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Articles / Applying to College / The Year In Review

Dec. 28, 2015

The Year In Review

Well, here we are at the end of another year. For those of us of “advanced years," it's hard to imagine that 12 months have come and gone. Such is the perspective of aging.

Looking back across 2015, we can see familiar happenings related to college, along with some new trends. The familiar includes the early January scramble to get applications submitted before the admissions committees return from their holiday break. Let's not forget the late-March-early-April admission decisions that arrive every spring, carrying the good and bad news for all those high school seniors who applied Regular Decision.

The end of the school year in May and June brings a summer filled with opportunity to work summer jobs, internships, visit colleges, and just plain relax. Summer flies by for high schoolers the same as entire years zoom past those of us older folks. Come late August-early September, it's back to school, with all those plans for college preparation, especially for juniors and even sophomores.

Fall includes colored, falling leaves and seniors getting their Early Action, Early Decision applications ready for November 1-15 deployment. This is a hectic time of year that includes dealing with academics, activities, sports, and maybe even a part-time job (and maybe a full-time boyfriend/girlfriend).

Rounding out the year for all the EA/ED applicants is the good news-bad news of mid-December when the joy of acceptance, the agony of denial, and the purgatory of deferral come home to roost. Another yearly cycle ends for students who are working toward their future and dealing with the uncertainties and realities of negotiating their teenage worlds.

So, as I was doing a year-end review of what I shared with you this past year, I thought I would pluck a few references to some of the almost 100 posts I've brought forth here on Admit This! in case you may have missed some while working or visiting campuses. This isn't a Top 10 list by any means, because it's hard to pin down which areas of college knowledge are most important or pertinent. Individual needs are highly variable, so just consider this a kind of grab bag of links to my archives.

Here, then, are my 10 picks from 2015's postings. Maybe you'll find an excerpt of special interest for your needs or information. If so, just click the link and enjoy.


Holy Holistics, Batman!

I started a thread on the College Confidential discussion forum entitled “3 Holistic College Admissions Trends to Watch." It has inspired some spirited parsing among the regulars there. I thought that today's post might inform those of you unfamiliar with so-called “holistic" admissions about a rather unusual approach used by some colleges to select their incoming classes.

First of all, as you will see from the forum posters' quotes that I will cite below, there are varying definitions of the holistic admissions approach. For the sake of clarity, allow me to give you my definition.

I see holistic admissions as a willingness by the admissions committee to consider The Big Picture of its applicants and not just make decisions based on some stringent, fundamentally quantified benchmark(s). In other words, applicants who, in the view of their holistic evaluators, have more going for them than just sheer numbers (SAT scores, class rank, GPA, etc.) stand generally as much chance for admission as those stellar “quantified" applicants do.

Of course, as you'll see below, this leads to the argument that mostly “lesser" colleges market their holistic approach in order to inspire more applicants so that they can, in turn, deny more applicants and, thus, increase their selectivity, appearing to be more competitive and hopefully rise in those subjective rankings. Granted, this view is pretty much cynical and may or may not reflect the true intentions of the “holisticians," as I call them.

The Value of Liberal Arts Courses

I was a liberal arts major at Penn State University. I graduated from the College of Arts and Architecture. Although my major was Music History and Literature, there were lots of other liberal arts courses enhancing my music-specific classes. I credit these courses for stretching my understanding of the world around me.

Today, many students (and especially their parents) are strongly focused on what's known as “pre-professionalism." That is, they want to take the shortest trip between high school and a solid job that pays well and offers hope for a lifetime career. The road they prefer to take through college to arrive at that preferred destination should be, they hope, filled with practical, hands-on courses that apply directly to the desired work's skills. So what should we think of those courses that fall outside of the pre-professional category, the ones that don't instill hands-on skills?

I'm talking about so-called “core curriculum" courses. What is a core curriculum and why do colleges require their students to take those courses?

I did some research on this question and found a very informative presentation relating to this on the Colgate University site. I like their perspective on liberal arts courses:

“Colgate's Core program is a defining feature of its liberal arts curriculum. The Core Curriculum at Colgate takes seriously the faculty's mission to engage students in the fullness of a liberal arts education: to learn, reflect, and live with an expanding awareness of one's responsibility to self, community, and the larger world. As such, Colgate's Core Curriculum aims to prepare students for rich and fulfilling lives in a context of rapid change here and around the globe." …

College Admission Results: A Plan B

This time every year, Regular Decision college admission decisions begin to emerge. Early Decision (ED), ED II, and Early Action results have already been issued. Spring decisions are the most numerous and can cause the most anxiety because of their proximity to the May 1 enrollment deadline. My point in this post is to make you aware of a Plan B, just in case your best laid college application plans take a major turn south.

