Summer activities matter for highly selective college admission. There are many folks — and we’d even argue a majority of folks — who believe that there are certain things that high school students should do over the summer months to improve their odds of getting into highly selective colleges. The problem is that what the vast majority of these folks believe doesn’t match with reality. Such is often the case in the world of highly selective college admissions. What many parents and students believe is that students should be doing activities we hereby call “fancy-pants activities” to get into the colleges of their dreams. By this definition, fancy-pants activities may consist of any of the following: going on a service trip in a third-world country, traveling around Europe to learn about art and architecture, and attending a summer program at a highly selective college.
You don’t need to be doing these fancy-pants activities in order to get into the colleges of your dreams! In fact, these fancy-pants activities can often hurt your odds. What do you think that it says to an admissions officer when you spent your summer afternoons observing the Mona Lisa in The Louvre and strolling around Josephine Bonaparte’s rose gardens? It says you’re extremely well off and quite privileged. Do you tend to root for people who are privileged? Or do you root for the underdog? Because, from what we at The Ivy Coach know, America roots for the underdog. We rooted for the underdog when a group of feisty college students upstaged the Russians in what would be known as The Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympic Games — and ultimately turned the tide of the Cold War. We rooted for the underdog when George Mason advanced to the Final Four and Butler to the Finals of the NCAA Tournament. People root for underdogs. It’s just a fact of life…a good fact of life.
So don’t feel like you need to do fancy-pants activities to impress college admissions officers. These activities will not impress them. They’re by no means original. And you’re setting yourself up to stink of privilege. Wouldn’t you rather be an underdog? Wouldn’t you rather have the fire in your belly of an underdog? Who wouldn’t.Categories: College Admissions, Extracurricular Activities Tags: Summer Activities and College Admission, Summer and College Admission, Summer and Ivy League Admission, Summer Plans and College Admissions, Summer Travels and College Admission
Many folks believe that performing community service is essential in order to gain admission to highly selective colleges. These folks are just plain wrong. Don’t get us wrong — it’s nice to perform community service. By serving soup in soup kitchens, by building houses for the homeless, by walking charity races for a great cause — you are making this world a better place. That’s an incredible thing and you should be proud of yourself. But will these actions help you gain admission to a highly selective college? Probably not.
Highly selective colleges don’t seek out students who do ordinary community service. Serving soup in a soup kitchen is ordinary at best. But wonderful, of course. Not everyone in this world volunteers at soup kitchens — it shows you’ve got heart. Or it can show that you think it’ll help your case to get into a highly selective college. It won’t. There’s even an article in a local newspaper in Michigan today (“Monroe News”) entitled “Service Can Pump Up College Application” in which the writer, Paula Wethington, states, “Do you want one tip that will help your high school student be the best possible candidate for college acceptance and scholarship awards? It’s all in the timing of what you can put on the student resumes. Know when those applications are likely to be due and set a goal to have as many community service and leadership accomplishments as possible completed before that point.”
Talk about quantity over quality! Highly selective colleges don’t care if students are involved in a hundred activities. No, we take that back. They do care. They won’t admit such a student. What top colleges are looking for is depth of involvement in activities — activities that set students apart from the plethora of other applicants. At The Ivy Coach, we aim to correct college admissions misconceptions and the advice put forward in this “Monroe News” article is just, well, incorrect. This advice apparently came from a “Girl Scouts troop leader.” Perhaps one shouldn’t be getting advice on college admissions from Girl Scouts troop leaders? Just maybe?Categories: College Admissions, Extracurricular Activities Tags: College Admission and Serving Community, Community Service and Admissions, Community Service and Ivy League, Community Service Hours and Ivy League, Ivy League and Community Service
Ever heard of the Harvard Z-List? You probably haven’t so we’ll fill you in. The Harvard admissions office is encouraging of students who wish to take a year off between high school and college to do something else. Harvard students are typically (a.k.a. always) extremely ambitious and to avoid burn-out, a year of doing something completely different from schooling could be a good thing (though this year should certainly be educational and fulfilling — it shouldn’t consist of sitting on the couch watching television). Anyhow, for about 20 of the 50 students who deferred their admission last year, as “The Harvard Crimson” states, “deferring is not an option, but a requirement.”
That’s right. These students didn’t have a choice but to defer a year. And why’s that? Because these students were pulled off of Harvard’s waitlist on the condition that they defer their admission by a year because Harvard simply doesn’t have enough beds for them. But, more interestingly than this is the fact that these 20 students have something in common besides having been plucked off of Harvard’s waitlist. What’s that, you ask? They are the children of alumni. That’s right — they’re legacies.
