Chuck Erickson, Independent Educational Consultant from College Connectors
As an independent educational consultant at College Connectors, Chuck has worked within higher education for 15 years, assisting students and families with the college application process. He has lots of information and tips to help you get started, so listen to this episode if you’d like to get some pro tips that would help you land the perfect college!
Questions Answered Today:
Where do I start with the college selection process?
Students and parents often stress over some colleges that are selective in their admissions, even when it should not be a big deal. Statistically, out of 2,118 colleges, about 260 are “selective,” which means that they have limited slots for admission. Typically, these selective colleges would be:
- The Ivy League
- Some liberal arts colleges on the East Coast and in the Midwest
- Popular schools that built their reputations from the movies
- Colleges with “institutional priorities”
That still leaves you with about 1,900 out of 2118 colleges that are not selective at all, with a higher acceptance rate than others. Chuck notes that just because a school is not selective doesn’t mean that it can’t provide a good education. It’s a common misconception and stigma that should stop. Here are some reasons why you should also pay attention to schools that are not selective:
- It’s simply supply and demand, meaning the school just has more slots to fill than others.
- The school is not famous or known by a lot of people because of its location. There is an awesome school in Indiana that is academically challenging and with a high job placement rate, but it has a lower selectivity rate. Why? Because not a lot of people know the school.
- There are colleges that especially target students with “lower academic profiles,” which makes them worth checking out.
It’s also important to look into two sides of things: the students’ academic and financial capacity. Getting accepted is not everything. You must also be realistic and see if you’re admissible financially. Ask these questions before proceeding with an application to make sure everything works out:
- Do I have what it takes to get accepted?
- Do I have what it takes to get accepted and earn a merit scholarship?
What are the common qualifications colleges are seeking?
These are the categories of common qualifications most colleges consider, although some colleges may place more importance on other things:
- Academic GPA
- Rigor of your secondary school
- Application essay
- Volunteer work
- Test scores
- Alumni relations (if a family member attended the same college)
- Character and personal qualities
- Class rank
- Racial and ethnic
- Talent and ability
- Work experience
How do colleges use these qualifications to recruit students?
Most colleges look for good grades. However, students with a competitive academic GPA, test scores, and rigor are now common among college applicants. There are numerous students who have impressive grades and who took extensive coursework and advanced classes.
However, high-end colleges need more than that. They pick the better candidate by determining who will make a bigger impact if accepted. This is where extracurricular comes in. Colleges are more likely to pick those who:
- Have been more involved and engaged in volunteer works
- Have the passion and drive to make a change
- Have talents that could be assets to the school
Some colleges’ high selectivity rate may also be due to what’s called “institutional priorities.” This means that schools pick candidates not necessarily based on what the candidates can offer, but based on what the schools are missing or what the school needs. They may be looking for qualifications and demographics as specific as these:
- First-generation students
- International students
- Students willing to play for the soccer team
- Dance majors
- Chemistry majors
- students from California/Florida/or somewhere specific
Many colleges communicate with independent consultants and school counselors to find the type of students they’re looking for, so it’s a perk you can get by hiring independent consultants.
The college I want is highly selective. How do I prepare for it?
Advanced Placement (AP)
This is a curriculum that’s way more challenging than the typical high school curriculum. At the end of the AP class, there is an exam where you could score 1 to 5, with 3 being passing score, and 4-5 being exceptional.
Most colleges accept a passing or exceptional test score for college credit. Chuck especially recommends taking AP classes for students applying for selective majors such as Aerospace Engineering due to its prerequisite subjects.
Also, “rigorous colleges” typically expect an equal rigor from their applicants.
While most high schools offer AP classes, there are some that do not. Non-availability of the AP should not be an issue as colleges consider their applicants’ high school situation.
However, now may be a great time to take AP classes as they are now available online because of the pandemic.
