Impact of Bad Frosh Grades after Mid-Term Move?

Question: We moved very late in the school year when my son was a freshman. He attended the last 7 weeks of school and his 4th quarter grades at the new school were all C’s and 1 D in French. His grades since then have been good, his cumulative without those marks would be around 3.75 unweighted. He completed 9 college credits this summer and is taking 2 college classes plus AP English, honors precalc and honors physics this year. He was chosen to attend a selective national program over the summer.

I think the stress of moving, living in a hotel and a new school contributed to his meltdown but the schools will see those grades and they will factor into his eligibility for scholarships, national honor society and such.

What’s the best approach to mitigate the damage do a terrible freshman report card? Should he address it in his essay or let the grade trend speak for itself?

Most colleges take freshman grades with a block of salt, especially when the applicant explains extenuating circumstances. (More on that in a minute.) Some schools, such as Emory University (where I attended an information session just this week), recalculate the GPA to eliminate 9th grade entirely (a bummer for my own kid whose frosh grades were just fine!)

When your son completes his applications, he should use the “Additional Information” section of his applications (or a separate letter, if he prefers) to explain his end-of-year move and how the adjustment affected him. He probably doesn’t want to write his main application essay about this since he’s clearly moved on, and he surely has interests and achievements that are more salient in his life by now. (Also, his “hardship” essay might not stack up well against submissions from candidates who grew up in war-torn nations or in homeless shelters.) However, if your son is a strong writer, he may be able to craft a good piece about being the new kid at an odd time of year and how it changed him.

Overall, I think that your son’s “meltdown” (and I’d avoid that term in applications!) will have very little or even no impact on his college outcomes.

(posted 8/31/2014)

Posted in College Admissions    


In-State Tuition for Returning Michigan Resident?

Question: My daughter is 24 yrs old. We have lived in Michigan for 15 yrs and she graduated from high school in Michigan.

She moved to California to stay with her grandparents to get her associates degree and now is moving back here and wants to get her 4 yr degree at Michigan State. How long will she have to be back in Michigan to get in as a resident? We can not afford out of state cost.

Because your daughter graduated from a Michigan high school and because she moved to California to attend college and because her parents are STILL in Michigan, she may be able to get in-state tuition right away.

In situations like this, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Did your daughter establish official residency in California? For instance, did she give up her Michigan driver’s license and get a CA one instead? Did she finish school there and stay on to work? If she answers “Yes” to either one of these, it’s not a deal-breaker, but if she DIDN’T, it can help her to make a claim that she never officially left Michigan.

But the fact that she graduated from a Michigan high school is a biggie. Also, up until the age of 24, a student is generally presumed to be a resident in the same state as her parents, even if she technically resides elsewhere. So if your daughter just turned 24, she is really on the border between being considered a dependent and not. If you have declared her on your taxes or helped to support her in CA up until now, this documentation will be an asset when she claims Michigan residency.

Thus, your daughter should contact MSU to see where she stands. The info is below if you need it. (Note also that, in Michigan, residency determination is made by the individual institutions, so even if MSU says that your daughter must live in Michigan for a full year before she can be considered a resident again, other public universities may rule differently.)

I think that your daughter’s odds of being viewed as a Michigan resident for tuition purposes (without a 12-month waiting period) are very good. But she must confirm with the university. See the Web site below for details.

Contact info for MSU:

Associate Registrar for Registration Services Michigan State University

150 Administration Building East Lansing, MI 48824-0210

Tel: (517) 353-4490 Fax: (517) 432-3347

Email: Reg@pilot.msu.edu;

Web: www.reg.msu.edu/ROInfo/Notices/Residency.asp

Good luck!

(posted 8/24/2014)

Posted in Uncategorized    


Laptop Lock Up in the Dorm?

Question: My daughter has been assigned to Stuart Hall 6th floor (Penn State Main Campus). Do the desks have the capability of storing and locking a lap top?

This is a question for the office of Residence Life at Penn State. Write to AskResLife@psu.edu or make a call to one of the numbers listed here: http://studentaffairs.psu.edu/reslife/contacts.shtml

While many college dorm rooms do provide a locking drawer or cupboard that could hold a laptop, few students seem to bother with them. If your daughter is concerned about laptop theft, she might be better off investing in a cable lock like this one of these:

http://www.officedepot.com/a/browse/laptop-security-cable-locks/N=5+509570/

This way, she can keep her laptop locked right on her desk and won’t have to worry about stashing it in a drawer or cabinet if she takes a short bathroom or soda break.