According to “The Harvard Crimson” article on the Harvard Z-List, “The Crimson obtained information about the legacy status of 36 of the approximately 80 Z-list students at Harvard in 2001-02. Though McGrath Lewis insists the Z-list is ‘not a legacy list,’ 26—or 72 percent of the 36-student sample—were legacies, compared with 12 to 14 percent of the class as a whole. Even if none of the remaining 44 or so Z-list students were legacies, 33 percent of the 80 students would be legacies—still well above the proportion of legacies in the class as a whole.”
We at The Ivy Coach have known for quite a while about the Harvard Z-List. We haven’t written about it because, well, we surely don’t share the vast majority of our secrets on our college admissions blog since we are a business at the end of the day. But now that it’s getting some more press (it has gotten some press before), we felt the need to let our readers know about this admissions practice. What do you think about the Harvard Z-List? Is it unfair? Should it be done away with? Let us know your thoughts on the subject by posting below!Categories: College Admissions, Ivy League Tags: Harvard Legacy, Harvard Waitlist, Harvard Z-List, Legacies at Harvard, Waitlisted at Harvard
Ever hear that “reading is fundamental”? If you’ve ever watched an NBA game, chances are that you have. We at The Ivy Coach agree. Reading is fundamental. So why do so few high school students write about books that they’ve read for pleasure in their college essays? We have no clue. But what we do know in our many years of helping students gain admission to highly selective colleges is that the vast majority of applicants to highly selective colleges don’t in fact read for pleasure. Sure, they’ve read “The Great Gatsby,” “The Pearl,” “The Color of Water,” and “To Kill A Mockingbird,” but so has everybody else. These books are considered American classics. They are required reading at most high schools. Reading F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James McBride, and all of these notable American authors will not set you apart from the pack of other applicants to highly selective colleges.
If you’re a high school student, read for pleasure before you fall asleep at night. Read for pleasure when you wake up. Read for pleasure when you don’t feel like studying for your chemistry test anymore. Read for pleasure when you want to escape from your annoying younger sibling who keeps changing the channel without your consent. Read for pleasure as much as you can and this will show not only in how you write but also in what you write about.
Highly selective colleges want to admit students who just plain love to learn. It’s quite simple. They don’t want to admit students who learn just to achieve great grades. Who wants to be around those types of students? Not university professors at top schools in America. College admissions counselors at top colleges want interesting student bodies. Students who love to read for pleasure are inherently more interesting than those students who don’t. It’s really quite simple.Categories: College Admissions Tags: Getting Into Ivy League and Reading, Reading and Ivy Admission, Reading and Ivy League Admissions, Reading and Ivy League Admits, Reading for Ivy League Admission
We’d like to raise a concern that we at The Ivy Coach have with the Harvard waitlist. There is absolutely nothing wrong with placing students on waitlists. Sure, it can be unsatisfying to students who have been waiting throughout much of their high school senior years to find out that they have to wait even longer to know their fates. But, hey, you’re applying to one of the finest universities in the land — deal with it. There are only so many beds, only so many seats in classrooms. Harvard needs to know their yield data, they need to know the number of students who will be deferring their admission, etc. before they go to their waitlist. In this way, Harvard is just like most other highly selective colleges (with exception to the fact that Harvard has a ridiculously high yield as the vast majority of students accepted to Harvard choose to matriculate).
But we do take issue with Harvard placing students who applied Early Action to the university only to be deferred to Regular Admission…and then find out that they’re on the waitlist. Seriously? These students applied months and months ago. Harvard really needs more time to decide their fate? That’s just plain not right. These students were mature enough to get their applications in to Harvard for the Early round. They waited. And then they heard that they were deferred. Disappointing of course. But it happens. However, these students should not have to wait longer after the Regular Decision round. Harvard should not need more time. It’s absolutely absurd.
The act of Harvard University putting deferred Early Action applicants on the waitlist must end. It’s wrong. It shows a lack of empathy to stressed out high school students. To the Harvard University office of admission, we await your response. We hope this response will be an end to this practice.Categories: College Admissions, Ivy League Tags: Harvard Waiting List, The Harvard Waiting List, The Harvard Waitlist, Waitlisted to Harvard, Waitlisted to Harvard University
Asian and Asian American parents have a special affinity for the Ivy League. If you’re a regular reader of our college admissions blog, you know that we’re often very critical of statements and articles about the highly selective college admissions process in the press. We’re critical because there is an enormity of inaccurate information out there about this process and we aim to correct this. Today, we came across an article by lawyer and author Allison Singh (who also notes that she was a rejected college applicant in spite of the fact that she ended up attending one of the finest — if not the finest — university in the nation) that is not in the least inaccurate. While this may come as a surprise to many, we have only praise for this May 14th piece on “The Huffington Post” entitled “College Admissions and the Asian-American Parent.”
