Wednesday, December 31, 2014

College-Related New Year Resolutions

This article first appeared in on December 31, 2014.

Since it’s the time of year that many people make resolutions, I hereby offer some college-related resolutions for your consideration.
For Parents of Seniors
  • I will seek out frequent opportunities to do something fun with my senior.
  • I will not ask my senior a college-related question more than once per week.
  • I will be equally enthusiastic about every college acceptance.
  • I will not gloat to other parents about my child’s college acceptances or complain about denials.
  • I will not ask any other parents about their child’s college acceptances or rejections.
  • I will not speculate about why admissions teams made the decisions they did.
  • I will allow my senior to make important choices and trust his or her judgment.
  • I will allow my senior to fail and learn from her or his mistakes.
  • I will make clear agreements with my senior before he or she ventures off to college.

For Seniors
  • I will stay focused on my academics for both semesters of senior year.
  • Once I hit the final “submit” button on my applications, I will celebrate. 
  • I will not spend January through March obsessing over admissions outcomes I cannot control.
  • I will trust the process and believe that I will end up at the perfect college for me.
  • I will be truly happy for my friends’ college acceptances.
  • I will enjoy senior year and focus on friends and family.
  • I will appreciate my parents even if they are imperfect.
  • I will make the most of my college experience wherever I end up.

For Juniors
  • I will put forth my best academic efforts this year.
  • I will build relationships with at least two junior-year teachers so they know me when I request recommendation letters.
  • I will take time to interact with my high school’s college counselor.
  • I will complete at least three job shadows to explore potential careers and college majors.
  • I will tour at least three colleges by May 2015.
  • I will prepare for and complete all my standardized testing (SAT or ACT) by June 2015.
  • I will increase my leadership in at least one extracurricular activity.
  • I will plan early to use my summer well.
  • I will work on my college application essays over the summer.

For Freshmen and Sophomores
  • I will learn how I learn best and do more of what works.
  • I will take the hardest classes I can handle without sacrificing sleep or sanity (from my favorite blogger Kevin McMullen at Collegewise).
  • I will ask for academic help whenever I need it.
  • I will not use social media while doing homework or studying.
  • I will explore my interests in and out of school.
  • I will stick with my favorite extracurricular activity all four years of high school.
  • I will use my summer to try something new and increase my skill in something I already love doing.
  • I will not make decisions based on what I think will impress some college

Best wishes for a fabulous 2015 to all my readers!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Twelve Gift Ideas for Future College Students

This article first appeared in on December 24, 2014.

Need some gift ideas for a future college student? Sing this revised version of the 12 Days of Christmas to learn what college freshmen want.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me a laptop with Dragon Naturally*.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me 2 Bluetooth speakers, and a laptop with Dragon Naturally.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me 3 fuzzy blankets, 2 Bluetooth speakers, and a laptop with Dragon Naturally.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me 4 college sweatshirts, 3 fuzzy blankets, 2 Bluetooth speakers, and a laptop with Dragon Naturally.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me 5 chocolate bars 4 college sweatshirts, 3 fuzzy blankets, 2 Bluetooth speakers, and a laptop with Dragon Naturally.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me 6 taxi vouchers, 5 chocolate bars, 4 college sweatshirts, 3 fuzzy blankets, 2 Bluetooth speakers, and a laptop with Dragon Naturally.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me 7 dozen cookies, 6 taxi vouchers, 5 chocolate bars, 4 college sweatshirts, 3 fuzzy blankets, 2 Bluetooth speakers, and a laptop with Dragon Naturally.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me 8 Starbucks gift cards,  7 dozen cookies, 6 taxi vouchers, 5 chocolate bars, 4 college sweatshirts, 3 fuzzy blankets, 2 Bluetooth speakers, and a laptop with Dragon Naturally.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me 9 months of Netflix, 8 Starbucks gift cards,  7 dozen cookies, 6 taxi vouchers, 5 chocolate bars, 4 college sweatshirts, 3 fuzzy blankets, 2 Bluetooth speakers, and a laptop with Dragon Naturally.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me 10 family photos, 9 months of Netflix, 8 Starbucks gift cards, 7 dozen cookies, 6 taxi vouchers, 5 chocolate bars, 4 college sweatshirts, 3 fuzzy blankets, 2 Bluetooth speakers, and a laptop with Dragon Naturally.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me 11 online textbooks, 10 family photos, 9 months of Netflix, 8 Starbucks gift cards,  7 dozen cookies, 6 taxi vouchers, 5 chocolate bar, 4 college sweatshirts, 3 fuzzy blankets, 2 Bluetooth speakers, and a laptop with Dragon Naturally.
♫ Before I left for college, my parents gave to me 12 gigs of cloud storage,  11 online textbooks, 10 family photos, 9 months of Netflix, 8 Starbucks gift cards,  7 dozen cookies, 6 taxi vouchers, 5 chocolate, 4 college sweatshirts, 3 fuzzy blankets, 2 Bluetooth speakers, and a laptop with Dragon Naturally.
Also appreciated: an extra-cushy mattress pad, a popcorn popper and popcorn, Ziploc baggies, movie passes, any care package containing food, laundry detergent, extra sheets and towels, extra socks and underwear, batteries, granola bars, a first aid kit, a desk lamp, sticky notes and highlighter pens, scissors and a stapler, a sewing kit, and plane tickets home for school breaks.
*Dragon Naturally Speaking is voice to text software that is great for dictating school papers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Following up after Applications are Submitted

