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By Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
A tour guide in a bright t-shirt walking backwards, nimbly navigating libraries, gyms, and sprawling lawns; this is the image I conjure when I remember my own visits to college campuses.
If you are a junior or senior, you’ve probably been on several such visits, with more in the queue. How much time do you spend, on average, preparing for these?
If your answer is, “I review the school’s website, talk to others who went there, and get to know its core curriculum requirements,” that’s a good start. But you could be doing more—additional preparation that would make you standout to busy college admissions counselors and advisors you might meet.
Let’s face it; admissions counselors and advisors meet dozens of potential students a year. In the end, those who will stand out to them are very likely those that reflect a passion—and can tell a coherent story about how they arrived at that passion. To maximize your opportunity to discuss this meaty and memorable topic during the brief interviews you might have, or during university functions for prospective students, try to avoid asking questions you could know the answer to simply by studying the school’s website (or course catalog). Questions like whether you have to take SAT II subject tests or four years of a foreign language; the school’s average SAT score; majors, minors, or concentrations offered; and information about study abroad programs.
Taking time to study the information above will mean you won’t have to spend time asking questions about these topics—and can instead focus on more qualitative queries that burrow more deeply into what it’s like to be a student the school. Here’s an example: “How has the head of the biology department’s emphasis on science majors understanding how scientific study results are perceived in the world at large influenced the number of science majors who are adding English/media courses to their curriculum. And/or how has it influenced the possibility for students to pursue independent majors with a science communication-related focus?”
Answers to qualitative questions like these can be different every time, depending on the college staff person you ask.
Not only should you be ready to ask thoughtful questions; you should be ready to answer them, too. College staff may ask prospective students, directly, “Why do you want to attend this school?” If you’ve not yet articulated the answer—but just had warm, fuzzy feeling about the place, or if you like it because your parents both attended—you might want to take some time to think about the features of the institution that have really captured your imagination.
College staff may also ask about your interests—books you have read, or thoughts you have on particular topics in the news. Each question gives you a chance to speak to your interests. In turn, it gives the person asking it a chance to get a sense of who you are. The opportunity to interact in this way can be missed when you spend your brief college visit simply asking the basic questions—about course curriculum, etc.—outlined above.
If you are thinking, “This sounds good, but I’m still fleshing out who I am, and I’m not quite sure how I’d answer these questions,” that’s ok. There are numerous opportunities to pursue interests complementary to (and beyond) your current course curriculum in order to identify areas in which you are passionate.
Do you play high school tennis? After your season is over (because undoubtedly, you won’t have much extra time during the season), consider teaching tennis to local youth. This would not only provide a way for you to engage with your community—an activity sure to impress college admissions staff, and one they like to see students in college continue—it’d offer you a chance to see how you do in a coaching (or leadership) role. Colleges look for leaders among those they accept.
Maybe there is a field about which you already feel excited, like politics. Dig deeper! If talking about tax cuts fires you up, contact your local Congressman and see if that person would be open to you shadowing, or providing write-ups for a local political blog. If you love literature and find you have an appetite for it that extends beyond the courses currently available at high school, investigate courses available at your local community college; they typically offer high school enrichment classes. Colleges love to see high school students taking steps like this, to get real world experience, feed their brains and get ahead!
If you’re still working to provide answers to the kinds of thoughtful questions college admission staff may ask—about how you’ve become who you are and what you want to contribute to the world—consider how you use your free time. Options abound for self-discovery.
Not only will the activities you pursue help you determine where your interests are really rooted—which is critical as you decide upon a career—they will also make for memorable stories when it comes to sharing your narrative with college admissions staff. To stand out in their minds, make sure your own interests first stand out in yours.
Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.
What are some good questions to ask admissions officers? Will you ask thoughtful questions on your next school visit?
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By Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
When applying to college, you’re likely to hear about “the importance of being well-rounded.” It seems to be common knowledge that colleges look for students who’ve shown interest not only in school work, but in other pursuits, like sports, theater, music, or volunteering. Y
The reasoning is clear. These endeavors challenge you in different ways than classwork does and help you develop sensibilities separate from those you can hone as a student. For my part, I know that four years on the high school cross-country, swim and track teams taught me that even the hardest workouts—the ones that exhausted me physically and taunted me, “you can’t finish!”—were doable; I felt more confident at critical moments, like job interviews, as a result. Hours of practicing the violin, meanwhile, slowly grew in me a reserve of patience developed nowhere else; that came in handy when big school research projects required my long commitment. And I remember my theater classmates, whose work on the stage translated to confidence in public speaking, which I greatly admired.
