Tips, Tricks, and Timely Information about the Application Process


Government shutdown and your college application

SAT's essays and interviews are in full swing as the early decision deadline looms but how are parents and students coping without the help of some federal resources?

How The Shutdown Is Affecting College Application Season
By Maggie McGrath | | 10/4/2013

MORSE CODE: Inside the College Rankings

The popular US News and World Report Rankings can provide helpful information— but before you let them inform your strategy, take the time to understand exactly how college are ranked!

Study: Rankings Affect Student Applications
By Robert Morse | October 3, 2013

TODAY goes behind the scenes of the college admissions process.

This is a nerve-wracking time of year for high school seniors, as they've submitted college admissions and are now just waiting to hear back. TODAY went behind the scenes of the college admissions process at Grinnell, a top-ranked, highly selective liberal arts college in Iowa. Seth Allen, dean of admission and financial aid at Grinnell College, answers questions from a TODAY producer about what really goes on when admissions officers decide applicants’ fate.

Inside the college admissions process
TODAY | February 16th, 2011

Monica Matthews sets us straight with the 12 Most Critical Reasons Students Need a Clean Online Presence.

Is your online presence pristine? Why does it have to be? Isn't Facebook for fun? Thanks to Monica Matthews, here are a dozen reasons to clean up your on-line act...even if you won't be applying to college for years!

12 Most Critical Reasons Students Need a Clean Online Presence
by Monica Matthews | | April 12, 2012

The Common Application

Deadlines for Colleges are Delayed

Early application deadlines have been pushed back by some universities and colleges in the wake of continued reports that students and high schools are experiencing technical problems with the new version of the Common Application.

The New York Times | By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA | October 18, 2013

08.01.13 marks the arrival of CA4

After two years of discussion about the role writing plays in the selection process, and with the help of its Outreach Advisory Committee, the Uncommon Application Board of Directors announces the 2013–2014 essay prompts. In considering essay topics “they worked diligently to ensure that all applicants, regardless of background or access to counseling, would have the chance to tell their unique stories.”

CA4 New Look. New Mission. 08.01.13

Letters of Recommendation

Think Before You Ask!

Your letter should not only recap information that is already revealed through your transcript and brag sheet. It is a strategic tool that should convey new information.

You mean I should not ask my Chemistry teacher for letter? After all, I get a 5 on my Chem AP, I’m president of the Chemistry Club, and won a regional award for my Chemistry project.

That’s exactly what I mean. Those three wonderful data points are already on your application! Unless your Chemistry teacher can share additional concrete information, ask someone else.

So, whom should I ask?

Recommendation letters should highlight your positive traits and, if necessary, reframe perceived negative ones as positives. Ask yourself:
  • How well does the teacher really know you?
  • Did the teacher like you?
  • Is the teacher familiar with your: passion, compassion, quirks, strengths, goals?

Ask Early! Give a Gift!

Gift your teachers the gift of time: time to think, reflect, recall, plan…and then write. You’ll probably receive a gift in return: a compelling letter that will help to convince an admission counselor that you will be an asset to the class of 2018.

If you choose carefully and give your teacher generous lead-time (and even some memory joggers about telling anecdotes) you’ll end up with a winning letter!

“Mom, if I need your help, I’ll ask you.”

Months after embarking upon the college application process independently, Christianne Beasley was ready to ask. The request came the day she asked her mom, Nancy to write an optional parental recommendation letter for Smith College.

Wondering why a school would bother reading letters from parents boasting about their kids? Smith's director of admission, Debra Shaver explains that parents often provide just the color needed to enliven and complete a portrait that is painted only with grades, test scores and traditional recommendation letters. In fact, “You might think they do nothing but brag,” she said. “But parents really get to the essence of what their daughter is about in a way we can't get anywhere else.”

Feeling frustrated that the school of your dreams, like most, does not offer this option? Don’t worry. You can still benefit from your parents’ unique insights. Solicit their advice. Ask them tough pointed questions about…you. They might be able to help you pinpoint the exact personal traits you should emphasize in your essay. Remember your essay isn’t only about answering a question. It is a strategic tool to convince your reader that you will be an asset to the incoming class. Your parents, who know you quite well, may be just the perfect people to help you articulate your strategic message. Just ask!

Letter from home brings Smith applicants to life
By JUSTIN POPE | The Associated Press | March 5, 2012

Essay Strategies

What’s Your Story? What’s the Best Way to Tell it?

The Common Application may have changed. Your high school may have tweaked its counseling process. But…one thing hasn’t changed. Your personal statement must be compelling: it should tell your story! Remember, though, that this can’t be a gentle bedtime story that puts an overworked, possibly bleary-eyed admissions counselosr to sleep! It has to wake him up – and make him take notice!