This article first appeared on on December 17, 2014.

Seniors, you are responsible for making sure that all the needed components for your application have arrived at the colleges you’ve applied to. Tips for getting this done:
  • Check your email daily. This is how schools will communicate with you. If something is missing, this is the way that you will likely be notified. Even if you think email is so “old school,” from now through May you need to check it daily. Set a reminder on your phone if that helps you get it done.

  • If you applied via the Common App, you can see whether your counselor, teachers and outside recommenders have submitted their letters by checking the recommenders page. If they are not all marked as done, don’t panic! Be polite and check in with the person about the status of your recommendation. If a recommender thinks something was submitted but it does not show as such, ask the recommender to file a help ticket or make a help hotline call to the Common App. Your full name and CAID must be included.

  • If your school uses Naviance, you can see the status of documents on your Naviance account. This is how you can tell if transcripts, counselor letters, and teacher letters have been sent. There have been computer interface challenges between Naviance and the Common App. If Naviance shows something as sent but the Common App does not show it as received, file a help request. Your full name and CAID must be included.

  • You should have sent SAT or ACT test scores directly from the College Board or ACT website. If you log in to your College Board or ACT account, you can see where scores have been sent. The most common error students make is adding a school to their list after they have sent test scores and forgetting to go back to the SAT or ACT website and send the scores to the added school. If you did not self-report test scores on the application and are waiting to send scores until you get results from the Nov or Dec test date, please note that your early action applications will probably be rolled into the regular decision pool.

  • Reminder: If you took a class for college credit and reported on your Common App that college transcripts were available, you need to send them. Go to the college website (of the school where you took the class) and follow their directions for sending transcripts to other colleges.

  • Many colleges send you an email when they receive your application. It often contains a student ID number for their college and a link to a portal where you can check your application status. I suggest you check at least every other day until you know that all needed materials were received.

Colleges do expect you to be responsible for follow-up. If you need to, email or call the rep from the relevant college to address any problems. Be sure to include your Common App ID # or school-specific student ID #. This is the time of year when admission reps start working very long hours, so be considerate of their time and try to get the info online first.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Disciplinary Disclosures On Your Application

This article first appeared in on December 10, 2014.

It’s possible that you have been in minor trouble at some point in your high school career. Maybe you got called out for plagiarism by “Turn It In” software that showed too much of your essay was lifted from Wikipedia. Perhaps you were at a party where there was underage drinking, and it got reported to your school. Maybe you defended a kid who was being picked on during lunch, but you and the bully both got pulled into the principal’s office. Regardless of the circumstance, it is possible that you have a disciplinary infraction on your school record.
When you apply to college, it is critical for you to know whether there are any disciplinary infractions on your record and what your school policy is about reporting these infractions to colleges. You can get this information from your school counselor by asking. Many school districts publish their disclosure policy in a school handbook. For example, some high schools keep all records closed and disclose nothing to colleges. Other high schools disclose any infractions from 9th grade onwards. Some schools don’t report infractions from 9th and 10th grade, but do report those that happened in 11th or 12th grade. You can take appropriate action once you understand what a college will be told.
On most college applications, there is space for you to explain any disciplinary infractions. The college is giving you a chance to tell your story.
If the school reports an infraction and you do not address it in your application, chances are you will be denied admission. If the school reports something and you own up to what happened and take full responsibility for your actions, you stand a chance of being admitted.
Here’s what doesn’t work: blaming someone else (my friend passed me the joint); brushing it off as trivial (everyone copies stuff off the internet); or being defensive (I would not have punched her if she didn’t pull my hair first).
Here’s what does work: tell the story in a factual way without emotional or judgmental language; reveal exactly what you did and why; and tell the reader what you wish you had done differently and what you have done since to make amends.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Get Started on Scholarship Applications

This article first appeared in on December 3, 2014.