And here’s some advice from a College Confidential discussion-forum thread on laptop security: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/penn-state-university-park/550185-laptop-dorm-room-security.html Note the comment about the locking drawer from a Penn State parent!

However, if YOU are the one worried about laptop safety and your daughter isn’t, then don’t spend the money on a lock because she’ll probably never use it.

(posted 8/10/2014)

Posted in Uncategorized    


Last-Minute Room in the Dorm?

Question: What are the chances if you signed up for a DORM ROOM TO LATE? Im on a waiting list as of last week. Do you think its possible they will call me?

This is a question for the Residence Life department at your college. “The Dean” has no way of knowing where you attend school or what the housing policies are there. But my advice would be to keep in regular contact with the housing office to “remind” them of your interest. You should ask THEM … not me … about the likelihood that you’ll get a room. Ask how high up you are on the waiting list and if it seems to be moving in your favor.

Also, if your college offers “theme” housing (e.g., for environmentalists, movie buffs, Spanish-speakers, vegetarians, …) take a look at the list of options and see if any will suit you. If so, tell the Residence Life official that you’d be happy to join a theme community. While these dorms (or floors/hallways within dorms) often fill up quickly, they are also apt to have last-minute drop-outs (like when a vegetarian chomps on her first-ever cheeseburger in August and decides she better seek alternate accommodations ;-) )

In addition, you should ask the Residence Life coordinator if there is a Facebook page or other Web site where students who didn’t get a spot in the dorms post advertisements for off-campus roommates … and then start looking.

(posted 8/2/2014)

Posted in College Life    


Are the ACT and SAT Viewed Equally?

Question: My daughter is preparing for college by studying for the ACT. Do top schools like the Ivy League or Stanford prefer the SAT over the ACT? Even though the school might say either one is OK, in your opinion does one or the other have more advantage?

Back when “The Dean” applied to college, the SAT was the top-dog test, especially at the “elite” Eastern colleges. The ACT, which was then more common in the South, West, and Midwest, was seen by some as a poor relation. But that was many moons ago (as my teenaged son is quick to remind me). And, today, both tests are viewed–and accepted–equally.

And, lest you worry that “The Dean” is receiving a kick-back from the ACT folks for saying this, I assure you that I’m not. In fact, my aforementioned son took ONLY the ACT and not the SAT. (Well, he did take a couple SAT Subject Tests, which I’ll get to in a minute.)

Having watched other students (and their parents) suffer through standardized-testing stress, expense, and early-morning Saturday wake-ups, I chose a “minimalist” testing approach for my own child. I said that he should select a test, take it just once, in the spring of his 11th-grade year, and if his scores were decent, he’d be done. If not, we agreed that he might have to try the other test.

We picked the ACT because it has a Science section (his strong suit) while the SAT Reasoning Test (known as the SAT I) doesn’t. Conversely, the ACT does not include vocabulary questions (my son’s potential Achilles Heel) and the SAT I does. So that’s why I directed him to the ACT. His results were strong, and so I said he didn’t need to do a re-test or to take the SAT I at all. (And when I pointed to his perfect score on the Science section, I reminded him of his mother’s genius. ;-) )

Several students who favored the ACT over the SAT have told me that it’s because the ACT imposes no penalty for guessing. “There was a lot less pressure on me when I took that test,” conceded one girl who took both, “because I didn’t spend any time or energy worrying about whether or not I should guess.” But conversely, although the ACT Science section is more about interpreting charts and graphs rather than about knowing that Neon is chemically inert and forms no uncharged chemical compounds, another high school junior admitted to me that, “Just seeing the word ‘Science’ in the test booklet nearly brought on a panic attack!” Thus, with test prejudice truly a thing of the past, students should feel free to take the test that fits their strengths … or even their schedules … and many may wish to try both to see where they’re most successful.

But, as noted above, although my own son was definitely an ACT guy, and I don’t have any concerns that a single college … no matter how snooty … will hold it against him, he did take a couple of SAT Subject tests, too. Some colleges that require two Subject Tests will waive the requirement for applicants who take the ACT with Writing, as my son did. But others will not. It can be confusing to keep track of which schools demand which tests. Also, students who insist that all the colleges they’re considering will accept the ACT in lieu of Subject Tests may be shooting themselves in the foot if they decide to add new schools to the list in the fall of senior year. Moreover, Subject Tests, even when not required, can help students to show off strengths in areas that the SAT I and ACT don’t cover, such as history and foreign language. In addition, students aiming for the most selective colleges often submit more than the requisite scores. So an applicant who sends in only an ACT score and no Subject Test results might be at a slight disadvantage when “competitor applicants” have submitted stellar scores in multiple subjects.

