applicants will not complete more than three scholarship applications, so we’re winding down the writing cycle as you close in on finishing three. If you have more to complete, just keep going with the three-week writing cycle!

THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

TIPS AND TRICKS


1. Look to your story for the best answer. Often you will have more than one good answer to the really short answer questions. Which one is the best of these? The one that reveals something related to your story. Go back to your story from Week 2. Pick an answer that emphasizes or reinforces something essential about you or shows a side of yourself that hasn't yet made it into your application but that needs to be there.

2. Personalize the clichés. Do you think you're the only applicant naming blue as your favorite color? Not a chance. But that's perfectly OK, as long as you personalize your answer. Examples: "My favorite color is the blue of my mother's eyes." "My favorite color is royal blue." "My favorite color is blue because I am red-green color blind, and blue is the only color that I see as others see it." There are infinite ways to personalize your answers. You can check out some other techniques in chapter 9 of our book.

3. Watch your tone. Tone can be problematic with really short answers. What might strike you as sophistication or dry wit might strike an admissions officer as arrogance or negativity. You don't want the admissions officer to draw the wrong inferences about you just because of tone. The best way to check your tone is to ask someone who knows you well to read all of your really short answers together. You've struck the right tone if that person starts smiling and responds, "That's so you!"— in a good way.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 12

Here is how to best answer the short answer questions of your college applications.
September 21, 2020
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Short answer questions are those that ask for an answer of 250 words or less.

Some colleges have only short answer questions (the University of California and MIT among them), and others use them as supplemental questions in addition to one or two essays. For those colleges, besides the Why College X or Why Major X questions (already covered in Week 10), the most common short answer question is this one:

Please briefly tell us more about one of your extracurricular activities or a volunteer or work experience. (150 words)

Believe it or not, it is often these short answer questions that separate the true standout applicants from the LMOs ("Like Many Others"), so you need to give these short answers just as much effort as you do the full-length essay.


WEEK 12 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Review your Writing Map and draft your answers to 2-3 short answer questions.

  • Finalize your answers to the really short answer questions on all of your college applications. You don’t really need a revision week for these, but you can absolutely take one if you are reconsidering some of your answers as you work through the other writing components of a particular application.

  • Continue working on your essays. If you’ve been on the three-week writing cycle since Week 7, you should be really cranking them out and should have no problem finishing them all well before the deadlines.

  • Finalize your first set of Why College X/Why Major X answers, revise your second set and draft your third set. If your template is working well, you should be able to get them all done in three sets. If you need to tweak your template, go back to Week 10 for tips.

  • Keep checking for virtual college events hosted by the colleges on your list and prepare for and attend those on your calendar. See our tips and tricks in Week 5 and Week 11 for why you should attend and how you should prepare.

  • Finalize your second scholarship application and revise your third scholarship application. Most applicants will not complete more than three scholarship applications, so we’re winding down the writing cycle as you close in on finishing three. If you have more to complete, just keep going with the three-week writing cycle!


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

TIPS AND TRICKS

1. Answer the question. Colleges spend a lot of time deciding which questions to ask. Read the question carefully and make sure you answer the question that is asked. If they ask you to elaborate on two activities, don't write about one or three; write about two. If they ask you to describe a notable quirk you have, that’s what you should address. It is as simple as that.

2. Make one well-developed point only. There are really two tips here. First, make only one point (you don't have room for more than one). Second, develop the one point you make well. For any question that relates to extracurricular activities or work experience, your well-developed point is all about demonstrating the "Core Four"—passion, talent, initiative, and impact. The Core Four should form the foundation of your activities list and resume. You can read more about the Core Four in Week 2.

3. Be specific. Details distinguish you from everyone else, and they make your answer come alive. As you are composing your short answer, look for details that don't show up elsewhere on your application. It is much better to add an enriching detail than to try and sneak in another more generalized idea. And definitely do not waste your precious word count in the short answer restating what you've already said.

4. Observe the rules for formal writing.  Short answers are not text messages or Snapchat messages. They are not outlines or lists. They are full-fledged sentences and paragraphs and should observe the formal rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 11

Here's how to pick the best recommenders for your college applications
September 14, 2020
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Now that your senior year is underway, it's time to line up your recommenders – they are key allies and advocates in this process.

Recommendations make a difference, and it is up to you to make sure that the recommendations you get will make a positive difference for you and influence the admissions officer in your favor.


WEEK 11 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Confirm what recommendations and supporting documentation from your high school (transcript, etc.) are required by each college on your list. A typical requirement is a counselor recommendation, a school report provided by your counselor, and recommendations from one or two teachers.

  • Check in with your school’s college counseling office and confirm the procedure for getting your counselor recommendation and the required school report (usually called a Secondary School Report – it includes your transcript and other information about your high school).

  • Secure your teacher recommendations if you haven't already done so at the end of 11th grade. Look out for specific requirements at a particular college that might influence whom you ask to be a recommender. Ask for any scholarship recommendations at the same time.

  • Continue working on your essays. You should be on a revolving three-week cycle from now until you’ve completed all the essays you have to write – each week, you’ll be drafting one set, revising another set, and finalizing a final set. This will keep your momentum going without overwhelming you. Refer often to your Writing Map to make sure you are keeping pace with deadlines. Aim to have all your essays finalized at least a week before the submission deadline.

  • Using your templates for the Why College X and Why Major X, draft your answers to 1-2 of these short answers or essays. You’ll have to do some research to make your answers sufficiently specific. See Week 10 for tips about getting the content right.
  • Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like if you will be submitting them. Your goal should be to have these finished in the next couple of weeks. See our advice about these materials in Week 4 and these blog posts on arts supplements and academic work samples.

  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see what they are planning in terms of fall events for prospective students. Given the pandemic, it is unlikely that they will be doing their usual rounds to high schools, but they may be organizing specific virtual events for students from your school or your area. See our Tips and Tricks in Week 5 for why we recommend that you make it a priority to attend these events.
  • Complete a draft of your first scholarship application, including drafting any essays. You’ll put your scholarship applications on the same three-week writing cycle as your applications and you’ll knock them out in no time.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.



TIPS AND TRICKS

1. Help your counselor help you. Admissions officers place a lot of weight on what school counselors have to say about an applicant in the school report, and a negative report can be the kiss of death. In other words, your school counselor is an important ally in the process, so respect the role they play. Follow the rules and work within the system, because your counselor is bound by school policies as much as you are). Give your counselor as much lead time as possible, and take any opportunity to let the counselor get to know you. You can read more advice about the school report, including specific tips for international students and homeschoolers, in chapter 18 of our book, How to Prepare a Standout Application, or in hints found in our Inline software.

2. Choose recommenders who can help you tell your story best. Go back to your story that you wrote in Week 2. Although you won’t always have a choice when it comes to your recommenders, when you do have a choice, you want to choose the recommenders who can help you tell your story best. Pick recommenders who know you well, who can speak about your positives and negatives based on direct experience, and who like you. If you have significant negatives to overcome (for example very low grades, or a disciplinary or criminal record), choose at least one recommender who can address these negatives either because of the recommender’s position or because of the recommender’s knowledge of and experience with you. Read more tips about choosing and working with recommenders in chapter 19 of our book How to Prepare a Standout Application, or in hints found in our Inline software.

3. Waive access to your recommendations. Under the law, you have the right to see your recommendations (and all other application materials that remain in your student record) after you have been admitted to and enroll in a college, unless you waive that right. The recommendation forms give you an opportunity to waive your rights to access. Typically, the only reason applicants decline to waive access is when applicants are concerned about what the recommender might say, and so they want to discourage the recommender from saying anything negative. That creates a new and equally serious problem: a recommendation that will not have much heft. When you do not waive access, you are not only sending a signal to the recommender, you are also sending a signal to the admissions officer, who might conclude that this recommendation cannot be fully trusted because the recommender could not be completely frank. Either waive access or choose a different recommender in whom you feel more confident.

4. Prepare for the virtual college events so you can make a positive impression. It's fine to treat these virtual college events as an information-gathering exercise on your part rather than a full-on sales pitch for your admission. But you still want to make a positive impression, because any contact you have with a school representative (whether an admissions officer, an alum, an administrator, or a current student ambassador) will make an impression that could affect the final admissions decision. You want to come across as an applicant who has done their homework about the college. Introduce yourself and ask questions or make comments that convey your genuine curiosity and interest in the college. Don’t just lurk on mute the whole time. Make sure you keep track of the names of the admissions representatives you meet and try to get contact information for them. Send a quick thank you via email after the event. If you do all this, you’ll leave the college reps feeling excited about the prospect of receiving an application from you.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 10

How to conquer your "Why College X" and "Why Major X" essays
September 8, 2020
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A substantial percentage – upwards of 60% of selective colleges that use holistic admissions – have either a “Why College X” or “Why Major X” question on their applications. Some have both. Most of these types of questions require a short answer (50-250 words), while others require an essay (250-500 words).

These questions offer you a great opportunity to persuade an admissions officer that this college and its programs are exactly the right match for you.

The tragedy is that most applicants’ answers are pretty bad, and a good chunk of those are truly horrible. But you can beat the odds and deliver a winning answer to these questions.  We'll show you how.

WEEK 10 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Continue working on your essays. You should be a revolving three-week cycle from now until you’ve completed all the essays you have to write – each week, you’ll be drafting one set, revising another set, and finalizing a final set. This will keep your momentum going without overwhelming you. Refer often to your Writing Map to make sure you are keeping pace with deadlines. Aim to have all your essays finalized at least a week before the submission deadline.


  • Draft a template or templates for answering the Why College X” and Why Major X questions on your Writing Map. Generally speaking you can use the same template for questions that ask the same basic question — Why College X or Why Major X — and require answers of the same length (short answer of essay). Your Writing Map will tell you the number of templates you need.


  • Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like if you will be submitting them. Your goal should be to have these finished in the next couple of weeks. See our advice about these materials in Week 4 and these blog posts on arts supplements and academic work samples.


  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see what they are planning in terms of fall events for prospective students. Given the pandemic, it is unlikely that they will be doing their usual rounds to high schools, but they may be organizing specific virtual events for students from your school or your area. See our Tips and Tricks in Week 5 for why we recommend that you make it a priority to attend these events.

  • Complete a draft of your first scholarship application, including drafting any essays. You’ll put your scholarship applications on the same three-week writing cycle as your applications and you’ll knock them out in no time.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

TIPS AND TRICKS

1. Create a template answer to make crafting your answers to Why College X and Why Major X easier without sacrificing quality. A template follows a predetermined pattern for answering the question, but allows you to fill in specific details for each college. Think of a template as a set of fill-in-the-blank sentences: a good example of a template is the Your Story template you used to develop your strategy in Week 2.

When crafting your template, be aware that a template is largely defined by its structure. For example, you might choose a “story” as your structure, or you might choose a “narrated list” as your structure, or your might come up with some other organizational structure entirely. Whatever your structure, make sure it aligns well with your content for every college where you will be using the template.

You can find sample templates in action by upgrading your copy of Inline to get access to hints and samples for supplemental short answer and essay questions for particular colleges.


2. Focus the content on what admissions officers want to know. They want to know something about your goals and how College X or Major X will help you achieve them. They also want to know whether you have a genuine interest in College X or Major X.  Note that the specific prompt will tell you whether they are asking about College X or Major X or both, and you need to follow those instructions.

In terms of goals, answer these questions. What is it that you actually want to get out of your college experience? Check out the last sentence of your story in Week 2—you have articulated some career goals in the last sentence. What do you need to accomplish in college to put you on a path to those career goals? If you don't have career goals yet, look at sentence 2 of your story—your academic interests—and go from there. College is first and foremost an academic enterprise, so those reasons should be front and center.

In order to convey genuine interest, you must be specific and personal in each answer. For your "Why College X" essays, it's not enough to identify what makes College X interesting in general; you need to specify why College X is interesting to you in particular. Is it the massive library where you want to get lost in the stacks? Is it the respect for vegan students? Is it the creative writing instructor who happens to be your favorite author? Whatever it is, name it. If you are answering a Why Major X question, go beyond your general interest in the subject and explain what draws you to the major at this particular college. Is it specific faculty? An unusual set of courses? A co-curricular opportunity like research or study abroad or service learning? Name the specifics to make your template answer come alive for each college on your list.


3. Ranking and reputation are not good reasons in and of themselves. A classic mistake that applicants make when answering the Why College X or Why Major X question is to refer to a college’s or program’s ranking or reputation. Admissions officers are not interested in your ability to parrot back their marketing materials; they’re interested in knowing whether you’ve done your research and understand what makes the college attractive to you. A bonus of doing this research is that you might discover that the college isn’t actually a good fit for you despite its ranking or reputation, and that’s a good reason to take it off your list.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 9

You did it! You're ready to finalize your first set of essays!
August 31, 2020
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Hello end of summer!  Everything is accelerating and intensifying as you go back to school, and if you’ve been following our week-by-week plan, you are well underway with your college applications. You are ready to finalize your first essays, revise your second set, and get started on your third! That puts you in good shape and will keep you from being too stressed out as you start your senior year.

If you haven’t been following the 26 Weeks plan, start now and commit yourself to catching up as quickly as you can. You still have a window of time before the early admission deadlines in early November (if you want to leave that door open), and getting on track with your college applications by then is essential if you want to minimize your stress and maximize your success.


WEEK 9 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Finalize your first essays. You drafted these in Week 7, revised them in Week 8, and can now finalize them. This week’s tips and tricks will help you get them letter perfect.

  • Revise your second set of essays. You drafted them last week. See Week 8 for Tips and Tricks when it comes to revising.

  • Start your third set of essays. By this point, you are an old hand at drafting, having already drafted 2-6 essays. Consult your Writing Map (see Week 5) and get to work on your third set! Remember to leave the Why College X and Why Major X essays for another couple of weeks – in Week 10 we’ll explain how to use a template to make it easier to handle them.

  • Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like if you will be submitting them. Your goal should be to have these finished in the next couple of weeks. See our advice about these materials in Week 4 and these blog posts on arts supplements and academic work samples.

  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see what they are planning in terms of fall events for prospective students. Given the pandemic, it is unlikely that they will be doing their usual rounds to high schools, but they may be organizing specific virtual events for students from your school or your area. See our Tips and Tricks in Week 5 for why we recommend that you make it a priority to attend these events.

  • Add your scholarship essays to your Writing Map and choose topics. By now, you have been researching scholarships for several weeks and have hopefully identified a few that are good matches for you. Add the deadlines to your calendar and review the applications for these scholarships and see what essays are required. Add them to your Writing Map and choose topics. Refer back to Week 6 for tips on choosing topics. 



THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

 

TIPS & TRICKS


1. Smooth out the transitions. The mark of a great essay is that it moves from idea to idea in an almost effortless way. A good way to check if your essay has this type of flow is to read your essay out loud. You’ll hear missed connections or bumpy transitions long before you see them. If you stumble as you read your essay, rework your transitions until you’ve got them right. 

2. Check the word counts. Most essays have a minimum word count and a maximum word count. Use your word processing software to make sure you are within the limits, because online application platforms are very rigid when it comes to enforcing these limits. If you are short on words, you need to go back and develop some additional content. Don’t just add words – add fully developed content that reveals more about you.

3. It isn’t final until it is error-free. Grammar and spelling count! That means you need to scour your essays for these kinds of errors. We suggest that you use the following checklist to proofread for one category of errors at a time:

  • Check paragraph breaks.
  • Check subject-verb agreement.
  • Check verb tenses for shifting tenses or incorrect tenses.
  • Check for pronoun-antecedent clarity and agreement.
  • Check punctuation.
  • Check capitalization.
  • Check spelling.
  • Check and double check until the essay is error-free.

Get more essay help right within your copy of Inline.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 8

Here's the best way to revise your college application essay drafts
August 24, 2020
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Now that you have at least a week of drafting essays behind you, you are ready to tackle the next phase of the writing process: revising.

Revising is its own art, so our tips and tricks this week focus on how to do it well.


WEEK 8 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Revise the essay drafts you wrote in the last week. If you didn’t draft anything, don’t try to skip ahead. Instead go back to Week 7 and do your drafts before moving on to revising, because drafting and revising are distinct tasks.

  • Draft 1-2 additional essays. The Writing Map you created in Week 5 is your writing to-do list. Look to see which application essays are next on your list and start drafting them.
  • Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like if you will be submitting them. See our advice about these materials in Week 4 and these blog posts on arts supplements and academic work samples.
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see what they are planning in terms of fall events for prospective students. Given the pandemic, it is unlikely that they will be doing their usual rounds to high schools, but they may be organizing specific virtual events for students from your school or your area. See our tips and tricks in Week 5 for why we recommend you make it a priority to attend these events.
  • Continue researching scholarships. Refer back to Week 5 for tips on scholarship search services.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.


TIPS AND TRICKS


1. Revise content first
. You will save loads of time if you revise your essay for content before you move on to revising it for things like flow and voice.

When you review the content, make sure it is focused on showing, rather than telling. When you show the admissions officer something about yourself, the admissions officer actually has a direct experience of it. Not only that, but if you show, then the admissions officer also gets evidence that what you are saying about yourself is true. Direct experiences are far more memorable, and evidence is far more convincing. That’s why showing is the best way to influence an admissions officer in your favor, and why all great essays show rather than tell.

An easy way to check for whether you have the right amount of content in your draft is to let the word counts guide you. Most application essays have both a minimum and a maximum word count (or character count). These word counts signal how much content your essay is expected to have.

  • If your draft falls between the minimum and maximum word count, then you’ve hit the target for content. Move on to the next steps in revising.
  • If your draft is below the minimum word count, then you have to add meaningful content, not just words. How could you develop one of your ideas more deeply? What other ideas could you introduce? Stick with it until you have a draft that is the right length.

If your draft is above the maximum word count, then you probably have tried to develop too many ideas in the essay. Consider which ideas are central and then eliminate the others.

2. Structure your essay as a story to make it flow and keep it interesting. An essay that flows well carries the admissions officer who is reading it effortlessly from one idea to the next. They never stumble, get lost, or have to reread particular sentences or the whole essay to figure out what you are trying to say.

Most of you have learned to structure an essay with an introduction, three main points, and a conclusion. That organization is a logical flow that works great for an academic essay, but it makes for a deathly dull personal essay. So ditch that structure, and structure your essay as a story instead. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You can and should use the first person as needed (I, me, etc.) That structure grabs the reader and keeps them interested until it releases them at the end. Capturing and keeping the attention of your reader – the admissions officer – is the name of the game, and structuring your essay as a story is the way to do it.


3. Make sure your voice comes through loud and clear. When an admissions officer reads your essay, they should feel as if they were talking with you and only you. In order to leave the admissions officer with that feeling, your essay must have your voice. Most applicants have plenty of voice in the first drafts of their essays, but strip it all away when they revise. (Or their parents strip the voice out for them thinking that that’s the safe way to go, and that safer is better. But safe is not the way to make an impression.) Guard against doing that as you revise your own essays. For example, keep the quirky phrase that you are well known for using or hold onto your signature writing rhythm of short, emphatic sentences. Use those aspects of your writing voice that make it yours and yours alone.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Conquer Your Test Anxiety

Here are two techniques that you can master right away
August 20, 2020
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Today I'm chatting with Bara Sapir, founder of City Test Prep, about ways to incorporate mindfulness into your test prep so that you can conquer your test anxiety.

There are few quick fixes in life, but here she teaches me two great techniques that you can master right away, so make sure to watch this before your next big test.