Scholarships are free money! Although everyone claims to want some, only a small percentage of students put in the work needed to win some. 
If you dedicate time to applying for scholarships, you may get a great return on your investment. Let’s say you spend four hours preparing a packet for the Elks Club Scholarship and win $1300 from your local chapter. That was $325 per hour for your time. It sure beats the $10 per hour you might earn working at a fast food place.
Seniors, if you have finished submitting your applications, this is a great time to turn your attention to scholarships. First and foremost, be sure you have applied for all the reasonable-for-you scholarships that are offered directly by the schools you applied to. It is important to check the school website carefully. Many schools consider all applicants for scholarships, but some schools have separate scholarship applications or even scholarship applications that are due before the actual college application deadline.
9th–11th graders, you too can begin to apply for scholarships! You might not know that there are thousands of scholarships available to 9th–11th graders. While 85% of scholarship money comes directly from colleges and the federal government, it is not too early to try for that other 15% of scholarship funds (usually referred to as “outside scholarships”).
If you have not already created profiles on some free scholarship search websites, you should do so. You might want to set up your email to automatically put scholarship matches into a separate folder (that you check frequently) so that your regular email is not too stuffed with potential scholarship matches. The free sites I recommend are Fastweb,Cappex and Zinch. Don’t create a profile on any website that charges you! 
Some of the scholarship suggestions you get (about 70%) will be junk, but there should be some good matches in the bunch. I suggest you create a spreadsheet to track the good possibilities and keep yourself organized about deadlines and requirements. The spreadsheet I give students has the following headings:
  • Due date
  • Scholarship name
  • URL of scholarship website
  • Type of application (paper or online)
  • Essay questions with word limit
  • Recommendations required (indicate number)
  • Transcript required (yes or no)
  • Resume required (yes or no)
  • Additional notes, such as judging criteria
  • Date you submitted your application

Parents, if you are eager to help your student with the college process, this is a good place to volunteer to be of assistance. You could sort through the suggested scholarship matches and log those you feel have potential on the spreadsheet.
Students, here is my suggestion for making time to complete scholarship applications. Set aside one Sunday afternoon per month as “Scholarship Sunday”. Complete all the scholarships applications for the next month. This means that in November you work on the scholarships due in December and in January you tackle the February due dates. This system allows you extra time in case you discover that you need to gather an extra document (such as a recommendation or transcript) to finish your application.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Research and Internship Explanations that Get Noticed

This article first appeared in on November 26, 2014.

I spend time in January as an application reader for a highly selective college, and many students have done research at a university or internships with a company. That’s terrific and impressive!
Unfortunately, these great experiences are often poorly explained in the application.
I want to know what you researched and what your role was. For example, I might see an entry that says “Intern, Dr. Ko’s neuroscience lab at UCLA.” I am interested, but I don’t know how to consider this without more information. Is Dr. Ko your uncle? Does he have 20 high school interns, or are you the only one amidst seven undergrads and three grad students? Did you find this internship on your own or was it an advertised opportunity, and did you compete for a spot through an application and interview process? What is Dr. Ko’s lab researching? (Sure, I can look that up on the internet, but if I only have 20–30 minutes to spend on your application, do you want me to use some of my time on internet research?) What was your specific task? Did you review hundreds of journal articles and decide which ones his research group actually needed to read? Did you code recorded life narratives that were compared with MRI brain activity? Did you learn to use some specialized equipment or software?
I realize that there is a character limit on your Common Application or school-specific activities list. Use the “additional information” space to write a few sentences that help me understand how you spent your research/internship time. Leaving the reader confused or wondering doesn’t work in your favor.
Here are the basic facts the reader wants to know:
  • Name of lab or company and where it is 
  • What the lab or company does 
  • What you did there 
  • How much time you spent
  • Contact info for your supervisor