There is always a possibility that things might not turn out as expected for you. For example, if you didn't allow for the increasing competitiveness of the higher-ranked schools, you may have applied to too many “reach" schools and got shut out. On the other hand, maybe you had good acceptance success but your financial aid packages were either deficient or loaded with too many loans (or both).

Well, there's still hope for those of you who may be sweating it out over the next month or so: The National Association for College Admission Counseling's (NACAC's) College Openings Update: Space, Financial Aid and Housing Still Available For Fall 2014. This information is from last year because the list of still-remaining openings hasn't been issued yet. I wanted to alert you to this resource so that you'll be able to access it quickly, in case of your need for a fast Plan B.

Here's how NACAC's news release explains it (remember, this is not the current list, which will be forthcoming later this spring):

“More than 250 colleges and universities still have openings, aid and housing available to qualified freshman and/or transfer students for the Fall 2014 semester, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling's (NACAC's) annual College Openings Update (formerly the 'Space Availability Survey')."

Dealing with Student Loans

Families in the “full pay" for college category are in the minority. As we've discussed before here, there are a number of ways to find out how much your family will have to pay for your college education. The FAFSA, CSS Profile, and college-specific financial aid forms are all intended to assess a family's ability to pay for a specific college. There are also the Net Price Calculators that can give a pretty accurate ballpark of this amount without having to go through the formalities of the official aid forms.

Most students (and families), including some among the full-pay category, will have to deal with student loans. If you are a regular reader of my posts here, you know that I have beaten the drum about student loan debt quite loudly. Because of the sky-high (and ever-rising) cost of higher education these days, borrowing money, either by college students alone and/or through the co-signing of family members, has become the unfortunate norm. In many cases, students graduating from college, with undergraduate, graduate, or professional degrees, face a lifetime of debt due to the fact that their loan balances exceed their ability to pay them off during a reasonable length of time.

“Necessary evil" would be a fair term to refer to student loans. They are a two-edged sword. On the one hand, they enable students to acquire college-degree credentials, for what that's worth in today's job market. On the other hand, the relative ease with which loans are available enable students to get fast cash to initiate or continue their higher education goals. Of course, there's no such thing as a free lunch, and students who have borrowed money for college must pay it back, or their families must pay it back if the student does not have the adequate resources to do so.

Some parents feel an obligation to “help" their children with this loan debt situation by making the payments even when their son or daughter has encountered relative success and independence in the job market. A friend of mine has continued paying his son's college loans decades after his son graduated. The son is now making three-to-four times as much as the father, but Dad continues to pay the monthly tab despite his son's high income. I have counseled my friend that he should turn over the remaining debt to his son. That would help his son to enhance his credit score, but my friend refuses, in typical enabler fashion. …

Summertime Can Be Essay Time

Summer has officially begun. Every June 21, I always remember an old song (ancient to most of you reading this) — Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days Of Summer. Part of the lyrics:

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,

Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer.

Just fill your basket full of sandwiches and weenies,

Then lock the house up, now you're set.

The idealized image of this song is one of a laid back time when we can just relax and enjoy the good times of summer.

Well, if you're a rising high school senior planning on going to college, I certainly hope that this summer for you isn't lazy or crazy. Hazy is okay, though, since summer heat and humidity is part of the deal. Summertime can be essay time for those of you who aren't lazy or involved in other activities that may have you running around in a tizzy, as my grandmother used to say.

One of my goals for this summer is to suggest that, by the time you return to school in September, you will have completed your main Common Application essay. I emphasize the importance of essays here in my blog, perhaps at times repetitively, for a specific reason: Essays are a critical part of college applications. No other part of the application can so clearly represent the individualism of the applicant and illustrate who s/he is and how s/he thinks. So, ignore the impact of your essay(s) at your own risk.

Thus, it's now time to start thinking about essays, if you haven't already done so.

You will most likely be using the Common Application for at least some (if not all) of your target schools. Chances are, even if you don't end up using the Common App (unlikely), you will still need to write an essay on a general topic such as those that the Common App requires.

Here are the new 2015-2016 Common Application essay prompts:

“We are pleased to share the 2015-2016 Essay Prompts with you. New language appears in italics:"

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

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? …

Rejections, Deferrals, and Wait Lists: Part 1

This post is the first in a series aimed at high school seniors who have begun or are about to begin their college application process. In past posts, I have covered just about every aspect of the college process, from choosing candidate schools, to visiting campuses (“campi"?), dealing with the Common Application, writing essays, etc., etc.