Bottom line:
The SAT and the ACT really are equally respected by all colleges, including the Ivies and Stanford, regardless of who might suggest otherwise. So as your daughter makes her college preparations, she can focus on the test which she feels will best showcase her strengths and meet her scheduling needs. I assure you that, if she doesn’t get the news she wants from her top-choice colleges, it won’t be because she took the ACT.

(posted 7/1/2014)

Posted in College Admissions    


Will Sub-Par SAT’s Keep My Daughter out of Top-Choice Colleges?

Question: My daughter has a 3.81 GPA in all Honors courses, but after two attempts at the SAT, her best score is 1760. The schools she likes list avg. SAT scores of 1900 and up. Does she stand a chance with her scores?

Most college admission officials are quick to insist that, “Course selection and grades are far more important than test scores,” and in a perfect world this is true. In OUR world, however, applicants can look strikingly similar on paper (not that anyone uses paper anymore). Many students take roughly the same courses, earn roughly the same grades, and participate in an all-too-familiar roster of activities (Key Club, yearbook, Model UN, orchestra, dance team, etc.). Thus test scores can become a tie-breaker, even if the admission folks don’t say so.

But will your daughter’s test results keep her out of her top-choice colleges? Maybe not. For starters, if her application includes other components that her target colleges “need,” this will help to take the spotlight off of her scores. Some of these “distractions” from the test scores could include:

-GPA (Is a 3.81 higher than the median at your daughter’s colleges? If so, this will help.)

-Athletic prowess (Is your daughter being recruited by a coach or, if not, might she at least fill out a roster and warm a bench?)

-Unusual or exceptional extracurriculars. (Can your daughter play the piccolo in the marching band or will the college boast that she was a national chess champion or Teen Jeopardy finalist?)

-Geographic diversity. (Do you live in a state, country, or town that is underrepresented in the college’s student body?)

-Minority, Legacy, or VIP Status (A “VIP” can be someone with a strong connection to the college itself … like the provost’s nephew … or it can mean a link to a big-wig in the world at large.)

-Full-pay (Will your daughter attend without needing financial aid or do you require only a little?)

If your daughter can say “Yes” to one or more of the options on this list, it will improve her admission odds. Other factors like a memorable essay or slam-dunk recommendations can help as well. And if her test scores are skewed—higher in the area that she claims as her strong suit and lower elsewhere—then admission folks will take this into account, too.

A couple other thoughts: Has your daughter tried the ACT? Some students do better on the ACT than on the SAT for a variety of reasons. For instance, if vocab is your child’s Achilles Heel, she’ll be delighted to discover that there aren’t any vocab questions on the ACT. And how about Subject Tests? Even if a college doesn’t require them, most schools will consider them anyway, and this can be a good way to show off abilities in areas not tested by the SAT I. For example, if your daughter does her best work in biology, American history or Spanish, good scores in those areas won’t completely offset low SAT’s but can still be a plus.

In addition, you mention that the median scores at your daughter’s colleges are in the 1900 range. So that tells “The Dean” that she’s not aiming for the Ivies or the other most hyper-competitive colleges. And that’s good news. It’s typically at the most sought-after colleges that test results can play the biggest tie-breaker role because so many applicants have near-perfect grades in a slew of AP, honors, and IB classes. So once you look beyond that exalted level, test scores can still affect outcomes, but they may not loom quite as large.

Finally, if any of your daughter’s top-choice colleges offer Early Decision, this might be a smart move. Admission officials are more likely to accept borderline candidates in the Early round than in the Regular Decision round. If you need financial aid and your daughter applies to a “binding” Early Decision college, she can bail out of the ED commitment without penalty, if her aid award isn’t adequate. (YOU, not the college, get to determine how much aid is “adequate,” but you do have to decide promptly.)

Bottom line:
Although SAT’s are often more important than students and parents are told, your daughter won’t be completely out of luck at her target colleges, especially if there are other mitigating factors that she can emphasize in her applications.

(posted 6/20/2014)

Posted in College Admissions    


Will Lower Math ACT Score Hurt Admissions Chances?

