Common Application

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How Applications are Read

All too often I hear students talk about their grades and test scores as they hope to gain admission to one of the super-selective colleges. And while strong grades and outstanding test scores are absolutely important aspects of the process, they are far from the only ones. Admissions counselors across the country will read many more applications of standout students than they are capable of admitting. They are looking for specific factors, many of which can change from year to year based on institutional priorities such as needing a particular instrument in the band, filling seats in a new program or trying to expand geographic reach. When the dust has settled, many applicants who have worked hard to achieve A’s, who have scored well on the SAT or ACT, and who have received honors or awards for their achievement will be left out.

Is it fair? No, it isn’t. But, then again, very little about the college admissions process is fair. Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech, recently wrote an excellent piece about this very idea. If you haven’t read it yet, you should:

Ad(mission): It’s Not Fair

Today, I wanted to share some insight as to how your applications are read. This protocol will vary by some degree from school to school and from counselor to counselor, but understanding how each part of an application is looked at can be of value to the current crop of rising seniors who will be sending out applications in just a few months.

  1. The Application Itself

Information such as citizenship, ethnicity, family dynamics, and parents’ educational background are all of interest. These details set the table for who you are as an applicant and where you come from. High school information is also included but many admissions counselors will rely on your transcript and school profile to understand just how competitive you are.

When it comes to activities, the question now moves to what you will add to the campus community. Admissions counselors are looking for commitment, impact, initiative and passion. The bottom line: an activity that spans a lot of time throughout grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 says a whole lore more about what’s important to you and how you will benefit the college than one that was done one time, on a Saturday, during 9th grade.

  1. The Transcript and High School Profile

Your school profile is incredibly important to admissions counselors. Not only does it tell them the percentage of graduates who go on to four-year colleges, but it also sheds light on your high school’s curriculum.  How many AP courses are offered? What about honors courses or dual enrollment? Do you have an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum? Admissions counselors want to know how well you challenged yourself based on what you had available to you. So while your transcript shows them what you did, it’s the school profile that shows them what you could have done.

  1. Recommendations

Colleges will typically require recommendations from the school counselor and at least one teacher. Depending on the school, a second teacher recommendation may be welcome as may be a recommendation from a coach, mentor or employer. Heck, some colleges even allow you to have a parent or your best friend submit a recommendation on your behalf. Regardless of the lineup, recommendations should be carefully considered. Admissions counselors are looking for key descriptions of you in action. Therefore you should think about the teachers who can provide evidence of your intellectual curiosity, your energy and enthusiasm for learning, your grit and resolve for when you had to work through some challenging material, and your humor and kindness towards others.

  1. The College Essay

I’ll get into essays in more detail as we head into the summer, but the more personal you can get with your essay, the more it will help you stand out. Admissions counselors don’t want essays that are academic or formulaic. Instead they want something organic; something that helps them become more interested in you as a person, especially at the most selective colleges where A averages and near perfect test scores are the norm. It’s a crowded pool and your essay is one of the very opportunities you have to show who you are as an individual.

  1. Demonstrated Interest

Admissions counselors are trying to admit a class of students who are most likely to enroll. This is called yield and it’s an important term in the college admissions world. Predict yield too high and you don’t have enough classes or residential beds for the incoming class. Predict too low and the college is running in the red. Neither is a scenario that colleges want to do deal with. The problem is that as the average number of applications students submit each year increases, it becomes harder for schools to know who their “real” applicants are.

And that’s why you demonstrate your interest. Because you want admission counselors to notice not only your academic qualifications, but your true interest in attending their college. Not all colleges track interest, but if you are applying to one who does, you want to make every effort to connect with them along the way.

There are other aspects of the process that can be taken into account, but the bottom line here is that you cannot just rely on your grades and test scores alone to help you gain admission.

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

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


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What is the Coalition Application?

What is the Coalition ApplicationYou’ve heard of the Common Application and you might even have heard of the Universal Application. But just how much do you know about the Coalition Application?

Unless you’ve been paying very close attention to the sporadic media coverage or know someone in the college world who’s had an opinion on it (and there are many!), you probably haven’t heard too much about the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success.

The announcement of this new application occurred this past October. Recognized as some of the most selective colleges in the country, the Coalition Colleges say they want to increase college access for all students while providing a newer and more innovative way for students to apply. Although many of these colleges currently use the Common Application, one of the stated reasons these schools have formed the Coalition Application stems from the issues, technological being one of the more significant ones, the Common Application experienced in 2013.

To date, over 90 schools have joined the Coalition and apparently more are on the way.

These colleges feel that the admission process has been hindered by these issues and students have been limited in their ability to showcase their own innovation, creativity and overall performance. Therefore, the new Coalition Application will have virtual lockers for students where they can enter their work and accomplishments over a four year period of time. The Coalition’s virtual locker is planned to include: extracurricular activities, interests, writing samples, college essays, videos and more. Information to the colleges where the students choose to apply will not be available to them until the student releases their locker during their application season.

The Coalition intended to release this application to students in January, but due to demonstrative feedback from school counselors and independent counselors across the country, the official launch has been pushed back. The locker will be available in April while the application itself will launch over the summer. When it does launch, the manner in which students prepare for and apply to colleges could very well be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

The Coalition Colleges state that their intention is to provide early preparation and access to all students, regardless of financial means. However many counselors, like myself, are concerned that high school will become about just how much students can cram into their lockers in an all-out effort to impress a college rather than doing things that matter to them.

At this point, many questions remained unanswered:

  • Will colleges favor one application over the other?
  • How will the virtual locker be evaluated?
  • Will these colleges use interaction with the locker to measure demonstrated interest and factor that into admissions decisions?
  • If a 9th grader adds a college to their “my colleges” list, what type of communication will the college have with them?
  • What will the competition aspect be like?
  • What are hard timelines for the application?

