The College Application Essay: Better to Start Now Rather than Later

EiStock_000015974259Largeven though it’s summer, instead of spending your days watching Netflix and lounging by the pool, your time would be best spent by taking some time to prepare for upcoming college application essays.

Don’t wait until September or October when you are stressed out with homework, sports, and other extra-curricular activities. Now is the time to write your essays so you have more time to think of topics and important achievements, edit and proofread your drafts, work with a mentor on writing, and get all your ideas out on paper. The common application essay questions are already available on admissions websites, which means you have more time to draft an essay.

Here’s how to take advantage of this and make your summer really count:

Create your list of schools & find out their essay requirements

Before you start your essay, create a list of the schools to which you want to apply. Not every school has the common application essay prompt, so be sure to separate the ones that don’t have it on your list – you don’t want to do the wrong essay!

Jot down your accomplishments & achievements

Write a list of your biggest accomplishments and achievements. This is your time to brag so don’t be shy!

Did you win the state championship this year? Did you get a perfect score on your hardest test? Did you solve a problem that had been bothering you for quite some time? Finding out what you’re most proud of can be helpful when figuring out which prompt to write about.

Determine what best topics might be

Have your surroundings or situation at home strongly influenced your beliefs or a path you have taken? Each of us has our own unique set of circumstances and surroundings that often have a profound influence in shaping our lives. Determine what is important to you, share a failure, or talk about a time you challenged an idea. Find more topics on our “The College Admissions Essay: Coming Up With a Topic” blog post.

Find a mentor to guide you through the revising & editing process

Ask someone to proofread your essay and work with you on revising your essay. Some teachers may be available in the summer to help out.

Tutors are also available to help you organize your thoughts into a clear and cohesive essay. If Educational Connections can be of assistance in this process, give us a call today and we can work on finding the right tutor match for you.


Check out these resources on writing your best essay:

How to Write the Best College Essay in 6 Easy Steps


How to Study for the ACT Science Section

ACT scienceThe biggest myth about the ACT science section is that you have to be a science whiz.

Guess what? You don’t!!!

You just have to know science enough to not get intimidated and bogged down with science graphs and tables, even if they are of concepts you are totally unfamiliar with.

After you realize that you don’t have to be a science superstar to do well on the ACT, but that really it’s more about being a strong reader, it’s important to understand what to expect on the Science section and how to study for each of the 3 main types of passages.

Also, the Science Section is 35 minutes long and has 7 passages in total.  This means you only have about 5 minutes per passage. Knowing what to expect beforehand and how to divide your time will result in multiple minutes saved and less stress on test day.

These passages are broken down as follows:

  • Data Representation
  • Research Summary
  • Conflicting Viewpoints

Data Representation Passages

Data representation passages are often full of big charts and graphs that take up almost a whole page in the test booklet.  Topics covered range from meteorology, astronomy, ecology, and biology to physics.

You might see:

  • A graph of the different layers of the atmosphere, the earth, or outer space
  • A chart of the life cycle of different types of insects
  • A diagram of how fast cars accelerate under varying driving conditions

What should you do?

Jump right to the questions!

Data representation passages are designed to throw you off your game, but they are where you can save time. They are meant to test your ability to navigate charts and graphs.

Jumping directly to the questions as opposed to studying the passage is the best way to see which part of the chart or graph you need to understand.  As you read the question, treat it like a map and literally move your finger to the axis, unit, or object in the chart or graph that is referenced in the question.  This will guide you to the information you need to find the correct answer.

Doing this will save you about 2 minutes per passage, dropping your time needed for Data Representation passages to a mere 3 minutes or so.

If you are starting your ACT preparation months before an exam, then you have the choice of skimming data representation passages before delving into the questions so that you become familiar with the kinds of topics that will be covered.  This is a good approach in the early stages of studying and helps prevent you from getting overwhelmed by unknown science concepts.

Research Summary Passages

Research summary passages present a short description and a few accompanying diagrams illustrating a specific experiment or two.

The general approach is very similar to that of Data Representation passages—jump to the questions.

However, many students benefit from:

  • Skimming the introductory passage that describes the experiments or research to become familiar with what is going on
  • Perusing the charts and diagrams to help navigate back to them from questions
  • Determining what the experiment is measuring—is it the speed of meteors, the strength of visible wavelengths as seen through a microscope, or how a substance’s properties change when exposed to different temperatures?

Since you have about 5-6 minutes per passage (after shaving off valuable time from Data Representation passages), only spend about a minute or so skimming the introduction and trying to understand the specifics of the experiments and how they are set up.