In the piece, Ms. Singh discusses how Asian American parents are all basically culprits of using “The List.” “The List” consists of “The Ivies, MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Berkeley. Maybe Duke, if all else fails…maybe.” We would add a couple of other schools (have you ever walked around UCLA?) but Ms. Singh is spot on. Chinese American parents — and even more so parents in China whose children will be attending university in the United States, rarely stray from “The List.” They are obsessed with brand recognition and they consider the “US News & World Report” rankings “The Bible.” It’s all about status, as Ms. Singh writes.
Are there Asian and Asian American students at highly selective liberal arts colleges like Williams College, Amherst College, and Wesleyan University? Sure. But these universities aren’t on the same playing field for this group of parents, unfortunately. Amherst College — in spite of offering one of the greatest educations in the world — just doesn’t make “The List.” It’s not Harvard. It’s not MIT. The fact is that brand recognition matters. Universities invest millions to build their brands. They employ folks just to bolster their brands. The day that Asian and Asian American parents stray from “The List” is a day we don’t foresee happening anytime soon, though our Asian and Asian American clients always stray a little (though they quite often also apply to “The List” schools too).Categories: College Admissions, Ivy League, Parents Tags: Asian American Parents and Ivy League, Asian Americans and Ivy League, Asian Parents and Ivy League, Asians and Ivy League, Ivy League and Asian Parents
There is an article in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” by Jon Boeckenstedt, the associate vice president for enrollment management at De Paul University, entitled “Let’s Bring Clarity to Undergraduate Admissions” which discusses how the current college admissions system is broken and in need of a fix. What we found most interesting in Mr. Boeckenstedt’s article is the following comment on colleges recruiting unqualified college applicants: “Occasionally colleges knowingly send materials to students who have almost no chance of being admitted. In what can only be called a disgrace to higher education, the students serve an important role in catering to the sub-industry that creates rewards and incentives for rejecting the largest percentage of applicants.”
Well said, Mr. Boeckenstedt. It’s something we’ve been writing about for years and the more folks in the college admissions community that put this in writing, the better. The only thing we would correct in this statement is the usage of the word “occasionally.” Mr. Boeckenstedt is being too nice. Highly selective colleges don’t “occasionally” send recruiting materials to students who have zero shot of ever gaining admission (simply to boost their application numbers and thereby lower their admission rate). They do it every year in droves. Highly selective colleges send brochures to students whose SAT scores fall well below their mean SAT score, knowing full well that student has no shot of getting in. They do this only to boost their “US News & World Report” ranking. It’s ridiculous. A few colleges have taken a stand and said we’re not doing this anymore. We’ve highlighted a couple of these colleges in the past, but these colleges are the exception to the rule, not the rule.
Highly selective colleges need to show more empathy to seventeen year-old high school students going through a very stressful time in their lives. They shouldn’t be getting the hopes up of these students who, in reality, have no shot of ever getting in to their institution. It’s wrong. It’s unethical. Thank you to Mr. Boeckenstedt for drawing attention to this practice. And remember, just because you receive brochures from a college, that doesn’t mean that college actually thinks you can get in. It merely means they want you to apply. They want anyone to apply. Heck, they even get an application fee with each application. It’s a business with a bottom line.Categories: College Admissions Tags: College Admissions Brochures, College Admissions Recruiting, Recruiting Unqualified College Applicants, University Admissions Recruiting, Unqualified College Applicants
It’s college waitlist season so we thought we’d share with you a story about a student’s attempts at getting off a college waitlist. Are you trying to devise a creative way to stand out so that admissions officers will pluck you from dreaded college admissions limbo? We recommend that you simply write an extremely well crafted letter of enthusiasm and update colleges on any significant new achievement (with strong emphasis on the word significant). But some students do different things and, sometimes, they work. More often, they don’t. We do not recommend starting a Twitter campaign to engage the college that has waitlisted you but for one Massachusetts resident, it seems to have worked. While the school stated that the Twitter campaign did not influence Bernie Zak’s admissions decision to UCLA, Zak believes it did.