Question: I’m a rising senior now and I take my ACT test soon ,and as I’ve been doing the practice tests I’m finding that I always score in the really high 30s for Reading, English, and Science but in the mid to high 20s for Math. I’m frustrated because even though math has NEVER been my strong suit I’ve always worked very hard and taken higher level classes for the best grades in math (mostly always high Bs excepting an A in calc junior year yay!). I’m pretty hopeful that I’ll get a composite score above 30, but I’m not sure if colleges just look at the composite score at at every little component. What do they look at? I’m shooting for schools like Georgetown and UVA (resident) and I am kind of worried. Will a lower math score really hurt me in admissions for these kind of schools?

Admission officials will look at ALL of your ACT sub-scores, not just the Composite, and if one score (in this case, math) is well below the others, it will be duly noted that it is an exception. Also, if your math score is on the low side but you’ve already taken calc as a junior and gotten an “A” in it, this will be more important than your ACT score on that section.

But, even so, your math ACT score could still have some impact on your college verdicts, especially at the hyper-selective colleges like Georgetown, where your “competitor applicants” may have similar transcripts and high test results across the board. However, your other stronger ACT scores and your calc grade will help to push the math result towards the back burner.

Yet remember that the most sought-after schools are looking for applicants who not only have top grades and test scores but who also submit applications that include other distinctions … atypical extracurricular activities, extraordinary achievements, an unusual background, etc.

So if you don’t get the good news you want next year, it may not be at all connected to your math ACT score.

Hope that helps. Have a great summer.

(posted 6/20/2014)

Posted in College Admissions    


Advice for Son Expelled for Academic Integrity Violation

Question: My son was expelled from college a few months ago due to egregious academic integrity violations caused by depression and stress during the first few weeks of his freshman year. He plans to take classes during this summer and fall and get his Associate’s degree by December. He wants to apply and attend a 4 year university for the spring 2015 semester.

How much are his chances diminished because of his academic integrity violation (as a freshman, he got into multiple top 20 universities)? How are such situations evaluated by adcoms? What are some things that students in general can do in order to increase their chances at admission during their second time around?

Sorry to hear about this stressful situation. As a parent myself I feel your pain.

An egregious academic integrity violation will definitely have an impact on your son’s future options, but it would be helpful to know more about the exact nature of this violation. Although all colleges take academic integrity very seriously, there is still an unspoken pecking order which can mean that some violations (e.g., breaking or hacking into a professor’s files) may be viewed as worse than others (purchasing a short English essay off the Internet).

However, there is also a huge amount of subjectivity in the way these issues are viewed … just as there is in most aspects of the admissions process. So it’s very possible that your son will have no prayer of acceptance at one college while officials at a comparable one will at least consider his situation.

Because “top 20 universities” are extremely competitive and because many take few transfers, your son should not be optimistic about being admitted to any of the places that already said yes, but they are not entirely out of the question either … just not likely.

If there was a particular reason that a college was hot to get your son when he was in high school (e.g., he was a recruited athlete, an underrepresented minority student, a VIP), then these factors will also come into play when his application is reviewed. Some colleges may want him enough to overlook his past infraction; others will not.

If I knew more about this infraction, I could offer more targeted advice, but in general, here’s what I recommend for him when he’s ready to reapply:

–If he will be attending a two-year college to earn his Associate’s degree, he should talk to a transfer counselor at that school to ask about “articulation agreements” with four-year colleges that would guarantee your son admission as long as he fulfills specified course requirements and earns a specified GPA at the two-year college. If there are articulation agreements, then your son will know which standards he can meet in order to have a “safety” school lined up … one that will not judge him based on his earlier expulsion. (However, your son does need to disclose the expulsion to the transfer counselor in order to make sure that the articulation agreement doesn’t exclude candidates with ethics violations on their record, even if the violation came from another institution.)

–Your son’s applications should include a statement from him explaining what he did that got him expelled, what led him to this, what he’s learned from the episode, and why he is certain it won’t happen again.

–Assuming that your son was–or still is–being treated for his depression and stress, he should submit a recommendation from his therapist attesting to his improvement and possibly outlining an ongoing treatment plan, if there is one.

–Your son should try to build a relationship (or several) with professors at his two-year school so that these teachers can then write references for him that specifically attest to his academic integrity. It would be wise (albeit uncomfortable) for your son to confide in these professors, explaining his past problem and making it clear that it is behind him. Your son may even want to bend over backwards to prove to these new profs that his bad behavior is history. For instance, if his egregious violation was plagiarism, he could work with his new professors to hone in on and develop paper or research topics and then meet with the professors periodically to discuss his own ideas and his research techniques in a way that proves that, this time, his work is original.