Conflicting Viewpoints Passages

These can be zingers. They are passages that look like they belong in the Reading Section more so than the Science Section.

Conflicting viewpoints passages have a description summarizing one scientist’s view on a science-related topic and then another description summarizing another scientist’s view on the same topic.

These passages are designed to drain your time, since you do have to read them like you would a passage on the Reading Section. So don’t let them! Since there is only one of these passages in the entire section, save it for the end so that you can use only the time you have remaining to work on it.

The key things to look for while reading are:

  • In what ways the scientists agree
  • In what ways the scientists disagree

The goal is to spend enough time reading so that you have some mental (or written) notes on the differences and similarities between the two passages. If the first scientist claims that substance X melts at a higher temperature under certain conditions, that should be a red flag for you to note what the second scientist thinks about the melting behavior of the same substance.

When you’re done reading, start with questions that refer only to passage one, then move on to questions that just refer just to passage two, and end with the questions that refer to both passages, which are the hardest ones.

If you are short of time, then just read the first passage and find all the questions that pertain to it before doing the same for the second passage.  Then make your best guess on questions pertaining to both passages.

General Tips for the ACT Science Section

  1. Watch axes—sometimes units of measurement decrease the higher on the axis they are.
  2. Check units—this is an age-old trap but it works, so check that the units in the question match the units you found on the chart/graph.
  3. Double check paired answer choices—paired answer choices are ones that offer two sets of answers that are the same, aside from one change like “increasing” or “more than.” It’s all too easy to narrow your answer choices to two of the wrong choices, so read slowly and double check your work.
  4. Guess—this tip pertains to all sections on the ACT so even if you’re short on time, intimidated, or totally lost, always pencil in an answer for every question.

Remember: You can become an ACT Science Section whiz without being a master of science!

Understanding the types of passages, how to approach each, keeping in mind the general tips listed above, and practicing again and again and again before the actual exam is how you can ace the ACT Science Section.


The Current SAT: Not the Best Option for all Juniors

SAT Logo

It’s standardized test prep season and there are currently three options for high school juniors and seniors to consider:

  • The current SAT
  • The redesigned SAT (first offered in March 2016)
  • The ACT

Many options are usually great, but in this case…

BEWARE: some schools will not accept the current SAT for students graduating in 2017.

Virginia Tech has recently announced that it will not be accepting the current SAT for high school students graduating in 2017.  This means that all current juniors who intend to apply to the school will need to take the new SAT (first offered in March 2016) or the ACT. Why the change? The admissions department at Tech wants to evaluate applicants using the same assessment and using only the latest version of the test makes the review process consistent.

Although this decision doesn’t affect many students who traditionally take the test in the spring of their junior year, it has a major impact on those who took the test early. So often, recruited athletes and others who simply want to get the test out of the way now have to prepare once again for the new version of the test.

It is possible that other colleges will start doing the same thing as Virginia Tech, so please keep this in mind as you decide which test you plan on taking and which schools you will apply to.

The bottom line: choose your schools of interest before preparing for an exam to make sure that the schools will accept your test scores.

If Educational Connections can be of any assistance in helping you in choosing the right test for you and preparing for it in order to get the scores you want, please give us a call at (703) 934 – 8282.


Thinking about Taking the New SAT? Read This First.

For many high school juniors, taking the new SAT (also called the Revised SAT) for the first time this spring may seem like a rite of passage. After all, most students take a college entrance exam a couple of times in the spring of their junior year and often again in the fall of their senior year. But 2016 is going to be full of changes when it comes to standardized testing. Here’s why:

Scantron picture

  • The SAT is changing. In October of 2015, students across the United States will take the revised version of the PSAT. This gives students practice for the actual exam that colleges consider during admissions, the SAT.
  • The College Board will continue to administer the current version of the SAT this fall and up to January 23rd. January is the last time students can sit for the exam in its current form.
  • The new SAT will be rolled out March 5, 2016. This will be the first time students will be able to take the updated version.
  • Although scores are typically available about two weeks after testing, that won’t be the case for those taking the March test. The College Board has recently confirmed that scores will not be available until after the next administration of the test which is on May 7th.

Why does this matter?

Students need to see their score reports to determine how they performed on each section so that they can prepare for the next test, but because scores won’t be released until after the May test, this won’t be possible for this year’s class of high school juniors. Furthermore, a small percentage of students plan to take the test only once, but they won’t have the luxury of knowing if their score is high enough for the schools to which they are applying. These students will likely continue to practice to ensure a solid score.