In this series, though, I want to be proactive, thinking ahead, to prepare seniors for the possible inevitability of a denial, deferral, or even a wait listing. It's important to understand the current state of college admissions, particularly the state of competitive admissions, and especially the state of extremely competitive admissions — the Ivy League and other so-called “elite" schools. It's time to get your mind right, seniors!

When you play the high-stakes game of college admissions these days, sometimes you may lose. Rejection comes with the territory. It can hurt badly. The good news, though, is that things seem to tend toward working out for the best — most of the time.


My experience has shown me one thing for sure: There are no sure things. Much of life is a series of carefully — and sometimes not so carefully — considered ventures. Quick-and-dirty folk wisdom tells us to “Do our best and good things will happen." Sure, that's neat. Many of us, though, suffer an excess of after-the-fact self-criticism. “If only I had done [this] or [that], things would have been different." Those are words of torment. We can second-guess ourselves until the Mother Ship arrives, but it won't change reality.

The great composer Beethoven, when faced with inevitable deafness and an onslaught of physical ills, clenched his fist and proclaimed, “I will seize Fate by the throat!" And he did. He went on to tremendous things. I know, I know, you're not Beethoven. However, the message here for high schoolers considering the serious challenge of applying to selective (especially super-selective) colleges is that much of your likelihood for success lies not so much in winning a wrestling match with Fate as it does with creating a savvy plan. …

Parental Prerogatives

In my line of work a an independent college admissions counselor, I deal a lot with parents. They fall into two main groups: (1) those who would be considered so-called “helicopter" parents (usually mothers), and (2) “the uninitiated," those who know that the college process is a significant challenge but who also know that they don't know much about it.

The most frequent type of parent I deal with is the Mom or Dad who is eager (many times anxious) for their son or daughter to get into the Ivy League or other “elite" college or university. Inside this demographic dwell an additional two types: (1) parents who know that their child is a contender for admission to one of these top schools, and (2) those who have no idea about how difficult (and random) the ultra-competitive college admissions process has become.

Accordingly, I would like to address both of these groups with some of my accumulated wisdom from decades of counseling. The focus of my words here is aimed at the parents of younger children, those children who will eventually be heading on to higher education in the increasingly difficult competitive admissions arena.

First of all, parents need to confront the question, “Can it really be that hard?"

Ethan Bronner, in an old but particularly apt New York Times article on the difficulties of elite admissions, quotes Dartmouth College's former dean of admissions, Karl Furstenberg, on the subject of the high number of qualified applicants. Furstenberg said, “This makes our job harder, but it forces us to look at the intangibles … how many more excellent students can we turn away?" Dartmouth's problem isn't unique, by any means. Just take the time to check the current overall acceptance rates of the Top 100 schools in America to see how intense the situation has become.

Last year was, without doubt, the toughest year ever for college admissions, with Stanford University leading the way with a 5% (no, that's not a typo; it's five percent) acceptance rate. Many seniors with near perfect standardized test scores and other stellar accolades were either rejected from or waitlisted at the elites. I find this situation almost unbelievable. Obviously, sheer academic-numeric superiority won't kick open Ivy doors. One crucial key lies in Dean Furstenberg's word: intangibles. …

Ivy Lust? One Guy's Perspective

As a co-founder of College Confidential back in the late summer of 2001, I have watched with interest over the past 14 years the types of students and parents whom CC has attracted. While the many articles, features, and resources CC offers can help high schoolers and their families seeking any level of college, the clear majority of site visitors and participants are those seeking admission (or transfer) to the Ivy League and other so-called elite colleges and universities.

The reality of the challenge of gaining admission to these exclusive schools is easy to discern. The statistics are plentiful. One of these schools, Stanford University, for example, currently denies 95% of its undergraduate applicants. For those of you non-mathematicians, that's a 5% acceptance rate. Most of the Ivies are in the single-digit acceptance rate category. Even the top non-Ivy schools are in the teens-or-tougher acceptance rate category.

Maybe you or your parents are swept up in the frenzy to “get in." Let's look a little deeper.

What is it with all this Ivy League ranting and raving? Where does it come from? What perpetuates it? What should we do about it?

These questions seem reasonable in light of the spiraling number of applications the eight official Ivy League schools receive every year. Of course, there are other “Ivy" schools out there too. Just peruse the top 25 U.S. News national universities and liberal arts colleges lists. There you will find the other “elite" schools.

