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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  



Summer = Downtime + Productivity

Thursday, July 06, 2017

It’s a scientific fact (well, not really — but yet I think you’ll still agree): Summer is the most fleeting season of the year.  That’s because even though summer has the same number of calendar days as its three fellow sun-cycles, we define this time of the year by its long-awaited respite and big dose of freedom from the everyday demands of school life.  For rising juniors and seniors, these months are well-earned and precious. 

When students comment, “I’m so busy this summer — I have no time to…” I take that as code for:  I need my downtime.  Absolutely.  You need downtime to refresh and recreate so you can get back in the saddle when school starts up again in the fall.   But remember that no matter how full summer days are with a job or team practice, they will not be as busy or structured as when senior or junior year start up in full form.

Depending where you are in the college process, whether a rising college explorer or soon-to-be-applicant, there are several things you need to be doing —and accomplishing — during summer break:

+  Work on college essays. Steadily.

+  Prep for SAT or ACT  — or at least take some diagnostic sample tests.

+  If expecting to test or re-test for subject tests in August, begin studying right away.

see prior blog post --  It’s Here:  The August SAT 

+  Accomplish AP summer prep work, as is necessary.

+  Begin to prepare your Common App — (and/or Coalition App; U of CA; or Apply Texas apps).

+  Get a good start on organizing a portfolio if applying to arts programs.

+  Be in touch with athletics coaches or admissions reps.

And there is one more to-do on the list:  Get out into the sunshine and fresh air  — or into the studio, lab, or workplace; plane; train or car.  Play, work, socialize, day dream and enjoy summer in whatever ways you crave to refresh and rejuvenate before the calendar flips to September!

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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 New Way Colleges Read Applications

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

More and more competitive colleges are moving to an initial "committee-read" system in reviewing applications.  This method pulls file readers out of their former silos, allowing them to compare their evaluations more or less simultaneously in a joint review.  The University of Pennsylvania, one of the Ivies, initiated this approach back in 2013.  Most recently, other colleges that have successfully adopted this system report that they can manage more applications in less time.  

Potentially, this is a win-win method for both applicants as well as admissions departments that find themselves inundated with application files, whether real or virtual....  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


It’s Finally Here: The August SAT

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Coming to A Testing Center (Hopefully) Near You…


August 26, 2017 marks the (re)introduction of a summer SAT testing date, much to the applause of over-committed, rising high school seniors looking for an opportunity to prepare and sit for the SAT or SAT Subject Tests without the added pressure of a full plate of classes; extracurricular demands; and the time required in the fall to complete college applications.

This debut of the August test date is expected to draw a large number of test takers. Note that while the regular deadline to register is July 28, certain metropolitan areas, including Boston and New York City, are expected to experience high demand for the available number of seats.  Early registration is essential for preferred testing locations.

The availability of a summer testing date offers a number of potential benefits to students:

1.  The growth in the number of schools with Early Action/Early Decision/Priority application deadlines necessitates that students complete testing equally promptly.

2.  If a student has waited for the middle or end of junior year to test and would like the benefit of an additional testing opportunity, she can now do so without the demands of the senior fall staring her in the face.

3.  If a student was caught short in studying for Subject Tests, say amid the requirements of preparing for May APs toward the end of junior year, or perhaps missed the June test date due to other exigencies, there is still the summer to refresh recently-completed subject material.  This is valuable before the introduction of new coursework in senior year, particularly in courses that do not build in tandem ex. chemistry with little to no overlap with physics or biology.

4.  Initiating or refreshing test prep without the distraction of other academic pressures may enable the student to focus more on his preparation contributing, at least in theory, to a higher test score. Even though some school districts start up again in late August, the school year will not yet be in full swing.

5. At the very least sitting for a summer SAT, with the advantage of some breathing room in the calendar, can potentially make a huge difference for students disposed to anxiety in anticipation of high-stakes testing.

6.  For students who had put their eggs into the ACT basket but now want to try their hand at the SAT can now do so without having to wait for October of senior year to come around.  And…

7.  …those students who decide to — or need to — take the SAT in fall of senior year, can now potentially avoid the pressures of back-to-back October and November testing.  Testing as such, with precious little time in between to assess prior scores and shore up weak areas, is unlikely to be productive in significantly boosting scores.

For more information about the SAT, SAT Subject Tests or to register, visit the CollegeBoard website. 
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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

High School Junior Applying to College? Start the Ball Rolling Here

Thursday, March 02, 2017

All things come to those who wait, but when they come they’re out of date.” ~ Anonymous

Midyear grades have only just appeared. Super Bowl has only just faded to the rear view; Cupid has barely made his mid-winter mark; and March Madness is still weeks away.

