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Wait List 101--10 Difference Making Actions to Take!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

If you have accepted a place on the wait list of your first-choice college, the next thing to do is to spring into action and, despite the daunting odds discussed below, perform these 10 tasks. And you need to do them with a confidence you may not feel.

These actions fall into three major categories: letting the college know how very much you want to come; reminding them of how you will contribute to and enhance their campus community; and informing them of your ongoing involvement in activities, as well as any new accomplishments you have achieved and any new recognition you have gotten.

  1. First and foremost, make sure, in a letter to the dean of admissions and to your regional rep, that you let them know that, despite all the other colleges you have been admitted to, going to their college is what you want and, if you are admitted, you will definitely come.
  2. Have your guidance counselor or school principal communicate the same message. This school is your first choice! If accepted you will definitely come.
  3. In the same letter from you to the dean of admissions and to your regional rep, be sure to enumerate any new forms of recognition you have received. If you have made all-state in a sport, cite that. If you have been chosen from state choir to now be in the national choir cite that. If you have been given an award as employee of the month cite that.
  4. Be sure also to mention ongoing activities that you have continued beyond January 1, or the due date of your application, and of which you are proud.
  5. Getting to the most substantive part of the letter, please reiterate all the ways that you think you and the college are a good match. Tell them how you see yourself on the campus. What will you contribute to the college community? What are the plans you have and the places you look forward to being? Thoroughly describe three or four activities you can see yourself doing. Will you be doing research in their neurobiology lab? Will you be performing in, or an audience for, the improv theater? Will you be on the co-ed flag football team? The frisbee team? Will you be a member of the art coop? Or a leader in the new meditation space? A helper in the organic garden? A member or the investment team?
  6. Be sure also to mention any new recommenders whose letters are in the mail to the college.
  7. With reference to this, you need to search in your mind to consider if your contacts and your parents’ friends, as well as employers, athletic or arts coaches, or other contacts could write a recommendation that would strengthen your waiting list spot.
  8. When you are looking online at the college, it is very important, in general, that you thoroughly look at the college’s website. Look at all the majors you might be interested in, look at what their requirements are, look at what special opportunities they might have, look at other majors that might be related. Look at study abroad opportunities. Look at clubs, activities, sports, and student life information. Open, also, every email and communication from the college. Colleges are using the number of clicks and the electronic interest you show as an indication of your real interest. And you want to be VERY interested and attentive.
  9. I recommend you visit the school. Colleges may tell you not to and that they are busy wooing the students they have already accepted (It’s reality.). But you can walk around, take another tour, and just say hello to admissions. I know too many stories about students of mine who have gone to see their school one more time and be offered admissions during that visit. It happens.
  10. Finally, be prepared for whatever happens. The odds are long (see below) and you never know what the college’s situations is. Maybe so many students have accepted their offers of acceptance that the school is worried about where it will house all of its students for the next year. But one thing is certain, you’ll never get in if you don’t, at the very least, try.

    The odds of being accepted!

    This kind of information for a college can sometimes be found on the admissions website of a college. Or sometimes elsewhere on other websites. It is always available through the “Common Data Set (filed by colleges each year with many educational and publishing organizations)” for each university. To find it search for “common data set for 2016 + university of ________”.

    For example, in the recent (2014-15) data for the University of Richmond, it was reported that offers to be on the wait list were made to 3,621 students.  Out of those, 1,466 students accepted this offer and were placed on the waiting list. Out of those, 12 waitlisted students were ultimately admitted. In other recent years Richmond reports they have admitted up to 131 students off the wait list.

    The University of Virginia reports the same kind of data. In 2014-15, they offered 5,543 students the chance to be on the wait list. Of these, 3,456 students accepted. And of these, 42 students were accepted. In another year as many as 402 students were accepted off the wait list.

College Readiness through Great Family Dinners

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

“One of the most important things in my life as I grew up were family dinners,” said a friend who seemed to have amazing confidence, as well as the ability to navigate life with great intention, wisdom, and aplomb.

She said that each member of her family knew from very early on, that it was his or she responsibility to arrive at the dinner table prepared to answer two questions. The first was: what is the most important thing that happened to you today? The second was: what is the most important thing that happened in the world today?

