A Blemish on College Admissions

It’s hard to avoid the news about the indictments of dozens of parents, test services employees, college athletics and university officials and an unscrupulous individual who participated in a large-scale college admissions cheating scheme. We know some details about the so-called “side door” created by Mr. Singer, but there is much more to come.

The college admissions process is complex, lacking in transparency and made even murkier by the issues of legacies, donations and athletic recruiting. And there is enough evidence out there for us to know that some people will take drastic steps to get their students into those “name brand” universities that seem so elusive. Unfortunately, there are also those who call themselves “consultants” who break the rules, game the system and make promises and guarantees that are unethical and illegal.

The number of college consultants who work hard to uphold ethical standards far outweighs the number of those who adhere to no standards or ethics. The man at the forefront of the scheme is not a member of any recognized professional counseling organization. I am a certified college consultant and a member of WACAC and HECA*. I adhere to the HECA Standards and Ethics and happily recommit myself to them each year.

While I condemn the actions of those indicted, my heart goes out to the students who have been directly impacted by the scheme. What does it say to those young adults that their parents were so concerned about their ability to be admitted into a “good” college, with ultra-competitive admissions, that their parents lied, cheated and paid bribes? What does it say about the need to ensure that applicants focus on the colleges that make the most sense for them? How demoralizing would it feel to learn that your place at your university was obtained through deception and not on based on your own merits?

The college admissions cheating scandal is a very public example of why focusing on a college list and application process that is the right fit for each individual is a critically important strategy. Cheating the process is never the right answer and, as noted in this excellent Quartz article, where you go is not nearly as important as what you make of the opportunity. Kids should go where they want to be AND where they’re wanted.

* Founded in 1997, Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) is a 1,000+ member 501(c)(6) not-for-profit professional association representing independent educational consultants from every region of the country and across the globe who focus exclusively on helping students navigate the college admissions process. Guided by HECA’s Standards and Ethics Statement for professional conduct, their members serve the college planning needs of more than 23,000 high school seniors each year. Many of HECA members also assist low-income students through pro-bono advice and volunteer service to nonprofit organizations and local schools.


Upcoming College Fairs

How Do College Fairs Work? An organization, such as the Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC), the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL) and more use these gathering as a means of spreading the word to a broader audience.

College fairs do require registration and they will fill up. So, register early! 

Prepare before you go. Look ahead at the list of colleges that will be participating. Plan which ones you want to visit. Be prepared to wait, but if there is a long line, move down your list and circle back. Bring a backpack or bag to hold things you pick up. Be prepared with a few specific questions that pertain to your fields of interest of things you really need in a college experience.

  • WACAC Silicon Valley College Fair on May 3rd - West Valley College, 10 – noon and 6 – 8 pm. For more information and registration: https://www.wacaccollegefair.com/Registration/EventSelectForState?stateName=All
  • Exploring College Options on May 16 - Exploring College Options is a special recruitment program sponsored by the undergraduate admissions offices of five of Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn and Stanford. Representatives from the five universities will conduct brief slide presentations about their institution and answer your questions. 7:00 pm, Fairmont San Jose Hotel,170 S. Market Street, San Jose, CA 95113. To register: https://key.admissions.upenn.edu/register/?id=178210df-bf34-4edd-9286-eacfaf065820170 S. Market Street, San Jose, CA 95113
  • Exploring Educational Excellence (EEE) on May 20th - Join Brown, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell and Rice for an information session for prospective students and their families. Sessions include a brief overview of each institution, information on admissions and financial aid, and a chance to speak informally with admissions representatives. For more information: http://www.exploringeducationalexcellence.org/event_detail.php?id=417
  • Colleges That Change Lives on July 31st - CTCL was founded on a philosophy of building the knowledge, character and values of young people by introducing them to a personalized and transformative collegiate experience. Forty unique schools will be represented. 7:00 P.M., Marriott Santa Clara, Salons 1-9, 2700 Mission College Boulevard, Santa Clara, CA  95054
  •  NACAC San Francisco Performing and Visual Arts Fair on September 20th - Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, 555 Portola Drive, San Francisco, CA 94131. Register and learn more here:  https://www.gotomypvafair.com/Registration/EventSelectForState?stateName=california

Summertime Planning

As hard to believe as it may be, many students are already thinking about their plans for summer 2018. Yes, it's only early February.