Why the delay? The College Board will not have the normative data from enough students taking the new SAT to create accurate scaled scores from raw scores. The additional time will also allow them to analyze the data to create scaled scores for each section (200-800).

There are lots of unknowns when it comes to the new SAT and for that reason, we’ve seen that the vast majority of the juniors we’re preparing for testing are electing to go with the ACT. Although the essay on the ACT has tweaked a bit, the multiple choice sections are unchanged.

If you have a high schooler interested in knowing which test might be the best bet for him or her, consider one of our practice tests. We’re offering the current SAT, new SAT, and ACT in a simulated testing environment. Taking a practice test not only gives students the change to hone their skills, but it also helps them decide which test they are likely to score better on in the first place. For those that take one of our mock exams, we’ll provide a detailed score report and follow up phone call to help them decide which test is best.

We have two dates coming up on October 17th and November 14th for current juniors and seniors. Click here to register for one of our mock exams.


Time to Learn the Ropes of the New ACT Essay

Kids studying

Yes, that’s right, there are yet again changes to the ACT test.

If your child is taking the exam on or after September 12th, 2015, then he or she (and you!) will need to learn the ropes of the new ACT essay.

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

Change is in the air

Here’s how things are changing:


Students will have 40 minutes to complete the essay instead of 30 minutes.


There will be a description of a controversial issue, like whether smoking should be permitted in public spaces or if it poses too much of a public health risk.  Then there will be three perspectives on the issue that students need to read and evaluate.

It’s up to the student to either adopt one of the perspectives as their own, come up with an entirely new perspective, or take bits and pieces of the stated perspectives to create a position.


The four categories of scoring are:

  • Ideas and analysis (argument/thesis)
  • Organization, (introduction, body, conclusion)
  • Development and support (evidence)
  • Language use (grammar and mechanics)

Each section will be scored from 1-6 by two independent graders.  The result? A final scaled score of 1-36 (don’t try to figure out the math..).

The folks at the Online Writing Lab hosted by Purdue University know what they’re talking about when it comes to grammar, so have your child check it out for a quick review.  And be sure they review comma use!


How can your child take advantage of the changes?

Save yourself from getting overwhelmed by the changes by conveying to your child how she can make them work in her favor.

First off: make an outline!

Just because students now have extra time to write doesn’t mean that they ought to start writing as soon as the proctor says “Open your booklet and begin.”

Instead, students should use the extra time to plan their essay.

Completing a 5-minute outline always results in a better-organized essay than skipping it entirely.  Ask any teacher and if they don’t agree, send me a message because I need to have a little chat with them…

Think of the outline as a roadmap (or in today’s world, a GPS): without it, you end up wandering and lost, which is an inefficient expenditure of time and energy.

Remind your child that essay graders are looking for a standard 5 paragraph essay, so the easiest way to approach the outline is to spend about 1 minute jotting down notes for each section: introduction, body paragraphs 1,2, and 3, and conclusion.

Second: craft an argument!

An argument is basically a thesis statement that clearly takes a side or position on a topic.  Graders want to see that the student can understand multiple perspectives on a given topic and come up with evidence to support one over another.

PSST! Here’s a secret: the student can “stretch” the truth of his response!

Let me explain…

There is no rule that says your child must write about how he or she truly feels about a topic.  While picking the position that you actually identify with usually leads to better and easier writing, sometimes, especially with controversial or personal topics, it is more difficult.

So encourage your child to pick whichever position he can make the strongest case for—even if it goes against what he actually believes.  This is an exercise in good writing, not ethics.

And third: brush up on these skills

  • Evaluating, relating, and synthesizing multiple perspectives: how are they the same and different? What are the pros and cons of each? What is each missing? What kinds of people does the perspective take into consideration and whom does it ignore?
  • Articulating a clear (i.e. NOT ambiguous) thesis statement. The ACT essay is not a time to be complex and fancy: pick one position and put a ring on it for the whole essay!
  • Gathering evidence: how are you going to prove you are right? Can you draw on your own (perhaps embellished) experience? Can you think of logical reasons why your position is the better or correct one?

How can you help your child practice these skills?

Ask how they feel about current event news items and then challenge them to take an alternative perspective and disprove themselves.

Dinner table talk is about to get way more interesting!

If we can help your child prepare for the ACT or any standardized test, please don’t hesitate to check out our tutoring options or shoot Erin and email at [email protected].