International Baccalaureate (IB)
This is also a college prep curriculum that the U.S. adapted from Europe. It’s an extremely advanced curriculum that offers certificates and diplomas. Research is one part of the program. One limitation of the IB, however, is that there aren’t a lot of opportunities to take elective courses. Also, there are not many schools that offer this curriculum.
Not many schools require college essays. However, the highly selective colleges do. When required to write one, make sure to take the opportunity to let the colleges know about you. The students, not the parents, should write the essay.
Chuck mentioned the Common App to be a useful tool when submitting essays as it allows the students to submit their essays to multiple schools. Also, students can use the app to submit college applications. He reminds parents to let students submit the application as the students’ willingness to do the work matters for admission officers.
What else do I need to know?
- Because of the Common App, Chuck warned students about the possibility of submitting too many applications, which will not help in the selection process. He recommends having three “target schools,” or schools the student has a fair chance to get into, and two “shoot-for-the-moon schools,” or those that would be hard to get in, but would not hurt to add to the list.
- Don’t overlook the financial side of the application. Make sure to compare prices of those schools that are in the same tier. More importantly, go for those schools where you’re okay with the cost. Financial consultants such as Brad can share their expertise in money matters.
- It helps if the students “demonstrate interest” by visiting the school, engaging in the admissions process, and participating in school activities. Students who show genuine interest in schools turn out to be more admissible than those who don’t care.
Links and Resources
- Brad Baldridge’s college planning website: Taming the High Cost of College
- Common App
- Chuck Erickson’s contact info:
Today’s recommendation is a book called Who Gets In and Why by Jeffrey Selingo. In this book, Jeffrey writes about the interesting journey of applying to high-end colleges such as Harvard and Yale.
Jeffrey did this by following the entire application process of three students, not only from the students’ side (from the beginning up until the students decided which college they would attend), but also from the college admissions’ side (how they work and how they choose students).
Here are some key takeaways that may help you see the college application process in a much bigger perspective:
- Students and families can be put into two categories:
- Drivers – those who take charge and really do what it takes to get to the college best fitted for them.
- Passengers – those driven by someone (e.g., parents) or something (e.g., doing it because they have to).
- Colleges, on the other hand, can be considered either buyers or sellers:
- Buyers – those who “sell” their college to students through scholarships, discounts, or other things to attract students
- Sellers – those that are considered high-end choose from many aspirants and “build a class”
Hence, most colleges, especially the “top buyers”, do not necessarily pick the most competitive student or the student with the nicest portfolio.
Instead, they’re focused on building a class—it could be a class of leaders, musicians, athletes, scientists, historians—we don’t know. They choose not the best student overall, but more like the student that’s the best at something specific, i.e. playing the tuba, etc.
Aside from all that have been mentioned, the book also discusses early decisions and early action, so it should help you strategize, most especially if your student aims for high-end schools. It’s quite a great read!
This book is not a magic portal that will automatically help your student get into the high-end college they’re aiming for. It’s just a guide that will help you understand how the college system works.
Another great book you may want to look at is Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. You’ll hear about a detailed discussion about this book soon, but generally this book answers questions such as:
- Should you be pursuing high-end schools?
- Is it that important you get into a particular school?
- Will any school do for your student?
The bottom line is that you should not really focus too much on getting into high-end schools because they’re so highly selective that we really can’t tell who’s going to get in.
Always remember: If your student is strong, they can do well even in a non-Ivy League college.
It doesn’t have to be a particular school. Don’t pressure yourself or your student to get into a specific school—it’s absolutely unnecessary. In the end, it’s all about finding the best fit school where your student could grow!
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Welcome to Taming the High Cost of College. This episode is all about the application process and what it takes to get accepted at the college of your dreams.
You have kids, they grow up and before you know it, it's time to plan for college. Where do you start? How much is it going to cost? Will you qualify for financial aid? Should you be looking into scholarships? When ill you be able to retire? What about student loans? The list of questions is never-ending. The good news is all the answers are right here. Welcome to the Taming the High Cost of College Podcast. Here is your host, Certified Financial Planner, Brad Baldridge.