Colleges want bodies of students who reflect these qualities: determination, confidence, patience. So as you work hard in the classroom (which is indeed critical), remember that the work you are doing elsewhere—as a Scout, volunteer, or lacrosse player—is shaping you, too. Take a moment to reflect on the way in which these activities are impacting how you approach the world; could you sum it up in a sentence?
Deviating slightly, I heard an interesting discussion recently, with respect to what colleges seek as they evaluate student candidates. Though colleges want “well-rounded” classrooms, they do not want well-rounded applicants; that is, students who are “jacks-of-all trades” and masters of none. The advice stemming from this discussion was to focus on a specific extracurricular about which you are passionate in order to reflect your investment in it. (We often do this naturally anyway.)
But focusing on one area—putting all eggs in one basket—is still not the goal; rather, the remaining advice was to layer your passion in diverse ways that guide you toward a greater understanding of it. (For example, if your passion were water color, find a way to explore that interest in your local community, perhaps by leading a class at a local retirement home. Do you like to teach? If your passion were Spanish, get involved in translating websites for local businesses who require Spanish webpages. Do you enjoy applying your skills in the business world?)
Simply put, these kinds of effort in an area you love separate you from the next student.
As you work hard now, in high school, you are likely already taking steps to stand out. This is just another to consider; what’s great, too, is that it involves more deeply pursuing that which you enjoy.
And don’t worry; if you haven’t found your “passion” yet, pursue what you appreciate, whatever that may be. Your motivation for investing time in such activities will fall out naturally when it comes time to articulate who you are in a college admissions essays (or in the world beyond). And all the while, you’ll be cultivating aspects of your character that you will call on for the rest of your life!
Is it more important for students to be well-rounded or to be a master of one craft? Do colleges look at both?
By Jennifer Varnell, Assistant Director of Education, School Counseling Services, Laurel Springs School
Social media and internet use is integrated in the lives of most children and young adults. Services such as Facebook, MySpace, Google+, and others allow students to connect with friends and family, and post status updates and photos. For many young people, social media is a major part of their lives, with a recent study showing that more than half of children aged 12-13 and 88% of children aged 14-17 use social media. Parents can help their children by initiating discussions about the impact of social media activity, and how it can influence college admissions.
According to a recent study. at least a quarter of college admissions officers are using social media to conduct background research on applicants. While the practice is not yet routine, 12% of study participants said that “what they found ‘negatively impacted’ the applicant’s chances of admission.” Some college admissions officers cited examples of inappropriate behavior and plagiarism when explaining how social media can reveal negative impressions of an applicant.
Parents can address this issue by making sure their children are aware that their social media activities may be examined by college admissions officers, and that many things that children post online can be accessed in the public domain. Students can employ the positive strategy of using social media to project a more holistic picture of their thoughts and activities. Here are some examples of how students can use social media to bolster their college admissions plan:
• If your children are involved in volunteer work, they can post photos of their activities at a soup kitchen or tutoring center.
• If your children take AP or test prep courses, they can post updates that show how these classes are preparing them for college.
• Children can post updates related to their extra-curricular activities, such as sports, National Honor Society, student council, or clubs.
• If you children have jobs or internships, they can post about what they are learning from the experience.
As students become more active on social media sites, parents can review the principles of ethical online behavior with their children. Children can learn to delete posts, untag themselves from Facebook photos, and periodically check to ensure that their privacy settings are in line with family preferences. When children have a greater awareness of how their social media presence is viewed and used by others, they can be more thoughtful about how they choose to participate
Jennifer Varnell has a Master’s degree in Counseling and Guidance, and is a member of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). She is the Assistant Director of Education, School Counseling, for Laurel Springs School, an accredited online private school serving students in grades K-12. Laurel Springs School
Do you think the content on your Facebook page could influence the decisions of College Admissions Officers? Any thoughts about this article?
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