Three Things College Admissions Look For

The deadline for early decision college applications is quickly approaching, which means for high school seniors college applications is on the brain. There are hundreds of thousands of books, blogs, and articles on the college admissions process.

But what exactly is every admission team looking for? What is the magic formula to receive a thick admission packet versus a sparse denial letter? The reality is that there isn’t one set of admission criteria that applies to all applicants.

With that being said, there are some general things all students can do to better their chances of acceptance at GW or any other college or university throughout the US.

Grades Matter for College Admissions, But Rigor Matters More

“A ‘B’ in an AP class looks better to a college than an ‘A+’ in a ‘regular class.’” My high school guidance counselor shared this advice with me in my senior year of high school when I was debating if I wanted to take AP Economics or not. I had always loved the social sciences but math, graphs, and numbers had become my long-time enemy and I was nervous about involving myself with them at the college level.

The alternative was to remain in another elective class: video communications. A sure fire ‘A.’ Ultimately, I decided to take the risk. I enrolled in AP Macro Economics and the class was not easy. It required studying and perseverance. I had to think creatively and scramble to review the material. But ultimately, I earned an ‘A’ and my GPA benefited and so did my likelihood of college acceptance. While I chose to pursue the more rigorous and challenging of the two options, many of my peers opted for the guaranteed ‘A.’ In fact, throughout the country many students choose to “take it easy” their senior year by loading up on easy electives that guarantee an ‘A’ to anyone who breathes oxygen. But these students are making a huge mistake.

In an interview conducted by the New York Times, Jeff Rickey, the vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at St. Lawrence University, shed some light on the importance of academic rigor in the admission process. When asked what colleges look for when reviewing students’ transcripts, Rickey says the first thing is rigor. “If AP courses are offered, we would expect to see AP courses on the transcript. If honor courses are the highest level, we would expect to see them.”

When faced with the question of what is preferred, an ‘A’ at a general level or a ‘B’ at an advanced level, Rickey agrees with my high school guidance counselor saying, “As we admissions officers say when we are asked this question, ‘An ‘A’ in an Advanced Placement class!’ But, seriously, the student should take the most challenging course that is best for him or her. The extra challenge of the AP course may prepare the student better for the challenge of college courses.”

Know Your Competition

Choosing challenging classes and doing well in them is a crucial step for college applicants. But what happens when your peers within those classes are applying to the same school?

According to GW, all students from any given school are compared consecutively. That means that classmates are compared to one another. However, this is not to enforce a quota. In fact, GW argues that this provides a more fair reading and interpretation of each student’s application. GW admissions representative Brit Freitag says, “We read in school groups because then you get more consistency. It’s actually more fair.” The Post article goes on to say, “Knowing as much as possible about a student’s school and classmates provides essential context.”

This becomes clear when you look at the matriculation list for a school like Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a Fairfax County public school that offers an elite magnet program for some of Northern Virginia’s brightest students. Annually, TJ graduates matriculate to some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the nation. According to TJ’s student newspaper, the class of 2013 sent over 65 students to William and Mary, 11 to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 10 to Princeton, 8 to Stanford, 86 to University of Virginia, 10 to Carnegie Mellon University, and 3 to Harvard.

In looking at these statistics, it is clear that quotas are not entirely at play, but admission personnel know the rigor of TJ’s program. Simply put, an ‘A’ at TJ is harder to earn than an ‘A’ at most other schools.

Other Factors that Affect Admission Decisions

Demographics do come into play. Though GW says that gender is not a make-or-break criteria, it is brought up during the discussion regarding a student if that student is male. This is because 55 percent of GW’s population is female, so being a male is an advantage in their admission process. In all reality, there is nothing an applicant can do regarding the color of their skin or their gender, but it is something to keep in mind throughout the application process.

Keeping demographics in mind, there are some other things students can do to make their application stand out. I recently wrote a blog on the key to writing a compelling college application essay, in which I emphasized the importance of standing out. This idea is central to being selected for admission to university. At GW, admission personnel read between 30 and 40 applications a day, and they do this for months. The Washington Post recently stated that many college applications are reviewed initially for 5 to 15 minutes. Making an impression is not a simple task, but it is one that can make the difference between acceptance and denial.

According to Rickey, the key is taking a deep interest in a handful of activities rather than a shallow participation in many. In his interview he stated, “We admissions officers are fans of students with deep involvement in a few activities. We are not fans of students who pad their list of activities in their junior and senior years to look more engaged.”

