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Crafting the Personal Statement

Sunday, June 17, 2018


As final exam season begins to wind down, students turn their attention to the next phase of their application college process: writing the personal statement.

Unlike a typical classroom paper or analysis, the essay component of a college application invites the student to share a focused perspective or experience that allows Admissions a view into personal purpose; strength or character.  A personal statement can emerge from unexpected places.  Sometimes there is a funny story to share.  Sometimes there is a significant turning point that provides meaning to the student's experience.  

Emory University shares with readers examples of personal statements written by accepted students along with insightful comments shared by admissions officers who have reviewed these applications. Regardless of the story or the background of the writer, introspection underpins each essay. 
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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC. Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com







Hanging Out In Waitlist City

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Decision letters have been mailed out and the National Reply Date deadline of May 1 is here and gone. It's time to heave a happy sigh because the college application process for most seniors is finally in the rear-view mirror -- but not for all. For some applicants, the final story is an inconclusive one if placed on a waitlist, meaning they technically are not rejected -- but neither are they accepted. From Boston to Seattle, Portland to Miami, the trend many students are seeing is not admission, not rejection, but instead one of "no decision."

What's Behind the Waitlist Game?

In order to manage yield rates, an ever-important factor that goes into USNWR rankings (and you know not to pay any mind to a magazine's rankings, yes?) colleges have increasingly been playing a waitlist game that serves only to help them manage their acceptance/attendance numbers. By waitlisting applicants, colleges afford themselves flexibility because they can later pull in additional students after extensive review of initial acceptees who actually take their offered spot. Striking is the fact that it is not unusual for colleges to waitlist hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants, in some cases waitlisting more than the entire freshman class population.

How to Approach the Waitlist

First, recognize that at many schools the waitlist is little more than a holding pattern. If offered a spot on a college's waitlist, students need to confirm right away their intention to accept a spot. And then what? According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, students need to carefully follow directions for next steps required by the school. In general, waitlisted students can continue to express interest by writing a brief letter to admissions expressing sincere commitment to attending and WHY; forwarding any new and improved test scores; updating strong final grades; a new and insightful recommendation; notification about significant awards or achievements.

Know that unlike waiting in line for a seat on an over-sold flight, there is no "position number" on the waitlist. Another consideration for waitlisted students, in addition to continued weeks of uncertainty, is the likelihood that financial aid funds will be spoken for by the time colleges comb their waitlists for possible admits.

Hope springs eternal in the world of college admissions but, because movement on waitlists is typically slow and infrequent, the best approach is to deposit where accepted, proudly purchase the school T-shirt and commit to attend. Most students would be gratified to know that the schools that have accepted them view them as a fit and an asset to the school community. So celebrate your well-earned success: Woo-hoo and congratulations to all our seniors and their families!!

Image Credit: Rob Dobi
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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com  



Um...Mr. Morgan?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Requesting Teacher Recommendations

As junior year chugs along, Recommendation Request Season draws near. This is the time of year when teachers, not typically accustomed to students seeking them out between classes, find many stopping by with growing frequency and a shy “ask” in their eye. The sought-after payoff: “Yes, I would be delighted to write a college recommendation for you.”

For students who feel confident in their classroom performance and hold rapport with their teacher, requesting a recommendation may feel natural. For those students who have not yet made a strong connection with a teacher, there is still an opportunity to consider what they have gained from their classes and how it connects to their interests, whether present or future.


How Many Recs Are Needed?

Colleges vary in the number of recommendations they welcome. There is a surprising range of policies around this aspect of the college application, spanning as few as one optional recommendation from a school counselor to schools that will allow five or more from a variety of sources. Within the scope of recommendations, schools commonly request 1- 2 recommendations from teachers in academic “solid” classes rather than electives or arts classes. Additional outside recommendations may come from employers; coaches; volunteer coordinators — anyone who has known the student in a context that allows comments based on personal qualities such as leadership; maturity; impact; character; and more.


When to Ask

Asking early, before the end of junior year or early senior year, rather than up against last-minute deadlines demonstrates maturity as well as proper appreciation of the writer’s time and effort. May or June is a great time to approach teachers, when junior year progress is fresh in the teacher’s mind and the student still has time to boost engagement in the classroom.


What A Good Rec Sounds Like

It may be surprising to learn that a solid recommendation does not necessarily need to stem from the student’s highest performing class. Qualities in evidence may include engagement; work ethic, contribution to the class’s learning; attitude and drive. Student’s do not necessarily have to earn an A+ to demonstrate these strengths!


How to Ask

Whenever possible, requesting teacher recommendations is best done in person.

While it seems obvious, students should make a point to thank the teacher who has agreed to write on their behalf.  Students may follow up or thank a recommender in person, via email or — another personal gesture — through a handwritten note.