You can imagine how the discussion that ensued helped to develop the family’s connectedness, but more importantly, each member’s 0wn agency and mindfulness. Each member had both the responsibility of observing and interacting in the world around him or her and the task of evaluating what he or she saw, and then the privilege of sharing that story with the others at the table.

An eight year old might say the most important thing in her life was catching a ball during the kick ball game at school. And the most important thing in her bigger world was that there was a visiting scientist talked about the properties of magnets in her classroom that day.

But by 11 or 12 he might be saying that the most important thing in his life was baseball tryouts. And the most important thing in his bigger world was that a gorilla had to be shot at the Cleveland Zoo or that Djokovic just won a Grand Slam by betting Murray in the French Open.

Such a conversation every night and being responsible for both your part and hearing what others have to say helps a student, an individual, learn to grow into and be comfortable with communicating and explaining a position or view, analyzing the views of others, and questioning the opinions of others. It might also stimulate curiosity and a search for more knowledge and deeper understanding of topics that come up. All of these skills are needed for a student who engages fully in college learning. And what better place to begin to develop and hone them than in the safe environment of a family dinner?

So let’s eat together more often. And let’s talk about our observations to each other. It will make your student all the more ready for college.

New SAT Scores--Looking at College Admissions Profiles

Monday, May 23, 2016

The College Board recently (5/9/16) released concordance tables which compare March, 2016’s SAT scores (resulting from the first administration of the new version of the SAT) to previous SAT scores—scores that were calibrated and refined during the years between March, 2005 and March, 2016. It is especially important to understand the equivalent value of the new SAT scores when comparing these SAT scores to reported admissions criteria on Naviance or any published data-based sources which used the SAT scores previous to March, 2016 to report current admissions outcomes.


If you or your student are planning to use ACT scores as a way to evaluate your chance of admission or to submit standardized test scores to colleges then this has no bearing on those scores.


When you evaluate March SAT scores, however, it is very important that you bear in mind this new concordance information. For instance, if your student or you, if you are the student, got a 1300, on the new March SAT this is equivalent to 1230 on the old SAT. So whether you look at Naviance or another data source reporting SAT scores for various colleges, you need to use the equivalent old SAT score, not the new score to compare yourself to this previously collected data posted as a reflection of admission’s trends in various colleges. (Right now, the data represented in Naviance and other data bases is from the years previous to this year's, 2016's, graduating class. So it is listed in old score SAT terms.) 

The same is true of any data on a college website, or in national guides, either in print or online, like Fiske Guide to Colleges, for example. This data is all based on old--pre March, 2016--SAT test score data.


So be sure to adjust your thinking about the new scores and make the adjustment when looking at data collected and published using old scores.


The charts correlating the new and old scores may be found on the College Board website at:

 I found pages 8 and 9 especially helpful as far as converting students scores to the old equivalent scores.

 Jan Rooker #SAT scores #college admissions #student advice #parent advice


Supplemental College Essays Matter!

Monday, May 16, 2016

The question is usually some variation of “Why Do You Want to Attend Our University?” And the answer to this question plays a much larger role in college admissions than you might expect. Usually found in the section of the application called supplemental essays, this question is the first thing college admissions counselors read, after they have reviewed a student’s grades and standardized test scores.  

A panel of admissions officers, who spoke at the May, 2016 Independent Educational Consultants Association Conference, in Boston, Massachusetts, analyzed the relative importance of the different parts of the student application. They said particularly, however, that they especially looked forward to reading this essay, eager to see why the applicant wants to attend their college.

The panel of counselors said that they read this even before the personal student essay, or the high school counselor’s recommendation of the student, or the teachers’ recommendations.

This is very significant feedback for students who, as the summer approaches, will be starting their college applications for the 2016-17 admission’s season. Especially so, as high school students, who are often rushing to finish applications, do not pay enough attention to this essay, thinking it unimportant compared to their personal essays.

Here is more information about the supplemental essay that the counselors shared. They said that they looked, first, to see if the student had shared any insights or revealed any knowledge about himself. Did the student know what he was looking for in a learning environment? In a social environment? Did she know in what career direction she might be heading?  The first part of this essay, then, should show evidence of self- reflection and self- knowledge?