This issue of Ivy lust has always intrigued me and I must admit that I too have been smitten by it. How can I ever forget May 1, 1990? That's the day that my wife and I first set foot on the gloriously Gothic campus of Princeton University. We had just driven to Princeton from Carlisle, a small town near Harrisburg, just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Carlisle is home to Dickinson College, another national liberal arts college.

Perhaps if you will indulge some of my personal reflection here, it will help you understand the strange alluring power of these campuses. You may have even experienced this yourself or, at some point in your college process (as an applicant or a parent), you will come under the almost magical spell they can generate.

Those first two days of May in the Northeast that long-ago year were almost as memorable for me because of the weather as they were for the glorious state of the Princeton campus. To this day, my wife still refers to “a Princeton sky" on particularly clear sunny days. Thus, the stage was set as we headed north out of Trenton toward the Princeton campus. …

“The Demands"

Unless you've been vacationing on Mars the past several weeks, you no doubt have heard about the demands college students have been making on their respective administrations and fellow students. With all the hoopla about the higher-profile schools, perhaps you have not seen or heard of the demands of students at schools relatively ignored by the media.

Today, I would like to illuminate some of those less-well-known issues (demands) at five of those lower-profile institutions. I'll reference two main sources of information:

(1) the Web site entitled “The Demands" and

(2) the College Confidential discussion forum.

The former will spell out student demands in explicit detail. The latter will shed the light (or dark) of opinion on some of these demands.

First, here is the introductory text from TheDemands.org:

Across the nation, students have risen up to demand an end to systemic and structural racism on campus. Here are their demands.Note: These demands were compiled from protesters across the country. These are living demands and will grow and change as the work grows and changes. If you have demands that are not listed, please send them to sam@thisisthemovement.org or @samswey.For information about upcoming actions and opportunities to get involved, visit BlackLiberationCollective.org. List of Campuses Represented (last updated 12.1.15):
Here is the list of schools (with links to their demands):
  1. Black Liberation Collective #StudentBlackOut Demands (Multiple Colleges) (Link to Demands)
  2. University of Missouri (Link to Demands)
  3. Amherst College (Link to Demands)
  4. Atlanta University Center Consortium (Spelman, Morehouse, Clark Atlanta, ITC) (Link to Demands)
  5. Bard College (Link to Demands)
  6. Beloit College (Link to Demands)
  7. Boston College (Link to Demands)
  8. Brandeis University (Link to Demands)
  9. Brown University (Link to Demands)
  10. California Polytechnic State University (Link to Demands) …


Parents And College Costs

We've been discussing the issues of college value, Return on Investment (ROI), and the effect of college costs on students (loans) and families (financial sacrifices). Those are heavy considerations that require much analysis before commitment.

Today, as somewhat of an extension of those topics, I want to share some ideas and information about two additional areas:

1. Parents' ideas about controlling college costs, and

2. How parental financial support can affect student academic performance.

Parents are probably among the best judges of suggestions about how colleges costs could be controlled. The practicality of implementing those ideas, however, is another matter.

Kaplan Test Prep and Money magazine, two resources that provide pertinent information for families involved in higher education matters, conducted a survey and published their findings under the headline:

Parents Weigh in On Ways to Control College Costs, But None Win Majority Support

Let's take a look at some of that. From a Kaplan press release …

With the cost of college a hot-button issue in the political arena, a variety of proposed remedies have been floated by regulators, legislators and advocacy groups — but what do those who are most directly impacted think? A new survey from Kaplan Test Prep and MONEY magazine of parents of prospective college students finds mixed support for many of these proposals (the e-survey was conducted in October 2015 and includes responses from 536 parents of prospective college students):

  • Ending Federal Aid in Exchange for Two Years of Free Tuition: A plurality (45%) of parents would agree to a proposal that ends all federal financial aid and tax breaks, if that meant free college for two years for all students, regardless of family income. Twenty-nine percent (29%) oppose this idea; 26% are undecided.
  • Living At Home: Another 44% of parents would agree to a proposal that would give students a free year of college if he or she lived at home that year and took online courses; 32% don't agree with this proposal; and the remaining 24% are undecided.


So there you have excerpts from a 10-post sampling of a year's worth of Admit This! content. I hope you find something of interest among these highlights.

Finally, I want to wish my readers and their families a very Happy New Year in 2016. May you have health, happiness, and opportunity in all that you do. May all your applications bring you good news.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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