Perspective and Paying It Forward

While students sometimes agonize over whom to ask and what that teacher may say in his rec, keep in mind that colleges review applications in their entirety and recommendations are one corner of the multi-piece puzzle. Students: Be sure to thank Mr. Morgan for his time now — and check back in later during senior year to let him know where you’ll be headed next fall. This way, you’ll come back full circle, letting your recommenders know that their hard work has paid off, setting the stage for the next group of juniors behind you.

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC.  Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com


Khan's Got Company -- Here Comes ACT Academy

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

ACT Launches ACT Academy, a Free, Online Learning Program Designed to Help Improve ACT Scores, College Readiness

For students looking for FREE online test prep similar to the College Board's vaunted test prep and tutoring resource, Khan Academy, the ACT has announced the launch of ACT Academy.

ACT Academy is designed to offer learning tools as well as a program to support students with interactive approaches and a personalized study plan based on prior ACT test or diagnostic results. ACT Academy is slated to feature academic skill-building blocks among a robust collection of resources augmented by tips and strategies.

For more information about ACT Academy, visit: www.act.org/academy

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

To Weight or Unweight the High School GPA?

Monday, March 05, 2018

The conversation can run both ways:  Does weighting the high school GPA create undesired competition among students?  Does an unweighted GPA accurately communicate to colleges the depth or rigor of a student's curriculum?  

Considering how colleges typically unweight and then go back and re-weight student grade reports, what is the best approach?  High schools are charged with how they can best serve students; colleges need to find a way to interpret high school grade reports when it comes to awarding scholarships and additional opportunities.   READ MORE


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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

What Happens to Students Who Back Out of Early Decision Offers

Monday, March 05, 2018

Buyer's remorse is a real phenomenon.  It's experienced when a sought-after object or goal that once beckoned brightly begins to tarnish once attained.  Such is the case when a student applies to college through a binding Early Decision (ED) plan and subsequently begins to develop second thoughts around the acceptance.

Although some colleges afford an admissions advantage to students who apply during the early round, with some schools filling close to half the freshman class through the ED pool, an early decision approach requires a clear commitment from the student and their family to attend if the student is admitted.  Students who are in a position to post applications that reflect their best or most developed high school achievements and are able to readily afford tutiton regardless of financial aid awards are candidates to consider ED.

For some, what may seem like a great idea during the fever pitch of an intense application season can turn into an "uh-oh, what did I do?" moment if the admissions decision is a "yes" and the student begins to develop second thoughts.

Such is why entering into an ED agreement is not to be taken lightly.  Reality being what it is, there are instances when a student simply has a change of heart.  More commonly, the family finds the school's financial aid package does not adequately address the family's demonstrated needBacking out of an ED acceptance is hugely frowned upon by not only the college but also the high school guidance department.  

Once a student signs off on an ED agreement, so does the high school counselor.  Pulling out of an ED acceptance can make the counselor appear negatively in the eyes of the college admissions office, thereby creating lingering consequences for current or future students applying to that college.

Other consequences may affect the student directly, depending on the spurned school. Some colleges will actually cross-check the names of the ED acceptees with schools of a similar ilk, examining if students had unethically applied to more than one ED college or did not follow other aspects of the ED policy.  In contrast, other schools simply won't care that much, determining that if a student does not want to attend that school, for whatever reason, then they should not do so. 

Ultimately, students should choose carefully and wisely and do nothing to compromise their acceptances.   READ MORE
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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

What To Do If You've Been Deferred

Monday, March 05, 2018

What To Do If You've Been Deferred

The email or letter usually goes something like this:  "Thank you for submitting your application to X University.  We have taken the time to review your impressive credentials but, due to an especially large volume of applications in our early round, we have decided to take a second review your application later in the admissions cycle..."

Take heart -- your student's application is still in the running!  As the popularity of early applications continues to rise, it is becoming more common for students to find that the "early decision" they were hoping for may just take a little more time.  When students' applications have been moved along to the Regular Decision (RD) round, they may likely receive a decision by mid to late March and no later than April of the senior year.

In the Meantime

Students should be anything but passive as they wait to hear back.  Active waiting consists of being in touch (reasonably) with the college over the coming months. Colleges may appreciate knowing that they are a top or first choice for the student.  The schools value useful updates such as:
  • increased SAT/ACT/SAT Subject Test scores
  • complete semester grades and/or most recent quarter grades, especially if they've improved
  • an update on awards; accomplishments; or even a new job
  • maybe some impressions of a recent college visit or contact that reflects the student's sincere interest in the college or underscores their sense of fit
What schools don't want is to be besieged with loads of additional recommendation letters, especially if these don't add anything new.  If there is, however, something significant or indicative of character or accomplishment, then perhaps an extra letter may be supportive if the college invites it.

