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Do I Need to Write the Optional SAT Essay?

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The optional SAT essay, requiring an additional 50 minutes of test takers' time, focus and energy, is swiftly becoming an artifact.  

Like the vestigial human appendix, at one point in time this component of the standardized testing landscape had its purpose. More often than not, today the essay score is simply disregarded, serving no true function in evaluating applicants, so says the testing policy at the vast majority of colleges and universities.  Still, every year we grapple with the wisdom of signing up for the optional essay.  

Testing Requirements Run the Gamut

How should students approach the decision of whether or not to sit for the optional essay?  General wisdom has long suggested that the smart and safe move would be to write the essay because without it colleges that do require this component will regard the main two-part SAT score to be incomplete.

So what are the policies that colleges hold around the essay?  Schools such as Bates, NYU, Quinnipiac, Connecticut College, UConn neither require nor recommend the optional essay and will not consider its score at the time of application review.  But UMass-Amherst recommends the essay, as does Occidental.  As of last year, Duke stopped requiring it. None of the Ivies require the essay.  So who does?   

Look West

Primarily, the University of California system institutions (ex. UCLA; UC San Diego; etc.) and Stanford still ask for the essay.  A student applying to these schools will need to submit their essay score in order to complete their application. 

Future Tense

Another possible rationale behind writing the essay is as a back-up in the event a student later decides to transfer colleges, and the destination college is one that requires the SAT essay score for admission -- including transfer admission.  Without a complete score, the SAT two-part score may be regarded as insufficient.

International applicants whose language of instruction is not English may consider writing the essay to lend another perspective to their TOEFL or IELTS score.

In the present timeframe, if a student feel that they will likely have remaining mental focus to satisfactorily write the essay after completing the main SAT sections, then they might just pay the extra $15 fee and register for the essay.  And after once completing the essay and if satisfied with the two-part score, the student may not need to write the essay again in future testing scenarios.  In other words, when it comes to the essay more often than not it's "one and done."    

If a student wants to learn more about the essay section (highly-recommended prior to test day), click here to learn more about the approach to writing the essay and the skills assessed.

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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 and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Oh, Canada!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Interested in learning more about Canadian colleges and universities? More and more, families are expressing interest in the world of higher education beyond our northern border.  In view of escalating costs at domestic institutions, increased competition, advancing levels of selectivity, and the currently strong US dollar, many are considering the value proposition of quality higher education at a lower price point.

Canadian universities offer students a four-year education taught in English, precluding language barriers for students for whom English is their language of choice.  

Note that while US colleges and universities employ a holistic admissions process in which applicants are evaluated across a spectrum of criteria in addition to GPA and test scores, Canadian universities typically focus on applicants' numbers and don't bother to evaluate factors such as recommendations and demonstration of interest.

The Maclean's University Guide offers a robust resource as an overview of what programs stand out for undergrads and graduate students alike.  Attending "university" in Canada might be an attractive and compelling possibility.  Oh, Canada!

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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 and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Appealing a College Rejection

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Like it or not, letters of rejection come with the college application territory. While it's rare for colleges to revisit their admissions decisions, students who have significant new information to share may potentially find an ear.

While it's never pleasant or easy to open a letter of rejection, a disappointing college admissions decision should never be considered an indication of a student's worth or potential.  With record numbers of applications at all selectivity tiers of colleges and universities, there can be minute differences between two applicants, one of whom receives a "yes" and the other a "thank-you-for-applying" response.  

Numerous factors go into an application review, some of which are objective, like grades and test scores, and others that are purely subjective, such as community impact or letters of recommendation.   On top of all the mystery is the part that is completely opaque: the pool of other applicants and their application stories. 

The best approach after receiving a rejection notification is to calmly acknowledge the decision, even if it is surprising or feels "unfair." Assuming the student had applied to a reasonable list of colleges and had already received acceptances, then it's time to appreciate those "you're in!!" notifications and how much those schools value the applicant and what they would bring to the college's community.  

Unlike reconsideration after a deferral, a denial is typically a final decision and rarely overturned. Still, if an applicant has a signficant or material information to share with Admissions that never was included in the original application, it may be worth a "Hail Mary" for the student to contact their regional admissions representative.  First step: Find out if a re-read is even possible.  Suggested approaches for when it would be reasonable -- and not desperate -- to contact Admissions are all about being positive and specific.  