–Don’t rush. It may take your son more than a summer and fall to complete his AA without pressure. Unless he can finish up easily by December, it may be wiser to encourage him to stretch it out through next spring. This could alleviate some of the stress and also allow him extra time to build the aforementioned relationships with faculty members. Moreover, he might have an easier transition to a new four-year university if he starts in the fall rather than at mid-year. Although I suspect that your son is anxious to get back on the track of what he views as his “normal” life, and although I’m sure you want this too, don’t be overly hasty. You could be turning up the heat in the pressure cooker yet again.

Finally, try to look for silver linings. I see at least one. When my own son, a high school junior, was inducted into the National Honor Society this spring, the keynote speaker was his AP Stats teacher whose talk was about making mistakes. She candidly revealed some of the biggies in her own life and emphasized that the true mistake is not the making of errors but the inability to learn from them. She told the parents in the room that, by allowing their sons and daughters to make mistakes now and to rebound from them, they will be helping these children to be more happy and successful later on.

So this whole debacle should be a learning experience for your son, and, as awful as it may feel at the moment, try to view it as a stepping stone to a more productive, informed future than he might have had without it.

Best of luck to you … you may need it along the way.

(posted 6/6/2014)

Posted in College Admissions    


Impact of Lower Scores from Second Testing

Question: My child has given SAT once and is registered to give it again on June7th. He is not well prepared. If his scores from the June 7th test are lower than the previous time, will it affect his admission process negatively?

Does he have to report his SAT scores from all attempts for college admission? Or can he choose to report only the best SAT score? He is planning to go to one of the in-state universities.

Some colleges require that students report ALL scores while others allow students to select “Score Choice,” meaning that they only submit their best results. The majority of public universities allow “Score Choice,” but the policies vary from school to school.

The colleges that require all scores almost always tell their applicants that they will only officially “use” the best scores, but they will typically still see everything.

Keep in mind, however, that it is to the college’s advantage … and not just the student’s … to use the best test scores, because then the college can include these higher scores when publishing annual averages.

So if your son does worse tomorrow, it should not have a negative impact on his admission verdicts. And if you feel that he has not adequately prepared, remember that often the mere act of re-taking a take can lead to higher scores, even if the student didn’t have the time … or inclination … to properly study.

Good luck … to both of you.

(posted 6/6/2014)

Posted in College Admissions    


Do I Have a Shot at a Private College?

Question: Will I be able to get into a private college? I am just finishing 10th grade and I have a 3.24 gpa; I’m in Choir; I play the guitar; I do a lot of community service through my church; I tutor elementary school students. Thank you so much!

You seem to be under the impression that a private college is harder to get into than a public one. But the truth is that SOME private colleges are among the hardest in the world to get into (e.g., Harvard, Stanford, MIT …) while others are the EASIEST. I won’t name names here, but there are plenty of private colleges that admit nearly everyone who applies. The majority of four-year public colleges have higher admission standards than these private schools, although the standards can vary greatly.

As a sophomore with a 3.24 GPA, you will probably have many options … both private and public … although the more selective colleges will expect a GPA that is higher than yours. (However, a range of factors such as the level of the classes you’ve taken, your family background, and other life experiences and challenges will also be considered before your final verdict is issued.)

You should try College Confidential’s “SuperMatch” to identify colleges that might meet your current preferences and that also admit students with a GPA in your range. Go to http://www.collegeconfidential.com/college_search/ .Then answer the preference questions, being sure to select your current GPA under the “My Scores” heading. Note, however, that it’s still really early for you to hone in on specific schools, and–without SAT or ACT results–it’s also too early to get a really reliable sense of where you are most likely to get accepted.

When you select your SuperMatch preferences, if you choose “Private” under the “Public or Private” heading, and then “Must Have,” you will see a list of some of the private colleges that might be good fits for you.

But please remember that just because a college is “private,” it definitely doesn’t mean that it is BEST. In fact, some private colleges charge high tuitions (that may require students and their parents to take out big loans) and then don’t provide an education that is any better than what is available at a much lower cost at a public school.

So when it’s time to choose your college, do your “homework.” Check out average student debt, graduation rates, job placement rates, etc. and keep your mind open to both public and private, at least in the early stages of your search.

(posted 6/5/2014)

Posted in College Admissions