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

The 2018 - 2019 Common Application Essay Prompts Have Arrived!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Common Application has announced its 2018-19 college essay prompts, reflecting no change from the prompts established in last year's admission cycle.  

Over 700 US and international colleges utilize the web-based Common App. Students choose among seven essay prompts, providing a platform for students to to create a personal statement that conveys aspects of their character; unique experience; personal growth; or individual focus. Students are permitted a maximum of 650 words to convey their personal statement through one of their chosen Common App essay prompts.

Here are the prompts for the upcoming admission cycle:

2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.



"Through the Common App essay prompts, we want to give all applicants - regardless of background or access to counseling - the opportunity to share their voice with colleges. Every applicant has a unique story. The essay helps bring that story to life," said Meredith Lombardi, Associate Director, Outreach and Education, for The Common Application.

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com


Second Semester Juniors: What’s the Game Plan?

Saturday, January 06, 2018

With nearly half of the school year in the rear view mirror, many juniors are thinking about what’s to come in the remaining months. If you’re blessed with a “glass half-full” perspective, high school juniors have a whole 5 - 6 months in front of them to make good progress on their college plans. Many students kick off 2018 with several excellent opportunities at their disposal, most of which require good planning and smart use of our most precious and fleeting resource: time. 

What to Focus On Now

With mid-year exams on the horizon, one of the best plans of action now is to gain an early start in prepping for these exams.  In my practice, I note that a large number of students find that the precious ground they’ve gained in a semester of classroom success is later dampened by a lesser midterm exam grade. Too many students pay too little attention to a significant exam that could push their semester grade up or down several quality points, potentially affecting the GPA.  Hindsight can’t override a C+ on a midterm exam that brings down a student's A- work somewhere into the B or B+ range.

KEY: Begin to gradually prepare for mid year exams. Don’t cram!


Standardized Testing

Spring can be the ideal time for students to sit for the SAT or the ACT. The 2018 testing calendar starts off with a Feb 10 ACT and a March 10 SAT.  Starting test prep now will allow approximately 5 weeks of prep for the ACT; 4 weeks beyond that for the SAT.

KEY: Prep for standardized testing doesn’t happen overnight. At the very least, students need time to understand the tests and how to approach them. Don’t go in cold!


Planning for Campus Visits

Winter/Spring breaks present an excellent opportunity to check out campuses for size; location; vibe; facilities; connecting with athletic coaches; student support services, as appropriate. Planning well now for these upcoming months will bring a huge return when it comes to narrowing lists later on, thereby reducing the last-minute crush of to-do’s at the beginning of senior year.

KEY: Visit campuses when students are present. 


And the Rest...

Then there’s more to the story for students to plan ahead and make the most of their summers through work; camp; internships; research opportunities; service; etc.  Early winter (now!) is a great time to set plans in motion for summer.   In the midst of winter, thoughts of June-July-August feel close to a dream, but before we know it the boots and gloves will slip off and our juniors transform into rising seniors.
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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Early Application Popularity Continues to Steadily Grow

Friday, January 05, 2018

More and more, rising early action (EA) or early decision (ED) applications are impacting the college admissions landscape at colleges and universities across the nation.  

The application calendar continues to push back toward early in the senior year, with some colleges using a slightly different set of admissions criteria or aiming to fill seats in the early rounds. Others employ the early schedule to manage their inflows both in the admissions office as well as in the financial aid office.  

The Reality Behind Applying Early

Early applicants typically find themselves in a smaller pool than do regular decision applicants, hence admissions officers may be able to devote more time to reading each individual application, potentially resulting in a more nuanced review. In addition, since ED becomes a binding commitment to attend once the student is admitted, students who pursue this route are thereby indicating to the college that the school is the student’s clear first choice. For those schools that aim to fill a significant percentage of seats in the early rounds, applying ED may enable the applicant a higher likelihood of admission versus waiting to submit an application with a much larger regular decision (RD) pool.

Still, some schools pursue a policy of accepting only "stand-out" applicants in the early rounds, more often than not deferring these applicants to the RD rounds. Deferred applications are later reviewed, enabling colleges to make decisions across a larger and complete pool of applicants.

Given that students applying ED are at the time of application making a commitment to attend regardless of financial need, it is commonly said that ED is the bastion of those who have the means to pay for college without the need to compare favorable merit, grant or loan awards. ED may also appeal to those students who have begun their college process relatively early and/or have taken the time to visit individual campuses to enable a single-choice focus.

Although not all colleges offer ED or EA schedules, there is no controversy around the stark reality that, generally speaking, ED or EA policies help drive applications to colleges. Given the growing numbers of early applications many colleges have been seeing over the last several admissions cycles, the clock on the college timeline ticks on with the trend toward early application likely to continue.  READ MORE


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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com



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