All the buzz about college admissions this week is not just about the scandal of rich folks and celebrities. We are in the height of the college admissions season. For regular, non-rolling admissions it started on March 15th and extends through early April.

The acceptance and rejection chatter naturally gets many parents of underclassmen (and middle schoolers) anxiously thinking if they should be planning ahead and how.

Recognize there is no universal bullet that will guarantee admissions for any student these days, this week’s controversy aside. However, there are some guiding principles that will  increase your student’s chances and help you, and your family, maintain your sanity for what is, increasingly, an insane process.

Yes, No, or Maybe?

Start by being reasonable about the chances of getting in. It’s no secret that the first round of the admissions process puts students in three piles. Yes, No, or Maybe. It’s all academic, and it’s mostly predictable.

YES.  This pile is for students who pretty much exceed all of the school’s admissions statistics: they have the GPA, the ACT/SAT scores, and strong extra-curriculars. Keep in mind, that if you are aiming for the Ivy Plus (or comparable) it’s really hard for any candidate to be a shoo-in unless you’re an athlete, legacy or have exceptional talent. No one should expect more than a MAYBE. The caveat: if your student far exceeds the stats, the school might decide you have no intention of coming and reject because you are “too good”.

NO.  Unless you’re a legacy, athlete or have another exceptional talent, if you don’t meet the school’s stats for GPA and ACT/SAT scores don’t expect to get in. Not to say it couldn’t happen, but you definitely don’t want to count on it. Just a reminder for those with the grades but not the test scores, there are plenty of good test-optional schools. And this number is only likely to grow. However, if your heart is set on a school that requires test scores and you have the GPA but not the ACT/SAT scores consider contacting us or a Mindprint tutor for our proprietary, efficient approach to boost scores.

MAYBE.  Odds are, this is where most students fall when it comes to their top choice colleges. And this is where good advice does make the difference.

From Maybe to Yes

Colleges are looking for a reason to admit, not a reason to deny. Everything in your application should be giving a reason to admit. We can’t emphasize this point enough.

Stop thinking “should” Lots of folks will try to give advice about what else you “should do” to get in. If you have the grades, scores and activities there are no more “shoulds” left. You’ve checked all those boxes, so don’t fixate on doing more. Instead, identify what it is about you that will make you stand out from all the other maybes in the pile. Remember, colleges are looking for a reason to admit. Focus on how you will ensure the admissions counselors notice you are special. Go deep within you, not broader.

Show sincere commitment to something (anything) Schools are looking not just for good students, but for good students who will be great alumni. They are seeking skills that are markers of career success: conscientiousness, perseverance, and leadership. These are traits that are most likely to come through your extra-curriculars, but they might also be reflected in your essays and your letters of recommendations. When deciding which extra-curriculars to highlight, choose the ones that reflect those traits. When choosing your references, identify teachers or mentors who have seen you demonstrate those skills and can highlight those traits in your recommendation letters.

Be Genuine Breathe life into your application. Show the admissions committee you are someone they want to have on campus. A reason to admit could be that you are likable. Very subjective, very intangible, and yet, very important. Students usually show their personality through the essays, but their choice of extra-curriculars can be important. And those recommendations are a big factor when looking for genuineness. If the recommendations are good, but inconsistent when it comes to strengths, it could be a red flag for an admissions reader.

More Helpful Links

Strategies to support test prep

Strategies to support conscientiousness

Strategies to support perseverance and growth mindset

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