Zak wrote a series of Tweets directed to the UCLA office of admissions, including a list of reasons why the university in Westwood Village should admit the high school senior. Such reasons included tidbits like UCLA could use a 5’8 center. Funny. Kind of. Or how they could use him as a practice pitcher on their baseball team since he played high school baseball. Or how they’d be admitting a future President of the United States. Uh huh. And how he looks like David Hasselhoff when he runs down the Santa Monica beach. Ok there. Anyhow, the Twitter campaign attracted enough attention that UCLA’s student newspaper wrote about the waitlisted student and, yes, it did come to the attention of UCLA admissions officers. According to an article in “The Boston Globe,” “[UCLA spokesman Richard] Vazquez said the university was aware of the Zak family’s campaign, but he added: ‘A Twitter campaign by any student would have absolutely no influence on our admittance decision.’”
Zak is very glad that he decided to market himself to UCLA over Twitter and even says he has a couple of friends who wish they’d thought of that idea. We can assure you that it’s not a great idea to start a Twitter campaign to try to get off a college waitlist. A really well crafted letter would have done the trick in all likelihood for Mr. Zak, since he was able to gain admission off the waitlist and earn admission to the UCLA Class of 2017.Categories: College Admissions Tags: Get Off College Waitlist, Getting Off A College Waitlist, Getting Off College Waitlists, Getting Off University Waitlists, Getting Off Waitlists
We wanted to discuss more things you should never do when on university waitlists as the piece by Ariel Kaminer in “The New York Times” entitled “On a College Waiting List? Sending Cookies Isn’t Going to Help” is filled with quite a few gems that are deserving of further exploration. As the piece states, trying to get off a college waitlist is kind of like dating (not long-term dating, just the first couple of dates kind of dating). You should express interest but not to an extreme level and there’s nothing wrong with expressing interest to a few different colleges (though colleges can try to gauge this, too). You should not do nothing. Doing nothing will not get you off that waitlist in all likelihood. You’ve got a much better shot if you play your cards the right way.
And playing your cards the right way should by no means involve parents calling the admissions office. According to “The New York Times” article, “‘There’s a mother who e-mails me every third day — they must have timers on these things,’ Ms. [Ann Fleming' Brown [, the director of admissions at Union College,] said. ‘There’s one parent who calls up and yells at me: ‘I can’t believe this happened! This is a horrible thing!’ And then he calls 10 minutes later and says, ‘I’m sorry.’ Then he calls and says, ‘I know you don’t like me. I’m being a complete pest.’” Talk about things not to do! Ever.
Writing notes like, “I love you, I love you, I love you” also doesn’t do the trick, as stated in the piece. A college is not your junior high girlfriend. Colleges are, as the article states, “academic institutions.” You don’t write childish love letters to academic institutions. You do, however, write a strongly worded and articulately crafted letter about why you still want to attend an institution and what you can add to that university’s student body that they don’t already have. Discuss classes, discuss research opportunities, extracurriculars, and what sets you apart in this world. That’s the key to trying to navigate getting off that dreaded university waitlist.Categories: College Admissions Tags: University Wait List, University Waiting List, University Waiting Lists, University Waitlists, Waiting Lists at Universities
Stuck on college waiting lists? There is an article in today’s “New York Times” by Ariel Kaminer entitled, “On a College Waiting List? Sending Cookies Isn’t Going to Help.” Well, that’s for sure! It never ceases to amaze us how many waitlisted college applicants think it wise to nonetheless send baked goods to offices of admission each and every year. Will the admissions officers eat the cookies? Often times — indeed. Will the cookies positively impact their candidacy and chances of getting off the waitlist? No way! Seriously, did you really think baked goods would do the trick?
In the article in “The New York Times,” sending “family photos, craft projects depicting campus landmarks and dossiers of testimonials from civic and religious leaders” are also a few noted ridiculous things to do in an attempt to get off the waitlist? Now, should you do anything if you’re on a college waiting list? Absolutely not! Should you do nothing while you’re on the waitlist? Absolutely not either. You must indeed be proactive but proactivity should by no means involved baked goods or family photos. Seriously, family photos? Oy vey.
When you’re on college waiting lists, you should send letters of enthusiasm and you should update admissions officers at those colleges on any subsequent significant achievement of yours. With the keyword being significant. They don’t care what you ate for breakfast this morning. They don’t care if you just got a new dog. Significant. Significant. Significant. We can’t emphasize this enough. Want to know some other things not to do. As stated in the “New York Times” piece, students put themselves in the doghouse when they “[insult] the college’s judgment or taste. They have disparaged classmates who already got in. They have threatened to go over the admissions officer’s head. Showing up and demanding an interview is inadvisable. Showing up with a camping tent, even more so.” The camping tent is a famous case from many years ago in college admissions. Don’t do these things! Don’t even think about it!Categories: College Admissions Tags: College Waiting List, College Waiting Lists, College Waitlist, College Waitlists, University Waitlists