What not to do includes:
  • telling the college that they made a mistake
  • demanding an additional review
  • making excuses around poor past academic performance
  • submitting additional recommendation letters or essays
But doing these could support the student's case:
  • pointing out factual errors in the application that were discovered following submission
  • explaining extenuating circumstances that would present the student in a more positive light
  • informing Admissions of significant recent accomplishments or awards
  • clarifying strong interest in the school and a (truthful) commitment to attend if admitted
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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 and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Bucknell University Pilots A Test-Optional Policy

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Bucknell University has announced a five-year pilot test-optional admissions policy beginning with the entering freshman class of 2020.

Bucknell's new policy will allow most applicants the choice of whether or not to submit standardized test scores at the time of application.  As a result, other application elements will receive greater focus within a holistic review, including grades in academic classes, rigor of curriculum, fit with intended major, extracurricular involvements and achievements, and more.  

Students still required to submit standardized test scores at the time of application include recruited varsity athletes, international applicants and homeschooled students.

Most colleges offering a test optional approach will yet require test scores from matriculating students in order to support institutional research on the relationship between test scores and college success.  Happily, the option to include or exclude SAT or ACT scores at the time of application could widen opportunity for students who shine in other areas that better reflect their strengths. 

Bowdoin now joins the growing group of over 1000 test optional colleges, according to FairTest.org, The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

Freas Hall is home to Bucknell University's Office of Admissions. Photo by Chris Shipley

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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 and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

9th Grade, Before the College Search

Wednesday, January 23, 2019
It all counts!

With five months into their freshman year, 9th graders have been learning how manage their day-to-day, including the mundane elements of high school life such as the bell schedule or remembering Pizza Friday. Our freshman boys and girls are occupied with how to find their way into clubs or onto teams, not to mention figuring out the fluid nature of the social structure in their new school.  

For most, college is still a distant notion — a concept at best. And that’s fine because in our culture there is far too much discussion — and pressure — around the college conversation. Yet it’s important to be "applicant-ready" when the time comes. And that means setting a solid foundation for academic success and knowing what colleges will, shortly down the road, want to learn about your student.

So with their very first completed high school semester and grade report, a student is on the path to becoming a potential college candidate.  The grades students earn early on in high school will affect their GPA as much as grades earned as upperclassmen. Ninth graders content with earning Bs and Cs may find their college choices affected later on.  As much as upward grade trend does count, so do numbers.

Building an all-around good start

Let's support our kids by reminding them that the essentials of a good high school start include:
  • solid grades in academic courses...
  •  … and study skills grounded in time management and focus
  • organizational skills
  • firm reading skills, steadily developing 
  • a successful start to foreign language so the student is set up to pursue at least two years of the same foreign language, typically the base requirement at many (but not all) colleges
  • same for math, as a foundation in this subject prepares a student for further success in upper level classes. As with foreign language, students need to solidify the foundation in order to be successful.
  • understanding how to access support if the student requires assistance ex. teachers for outside help; school counselors; resource staff 
  • learning how to balance academic life and social life, finding a foundation in each
  • most of all, taking care of the self -- and that includes sleep and sustenance
Learning the ropes -- asking for support -- building confidence -- all combine to smooth the road in high school for our first-year boy and girls.
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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 and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Launching Juniors Into Their College Process

Monday, January 21, 2019
With the second high school semester underway, now is the season for juniors to launch their college search and application process.  Parents and students frequently hear from me that this process starts with self reflection, that is, students holding up their personal mirror and honestly evaluating themselves for what a mutual college fit might look like.  

High schoolers can start by thinking about what is most important in their college experience and considering what that might look like as they build a list of colleges that call to them.

Looking for perspective from an additional expert in the college world? Jeff Schiffman, Dean of Admission at Tulane University, offers some solid big-picture advice for juniors heading into the college search and application process. Tap here to 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 admission process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC.  Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com  

While Waiting to Hear

Monday, December 03, 2018

As college application season begins to slowly wind down, just as surely senior anticipation begins to ramp up!

With Early Action applications at some institutions due as early as October 15, colleges have begun to issue admission decisions to early applicants.