Another important thing for student’s to highlight in their applications is why they want to attend that particular school. This is known as ‘Demonstrated Interest’ and different schools place different weight on it. For example, Trinity University’s website reads, “Visiting campus, emailing or calling an admissions counselor, attending a Trinity In Focus program, talking with a representative when they visit your high school, and stopping by our table at a college fair are some of the ways to show the Admissions Committee that you are genuinely interested in attending Trinity, and help us get to know you better.” However, Duke has stated, “Duke does not take demonstrated interest into account when evaluating applications. Although we are glad that you may have visited our campus or asked us questions about the school, demonstrated interest is not an advantage in the admissions process.”

But according to GW’s admission staff, student interest can be a compelling feature of an application.  “Sometimes applicants write mostly about Washington, D.C., rather than the university. Or they just write about themselves. Not helpful.” It is important for many schools to understand why it would be a match between the student and the campus. This information can be included in the personal statement or the essay and should be specific to the student’s goals/experience and programs or opportunities the college presents.

Ultimately, all of these factors are important in the application process, but according to most colleges, grades and test scores are crucial to at least getting your foot in the door. Without a strong GPA and solid SAT or ACT test scores, students’ applications will be tossed aside regardless of accomplishments or demonstrated interest. The good news is that schools like to see students who are on the upward trend rather than the downward trend. So if you have a student who struggled initially in high school, hope is not lost. It is important for colleges to see the student has a desire to improve and that he or she can come back from a ‘C’ or even a ‘D.’ But to do so many students may need to work with a private tutor or educational coach to address content deficits and improve study skills.


College Prep Timeline

As a parent, you know that college is one of the most important milestones in your student’s life. Writing a strong essay and scoring high on the SATs can be crucial when it comes to getting accepted. However, it is often the case that students, and parents as well, do not put much consideration into the application process until senior year. At this point, students are involved in so many activities and worrying about keeping up with schoolwork that it can make the whole college selection process very stressful.

So when is the right time to begin planning college? Numerous studies and college websites indicate that students should start thinking about college the moment they enter high school.

Students may argue that they do not know what they want to do for the rest of their lives upon entering high school, or that it is too early to be thinking about such long-term plans. This may be true; however there are some simple, no-pressure steps your student can take to ensure they are on the right track.

Here are some easy things your student can do each year of high school to help prepare them for college:

Preparing for College in Freshman Year

At this time, college may not be the top priority in your mind, however it is still a good idea to start educating yourself about the college process. Colleges like to see if you are on a certain track in school, whether it be math intensive or even business related (taking marketing or economic classes). Think about the classes and electives you’ve enjoyed taking in the past, and try to incorporate these interests in a diploma program that works best for you.

Also, take the time to have some fun and join a bunch of clubs and extracurricular activities. Don’t think about it too much, just join whatever seems interesting or what you think would be exciting to try. Maybe you have always wanted to learn how to cook, so you decide to join the culinary club. This may also spark an interest and open new doors to future careers that you may not have considered before.

Preparing for College in Sophomore Year

After experiencing a good amount of clubs and extracurricular activities, it is time to start narrowing them down to the ones you think would have an impact on your future. If you love writing and you are part of the creative writing club, then it may be beneficial to seek a leadership role within the club. This looks great on a college application, and shows how passionate you are about a certain subject if you would like to major in it. Also, research scholarship opportunities that relate to your interests or competitions where you can enter your work for awards.

If you feel it is manageable, discuss taking challenging academic courses with your parents and counselor. Make sure that the classes you decide to take on are something you are thoroughly interested in and can excel in; taking advanced classes without much consideration can damage you GPA if you are not ready to handle the coursework and load.

And don’t forget to take the PSAT!  This is extremely important in order to figure out a baseline and help you prepare for the upcoming SAT.

Preparing for College in Junior Year

Okay, now this is the time to get serious! You will want to research schools that offer majors you are interested in, and learn about what they can provide in terms of campus life and activities. Take campus tours and familiarize yourself with the college atmosphere, and select a few schools that you feel you could succeed at. Learn all you can about their application processes, and what they look for in potential candidates.  If possible, sit in on an actual class in order to really get a taste of the college experience.

Colleges find a student’s junior year to be the most crucial when it comes to grades, and you will want to make sure you are performing to the best of your abilities. Study diligently for upcoming midterms and exams, especially if you are taking AP classes. Do not slack off or lose focus on your goals, and always ask for help from teachers, tutors, or parents as needed.