High school juniors: No matter how you frame your winter calendar, now is the time to set your wheels in motion around several key components of the college application process.

Even if it feels like there is a lot of road left to travel during junior year, it’s not at all too early for students to work up a personal plan and:

Get out in front of and be realistic about college affordability.

Devote time and energy to educate themselves about colleges.

Acknowledge their learning and social needs and search out appropriate educational environments.

Take the time to reflect on a potential college major (with the understanding that one's choice may change).

Put thought into an appropriate standardized testing plan.

Think about reaching out to influencers who will further support their applications, including teacher, counselor or employer recommenders.

Bottom line: There are plenty of pieces to organize along the way as students aim to assemble solid college applications that connect their strengths, goals, needs and resources.

If students are looking for a starting line, now is the time to pull out the calendar and jump on these action steps:

  1. Register for standardized testing.
    Chances are that the student will be required to take either the SAT or the ACT as a condition of application to at least one of their intended colleges. Some students align with and focus exclusively on one of these exams, while others try out both to see which one best fits their testing style. At the very least, the SAT and ACT websites offer sampling of the style and variety of questions students may encounter on either test.

    Prepping in some way for the SAT or ACT is a smart decision that will depend on student motivation, time and other resources. Test prep assistance ranges broadly from free, web-based supports such as Khan Academy or Number2 to fee-based private services that offer individualized tutoring.

    Most students will aim to begin testing during the winter of junior year, if not sooner.

  2. Order the official test scores you want your colleges to receive.
    Although students have the option of including their standardized test scores on their applications, many colleges still require official score reports to be sent from the appropriate testing agency. Scores are not automatically sent to colleges unless the student requests their submission — and pays the required fee.

    Note, however, that students have the option to request free score reports for up to four colleges at the time of test registration. (Visit SAT or ACT websites for details.) A potential downside is that students who choose to submit scores in advance forego the option to review their results prior to submission.

    If students intend to submit official score reports to colleges, they need to order these well before application deadlines since forwarding of scores from the testing companies is not instantaneous.

  3. Schedule campus visits.
    It takes more than a little planning to organize family calendars in order to make campus visits a priority. With busy weekends full of homework, projects, athletic and family obligations, campus visits may easily slide onto the back burner. Before you can say "summer’s here,” senior year has already arrived with its own set of priorities that may tighten up student schedules even more. Besides, it’s best to visit schools during the normal ebb and flow of the academic year rather than during summer break when there are typically few students in attendance.

    Prospective applicants need to view campus life in action, in part, to determine a good college fit.

  4. Ask teachers for college recommendations... 
    ...and thank them! Writing a thoughtful college rec requires precious time and focus to reflect on and express who you are as a student as well as a member of your school community. Asking early, before the end of junior year rather than up against a last-minute deadline, demonstrates maturity as well as a proper appreciation of the writer’s time and effort. It is courteous to make recommendation requests in person, whenever possible. One may follow up or thank a recommender in person, via email or — as an even more personal gesture — through a handwritten note.

  5. Start making summer plans.
    Work, play, travel, research, write, think, volunteer, create, study, learn, experiment. The list can go on and on, but it's your summer so plan on making it a good one.

  6. Consider fin aid options and...
    Apply for financial aid well before deadlines.

    Exploring the net price calculators published by individual colleges can give families a head start in estimating need-based aid at those institutions. NPCs vary by college, but exploring these can provide insight on financing estimates for incoming freshmen.

    Financial aid timelines — and deadlines — have been recently pushed to earlier in the admissions cycle. Families can now submit completed tax returns according to what is known as the Prior-Prior Year schedule, pointing to the family financial scenario two years prior to the student’s year of college matriculation. Still, there is more to consider in this earlier timeframe: Students applying for financial aid via the FAFSA and possibly the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE will note that these applications are now available for completion beginning October of the senior year.

    The primary intention behind establishing earlier timelines is to allow colleges to better expedite financial aid application reviews and award decisions, thereby allowing students and parents more time to evaluate and respond to aid offers. In reality, aid funds are finite therefore remember to monitor deadlines so you can be the early bird — and much more likely to catch the worm.

    Juniors and soon-to-be rising seniors: Embrace the fundamental steps of the college process. Becoming organized now avoids a longer to-do list later 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 admissions process. Marla is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com




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