The second part of the “why us?” essay needs to show that the student knows about the college and its campus. Hopefully the student has been to an information session. And to the campus for a tour. Or taken the virtual tour. Has the student read any of the student blogs on the college website? Looked at postings on Instagram about the college? Studied the majors that are offered? Looked at related programs of study? Figured out whether the academic atmosphere on campus is collaborative or competitive? What role do sports play on campus? What role performing arts? What is the character of social gatherings? Is there community awareness?

Finally the student needs to talk about how she sees herself fitting in on campus. What activities and programs will the student participate in? Will he play intramural sports? Do research in the physics lab? Perform in a comedy group? Sing in a girl’s a cappella group? Paint himself blue for the big game? Where does the student see himself fitting in?

How will the student ultimately contribute to make a difference to life on this campus? And, above all, who does the student hope to become during the time on campus?


Be an Ally against Aggression

Friday, April 15, 2016

The teenaged student sitting across the desk from me says, “My friend was being harassed by some stupid boys in the cafeteria today. I am so upset for her. But also … I couldn’t think of anything to do to help her.”

I work with high school students by helping them to figure out who they are and who they want to be and what colleges might help them get to where they want to be.  Our college considerations can be categorized this way: academic match, professional opportunities available, social environment on campus that will shape events, and, for lack of a better word, temperament fit—is the campus atmosphere supportive, collaborative, competitive, mostly shaped by responders, initiators, that kind of thing.

Things like real time interpersonal aggression, though, do come up. A student will say, “My history teacher was picking on my friend today.” Or, “My dad was mean to my brother last night.” Or, “I am the only freshman on the team and it’s rough.”

Or sometimes we are answering college application essay questions, like Oregon State’s Personal Inventory question which says, “Describe your experience facing or witnessing discrimination. Tell us how you responded and what you learned from those experiences and how they have prepared you to contribute to the OSU community.”

That is when we both confess, yes, we know that being a witness to verbal aggression, and remaining silent is a tacit sign of agreement with the speaker who implies or states some damaging false assertion. Yes, we say, this kind of abuse is destructive to the whole social unit, whether it is a family, a classroom, a school, or something even larger, like a town or a country. But we both confess we often do what Kerry Ann Rockquemore talks about in her Chronicle of Higher Education article (1/13/16), we freeze when it is our turn to act as an ally. But we also agree that we want to and can work toward being a better responder, one that overtly supports the victim. We do not just want to apologize after the incident to the victim and tell him or her that we know they were wronged.

Professor Rockqueman was responding to a professional situation, which is different, but she encourages the by-stander to employ a technique called “OPTD--open the front door.” This mnemonic represents a set of behaviors for a by-stander who speaks up in support of a victim. It represents: observe (describe what you see), think (say what you think about it), feel (express what you feel about the situation), and desire (assert what you would like to see happen). “When you treat my friend that way, she is uncomfortable and I feel embarrassed. I would like you to leave her alone.”

Another solution, given that in such a heated situation it is too hard to think and it might be socially awkward to say so much, is, “I am not sure I understood what you said. What did you mean by it?” This might be enough to cause the offending person to think twice.

Dealing with this difficult circumstance is hard for most adults.

And we all know that recognizing the aggression is just the first step. But working toward allying with the victim is a step toward making a difference—to a friend, a school, a city, a community of others.

Jan Rooker, College Consultant, 4/15/16  #Teen #Bullies  

To overcome test anxiety: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Test anxiety or performance anxiety is something that can get in the way of strong results on a test. And when that test is an important one—one that seems like it can determine a student’s future, for instance, because it is related to what colleges he applies to--test anxiety can be very incapacitating.

 In its mildest form test anxiety might cause butterflies in the tummy, and tight muscles in your neck and back that you notice only when you start to get sore an hour into the test. At its worse, test anxiety can cause difficulty in concentrating, even sometimes causing your mind to go blank. As an example of how difficult anxiety can make things, the admissions director of an East Coast college told me this story. He was preparing to give his first speech to the faculty at the campus where he had been newly appointed. When he was introduced in front of an auditorium full of dignitaries he walked to the stage and placed his speech on the podium. Looking down, preparatory to beginning his speech, the top page of the speech appeared blank. He took a very deep breath and looked around smiling; when he looked down again, the words of the speech had reappeared.