Bonus: these are transferrable life skills that you can apply to all kinds of stressful situations where you need to get out of your own way (presentations, public speaking, you name it).

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 7

Use this step-by-step process to start writing your college application essays
August 17, 2020
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Thanks to the work you’ve done over the last six weeks, you are ready to get started writing your essays. You are going to be surprised how much all your preparation pays off – most students report to us that they never knew how easy writing could be until they followed our step-by-step process.  Beyond drafting your essays, you’ll keep up with other application related work that you’ve gotten started.


WEEK 7 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Choose 1-2 of your core essays to draft this week. Remember you are tackling essays — questions that require writing of more than 250 words — first, and leaving short answers and really short answers until later. Also remember that you want to skip over the Why College X or Why Major X questions for now (you’ll do those in Week 10). Refer back to your Writing Map for the best place to start. Focus your first efforts on a main essay that you are going to use on many applications, for example the personal essay on the Common App. If you have more than one of these to draft, you can tackle both at the same time.
  • Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like if you will be submitting them. See our advice about these materials in Week 4 and these blog posts on arts supplements and academic work samples.
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see what they are planning in terms of fall events for prospective students. Given the pandemic, it is unlikely that they will be doing their usual rounds to high schools, but they may be organizing specific virtual events for students from your school or your area. See our tips and tricks in Week 5 for why we recommend you make it a priority to attend these events.
  • Continue researching scholarships. Refer back to Week 5 for tips on scholarship search services.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK


  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.


TIPS & TRICKS


1. Commit the time and energy necessary to produce your best essays for your college applications. Assume you’ll spend 6-8 hours per core essay. But that time will be spaced out over several weeks, so you should be able to incorporate it into your schedule without going crazy.

Writing is a multi-step process that takes time and energy to do well. No one does their best writing in one draft. No one dashes off something profound in 30 minutes on the night before a deadline. No one produces a standout essay without devoting considerable time and energy. NO ONE.

2. Take it step-by-step. Draft, then revise, then finalize. Each of these steps in the writing process engages a different part of your brain and requires you to do distinct tasks. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do all three at once. That makes it much harder than it needs to be. Instead, do it step by step.

3. Draft. In this step, just write. Stephen King, a prolific writer, is noted for saying that when it comes to writing, “the scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” Getting started on your college application essays can be scary, but the only way to alleviate your fear is to start writing. Don’t worry about the quality of your writing at this point. You are in the drafting phase right now, so just start writing. If you are following the 26 Weeks plan, you will have time to revise and polish. But if you let fear get the best of you, you’ll find yourself staring down your deadline without having written anything. That is a much scarier place to be! Start, and as Stephen King promises, it will get better.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.


26 Weeks to College: Week 6

Here's how to pick the right college application essay topics for YOU
August 10, 2020
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Now that you have your strategy, have done all your pre-work, and prepared your Writing Map, it’s time to choose topics for your writing. (And if you haven’t done all that, refer back to Weeks 1-5 of this series and start there.) The best way to ensure that you produce compelling essays is to choose the right topics for those essays and that’s what you’re going to do this week using our tips and tricks.

WEEK 6 TO-DOS

THIS WEEK

  • Choose your topic for each question on your Writing Map. It’s not going to be as big a chore as you think — even if you have 25 writing questions to tackle (a fairly common number), you’ll likely end up with a core set of 4-8 short answers and essays because you’ll be able to reuse or revise these core pieces for every application. So you’re really going to be choosing 4-8 topics.
  • Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like if you will be submitting them. See our advice about these materials in Week 4 and these blog posts on arts supplements and academic work samples.
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see what they are planning in terms of fall events for prospective students. Given the pandemic, it is unlikely that they will be doing their usual rounds to high schools, but they may be organizing specific virtual events for students from your school or your area. See our tips and tricks in Week 5 for why we recommend you make it a priority to attend these events.
  • Continue researching scholarships. Refer back to Week 5 for tips on scholarship search services.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.


TIPS AND TRICKS


1. Remind yourself that the real topic of all of the writing questions is YOU. No matter what the stated topic is, it is nothing more than a frame, a launching pad, or a prompt to get you to write about the real topic, which is YOU.  This is true no matter how random, obscure, or hard the essay question may seem. It is even true for the University of Chicago legendary “stump the student” style questions. For example, consider this prompt from the 2020-21 University of Chicago application:

What can actually be divided by zero?
—Inspired by Mai Vu, Class of 2024

On its face, this essay prompt seems like a riddle to be solved, not an invitation to reveal something about yourself. But what the admissions officer is really looking for is not the “right” answer to the riddle, but instead insight into how YOU think and what you value. Maybe you’re a true mathematician type and you tackle the riddle from a theoretical math perspective. Or maybe you’re a poet type and you approach this as a metaphor for one of life’s great questions. Regardless, your answer should reveal something about YOU.


2. Use your story to generate possible topics if you have a “topic of your choice” option (like you do on both the Common App and Coalition App).This is where all that pre-work you did really pays off! Your goal is to brainstorm at least five choices for consideration. It’s even better if you come up with ten.

Your story is the place to start. Going sentence by sentence through your story, challenge yourself to come up with at least one topic per sentence – hardly a push.

What makes for the best topics? Anecdotes about experiences that reveal something important about you. Let’s say that you’ve included the word “poised” as one of the three adjectives to describe yourself in sentence 4 of your story. Your best topic would be an anecdote that shows how you developed and/or exhibited poise — like that time you kept your cool at a protest march when you were being heckled and mocked by some counter protesters.


3. Use your story as your guide to make your selection of the best topic for each writing question. Remember that your story is your roadmap to what you want admissions officers to know about you. Compare your story with the choices you have for topics and identify your best choice using these guidelines:

  • Choose the topic that speaks to your most essential qualities or your most formative experiences. This is particularly true when it comes to the personal essay on the Common Application, or any other essay that is the “one and only” essay on the application.

  • Choose the topic that seems easiest to write about and easiest to make your own. Is there a topic that relates directly to some part of your story? Then it should be easy to write about, and the content will stay naturally focused on you. Don’t make the mistake of eliminating a topic just because it seems easy (and you therefore think it can’t be “right”). Exactly the opposite is true. If you’ve written your story properly, the topic should seem easy.

  • Choose the topic that reveals something about your story that you haven’t been able to tell elsewhere in the application. Remember, it’s important to think about your application as a whole, because admissions officers will be reading it and evaluating it as a whole. They will not be reading any of your essays in a vacuum. Pay attention to how the various writing questions come together on a particular application. You should use each writing question to reveal something different about yourself. Do not duplicate within an application! What part of your story has not been fully told?


In other words, which topic really allows you to tell your story best? That’s the right topic.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 5

Create Your Essay Writing Map
August 4, 2020
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Work smarter, not harder, is one of the strategies that we encourage students to use, but there is a risk that you might get so focused on minimizing your work that you sabotage yourself.

One of the most common places students stumble into self-sabotage is getting focused on minimizing the number of essays you have to write and losing sight of your ultimate goal:getting into your dream college.

Creating a Writing Map and following our advice for how to be smart when it comes to reusing essays will keep you from making that mistake!

WEEK 5 TO-DOS

THIS WEEK

  • Gather all the writing questions for all of your applications. You can find those either through the college’s online application platform (see Week 3) or on the college’s website. Most colleges release their questions by the end of the first week of August, so you should be able to access them for most of the colleges on your list. If the application for a particular college isn’t “live” for this year yet, mark your calendar to check every few days.

  • Create a Writing Map for yourself that is a giant to-do list of all the writing you have to do. Going college by college, list each writing question and make note of two critical things:

    1. What the Prompt Asks. You can use shorthand here. If you have a choice of topics, include all of them on your map, so that you can see overlaps with other applications. Also be on the lookout for the Why College X and Why Major X questions because we’ll teach you a special approach for tackling these questions in Week 10.

    2. Word Limits. Word limits dictate how many ideas you can develop in that piece of writing. We classify college application writing into three categories.

    * Really Short Answer – requires an answer of 50 words or less
    * Short Answer – requires an answer of 50-250 words
    * Essay – requires an answer of 250+ words

    You are going to tackle the essays first, and Weeks 6-9 will walk you through the essay writing process step-by-step. You’ll do the short answers and really short answers in Week 12.

  • Analyze your Writing Map to identify where you can use one piece of writing for multiple applications. Even if you discover that there are 25 writing questions among the various applications for the colleges on your list (a relatively common number), you won't have to write 25 essays. Look for questions that are the same or similar, and note where multiple questions can be answered with one essay.

  • Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like. Note: see our advice about these materials in Week 4 and these blog posts on arts supplements and academic work samples.

  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see what fall events they are planning for prospective students. Given the pandemic, it is unlikely that they will be doing their usual rounds to high schools in person, but they may be organizing specific virtual events for students from your school or your area. For example, the group of liberal arts colleges branded as “8 of the Best” have announced they will convert their fall tour to a virtual event. Sign up and attend these virtual events so that you can meet the admissions officers who will be reviewing and shepherding your application through the process.

  • Continue researching scholarships. If you haven't already identified the scholarships available from the colleges on your list, do it now. In addition, look for opportunities from outside organizations such as focus on identifying scholarships available from businesses, civic and community organizations, religious organizations, foundations and the like.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.



TIPS AND TRICKS


1. Know when to reuse an essay as-is, when to revise it before reusing, and when to write a completely new essay.

As you are making your Writing Map, you are looking for opportunities to reuse answers so you can work smarter, not harder. But don’t get carried away when it comes to reusing answers. Remember that your goal is to get into the colleges on your list, not to complete your applications with the fewest essays possible.

You should reuse an answer as-is if the questions are nearly identical. If the questions are similar, but distinct, you should revise your answer for each question. This is especially true for the “Why College X” questions. You’ll get more information about how to use a “template” for your Why College X or Why Major X essays in Week 11. If the questions are unique, then you need to write a completely new essay. A generic answer will add nothing to your application and might even detract if it is inaccurate or non-responsive for a particular college, which often happens.

2. Even when programs are virtual, participating in events hosted by colleges might give you a leg up in the admissions process.

Events hosted by colleges are first and foremost marketing events designed to persuade you to apply and attend their college. So why would you attend one if you already know you want to apply to a particular college, and how could it possibly give you a leg up in the admissions process? Well, it’s all about learning to think like an admissions officer and understanding what each college on your list considers when making admissions decisions.

In the last ten years or so, many colleges (for a variety of reasons) have begun to consider “demonstrated interest” as a factor in the admissions process. “Demonstrated interest” is nothing more than an evaluation of how interested you are in the particular college and what evidence they have of that.

One of the easiest ways to “demonstrate interest” is to attend one of these events, introduce yourself to the admissions officer, and ask at least one good question so that you leave a positive impression. You can refer to your attendance in your answer to the “Why College X?” question and get double credit.

Wondering how to find out if the colleges on your list consider “demonstrated interest”? Just check the research you did on the College Board’s Big Future website in Week 3 and see if the college listed “Level of Applicant’s Interest” as a factor they consider.

3. What you need to know about scholarship search services.

There's good news and bad news when it comes to scholarship search services. The bad news is that scholarship scams abound, and every year thousands of hopeful college applicants and their families get duped by them. It is so tempting to sign up for a service that "guarantees" you'll get a scholarship, but the only guarantee is that you'll never see the money you paid to this service again. Before you pay a single dollar to a scholarship search service, use this checklist to evaluate whether you are about to become a victim of a scam rather than the recipient of legitimate assistance.

The good news is that there are scholarships out there and that it is relatively easy for you to identify them for FREE thanks to the internet. You can use a tool like Fastweb or FinAid and the College Board’s Scholarship Search.

One note about "free" scholarship search services: They are free to you, but many of them are for-profit enterprises. So who pays? For the most part, these sites are supported by colleges, scholarship organizations, and financial aid related companies (such as lenders). They pay these sites so that they can have access to you! They want to sell you on themselves. So once you sign up for these services, you will likely become a target of a lot of marketing including internet ads, e-mails, and snail mail. Our advice? Just deal with the hassle factor of all this extra stuff coming your way. It is worth it to get the information you need about scholarships for free.

In other words, the easiest way to avoid being the victim of a scam is simply to do your research.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Common App Day Is Here!

Read this before you dive in
August 1, 2020
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The 2020-21 Common App is live, hurrah!  💃

If you haven't already, be sure to install Inline, because this week you are finally ready to really get started on those applications.

I know you expect that this is when we’ll suggest you get going on the essays, but there's some important timing to keep in mind. Here are some reminders from last week, and some new things to keep in mind starting today:


First, some of the college supplements are available today, but not all of them are.

The Common App will release college supplements over the next few months.

I know... we wish they were all released at the same time too, but the colleges all work off of their own roll-out schedules.


Second, DON'T start working on your Common App personal essay just yet.

You’ll generate better topics for the essay once you’ve seen what information is shared in other places on the application.

You want to use every question on the application wisely, and that means revealing as many dimensions of yourself as you can – so there’s no reason to repeat something in an essay that you’ve already gotten to include elsewhere in the application.

That’s because admissions officers don’t evaluate your essay in a vacuum, and you shouldn’t work on your essay in a vacuum either. 

That’s what a holistic admissions process is all about. Your best essay will be the one that fits into the rest of your application taken as a whole.

What are you going to do then in the meantime?

All the “easy” parts of the application: your contact info, your family info, your educational background, and your activities.

They are easy because they require information that you can easily get, and they don’t have to be answered in essay format, BUT they are important to get right, and attention to detail is very important. These questions contain information that is vital to improving your chances for admission, so they are worth focusing on now.

A bonus: If you do these easy parts now, you can get them perfect and you won’t be sweating them at the last minute, which is a sure way to botch it.

TO-DOS

  • Create your Common App account online with a valid email address and password.

  • Download your copy of Inline, which provides specific hints for each question in the non-writing sections of the Common App that you'll be starting with.

  • Complete the non-writing parts of the application. Those sections are usually the first sections you are asked to complete. For example, on the Common App those sections are labeled Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Activities. Some colleges also use the Common App’s Self-Reported Transcript section. 
  • IF YOU ARE APPLYING TO A PERFORMING OR VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM and a portfolio or audition is required, or you have researched it and determined that submitting supplementary materials like these is beneficial, begin working on them now. The pandemic has made auditioning in person particularly problematic, so check each college’s website to find out how they plan to handle auditions for the coming year. Pay close attention to the technical requirements for portfolios and auditions, and focus your efforts on works and/or audition pieces that meet these requirements. Admissions officers either flat out refuse to consider things that don’t meet the requirements, or they have a negative bias towards them (and by extension the applicant).


TIPS & TRICKS

Check that you're filling out the factual questions accurately and to your advantage.

What are factual questions? These are questions asking you about you and your family: your age, your gender, your state of residence, your citizenship, your languages, your ethnicity or race, and your veteran status.

If you don't feel as if the boxes on the application really represent who you are, check the ones that come closest, and then use the Additional Information question of the Writing section of the application to elaborate. If you're a legacy, see if you can work that in. Also make sure to use your legal name on all your college application documents so that your name is consistent (that will save you lots of headaches later). Follow the U.S. format for dates (month/day/year). Use a reliable snail-mail and email address. Proofread!


Check that your activities list conveys the Core Four.

Go back to the work you did in Week 2 of the 26 Weeks to College series, and as you review your activities list in the application, make sure you've communicated all the activities that tell your story, and that you've conveyed the Core Four (don't forget impact in particular).

Also make sure you've made use of the space available to you in the activities list. The Common App has added more character count for you in the Activities field this cycle, so take advantage of all that space they now give you!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 4

This week, you’ll get started on the EASY parts of the Common Application - don't start your essays just yet
July 27, 2020
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Last week you did your research about applications for each of the colleges on your list, so this week you are finally ready to really get started on completing those applications. I know you expect that this is when we’ll suggest you get going on the essays, but not just yet.

Why?

Two reasons.

First, the applications for your admissions cycle (2020-21) have not gone “live” yet, meaning that most colleges have not yet released their essay questions and won’t do so until early August.

Yes, we know that the Common App and the Coalition App have announced the personal essay topics, but you want to draft those essays with the OTHER essays that will be required in mind, so you need to wait a couple more weeks to avoid wasting time.

Second, you’ll generate better topics for the essays once you’ve seen what information is shared in other places on the application. You want to use every question on the application wisely, and that means revealing as many dimensions of yourself as you can – so there’s no reason to repeat something in an essay that you’ve already gotten to include elsewhere in the application.

That’s because admissions officers don’t evaluate your essay in a vacuum, and you shouldn’t work on your essay in a vacuum either. That’s what a holistic admissions process is all about. Your best essay will be the one that fits into the rest of your application taken as a whole.

What are you going to do then in the meantime? All the “easy” parts of the application: your contact info, your family info, your educational background, and your activities.

They are easy because they require information that you can easily get, and they don’t have to be answered in essay format, BUT they are important to get right, and attention to detail is very important. These questions contain information that is vital to improving your chances for admission, so they are worth focusing on now.

A bonus: If you do these easy parts now, you can get them perfect and you won’t be sweating them at the last minute, which is a sure way to botch it.

 

WEEK 4 TO-DOS

THIS WEEK

  • Register on all the application platforms used by the colleges on your list – Common App, Coalition App, each college’s own app, any others. You do this online and you’ll have to create an account with a valid email address and choose a password.

  • Complete the non-writing parts of the application. Those sections are usually the first sections you are asked to complete. For example, on the Common App those sections are labeled Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Activities. Some colleges also use the Common App’s Self-Reported Transcript section. On the Coalition App, those sections are labelled slightly differently, and with colleges that use their own applications, they may be divided into different parts of the application. Georgetown, for example, has you complete and submit the “Georgetown Application,” which just asks for the most basic information. Then you work on the “Application Supplement,” which contains the questions about activities and essays.

  • If you will be completing the Common App, download copy of Inline, which provides specific hints for each question in the non-writing sections of the Common App (in addition to the writing portions once the 2020-21 apps are released).

  • IF YOU ARE APPLYING TO A PERFORMING OR VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM and a portfolio or audition is required, or you have researched it and determined that submitting supplementary materials like these is beneficial, begin working on them now. The pandemic has made auditioning in person particularly problematic, so check each college’s website to find out how they plan to handle auditions for the coming year. Pay close attention to the technical requirements for portfolios and auditions, and focus your efforts on works and/or audition pieces that meet these requirements. Admissions officers either flat out refuse to consider things that don’t meet the requirements, or they have a negative bias towards them (and by extension the applicant).

THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

TIPS & TRICKS

1. Check that you've filled out the factual questions accurately and to your advantage.

What are factual questions? These are questions asking you about you and your family: your age, your gender, your state of residence, your citizenship, your languages, your ethnicity or race, and your veteran status. If you don't feel as if the boxes on the application really represent who you are, check the ones that come closest, and then use the Additional Information question of the Writing section of the application to elaborate. If you're a legacy, see if you can work that in. Also make sure to use your legal name on all your college application documents so that your name is consistent (that will save you lots of headaches later). Follow the U.S. format for dates (month/day/year). Use a reliable snail-mail and email address. Proofread!

