It’s the end of the school year, the time when admissions officers, college counselors, students, and parents typically breathe a sigh of relief that the college admission process is over for this year’s Seniors.
Before we close the books on 2016-2017, however, let’s take a minute to reflect on how things went this year. Once again, the number of applications to colleges broke records, admit rates fell, and colleges continued to fill significant portions of their incoming classes with Early Decision applicants. With all the mania, it seems that college outcomes are becomingly increasingly unpredictable.
In the midst of this frenzy, our students had a very successful year. 90% of them had good news early, and by April they had been admitted to almost 120 colleges across the US, UK, Canada, and Europe.
Even more importantly, our students are enrolling this fall at colleges they would describe as “best-fit” choices. What do we mean? Best-fit colleges provide outstanding academics, of course, but also opportunities to broaden extracurricular, social, and personal horizons. In short, our students are headed to communities where they can be happy and grow.
So how did they do it? What do kids and families who found very different “best-fit” colleges have in common with one another?
They identified and enjoyed authentic interests and pursuits.
People often ask us if there are specific activities that will look good on college applications. Our answer is always the same: No. Of course, students should take an appropriately rigorous course load, but colleges also value the investment a student makes in developing his or her own interests in ways that are fun and challenging.
One of our students enjoyed a part-time job that helped him learn how to work with demanding customers, because he wanted to explore his interest in business. Another discovered a passion for public policy by volunteering for a non-profit that delivers health care to uninsured patients. In both cases, our students bridged existing interests with new ones and had fun along the way.
They set limits and respected them.
Each year, students’ schedules get more and more packed, and they just can’t do everything. For some, setting limits meant crafting a testing plan and sticking to it, instead of wondering if “just one more” retake would boost their scores. For others, it meant shutting off electronics 30 minutes earlier than usual – even if their homework was not absolutely perfect – to go to sleep.
The college search process forces students to ask themselves big questions about who they are and what they want. Students who invested in forward planning were better able to manage their time. They could set limits, get enough sleep, and carve out time with friends and family. And they were better able to consider and complete essay and application work, thoughtfully and productively.
They formed meaningful relationships with adults.
Colleges want to admit students who are a fit for their campus and community, as well as their classrooms. Thus, articulating who you are, and what you value, becomes ever more important. A key way for students to develop this ability is by sharing their interests with adults and asking for feedback when appropriate.
One of our students found it helpful to talk to her Chemistry teacher about summer programs to confirm an interest in engineering. Our athletic recruits chatted with coaches to express their interest in being scholar-athletes, and some realized small, liberal arts colleges might be a great option. Talking with adults early and often paved the way for these students to express themselves clearly when writing application essays, talking to admissions officers, and attending alumni interviews.
The more opportunities our students seized to get to know themselves, the easier it became to prioritize their wants and needs for their college choice. Finding a best fit isn’t magical; it’s methodical, and it can be done.
Congratulations to the Class of 2016! It’s been wonderful to be part of your journey and we wish you the best!