College programs (often called pre-college), internships, service programs and immersion programs have started accepting applications. All of these ideas offer students with opportunities to explore the fields of study and schools that intrigue them. Why not take the chance to find out?

Will participating in one of these summer pre-college programs increase your chances of getting into that specific school? Not really. But, if a program really touches on your desire to learn more about a particular subject or passion, then it can be very worthwhile on a personal level. You will get a peek into college life, a taste of what is to come and an opportunity to test your interest in a subject or two.

Internships also offer possibilities to get a glimpse into life after college or what a particular degree could mean for your future. 

Passionate about animal adoption, working with children or the environment? Find local non-profit organizations in your area and commit to volunteering for the summer and give back to your community.

Want to have some funds for college, activities or spending money? Go get a job at your local yogurt shop, community recreation program or lifeguard at a pool. You will gain valuable experience and demonstrate that you know how to work hard.

While these activities will not guarantee that you get into your dream school, they will pay off in the long run and make you an even stronger candidate for college acceptance.

New Year, New Office!

I am happy to announce that I have started 2018 with a new office!

OnTarget College Consulting is now located at 1000 Fremont Avenue, Suite 230D, Los Altos CA 94024. It's in a building known as Loyola Professional Center, casually called the "Clock Tower" building in Loyola Corners. It's easily accessible from 280, Foothill Expressway and the surface streets of Los Altos and Mountain View; there's plenty of parking.

From now on, I will be conducting my in-person meetings there. It's a great space and I look forward to welcoming many students and their families there this year!

Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association Article

I wanted to share with you an article I wrote recently for the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association. It's tailored to the Mountain View community but it contains many points relevant to anyone trying to understand the impact of the college application process on their children. Here's the article reprinted from the newsletter: |

The college application process has taken on the all the trappings of a “season”. There are countless websites, specialists, tests to take, visits to make, impressions to create. Our teens are supposed to take a crazy academic load, build homes in a third world country, write software applications, play varsity sports and instruments. In short, they are expected to do everything in order to “package” themselves; competing with their peers on an impossible level and get into the top U.S. News & World Report schools or their lives will be ruined before they’ve even started!

Mountain View high school students and families live in an area where this phenomenon is extreme. There are more AP classes offered, more clubs, higher GPAs and test scores and longer lists of extracurriculars than in many other parts of California and the U.S. So, our kids are under even more pressure than the “average” teen. A 2016 study published by Wallet Hub lists the San Francisco Bay Area among the most educated areas in the U.S. which means Mountain View students are surrounded by high-achieving parents as well as high-achieving peers.

Parents might remember the days of picking a school from the giant Fiske book or going by what friends or parents thought was a good school. We typed our applications and maybe wrote an essay. College counseling didn’t exist and we mailed our applications via the USPS.

Not so today.

High school students today are dealing with weighted versus unweighted GPAs, crazy test scores and now apply on the average of 6-8 schools. But in our area, they apply to 15 or more! To top it off, over 1.2 million international students attended college in the U.S. in 2016. So, our kids are dealing with a very competitive, global pool of applicants.

So, how can we help our teens deal with this overwhelming process?

Let them follow their hearts and don’t force them to apply to places that are not fits or are out of the realm of possibility. You want them to reach for the stars, but you also want them to go a college they like that really wants them. Students should only apply to schools where they can envision going!

Let them look beyond the STEM majors. We in Mountain View are very aware of the need for well-educated engineers, scientists, researchers and doctors. But we also need people who solve other problems; people who educate children, people who will take care of our planet, of our elders, of our finite resources. We need people who build and create.

Let them take breaks from talking about colleges for a few days a week. Let them go to people they trust to help with their essays and applications.

Make sure they sleep!

Let them lead the way with you cheering alongside, or right behind them and they will end up where they should be.