2. Check that you haven't missed any miscellaneous questions.

Those are questions about whether you're applying for financial aid, your academic interests, and any demonstrated interest in that particular college ("Have you visited?" "How did you learn about our college?"). Don't have particular career interests yet? It's OK if that's still up in the air. But you should at least be able to articulate your academic interests. (College is an academic enterprise, after all.) Make sure that the interests you list align with your story (Week 2). If you are on the fence about whether to apply for financial aid, check whether the college is "need blind" or "need aware" — you might decide that it's not worth applying for financial aid at a "need aware" school if that school is not that important to you. Inline also includes information about whether a school is need aware or not.

3. Make sure you know which program or division you're applying to.

Some colleges have just a single application for one entire, unified undergraduate program, and you can decide later what division you want to be in and what you want to major in. Other schools make you decide upfront whether you're applying to a particular division (or program or college-within-the-college). For example, some schools make you decide at the application stage whether you're applying to the School of Liberal Arts or to the School of Engineering. Make sure to read the instructions for each college carefully so that your application ends up in the right hands.

4. Check that your activities list conveys the Core Four.

Go back to the work you did in Week 2, and as you review your activities list in the application, make sure you've communicated all the activities that tell your story, and that you've conveyed the Core Four (don't forget impact in particular). Also make sure you've made use of the space available to you in the activities list.

5. Restrain yourself when it comes to optional supplementary materials in the arts.

What are optional supplementary materials in the arts? Portfolios, videos of performances, creative writing samples, etc. Many well-meaning people will advise you that these kinds of optional supplementary materials are the key to a standout application. We beg to differ. Once upon a time (like almost 30 years ago), this was the conventional wisdom. Hours and hours were devoted to thinking about how to send exactly the “right” supplementary materials. But that was then, and this is now. Supplementary materials are now considered much differently. What once might have impressed an admissions officer is now nothing but a somewhat irritating distraction for admissions officers trying to process and evaluate tens of thousands of applications.

The takeaway for you?

More is not always more.

More is only more if it really, truly adds something to your application.

Furthermore, more is only helpful if your supplementary materials are welcomed and considered by the college (and you can find that out by checking their website).

So do yourself a favor and exhibit restraint when it comes to optional supplementary materials in the arts. Plan to submit supplementary materials only if they truly add something, and they are both welcomed and considered.

Want to receive these posts directly in your inbox? Subscribe here.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

 

26 Weeks to College: Week 3

Here's how to research your colleges' admissions & financial aid policies
July 21, 2020
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This week you’re going to take your strategy one step further and tailor it to each of the colleges on your list based on what each particular college emphasizes as most important in their decision-making process.

Have you already made your application plan? Are you close to finalizing your college list? Have you done your pre-work? If so, you are ready to go!

If not, you’ll be much more successful if you go back to Week 1 and Week 2 of this series and get these things done before diving into this week’s to-dos.

As always, we are focused on helping you work smarter, not harder. One of the best ways to work smarter is to work strategically. You discovered your fundamental application strategy when you crafted your story last week. That story contains what YOU want admissions officers to know about you, because it highlights what matters most to admissions officers.

WEEK 3 TO-DOS

THIS WEEK

  • Continue working on finalizing your college list.
  • Research the application process at each college on your list. You want to find answers to the four questions below in order to tailor your strategy. We’ve given you help about how to do this research in the Tips and Tricks.

    * What application platform do they use? Common App? Coalition App? Something else?

    * Do they offer any early application options? Which ones? Early Action, Restricted or Single Choice Early Action, Early Decision? What are the deadlines for submitting an early application?

    * What is their standardized testing policy during this wacky pandemic year? Most colleges are either making tests optional or not considering the tests at all.

    * What aspects of your story and your credentials matter most to the admissions officers at this particular college?
  • Create a specific application strategy for each college on your list. While your overall application strategy is to tell your story (see last week’s post), you want to tailor that strategy for each college on your list.
  • Research the financial aid available at each college on your list. Add the financial aid applications and deadlines to your calendar.

THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

TIPS & TRICKS

1. RESEARCH WHAT APPLICATION PLATFORM IS USED BY THE COLLEGES ON YOUR LIST.

Even though all college applications are available online these days (your parents probably still applied on paper), EVERY COLLEGE STILL HAS ITS OWN APPLICATION.

What? Isn’t there a Common App that is accepted by over 900 colleges?

Yes, there is, but the Common App is not what it sounds like. The Common App is NOT a single online application. Instead, it is an application platform that allows you to enter some basic information and answer some questions once, and then have that information transmitted to any college that uses the Common App.

The first big mistake many people make in the college application process is assuming that the Common App is in fact one application. It is not. Don’t let the name fool you. Many colleges also have some specific questions that you answer only if you are applying to that college.

And just to make things more complicated, the Common App isn’t the only application platform out there. Basically, colleges have these choices for application platforms:

  • Common App. The biggest platform used by over 900 colleges. You can get a list of the colleges using the Common App here.
  • Coalition App. A newcomer used by a few hundred colleges. You can get a list of the colleges using the Coalition App here.
  • Their own application platform. Many of the large public universities and state systems use their own applications exclusively. For example, the University of California System has its own application for its 9 campuses.
  • Other Platforms. There are some other platforms that are used by colleges for their applications. For example, the Apply Texas platform serves all public universities in Texas as well as some private universities in Texas. The QuestBridge platform serves a group of colleges interested in recruiting students from low-income families.

And there is one more wrinkle! Some colleges use more than one application platform. For example, you can apply to Wake Forest University through the Common App, the Coalition App, their own application platform, or even by paper.

So how do you figure out which platform the colleges on your list use? Go to their websites and they should list your options.

2. RESEARCH EARLY OPTIONS AND DECIDE WHERE, IF ANYWHERE, YOU ARE APPLYING EARLY.

While you are on a college’s website finding out which application platforms they use, check out what early application options are offered by the college. Take your time here and read all the fine print, especially when it comes to Early Action options. The rules can be quite tricky.

Let’s just survey three Early Action colleges and their rules.

For example, Georgetown allows you to apply Early Action to Georgetown AND other colleges, but NOT Early Decision to other colleges.

By contrast, if you apply Early Action to Princeton, you may NOT apply to any other college early (meaning you can’t apply Early Action or Early Decision anywhere else).

Finally, if you apply Early Action to Harvard, you may not apply early (either Early Action or Early Decision) to any private university in the U.S., but you may apply early to public universities in the U.S. or to foreign universities.

In terms of deciding whether you should apply early, we say “Yes” unless any of the following reasons hold true for you and you should wait to apply during the Regular Decision:

  • You think you can meaningfully improve your admissions profile in the first half of your senior year. Applying early increases your odds for admission PROVIDED you are a competitive candidate at the time of your application. If you are not as strong as most of those admitted in past years AND you can boost your credentials in the first half of senior year, then you should wait. For example, if you’ve had some bad grades you want to overcome or if you have a big project that will come to fruition at the beginning of your senior year, then wait.
  • Your only option for applying early is a “binding” option – binding means that if you are accepted at that school you must accept the offer – AND you aren’t sure that the college is really your top choice.
  • Your only option for applying early is a “binding” option AND you know that you will need financial aid AND they won’t make a financial aid award at the time they give you their decision. (Many colleges do accelerate the financial aid award if you submit the necessary paperwork, but you need to confirm the policies at the particular college and make sure you understand what paperwork needs to be submitted.)

If none of these is true for you, then go for early. It will increase your odds for admission and shorten the agonizing waiting period between the time you submit your application and when you find out.

3. RESEARCH WHAT MATTERS MOST TO EACH COLLEGE.

At selective U.S. colleges, admissions officers have the power; they are the decision makers. Therefore, your tailored application strategies should be developed with those admissions officers in mind.

How do you know what matters most to the admissions officers at a particular college? You do a little research on the College Board’s Big Future website. Each year, the College Board conducts a survey and asks each college to indicate what factors they consider in admissions (from a list provided) and how important each of these factors is.

Wow!

That’s exactly the information you need.

Download our free College Research Guide that will show you how to find this information on the College Board site.

One important caveat in this unusual year: you can ignore the importance the college puts on standardized tests scores if your research reveals that during the 2020-21 admissions cycle, the college has made standardized tests optional or decided not to consider standardized test scores at all.

4. CREATE A TAILORED APPLICATION STRATEGY FOR EACH COLLEGE ON YOUR LIST.

Now that you’ve done your research and understand what’s most important to the colleges on your list, you can tweak your application strategy for each college on your list.

Remember that your application strategy is pretty straightforward: Share your story (the one you wrote last week). Tweaking it is equally straightforward.

Let’s say that you find out that Stanford considers the “rigor of secondary school record” very important (which it does). So what aspects of your story are you going to emphasize? The aspects of your story relating to academics, and especially to your quest for rigor – all those honors or AP classes, your participation in the Robotics Club, your summer spent at Space Camp, etc.

 

5. TAKE TIME TO EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT FINANCIAL AID.

Financial aid is a complicated business, and each college has its own policies and resources.

If you are really going to understand what options are available to you, you will have to take the time to do your homework. At a minimum, you need to know:

  • your eligibility for financial aid (international students should pay close attention, because much of the financial aid available is restricted to U.S. citizens and permanent residents; some schools will also include DACA students for financial aid eligibility but others don’t);
  • the "net price" of the colleges on your list (the net price is the cost of attendance minus the need-based financial aid you would be likely to receive) — you can use the College Board’s Net Price Calculator; you can also use a tool called TuitionFit, which crowdsources actual financial aid awards from different colleges and shows students the prices that other students like them are being offered. Students and their families use this info to determine which schools will be in their price range, or they can use this info to negotiate their financial aid awards with some leverage.
  • what merit-based financial aid might be available to you at each college on your list, and
  • what the financial aid applications and deadlines are for each college.

You also need to know whether the ability to pay is a factor in admissions, although figuring this out is difficult because you have to be fluent in "admissions speak" to decode the information that colleges give you.

In admissions speak, colleges that consider your ability to pay as a factor in admissions will describe themselves as having "need-aware" or "need-sensitive" admissions policies, while colleges that do not consider your ability to pay as a factor in admissions will describe themselves as having "need-blind" admissions policies.

Not all colleges are transparent about their policies. If a college does not explicitly state that it is need-blind, assume that your ability to pay will be a factor in admissions.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

26 Weeks to College: Week 2

Start by diving into your essay? No. Do this first.
July 14, 2020
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If you’re like most applicants, you’re under the impression that the best strategy for getting your college applications done is just to dive in and start writing essays.

After all, the essays are the hardest, most time-consuming part, so if you get those knocked out, you'll be well ahead of the curve, right?

Not exactly. It is true that the essays are the hardest, most time-consuming part, but it isn't true that the "dive in and write" strategy is the best strategy.

The problem with this strategy is that it focuses on getting it done without considering whether it will also get you in!

The only reason you care about getting your college applications done is because you care about getting into college. So whether a strategy will get you in always has to be top of mind. And the "dive in and write" strategy will not get you in.

The strategy that will get it done and get you in is our strategy for producing a standout application. Step 1: Before you dive in and write, you need to figure out what you want to say in your essays. Your To-Dos for this week are essential pre-work that will help you figure that out.

If you take the time to do this pre-work, you’ll be on the path to getting in AND you’ll discover that when it comes time to write the essays, it is actually easier!



WEEK 2 TO-DOS

THIS WEEK

  • Write your story using this template. Consult these samples for guidance about what a good finished story looks like.

  • Create your resume. Use the universally recognized format for U.S. resumes, but include information tailored to college applications and admissions. Consult these samples for ideas about what your resume should include.
  • Research outside scholarships. (See Week 1.)


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year. 

TIPS AND TRICKS


1. YOUR STORY IS YOUR GUIDE FOR COMPLETING ALL PARTS OF YOUR APPLICATION, INCLUDING CHOOSING TOPICS FOR YOUR ESSAYS.

What we’re calling “your story” distills what you want the admissions officer to know about you into a few brief sentences. It isn’t a classic biography or a resume in prose form; instead, it is a structured, succinct statement of who you are that will persuade an admissions officer to admit you.

The story you come up with using the template will not actually be included word for word in your application; it is not a personal statement or an essay, or a piece that you will be submitting as part of the application. Rather, it is a tool that you will use to guide you as you complete all of the application components going forward. It highlights your best credentials and characteristics in terms of what matters to the admissions officer.

More specifically, it focuses on the three dimensions that admissions officers at all top colleges will evaluate:

  1. your academic achievements,
  2. your extracurricular accomplishments (also known as “activities”), and
  3. your personal qualities and character.

This “3-D” evaluation can vary a bit in how it is implemented from college to college, but all three dimensions are always considered in the “holistic” review that selective US colleges use, and each relates to an essential aspect of your qualifications and your potential for contributing to the college.

Take your time as you write your story. It shouldn’t be hard, because it is a summary statement of what makes you, you.

But it does take some reflection and thought about what your essential characteristics and experiences are on these three dimensions. It’s a great idea to preview your story with your parents and your closest friends to see if they agree that you have included the best parts of you in your story.




2. YOUR RESUME IS YOUR EVIDENCE OF THE "CORE FOUR" — PASSION, TALENT, INITIATIVE, AND IMPACT.

We recommend that you create a resume that follows the format for a U.S. resume and that is also tailored to the college application process.

When admissions officers are evaluating you on those three dimensions above, they are looking for evidence of four things — passion, talent, initiative, and impact. We call these the "core four."      

  • Passion. What are you passionate about? People generally express their passions by devoting their thoughts, time, and energy to them. Admissions officers are looking for your passions both inside and outside the classroom.
  • Talent. What do you do well? Your accomplishments generally announce your talents, but you want to go beyond just announcing your talents and describe how you have developed your talents. Admissions officers want to see that you are more than just a “gifted slacker.” They want to see that you challenge yourself, that you have a work ethic, and that you are striving to be the best you can be.
  • Initiative. What have you made happen? Where have you created your own opportunities? What have you led? Where have you gone above and beyond? When admissions officers talk about students with initiative, they are talking about students who make things happen or who lead others. They are talking about students who start clubs or lead teams, think up and do projects on their own, seek out challenges, and generally use their efforts to create opportunities for themselves and others. You get no points for initiative when all you do is join, enroll, show up, or meet the requirements.
  • Impact. How have you changed, grown, or learned from your experiences? How have others benefitted from what you’ve done? What have you added to your classroom, your school, your community, or the world? Admissions officers want to see that what you’ve done mattered to someone. That’s what impact means in the context of applying to college.

How do you show all that in a single entry on a resume?

Here’s an example:

Start with the information you need to include about a particular activity. Say you love science (passion), have a special gift for organizing groups (talent), and started the Project Sunshine Club at your school (initiative).

Don’t stop there! You must also demonstrate impact. So you would also report that you got the school excited about alternative energy, you figured out that the school could acquire solar panels for free by encouraging people in the community to sign up for a special program offered by the local electric company, and you organized that effort. And you would explain that as a result, solar panels are now installed at your school and providing 5% of the school’s energy needs. That’s impact. Impact is about results, so make sure you expressly mention them.

Now translate that into a resume entry:



Founder and President. Project Sunshine Club. (10th grade-present)

  • Organized a new school club dedicated to raising awareness about solar energy and to bringing solar energy to the school.
  • Identified an opportunity through the local electric company to get solar panels for the school for free by convincing local residents to sign up for a special alternative energy program.
  • Organized and led the campaign to sign up local residents.
  • Signed up 1,011 local residents which resulted in the school getting an array of solar panels for free; solar energy now provides 5% of the school's electricity.


See how that works? Now do it for yourself.

Dive into your pre-work this week and you'll be spending your time and energy in the best way possible, because you'll be doing things that will help you get it done and get in.

See you next week!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

What You Need to Know About Financial Aid

New video!
June 25, 2020
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Yesterday I had a great conversation with Blaine Blontz, founder of FinancialAidCoach.com, about the things we wish you all knew about the financial aid process when you're applying to college, including:

  • Common mistakes people make in the financial aid process that cost them real money
  • How early to start the financial aid process
  • Some strategies for maximizing your need-based aid
  • Advice for non-traditional, adult, and first-gen students
  • That national scandal known as the FAFSA
  • How assets are treated differently from income
  • What to do if your 2019 tax returns don't reflect your circumstances in 2020
  • How to ask for reconsideration of your financial aid award

Have a listen!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

When Test-Optional Isn't Really Test-Optional

It's important to read the fine print
June 16, 2020
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This weekend I did a joint college admissions webinar for the alumni clubs of the Ivy+ schools in Southern California, kindly hosted by the MIT alumni club of San Diego. One of the questions that came up afterwards was whether this wave of test-optional policies applies to international students as well.

That's a great question, because in some cases, test-optional applies only to domestic students. Tests might still be required for international students or homeschooled students, and for some scholarships. Those policies will vary from college to college, so it's important to read the fine print.

Note too that the NCAA has temporarily waived the testing requirement for Div I and Div II student-athletes as well.

A request: I would love to do a similar webinar for students whose parents didn't attend really fancy schools, so if you have a particular organization in mind, please shoot me a message! I'm always pleased to volunteer for that.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

What Protesting Means for College Applicants

You're at an important juncture where being intentional about your choices now will have a big impact down the road
June 5, 2020
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It's been a heavy week, with much to reflect on.

There are likely many things on your mind right now other than your college applications, but we wanted to send you a short note because you might be worried about how protesting could play a role in your college admissions this coming year.


Bottom line:

If you get cited, charged, or arrested for protesting or civil disobedience, we are confident that no decent college will hold that against you.

Some colleges have been saying so expressly. Swarthmore did so on Twitter here, for example.

But even the colleges that are slower to make that position clear are still mindful of this very important moment in history and the role of protesters and civil disobedience in bringing about real change in this country's history.

Your applications will require you to disclose a conviction, and sometimes also an arrest. If you are required to disclose, you'll also be required to explain the circumstances. You will have to tell that story in a specific place in your application, so you won't necessarily have to make this experience the topic of your personal essay as well unless you want to. Note that when we talk about protest and civil disobedience, we're not referring to looting or destruction of property. That's something else entirely. Don't do that.


Looking ahead:

You will always remember where you were at this moment in your lives, and you probably have many ideas about how to make the world better. Harness that inspiration, and use the coming summer to reflect on your hopes and goals. One way or another, your college education and college experience will shape them — and vice versa — so you're at an important juncture where being intentional about your choices now will have a big impact down the road.

It may be an open question for you right now whether you will be able to complete a full year of college next year or end up on a 5-year plan. You do what's right for you. Our two cents: Don't defer your start date if you don't know how you are going to make the next year count. It's true that you are young and you have many years ahead of you, but a year wasted is still a year wasted. Make the coming year count, whether you start college or decide to defer.

You inspire us, always. We know you will have an impact.

And because it needs to be said:

Black lives matter.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

So You Want to Get Into Your Dream College

Then it's time to map your own path to success
May 26, 2020
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“What do I have to do to get into [insert name of any highly selective college]?”

That’s the underlying question most of you want us to answer.

And you prefer an answer that goes something like this: take every AP (or similar) course you can, get perfect grades and test scores, and then do this or that specific activity.

Why? Because up to now, your path to success has been mapped out for you by the well-meaning adults in your life. You are used to being told what you need to do in order to achieve your goals. Your job has just been to do what you are told.

But you are growing up, and it’s time for you to start mapping your own path to success.

If you want to get into the college of your dreams, you must use your passion, talent, and initiative to create an impact on the world around you.

What does that mean for you?

We can’t tell you, because each of you has to map your own path, remember?

Your path has to start where you are with the resources you have – ideas, people, place, things that are yours. Some of you will have more resources, some of you will have fewer, but all of you have some.