This is the year you will take the SAT. Many students dread taking this for the first time, however it is not uncommon for students to achieve lower scores than expected during their first take. You can familiarize yourself with the test and get an idea on what to focus on improving before taking it for the second time. It is always beneficial to get a tutor to help prepare your student for the SAT and provide important test-taking strategies.

Preparing for College in Senior Year

It is time to apply everything you have learned in the past three years and begin your college application process! Narrow down the list to the top few schools you are interested in, and figure out what is needed for each school. You will need to fill out applications, prepare essays, and gather letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors. Have a plan in mind for completing this in the beginning of the school year in order to avoid rushing and last minute submissions.

If necessary, retake the SAT after taking the time to prepare, study, and improve your areas of weakness. Colleges will only consider your highest scores out of each section, so it is best to take the test more than once. Be sure to sign up for the test early in the school year, as it may be too late to take the test after the fall.

Taking these steps will help prepare you for college well beforehand and make for a smoother application process. Your senior year is not meant to be the start of the process, but rather a way to fine-tune and tie up any loose ends that you have been preparing for. Selecting the best school does not need to be a stressful; you just need to plan out your steps beforehand and make decisions that will work best for you.

So You Want to Major in Liberal Arts?

Many parents dread hearing their child say these words before heading off to college: I’m going to major in Liberal Arts. With the precarious state of the economy and the unemployment rate, those words can be daunting for any parent. All they want is for their child to succeed; what are their chances with a degree that statistically offers the least amount of jobs upon graduation?

We all know that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) majors are what get the jobs right now. Even in a recession, positions such as Computer Information Engineers and Physicists can expect about 20% job growth over the next decade. These types of fields are often considered necessities when it comes to advancing our current systems and practices, and they give us a leg-up in the technology driven world.

So what does that mean for Liberal Arts majors? Have they become insignificant and obsolete in today’s job market? Laura McMullen, author of “Tips for Making the Most Out of Liberal Arts Degrees” doesn’t think so. She says that although it may be harder to secure a job after graduation, it certainly can be done.

Here are some key ways Liberal Arts majors can snag their dream job:

Pursue opportunities early on. As a Liberal Arts major, you already know that your chances of finding a job upon graduation are a lot slimmer than those with STEM majors. You cannot afford to be “lazy” when opportunities present themselves during your college career; you must avidly pursue them.

Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door for a career. Liberal Arts majors should consider an internship outside of their field, such as Economics or Finance. Since you have already developed a certain set of skills, such as critical thinking and reasoning, developing a completely different set can show how adaptable you are to new material and make you more desirable as a long-term employee. Also consider taking several different electives unrelated to your major; course diversity on your resume can open new doors for you in the future.

Show off your skills. When it comes time for an interview, don’t be shy about what you’ve learned and what you know. Those who are interviewing you understand that this may be your first opportunity, so be sure to showcase the schoolwork you’ve done well in.

For example, if you just finished up a group project with other students on the philosophy of religion, focus on explaining how you exhibited leadership by suggesting the group collaborate on ideas and then section the work off into chunks for each member to complete. Employers will sometimes center in on the personality of the candidate they are interviewing, rather than the degree. By exhibiting confidence and demonstrating you are able to take on roles that require a lot of responsibility, you could acquire positions both inside and outside the realm of Liberal Arts.

Stick with what you’re good at. It’s important to know what your skills are, and focus on improving and developing those skills further. If you know you are an amazing writer and can express your ideas fully through your words, use that to your advantage. Many businesses love an employee who can write eloquently and does not need to constantly be reminded of spelling, grammar, or even content errors. Consequently, this will show your boss that you are able to work independently and need very little direction, which makes you valuable.

Sarah Romeo, a graduate from Fordham University with an English degree, says, “I’ve found that my writing skills have really helped my negotiating skills as well. And I’ve saved my company a lot of money in arts and image purchasing because I know how to reason my way out of a paper bag.”

Just remember, having a Liberal Arts degree does not have to limit you. As noted in a previous blog of Ann’s, it’s resiliency and grit that are the greatest predictors of success, not whether you pursue philosophy or physics.