No Time Like the Present

There's no time like the present. This adage was first recorded in 1562 and it remains true. John Trusler, a compiler of proverbs, noted: “No time like the present, a thousand unforeseen circumstances may interrupt you at a future time” (Proverbs Exemplified, 1790). The disciplined Ben Franklin said it most eloquently, "Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.”

For college applicants who are watching their application deadlines draw ever closer, this is especially true. Waiting for the motivation from sheer panic is unlikely to produce anyone's finest work.

So, take advantage of a free hour, half-hour or afternoon and work on finishing those essays and applications. If you have several supplemental essays to write, tackle one per time slot, write a draft, move on to the next item, then return and review that draft with a fresh pair of eyes and a full night’s sleep. If some of your applications do not require supplemental writing, turn them in now. There is no need to wait until the last minute to turn something in if it's ready to go.

Make a list of the items you need to do and work your way through that list. Turns things in as you complete them. Each completed supplement, portfolio or application will relieve stress and make the process feel much more manageable.

Rest, holiday meals, time with friends and family are important. Students shouldn't be shut away in their rooms while everyone else in having a good time, so don't let that happen to you. Getting things done whenever you can will enable you to enjoy your holidays as well as study for your first semester finals. You need to plan your time so you’re able to study for those finals because 1st semester grades matter.


The Importance of Being Earnest

At the risk of obfuscating the meaning of Oscar Wilde's play, being earnest [the adjective] is always important when you want people to trust that they know the real you.

For high school seniors applying to college, being earnest is a critical component in the personal statement essays. Your essay should provide further depth and understanding of who you are and your intellect. Don't restate the facts listed on your application or try to cram in the 10 most important accomplishments from your high school years. Don't try to write the perfect essay, write what is real and genuine and, hopefully, unique. 

You want the reader to learn something about you that the spaces on the application itself don't allow you to detail. From your writing, readers should learn something about your personality, the way you think, or your values.

Don't succumb to the temptation of several popular or over-used themes: the best sports victory or worst sports loss; the mission trip; the "off the wall" approach that no one else will do; the traumatic heartbreak; the 1 or 2 word responses (use your imagination); the overemotional drama.

Pick the prompt that speaks to you, rather than choose one you think will make you seem more impressive or smart. The prompt should spark a few ideas in your mind when you think about it and it shouldn't seem like a painful chore. Don't try to sound like someone you are not or try to work with a vocabulary very different from your own. College essay readers will spot your inauthenticity very quickly. 

If you are having a hard time getting started, begin with spontaneous writing to a few prompts, without worrying about perfect grammar or structure. Something will pop out as "the" idea; then follow that thread and write. Next, spend the time to put it into essay format. Let people you trust read your essay and be open to suggestions. But, make sure help from others doesn't obscure your voice.

Never plagiarize. Grammar, spelling, punctuation and word count matter.

But, again, be true to yourself. Be earnest (not Jack or Algernon)!


Summertime Writing

Ahh, summer! Students are sleeping, eating, reading, working, traveling, spending hours on social media. Many are also visiting colleges and are sorting through impressions and thoughts. It's hard to believe, but summer is more than half over! Soon enough, classes will start and senior year will begin.

There is one other crucial thing for students to do this summer: WRITE!

That Common App and/or state school main essays are lurking on the horizon. They may seem impossible to start. After all, how do you describe yourself in 650 words or less? It is not easy, to be sure. But, it can be done! Now is the best time to check this essay off the list. It will be much harder to do once school starts. Your supplemental essays will flow from the brainstorming you do for your main essay. 

Students should begin with brainstorming to get the ideas and thoughts flowing. There are many resources out there which provide questions created to draw out ideas and generate inspiration. Ask your school counselor, your college consultant or search the web to get started. Then write, see what comes out and map your brainstorming results to the essay prompts. Choose which one(s) provide the most inspiration.

The essay provides schools with a more in-depth look into who you are, how you are unique and what makes you tick. It is a way to express yourself in your own words. You should not try to write about everything you have done since you were born or all you have accomplished in high school; nor make the essay seem like a synopsis of your application. Get feedback from counselors, consultants, friends and teachers. 

Most importantly, get the writing done. What a weight off your shoulders it will be to have your main essay(s) finished before your senior year starts. You will have so much else to do for your applications once you get going. So, do yourself a favor and get the creative juices flowing!


No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

"No matter where you go, there you are." This oft-cited phrase has been attributed to several various sources from Confucius and Thomas à Kempis to Buckaroo Banzai and Gnarls Barkley. No matter how hard you try to chase the happiness that must be somewhere other than in front of you, many have found that real happiness and growth come from discovering the grass growing right under their feet.

When it comes to the reality of college admissions acceptances and denials, there are many paths to a student's contentment and satisfaction. Whoever coined the term, the saying is true especially when students and parents consider which colleges acceptances to choose and whether or not to stay active on a waitlist.

However a student went about creating the college application list, he or she likely received a mixture of acceptances and denials. Those students who played the "top 20 game" and applied only to the most elite schools might have ended up with a shorter-than-desired set of college choices. Those with a more open-minded approach to what makes a "right fit" school might have a wider set of options. And then, there are the waitlists.

What to do about a waitlist? According to a U.S. News & World Report article published on April 13, 2017, only an average of 1 in 5 of students were admitted off waitlists; as self-reported by 91 ranked institutions. For many of the elite universities and liberal arts colleges, less than 10% were admitted from the 2015-16. Scores of thousands of students find themselves waitlisted by their dream and reach schools, but accepted to others they thought of as targets or safeties.

If you are still holding out for that dream school, do your research before you decide to keep yourself on the waitlist. Look up the school's statistics on what percentage of students are admitted from the waitlist. Find out if financial aid is still available if you are admitted off the list, etc. Feeling hopeful? Go ahead and keep yourself on the list in addition to paying the deposit at your best choice school. For your best choice school, note all the important deadlines for other payments, orientation, housing and such so that you don't miss them. Meanwhile, update your dream school on your academics or anything else noteworthy. You could write the school a letter about why you still want to attend.

If you are lucky enough to get in from the waitlist, you will have to move quickly to accept, plan housing, register for orientation and such. Be sure to notify the school where you confirmed acceptance that you will not attend so they can open up a spot for someone on their waitlist. Your deposit will not be refunded.

What matters is that you go to a place that you like; a place where you will feel motivated to work hard and graduate; a place where you can be happy. You may be surprised how many schools can fit that bill. You wouldn't have applied to a school if you couldn't imagine yourself there. Thousands of colleges have the classes, clubs, housing, dining commons and intramural or club sports to provide you with the experiences you seek. Ask any recent college graduate where he or she went and you will hear stories about making the most of it and embracing discovery; and probably some about why a school didn't work out. And statistics show that just as many Fortune 500 leaders go to less well-known undergraduate institutions as the elite schools.

You have heard college counselors, teachers, school counselors and other students and parents who have run the application gauntlet before you say that you will end up where you are meant to be. That one dream school will not make or break your life. Remember, it's nice to go to a school where you are wanted and valued. Reality presents us with tremendous gifts and opportunities. 

Embrace where you go and make the most of it!

The Waiting is (Nearly) the Worst Part

High school seniors and parents survive the college application process only to be hit with an onslaught of questions. I assure you that these questions come from friends, family, neighbors and relative strangers and amount to intense scrutiny. Most people mean well. They are curious and truly want to know. But, they do not realize how the questions can make already stressed-out students feel:

  • "What's your top choice school?"
  • "What was your SAT/ACT score?"
  • "What's your major?"
  • "Did you apply to XYZ school? It's the best!"
  • "You know liberal arts majors are not the ones getting the good jobs, right?"

You, students and parents, do not have to answer these intensely personal and loaded questions. No, you really don't! Develop a few different responses and have them ready to roll out at any time. No need to be rude, either. I like:

  • "I am not thinking about college today. I am here to enjoy the party/dance/whatever."
  • "Thanks for asking, but I would rather talk about something else for a change."
  • "I would love to hear about where you went to school and what you liked about your experience there."
  • "Actually, liberal arts majors are getting hired and also get into to a wide range of graduate programs."

There will always be the extremely nosy ones who won't back down. For those, just change the subject and if you must, excuse yourself and go have a good time!