Hello, and welcome to Taming the High Cost of College. I'm your host, Brad Baldridge. This is Episode 125. And today we're going to talk all about how to get accepted. So jack and I are going to talk about the acceptance and the application process. Things like essays and test scores the common app. So we're gonna cover a lot of information around getting accepted. And we're gonna talk a little bit about the high-end schools and also state schools and other schools that you may be considering. So stay tuned for that interview where we talk about that. After the interview, I'm also going to give you a quick book review. The book is Who Gets In and Why by Jeffrey Selingo. So it's a great book for families that are interested in the high end schools. And that challenge around how to get accepted at the Harvard or Yale or other high-end schools. As always, shownotes are available at tamingthehighcostofcollege/125. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out through the website, we'd be happy to answer any questions you might have. Well, let's go ahead and jump into the interview. All right, Chuck, we're back again. Today we're going to talk about getting accepted.
Sounds like a plan. Brad, I love this topic.
Yes, this topic is very much in your wheelhouse. And I don't get too involved in this. So you're going to do a lot of the talking. And I'm going to do a lot of the questioning at this point. So when we talk about getting accepted, that brings up some ideas around the selective schools and that kind of stuff. But before we jump into that, you feel like the stress of getting accepted is real out there? I mean, you hear about it in the news, that kind of stuff. But do students really get stressed out about getting accepted where they want to go?
Yeah, unfortunately, students do really get stressed out. And I think it's because there isn't enough information out there to help them understand what this is all about, and what schools really are selective and what are not. And so, they get overly stressed. And teenagers play off of each other and talk about, 'Oh, I have a higher GPA or I have a test score.' And so they they're a little bit competitive to each other. But yeah, students get a little stressed out about this, which then stresses out the parents. And it gets a little crazy at home. But I think this episode is going to help some families and some students calm down a little bit and hopefully understand this a little bit better.
Right. Absolutely. So when we talk about getting accepted, that leads us to the concept of selective colleges, when we talk about selective colleges, what do we really mean by that? What does selective mean?
Selective really means that there are limited spaces available in the freshman class. And a lot of students are applying for those very limited spots. So the college is only able to offer a certain amount of admission spaces for those spots, meaning that typically less than 25% of the kids who are applying are getting admitted. And sometimes it's even smaller than that. The most selective category means that less than 10% of applicants are receiving a positive admission decision.
Right? And can you give me examples of schools that fall in that highest selectivity? I'm assuming it's the Ivy League, and probably some others?
Yeah, Ivy League, a lot of the other small liberal arts colleges that are mostly found on the East Coast. But we have some here in the Midwest. So you can think of something like Northwestern University, University of Chicago, some other schools that... These are the schools that you hear about in the movie. So when there's a movie, and they talk about a college, it's almost always they're talking about a highly selective college.
Right? Absolutely. It's the schools that have a lot of name recognition. And a lot of both parents and students, I think, have a desire to try and get into these types of schools. Again, whether it's warranted or not, that's a different question for a different time. But...
So I ran some statistics, and I very quickly just went to Big Future, the database that you can use for research. I found there's 2188 schools in that database that are four-year schools, and the most selective category, which is the less than 25% accepted, there were 73 colleges. And then the next category which is very selective, which is less than 50% are accepted. There's another 191. So there's about 260 schools out there, where selectivity could would be a bit of an issue, which leaves 1900 that are not all that selective. So let's talk a little bit about those schools. Why would people want to go to those schools? I think that there maybe a stigma around that, or...
