Sep 17


Welcome Class of 2019!

Dear Seniors:

Thank you for all who attended our Senior/Parent College Night–we had a really good turnout and I was so happy to see everyone!  I think that having the opportunity to meet with the seniors before classes started was helpful—and I invite feedback on how to improve communications this year!  Almost everyone has made an individual appointment—those who haven’t or who have missed theirs, please try to make an appointment this week!

Next week I’ll be attending the annual conference for the National Association for College Admissions Counseling in Salt Lake City.  High School College Counselors and College Admissions Officers from all over the nation will be there.  Rest assured, colleges will not be processing applications next week!

However, I will have an opportunity to connect with many colleges—so if any of you have specific colleges you want me to reach out to, please let me know before this Friday.

Here is a summary of what was covered at the Senior College Night:

College Decision-Making

Colleges are aware of the kind of values and academic rigor that makes their college unique, and look for students—in terms of academic ability, personal qualities and interests–who will enhance their campus and who have the potential to be successful there.  Their “action”—admitting, deferring or denying students—throws the ball back into the students’ court and the student must decide what steps they will next take and where they will actually attend. The factors colleges use to make their determination of fit are the following:

Academics—First, they look at the high school itself, the record of success of former students, if any, and the general reputation of the school.  They look at the school profile and the courses offered.

Next they look at the student’s transcript—what choices did they make academically?  Did they take the most challenging classes available to them and were they successful in those classes?  The Grade Point Average is a good indicator of work ethic as well as academic promise.

Finally they look at grade trend, hoping to see a constant or upward trend.  This is a good chance for “late bloomers” to really shine.  If there is an inconsistent or downward trend, colleges will look for an explanation—often an illness or family situation—that will fill in the gaps.

Note: a growing number of colleges are requiring students to self-report their grades and courses throughout high school rather than having the high school send official transcripts.  This includes colleges on the Coalition App and also all University of California colleges. This information will also be on the Common App.  You want to have handy a current, accurate copy of your transcript and schedule.

Test Scores—Standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT have been used for generations, and are considered to be valid predictors of success in college.  Often they are used to verify that the high school grades are not inflated.  Students who are good test takers can have an advantage here—to an extent.  High test scores with low grades often signal that the student has not been working up to his or her potential or has poor time management skills.

Some colleges “superscore” using the highest subscore from different tests if a student submits several.  This is most often used with SAT but some colleges superscore ACT’s as well, for admission or scholarship consideration.  Even if they don’t recalculate the composite, some colleges (one example is U of Michigan) will at least consider the highest individual subscores.  Even if you have taken the ACT or SAT in your junior year, often students find their scores go up in the fall of their senior year.  Fall test scores can be used even for early applications.

Growing trends:

One is the “test optional” choice, where students can choose to submit test scores or not.  Sometimes a paper written for a class with teacher grade and comments and/or a personal interview is required if the student chooses to not submit test scores.  Several colleges allow students to self-report their test scores, rather than paying ACT or SAT for each test sent.  You can find this information in the Common App, on the college website, or a list is available at:

If none of your colleges accept self-reported scores you may want to skip the step of entering your scores on the Common App, but if they do, it can save you some money.

Many colleges are now eliminating the ACT or SAT optional writing section as a requirement, although they will still keep it as an option.  That means if your only test with writing is your worst one, you don’t need to send that one.  However, as mentioned above if any of your subscores are higher on a test, you might want colleges to see those.

A note about SAT II Subject Tests:  Check your college to see if these are required!  Several colleges require of them—your choice of subject unless you want a curriculum like Engineering which will require Math and Physics or Chemistry.  SAT II’s are given (but not taken!)  on the same test days as SAT I’s.

Student Essay

We like to stress that this is not an essay at all, but a personal statement, or “story” where the student is able to express in writing an aspect of their personality not apparent in the rest of the application.  Ultimately, every “essay” needs to paint a picture of “who you are” and “how you became who you are” in a way that the reader can see you clearly. Remember, the college may receive thousands of applications, and your entire application may be given as little as 2-10 minutes. Your statement needs to stand out.   

It needs to be a story that no one in the entire world could write but you.  This is probably the hardest part of the application.  Students have a hard time “bragging” about themselves, and sometimes think that flowery language or grand ideas are required.  What you want to do is to illustrate through examples the qualities that will make you a perfect fit for the college.  Since this is not easy, we recommend you have an college counselor look them over first, and then an English teacher and additionally other people you trust. Often a student writes several drafts before they are done.  The importance of this part of the application cannot be overemphasized.

Letters of Recommendation

Most colleges will require a letter of recommendation from the counselor and one or two academic teachers (English, math, science, social studies, foreign language—some colleges prefer teachers from one “right brain” and one “left brain” subject) from Junior or Senior year. Some colleges are preferring one or two teachers and one from an “other” (coach, employer etc.) who will say something completely different from what a teacher sees.

Colleges on the Common Application will receive the School Report (including transcript) and Teacher Evaluations electronically.  The student will first Waive your right to see the recommendations and then “invite” the counselor and teacher recommenders, who will receive an email.  We then submit the reports with recommendation letters online.  Students can track when they are sent through their Common App account.

Colleges not on the Common App will often have their own online form that is sent to the recommender after the student begins their application. Some (a declining number) may receive letters mailed directly or emailed as a PDF.  Often these colleges will have a “High School Form” or “Transcript Release Form” that the student will print and sign and bring to the college counselor as a way to “invite” the counselor to send the letter and transcript. Check each college website to find this form.  If there is no form, we use a generic form or cover letter.  You might want to gently remind teachers about writing a letter especially if you are not using the Common App.

List of Activities/Awards

While excellent community service, extra-curricular and leadership activities do not make up for a weak academic record, they can be tie-breakers with a highly selective applicant pool, and are often criteria used for scholarship consideration. The activities you participate in show your passion and commitment as well as time management skills. You should have created a formal resume, with activities categorized by year and or by type of activity or award.  For the Common App, you will enter up to 10 of these activities in priority order and also succinctly describe their meaning to you.

Speaking of scholarships, many colleges that offer merit scholarships automatically consider all students who apply.  Some colleges, however, have separate scholarship applications.  Make sure to look over the college website carefully to make sure you don’t miss an application or a deadline!

College Decisions

There are four types of college decision deadlines, and three types of college decisions:

Rolling Decision—Many state universities read and accept students as the applications come in.  Early applications may mean earlier decisions. All colleges will have a “final” deadline, but some colleges fill their freshman class before then.

Regular Decision—Colleges that read all of their applications at one time and give out all decisions together are called “Precipice” schools.  Students must submit their applications not later than the regular decision deadline or they will not be considered.  Often this date is January 1, but could be January 15 or February 1.  You need to check the Common App or college website.  Students may want to submit their applications ahead of time, but they will sit in a stack until the college begins to read them, generally in February, after they have received the student’s seventh semester grades.  These decisions are generally given in April.

Early Action—Some colleges will base their decision on the test scores and transcript through the junior year only.  They guarantee a “decision” within about a month or six weeks of receiving the application.  This is a good option for students who do not believe that their senior grades or additional test scores are needed to make them qualified. They have the benefit of knowing their decision early on, but still have until May 1 to make a decision. This is NOT “binding.”  The University of Michigan and Michigan State University are among colleges that encourage students to apply “early action.”  For U of M, after the November 1 EA deadline, any applications will be considered on a Rolling Decision basis after ALL Early Action applicants have received their decisions—MSU will utilize the “Rolling” option after February 1.

Single Choice Early Action—Used by some highly selective colleges, like Harvard or Yale, This option restricts students to applying to only one early action choice, other than a public university (eg. U of M) but is NOT binding.  Check your college—you should be able to apply Regular Decision or ED 2 to another school once you have received your decision.

Early Decision—Similar to Early Action in that the decision is made without senior grades, but in this case the decision is “binding:” students and parents sign a contract stating that if the student is accepted to the college, they will definitely go there and will withdraw all other applications. Generally there is a small window of time to review their financial aid package and may decline for financial reasons (you need to submit your financial aid application along with or soon after the ED deadline), but this is a serious step.

There are pros and cons to this.  If a student in fall of their senior year is absolutely certain of the college they want to attend and have a strong record, there is some evidence that Early Decision helps their chances—the college knows that this student will definitely attend. There is a growing trend in some colleges taking up to 1/3 of its applicants (and having 50% of their freshman class) from the ED pool. Some colleges will roll a student over into their Regular Decision pool and some will accept or deny only.  You will want to research your college choice and discuss this carefully.

Decision time:

Admit—This is the one everyone hopes for.  You are invited to join that college’s class of 2023!. Unless you have applied Early Decision, you have until May 1 to make your decision.  You will take into consideration other college offers, your scholarship or financial aid information, and your feeling about the college after you visit.

Deny—While this may be immediately painful, it is clean.  You know that this one door is closed (we can talk transfer if you like) and you are free to move on to other options.

Defer—You are in a kind of limbo here.  Generally this means the college needs more information before they can make a decision.  Senior first semester grades, additional test scores, and significant new information may make a difference.   We will be sending seventh semester grades once the semester ends to all Common App colleges and any colleges and  universities that require them.  This is good motivation to get excellent grades senior year (remember about grade trend).

Deferred students will eventually receive one of three decisions—Admit, Deny or Waitlist. The Waitlist option may be hopeful or frustrating.  This is for the college that wants to hit their target goal of applicants and is all about space available.  They may take one or two students or maybe up to 10%, and you might not know until July or even August.  Most waitlisted students go ahead and make other plans, and if they are admitted and plan to attend the new college, will forfeit their enrollment deposits from the original school.

The early decisions will start to come in December, the later ones in April.  More on this later!

Financial Aid:

Scholarships:  Most scholarships are offered through the colleges to students they really want—high talent, high achieving, generally in the top 25% or so of their applicant pool–but If you haven’t registered with (, and/or, you might want to do this.  You will be flooded with scholarship ideas.

Need Based Aid:  The FAFSA will be available October 1, 2018, the same date as the CSS Profile—check to see if your college requires it. This is essential if you are applying ED.

More on Admissions and Financial Aid at “Money for College Night” Date: October 10th, 2018—see you there! We’ll be joined by Financial Aid Officers from Albion College and the University of Michigan who will be joining us to discuss all things financial aid and scholarships.



Patricia Bostwick, MA. LPC

Director of College Counseling

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