Now what can you do with those resources to meet a need in the world? It’s probably more than you think. Take your ambition to attend a highly selective college and channel it into doing something that matters in your own community right now. It can be close to home or farther away, but it should be something you can do right now.

Here’s an example of one student to inspire you. His name is Arjun Verma and he’s a sophomore at Lake Highland Prep in Orlando, Florida. His parents are doctors, and he has an older sister who is a junior at Yale.

Like every high schooler in the world, he is at home because of the pandemic, and he hears his parents worrying about their older, high-risk patients who can’t access their doctors or families because they don’t have the necessary electronic devices.

Arjun doesn’t tune his parents out or think, “Whoa, big problem, hope some adults get it solved.”

Instead, Arjun has an idea: what if we collected unused electronic devices from our family and others and gave them to those in need?

Great idea, right? And one that he could act upon right then, starting by gathering up devices they had at home.

Arjun could have stopped there, and it would have been a nice thing he did. But Arjun is ambitious and has initiative. So he takes a next step. He recruits his sister and a friend of hers, and together they form a team. They decide on a mission and come up with a solid plan for achieving it.

Then they go to work and they work hard. As of May 19, less than eight weeks after Arjun had his great idea, they have donated 500 devices to seniors in need, partnered with 48 clinics, raised $10,000 through a Go Fund Me campaign, created a network of 80 volunteers, and reached 23 states. Behind the scenes, they have found a sponsoring non-profit organization while they go through the process of obtaining their own tax-exempt status. Along the way, they have tapped into the resources their respective schools provide and called upon their wide-reaching social networks. Arjun’s great idea is now a fully functioning organization, Telehealth Access for Seniors.

No one told Arjun to do this. It certainly wasn’t part of some master plan to get into college that he had carefully mapped out, because eight weeks ago we all lived in a different world with different needs. Arjun just did what kids who get into the college of their dreams do: he used his passion, talent, and initiative to make an impact. Sure, he took advantage of all the resources he had, including helpful adults, but he didn’t rely on the adults to tell him what to do.

He made his own path to success.

You can do the same.

(Read more about Arjun’s project here.)

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

What You Need to Know About the 2020-21 Admissions Cycle

Check out the Zoom webinar we did yesterday
May 20, 2020
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Alison and I had a great chat yesterday on our Zoom webinar about the latest developments in college admissions.

Among other things, we talked about:

  • This whole mess known as SAT/ACT/AP/Subject tests this year: should you take them? Are they worth it? How will admissions officers interpret them?
     
  • What constitutes a score that is good enough to submit if a school is test-optional?
     
  • If current high school seniors defer, what does that mean for rising juniors and for this summer's waitlist?
     
  • The pickle that the heads of enrollment are in at selective colleges after the deposit deadline and some possible, counter-intuitive outcomes
     
  • How will the admissions standards change this coming cycle?
     
  • How will so-called "non-cognitive" skills factor into the admissions process?
     
  • James Bond movies. Really!
     
  • What kinds of activities are going to catch an admissions officer's eye?
     
  • What not to write about in your application essay?
     
  • Where should you talk about the context of your life in our application (legitimate difficulties with digital access, a class that had to get discontinued, etc.)?
     
  • What will happen with Early Decision / Early Action options this coming season?
     
  • Notre Dame. Oh my.
     
  • When can a creative / arts supplement hurt you?
     
  • Why you should avoid the "scrapbook mentality" in your applications.
     
  • How to get a good teacher recommendation for a reach college from a large public high school
     
  • What do you do if your school-based college counselor opts out of writing counselor recommendations for students?
     
  • What to do if your high school doesn't routinely feed applicants to a particular college and therefore doesn't have a strong pre-existing relationship with that college.
     
  • Photo (video) bombing by my dog.


Enjoy!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

How to Ask Your Teachers For Recommendations

Follow these four steps
May 13, 2020
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You are coming into the home stretch of your Junior year. Whew! It has been a rocky ride thanks to the pandemic, but one of the great things about school years is that they do end!

Last week we gave you a checklist of things that you want to handle before the last day of school.

One of the things on that list was to ask two teachers if they are willing to be recommenders for you. Since you probably haven’t done this before, we thought it would be helpful to walk you through how to do it.

It isn’t hard, but there is a bit of an art to it.


First, you have to decide whom you are going to ask. There is a core set of recommendations that will be required in one combination or another for virtually every college that uses holistic admissions (a/k/a the selective colleges). That core set consists of a counselor recommendation and one or two teacher recommendations. So we recommend that you ask two teachers to make sure you have what you need to apply to any college on your final list.

When it comes to teachers, admissions officers at top colleges are most interested in hearing from teachers who have taught you in a core academic subject — Language/Literature (English or other), Mathematics, Science, or History/Social Studies — in 11th grade. In other words, the teachers you have now!

Which two of these teachers would be your best recommenders? Choose the two teachers who know you well, who can speak about your positives and negatives based on direct experience, and who like you. 

If you have significant negatives to overcome (e.g. very low grades, a disciplinary or criminal record), consider whether one of your teacher recommenders could address these negatives based on their experience with you. If not, your counselor will be the recommender who addresses these issues and you should think about trying to schedule an online one-on-one meeting to discuss them now.


Second, you have to ask. At the moment, while everyone is quarantined, the best way to ask is via an email. Compose the email in a way that shows you are approaching the college application process with great seriousness and allows for a gracious “out” in case the teacher is not willing or able to write you a positive recommendation. It doesn’t need to be long. In fact, this short three sentence email would do the trick:


Dear Mr. Smith:
I writing to ask if you are willing to be one of my recommenders for college. Are you able to write a positive recommendation for me? Please let me know at your earliest convenience.
Thank you.
Sam Jones


However, if you are going to ask a recommender to help you overcome a negative aspect of your record, you need to include that request in your email. You could write a longer email with language something like this: 


Dear Mr. Smith:
I writing to ask if you are willing to be one of my recommenders for college. One of the reasons that I was hoping you would be willing to write my recommendation is because you know how I have worked to make up for my poor performance in 9th and 10th grades and really turned things around in 11th grade. Are you able to write a positive recommendation for me that would address that?
Please let me know at your earliest convenience.
Thank you.
Sam Jones


Third, follow up if necessary. You should receive a response from your request within a couple of days. If you don’t, send a follow-up email that includes a polite nudge in it. Something like this strikes the right tone:


Dear Mr. Smith:
I’m just following up on my email request that you act as a recommender for me when I apply to college next year. Did you receive it and have you had a chance to think about my request? If you could let me know, I’d really appreciate it.
Thanks.
Sam Jones


Fourth, reply with a confirming email. Whether Mr. Smith says yes or no, you need to conclude the exchange with a confirming email.

If Mr. Smith replies with a “Yes,” then your confirming email can be something along these lines:


Dear Mr. Smith:
Thank you so much for agreeing to be a recommender for me. I’ll follow up in the fall when my list is finalized and provide you with any supporting information you need. Will this email be the best way to reach you?
Thanks again.
Sam Jones


If Mr. Smith replies with a no, don’t plead your case. Trust us, you do not want to have to talk someone into writing you a good recommendation; the ambivalence will always come through.

And don’t lose sleep over it – there are any number of reasons a teacher might say no. Simply move on to another teacher who is excited to write on your behalf.

But before you do, respond with a courteous email thanking him for considering your request. Here’s straightforward language you can use:


Dear Mr. Smith:
I’m disappointed that you cannot write a recommendation for me, but I appreciate your considering my request.
Thank you.
Sam Jones


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

May Checklist for Juniors Working to Get Into Their Dream College

The temptation is to become a quasi-comatose person who does nothing but stare at a screen all day. RESIST!
May 6, 2020
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As we enter May, we are coming to the end of a truly unusual school year, since most of you have spent the majority of the final term at home.

And you are facing a summer that is likely to be equally unusual.

The traditional summer programs are moving online, summer sports will be solo adventures, and internships will be few and far between. The temptation is to just give up and become a quasi-comatose person who does nothing but stare at a screen all day.

RESIST!

Now is the time to finish the school year strong and get prepared for a fun summer. Don’t let your disappointment about what isn’t happening get in the way of what awesome things could happen. Here’s your checklist for this month:

1. Finish the school year strong. Do your best work on your last assignments for the year and study hard for exams so you can knock it out of the park on all the tests you take. This will make you feel like a superstar and leave your teachers with a positive impression of you as a student.

2. Ask teachers for recommendation letters before the school year ends. It is a good idea to ask two teachers to serve as your recommenders for college at the end of this year. It takes pressure off you next fall when you will be crazy busy, and if any of your teachers aren’t returning next year, you’ll be able to get information from them about how to be in touch. We’ll have a blog post soon about the nitty gritty of asking for recommendations, but for now, just put it on your list.

3. Prepare for summer by developing a list of projects that you’ll be able to do on your own and at home. Self-assigned projects are the best alternative to (and maybe even better than) the structured activities you were likely planning earlier this year. We’ll have a blog post soon with advice for coming up with your list of projects. For now, just start letting your brain wander and jotting down any idea that comes to mind.

4. Continue doing what you can to get a jumpstart on college applications. Here’s a trio of things you can be doing:

  • Write your story and your resume. These are things that you need to do BEFORE you start drafting essays, so now’s the perfect time.
  • Create your account on both the Common App (and the Coalition App if your high school requires it). Fill in the basics regarding yourself because that stuff will rollover into your account for next year. (But don’t insert supplemental essays or anything like that because it will be wiped when they load next year’s applications.)
  • Gather samples of your academic work and put together a portfolio (if you are an artist or maker). Currently, most of you would not need samples of academic work or a portfolio because only a few colleges and programs require them. But we’re speculating that more colleges may ask for samples of academic work in the coming year because so many of you will not have grades for the final term of 11th grade or standardized test scores. So why not gather these things up right now when you have time on your hands? The worst that will happen is that you’ll rediscover your best work and remind yourself what a good student you can be! We’ll have more about what makes for the best academic samples in a future blog post.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

How to Build a Great Study Group

Plus, it's a tool you can use for the rest of your education
April 29, 2020
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How are you faring at keeping up with your schoolwork and squeezing in regular test prep (even though you don’t know when or if you’ll be able to take a standardized test)?

What I hear is that most of you are settling into a rhythm, but the quality of the experience varies a lot. Maybe you don’t have great internet or maybe your favorite subject doesn’t translate well to remote learning or maybe you’re missing having the opportunity to just drop in on a teacher during a break and ask your question. Some of you are also starting to freak out about the upcoming at-home AP tests.

These obstacles are real and not really anything you’ve prepared for. That being said, you are not powerless! You have skills and resources that you can use to overcome these obstacles and frankly, developing these skills and learning how to use these resources will have a huge payoff for you when you get to college. 

One thing that you could do that will help you with your schoolwork and test prep is to form a study group. Study groups are very effective at enhancing learning. Here are just a few of the benefits of having a study group:

  • You’ll learn from each other. You may be able to understand how someone in your study group explains a concept better than you did when you read it or heard it from your teacher. You can ask all the questions you want and if you have to explain a concept to someone else, you’ll understand it better.
  • You’ll have the benefit of different perspectives and insights. The other members of your group might uncover themes or theories that you don’t. They may have experience or knowledge that is eye-opening to you.
  • You’ll improve your notes. Comparing your notes to other people’s in your study group can help you see where you might have missed something key or misunderstood your teacher.
  • You’ll get your homework done faster and better. Working through a tough problem set together is much more efficient than tackling it on your own and getting stuck when you come to the part you don’t understand. 
  • You’ll motivate, support, and inspire each other. Everyone can use an encouraging or compassionate word when it’s tough. And when you’re feeling on top of your game, nothing is more satisfying than helping someone else. 

Here are a few guidelines for getting one started.

The perfect size for the group is 3-5 people. You can choose your friends, but you might consider mixing it up a little and choosing people who you know will take the study group seriously and have different skills or perspectives than you. Ultimately it is important that everyone contributes and that the group stays focused on studying, not just hanging out.

Use your first meeting to agree to set a goal and protocols for the group. For example, you might have a goal to study Physics together or to prepare for the upcoming AP US History test. Your protocols might be that you will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour and that you will rotate who leads the group for each meeting. Or your protocols might be that you will meet the night before a problem set is due for a couple of hours and walk through every problem together.

Since you can’t meet in person right now, you’ll need to decide what online platform you are going to use. It will help if it is a video-conferencing platform, with screen sharing and chat capabilities. But if you can’t video-conference, old-fashioned phone calling will work. If you can’t screen share, use Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides so you can collaborate in real time together. If you can’t chat, text.

Go forth and form your study group today. It’s a great is a strategy for academic success that you can use for the rest of your education.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

What Does the Pandemic Mean for College Admissions?

We've got a FREE webinar for you
April 24, 2020
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What does the pandemic mean for college applicants?

We're hosting a free webinar on that topic next week, and we'd be delighted if you joined us.

April 29, 2020
8:00 - 8:45pm Eastern


Register here: tinyurl.com/y7nb4khb


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

How to Expand Your College List

This one is actually fun
April 20, 2020
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Putting together your final list of colleges where you will apply is an art as much as a science.

One mistake we see many students make is that they zero in on a few colleges before they have really explored all the options out there. And they often rule out colleges that would be great fits because they really don’t know anything about them.

Since you are stuck at home thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, you have plenty of time to explore colleges and see if you’ve overlooked a few that should be on your list.

Our favorite way for students to do this is to make use of an old school resource –a hard copy of the most recent edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges. An oldie but goodie, the Fiske Guide has narrative descriptions of more than 350 selective colleges. The descriptions are short and easily digested and should give you a good sense of whether you’d like to learn more about the college or not.

If you’re up for the challenge of opening your mind to adding colleges to your list, then order a copy of the Fiske Guide and do the following exercises:

1. Consult this list.

This list breaks the colleges found in the Guide into categories based on selectivity: selective, more selective, most selective, and uber selective.

Two important notes about the list:

  • The Canadian, British and Irish colleges in the Guide are not included on this list.
  • Public colleges are placed in the category appropriate to in-state residents. For out-of-state residents, assume that the chances of admission will be lower. So a “most selective” college might become an “uber selective” college for an out-of-state applicant.

2. Pick one category of colleges where you might want to add some colleges to your list.

It is always good to have some balance in your list, so pick a category where you don’t have any colleges but want to add some.

For example, if all the colleges on your list right now are in the most selective category, you might choose to the more selective category or the uber selective category depending on how you would rate your chances of admission to the colleges on your list right now.

Need some schools where you’d have a higher chance? Then go for the more selective category.

Need some where you’d be reaching? Then go for the uber selective category.

3. Read the Fiske Guide descriptions for EVERY college in the category.

We promise, it’s not hard. Each description can be read in 1-2 minutes max. Pick at least three to investigate further by taking yourself on a virtual college visit.

4. Decide which, if any, of the three you are going to add to your list.

Another way to do this exercise is to involve your parents or your friends and get their insights on colleges that you should investigate further.

If you are involving your parents, then you give them the list for the category you have chosen. Have them read the descriptions in the Guide and pick three colleges for you to investigate further.

If you are involving your friends, then you swap lists – you read the descriptions for the colleges on your friend’s list and suggest three that your friend should investigate further, and your friend reads the descriptions for the colleges on your list and recommends three colleges for you to investigate further.

Even if you don’t end up adding any colleges to your list from this exercise, you can be confident that you explored your options.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Learning On Your Own

Here's how to make the most of your time at home
April 14, 2020
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We get it. It’s not easy to learn on your own. Having teachers who structure your assignments and hold you accountable is really valuable. But for most of you, access to your teachers is limited right now, so learning is more challenging. What are you going to do in the face of that challenge?

1. Celebrate and devote yourself to the longest spring break ever?

2. Shrug your shoulders and just wait until you get assignments from your teachers?

3. Step up, use your initiative and creativity to figure out a way to keep learning, and maybe even go deeper and further into a subject than you could if you were constrained by the same old daily school schedule?


Any one of these responses is possible, and we expect that many of you will opt for #1 or #2. However, if you have your sights set on being admitted to a selective college, then you should choose #3. Selective colleges want excellent students and excellent students are so crazy in love with learning that nothing can stop them!

Don’t believe us? You only have to check out what admissions officers look for and value in applicants. This list of questions that Harvard uses in their application process is representative:

Have you been stretching yourself? Have you been working to capacity in your academic pursuits, your full-time or part-time employment, or other areas? Do you have reserve power to do more? How have you used your time? Do you have initiative? Are you a self-starter? What motivates you? Will you be able to stand up to the pressures and freedoms of College life?

In other words, slackers and followers need not apply.

Okay, so you’re convinced, but you’re still a bit unsure about how to go about taking responsibility for your own learning. After all, until a few weeks ago, being a good student meant doing your assignments and conquering tests. True enough, but we’re confident you can do it. Here are our tips for stepping up to the challenge:

  1. Take yourself to class online. Thanks to the many free online resources out there, you can choose to learn from world-renowned experts. Make a commitment to watch at least one lecture per week for each of your core subjects. We bet you’ll get sucked into more. This curated list of TED talks on fiction will only take a few hours to watch in its entirety, and it may change how you approach your literature classes forever. Likewise, Richard Feynman’s lectures on YouTube are an amazing way to learn Physics.


  2. Read, read, read. Put a couple of hours into reading every day. You’ll be expected to do at least this much reading in college, so practice now. At a minimum, you should read your high school textbooks through to the end. But why stop there? Pick 2-3 subjects you really like and expand your reading list beyond your high school textbooks. You can get ideas from syllabi (the list of reading and assignments) for college courses on these subjects. MIT has a super-expansive collection of syllabi from more than 2400 courses. They even have a resource specifically for high schoolers that will help you find materials relevant to your current courses. You can also check out websites for colleges on your list and see what syllabi you can dig up: they are often posted in the course description.
  1. Assign yourself projects to ensure that you are really learning stuff. We all know that it is one thing to watch a lecture or read a book, but an entirely different thing to have to write a paper, complete a problem set, conduct an experiment, or take a test on what we watched or read. If you really, truly want to learn, then you are going to have to assign yourself projects related to your various subjects. But don’t stress – these projects are designed and assigned by you, so structure them in a way you can enjoy. For example, you could do chemistry experiments that use the kitchen as your lab. Test yourself on your understanding of the Maillard reaction by figuring out the best way to get crispy golden French fries. Or decide that you will write a short essay in response to the weekly poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction prompts on the Poets & Writers website.

 
Bottom line: Step up and keep learning. Not only will it help you on your quest to be admitted to your dream college, it will make your daily life much more interesting!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Acceptance Rates Rise at Most Ivies and MIT

They had been going down for several years
April 4, 2020
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Most Ivy League colleges accepted a larger percentage of applicants this year than they had in previous years. It’s the first uptick in a long time.  That also correlates with the smaller number of applications they received this past cycle.

Don’t get too excited, though. At Harvard, that means they admitted a whopping 30 more people than in the previous year. (Good news for those 30, though!) The applicant pools at Princeton and Brown actually grew, and Princeton’s acceptance rate went down. And Yale’s higher acceptance rate makes sense as they have been growing the size of their incoming class.

