Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Not perfect? Consider the Test-Optional College Path

Standardized testing in flux
Are you one of the many aspiring college students who has excellent study habits, but for some reason, such as nerves, misses your goal on the first or second or third attempt at the ACT or SAT? You are not alone; one survey claims one-out-of-every-six students struggles with standardized tests. 

High school students who feel their primary test score does not reflect their true value to a university should consider colleges that offer a “test-optional” application option.

Many colleges turn from SAT/ACT
Decades of debate about the fairness of an ACT/SAT score exploded in 2019 when test-score cheating came to light. There already had been an inherent distrust in the SAT’s and ACT's ability to predict future success and a desire to improve campus diversity.

This lack of confidence has resulted in a tremendous surge in the number of colleges going “test-optional”—at the moment more than 1,000 schools and growing. More than half the U.S. News & World Report “Top 100” liberal arts colleges now are test-optional. The University of Chicago was among the many recent universities to implement test-optional policies. “Testing is one piece,” said VP-enrollment and student advancement James Nondorf, noting applicants choosing the path can submit a video profile or creative/artistic work.

Rules are different at each school
So, if you feel your chances for college acceptance are being hindered by test numbers, you should carefully research “test-optional” schools, understanding that each college may have slightly different rules. It’s up to you to find out the details.

Test-optional universities have developed algorithms that rebalance other factors such as coursework, grades, AP scores, class rank and especially the application essay. Many require additional essays on a variety of subjects to learn how you think. Within the universe of colleges, some call themselves “test-flexible”; they may ask for test scores but in lieu of those require an SAT Subject Test, an International Baccalaureate test, specific AP tests, samples of academic work such as scientific research. Both sets may require additional recommendation letters.

According to FairTest Public Education Director Robert Schaeffer, “We are especially pleased to see many public universities and access-oriented private colleges deciding that test scores are not needed to make sound educational decisions. … Eliminating [the] ACT/SAT requirement is a ‘win-win’ for students and schools.” The FairTest organization is working to end standardized test misuse and flaws and to ensure the evaluation of students is fair and open.
As noted previously, test-optional universities have found a wide assortment of ways beyond a 29 ACT score to measure the probability of success by any student.

Demonstrate challenges met
While each school has its own weighting system, most put a premium on the rigor of class choices and a pattern of increasing challenges through the high school years. Beyond that, they most want to see an illuminating recommendation letter and a genuinely thought-provoking essay. After that, many of these colleges expect to see appropriate extracurricular activities, especially involving volunteerism for the greater good. A college is a community and beyond coursework, they want activist students who devote themselves to worthy causes. If you present yourself honestly and highlight sincere accomplishments you can attract universities that know a test score is just a number.  


Friday, November 22, 2019

The Strategy Behind Application Deadlines—Explained

Many children enjoy a steady diet of alphabet soup growing up. By now, maybe many of you have navigated the SAT and ACT acronym maze, but get ready for the all-important application deadline soup of EA, SCEA, REA, ED I, EDII, (and occasionally the semi-secret ED III), RD and RA.

After finishing a package of application materials and narrowing your final list of target colleges, you absolutely need a solid application strategy. From factoring in size and location to entry competitiveness and how a college would place you where you want to be in four years, establish a set of priorities and review each university’s rules of admission deadlines and requirements. That acronym soup offering is different at each school, requires different levels of planning commitment and can affect financial assistance packages that are offered.

Here are the choices, keeping in mind you must explore each college’s options readily available on the school website.

Early Action (EA)
EA application deadlines generally fall around Nov. 1 and Nov.15. These universities release acceptance decisions as early as December but allow the EA student to wait until May 1 to commit, allowing time to examine any financial assistance offered by other accepting schools. Recent trends show many universities are pushing their exclusivity and lower acceptance rates for ranking purposes; the effect is the cream of the applicant crop is taking significantly more spots from RD or RA applicants. As the EA numbers have grown, be aware a university can choose to defer its admission decision. Be sure if you fall into their deferral category, to have a few other schools lined up. 

Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA) or Restricted Early Action (REA)
SCEA is more restrictive than EA. For example,  there are often restrictions on applying to other public or private colleges prior to hearing back from the SCEA school. Again, H.S. senior applications must apply quite early in the process. After an SCEA school makes a December decision of acceptance, deferral, or denial, the student is free to apply to other schools before a final commitment on May 1. But the specific rules vary. For example, a student applying REA to Notre Dame may apply to other college Early Action programs, unlike Stanford, where any sort of non-binding commitment to another private school is forbidden. Again, the pool of SCEA and REA applicants is top tier so make certain your application package of grades, tests, extracurriculars and the all-important essay(s) are the best possible.

Early Decision I (ED I)
Do you know exactly where you want to attend after extensive research and (hopefully) a few campus visits? Can’t even imagine what your second choice is? Are willing to accept a financial package sight unseen? Want to avoid being caught in the Regular Admission stampede? And want to boost your chances to attend your Dream School? Another early deadline process, Early Decision is binding, meaning any other applications must be withdrawn when the good news arrives. 
If you have your heart set on Cornell, recent numbers show ED more than doubles the chance of success from around 14% for regular to almost 33% via ED. Do you feel colleges like the University of Iowa are a bit too large? Applying Early Decision to Kenyon jumps the acceptance rate over regular from around 38% to more than 53%. 

As much as you may have settled on your top choice, there is an important thing to consider. Because this and other early applications do not yet include senior’s first semester grades, it is absolutely crucial to have superior grades and test score goals. Need more time to prepare, there is another possibility….

Early Decision II (ED II)
A surprising number of universities offer two rounds, ED I and ED II. ED II deadlines are usually closer to the Regular Decision deadline, generally falling between Jan. 1 and Feb.1. ED II would allow you to include first semester senior grades, and for those deferred or rejected as ED I, a new opportunity for that next fit school. 

Also binding, ED II is essential for the college to determine its freshman class Yield. What’s that? Because ED I and ED II students are committed to attend if accepted, the college can more easily determine the percentage of accepted students who enroll. A critical statistic in a college algorithm, the Yield can offer a college an early snapshot of the incoming freshman class, helping to determine an array of effects, from enhancing the U.S. News & World Report college scores to tilting toward specific likely RA majors to dorm room space to hiring more lecturers and one-year professorships and foodservice offerings. 

Regular Decision (RD)
RD has a rather large window for all sides with applications arriving anywhere from Nov. 30 to March 15 with a yea, nay or deferral coming around April 1. For students less certain of which college or what major, this is a great choice since they can apply to as many universities as they (or parents) seem reasonable. RD is an option for students who need more time to reach their goal test scores, enhance their extracurriculars or move on from an ED rejection/referral.

Rolling Admission (RA)
Let’s say you want to test the water early and are hopeful for a few acceptances in your email in-box. Rolling Admissions offers that. The completed application file is reviewed within a few weeks.

Some students feel an enormous weight has been lifted knowing RA schools have extended an invitation. Slow start, early senior grades, missed early deadlines and a host of other reasons make this an attractive choice for many. Just remember that a number of attractive schools are receiving vast numbers of RD and RA applications, so it’s a good idea to have your 
essays and applications reviewed by Valle Educational Consultants to help stand out from the masses.

Once the college has received all applications, they are reviewed by admissions staff and any other involved college entities to extend invitations to the final batch after the deadline cutoff. Make sure that if you are placed on the Wait List or are deferred that you know what appropriate next steps to take with the college.

So, what’s this alphabet soup mean? Every family is a little bit different. But knowledge is power, and it’s worth the research to weigh options beyond Rolling Admission (which works fine for many). If you are confused or concerned about making the most informed decision based on your situation, contact Valle Educational Consultants. Whether you are considering a top-tier school as a butterfly swimmer or lacrosse defender or obsess over plate tectonics or performance stage lighting and sound, there are some worthwhile candidate pool options to understand before diving into the deep end.  


Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Attributes of a Successful College Applicant

A number of college admissions directors are quietly changing the playbook on what makes a leading prospect. There has been a lot of soul-searching since 2019’s admissions scandal perpetrated by corrupt organizer Rick Snyder and the willing wealthy and famous rule-breaker parents who cheated the system in a number of ways. What we are seeing is a significant shift.

Of course, grades, test scores and activities remain important, but top schools are adjusting how they weight key factors in the wake of the college admissions scandal. Directors are quietly turning attention away from test scores; indeed, FairTest estimates the rate of colleges choosing test-optional is growing 25% compared with 2018.

While there are more reasons than scandal involving a school no longer requiring the SAT or ACT, it’s interesting that at the same time admissions directors are focusing more on the integrity and character of freshmen applicants.

"Authenticity and honesty are at a premium," according to one executive on the ground. College essay readers are keen to see attributes such as resiliency, risk-taking, leadership, and initiative.

But for schools that have a pool of applicants with excellent grades and test scores, how do they ramp up subjective areas such as resiliency, honesty and other sought-after attributes? Expect more interview questions beyond asking about a favorite H.S. course and more about a difficult life situation or confronting cheating in the classroom or initiative taken in an extracurricular.

We are also seeing such organizations as The Character Collaborative expand operations. This volunteer organization of colleges, secondary schools, professional associations, research organizations and counselors have the stated goal of helping colleges jump-start a consistent assessment of character in their institution-specific admission process.

How does all this affect the bright high school student who is preparing for college? Start early building a resume that goes the extra step to stand out for admissions directors. Find a club that performs public outreach or fundraising, be a mentor to younger students, get on a leadership track for a sport or peer organization, reach out to community organizations that reflect personal interests. Prove loyalty by babysitting for the same family for years or leadership in marching band sections. Highlight selflessness, humility, teamwork and/or initiative in the Common App essay.

As Robert Massa, the chair of Character Collaborative puts it: "It's really critical for all of us to signal the importance of character, in our society, in ourselves and in our students." Massa said.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Colleges Care How You Fit in Your High School Profile

True or False: Your complete college application
 is all about you.

There is an 800-pound gorilla in the room many aspiring students and their parents never notice: the High School Profile. Read your school’s profile and learn how to use that tool to make your college application stand out.

High school profiles contain a wealth of information that admissions’ officers rely upon when comparing disparate schools.

Profiles can include information about the community, education level of parents, participation percentages of low-income programs such as Title I or AVID, accreditations, institutional memberships and special recognitions. Each profile outlines the curriculum, available academic programs, special diplomas and any independent/nontraditional study choices. Admissions’ officers closely look at your school’s open-or-selective enrollment policies for honors/AP courses and a description of participation.

There are many clues within the school’s grading, weighting and ranking procedures. Also importantly, there is a history of SAT and ACT distribution and ranges. Admissions officers often look at a 31 ACT score in one school district quite differently than a 31 from a district on the other end of a state. Profiles also share ranges of AP and National Merit scores and winners--numbers that matter to universities when inviting out-of-state students. Some high schools evolve as a regular funnel to specific out-of-state colleges so check out the listing of colleges attended by your recent graduates to see how it might help your chances.

Never forget that you are unique in your college journey. But also know that recruiters and admissions officers slot where you, as an applicant, fall within your student body. Use your high school curriculum, grades, sports, clubs, and volunteer experiences to stand out within the context of a school that may have a history of predictability.

There can be some preference in college admissions so that fact that an admissions officer knows your school can work for--or against--you. Regional officers understand the subtle differences between high schools within their jurisdiction. 

Make sure you recognize how your high school resume is shaping up relative to your peers. Use the profile your school shares to enhance your resume and stand out from your classmates with good grades and extracurricular activities.