Your high school helps or hurts your admissions chances

I don’t have to tell you that the higher you score on your grades, the more favorable your first impression to admissions officers will be. You might think that this information conflicts with what I’ve told you in the past– because I’ve really encouraged you to be a leader and to find activities that will help you grow and stand out. So I’m not telling you not to do that. But I need to be a little crass on this email to help you be realistic and assess your own admissions chances.

Many students overlook or minimize Naviance as a way to assess admissions chances, subbing it out for college-level data or U.S. News. But no other tool will be more helpful to you in assessing admissions chances than Naviance. Why? Because Naviance has GPA and test score data that are SPECIFIC TO YOUR HIGH SCHOOL. I’m sorry to say that you’re going to be competing most closely for college acceptances with your friends and classmates, but it’s the truth.

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Assess your chances through AdmitSee

As a college application coach for Ivy League and elite colleges, students ask me all the time how to assess their chances to get into a particular college. What I tell them is that we can use data, both quantitative and qualitative, to help us figure this out. In conjunction with Naviance, I use AdmitSee data to help students find colleges that fit their goals.

I'll even help you assess your chances through my bootcamp... 

AdmitSee works extremely well for finding students whose background and experiences are similar to yours. For example, let’s say you’re an avid Girl Scout or Eagle Scout. You can type “Eagle Scout” in the search bar and see profiles of students who are Eagle Scouts and where they go to college, what their scores are, and what they wrote about for their essays.

The idea of looking up other Eagle Scout profiles is not to perfectly copy another student’s essay or activities but to get a good idea of what types of schools have been...

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When Opportunity Knocks You Have to Go For It

You can’t always wait for opportunity to knock. If you’re in high school, you have a TON of opportunities at your fingertips. Even if someone isn’t begging you to start a new club or join theirs, opportunity is constantly knocking at your door. It’s called strolling the hallways of your high school – if you look up, you’ll see signs of opportunity knocking pretty much everywhere: “Join the Executive Board!” “Audition for the Musical!” “Write for The School Newspaper.” Sure, no one has asked you personally to join these opportunities, but these are all opportunities knocking at YOUR door. You just have to tune in to listen to them.

All this opportunity knocking, decision-making, passion-pursuing doesn’t end in high school. I’ll tell you a story of mine. Last fall, I had a chance to become a panelist in The School of the New York Times’ Symposium on College Admissions. It was a true honor. The...

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What’s my passion in the first place?

If you remember Mike's story, he had a fantastic focus and passion for writing. But other students, maybe even you (don’t worry if this is you!) feel relatively uncertain about their true interests and passions.

There are lots of good ways to solve this problem, and here’s one way to start. My colleagues, Moses Lee and Matt Gibson, Founders of Distinguish Me, have a wonderful set of questions they give to students in coming up with an idea for the first time. They are:

  • What do you enjoy searching, learning, reading, or talking about?
  • What piques your interest every time it’s mentioned?
  • What do your friends say you are passionate about?
  • What do your parents or other adults say you are passionate about?
  • Who are some people you admire and why?

Answer these questions for yourself and you will be well on your way to finding your initial passion or interest for further exploration.

But what if you can’t commit to one passion or interest? You say to me, “Dr....

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3 Activities Guaranteed to Impress Admissions Officers

In the last entry, I told you about Mike who started his own peer-review club to help him finish his book, which he published on Amazon.com.

Now I’ll share with you a list of other activities that admissions officers consider to be absolutely outstanding. The important point here is that these activities have NOTHING to do with what’s available at your school. Even if you like your school clubs, trust me, these three things are much more impressive than most opportunities that are available for you at school:

Independent academic research. Outside of your papers for class, this is a research project that may or may not involve co-authorship or supervision by a professor at a university local to your community. Universities love providing opportunities for undergraduates to do research so they absolutely adore when they find out that a student already has experience and inclination toward research. Helpful hint: This activity is not only super impressive, it also can help...

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Attending a pre-college program? How to maximize your chances.

This is a timely message to those of you in precollege programs or who will attend pre-college programs in future summers.

Imagine if someone from the college could get to know you personally how much of a difference it could make in a college admissions officer's ability to advocate for you. Believe me, you'll be far better off if a college admissions officer is advocating for you personally than if they are not.

Here are the three types of people you’ll meet during your summer program and how they can help you maximize your chances for admission - who knows? One of them might put in a good word for you!

1. Professors.

Professors are really valuable resources. Get some alone time with them, if they’re willing, to talk about your interests and get their recommendations for people to reach out to on campus. You can set up meetings while you’re there or for later on in the fall, depending on your schedule. BUT don’t interrupt the program activities to attend...

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What to Do When Good Grades Can't Get You In

In the last entry, I asked you about how to identify your contribution. What are you working towards to make your mark? The earlier you do some thinking (and more importantly, acting) on how you will contribute to your school, community, and family, the more impressive you’ll be to college admissions officers.

But it’s not out of the question that you can get started a little later and make a big impact. Take my student, Mike. Mike was a fantastic student academically and his test scores weren’t half bad either. But he was pretty haphazard about how he chose his clubs and activities. Unlike other students, one thing Mike had going for him is that he chose to do things after school that he actually liked—like skateboarding, playing in a band, and sharing stories on his blog—but he hadn’t thought about how to build on these experiences to make a larger impact.

When I first met with Mike, he told me that he wholeheartedly wanted to be a writer. There...

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How to Persuade Admissions Officers to Admit You - Newsletter launch!

Friends,
So excited to launch my weekly newsletter. Here's a copy of the first issue!
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What are you doing in your school, community, or family to make a difference? This is one of the most important questions you can answer for admissions officers as you go to write your essay, demonstrate your leadership through your activities, and call attention to in your application by choosing the right teachers to recommend you.


Regardless of where you are in the process, the first thing you need to think about is YOU. You may think that the college process is all about molding yourself to whatever the college or grad program wants you to become –that elusive “perfect” applicant.


The truth is that there is no perfect applicant out there. You can’t rewrite someone else’s essay who got into Harvard and expect to be admitted. You can’t join the same club or activity as someone who got into Yale and expect to get in. That’s hocus-pocus college prep and an...

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How Politics, Religion, and Race Influence Campus Culture

As I shared this month with U.S. News and World Report, there are a number of ways that students can learn about campus culture. Wherever you attend, it's important to feel comfortable and like there's a true "fit" with your values, personality, and educational needs. 

Your background and views on the world paint a complex picture of who you are and what you value most. Take your high school academic and extracurricular experiences as opportunities to learn about yourself and what's really important to you. This will take you far in choosing the college that best shares and supports your values.

Photo credit: JAG IMAGES/ GETTY IMAGES, U.S. News and World Report 

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How Millennials Are Being Creative with Their Travel

Forbes recently asked me to share a different side of myself; my vacation habits when I travel for work.  You can read the article here. Below I share additional detail about my "bleisure" travel experiences. 

I've been fortunate to travel to speak to students and families about college and graduate admission. As I told Forbes, a day of vacation while on business travel is a must for me. It can be rejuvenating and provides a great memory to take home from the visit. While traveling for business, you probably won't remember what the hotels and boardrooms look like, but you'll remember a special day off you spent traveling by yourself.

For example, in China, where I went recently to give workshop presentations on college admissions, I realized that I had an extra day with not much to do - so I took a day off to travel by myself to Hong Kong. I didn't go in with a particular plan; I just took the bus from the Shenzhen customs port and had a spontaneous day of walking, going to...

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