When it comes to avoiding test anxiety, there are four behaviors you need to master to be well prepared for a test:

Know the material on which you will be tested is the first behavior to master. Know it as it was taught, but also know how to apply it in new situations and be able to manipulate it. Sometimes students think that being familiar with the material is enough. They say, “Well I read the chapter twice.” But in a situation where you are likely to be nervous, you have to know it better than this. It is like the difference between being able to recognize information and being able to recall information. If I ask you to recognize the U.S. states in a group of words on a page, all you have to do is circle the familiar words that you know are states. If I ask you to recall the U. S. states, I might give you a blank sheet of paper and ask you to list all the states. The second activity is much more difficult to do. It requires much more preparation. And if you were anxious, it would be much easier to forget the names of the states.  But this is how well you need to know that material on which you will be tested.

 Know the format of the test is the second behavior to master. How many sections does it have? How much time will you have for each section? How will each section be graded? Does each section always contain these same kinds of questions? Are they always in this order? How do you usually perform on this section of the test? Do you run out of time? How can you compensate for that?

 For instance on the ACT Exam, the Reading Section always comes third in the test—after the English and Math Sections. It is always 35 minutes long. It always has four reading passages, each followed by 10 questions. The first passage is always fiction; the second, social science; the third, humanities; and the fourth, physical science. If you have trouble finishing all the questions in 35 minutes, it is okay to guess on the ones that are left, because the test givers do not penalize you more than one point for wrong answers. And if you have to rush in your reading, it is easier to skim the social science or the physical science sections because they are less likely to have a “voice” you need to “get”.

 Practice is the third behavior to master to avoid test anxiety. I remember watching a world class tennis player practicing at Harry Hopman’s Tennis Academy. She hit the same shot for about an hour and a half. There was a towel on the court that the ball was supposed to hit. After she finished that she ran wind sprints for 15 minutes in 90 degrees until she couldn’t breathe. The idea was that if she could make the shot under these conditions she would be able to do it every time even with the pressure on the court in competition.

 The only way to experience taking an admissions test and building up the endurance you need to concentrate for three and one half hours is to take practice tests. The students of mine who have become the most successful test takers have committed to taking a whole practice test every Saturday for four weeks before they actually take the real test. And I believe in rewards. So I tell each student to treat him or herself to something nice when finished. Sometimes one buys a new article of clothing; sometimes one watches sports for four hours lying on the sofa. You get the idea.

 Practice behaviors to employ incase test anxiety strikes during the test is the fourth and final behavior to master to avoid test anxiety. These behaviors usually have to do with interrupting the kind of thinking that takes you away from the task at hand and toward a whirlwind of negative self doubt. One behavior might be a deep breathing exercise. Another might be repeating a mantra of positive affirmations that you have memorized ahead of time. Another might be systematically tightening and then loosening the muscles in your body. I like a new ritual I have recently learned: take a deep breath, close your eyes rub your hands together a few times and then put one hand on your heart and one on your head and let you breathe out. After a half a minute, open your eyes and move on.

 And good luck on your next test!
















Be on the Field, Not in the Stands

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Several years ago I had a client who, when he came to my office each week, spent the first several minutes complaining about all the unjust happenings that had occurred in his life since our previous meeting. His teachers did not know how to teach, and, therefore, his test grades were low. His mother was sloppy and disorganized, and, therefore, he had to eat out all the time, thereby wasting his money. The students at school were lazy and left their lunch wrappers all over the tables in the cafeteria, and, therefore, there were no clean tables where he could sit to study or to eat lunch with friends.

One day after several weeks of this, I told the student a story. The story was about a soccer team. The members of the team were on the field practicing. Each day the coach gave the players directions about which moves to practice when their goal was to get the ball down the field to the goal and what moves to practice to block the other team from being able to move the ball in the other direction. Little by little as the team practiced they seemed to be getting better at moving the ball down the field, as well as better at keeping the other team from moving the ball the other way on the field. Meanwhile, other kids were in the stands watching the practice. They were watching the players on the field, and talking about the coach and his ideas, or commenting on the players. The kids in the stands said things like, "That coach doesn’t know how to coach. He should teach the team to use more passes, or more deception, or more maneuvers if he wants them to get the ball down the field." And they said, "See that kid over there, he can’t run for anything. The kid over there is so awkward. I could do a better job than that."