Here’s an interview I did on this topic with the Harvard Crimson day before yesterday:

For Class of 2024, Smaller Applicant Pools Meant Less Competitive Admissions at Harvard, Peers

Note that these admission numbers aren’t final yet. There is likely to be some waitlist movement over the summer. And Cornell and Stanford, who have chosen not to release their acceptance rates, will still have to report them to the Department of Education this summer, so we’ll have those numbers at that time.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

April To-Do List for Juniors Working to Get Into their Dream College

Don't let the outside world derail you
April 1, 2020
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Whoa. The world has turned upside, yes? Does that mean you should simply abandon all the work you’ve been doing to get into your dream college?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

We’ve already given you a basic outline for what you can do while the coronavirus keeps you at home. Plus you can also catch up on what we suggested you do in January, February, and March.

  • Do your schoolwork so you finish the year strong. Of course it will be challenging to do your schoolwork remotely. But you can do it. Really. Here are the keys: first, make a schedule and stick to it. That’s what you have to do in college, when you are in charge of the vast majority of your time. So you just get  to practice that in advance. Second, beef up your skills at being an autodidact. What? What’s an autodidact? An autodidact is a self-taught person.  We’ll have a blog post soon about some tips for teaching yourself. In the meantime, get your schedule up and running and do whatever assignments your teachers give you. Your final grades will matter, so put yourself on track for the end-of-year grades you want.

  • Dial back, but don’t give up, practicing for standardized tests. Sure, it is unclear when you’ll take these tests and it likely won’t be until the summer, but you want to keep up your skills. So slot in 15-20 minutes of practice on the standardized tests on every school day. If you know that you really need work on a particular type of question or section of the test, then devote more time to that now.

  • Be creative about activities. Group-based activities are not happening, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something meaningful while these things are on hiatus. Devote time to a solo hobby, help your parents manage the household (maybe you could cook meals, clean, or occupy a younger sibling) or find a way to do some community service (shop for and deliver groceries to a family who is quarantined or self-isolated, make calls to the elderly to make sure they are okay, etc.). Admissions officers will look favorably on those who were productive despite these unusual constraints. Plus, you will get bored and depressed if you do nothing but stare at a screen!

  • Do write your story and your resume.
  • Do create accounts on both the Common App and the Coalition App and fill in the basics about yourself because that stuff will rollover into your account for next year. (But don’t insert essays or anything like that because they will be wiped when they load next year’s applications.)
  • Don't write your primary personal statement or essay – it will go stale over the next 5 months
  • Don’t write your primary personal statement or essay – it will go stale over the next 5 months.
  • Do draft Why College X essays or Why Major X essays. Even if the colleges on your list don’t have these essays on their application, they are worthwhile to draft because they will help you clarify your thinking about your college list and your possible major. Also, it will give you a potential supplemental essay to submit and help you prep for interviews. Plus — biggest bonus of all — you’ll have a ready answer to these questions, which all the adults in your life will invariably ask you!
  • Do get started on any portfolios or other artistic supplements if you will be submitting them.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

How to Make Your School Counselor Your Best Ally and Advocate

Here are three things you can do
March 23, 2020
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Your school counselor has a big job, and part of that job is helping you (and all of your classmates) navigate the college admissions process. In that way, your school counselor is your ally.

But that is not all your school counselor does in the college admissions process. Your school counselor can also be your best advocate through the recommendation they will write for you and and through their conversations with admissions officers.

Many applicants do not appreciate how much influence your school counselor can have on the admissions officer’s evaluation. Admissions officers place a good deal of weight on what school counselors have to say about an applicant, and a negative report from a school counselor can be the kiss of death.

Here are three things you can do to make your school counselor your best ally and advocate throughout this process.

1. Do your part to make their job easy. School counselors work with LOTS of students, and the only way they can do that effectively is to use tools and systems to handle the load. You need to do your part by educating yourself about those tools and following the rules in the counselor’s system. Does your school use Naviance or some other online tool to help you with making your college list or handling your applications? Log on and explore what’s there. Are you required to turn in forms on certain days? Turn them in on time and fully completed.

2. Help your school counselor get to know you. It is easier to be an ally and an advocate for someone you know. So help your school counselor get to know you. If your school counselor offers individual appointments, schedule an appointment (likely online at the moment, for example on Zoom).  If your school counselor distributes questionnaires, fill them out completely and thoroughly. If your school counselor holds group sessions, attend them and participate. Take notes throughout so that you don’t have to ask your counselor to repeat information.

3. Communicate any special requests respectfully and with as much lead time as possible. School counselors want to help you – that’s why they got into this profession. So even though they are busy, they are usually willing to grant special requests if you ask respectfully and give them as much lead time as possible. Respectfully means recognizing that your school counselor is obligated to follow policies and the law. Lead time makes it possible for them to squeeze your request into an already packed schedule. Need a recommendation for a summer program? Ask as soon as you know, not the day before the application is due!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Take a Virtual College Tour

You don't have to leave your couch to do a college tour
March 16, 2020
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Are you quarantining yourself at home? Or can’t afford the time or money necessary to visit colleges? No worries. You can make a virtual visit! Just follow the virtual tour directions below. It should take you a couple of hours and by the end you’ll feel like you’ve been there!

You’re going to start your tour by imagining you are on-campus right now. The easiest way to do that is to google images for the college. It never fails that the iconic buildings on campus will come up. For example, if you google images for Princeton, the first images that come up are those of the Tower on the Princeton campus. And, of course, you can imagine you are there on a picture-perfect day because those are the images that you’ll see!

Now that you are on-campus, orient yourself by downloading a campus map and marking where you are starting. You can usually find good ones on the college’s own website. Sometimes there is not a downloadable map, but instead an interactive map. If so, keep a tab open with the interactive map because you’re going to come back to it at each stop, so you can get a feel for navigating the campus.

Stop 1. The Registrar’s Office. What’s a registrar and why are you going there first? Well, the Registrar’s Office provides support for your academic life. And since college is first and foremost an academic experience, it is your first stop. You’ll find a page for the Registrar’s Office on the college’s website. Explore and see if you can find out a few key things:

  • What are the requirements for graduation? Believe it or not, they vary A LOT from college to college.
  • What majors (or concentrations) are available to me?
  • What are three classes I’d be excited to take?

Hint: The answers to these questions can ALWAYS be found in the University Bulletin (a bulletin is an official legal document that the university is required to maintain and it will include this information). For example, here is the 2019-20 Bulletin for Duke.

Stop 2. A Classroom Building. Now that you know the basics when it comes to your academic life, you’ll want to see where you are going to be taking your classes. You can choose a classroom building at random OR you can visit the building where one of the three classes you’d be excited to take is being offered (you’ll have to find the class schedule to do that). Again, google images for the particular building. See if you can find interior shots of the classrooms.

Are they large lecture halls (auditorium style), smaller “desks forward” classrooms, small seminar style classrooms, or a mix? Try to imagine yourself there with other students. For you science types, also find out what a lab looks like.

For example, here is a picture of a 140-student auditorium style classroom at USC’s Taper Hall where the Principles of Microeconomics class often meets.

Stop 3. A Professor’s Office. You want to find out exactly how accessible your professors are. Why? Because students who engage with their professors are generally more successful. Frankly, the campus grapevine is the best source of information for professor accessibility: the online version of the campus grapevine on this issue is the Professor Accessibility information found in the campus topics section of the Unigo page for the college. What you find might surprise you – for example, see how Northwestern stacks up against Harvard. If you really want to dig into this topic, you can research some of the professors at the college and see if you can find their office hours. It is often found on their web page or on a syllabus for a particular course (which you can often find linked to the course listing that you located on Stop 1).

Stop 4. Campus Life. Your next stop is the hub for campus life – usually it is a student center, but sometimes it has a different name or things are spread out across campus. For example, at the University of Chicago, there are several hubs for campus life, but the hub for the student organizations and campus-wide social events is the Center for Leadership and Involvement. Locate the list of active student organizations (or clubs). Now  pretend you are at the involvement fair and every organization has a table and a couple of representatives there to talk with you. Which tables will you visit? You’ll no doubt have an opportunity to attend a fair like this in the fall of your freshman year – almost every college has one. If you want insight into the arts culture, Greek life, sports, or political activism, go back to Unigo and look to see what students have to say by looking at those headings under campus topics. For example, you’ll see that University of Chicago is a place where arts and politics dominate campus life, sports aren’t their thing, and Greek life matters only to a small minority.

Stop 5. A Freshman Residence Hall. Even if you only end up sleeping at your residence hall, you’ll spend at least one-quarter of your freshman year there. So you owe it to yourself to check it out. Freshman living accommodations vary widely – some are housed together without upperclass students; some are housed in “live and learn” communities where you share interests and coursework as well as living together; some are in traditional single-sex dorms and the list goes on. For example, at Georgetown, freshmen live in one of four residence halls or in one of six Living Learning Communities (LLC). Read up on the options for freshmen and take yourself on a tour. Look for floor plans, interior images, and details that bring your future home to life. And when you’ve finished checking things out, head over to the ratings on Niche.com and see how recent and current students rate the on-campus housing. In our experience, these particular ratings are usually pretty spot-on. For example, Georgetown, despite it’s A+ for location, only gets a C when it comes to dorms.

Stop 6. The Dining Hall. Now that you’ve seen where you’ll live, it’s time to find out where you’ll eat. Unlike days of yore, “the dining hall” is usually a set of on-campus eateries where you can eat using your meal plan. For example, Notre Dame offers its students two traditional dining halls, along with several restaurants, express eateries, and a food court.  And its meal plan includes an option where you can buy “Domer Dollars” to spend at select off-campus restaurants. Check out the places you could dine and find out what’s on the menu. Does it sound tasty? Meet your dietary needs? Again Niche.com is your go-to source for getting a feel for the quality of the food. They give Notre Dame an A+.

Stop 7. The Fitness Center or a Sports Field. Sleep, food, now exercise. Yes, we think it is important that you stay healthy at college! What activity are you going to do? Work out, play sports, some of each? Every college will have opportunities for you, and most colleges have gotten very serious about promoting student wellness. For example, at Yale you could workout at Payne Whitney Gymnasium (described as a fitness enthusiast’s dream), play an intramural sport, or go the Good Life Center and do some meditation to reduce stress.

Stop 8. Participate in a College Tradition. Nothing says more about a college than its traditions. Google the name of the college and the word “traditions” to see if you can find out a few. Often you’ll find descriptions of traditions on the college website, on a Wikipedia page, or in articles from the school’s newspaper. Here’s a good rundown on traditions at Penn – who knew toast throwing was a thing? -- from the “new student orientation issue” of The Daily Pennsylvanian.

That’s it. Your virtual tour is done – and you didn’t have to leave the couch!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

How to Be Productive While You're Stuck at Home

Get a head start on your college applications
March 14, 2020
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Are you a high school junior stuck at home while we’re all socially isolating ourselves? Here’s how you can stay in control and be productive while hunkering down. You have a lot going on, not least because you have to balance all your new new e-learning requirements, and also because the College Board and ACT organizations are being weenies and refusing to cancel their March tests across the board. So much feels up in the air right now, doesn’t it.


1. Make virtual college visits. Our next post will have advice for for how to do this.


2. Register for May-June-July-August-September tests now. Test centers will fill up. Do some practice every day.

3. Assign yourself something creative/helpful to do. Write a novel, draw something, make a prototype for your crazy invention, start a phone tree and recruit volunteers who will check in on older adults, be part of a grocery delivery team for the immunocompromised, etc.

4. Create a physical exercise routine that you can do at home. You will go stir crazy otherwise.

5. DON'T WRITE YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT. It will get stale if you write it now.

Instead, do this:

  • Write your story.
  • reate your resume.
  • Write a Why College X essay for every college on your list (you can develop content by doing the virtual visit) and write at least one Why Major X essay ( or write a couple if you have more than one serious interest). We’ll post soon about Why Major X essays.

6. Learn how to do your own laundry. Really. It's an important life skill you'll need in college.

All of these activities will serve you well and give you a head start on the application process (well, except laundry, but that matters for other reasons).

Be well, and hang in there!

P.S. "What I Did During the COVID-19 Crisis" is going to be a popular and awful essay topic. We already feel sorry for admissions officers.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

How to Spend the Week Before the March SAT

It's Test Mojo week
March 9, 2020
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It is the week before the March SAT, otherwise known as the “Test Mojo” week. These are our favorite tips for things to do through the week to maximize your performance on Saturday.

STARTING TONIGHT

  • Get a good night’s sleep every night, but especially the night before the test. Studies show 7 hours is the optimal amount of sleep for a teenager. 😀

A FEW DAYS BEFORE

  • Make your plan for getting to the test location. Confirm where you are taking the test and how you are going to get there in advance so you don’t have added stress before the test. For most of you, the test center will be your own high school. But if you are taking the test at another high school, find the test center and check out the parking or transportation situation ahead of time.

    Once you know where you are going, make your plan and determine when you need to leave to arrive at the test center no later than 7.30am on Saturday. Communicate your plan to everyone who needs to know. Be sure that if you are going with a friend or parent, everyone agrees to the plan and knows when you have to leave.

  • Check for test center closings if there is bad weather on the horizon or if you live in an area where there are travel restrictions or school closings due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) . The College Board posts test center closings  a few days before each test date.

    During bad weather, check test center closings on Friday night and on Saturday morning before leaving for the test center.

    As for the evolving situation regarding closings due to COVID-19, the College Board has already announced that it is closing all test centers in several countries and may close other centers as well. Check here for updates.

THE DAY BEFORE

  • If you are driving yourself, fill up your gas tank. You don’t want to have to stop for gasoline in the morning. If someone is driving you, then ask them to make sure they have a full tank of gas.

  • Pack up everything you need to take to the test in a “go bag.” The friendly folks at the College Board have a handy checklist for you to use. One quibble we have with this list: the College Board thinks a watch, snacks, and water are simply “nice to have,” but we consider them “must haves.” Also, do yourself a huge favor and make sure you leave out all electronic devices. They are absolutely banned at the test center, so make your go bag is an electronics-free zone.

  • Plan for a quiet relaxing evening at home. Last minute cramming will not help you on the SAT. So you don’t need to block out the evening to study, although 30-45 minutes of review of test-taking strategies is not a bad idea. Once you’ve done that, chill out and do something to keep your anxiety at bay. The absolute no-no? A late night partying with friends. That is just a set up for failure.

  • Have a healthy dinner. Drink lots of water and eat a meal with protein, vegetables, and a few good complex carbohydrates. In other words, tonight is not the night to order in your favorite fast food, nor is it the time to binge on a few pints of ice cream.

  • Get one more good night’s sleep. Your brain will perform best on the day of the test if it is well rested. Part of the reason that we recommend you start paying attention to sleep at the beginning of the week is that it should help you be in the rhythm of getting a good 7 hours. One mistake students often make is trying to go to bed super early on the night before the test. That usually doesn’t work well – you end up tossing and turning and get less than 7 hours OR you sleep 10 or more hours – both will result in you being sluggish in the morning.

  • Set the alarm and have a back-up. You absolutely, positively don’t want to oversleep on test day, so make sure you will wake up on time.

THE MORNING OF THE TEST

  • Wake up and turn on your brain with a little exercise, a shower, and a healthy breakfast. Today is not the day to roll out of bed and go straight to the test. You need to turn on your brain. Get started with a little exercise – 10 or 15 minutes of anything that will increase your heart rate and start oxygen going to the brain. Run in place, dance, do push-ups, whatever. Then take a shower and have a healthy breakfast. Reach for a bowl of oatmeal or have an omelet, instead of a doughnut or sugary cereal. You need something that will sustain you through the morning until early afternoon.

  • Stick to your routine when it comes to caffeine or other stimulants. If you usually have a Red Bull before school, then have one today. But if you don’t, then don’t try it out today. Unfamiliar stimulants can turn you into a jittery mess.

  • Dress in layers. The temperature of the room is unpredictable and if you are too hot or too cold, you may have trouble concentrating. If you dress in layers, you can be comfortable no matter the room’s temperature.

  • Leave on time (or better yet a little early). There are no “late arrivals” on test day. Doors will close and you will not be admitted to the testing center after 8:00 a.m. Usually the doors open at 7:45 a.m., but do yourself a favor and arrive by 7:30 a.m. Then you don’t have to worry about being late – and it can be a bit of a zoo getting in and getting to your test room. (Double check your admission ticket to make sure that your test center is observing these standard times: it will say when doors open and close.)

  • Don’t forget your pre-packed go bag!

  • Give yourself a pep talk on the way. Corny as it may sound, your inner dialogue can shape your mindset at the test. So, say some nice, reassuring, and encouraging things to yourself on the way. “You’re going to kill it” is always a good mantra.

DURING THE TEST

  • Breathe. Believe it or not, you may discover that you are holding your breath. Often when people are concentrating, they hold their breath, and doing so deprives your brain of much-needed oxygen and heightens anxiety. So breathe.

  • Use your breaks effectively. Don’t miss out on these opportunities to refresh yourself. Leave the room, stretch your legs, go to the restroom, eat your snacks, and socialize with friends (but don’t talk about the test and don’t let yourself get sucked into a chat with a hyper-anxious friend). One important note – take your ID and admission ticket with you so you can get back into your room!!!

AFTER THE TEST

  • Celebrate your accomplishment with some fun and friends. You’ve earned it!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

March To-Do List for Juniors

You still have time to catch up
March 2, 2020
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Yay! Spring is coming, bringing you a break from school and a little time to catch up if you’ve had a tough time staying on track in January and February. Seize this opportunity to build momentum by getting these things done in March: 


Keep your eye on the prize when it comes to your grades. Do what you need to do to put yourself on track for the end-of-year grades you want. Analyze your performance thus far and see what you need to improve. More timely submission of homework? Better performance on in-class quizzes or tests? A little extra credit work you could do over the break? Whatever it is, just do it!


Work your plan for standardized tests. If you are operating on the schedule we suggested, you’ll either be taking the SAT in the middle of the month, or be in final prep for the ACT at the beginning of April. Keep working your plan and look for our post coming soon that has tips for how to find your test day mojo.


Review your activities and see if there is an opportunity to do something by year-end that would add to your “impact.” When it comes to activities, admissions officers are on the lookout for impact. In admissions-speak, you’ve had an impact when you’ve done something that has contributed something positive to your community – whether that be your family, your school, or your town. Where do you have an opportunity to contribute something positive before year-end? Focus your energy there.


Make your college visits – in person or virtually. For those of you who are lucky enough to be making in person college visits while on break, be sure you make the most of them. For those of you who can’t swing in person visits, you can use the time to go on virtual visits by digging into some online research. Look for our upcoming post on how to take yourself on a virtual tour of a college.


Familiarize yourself with the college admissions resources offered by your school and, if possible, make an appointment to meet with your school-based counselor in the next month or so (either before or after break). Your high school has resources to support you through the college admissions process, and you owe it to yourself to find out everything you can about the specific resources offered by your school. Educate yourself by poking around on your school’s website, visiting the counseling offices, and attending college planning events offered by your school. Through this investigation, find out if your school-based counselor schedules one-on-one appointments with juniors. If they do, sign up for one -- this is an important first step for establishing a positive and productive relationship. Read our post coming soon with more tips about working well with your school-based counselor.


Work on locking in your plans for summer. What you do this summer is important. Check out our previous post on how to make the most of it.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

How to Make the Most of Your College Visits

There's a strategy to it.
February 24, 2020
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Planning a college visit isn’t like planning a trip to Disney World. Sure it can and should be fun, but there is a definite strategy for getting the most from these visits.

You have two objectives.

First, you want to learn as much as you can about what it would be like to study and live there for four years of your life.

Second, you want to take advantage of any opportunities you might have to get a competitive edge in the application process.