Here is what that might look like:
Research Example
Oregon Health & Science University
Lab Assistant at the Brain Institute
May 2014–present
Five hours per week in school year; 20 hours per week in summer
Contact: Dr. X at Y email address
  • Examined the impact of drug and alcohol abuse on the adolescent brain through brain imaging and clinical trials
  • Examined the impact of music therapy on subjects with brain-based disorders 
  • Developed curriculum for school-based brain awareness campaign (
  • Implemented brain awareness campaign at Riverdale High School; working to spread campaign to Portland Public Schools 

Internship Example
Oregon Museum of Science & Industry
Exhibit Intern for “Access Algebra” project (exhibit named “Design Zone”)
Summer 2008, 30 hours per week
Contact: Ms. A at B email address
  • OMSI had a $2.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create a touring exhibit of hands-on math activities
  • I read over 300 academic papers about hands-on math research and noted what had proven effective
  • I prepared, led, and documented hands-on math activities for an exhibit test group of 10–14-year-olds at the localBoys & Girls Club
  • Based on test group results, I drew potential exhibit components for consideration

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ten Tips for Acing Your College Interview

This article first appeared in on November 12, 2014.

You probably don’t have to take part in an interview to get into college. Most schools don’t require it, but many schools make it optional. If you are an extrovert, normally an interview will work to your advantage if you have prepared well. If you are an introvert or get extremely nervous, it is possible that your written application might not be enhanced by an interview. If you are not sure whether an interview is a good idea, ask the opinion of an adult you trust.
If you have decided that admissions or alumni interviews will work to your advantage, here are ten tips for putting your best self forward.

1. Do Deep Research

Colleges want to spend their time on serious applicants. In a prior column, I explained how to do school-specific research. A college interview is not intended to be your fact-finding mission. You should have learned the basics and more before the interview and should use your time with an admissions rep or alum to dig into what you cannot learn elsewhere. I encourage you to show up at your interview with your own notes about the school. This proves that you spent the time and energy to do some unassigned homework.

2. Practice

Here’s advice from one of my favorite bloggers, Michelle Kretzschmar: “Sit down with another person and have them ask you questions, and you practice answering them. You think this feels stupid; you’ll just jot down some ideas and go over them in your head before the interview? Anyone who is a professional at something practices it—you know, people like actors. Even baseball players take batting practice before every game.”
If your interview is via Skype, then your practice also includes the technology. Here’s advice from interview expert Paul Nicholas: “With technology you should do at least two trial runs.  Whether you have a Mac or a PC, you will need to activate your webcam and see what your interviewer will be seeing. You will give them your Skype address in advance and confirm them as a connection. Your photo/avatar for Skype should be professional. Would you show that photo to your grandma? Do not position yourself with a window behind you. Consider what will be in your ‘frame’ and take care not to have anything distracting in the background. Prepare yourself in a room where there will be no distractions. Leave your cell phone elsewhere. Close the door. No pets.”

3. Schedule Early, Schedule Smart

Admissions representatives often have grueling fall travel schedules. If they are in your city for just a few days, they probably are short on sleep and juggling a schedule filled with school visits and interviews. There may only be a few interview slots available. Don’t panic if you have missed out on snagging one of those spots. Politely check if there is a Skype option or an alumni interview option available instead. 
If you have a face-to-face interview scheduled and you and the interviewer agree upon a location, plan on being there ten minutes early. Exchange cell phone numbers so that you can text in case either of you is running late. 
If you have some control over your interview schedule, do your interview with a less selective school first. You will get better with each interview you do, so having your lower-stakes interview first is a good strategy. 

4. Make a Positive First Impression

“First impressions are lasting impressions.” The majority of the first impression you make is non-verbal. Factors like your clothing, posture, handshake, smile, and eye contact all contribute to the aura of confidence you give off and how you are perceived. Here are more suggestions from Paul: 
“Dress: If you were to meet your grandparents for an event, what would you wear? That is how you should dress for an admissions interview. Not so dressy that you feel uncomfortable, but not so shabby that your grandparents would wonder. Smart casual. 
Handshake: Follow the lead of your interviewer when it comes to shaking hands. It sounds strange, but some people don’t want to shake hands. Don’t obligate your interviewer to shake your hand by offering yours. If they go for the shake, give them a firm reply. If not, it’s OK!
Eye contact: When you are at a face-to-face interview, look directly into the interviewer’s eyes as you introduce yourself. Eye contact in Skype interviews is different. Be aware of where the camera is and direct your eye contact directly into the camera. It will feel strange at first to speak with your eyes into the camera, but this ensures that the other person gets your full eye contact. When you speak, it’s into the camera. When they speak, you watch them naturally.”