The Ins and Outs of The Common Application

As a high school senior, I applied to 12 different colleges and universities. This was after visiting and touring over 18 campuses. Anyone who has ever gone through the college admissions process knows that that is an insanely high number. In fact, the average American teenager applies to four universities. Most college admissions experts recommend that you apply to six or seven schools (two reach, three target, and two safety). Despite this expert advice, the number of applications students are submitting each year is on the rise. In 2008, the average student applied to four colleges and only 22 percent of students applied to over 7 colleges. In 2013, this number in the four-plus range has grown to 26 percent. only thing that simplified the overwhelming task of applying to 12 colleges for me was the common application. The common app is basically a one size fits all application that students can use when applying to any of the 488 member colleges or universities. This application takes the place of the school’s individual application (though it is important to note that sometimes schools have additional supplemental parts not included in the common app). Students can submit the common application either electronically, which is recommended, or by paper.

Regardless of which application format a student chooses, there are a number of sections they must complete in the common application.

  1. Applicant Information: The most general and generic part of the application, this portion is comprised of the basic questions about the applicant (name, address, social security number, etc.) and takes about half a page.
  2. Future Plans: This section requires students to think a bit into the future. When are they planning to enroll, will it be for full-time or part time, what are their academic interests, will they live on campus, and will they be applying for financial aid? Though it seems like a lot, this portion of the application is mainly just filling in bubbles and declaring personal interests.
  3. Demographics: Much like the Applicant Information section, this is just the bare bones. Applicants are required to divulge their citizen status, their ethnicity, and language proficiency. Additionally, applicants have the option to include their religious preference and their veteran status.
  4. Family: This portion of the application requires applicants to provide information about their parents and siblings as well as declare their marital status. The application asks applicants to list both parents and provide information about their current employer, degree history, and contact information. The sibling section of the application is primarily used for legacy. Applicants are asked to include their siblings names, ages, college attended, and degrees earned or expected.
  5. Education: Applicants are required to declare all secondary schools that they attended with the most information being provided about their most recent school. Students are required to provide their counselor’s name, title, and contact information. If a student has earned or been affiliated with any colleges previously, they must include that information here as well.
  6. Academics: In this portion, applicants are required to provide their class rank (usually provided by their guidance counselor), their standardized test scores, their GPA, any IB/SAT/AP test scores, and their current course load. Students are also asked to include any honors they’ve earned (National Merit, Cum Laude Society, etc).
  7. Extra Curricular Activities & Work Experience: Students are asked to list their principal extracurricular, volunteer, and work activities in order of importance to them. It is important that students are only listing memberships that they are active members of, or employers who they have a positive relationship with. This section asks applicants to list any positions held, honors won, and employer contact information when necessary. It also asks for a rough estimate of how many hours a week the student spends with that particular activity.
  8. Essay: The writing portion can often be a make or break portion for students. Though it generally doesn’t rank above academic performance or standardized test scores, it can be the deciding factor if two students are identical in those categories. For more information about the college admissions essay check out an earlier blog post: The College Admissions Essay: Coming up with a Topic. (
  9. Teacher Recommendations: The common application requires students to submit three teacher recommendations. These recommendations can be supplied by any teacher. It is generally best if students ask early in the year and of teachers with whom the student has a good relationship. The best recommendations highlight the student’s academic strengths as well as his or her personal strengths. Additionally, the teachers are required to rate the student on a number of different categories ranging from intellectual promise to quality of writing to maturity and motivation.
  10. School Counselor: The last portion of the application is completed by the school counselor. This section asks the counselor to provide information about the school the student is graduating from as well as information about the graduating class and the student in particular. It also asks the counselor to divulge any criminal or disciplinary status the student may have. it may seem like a lot of information, the common application can save students, teachers, and counselors a significant amount of time throughout the application process. Some important things that students can do to make the application less stressful include:

  • Plan Ahead and Start Early: The application requires the student to gather a lot of information from a lot of people. One of the worst things a student can do is to wait until the last minute and expect to get immediate responses from all participating parties. Since the application is widely accepted at so many schools a student can start early without committing to any particular schools.
  • Take Your Time: This goes hand in hand with the earlier statement; if a student starts early he or she will have more time to complete the application. Since this application is seen by the majority of school’s a student is applying to, it is essential that the application be submitted perfectly. Applicants should have others look at the application to make sure everything is correct and ask a professional such as a teacher or counselor for any feedback.
  • Stay Organized and Do the Research: I had a friend in college who was set on a particular college. It was his dream school but his mother was still requiring him to apply to three other schools. Since those three accepted the common app he assumed that his top choice did as well. He took his time filling out the application only to realize a week before the deadline that his dream school didn’t accept the application and had its own application completely different. He rushed to turn in an application which wasn’t his best work and as a result was rejected from the school. Though the majority of schools do accept the common app, not all do. Confirming that the common app is accepted is vital.
  • Be Honest: College admissions are becoming increasingly competitive and students are often tempted to stretch the truth. Students report leadership positions in clubs that they are inactive members of, or boost their class ranking, or their course history. But the common application has built in checks and balances to prevent these lies from flying through. It is important that students let their natural passions and strengths shine through and don’t give in to the temptation to exaggerate the truth.