Tell them something new!
They’ve seen your grades, scores, and letters of recommendation, and brag sheet.

How do you decide what story to tell?
Try this four-step process:

  • Personality assessment
    • A. Jot down your

      • characteristics
      • quirks
      • interests
      • strengths

      Uncomfortable? Ask your parents, friends or siblings to list a few. You may be surprised!

      B. Review the lists

      Which traits are not yet revealed in your application? Perhaps your list indicates that you are a great math student and a loyal friend who often goes out of his way for peers. Well, if you are president of the Math Club and scored a 5 on your Calculus AP, the reader already knows about your math prowess. But, she doesn’t know that you babysat for your friend’s annoying five-year-old twin siblings so that he wouldn’t miss basketball practice and convinced four friends to shave their heads a week before a classmate was coming back to school after two rounds of chemo. Don’t write about Math, unless you’ve channeled this passion in a very unusual, creative or altruistic fashion.)

  • University Assessment
  • Review the admissions sites of those colleges that interest you and think about the traits they seem to value. List them.

  • Find the overlap
  • That’s your story. If you have not yet revealed that you are an out-of-the box thinker who has channeled her creativity through creating two businesses, tell that story.

    If you haven’t shared the fact that you have great conflict resolution skills and can therefore be an asset to dorm life, that might be your story.

    Your passion for whales, art, or your grandmother might also be great stories if they reveal traits about you along the way.

  • Review the questions with your story in mind
  • As you do, it will be easy to eliminate at least two of the suggested questions. Start brainstorming and writing. As you progress, one option will emerge as the clear winner, and… if you stick to your story, you too, will emerge as a winning applicant!


Optional Interviews

Students often ask me about optional interview. I say: nothing is optional! If it is offered, take advantage. The interview is an opportunity. Seize it!

In fact, it is a two way opportunity. It is a chance for you to learn more about the college the college from a real live person who either works for the college admissions office or is a loyal graduate… (That’s right: many interviewers, particularly regional interviewers, are alumni.)

Remember, everyone wants to be loved or at least liked. By taking advantage of this opportunity you are demonstrating your interest in the college loudly and clearly. If you can get to the college within three or four hours, you should hop on a train or bus or borrow the family car. NOT visiting the college makes you seem indifferent or just plain lazy!

If the school is far from home, admissions officers understand that cost and time can prevent you from accepting an interview offer. However, you should inquire about a regional interview.

Should you prepare? Of course!

  • Be ready to speak about interests, passions, and goals
  • Ask specific questions that show you’ve done your homework about the school
  • Ask honest questions that will help you decide if the college really is a good fit for you
  • Ask follow-up questions that require more than a yes or no answer
  • Take the time to think about your answers; don’t offer one or two word responses
  • It is ok to ask about the school’s culture and social life – but balance those question out with twice as many about the academics
  • Be on time
  • Show enthusiasm
  • Look the interviewer in the eye
  • Turn your cell phone off (that is o-f-f… not v-i-b-r-a-t-e)

Please contact me about a mock interview and/or interview coaching!

Financial Aid

Most college students need – and obtain- some financial aid. Don't let “sticker-shock” deter you from applying to a first, second, or third choice college.

Do Your Homework: research and paperwork

This is tedious but critical. Missed deadlines or incomplete forms will ensure that you don’t receive aid.

Research the financial aid deadlines and forms required by each college on your list. While every college requires the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), approximately 200 require the CSS profile as well. Some of these schools will also require divorced or separated parents to submit a non-custodial Parent Profile. Self- employed parents may be asked to submit additional forms. Note that some schools require their own aid applications. (Reminds you those extra essays required schools that accept the Common App…doesn’t it?) Once you know all the requirements and deadlines, create a simple but foolproof check off system.

Your Favorite New Tool: Net Price Calculator

The Department of Education demands that all colleges post a Net Price Calculator on their websites. You’ll find that the actual net price of a college is often lower than its sticker price. Of course, there are strategic ways to improve your eligibility provides a great deal of relevant information.

Early Decision

Early Decision?

Early Decision is growing more competitive but it is still an excellent strategic option for students with a clear first choice school. Johns Hopkins Dean of Admissions, John Latting, explains, “There's a certain luxury to the Early Decisions program, both for applicants and admissions staff members. The staff has fewer applications to read and thus more time to read them, so it's fair to say that we give greater evaluation to those applications submitted early."

Read more about the Early Decision process at Hopkins where the admission office received 1432 Early Decision applications from students seeking advance admission to the Class of 2016 (compared with last year’s 1,130).