5. Find a Connection

Admissions officers and alumni interviewers are just people, and it is human nature for them to root for applicants they like. Finding some point of connection with your interviewer is ideal. The easiest way to do that is to be genuinely interested in them. Search for something in common—whether it’s a love of dogs or scary movies or the truffle fries atLittle Big Burger.
Help the interviewer by being prepared to answer any permutation of the basic opener—tell me about yourself. Decide in advance on three specific things that you want the interviewer to know about you. These might include an academic accomplishment, an extra-curricular activity, and anything that demonstrates what is personally important to you. You should be prepared to list them off with ease.
It’s a conversation. Follow the lead from the interviewer, and let the interview progress organically. If you get a question that stumps you, it is fine to say, “Wow, that’s a tough question. Please give me a minute to think about that.”
The interview is for you—first and foremost. The interviewer is there to help you gain a deeper understanding of the college/university and answer any questions you might have that you could not find the answer to online. Lean in and engage.

6. Take Notes

You won’t remember everything you hear (especially if you are nervous). Notes will come in handy when you write those “Why this college?” essays and will also be helpful when you have a handful of acceptance letters and are trying to narrow your options.

7. Answer Honestly

Trying to “psych out” colleges and give answers they want to hear is a complete waste of your energy. You are a teenager. Be your polite self and don’t try to figure out “right answers” to the questions you are asked. If your true passion is video games and you did ten hours of community service because your mom made you, then don’t talk about community service when you are asked your favorite extra-curricular activity. Authenticity is always best.

8. Ask Great Questions

Nearly every interviewer saves time at the end of the meeting for you to ask questions. Ask questions appropriate to the person. If it is an alumna who graduated 25 years ago, she will not know about the latest new major offered on campus; however, an admissions officers would. Open-ended questions are great, and there is a list of suggestions in my column last week. 

9. Prepare a “Leave-Behind”

Have a copy of your academic resume ready to give to the interviewer at the end of the meeting. If you hand it out at the beginning, the person might spend time looking at it rather than connecting with you. If you do not have an academic resume, it is fun to make a “calling card” on the computer. It should include your name, email, high school, year of graduation and city. If you want to add a cute graphic (my daughter had a robot on hers because she was interested in engineering), have fun with it.

10. Send a Thank-You Note

Handwritten. Not email. You need to get the person’s business card so you know where to mail it. Thank the interviewer for making time for you and for providing useful information. If you had a great point of connection, you can mention that in your note. Write it the same day that you have your interview and take it to the post office to mail so the person gets it promptly. If you cannot get an address from an alum, a same-day email thank you will suffice.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Typical College Interview Questions

This article first appeared in on November 5, 2014.

Interviews may or may not be part of your college admission process. Some schools (especially large public universities) do not offer interviews. Some colleges offer optional interviews. These might be evaluative (they count as one factor in the admission decision) or informational (they do not count towards admission and are a way for you to learn more about the school). Some schools offer interviews on or off campus with admissions representatives. Some schools only offer alumni interviews. Some schools will let you interview during junior or senior year and other schools only grant interviews once your application has been submitted. Some schools offer a phone or Skype interview. Some schools have mandatory interviews. 
As you can tell, colleges have different philosophies about interviews. Once you have a list of colleges that interest you, go directly to the colleges’ websites to determine whether or not interviews are an option. If you decide that an interview will be advantageous, follow the school’s instructions about how to arrange it.
Here is a list of fairly typical questions you might be asked by a college admissions representative or an alumni interviewer:
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Tell me about your family.
  • What are your strengths and talents? What are your weaknesses?
  • Are there accomplishments you are particularly proud of, and why?
  • In what areas would you like to improve?
  • What do you like best and the least about high school?
  • Which courses have challenged you the most and why?
  • How do you respond to academic demands and pressure?
  • What has been your most stimulating intellectual experience?
  • What teacher has had the biggest influence on you?
  • What has been your most challenging leadership experience?
  • What has been your biggest disappointment in high school?
  • What is your favorite activity outside of school?
  • What activities do you plan to continue in college and why?
  • Which authors, books or articles have had a profound impact on you?
  • What issues concern you?
  • What do you want out of college?
  • Why are you interested in this college? (Tip: Use the school-specific research (link to my column from the week of 10/27) you did to answer this question.)
  • What do you plan to major in and why? (Tip: It is fine to say you are multi-interested and want to explore at college before committing to a major if you are unsure about your course of study.)
  • What do you want out of life?
  • If you could take a year off, what would you do and why?
  • Tell me about your work experience and community service experience.
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What are you doing this (or did you do last) summer?
  • What other colleges are you considering?
  • What person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? What would you discuss?
  • Describe the most difficult situation you’ve been in. How did you handle it?
  • How do you spend a typical day after school?
  • Have you ever thought about not going to college? What would you do instead?
  • On a day without any obligations, what would you do?
  • What’s the biggest ethical dilemma you have faced? How did you resolve it?
  • If you had a million dollars and wanted to donate it to our school, what would you earmark it for?
  • What questions do you have for me? (Tip: Have questions prepared in advance.)