So how do you achieve those objectives?


LEARNING ABOUT THE COLLEGE ON AND OFF THE TOUR

You definitely want to do the official information session and tour: they are really the most efficient way to get the basics. If you are interested in a particular program and there are specialized information sessions or tours for that program, then do those too.

But if you really want to figure out whether this college is right for you, you want to go off the tour and gather more information. Here on the things we recommend:

1. Do something that gives you insight into the academic experience at the college. We’re always amazed at how little attention is given to this aspect of college life on visits. There are many ways to go about finding out about what it will be like to go to school at this college. These are a few of our favorites:

  • Attend (or eavesdrop on) a class. You should get there a few minutes early and ask the professor’s permission to sit in on the class, and you should be prepared to sit through the entire class so that you don’t disrupt it with your coming and going. If you can’t sit through an entire class, stand outside the classroom and unobtrusively eavesdrop on the class for a few minutes. 
  • Chat up a professor. Locate the building that is “home” for your potential major (it will be where the department has offices). Wander the halls and notice the posters and other information on the walls, while checking in on what the classrooms are like. See if you can find a professor in his their office who is having “office hours” or “drop-in hours” (times when they are available to talk with students) or is just available for a few minutes of conversation.
  • Check out the library. Libraries are where you’ll do a lot of your studying, and they all have their own ambience. Stroll around and observe students at work. You’ll probably find some social or chatty areas and some super quiet areas.  See if you can find the place that you’d feel at home.

2. Do something that relates to your life outside the classroom. What do you do besides go to school now? What would you like to do in college? Be on the lookout for whether you’ll have the opportunities you want during college. For example, go to the student center and check out the clubs and activities on-campus.  Identify a few that would interest you.  See if you can find a student who does one of them (maybe in an office for the club or on social media) and talk with them about it.

3. Do something that reveals what daily life will be like on campus. Sleeping, eating, socializing — these are the fundamentals of daily life. Hang out in front of a freshman residence hall and ask a student who is entering to if they will let you see their room, the common areas, a bathroom, and the laundry area. Check out the dining hall by having lunch there if possible. Get a feel for what students do for fun by asking students you meet ask about school traditions, big all-school events, and what happens on a typical weekend.


GETTING A COMPETITIVE EDGE

There are several ways that a well-orchestrated college visit can give you a competitive edge in the application process.

1. It demonstrates interest. Some colleges consider how interested you are in the college when making admissions decisions. The more you can demonstrate a true interest in the college, the better your chances are for getting in. Taking the time and investing the resources in making a college visit are one good way to demonstrate interest. Be sure to write down the date you visit, whom you meet, and what you do, since many colleges will ask those questions on the application.

2. It gives you great content for your Why College X essay (if the college has one). Many colleges have some version of an essay that asks you why you are interested in that particular college. If you have done what we suggest above, then you’ll have interesting anecdotes and concrete details to make your essay memorable and impressive to an admissions officer. Take time to do a college visit debrief, and make notes right after your visit so you don’t forget anything!

3. It may offer you an opportunity to have an interview. Some colleges offer on-campus interviews as an optional component of the application. Research whether the college offers them. If you can schedule one while you are there, go for it so long as you do some pre-visit homework and know why you are interested in applying to the college. An interview is a wonderful opportunity to add something to your application, provided you can do it well.

4. It may offer you an opportunity to meet with a coach, a faculty member, or someone else in the university community who can become your advocate in the admissions process. Although admissions officers will ultimately make the decision about whether you are admitted or not, other members of the university community can be advocates for you in the process and boost your chances of admission. The most common opportunity of this sort is for those of you who are potential recruited athletes. If you fall into this category, then you will definitely want to schedule a meeting with the coach for your sport and talk with them.

But there are opportunities for advocates beyond coaches. For example, if you have an unusually deep background in a particular academic discipline or are a talented performance artist or musician, you might be able to meet with the faculty or staff in your area of specialty and have them promote your admission when the time comes. Likewise, if your family members have been very active alums or generous donors to the college, you might be able to meet with someone in the alumni affairs or development office and have them advocate on your behalf.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

How to Spend the Summer After Your Junior Year

It's time to start locking in your plans
February 18, 2020
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Summer is coming and it’s time to start locking in your plans. In order to make the most of your summer between 11th and 12th grade, you’ll want to be focused on adding the cherry to the sundae when it comes to your credentials and also getting a head start on the college application process. Also, you should definitely squeeze in some relaxation. Here’s how we suggest you do all that! 


1. Do something that adds to your either your academic or activity credentials in a meaningful and distinctive way.

This is one of the ways you can make your college applications stand out. Don’t let the words “meaningful and distinctive” throw you. You don’t have to cure cancer or travel across the world to do something meaningful and distinctive. You just have to do something that adds to the credentials you’ve been building for the last three years.

Here are some questions that should help you decide what you could do this summer that would be meaningful and distinctive:

  • Do you have an academic passion? If so, look for a summer program that allows you to study your passion at an advanced level. Even better would be a summer program that allows you to do an independent project that you can refer to in your application. For example, if you love science, it would be great if you could do a summer program that includes hands-on science research in addition to classroom study.
  • Are you an athlete with the possibility of being recruited onto a college team or qualifying for national or international competitions? If so, you’re looking for opportunities to show off your skills to college recruiters or compete at the highest levels possible, and for a good training/skill development camp or program.
  • Are you an artist, writer, performer or all-round creative type? If so, the summer is your chance to have a gallery show (your front hall might be the gallery!), write and self-publish a novella, or mount a production. You can do that at a summer camp or seize the initiative and do it on your own. Whatever you do, work on improving your craft and think about documenting your work as you go, because it could give you a great start on a required or optional artistic supplement. 
  • Are you a community service volunteer? If so, use the long days of summer to take your volunteering to the next level by doing something full-time for several weeks in a row. You’ll have new insight into the issue of homelessness if you work at the shelter every day instead of just once a month.
  • Are you someone who has a definite career in mind for yourself that you’d like to explore? If so, then you’ll want to secure an internship (volunteer or paid) that lets you see what people in that career do. 
  • Do you want or need to earn some money this summer? Then start looking for a job now! You might be able to start working part-time right away and then bump up your hours during the summer. And don’t worry that having to work is a mark against you in the admissions process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Admissions officers are always impressed by an applicant who can juggle the demands of the working world with school and activities. The same is true if you have family responsibilities outside of school.

 

2. Get a head start on college applications.

Taking time during the summer to get a head start on your college applications is the key to a sane fall of your senior year. We’ll have a full list of everything you can get done in a separate post that will come out in the late spring. For now, you just need to be aware that you’ll need time to work on your college applications throughout the summer.

One other heads-up: If you have colleges on your list that offer on-campus interviews during the summer, you’ll want to take advantage of that opportunity if you can. Building those trips into your summer calendar now will keep you from having unresolvable conflicts later.

 

3. Squeeze in some relaxation.

Junior year is tough and the fall of senior year is jam-packed, so some rest and relaxation is absolutely necessary during the summer. We suggest you schedule time off during the week, enjoy your weekends, and have some true vacation time – a couple of weeks when you do absolutely nothing other than enjoy life.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Senior Year Courses

What to take to get into the college of your dreams
February 10, 2020
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For most of you, it’s time to choose which courses you will take in your final year of high school. While it might be tempting to dial it back academically, you really can’t if you aspire to get into the college of your dreams.

College admissions officers use a three-prong analysis to evaluate your academic record: what courses you take (curriculum), how demanding the courses are (rigor), and how you do in those courses (performance).

Your senior year will count in that evaluation, even for those of you who apply and get in early. Admissions officers get periodic reports as you progress through senior year, and admission will be contingent on your completing the courses you showed you were taking on your application and getting grades consistent with your prior performance (e.g. if you have a 4.1 GPA going into senior year, they expect you to finish senior year with pretty much a 4.1 GPA).

Here are some guidelines for how to choose your courses for senior year.

1. Curriculum: You must take English and Math and at least 3 other academic solids.

Even though there are now multiple college prep curricula out there, colleges are steadfast in their expectations of the course work that high school graduates will have completed (and knowledge they will have acquired) before they begin college.

Four years of English and Math are non-negotiable. If you have already taken every English and Math class you can at your high school, take a course at a local community college or nearby university. If that isn’t an option, take a for-credit online course.

Along with English and Math, you should take at least 3 other academic solids. An academic solid is a course in one of these “core areas” of study:

  • English Language & Literature
  • Foreign Language & Literature
  • History, Philosophy, Religion & Social Sciences
  • Mathematics & Statistics
  • Natural & Physical Sciences

Note that you can double up on English and Math if you are really engaged by those subjects. For example, you could take AP English and a Journalism elective.

You’ll see that music, visual arts, and performing arts are not listed as academic solids. That’s because colleges are split about whether they count those as academic solids. So if you want to make choices that give you the most options, you don’t include those in your five core courses.

Luckily, most of you get to take at least 6 courses, so you can add music, visual arts, or performing arts into your schedule without a problem.

For those of you who are intending to pursue music, visual arts, or performing arts as your major in college or your career, you may find it hard to take the courses you need to take if you do not count music, visual arts or performing arts as academic solids. In that case, contact the colleges where you will be applying and get their advice about what courses you should take in your senior year — all admissions officers are happy to give this advice and would much rather help you now than deny you later!

A note for international students: High school curricula vary greatly worldwide, and U.S. college admissions officers understand that. Generally, the curriculum mandated by your home country will be acceptable to U.S. colleges, but you should consult with colleges where you are planning to apply just to make sure.

2. Rigor: Create an overall schedule that either maintains your level of rigor or takes your rigor up a notch.

The rigor of your schedule is determined by the “level” of the courses you are taking.

Your high school probably has some way of distinguishing the courses that are harder and more academically demanding. Courses that are more advanced in particular subjects are considered more rigorous — so Spanish V is harder than Spanish IV. Accelerated, honors, AP, and IB courses are also considered more rigorous.

So if you are taking 3 courses this year that are more rigorous, then you want to take at least 3 courses next year that are also more rigorous. It is even better if you can take your rigor up a notch and manage to include 4 courses that are more rigorous.

Why do admissions officers care about rigor? Because they want students who are ambitious learners and who can manage the increased rigor of college courses when they arrive.

3. Performance: Choose courses where you can maintain or improve your grades.

Many, if not most, of you put more emphasis on this guideline than you should. You are on the quest for the easy A in the hopes of bumping up your GPA in your final year.

But here’s the reality: A high GPA earned by avoiding academic solids or reducing rigor won’t help you at all. Admissions officers aren’t fooled. They know that an A in Beginning Guitar or French for Travelers isn’t the same as an A in Honors Physics.

That being said, feel free to use this guideline as a tiebreaker when it comes to making choices that are equal in terms of the first two guidelines. For example, let’s say you are choosing between AP Statistics or AP Computer Science. You think you are going to nail it in AP Statistics, but will struggle in AP Computer Science. Then by all means, take AP Statistics.

One thing you should definitely take into consideration is the interaction between rigor and performance. Should you take the more rigorous course if you will get a lower grade? For example, should you take AP Physics and get a B, or take regular Physics and get an A?

Our rule for this is that you take the more rigorous course as long as your grade is likely to be no more than one grade lower than your grade in the regular course. A B is one grade lower than an A, so take the more rigorous course. But if your grade is likely to be a C in the more rigorous course and an A in the regular course, then take the regular course.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

February's To-Do List for Juniors

It's a short month, but there's plenty to do
February 1, 2020
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It’s February! A short month, but there is plenty to do. Hopefully, you’ve gotten everything that was on your list for January done. If not, do your best to catch up now. You’ll ultimately achieve more if you work steadily over the next several months than if you try to cram it all in at the end of the year.

With that in mind, here are your to-do’s for February:

  • Keep working on getting your best grades ever. When you get your midterm grades, you can check your progress towards the goals you’ve set. If you aren’t on track for the grades you want, do some analysis to determine what you can improve. See our tips for study techniques here.
  • Register for your standardized tests and execute on your test prep plan. Remember that practice is the absolutely best way to prep, so be sure you’ve included plenty of it in your plan. In case you missed it, here’s our most recent post  about what tests to take, when to take them, and how to prep.
  • Sign up for your Senior year courses. These are the guidelines you should use when making your schedule for your final year of high school: First, make sure you fulfill all your graduation requirements. Second, make sure you have at least five academic solids each term. Third, English and Math are a must. Colleges expect you to have four years of each. Fourth, add as much rigor as you can without compromising your grades. Rigor is college-admissions-speak for the hardest courses — honors, AP, IB, dual enrollment/college courses.
  • Finalize your plans for college visits; or, if you can’t do visits, finalize your plans for meeting college representatives when they are on the road. We will have a blog post soon about what you should do when you are on a college visit and questions you should ask when meeting college representatives. Right now, you just need to finalize your plans. One thing about planning your college visits: be sure to give yourself at least a half-day (4-5 hours) on campus.
  • Start planning your summer. Yes, it seems far away right now, but it will be here sooner than you think. The summer is a great opportunity to add something to your academic or activities profile. We’ll have a blog post dedicated to how to make the most of summer soon, but you need to start planning NOW because many of the selective summer programs have application deadlines in February.


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Standardized Tests

Which tests to take, when, how many times, and how to prep
January 27, 2020
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Everyone has an opinion about the standardized tests used for admission to most selective U.S. colleges. We do too, but that is not the subject of this blog posting. Why? Because we’re admissions coaches, not policymakers.

As coaches, we know that love ‘em or hate ‘em, standardized tests are still a major part of the college admissions process for most students. What you need from us is ruthlessly practical advice about how to get the best scores you can, so you have credentials that will serve you well when you apply to college.

Specifically, you need advice about which tests to take, how many times to take them, when to take them, and how to prepare for them.


WHICH TESTS SHOULD YOU TAKE?

The only way to know for sure which tests are required for admission to the colleges on your list is to do some research. Visit the colleges’ websites and see what their policies are. But if you don’t have your list completed yet or you want to maximize your options, we have this basic advice.

Everyone should take the ACT OR the SAT. You don’t need to take both.

Which One? Even though the tests are similar, there are some key differences, and you may be better suited to one or the other. The best way to find out which test suits you best is to take practice tests for both and see if you score better on one or the other. If you don’t have time for practice tests, you can do our quick quiz and get an idea of which one MIGHT be better suited to you (however, the quiz is not as predictive as doing the practice tests).

Writing Component or Not? Fewer and fewer colleges require that you take the optional writing component of the tests, but if you truly want to maximize your options, you’ll do the writing just in case you are applying somewhere that requires it.


You need to take SAT Subject Tests if you are going to apply to one of the uber-selective colleges where they are required or strongly recommended.

If they are merely “considered,” you should take SAT Subject Tests only if you are pretty sure you’ll do well on them. Otherwise don’t bother; focus on getting a higher score on the ACT or SAT. A good list of colleges that have required, recommended, or considered the SAT Subject Tests in the most recent admissions cycle is found here.

A special note to homeschooled students: Colleges may have different requirements for you when it comes to Subject Tests. Even if they don’t, taking and doing well on either SAT Subject Tests or AP tests can boost your academic credentials considerably.

A special note to international students: Some professionals suggest that you take an SAT Subject Test in your primary language if one is offered. We do not give that advice. These tests are not structured to measure the abilities of a native speaker of a particular language, and admissions officers know that. You should be able to score practically perfectly on these tests, so a high score doesn’t really mean anything. You need to take the TOEFL if your primary language is something other than English or if English is not the language of instruction at your school.


HOW MANY TIMES SHOULD YOU TAKE THE TESTS?

Our advice about how many times to take the various tests has changed, because admissions policies have changed.

  • ACT/SAT: You should plan to take the ACT or SAT at least two times and leave room in your schedule for a possible third time.

    Why? Because superscoring (the policy of taking your best subscores from multiple tests to create your best composite score) favors having taken the test more than once.

    Well then, why not take it as many times as you can? Because most students don’t have the knowledge or skills to do well until late in their junior year (11th grade), and you can only take it so many times between then and when your applications are due. Plus, your scores are only likely to improve significantly if you have some time (2-6 months) between test administrations to get better.
  • SAT Subject Tests: There is no superscoring for the SAT Subject Tests because you only get one score. You should only take it more than once if you have reason to believe that you will do better, for example you have completed coursework that has expanded your knowledge considerably, or you have devoted significant time to preparing for the second test.
  • TOEFL: There is no superscoring for the TOEFL, so you should only take it more than once if you have not achieved the minimum score required for admission, or if you have barely achieved the minimum and you have reason to believe that you will do better.


WHEN SHOULD YOU TAKE THE TESTS?

We recommend the following schedules for taking the tests, but you can and should adjust this schedule if you have school or personal conflicts. Also, be aware that not all test dates are available everywhere. For example, the ACT is not offered in July in New York, and no SAT Subject Tests are offered in March for students outside the United States. 

  • ACT: April 2020, June or July 2020, and September 2020
  • SAT: March 2020, May or June 2020, and August 2020
  • SAT Subject Tests: May or June 2020 and August 2020. Note that many language tests are only offered in June or November and that the November date is too late for early admission deadlines. So you must take the tests in June, which means that you would take the May SAT if you are doing the SAT and SAT Subject Tests.
  • TOEFL: Early Summer 2020 (after ACT/SAT), Late Summer 2020, Early Fall 2020 (second and third dates if you need/want to retake). Check the TOEFL site for dates and centers near you.


HOW SHOULD YOU PREP FOR THE TESTS?

You should not take these tests without preparing for them, but HOW you prep for the tests is largely a matter of time, resources, and personal preference. At a minimum, you should take advantage of the free resources provided by each testing agency and follow the advice we gave here about proven strategies for improving your scores. If you want to do more prep, then you will need to invest in study materials (either paper or online), group courses, or one-on-one tutoring.

  • ACT: Take advantage of the ACT Academy
  • SAT: Take advantage of the Khan Academy prep series
  • SAT Subject Tests: There are less free resources for these, but the College Board does give you practice questions and some study tips here
  • TOEFL: Take advantage of both their free mobile app and their free practice test

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

The Keys to Improving Your Grades and Test Scores

Conventional wisdom about improving on tests is wrong. Here's how to work smarter.
January 20, 2020
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Conventional wisdom about how to improve your grades and test scores goes something like this: Buckle down, work harder, and devote more time to studying. But conventional wisdom is just plain wrong. You don’t have to work harder; you have to work smarter.


1. Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.

A good night’s sleep every night is the first key to working smarter. Aim for getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night. A recent study showed that college students who increased their sleep from 6 hours a night to 7 hours a night showed a whooping 10% improvement in their performance on exams. That’s a big improvement for just giving your brain the sleep it needs! For some great tips about how to improve your sleep, check out this article from Dr. Craig Canapari, director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center.


2. Take practice tests.

According to a lengthy article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, taking practice tests is a far better way to study than highlighting, rereading or summarizing (the most common ways students study).

What kind of “practice test” should you do? Ideally, you use a practice test that is as similar as possible to the real test. So if you will have a multiple choice test in your Chemistry  class, then ideally you would study using a multiple choice test previously given in that Chemistry class. BUT you might not have access to a prior test. Doesn’t matter. Turns out you will still get benefit from practice testing as long as the practice test addresses the same subject matter.

So where do you find practice tests?

  • For standardized tests of any variety, there are practice tests available from an abundance of sources. AP, IB, SAT, ACT,  SAT Subjects, TOEFL. Do them!
  • For tests in your school courses, you can get the same effect by treating the questions at the end of a textbook chapter as a test, using homemade or purchased flashcards to test yourself, or searching online for tests in that subject matter. You can also see if your teacher will release old tests for you to use as study tools.


3. Set a study schedule that includes shorter sessions over time rather than a giant cram session.

After comparing what scientists call “distributed practice” to “massed practice,” the data was pretty clear that distributed practice wins. Great — but what does that mean? Distributed practice is a fancy way of saying that you break your studying into shorter sessions over time, rather than cramming. 

The science says that you should have a gap of time between study sessions equal to 10-20% of the time that you want to retain what you are learning. So if you want to retain something for a month (30 days), then you would space your study sessions out so that you had one session every 3-6 days.

But that formula is a bit tricky for most students to apply, since it is pretty unclear how long you really want or need to retain what you are learning. Based on my experience working with students, here is what I would suggest:

  • For the standardized tests: commit to doing at least two study sessions a week for the 10 weeks prior to the test.
  • For tests in school courses: commit to adding at least one study session of the practice test variety into your “homework” each week for every course.


4. Ask for help.

If you’re still getting stuck, tell your teachers. They are always happy to hear from students looking to improve, and they have a wealth of experience and suggestions to share.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

January's To-Do List for Juniors Aspiring to Get Into Their Dream College

It’s time to kick it up a notch when it comes to all things college related.
January 13, 2020
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Welcome to the last half of your junior year!

It’s time to kick it up a notch when it comes to all things college related.

We know, we know. You probably already feel stressed and overwhelmed, so how do you kick it up a notch without going crazy?

It’s all about pacing, and our blog posts will help you do that. From now through the end of the school year, we’ll be posting every week. The first week of each month, we’ll post a short to-do list for you. Then every following week, we’ll post with some tips and resources for getting that to-do list done. You just have find a way to get that to-do list done by the end of the month and you’ll be on track for college.

Most months you’ll be able to polish off the items on this list with a few hours focused on “college stuff” and a little bit of extra effort directed at things you’re already doing.

Ready?

Here’s your to-do list for January:

1) Pick 1 or 2 classes where you could bump your grade with just a bit more focused attention.

These are the classes where you have the B that could be a B+, or the B+ that could be an A-. Figure out what it takes to get the higher grade and start doing it! If you have no idea what it would take, go and talk with your teacher. Trust us, the teacher will be happy to give you some suggestions! Also, we’ll have a blog post soon with some tips for studying more effectively.

Why do this? Your grades in the last half of 11th grade are the most recent evidence that college admissions officers have about the kind of student you are. So better grades are just helpful. Plus, it contributes to an upward grade trend, which is also impressive. Finally, it lays great groundwork for an OUTSTANDING recommendation from the teachers in those classes where you demonstrate your commitment to performing to the best of your abilities.

2) Make your schedule for standardized tests, and a plan for test prep that starts at least 8 weeks before your scheduled test.

We’ll have a blog post soon to help you do this one.

We assume you know why this one is on your list. Although some colleges do not require standardized tests for admission, most do. Therefore, you’ve got to take them if you want to maximize your options.

3) Talk with your parents about squeezing in a few college visits over your spring break, and plan visits to 2-3 colleges that you have at the top of your list right now.

We’ll have a blog post about planning college visits, but you’ll want to go ahead and get to work on basic logistics for travel sooner than that.

We are aware that college visits can be expensive and not everyone can afford them, but we do encourage them because they are a very wise investment.

First, they help you make better choices about where to apply, which saves you wasted application fees, and long term can save you wasted tuition to a college that isn’t the best fit for you.

Second, your chances for admission at many colleges will be higher if you “demonstrate interest,” and a college visit is one really good way to do that.

But if you simply can’t afford to do college visits, get online and find out when a representative from the college will be coming to your town (or one within driving distance) and make a plan for attending that event. It’s the next best thing!

P.S. Did you know that you can start working on your Common App applications as early as your junior year? You can save your work in your account until you're ready to submit during your senior year.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.


How to Raise Your Test Scores and Get Better Grades: Use Study Strategies That Work!

How to study efficiently and effectively to do your absolute best on tests
August 28, 2019
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How do you study for a test? If you are like most high school students, your study strategies probably consist of a mix of the following: reading and highlighting, reading and summarizing in notes, or reading and re-reading. And you are probably a “crammer,” meaning you study a lot right before the test, but not much in between.  Guess what? These study strategies are the LEAST EFFECTIVE techniques for studying.  

Don’t believe me? Here’s a 50 page article in the current issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, which summarizes all the research on 10 study strategies and evaluates them in terms of effectiveness. Turns out the data are pretty unequivocal. If you want to study in the most effective ways possible, abandon your summarizing, highlighting and rereading in favor of these three strategies:  

Take “practice tests” in any format available for the material you are studying.

What kind of “practice test” should you do?

Ideally, you use a practice test that is as similar as possible to the real test. So if you will have a multiple choice test in Ms. Adams’ US History class, then ideally you would study using a multiple choice test previously given in Ms. Adams’ US History class. BUT — and this is a big BUT — you will still get benefit from practice testing even if the practice test is not of the same format as the real test, provided it addresses the same subject matter.

Where do I find practice tests?

For standardized tests of any variety, there are practice tests available from an abundance of sources. (AP, IB, SAT, ACT, SAT Subjects, TOEFL). Do them!

For tests in your school courses, you can get the same effect by treating the questions at the end of a textbook chapter as a test, using homemade or purchased flashcards to test yourself, or searching online for tests in the subject matter. You can also see if your teacher will release old tests for you to use as study tools.

How many practice tests should I do?

As many as you can. You get more benefit from doing more. So don’t stop at one. And don’t stop just because you got the questions right. Reinforcement helps. So practice until you get it right 4 or 5 times.

Follow your practice tests with some “restudying” of the material being tested.

What does restudying involve?

Restudying involves going back to the questions that you got wrong and studying the correct answer. If you can’t understand the correct answer, then ask someone to explain it to you (your teacher, a friend in the class, a tutor). Once you have read and understand the correct answer, you have “restudied” the material.

How much time should I spend restudying?

You get best results if you spend about as much time restudying as you did doing the practice tests.

Schedule yourself for “distributed practice” rather than “massed practice” (aka cramming).

What is distributed practice?

 Distributed practice is a fancy way of saying that you break your studying into shorter sessions over time, rather than cramming. 

How should I “distribute” my practice?

The science says that you should have a gap of time between study sessions equal to 10-20% of the time that you want to retain what you are learning. So if you want to retain something for a month (30 days), then you would space your study sessions out so that you had one session every 3-6 days.

But that formula is a bit tricky for most students to apply, since it is pretty unclear how long you really want or need to retain what you are learning. Based on our experience working with students, here is what we suggest:

For the standardized tests: commit to doing at least two study sessions of about 1.5 - 2 hours each for as many weeks as you have in the run-up to the test (but probably not more than 10 weeks prior to the test). That would mean you work a practice test for half of the time and then you “restudy” for half of the time.

For tests in school courses: commit to adding at least one study session of the practice test-restudy variety into your “homework” each week for every course. If you don’t have regularly assigned homework in the class, then do a study session like this every other day.

That’s it. Those are the study strategies that work.  All the rest pale in comparison.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

The 2019-20 Common App is here!

Are you ready for the Common App??? Sign up for our newsletter and become an Inline Insider.
August 1, 2019
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Whooooo!

The Common App for 2019-20 has launched and we are locking down Inline while we update our advice.

We'll send status updates in our newsletter, which you can sign up for on our homepage.

In the meantime, here are some delicious cookies.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

A College Acceptance Letter Is Not a Guarantee

Your kid gets accepted to the college of his choice. He’s got the letter in hand. But then some bad behavior surfaces from his past.
July 26, 2019
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Hi! Anna here. I wanted to share one of my favorite live interviews that I did recently. It was for the Top of Mind show on Sirius XM 143, and it's on a topic we get a lot of questions about. Here's the blurb from the show:

Your kid gets accepted to the college of his choice. He’s got the letter in hand. But then some bad behavior surfaces from his past. The college gets wind and rescinds the acceptance. By all accounts this kind of thing is rare, but a high-profile case last month involving Parkland Shooting survivor and conservative activist, Kyle Kashuv, got us thinking about how colleges make these decisions –and how they decide who is a good fit in the first place. For Kashuv, the college was Harvard and the bad behavior involved racist comments made in text messages and a private online document shared with some classmates when he was 16. Kashuv apologized, but that didn’t change Harvard’s decision to rescind his acceptance."

Here's the audio link.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

College Cheating Scandal

Here's how the admissions process is likely to change in the wake of the college cheating scandal
April 11, 2019
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Wow… it’s been a wild couple of weeks in the wake of the federal indictment against parents, sports coaches, a phony admissions consultant, and a phony SAT/ACT proctor. It’s the Justice Department’s largest ever college admissions prosecution.

Well, not surprising, we have a few things to say about that. Here's co-founder Anna Ivey sharing her expertise in the media:

What's most important for you to know is this:

You CAN get into top schools ethically.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Can I Write About a Traumatic Experience in My College Application Essay?

Traumatic or otherwise difficult experiences do not have to be off the table for your college application essays.
April 8, 2019
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Traumatic or otherwise difficult experiences do NOT have to be off the table for your college application essays. They are legitimate subjects (depending on the essay prompt, of course; it has to make sense as a response to the particular question). 

The key is to remember that the ultimate topic for any college application essay is YOU — not the trauma itself. You don’t want to spend too much of your precious word count on a blow by blow description of what happened, because then you’ll run out of room to talk about the more important part: your reflection. 

So keep the description succinct, and focus most of the essay on your reflection on the experience and what that has meant for your own development. 

In terms of signaling: ideally your writing and reflection shows that you had a post-traumatic *growth* experience (you don’t have to use those words, but you do want to show that something meaningful came out of it), and that you’re not stuck in your life in a way that would prevent you from thriving in college and moving forward in a positive way. Admissions officers have to worry a lot about who is going to thrive or whether they are just setting people up for failure, so try to read your story from their perspective; what does it say about you going forward? Is the impression you’re giving them what you want them to take away about you? 

Hope that helps! Good luck with this next, big step!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

What's the toughest part of the college admissions process?

Are you dreading your college applications? Here's the secret to success: Think like an admissions officer. We show you how.
March 6, 2019
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What do you consider the toughest part of the college admissions process?

Number one is taking the SAT, ACT, and AP exams. Yup, that's not fun for most people.

A close second? Completing the college applications! That's according to the 2019 College Hopes & Worries Survey from Princeton Review. College applications are high-stakes because you really care about the outcome, you (hopefully) do it only once or however many siblings or children you have in your family, and there's a fairly steep learning curve.

We know that the applications can seem like a black box sometimes. Why are they asking a certain question? How will your answers affect the admissions outcome? What can you do to maximize your odds of getting accepted as you're answering questions and writing essays in the applications? Because all the stuff you've done up to now is only half the battle. If you don't showcase the right things in the applications in the most effective way, you can be tanking the outcome without even knowing it.

Until the decision arrives. And then you might scratch your head and wonder why all the great things you have to offer weren't enough. The whole thing can feel like a random lottery, or you might conclude that the system is completely rigged. And it will feel like a big black box, because colleges are not going to give you feedback about what you did right and what you did wrong and what you could have done better.

Inline is your alternative. And your superpower. Because Inline teaches you how to think like an admissions officer through every step of the application, including activities lists, essays, disciplinary and criminal disclosures, recommendations, and more.

It even has strategic advice for important decisions you have to make along the way that can have a real effect on the outcome (Should I apply Early Decision or Regular? Should I submit this test score or not?) and all of those innocent looking but loaded questions like "Do you intend to apply for financial aid?" or "What is your intended major?" (Yup, those innocent looking questions can affect the outcome as well.) And what should you do with the free-form, optional "Additional Information" section? Using that section strategically is one of the best things you can do for your application, and we show you how.

And our essay samples don't just show you what other people did. They are annotated so that you can see what makes an essay effective from the perspective of an admissions officer. Because ultimately, that's whose assessment and reaction and thinking process matters most to the outcome — not your English teacher, not your dad, not your friend who's a sophomore at your dream school, not commenters on a discussion board.

What are the parts of the application are you finding most challenging?

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Joy! You Can Get Cracking on Your Common App Essays for 2019-20

The Common App will be keeping the same essay questions as last year. That gives you nine months to draft.
February 22, 2019
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The Common Application has announced that its 2019-20 essay prompts are staying the same as last year's application, which means that if you're a high school Junior, you don't need to wait until the summer to find out what the essay prompts will be for your applications this coming fall. You can read the seven essay prompts here.

Do you need nine months to write your Common app essay? Probably not! The writing is in some ways not the hard part, though. Reflection and brainstorming take time. That's at least half the battle for a successful essay. Take advantage of the lead time for experimentation and do-overs.

Can you get started now if you want to? Yes you can, you eager beaver!

Is there any downside to starting to write your Common App essay now? Not really, but here are some things to take into consideration.

If you'll be applying to colleges that have supplemental essays (i.e. essays specific to that college) as part of their applications, then you might decide to wait until those colleges have released their supplemental essay prompts for 2018-19. Those won't all roll out at the same time, and probably won't until the summer. They'll come out on a slow drip. You probably haven't finalized your college list yet. That's normal.

Once you can see the supplemental essay prompts for all the colleges you'll be applying to, you can see which prompts have topics that overlap, either with each other or with a Common App essay topic. You can mix and match topics in a way that will allow you to get the most mileage out of whatever essays you end up writing, and potentially write fewer essays than you otherwise would have to... if you're strategic about the mixing and matching.

So how do you know which colleges will have supplemental essays? You can see which ones had them in last year's application season in this table. If you zoom in to read the tiny, tiny font (oof!), check out the Supplements > Writing column. If it says "Yes" in that column, then that college had a supplemental essay of some kind in its 2017-18 application (And if the 2017-18 application deadline for that school hasn't passed yet, you can pull up the current applications and check out the supplemental essay questions.) 

Can you rely on that information for this coming application season? Probably yes for 90% of them, because schools don't typically change up their applications all that much from one year to the next. But we won't know yet with any certainty until the new table comes out for 2018-19.

If you want to start writing sooner rather than later, you can pick a Common App essay prompt now even before you know what the supplemental topics will be, and then write a another, different Common App essay for a particular college if it turns out that your first Common App essay would work better as a supplemental essay for that college. That's fine too! 

Pro tip: You can submit different Common App essays to different colleges. Inline gives you advice for each Common App essay prompt and deconstructs sample essays from the perspective of the admissions officer. That way you can start to think about how they actually use and evaluate application essays. Inline teaches you how to think like an admissions officer as you draft your essays. Inline also shows you how to submit different Common App essays to different colleges, which isn't obvious when you're logged into your Common App account.

Starting to write earlier rather than later also gives you time to try drafting several Common App essay topics, using our Inline do's and don't for each one, and seeing which one feels the most natural and speaks to you the most. Give yourself time to reflect and to brainstorm. Sometimes you don't know which one will end up clicking until you're deep into writing in response to a prompt. ("Essay prompt" gets used interchangeably with "essay question" in the admissions world. They mean the same thing.)

You canand get working on the Common Application questions. That information will roll over into your Senior year, no worries. And your Inline tool will roll over into your Senior year as well.

Or you could run through the sprinklers for now and procrastinate until next fall. We don't recommend that though. 😉

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

A Valentine to Your College Counselor

Here are five ways you can make your college counselor's life easier, which means better results for you!
February 4, 2019
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It's National School Counseling Week! If you're a junior gearing up for the college application process this fall, you'll soon learn that your school-based counselor will play a very important role in your success. It's not too early to build a good relationship with that person at your school and start planning ahead for a productive and low-stress working relationship.

1. Understand the role your college counselor plays at your school

Most applicants don't appreciate how much influence a school counselor can have on an admissions officer's evaluation. Admissions officers value what the school counselor has to say about an applicant, and a negative report from the counselor can cause big problems for you. Help that person help you! Be responsive and pleasant to work with.

2. Follow the rules and work within the system

If you think managing your applications to ten colleges requires a lot of work, think about the challenge of managing applications for fifty or four hundred or eight hundred students! Any way you calculate it, that's a lot of applications and applicants to manage, and the only way for that to work is for there to be a system that everyone within the school follows. So follow the rules and work within the established system.

3. Give your school counselor as much lead time as possible

Your school counselor is a very busy person. Extra time is a gift that you can give your counselor that will pay off in multiple ways, including making it more likely that a special request will be granted, that the college deadlines will be met, and that whatever he or she submits on your behalf is well done, accurate, and on time. So don't just meet deadlines but beat them. And if you do have a special request, ask as soon as you know what you need. Don't procrastinate.

4. Take advantage of every opportunity to let the school counselor get to know you

School counselors typically structure opportunities to get to know their students, but students don't always take advantage of them. That leaves the counselor with little information to include in his or her school report, and no guidance from the student about what might be particularly helpful. (What's a "school report"? It's a document that your counselor will be submitting to the colleges you apply to, and that's what the Common App calls it too. It's basically a recommendation from your college counselor, and it's separate from your teacher recommendations.) If your counselor offers individual appointments, schedule one and talk with him or her face to face. If your counselor holds group sessions, attend them and participate. Take notes. Make a calendar of tasks for yourself. Follow up.

5. Recognize that your school counselor is bound by school policies and the law

Your school counselor is a licensed professional who works for your school. He or she must follow the school's policies and also the law. For example, a school counselor is not going to submit your school report until you have formally authorized him or her to do so. That's a legal requirement, because the school report contains private and confidential information about you. If you have a special request for your counselor, make clear that you understand that they have their own rules to follow, and that will make it more likely that you can work together to get your request granted.

Special note for international applicants

Your school may or may not have a school counselor who is well versed in the US college admissions process. If your counselor is not an expert on US college admissions, you might need to educate that person so he or she can help you. Inline has more tips just for international applicants!

Special note for homeschooled applicants

Your counselor is probably one of your parents, and so admissions officers will probably assume a certain amount of bias in his or her evaluation of you. That is why many colleges do not require a counselor recommendation from homeschooled students. Even if they do ask for a counselor/parent recommendation, do seek out additional recommendations from non-parents who can validate what your parents have to say. Inline has more tips just for homeschooled applicants!

You can beginning working on your Common Application as early as your Junior year.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

How to Correct Mistakes in Your College Applications

If you find a mistake after you've already sent them off, don't panic. There are things you can do to set things right again.
January 10, 2019
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Sometimes, even under the best of circumstances, you find an error in your applications after you've submitted them.

Ouch.

We know you're human. So do admissions officers. Your human capacity for error doesn't give you a pass to submit a mistake-riddled application, and ideally, you've submitted applications with zero mistakes. But if you do find a mistake after you've already sent them off, don't panic. There are things you can do to set things right again:

1. Evaluate whether a correction is even necessary.

Not every mistake is a doozie. If the mistake is truly inconsequential (one typo in the name of your swim club), let that sleeping dog lie rather than drawing attention to the mistake with a correction. But if the mistake is anything bigger than a single typo, submit a corrected version of your application form (or the attachment only, if the mistake was in an attachment) with a brief cover letter asking that your corrected application/attachment be substituted for the previous one.