If your student is anything like I was as a high school senior, they are probably anxious, ambitions, eager, and indecisive. If this is the case and your student is considering applying to a number of schools check to see if they accept the common app and I guarantee you will be in for a far less stressful process.

3 Ways to Improve Your Chances of Being Accepted by Your Top College

While college applications are not due until senior year, the road to college begins much sooner than many people think. There are things that can be done from very early ages to improve a student’s chances of acceptance, but here are three simple things students can do to stand out to college admissions boards.

1. Take challenging classes.

A strong academic record does not just mean good grades. Colleges look to see that students are taking challenging course loads, too. Parents, however, often wonder how many honors, AP, or IB courses their student should take. This is especially true of parents of rising sophomores, many of whom have their first shot at an AP class in tenth grade. There are a variety of factors to consider such as teacher placement recommendations, extracurricular commitments, the selectivity of target colleges, etc. If these factors are carefully considered and the student believes he or she can handle advanced concepts and heavier workloads, then taking advanced classes is one of the best ways to bolster a college application. Be aware, however, that you should not load up on advanced classes at the sacrifice of grades. While a “B” in AP World History would typically be viewed more favorably by an admissions panel than an “A” in World History, a “C” most likely would not.

Parents and students shouldn’t get too hung up on how many advanced classes a student takes. Colleges are aware that course offerings vary drastically across the nation. More than anything, they are looking to see that a student is challenging himself and making thoughtful course selections that will prepare him for college. That being said, many college admissions advisors recommend that students aiming for selective colleges take four or five AP classes in their high school careers.

Colleges do not like to see students take rigorous courses freshman through junior year and then “take it easy” during senior year. The reason they’re looking for advanced coursework is to determine a student’s readiness for the rigors of college. While it may be tempting for students to “chill” during their senior year, doing so can reflect negatively on them in the admissions process.

Finally, AP courses can help students qualify for scholarships. According to the College Board, over 30 percent of colleges and universities look at advanced classes when making scholarship decisions.

2. Strong letters of recommendation.

While students usually won’t request letters of recommendation until senior year, they can certainly begin thinking about whom they may ask and about cultivating relationships. A forgettable letter of recommendation won’t necessarily diminish a student’s chances of acceptance; however, a stellar recommendation can tip the scale in a student’s favor.

Often, students make the mistake of getting recommendations from distant influential and powerful acquaintances. To an admissions panel, these references make an application seem superficial. Instead, students should seek references from teachers, coaches, mentors, etc., with whom they have worked closely and recently.

Let’s say a student really connects with his ninth grade history teacher and meets with him for weekly lunches during freshman year to discuss current events, but he does not really maintain the relationship over the next three years. A reference from that ninth grade history teacher is not going to be as compelling as a reference from the student’s current AP Government teacher with whom the student recently met weekly for a month to revise a research paper. Even if the student’s “connection” with the AP teacher isn’t as strong as it was with the ninth grade teacher, admissions panels value references from people who have had more recent interaction with a student. It’s important that students ask for these recommendations early, giving whomever they choose at least several weeks’ notice.

3. Meaningful extracurricular activities.

Students and parents often misconstrue “extracurricular activities” to include only school-sponsored groups. However, extracurricular activities can be anything a student does that is not a high school course or paid job, though work experience is of interest. Colleges want to see that a student is committed to certain activities and that they have passions outside of academics.

The main point is that a student who dabbles in six after-school clubs, participates in a couple of sports seasons, and occasionally volunteers at his church’s food drive will not impress an admissions panel as much as a student who spends two hours after school twice per week building stage sets for the school’s theater productions. Students should do some soul-searching to find their passions and determine a way to transform those passions into an extracurricular activity.

There are various ways an applicant can stand out to a college admissions committee, but the one thing that nearly all have in common is planning ahead. This is not to say that freshmen should be taking SAT prep courses and seventh graders should be visiting college campuses, but high school students and their parents should have a good sense for the process of applying to college and the steps they should be taking each year. Aside from a student’s school’s career center, there is a great deal of information and support available to students and parents who need guidance in the process. For more information, please contact Educational Connections.