When it is your turn to ask questions of the interviewer, be prepared. Don’t ask questions that you could easily find the answer to on the school website. You want to let your interviewer know you have been a diligent researcher and are thoughtful about why X college is a good match for you. Here are some questions that tend to work well:
  • What did you like best about your college experience at X school?
  • What’s the “don’t miss” class/professor/event/tradition at X school?
  • If you could change one thing about X school, what would it be?
  • How would you describe the students that seem to thrive at X school?
  • What’s one piece of college advice you want to share with me?

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Similarity Between Online Dating Profiles and ‘Why This College?’ Essays

This article first appeared in on November 3, 2014.

If you listen to the lingo of college admissions officers, you will often hear references to finding students who are a “good match” for the college. That sounds a lot like dating language to me, so I find it easiest to explain how to write a great “Why this college?” essay by comparing it to online dating.
Why do schools care about this matchmaking process? They want students who will arrive and thrive. Colleges are under pressure from the government about their student retention rates, and admissions officers want to feel confident that an accepted student will persist and graduate (preferably within four years). Ideally, schools would like to fill their campuses with students for whom that school is a top choice. This leads to an upbeat atmosphere on campus. Part of the way colleges are judged in the rankings is based on their yield rate: the percentage of applicants who are offered a spot in the class that actually choose to come. Unfortunately for many colleges, it gets harder and harder to predict which students are seriously interested because the Common Application has made it easier to apply to more schools. Any given student can only attend one school, so if she is accepted to seven, she will bring down the yield rate at six of those schools. To judge an applicant’s level of interest, many schools ask some version of “Why this college?” as their supplemental question.
To write a great answer, think of this as an online dating exercise. The basic formula is this:
Here’s me.
Here’s you.
Oh my, we are a perfect match!
Here’s me. In the first portion of a “Why this college?” essay, you might tell a short (true) story about yourself. Since college is primarily an academic endeavor, it is great if this story can relate to your areas of academic interest. If you have a specific field or major you are excited about, this is the spot to give an example that proves your interest. If you have no clue what you want to study in college, this is your chance to prove that you are multi-interested and a seasoned explorer of academic ideas. 
Here’s an example:
“As policy intern for Jefferson Smith’s mayoral campaign, I researched and drafted policy papers on covering our reservoirs and water pricing. For almost every topic I researched, every meeting with city officials I attended, and every campaign finance event I attended, I noticed that campaigning and policy seemed to revolve around one thing—money. This sparked my interest in economics. Along with my study of political science, an advanced understanding of mathematics and economics will help me achieve my dream of working in D.C as the Secretary of the Treasury or Chairman of the Federal Reserve.”
This student has set the stage for why he wants major in political science and minor in economics or math, which he can then relate to the offerings at the college.
The good news is that this initial portion will be useful for all of the “Why this college?” essays, since you are the constant part of the answer.
Here’s you. In the second portion of the “Why this college?” essay, you will use the information you gathered in yourSchool-specific Research Sheet. Think of this portion as two paragraphs. 
The first paragraph relates directly to your “Here’s me” section and has an academic focus. You might mention classes you are eager to take, professors with whom you hope to do research, and anything else academic that caught your notice. Be as specific as possible. Every sentence in this section should apply to this school only. For example, if you want to study astronomy, instead of mentioning that you are excited because University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a planetarium, say you are excited about the Morehead Planetarium, where dozens of astronauts studied celestial navigation. Does this take deep research? Yes! That’s the point. You are proving to the admissions office that you really understand this school and know why you want to be there.
In the second “Here’s you” paragraph, you acknowledge that there is more to college life than just academics. This is where you can tell admissions readers about the other aspects of the school that matter to you. You should mention if you have talked to one of the school’s athletic coaches (name him or her and the sport), have a friend who attends and loves it (name him or her), or know a successful alumnus (name him or her). You can mention a specific club you want to join or a school tradition about which you are excited. Once again, be as specific as possible so that this portion of your answer could not be copied and pasted into the “Why this college?” answer for any other school. For example, tell Grinnell College that you are super-excited for mattress sledding or let Willamette University know that you hope to pull together a dorm band to play at Wulapalooza. Don’t waste this space telling a school something it already knows about itself—sunny weather, access to professors, ability to do undergraduate research. While these characteristics may be true, they apply to far more schools than just the one you are writing about.
Oh my, we are a perfect match! This is your short conclusion that reinforces the “fit” between you and the school. The more school specific you make it, the better. Rather than telling Gonzaga University that you can’t wait to be a Bulldog, tell them that you can’t wait to sit in the McCarthey Athletic Center to watch the basketball team play. Or—even better—say that you hope to become a photographer for the campus paper The Gonzaga Bulletin and be on the floor visually documenting those exciting basketball games.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