2. Submit a corrected version through the appropriate channel.

Submitting a corrected application can be logistically tricky in the era of online applications, because once your application has been submitted, you are typically prohibited from changing it or resubmitting it. If the college is a Common Application college, you should submit your corrected version and your cover letter directly to that college. You cannot submit any updates or corrections through the Common Application after you have submitted.

3. Communicate directly with the admissions office, as well as through your high school counselor.

There's no harm in redundancy in this case. Make sure to keep both the affected colleges and your high school counselor in the loop. Your counselor might even be able to facilitate whatever correction you need to make.

4. Correct the mistake in any applications you have not yet submitted.

On the Common Application, if your mistake appears on any component other than the essay, you can correct it without creating a new version of the Common Application. If, however, the mistake was in your essay, then you will need to create an alternate version of your essay in the Common Application system. Because this alternate version will use up one of the three alternate versions that you are allowed to use, make sure that you are comfortable using one of your alternates for this purpose. If you are not, check with the college to see if you can submit a corrected version of the essay directly to that college.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

How to Get Your College Applications Done by Winter Break. Magic!

Get your applications in early with a minimum of drama.
November 29, 2018
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January 1 college application deadlines will soon be here.

But you already knew that. 

DON’T PANIC. But don't dawdle either.

How nice would it be to get your applications done by winter break so that you can actually relax and enjoy yourself and celebrate other things that matter in your life? 

Here are 4 things you can start working on TODAY in the final sprint to winter break:

1. Check in with your teachers, counselors, and testing companies about their supporting documents

Believe it or not, your teachers and counselor are as stressed as you are about all the college application deadlines. The more lead time you can give people to write letters on your behalf, the better. If you owe them any materials or conversations, or have yet to get the ball rolling, don’t put this off another day.

If you want to hit those January 1 deadlines (let alone with time to spare), don't make them scramble. They are your allies for your applications, so be super nice to them.

Also, if you haven’t already found out, ask your counselor whether or not your high school uses Naviance to submit their parts of the application. Do so before you start entering your counselor or recommender info into the Common App, because your submission logistics will be different depending on the answer.

Are there any test score reports that still need to be sent by the College Board (SAT), the ACT, or ETS (TOEFL)? Double-check that now and get them ordered if you haven’t done that. (One big money-saving hint: don’t ever pay for rush processing — the colleges download on a regular schedule, so rush processing means nothing.)

We have lots of tips in Inline around recommendations and submission logistics and also so-called FERPA waivers for your recommendations. (You will be asked whether you are waiving your FERPA rights under federal law, and we have some advice around that too.) 

2. Create a work schedule for your applications between now and winter break

Create an application work schedule and go over it with your family. Breaking your application work down into a couple of hours a day will be MUCH more effective than giant marathon sessions. It doesn’t matter whether you use a paper calendar or an electronic calendar, but use some kind of calendar, and map out exactly when you’ll be working on your applications every day.

Then stick to the plan. Stick to the plan. Stick. To. The. Plan.

Between now and winter break, that work calendar is sacred. Some of the Common App or college-specific supplemental questions will require input from your parents (for example, questions about state residency, their marital and family history, and their education and work history), so coordinate your calendar with theirs to budget for that parent-input time. You might also need their signatures for certain parts of the application, like binding Early Decision contracts.  

3. Get cracking on your Common App essay and any supplemental essays for individual colleges

We know. The essays can be scary. And maybe you’ve been putting off all your essay writing until winter break. 

Don’t. 

Inline gives you lots of exercises and worksheets and step-by-step instructions to help you with your essay writing, and we even show you sample essays that explain how those samples are effective from an admissions officer’s point of view. (At Inline, we’re former admissions officers, and we’ve read enough application essays to last us a lifetime.) We know you’re way too smart to copy the essay samples or engage in any plagiarism, but you can get a sense of the range of responses that work really well for different essay prompts and let yourself be inspired, and also guided by plenty of tips based on actual admissions expertise.

You might be tempted to start writing RIGHT NOW, basically throwing a bunch of spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks. That’s not the formula for successful application essays, though. 

Instead, organize your essay topics first so that you can figure out where the overlap is, and where you can recycle your essays. Did you know that you can even swap out the Common App essay for different colleges? You might want to mix-and-match different Common App essays with different supplemental essays for individual colleges. Inline shows you how.

4. Use the Common App Help Desk

The good people at the Common App have a Help Desk (or as they call it, the Solutions Center) during the application season. If you’re running into problems with the Common App platform, contact them for help. More info here: http://www.commonapp.org/help-center

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

When Not to Apply Early Decision

There are some circumstances when it’s better not to apply early, and you’re better off applying in the regular round instead.
October 22, 2018
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Early Decision deadlines are coming up, and you’ve probably heard a lot of advice about why it’s a good idea to apply early to college. But there are some circumstances when it’s better not to apply early, and you’re better off applying in the regular round instead.

DO NOT APPLY EARLY IF YOU EXPECT YOUR CREDENTIALS TO IMPROVE BETWEEN THE EARLY DEADLINE AND THE REGULAR DEADLINE.

Are you at your most competitive in time for the early deadline? If you can get ten more points on the SAT and that would throw you into a different percentile, you're going to get more bang for your buck from your improved credentials than from an early application. It’s not unusual (especially for boys) for test scores at the end of 11th grade to be lower than they are even six month later. There can be meaningful gains on tests in that amount of time.

Similarly, some students don’t really catch fire academically until 11th grade, and being able to apply with those first semester grades from 12th grade is really important.

Bottom line: Applying early is good only in an “all else being equal” scenario, and you might have a good reason to wait.

IF YOU ARE APPLYING EARLY, BE SMART ABOUT WHERE YOU USE YOUR EARLY ADMISSIONS “CHIP.”

Because you’re allowed to apply Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action to only ONE school, you’ll have to make some strategy decisions. Maybe Stanford is your dream school but you’re not likely to get in. But if you used your early “chip” at Brown, that might be enough to make a difference in the outcome there. So what do you do? You’ll hear a lot of people tell you to “follow your dreams,” but you also want to be clear-eyed about where you’re likely to get in with the benefit of applying early. Applying early to a school where you’re not already competitive is wasting your early “chip.”

IF YOU WANT TO COMPARE FINANCIAL AID OFFERS, DON'T APPLY EARLY DECISION

If you're admitted through an early decision application, you will have to withdraw your applications everywhere else, and you won't be able to submit any new applications. So if financial aid is a factor in your decision about where to go to college, and you want to be able to compare financial aid offers and the actual, bottom-line price tags of different colleges you're admitted to, regular decision would be a better option for you.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

What's at Stake in Bias Lawsuit Against Harvard

Inline CEO Anna Ivey weighs in on affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard
October 16, 2018
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Have you heard about the lawsuit against Harvard’s affirmative action policies? Inline CEO Anna Ivey gave this interview recently about how race factors into the college admissions process. Watch the clip here.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Criminal Disclosures in the Common App

How to tackle disclosure questions about criminal history in the Common App and member supplements
August 8, 2018
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Whoa, this is a big deal. Starting in the 2019-20 cycle, the Common App will no longer be asking applicants about criminal history, although individual colleges will still be able to ask the question in their Common App supplements. It will be interesting to see which colleges continue to ask the question. (NYU, for example, asks a much narrower question about criminal history than the Common App does.)

In the meantime, we have advice on how to tackle criminal disclosures in our Inline tool.

The Common App disclosure question reads as follows (it's almost at the very end of the Common App Writing section, under the "Disciplinary History" tab): 

Have you ever been adjudicated guilty or convicted of a misdemeanor or felony? Note that you are not required to answer "yes" to this question, or provide an explanation, if the criminal adjudication or conviction has been expunged, sealed, annulled, pardoned, destroyed, erased, impounded, or otherwise required by law or ordered by a court to be kept confidential.

That language can cause confusion for people who have been in deferred adjudication and probation programs, which is not uncommon with juvenile run-ins with the law. It also assumes college applicants understand the difference between a citation and a misdemeanor. (In some jurisdictions, a traffic ticket is a misdemeanor; in others, it's a citation.) The question assumes one knows the ins and outs of criminal law in specific jurisdictions. File this under Exhibit J for "We expect a lot of knowledge from young people."

Inline has your back.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Which Optional College Application Essays Are Actually Must-Do's

Many colleges offer optional essay topics in addition to required essays. Here's how to figure out which optionals are actually must-do's
August 7, 2018
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Many colleges offer optional essay topics in addition to their required essays. How do you figure out which optional essays are truly optional, and which ones are actually must-do's?

One quick way to distinguish is to look at the nature of the optional essay question. Is it asking some version of "Why are you applying here" or "Why are you a good fit for our school?" If so, it's effectively asking, "Why Us?" Northwestern's optional essay topic is a good example. Here's the prompt:

Other parts of your application give us a sense for how you might contribute to Northwestern. But we also want to consider how Northwestern will contribute to your interests and goals. In 300 words or less, help us understand what aspects of Northwestern appeal most to you, and how you'll make use of specific resources and opportunities here. 

What they're actually asking is "How badly do you want to go here?" If you don't submit a thoughtful essay in response, you're essentially answering: "Not very much." And that's a quick way to get rejected.

What those schools are showing you is that they are very sensitive to who is genuinely interested in them, and they really want to know what specific things are drawing you to that college, for example if you're really interested in their dance program and want to participate in their dance club. Be specific!

(The admissions folks at Northwestern are especially nice because they even tell you at the end of the essay prompt: "We HIGHLY recommend you complete this essay." Not all colleges are that blunt, though.) 

Other kids of essay topics are truly optional, and it won't benefit you to submit something just because you can. For example, Harvard has a looooong list of optional essay topics, but not a single one of them is some variety of "Why Us?" (It's nice to be Harvard; they assume you want to go there.) That's how they're signaling to you that the optional essays are truly optional. If you go over to the Harvard admissions website, they even tell you as much in their Application Tips if you click on the little "i" icon:

There is no “extra credit” for writing this optional piece. As you are filling out the application, if there is not a topic that naturally comes to mind then you should probably skip this question.

So a good rule is that if an optional essay topic is asking some version of "Why Us?", definitely write something (and make it good).

And if the optional essay question is not a "Why Us" essay prompt, submit something only if it's a strong piece of writing AND it says something about you that isn't already demonstrated somewhere else in the application. For example, if the optional essay question is "Is there anything else you want us to know about you," don't use that as an opportunity to say to them, "Oh by the way can I mention that I received an A+." That won't add anything valuable or new to your application, and you're better off not submitting the optional essay at all.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

The 2018-19 Common App Is Live

The Common App goes live today, and we're giving a preview of a great new feature that will save you a lot of money. What's not to love?
August 1, 2018
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Guess what? THE COMMON APP WENT LIVE AGAIN TODAY! They've rolled it out for the 2018-19 application season after a brief refresh. Aww, happy birthday CommonApp. Here's looking at another great year.

Now that the CommonApp is live again, over here at Inline we're busy doing our own refresh to update all our advice, hints, and Inline Intel.

One of the most exciting changes this year — a big benefit for you, the applicants — is that a bunch of schools will permit you to self-report your standardized test scores starting in this cycle. That will save you a lot of money! You used to have to pay the testing companies, College Board and ETS, to send official scores to your colleges. That added up and was really discouraging for a lot of applicants. Hats off to the colleges that now let you self-report.

If a school lets you self-report, take advantage of that and click "YES." You'll still have to have your official scores sent to the one lucky college where you end up enrolling, but that's a whole lot cheaper than the old system. 

Just make sure you self-report your scores accurately. Otherwise, any discrepancies can cause trouble for you down the road when your college sees your official scores.

OK, have a great year, and please contact us if you have any questions about your applications, our Inline tool, or the admissions process more generally. We're here to help you think like an admissions officer while you work through your apps and apply like a pro.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Your Social Media Life and College Admissions

Do admissions officers review your social media accounts? Sometimes. Here's what you need to know.
July 30, 2018
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Do admissions officers review your social media accounts? Sometimes. Here's what you need to know.

In our experience, they don't have the time to do that on a regular basis, but sometimes they do, and they can always spot-check if they feel it's warranted. And sometimes people will tip them off about posts that are racist, homophobic, or misogynistic, for example. (Hello, Harvard memes scandal.) 

Because the chances are greater than 0% that an admissions officer might take a look, it's a good idea to review your own social media content and make sure your posts, photos, or even usernames don't show you in an unfavorable light for admissions purposes. Puppies, otters, vacation photos, selfies... fine. But if they show you double-fisting beer bottles, for example, you're better off taking them down, especially if you have to make any disclosures around alcohol-related offenses. As always, we're trying to teach you to think like an admissions officer and view things through their eyes. 

Pro tip #1: Even if you have your posts set to private, check your public-facing posts or photos and any comments attached to public posts or photos. (Sometimes friends can post comments that look bad; just delete those.) For example, on Facebook, your profile photos and cover photos and any business/event Page Likes are all public. So if you have Liked 16 beer-related festivals back to back, that might make an impression, and the admissions officer might wonder if you'd constantly be in the Dean of Students' hair getting busted for underage drinking or an incipient drinking problem. 

Pro tip #2: The Harvard memes group was a private one on Facebook. Even if something is private, or you're using an alias (like on Reddit), it's not hard for schools to find out what they want to find out. And in general, your online posts and identity are never truly private

Read more here ("Applying to college? Admissions officers may be checking you out on social media").

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Should You Take the SAT or ACT or Both?

Here's our advice about standardized testing for anyone who plans on applying to selective four-year colleges in the U.S.
May 30, 2018
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So many tests, so little time. When it comes to standardized testing for future college applicants, there are some decisions you have to make before fall of Senior year in high school to help you maximize your options when the time comes to apply. But there are ways to "work smarter, not harder."

When we talk about which tests to take, we realize that these are moving targets because of changes on the test side of the world, particularly on the SAT side. The fact that the SAT has been in flux recently informs the advice we give. Here's our advice for anyone who plans on applying to selective four-year colleges in the U.S. We assume you're still in the planning stages, so that would be 11th grade in the U.S. 12-year system. 

 

1. Plan on taking the SAT or the ACT

It's true that more and more colleges are going "test-optional," meaning that they are no longer requiring the SAT or the ACT from applicants, although you can still submit scores if you choose to. You might end up applying only to test-optional schools, or you might end up with a mix. Or you might turn out to be really good at the tests, in which case a good SAT or ACT score would still work in your favor even if they're not required. 

Many students don’t apply to a list of schools that is 100% test optional, so as you're planning ahead, you need to have one of those tests under your belt. Then the question becomes which one to take.

 

2. Take a diagnostic SAT and diagnostic ACT

Do take diagnostic SAT and ACT tests because there’s no way to predict whether you are going to do better on the SAT or ACT or equally well until you’ve taken a practice test of each in timed conditions. Every test prep company in the world will do this for free as part of the sales process, or it will be the first thing you do once you sign up for test prep. 

For the ACT, take a look at the free diagnostics offered by ArborBridge (or any test prep company you like). 

For the SAT, take a practice diagnostic test through Khan Academy. Because the SAT has changed recently, test prep companies have to simulate practice questions for the new SAT — they can't rely on real questions from the older tests. From our perspective, that's less than ideal. At this time, Khan Academy is only test prep organization that has access through College Board to real practice questions written by the College Board (the makers of the SAT), and it’s all free. 

 

3. After the diagnostic tests, pick the ACT or the SAT and stick with it

If the SAT is demonstrably your better test, run with it. Otherwise, stick with ACT.

Sometimes parents push back because they don’t want to spend the time on all that diagnostic testing. We'd like to persuade you that this tip translates into “work smarter, not harder."

We don’t suggest you prep for both tests longer term. Spending some time up-front on both diagnostics allows you to pick the test you're better at and then focus your test prep around it. Parents usually have a bias in favor of one test or another (often based on their own experiences many years ago), so this tip is also designed to help parents get out of the bias.

If you do equally well on both diagnostics, then commit to the ACT because it gives you the option of avoiding subject tests. Parents and kids love to hear that, because it means fewer tests longer term (many colleges don't require SAT subject tests if you take the ACT). If you can take the ACT and call it a day, that's great news.

There are still a few schools that require the subject tests even if you take the ACT, but it still gives you lots of options if your subject tests don’t come back particularly strong. Do plan on taking at least two SAT subject tests to keep your options open.

 

4. Include the Writing portion of the ACT / SAT

Fewer and fewer colleges require the Writing section, but if you want to preserve all options, it's still a good idea to take it, for now.

 

We'll continue keeping an eye on developments in SAT- and ACT-land, and also on the best test prep options as students and test prep organizations adapt to the new SAT. 

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Don't Catch the Senioritis Bug

May 1 is the deposit deadline for incoming college freshmen. But you're not done yet!
May 1, 2018
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May 1 is a day to celebrate. For many schools, it's the deposit deadline for accepting your college admissions offer, and so you might be tempted to think it's also the end of your college application marathon.

ALMOST.

Even after you have put down your deposit, you still have obligations you must meet in order to keep that spot in the incoming class. Plunking down money isn't the only hoop you have to jump through. (Although it's an important one. DO NOT MISS THE DEPOSIT DEADLINE. Seriously.)

You will also have to submit your final Senior year transcript when the time comes. And if you've slacked off or gotten into disciplinary trouble, that can cause problems, and might even result in your offer being revoked. And then you lose your spot. Oof. That can and does happen and it's heartbreaking. Don't let that be you.

Same goes for any other kind of conduct disclosure, like run-ins with the law. Keep your record clean. If you already had legal issues to disclose, don't go out and create new ones.

You've made it this far. Keep up the good work!

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

More Colleges Joining the Common App for 2018-19

The Common App welcomes 34 new colleges
April 10, 2018
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The Common Application just announced its newest members for the upcoming season (and by "members," they mean colleges who use the Common App). They're joining 750+ colleges that have already been using the Common App. That's a lot! The Common App includes colleges from 49 U.S. states and 19 countries. You can create your Common App account here, and make sure to download Inline for help along the way.

Here's the list of Common App newbies for the 2018-19 admissions season as of April 10, 2018. (There will likely be more to come.) Welcome!

New England

Bridgewater State University (MA)

Mid-Atlantic

Cairn University (PA)

Penn State (PA)

Queens College, CUNY (NY)

Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania (PA)

St. Francis College (NY)

University of Pittsburgh (PA)

Webb Institute (NY)

South

Bellarmine University (KY)

Florida State University (FL)

Radford University (VA)

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (NC)

The Wilkes Honors College of FAU (FL)

University of North Carolina at Charlotte (NC)

West

Oregon State University (OR)

The University of Utah (UT)

Warner Pacific University (OR)

Midwest

CCAD - Columbus College of Art & Design (OH)

Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) (IN)

Lewis University (IL)

Michigan State University (MI)

Morningside College (IA)

Quincy University (IL)

The University of Kansas (KS)

University of Central Missouri (MO)

University of Cincinnati - Blue Ash College and Clermont College (OH)

University of Iowa (IA)

University of Mount Union (OH)

Walsh University (OH)

Wright State University (OH)

Hawaii

Chaminade University of Honolulu

Puerto Rico

Universidad del Este (UNE)

International

Arts University Bournemouth (United Kingdom)

Temple University, Japan Campus (Japan)

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

Harvard Drops SAT / ACT Writing Requirement

Anna recently spoke to the Harvard Crimson about Harvard's decision to drop the SAT and ACT Writing Requirements.
March 20, 2018
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Anna recently spoke to the Harvard Crimson about Harvard's decision to drop the SAT and ACT Writing Requirements. Read more here

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.