Early Decision candidates, applying to college under a binding one-choice agreement if admitted, typically see deadlines around November 1 or November 15.  Many colleges render their official Early Decision or Early Action decisions sometime around the third week in December, shortly before year end. Still, other schools offer Rolling Admission, issuing responses in succession as they review completed applications.

After all the effort invested into researching, visiting and applying to colleges, waiting can be a tricky game. Following the relief that comes after completing applications, teenage tensions can run high, whether students display their anxiety in the open or keep it under wraps. Parents, in the midst of the waiting game, may report that students display moody behavior or find it difficult to focus. And for the majority of students, the suspense of awaiting admissions decisions over the span of 3 - 4 months during the Regular Decision admissions timeline is something they are wholly unaccustomed to while living in an age of quick turnarounds and immediate feedback.

WHAT PARENTS CAN DO

Adults have a greater capacity to understand what is feels like to wait and manage the tension around uncertainty. Teaching teens to focus on the present moment and turning attention to the near term is a life skill that will serve them well in their near and distant futures. Not to mention that looking ahead, senior year practically evaporates, encouraging even more reason to focus on family time and maintaining relationships and activities in the here and now. Amazingly, you can now almost count on one hand the number of months remaining until high school graduation.

BUILDING BLOCKS IN THE PRESENT

While waiting for colleges’ decisions to arrive, it is key to be fully present in the "here and now" in order to build the best outcomes for the future. While awaiting decisions, students still need to own their responsibility of maintaining strong classroom performance.

Not only will continuing to build strong academic skills serve in the future while pursuing advanced education, it is an immediate necessity: Colleges will want to receive a final transcript reflecting the level of past performance and academic commitment demonstrated back at the time of application. Some schools may even ask for interim grade reports, including Quarter 1 or Semester 1 grades. Even if admitted under Early Decision or Early Action with a deposit paid to hold a seat in the freshman class, colleges reserve the right to retract acceptances if grades drop noticeably.  Yes, this happens!

TAKEAWAY

Stay the course and keep an eye on my perennially favorite "Three C’s” : Calm + Caring + Commitment.  Keep it up, students and parents!  And avoid temptation to take your eye off the road -- your colleges are still watching!

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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 admission process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC.  Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com  

Attracting Merit Money

Friday, October 12, 2018

If college affordability is on our minds, so should be the plan to bring down costs when possible.  Students who stand out in the applicant pool, if admitted, have the potential to save thousands of dollars in merit awards over the course of a four-year education.  

Colleges want to be generous with financial awards when sensible and supportive of both the institution and student body. Merit money becomes more likely when applicants bring something to the table that colleges desire. 

For some schools, it could be all about statistics — in the form of higher test scores than the middle 50% of the student body applies or enrolls with. Often, a student’s outstanding track record of community service or contribution may attract merit awards. At certain colleges, it may be demographic, geographic or identity diversity that catches the notice of Admissions. Simply put: Merit awards are financial incentives to attract student enrollment to fulfill a college’s larger objectives or educational mission.

Another reason merit awards are desirable is that typically (but not always) they are assigned without regard to financial need and do not have to be repaid. In other good news, many generous colleges automatically consider merit potential at the time of application so students do not necessarily have to complete lengthy scholarship applications. Gift money, bring it on!                 _________________________________________________________

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 admission process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC.  Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com  

Asking the Right Questions

Sunday, August 12, 2018

As part of a well thought-out college search, probing beneath the glossy surfaces or published standardized testing numbers can reap insights. Georgia Tech's Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admission, blogs about the wisdom of digging beneath the stats that colleges love to boast about.  

Typically, college information sessions, while an excellent marketing resource for learning about campus offerings, admissions requirements and student outcomes, skew toward broad-based marketing content that schools share to enthuse parents and prospective applicants. Class sizes? Faculty-to-student ratios? Graduation and retention rates? Employment or grad school outcomes? Not surprisingly, the statistics tell only part of the story.
By digging deeper, students can become smart, insightful college shoppers by listening between the lines and learning to --- Ask Good Questions.

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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  

An Important Piece of the Pre-College Talk

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

When all the talk has been about getting into college, it's essential to dedicate some conversation around emotional well-being when away at school.

Preparing students for college success goes way beyond just the books.  It begins with communication.   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 NACAC.  Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com.

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