School Specific Research

This article first appeared in on October 29, 2014.

If you are a junior, at this point in time you might have a list of 20–30 colleges that seem interesting based on general criteria like size, location, and available programs. How do you do research to narrow that list?
If you are a senior, you probably have a shorter list of schools you are applying to. Why did those schools make the cut? If you have to write a “Why this college?” essay or answer that question in an interview, are you prepared to give a detailed response?
School-specific research is an essential part of the college admissions process. It is time-consuming (approximately two hours per school), and many students skip this and rely on anecdotal information. Yet school-specific research is the best way to find out if a given school really is a great potential fit for you. The effort you expend per school doing this research will pay huge dividends when it comes to your applications.
I suggest you use a fill-in-the-blank sheet for each school to ensure consistency. When my students fill out this form, I ask them to include lots of links to the information so that they can easily get back to the source when they need it at a later date.
Here is what you should find out:

General Information

  • School name:
  • School home page URL: 
  • City and state: 
  • # of undergrads: 
  • Name and contact info of your admissions rep:
  • Middle 25–75% on SAT or ACT scores:



1. List the core (general ed) requirements at this school:
2. What is the school policy regarding credit for AP, dual-credit, or IB courses you have taken?
3. List the exact names of majors and minors you are considering at this school: 
4. List two courses (preferably with interesting titles) that you would have taken if you had been a student this year. To find them, you will use either the departmental website or the online course catalogue. The classes you pick should be ones that sound very exciting to you.
  • Course title:
  • Why this class sounds appealing:
  • URL where you found this info: 

5. List two professors whose academic interests and research appeal to you. Be sure to read each professor's bio and at least one of his/her published papers. You should easily find a link to the professor's works on the departmental website. The link may take you off the school website to a professional journal.
  • Professor name:
  • College department in which professor works:
  • Area of research/interest:
  • URL of info about the professor:
  • What paper or article you read:
  • URL to above article:
  • Why this research interests you:

6. Check out the feedback on Rate My Professors. What did you discover overall? 


Non-Academic Factors

1. Check out residence life. If you were to attend this college, what residence hall or theme house would you apply to and why?
2. List two clubs you hope to join if you attend this college.
  • Name of club:
  • What they do, if not obvious from the name:
  • URL where you found this info:

3. List one community service or outreach activity you plan to participate in if you attend this college. 
  • Name of service opportunity:
  • What they do:
  • Why this appeals to you:
  • URL where you found this info:

4. List the name of the student newspaper and read one issue:
5. List one school tradition in which you hope to participate. (Examples: painting the rock at Northwestern, betting for charity on which date the pumpkin will fall off the spire at University of Montana, Duck Day at University of Nevada, Reno)
  • Unique school tradition:
  • Describe the tradition:
  • URL where you found this info:

Resources for finding school-specific information: The individual school website will be your best source for information.
Reliable statistical data:
Opinion data: