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Making Sure Your Teacher Recommendations Matter

One of the most overlooked aspects of the college application process is teacher recommendations. Very typically I hear students say they’ll just pick the teacher who they really like or the teacher who’s known for writing great recommendations.

And while it’s nice to have teachers who like you and who are known for writing great recommendations, that doesn’t necessarily make them the right person to request a recommendation from.

When college admission counselors are reviewing your application, they are trying to gauge your college readiness and your potential to contribute to the campus community. So while it’s nice to have someone say that you’re a nice kid who does a good job of being a model student while also playing on the baseball team, it’s even better to have them talk about:

  1. How you struggled in their class in the beginning of the year but by mid-year had established yourself as a confident and engaged student in their classroom.
  2. How you ask detailed questions that indicate your level of interest in the subject at hand.
  3. How you’ve spent time with the teacher outside of the class talking about how your interests connect to what you are learning in class and how you were hungry to learn more through other resources, trips, websites, etc.
  4. How because of the impeccable quality of your work and your dedicated interest in the subject at hand, they feel 110% confident that you will succeed in college and go on to do great things in the field.

Teacher recommendations should be solely focused on who you are in the classroom, how you have grown and established yourself as a learner and how you have overcome struggles and learned how to master difficult material. They are the best people to offer these opinions because they already observe and evaluate you on a daily basis. So, before you just pick the teacher who everyone likes or the teacher who you say hello to every morning before first period, think about the teachers who can offer a qualified opinion of your academic abilities. Then go have a good, honest conversation with them about what you’ve learned in their class, how they’ve challenged you and how it all relates to your interests in college.

Chances are, something good will come of it.

As for the other stuff, leave that to your school counselor. It’s their job to provide a big picture perspective on you which includes everything else you do outside the classroom.

If you would like some assistance with your college search, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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Why Just Submitting an Application isn’t Enough

Frequently I find students applying to too many colleges. They think there’s some underlying mathematical equation that says the more colleges you apply to, the greater your chances are of being admitted to one.

Unfortunately, it’s just not true. Especially with the more selective schools that sit atop the various sets of rankings and which are releasing decisions this week. If your profile as an applicant doesn’t match up well with what the school looks for, or if the school tends to reject 90% of their applicants, no matter how many schools you apply to, admission isn’t likely.

So, what are students to do?

The first thing I tell my students to do is to get beyond this ever-growing obsession with brand names. In my experience, what you do with your college experience is more predictive of your future success in life. It’s not the name of the school or how highly they were ranked on US News or Forbes. In fact, in most high profile professional fields a bachelor’s degree doesn’t get you very far. You’re going to need a master’s degree, a lot of experience, or more, and that’s where you should be more focused on name brand recognition.

It’s about where you finish, not where you start.

The second thing I tell them is to build a college list that is focused more on quality than quantity.

I tell them they should be applying to colleges they love and where they feel they will be happy and successful. I tell them to apply to colleges they can afford. I tell them to apply to colleges where they will find everything they are looking for, where they will grow as people and where they will be successful.

Sometimes this means the list of colleges is five, sometimes it’s eight.

Regardless of the number, what matters most is how much effort a student puts into connecting with these schools prior to applying. When a student has matched themselves up well with a college and then does the right things along the way such as visiting, sitting in on a class, interviewing with an admission counselor, meeting with a professor or coach, attending special visit programs or an open house – when some combination of these factors happens, the student learns so much more about how and why the school fits them and admission becomes much more likely.

Why?

Because demonstrated interest matters more now than it ever has. Colleges are in the business of enrolling students and as the number of applications far exceeds the number of seats in an incoming class, it becomes critical for colleges to identify the students who are most likely to enroll. There are so many ways to demonstrate your interest to a school while you attempt to learn everything you can about it. Apply to too many schools and you may not be able to demonstrate your interest let alone put together quality applications that stand out in a crowded field.

Opportunity can and will present itself in many forms and, you know what? There is opportunity everywhere, not just at an Ivy League school. So, no matter where you go to college, remember that it’s about investing yourself in the experience and making the most of this time to launch yourself into your life.

If you would like some assistance with your college search, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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Comparing Your Financial Aid Awards

If you’re fortunate enough to have been admitted to multiple colleges one task you will now be faced with is deciding which one is going to be the most affordable option. If you’ve done your homework ahead of time, and know your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), you should have a ballpark idea of what your net, or true, cost is going to look like.

Note that I didn’t say net price.

Net cost is your out-of-pocket cost – it’s what the college will cost you after gift aid (read, free money!) is applied to your overall cost of attendance. If the school’s cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, housing, a meal plan and insurance, is $60,000 and they are going to award you with $25,000 in gift aid, your net cost will be $35,000.

If you’re noticing that I didn’t mention loans, then good for you! Loans, while a part of financial aid awards, are not gifted money. Loans have to be paid back, with interest, and therefore should be factored in after your net cost has been determined. They are helpful, but you can’t dismiss the fact that they have to be paid back later.

So, what do you do with all of this information as you try to decide where you will enroll?

First, gather all your award letters and take a close look at them. Award letters are not created equal. Some will be incredibly detailed and will include your EFC and the complete cost of attendance broken down into semesters with the award broken down into categories (gift aid, loans, work-study) while others will show just a total for the year.

Second, create a little spreadsheet for yourself so that you can compare apples to apples. Make columns for each school and then break down the costs and the awards so that you can see the total for each school.

Third, subtract the gift aid from the cost of attendance and you will get your net cost.

Keep in mind that the lowest net cost isn’t always the best offer. And this is where you have to look at what kind of loans you’re being offered and if you’re being offered work-study.

You already know loans have to be paid back, but if you were to take out a small loan and that makes up the difference between your top choice school and the second place one, that loan may make sense for you. Work-study can be a great help as well, but you have to remember that you will be required to work on campus for so many hours each week to earn it. Even then, it is not applied to your bill because you earn the money on a week-to-week basis like a paycheck.

At the end of the day, be honest with yourself in regards to how much you can handle. You are making a decision about the next four years based on information you have for your first year only. What happens when the cost of attendance goes up in your sophomore year? What if you’re working for your work-study money and its affecting how much time you have to study? What if you struggle and lose your merit scholarship?

These are all questions you need to ask yourself before making any decisions. Just keep in mind that you have to make a final decision by May 1st.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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The Rules of Being the Parent of a College Applicant

dobler college consultingWhen I meet with new families for the first time, I do my best to make sure they know it’s the student who needs to be in the driver’s seat if they expect this process to go well. Some parents are relieved to hear this while I can tell that others aren’t so sure what to think.

They’ve been so involved with everything their son or daughter has been doing since birth that the idea of not being actively involved is, frankly, quite terrifying.

As a parent myself, I get it. But what I also get is that kids have to take responsibility for their college search. They have to figure out what matters most to them and which colleges (note the plural form here) fit them the best.

So while this is the drum I beat along the way, I also make sure parents know it’s okay to be involved, it’s okay to talk about college and it’s okay to have feelings about how the process is going.

It’s just not okay to do any of the following:

1. Calling the admissions office

Parents should not call the admissions office to ask questions about their daughter’s application, to share their view on an unfavorable grade or to try and explain why their son only volunteered so many hours at the local soup kitchen. Parents can and should call a college if they have questions on financial aid or anything to do with costs, but that’s where their dialing should end.

Admissions counselors tell me all the time that they want to hear from the applicants, not the parents. Having sat on their side of the desk for a number of years, I agree. Show me an applicant who has questions and is willing to pick up the phone and have a conversation about them and I’ll show you someone who is demonstrating maturity, responsibility and accountability.

2. Saying “we’ll figure it out” when it comes down to paying for college

Unless parents are sure they can pay for a school through some combination of means, saying otherwise never ends well.

Never.

There’s just too much emotion, effort and energy invested in the college search and application process to allow students to believe in a falsehood like this. For many parents, yes, it may be hard to talk about finances and affordability, but it will be so much better for their son or daughter to understand what is and what is not realistic up front rather than after months of falling in love with a college that will never work.

3. Making changes to their college essay

Depending on the kid, parents can sometimes be a great sounding board for essay ideas. But at the end of the day, this is their essay and it should sound like a 17-year old wrote it.

Admissions counselors aren’t sitting there questioning every last word choice as much as they are trying to learn more about who this student is through the story he or she is telling. Yes, an essay should be well written but in no way does that mean it should sound like a doctoral dissertation.

4. Making this about you

All too frequently I hear from parents that someone they know said their kid did THIS or was accepted THERE or was being recruited by THEM. Many of them feel the need to keep up, if not to flat out compete. I try to remind them that this process is about helping their own child to connect with a college where they will grow and change while creating a path into a happy and successful life. It’s never about bragging rights.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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Courses and Activities – Making Good Choices

Dobler College ConsultingThis time of year, I find myself in conversations about courses and activities for the upcoming year. These are interesting discussions as students and I debate the merit of their options as they try to make decisions that make the most sense for them.

My advice to them is that their high school curriculum should present as much breadth and depth as possible but that it should also match up with their greatest interests and strengths as well. AP English is a great choice for the student who writes well and wants to be challenged, but is it a better choice than AP calculus or AP chemistry for the student who hopes to be an engineering major?

Admissions counselors will be looking to establish trends in individual subject areas and in a student’s overall academic record.

If you are a nursing applicant, what is your track record in the sciences? If you are a business student, have you taken four full years of math? What about relevant academic electives that your high school offers? Have you taken advantage of them along the way?

You have to read your transcript like an admissions counselor. Pick it apart, honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses and make changes where applicable so that whoever reviews it when you apply, has greater confidence in your ability to pursue the major you have checked off on your application. Just keep in mind that everything starts with your core subjects – English, math, science, social studies and foreign language. With so many college students changing majors, admissions counselors are first and foremost looking for academic rigor across all subjects.

When it comes to activities, the same rule generally applies. If you are an aspiring business major, have you joined DECA or FBLA? If you want to go into criminal justice or paramedicine, have you taken an EMT course and earned your license? Accounting majors, have you shadowed local accountants and learned more about the nuances of their work when it’s not tax season?

Even if you are undecided on what you may want to major in – and let’s be honest, whether you want to admit it or not, that’s most of you – it is better for you to show a depth of involvement in one or two activities that really mean something to you rather than lining up your resume with twenty clubs and organizations that hold little to no meaning for you as you head into your senior year.

Your application and supporting materials should reflect who you are as a student and, more importantly, as a person. Be true to you, invest your time wisely and, when in doubt, make good choices with how you spend your time.

Will all of this look good on college applications? Possibly.

But the greater good here is that you will have gained a greater understanding and appreciation for who you are, what’s important to you and how you want to live your life. There’s a lot to like about that.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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