CBO - Winter 2018

Mark Your Calendar A Year In Advance: Preparing for the US College Application Deadline

Many Canadian high school students seek to study internationally and more specifically in the United States. The challenge is that many are unaware of the application process and the dedication and what’s involved in applying or the time that submitting such an application can take. Applying hours or even days before the formal deadline is the best way to have your admission denied so you’ll want to advise against doing so.

The US post-secondary institutions – particularly those with high application numbers – accept only the most elite students and deny more applications than most schools receive. Creating a college application requires time; attention to the smallest details can make the world of difference as to how the application is perceived. For a student to achieve admission to one of the top colleges of their choice, they must be diligent in the application process, which could begin almost a year in advance of the deadline.

In the year leading up to the application, suggest students do the following:

Shortlist the Wishlist

Very early on, students will have an idea of the experience their anticipating and the education they’re seeking. Have them shortlist schools based on location, size and programs. Suggest they explore campus life by checking social media posts for example, or blogs on the website. Testimonials about campus life and social life from peers currently enrolled will provide a true-to-life perspective for students to consider.

Programs and Majors

Knowing what the program you want to apply to will simplify the process. Students should consider all options before applying. Based on their interests and areas they excel should be part of the decision; knowing the career they want to pursue will help narrow down the major, or the programs required. Part of this should include their academic history and the subjects they had superior performance in.

Identifying the programs of interest, or the major they’re pursuing will also provide them with the pre-requisites required to put them at the top of the “accepted” pile. By thinking through all of these factors, students are more likely to enroll in a program that will be of interest to them, increasing the odds of their success.

Different schools will do things differently; some are better at some things and not as recognized for others. Knowing what they want or realistically what to expect out of their school will reduce the disappointment after admission or early following the onset of the program.

Meet with the Students

Once you’ve provided them with the preliminary advice and guidelines to follow, schedule regular meetings with them to keep them motivated and on track; navigating the US post-secondary system can be challenging and even the most determined individual could find the task overwhelming. Encourage them frequently and make them aware that you will be there throughout the application process.

Standardized Testing

Most U.S. colleges and universities will require Canadian students to take standardized test such as the SAT or ACT. The SAT will test a student’s knowledge in Math, Reading, Writing and Language and will by comparison evaluate students using a scaled score. The ACT will test students in English, Math, Reading, and Science and will include an optional essay component. While in the recent years changes have been made to reduce distinctions between the two, they remain two different tests.

Some students may opt to write the Preliminary SAT (PSAT), which will give them the experience of writing standardized tests, and give them an idea of how they will perform on the SAT. They should be advised to take this seriously and study as they would for an SAT.

Extracurricular Activities

Many institutions assess students on a variety of levels – academic ability being only one of the markers. Understanding what drives and motivates a student is a significant factor that colleges will use when determining the fit of the student within their environment. Being aware of the person outside of the classroom – their passion and their interests – will help them evaluate the individual and how they will fit into the culture of the school.

Recommend as many extracurricular activities as possible. Suggest things such as volunteering at charitable awareness events, spending time visiting personal care homes or participating in a community sports initiative.

Perhaps they like to bake and decorate cookies. Have them create a Facebook Page to promote their products being sold at charity bake sales and update their posts frequently to share the passion and their commitment to their own success. Doing this shows the ambitious, risk-taking side, which is often appealing to admissions officers.

Once the student has spent the last year preparing for their application, the focus should now shift to everything required for the final application.

Having them divide the year into 3-month terms will make this a little less daunting. Schedule the following for the first quarter:

Plan School Tours

Encourage students to attend recruitment fairs whenever possible. Many US colleges and universities will send admissions officers to the events to meet with students that may be exploring their institution. This allows the school to meet the student but more importantly is that it’s a great time for student to interview the school. Attending these events prepared with a list of questions may help them further determine early on whether or not the school they were interested in, is really the right fit for them. Having this additional information early on will allow them to focus their energy on the schools they are seriously considering.

If it’s at all possible, the student should try to visit the campus. While it’s not always realistic to visit every school prior to application, getting a sense of what the school has to offer as far as a campus-life and location may satisfy their uncertainty prior to submitting an application.

Study for the SAT

If students have written the PSAT, they will have an idea of how to prepare for the SAT – the test that at this point is what matters. Getting an idea of the score needed to gain admission is great information to use as a guideline. While there are many strategies to help prepare, the best is to take advantage of practice tests, which are available, online.

The Final Year of High School

By now the student should have a good understanding of where they want to apply, and what they want to pursue.  With that in mind, their high school courses should align with their desired program choice; prerequisites that are required for entry should be included. Remind the students to explore their passions when choosing courses rather than popular choices.

With the onset of spring comes the task of making some difficult decisions.

The Final Cut

Many factors need to be considered when determining the reality of what schools a student applies to, and there is no better time than the present to gather all the facts to make the decision.