Where do you see yourself in this picture I asked my client? "I would be in the stands," he said. "Yes, you would!" And in the stands all you can do is critique the guys on the field. You can’t get any coaching. And you can’t get any practice. You can’t learn any new techniques. And you can’t learn how to get stuff done. And you can’t find out if you have what it takes to step up. In the stands is a very safe place.

"How could you be more on the field?" I asked my client. We talked a long time about the role he could take in his own learning, for example. If, in fact, his teacher didn’t do a good job teaching something, what resources did he have? There were the other students in the class. There was going back to the teacher for extra help. There were internet tutors like Khan Academy. There were other adults already in his life—parents, former teachers, older siblings, for example. There was the library with supplemental books, text books, and study guides. There was the possibility of asking for a paid tutor. And there was bearing down and reading and re-reading the text book. In fact, sometimes teaching yourself is even better than being taught. All of these could put my client more on the field than in the stands, where he would feel more like a victim and an onlooker than a player.

The next time my client came to see me, when he started to tell me about something unjust that had happened. I asked him if he felt like he was in the stands, again. And he said, "I kind of wish you hadn’t told me that story."

Next time you feel like something has happened to you, try to think about what you can do to put yourself on the field. Because it is always better to feel like you can take action to overcome a problem than to feel like you are relegated to being a powerless critical observer.

To Get into College, Be a Thermostat, Not Just a Thermometer

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

If you register the temperature and don’t try to do something about it when it is too hot or too cold, you are only a thermometer—you can record the situation but not change it. If you are a thermostat, on the other hand, you can call for heat or call for cool air when you sense that the temperature is not optimal. “I heard this admonition when I was growing up,” said a recent autobiographer talking about his childhood. Being a thermostat, his dad always taught, is the goal of life. It seems that Harvard University agrees with this criterion. See their recent discussion of what makes a good candidate (“Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions,” 1/20/16) .

Being a thermostat, not just a thermometer takes the kind of confidence that not many 16-year-olds have, however. For most of their lives they have been working hard to fit in, to first learn and then uphold standards—at school, in their families, on athletic teams and in their friend-groups. Asking a 16-year-old to look outside herself, identify an issue that needs fixing and become a change-agent is challenging.

But sometimes it happens. One of my student clients decided to help children who had to undergo chemotherapy. She saw, because of her hospital volunteering, that often these kids lost their hair and felt embarrassed. So she set to work collecting hats for the children. She asked sports teams like the Yankees and she asked celebrities to donate a hat. Then she asked everyone in her high school to donate one hat. Soon she was filling boxes and delivering them to local hospitals. And the National Cancer Society gave her an award.

A student, who lived in Massachusetts, spent time going to beaches on cold nights in October and November to search for sea turtles. Sea turtles on the East coast travel north for the summer to feed; then swimming south, many get stuck in Cape Cod Bay. Then the cold water causes their muscles to freeze. In the timeline of their species, the glacial creation of Cape Cod is recent. So, when their instincts tell them to swim north to feed, and then south for winter to reproduce, they get disoriented around the relatively new peninsula of Cape Cod. Working with the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and the Gulf of Maine Institute, this student with others made and launched wind-floats to help track the ocean currents in order to predict where the turtles would wash up on shore at night.

More recently a student worked on an issue about which she wanted to know more and about which she could see many students in her high school needed guidance—the issue of teens not getting enough sleep. This student began an independent study to learn as much as possible about deterrents--such as, coffee, TV and computer screens, late-night eating--that hinder healthy sleep. She also did a survey in her school to see how many of her peers, unaware of sleep deterrents, were using them and getting less than optimal sleep. Finally when she made her presentation of the findings from the survey and research, she invited not only the independent study committee, but the high school teachers who teach health courses and the vice-principal in charge of curriculum. In the end the health teachers agreed to include her findings in a unit the following year on how to get optimal sleep.

Each of these students was exceptional in his or her ability to see and affect issues outside his or her own circle of life. Each was successful in bettering the common good. However, each of them did these things because of a developed interest in an area. If you are looking to explore areas where you might become a change-agent, start with your natural interests and look for projects there, look outside your circle of life, but not too far.. Do something like my varsity baseball player who painted all of the little league dugouts in his town. And good luck!



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