Yeah, remember, going back to the whole idea of selectivity. It has nothing to do with the quality of the education, it really is supply and demand. It is the fact that there are limited spaces for students to enroll, and a lot of students are applying for those spaces. That's really what selectivity is. I was just actually talking with a counselor earlier today about a school in Indiana that is considered very rigorous, very challenging, and has a high job placement rate, especially within the engineering area, but it has a low selectivity, they accept over 70%. And the counselor was asking me, 'Is this a really good school because they accept so many students?' I said, 'It's actually an awesome school. And it's very hard and challenging to get through the school. Problem is no one's ever heard of the school. And so therefore, the selectivity is lower. It doesn't mean that the education is any worse, it just means that no one has ever heard of the school because it's in Indiana. So a lot of times location plays into it. Name recognition, as you mentioned, in the movies, and on TV shows, all of those things are into selectivity. But yeah, there's some amazing colleges that admit well over 50% of their applicants, and students should check those out.
Right. And again, I think people need to understand that there are colleges out there for the A student rock star, that aces everything and has great test scores. But there's colleges out there that that's not their target, they work with the A minus student or the B plus student, or even the C minus student, so
Or even lower
Or even lower, that's right, so
I have a client right now that it has a 1.9 GPA and a 14 ACT, and I still have been able to find at least 20 schools that this student would be likely admissible to. And the parents are just shocked. They're like, 'We thought our kid was not academically strong enough to go to college' I said, 'Well, there might be some issues going on that we should talk about. But there are still colleges that will accept a student even with a low academic profile.'
Right? Absolutely. And that we're not encouraging, this isn't like an excuse now for students to say, 'Well, now grades don't matter,' because they certainly do at many, many colleges.
Right. And I always tell families and students, number one, the higher of an academic profile you can give me, the more college options I can give you. So really, the stronger your academics and what classes you've taken and how you're doing in those classes, the more college opportunities I can show you that are available for you to apply to. This kid with the low profile, yeah, I found 20 schools, but they are schools that are in different places in small towns, or they may not have all the programs that he want, they would accept him, but it may not be the best fit.
Right, exactly. So don't make Chuck's life that difficult, do a little better if you can. Alright, so I went back to the database, the same database that we were just talking about, I pulled for schools, and just, they have some areas in the database, where they talk about, well, what, and again, they pull the colleges, and they asked them, 'What do you consider important as far as your applicants?' and then they could put it either in the category very important, important or considered. So as an example, one college here says academic GPA is important and rigor of your secondary school records' important, very important. I've met in the important category is the application essay, extracurriculars, test scores and volunteer work. And then in the considered category, which is lower yet would be alumni selations, so dad or grandpa attended. Character and personal qualities, class rank, whether you're a first generation student, racial and ethnic status, recommendations, talent and ability, and work experience. So all the colleges out there have answered this survey. And again, assuming they're reasonably honest, they give us a clue as to what they're looking for. So let's talk a little bit about that. Do you think they're being honest? And what do we do with all this information?
Well, for the most part, I think they are being honest, there's a couple schools that I will, I'm not always 100% sure on. So where this data is coming from is called the 'common data set.' The common data set is a survey that every college fills out, that is then submitted to the US Department of Education, and really is trying to put some data behind what is going on within the colleges so that the Department of Education keep track of all these 1000s of colleges that way. So the number one thing is that every college says that the academic record is the most important, which is what the classes that students take, and how they do in those classes over the course of their high school years. There's no college in the country that doesn't look at that. So that is the number one important thing in every school looks at that. The other categories that you heard, that you talked about, the considered category. Considered just means that if it's in your application, we're going to take a look at it. And most colleges will list all the other stuff in the considered category. There are a few categories, they're also on the common data set, it lists not considered. So you can actually dig a level deeper and see what things the college completely ignores. So sometimes that could be test scores, or sometimes that could be geographic location, or other factors that are not playing a huge role. But for the most part, colleges are honest on these surveys and give us a sense as to what they're looking for. The problem is we don't know the context. And what they are, how they are looking at them. They're saying, 'Yeah, we consider these and they're very important.' I'm like, 'Okay, very important for what? For admission, for scholarship, for enrollment in your honors program? There's more layers to this than just, it's very important.