Every student has his or her three school selection criteria:

“I WISH” I could get into …

“I WANT” to go to …

“I WILL” be accepted at.

You will want them to know that any of the above will offer them the education they seek. Take the time to review their list of choices and provide them with the details to be satisfied with any outcome.

Consider Summer Programs

Many colleges and universities offer international students the opportunity to test-drive their school by offer summer enrichment programs. Admission to the programs is a simpler process and by attending a 4 or 6-week program at the university of their choice, it allows the student to see and experience first hand what opportunities life at their “dream” school would bring. Most programs will have application deadlines varying during April and May so be sure students are doing their research and aware of the specific dates.

Enrollment in summer programs is a great way to show initiative and dedication to pursuing education in the United States. If a student is willing to continue their education by forfeiting their summer vacation, it’s a great addition to ones’ academic resume.

Selecting References

You will want to advise students to build as much credibility into their applications as possible. A great way to “up their worth” is by including formal letters of reference from reputable sources (not friends or family); coaches, principals, possibly even an employer will provide valid information that will be reviewed and considered by an admissions officer.

Prepare for the SAT

The SAT focuses on three areas – math, reading and writing and language, along with the optional essay section. If the student has sat the PSAT, by this point they will have an idea of where they weakness may be and the need to focus their studies in specific areas.

During The Summer Months

The summer vacation break offers students the time required to fully prepare for the upcoming fall application deadlines. If they are not enrolled in a summer program, perhaps encourage them to visit college campuses. While a student will have one perception of campus life based on his or her own research, at times that will quickly change once a student has actually visited the campus. Taking the time to be confident in their choices will help them create a stronger admission application. Once that decision has been reached, it makes it simpler for a student to apply early.

Part of the application will include the mandatory admission essay. Most colleges will require one and in many instances the more competitive schools, two. Many students fail to realize the importance of crafting a well written and thought out admissions essay; they simply write a generic letter that explains their desire to be accepted by the school, instead of highlighting the two-way fit between themselves and the college. Being a key element in any application, they are designed for the student to share with the school the person they are. Have them take the initiative to portray themselves for the unique qualities they offer, the strengths they possess and how their character will fit into the culture of the college. This is the best chance the student has to “sell” themselves to the school so they should emphasize traits that make them a strong applicant. If a second essay is required, the content will include specific details as to why the student is applying to the school, along with information regarding the major they plan to pursue while enrolled.   

Back to School

During the fall, there are many little details that need to be addressed prior to submitting the final application.

Prior to the early application deadline (due November), they should have a good understanding of what financial aid may be available at their [desired] schools, and what the application process is; this will vary by school.

Advise the student to evaluate their SAT score and let them know that they if they feel they can improve, it’s worth taking the time to rewrite as even the slightest improvement in score can greatly impact the admission application. There is no limit on how many times the SAT can be written, but the challenge may be in finding a location to write within the timeline required to do so.

Should the student decide to apply early, they will need to take the time to get everything required in order, including transcripts, essays, letters of reference etc. Students should be cautioned, however, to only apply to those schools they are certain they want to attend and in doing so putting together the strongest application possible. If they still opt to apply to their “I WANT” or “I WILL” choice colleges, they should take the time to explore and become familiar with each schools application requirements and final deadlines. Schools tend to favour early applicants as it shows determination and organization.

While you may have walked them through the stages of last year’s “To-Do” list, you may want to schedule a formal meeting with the student to review the checklist of all things they need to complete prior to submitting the application. Once signed, sealed and delivered, it’s time to begin preparing for the next steps.

What’s Next?

During the months of January/February, students will likely have to endure the interview process; this can be quite daunting, depending on the number of schools they’ve applied to. You’ll want to help them prepare for these so as they appear as relaxed and confident as possible. Test interviews are a technique that often helps “shake out the cobwebs” which tend to appear even when asked the simplest question. While preparing for interviews, students will tend to expand their knowledge base by limiting their efforts on knowing facts about the school and the location. Admissions officers tend to ask some pretty common questions to get a sense of the person and in fact, many students freeze when asked common questions such as, “what do you do for fun?” or “tell me about something you tried something for the first time, and why?”

Making them aware that the questions will range specifically about education to lifestyle and will vary quickly at any given time is a great way to help them keep their mind fresh, and open so as to respond naturally, and more importantly, honestly. 

The Results

Once the applications have been sent and the interviews are done, the waiting begins. There’s nothing more they can do but take pride in the fact that they put their best effort forward to represent themselves as best they can. Encourage students to keep busy and go on with their lives; keeping normalcy in day-to-day routine provides a great distraction. Results generally come in between mid-March and April. Until then remind students that they should enjoy the experience that is their last year of high school.

By Lindsay Taylor

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Contact Donna Billey for more information at 1-888-634-5556 x103 or donna@mzpinc.ca.