Ultimately, the optimistic side of me says that the goal here is to make the application process more holistic so that colleges can gain more insight on applicants over a period of time. The Coalition believes in early engagement, being more transparent, increased interest in the public and collaboration.

These are fine ideals with good intentions. However, as we all know, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

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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Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #5

Writing Your Essay for Common App Prompt #5This is the final installment in a series of posts I’m doing about the Common Application essay prompts. Now that summer is here, it’s a great time to work on your essay so that you can take your time, let your mind wander and put together something that truly compliments your applications.

I’ve already talked about the first four essay prompts and what they’re asking you to do. If you missed them, here they are:

Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #1

Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #2

Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #3

Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #4

Today, I wanted to talk about the fifth and final prompt:

Prompt #5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

This prompt allows you a lot of flexibility because the keywords are so broad. Having said that, it’s the transition part of this prompt that is important here. Transition means there was a before (the childhood piece) and an after (the adult piece). There was a change. Without it, your essay will not fully answer what this prompt is asking of you and will fall flat.

Because while we’ve all had accomplishments, not each of them has helped us to think and act more like an adult. And that’s the key here: you need to show that whatever it was that you achieved, completed, performed or produced – it was an important event in your process of becoming more mature, more responsible and more dependable. It doesn’t mean you have to be an adult, just that you are on your way to being more adult-like.

Going to college is a major transition in your life and one that will rapidly draw you into adulthood as you face critical decisions about your immediate and long-term future. An admission counselor will be pleased to see that you’ve gone through other transitional phases in your life and that you are on your way to becoming the person you were meant to be.

One former student wrote about her experiences as an EMT and how, as a young teenager, she remembered getting frustrated when a car accident had caused a traffic delay and she ended up missing the first couple minutes of a new movie. Several years later, after earning her EMT license and going out on emergency calls, she was faced with life and death situations and had to think quickly and clearly in order to help injured people in need. She had most definitely transitioned from an inwardly thinking child to a more mature, outwardly thinking adult-in-the-making.

So, if you’ve ever experienced a change in your life where you realized that you were thinking or acting more adult-like, this could be a great prompt for you to explore. If not, I’ve already covered the other four essay prompts, so consider going in another direction with your essay.

If you would like some assistance with it or any other aspects of 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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Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #4

Writing Your Essay for Common App Prompt #4This is the fourth installment in a series of posts I’m doing about the Common Application essay prompts. Now that summer is here, it’s a great time to work on your essay so that you can take your time, let your mind wander and put together something that truly compliments your applications.

I’ve already talked about the first three essay prompts and what they’re asking you to do. If you missed them, here they are:

Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #1

Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #2

Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #3

Today, I wanted to talk about the fourth prompt:

Prompt #4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

This prompt is brand-new this year and I love it! It’s so open-ended and allows you the room to really get into something that has personal significance for you.

Of course, you have to start out by talking about a problem. Whether you’ve solved it or you are trying to solve it, this prompt is all about your effort to effect change. Now, you have to be careful not to dwell on something that’s too big or vague like poverty or racism – an approach like that will sink your essay quickly – and, instead, focus on something specific and, as the essay asks you to do, get PERSONAL.

I think college admission counselors will like this prompt as it allows you room to talk about your problem-solving skills and what’s college if not one series of problems to solve after another? The prompt also allows you to shed light on your values and your willingness to take action for something you believe in.

So, if you’ve ever taken the initiative to do something about a problem or are even in the process of doing it, this could be a great prompt for you to explore. If not, there’s five essay prompts, so consider going in another direction with your essay.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about the fifth Common Application essay prompt which asks you to write about a transition from childhood to adulthood. Stay tuned…

If you would like some assistance with your college essay or any other aspects of 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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Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #2

Writing Your Essay for Common App Prompt #2This is the second installment in a series of posts I’m doing about the Common Application essay prompts. Now that summer is here, it’s a great time to work on your essay so that you can take your time, let your mind wander and put together something that truly compliments your applications.

Last week I talked about the first essay prompt, what it’s asking you to do and even gave you an example of a student who had written his essay for that prompt. If you missed the post, here it is:

Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #1

Today, I wanted to talk about the second prompt:

Prompt #2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

I like this topic because who hasn’t failed at something in their lives? Failures are the building blocks of character and colleges love applicants with character-building stories. It shows them that when life gets tough at college and you get knocked down – and you will – you’re more likely to get up and keep getting after it. You will work hard to overcome a bump in the road and that you will find success.

Just don’t dwell on the failure itself. In fact, you should briefly introduce the failure and then spend the bulk of your essay talking about how it affected you and what you learned from it.

One former student wrote about her struggles in a ceramics class. She had always excelled in anything artistic but, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get her clay to take shape on the wheel. After failing multiple times to produce a basic clay pot, she took matters into her own hands. She spent hours scouring YouTube watching videos on hand placement, controlling wheel speed and developing the patience it takes to craft such a delicate piece of art. She learned to think creatively in the face of adversity, to look at problems from different perspectives and that with some patience and resolve, that she could solve problems on her own.

Working on a ceramics wheel isn’t an Earth-shattering idea, but for this student it was a key life lesson that transcended into other areas of her life. If something like that hasn’t happened to you, it’s okay. There’s five essay prompts, so if you’re doubting whether or not you have failed at something that has subsequently helped you to grow, then consider going in another direction with your essay.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about the third Common Application essay prompt which asks you to write about a time when you challenged an idea or belief. Stay tuned…

If you would like some assistance with your college essay or any other aspects of 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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