Yes, for certain. And as you mentioned, every college out there just about well put academic GPA, and then rigor of your secondary school
At the top. And then I'm just looking at a couple other schools. So I pulled a couple different ones, one of the one that seems to bounce around would be extracurricular activities and volunteer work, where in some schools, it's more important then other schools, it's not. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, that is very true. There are schools that really, so if you look at one of the highly selective schools, the academic rigor and core selection is going to be probably the same for most of their applicants. These are going to be kids who have taken the hardest classes, AP, IB, honors, all those type of really challenging coursework. So then the college has to figure out, 'Okay, how are we going to tell the students apart and who might fit in with us better?' That's when they're looking at the extracurriculars, volunteering, work experience, those types of things in the activity list, to see, 'Oh, this student has been very involved and very engaged and has some passions and really has a drive to make a change in the world in this particular area, and student B might have nothing.' In other words, they've sat at home and played video games all day. So if I had two students with equal academic profile, I'm going to then look and see which student is going to make a bigger impact on my campus. And that's when I look at the extracurricular involvement.
Right. And you can think of it like this, at the very highest level, some of the colleges are saying, 'Okay, you got a perfect test scores, okay, and you got a 4.0 GPA, you've never gotten less than an A. Interesting, but what else you got?' Because that's not unusual at some of these schools where they say, 'Okay, we have a lot of perfect test score people here. And a matter of fact, we deny people with perfect test scores quite regularly, because we need more than that.' And I think at the highest level, too, I think at a certain level, they may, you don't automatically rank better if you have the perfect test score compared to somebody that just has really good test scores, because they're also looking for other talents, and they need to fill their class and that kind of stuff. So let's talk a little bit about bad idea where for a lot of colleges, I just read a book, Who Gets In and Why and a big part of it, it has a lot to do with not about the students, it's about the college when they're building their acceptance class, and that they're trying to fill all their buckets.
Yeah, those are called 'institutional priorities' and institutional priorities just really based off of things such as the educational philosophy of the institution, who are they trying to reach? Are they trying to reach inner city students? Are they trying to reach first generation students? Are they trying to reach Americans or more internationals? And it also might be what type of programs do they offer offer, so maybe they just built a brand new outdoor soccer stadium, and now they need soccer players to fill that. Or maybe a donor just donated money to pay for a new dance departments, now they need more dancers, or a new chemistry lab opened up, whatever it may be. So every year, like right now, deans and directors of admissions over the summer are thinking about, 'Okay, what students should we get in this last class that we've just enrolled? And what are we hoping to have for the next class in the future?' So they're projecting out almost a year in advance as to what are they needing. Do they need more guys, or they need more women? Do they need more Californians? Or do they need people from Florida? So those become institutional priorities, and that's what they look for when they go out and recruit and when they read application, so they're trying to make sure are they meeting the institutional priorities that have been set by the administration typically over the summer?
Right? Now, do colleges share that? I mean, in the employment world, a business would say, 'All our accountants just retired, so we're hiring accountants.' Would a college say, 'Well, all our soccer players graduated, so we're really looking for soccer players. All our chemistry majors graduated this year, so we're running a little shorter chemistry majors. We need more.' Do they put that out there, or is that just behind the scenes they're doing that work?
Some do and some don't. You're not going to see a headline on the newspaper that says such and such colleges looking for marine biology majors. But there are ways you can read what a college is doing. So a lot of colleges will post on their website or on their social media and say 'Hey, announcing a new major, announcing a new program announcing a new sport.' That is a big green flag go as, 'Okay, we are looking for students for that type of area.' They're not literally saying we're looking for students in that area. But a press release is a good indication like, 'Okay, do that.' Also many college reps take time and talk to us as college counselors, both high school counselors and independent educational consultants, we talked with college reps. I talk with the reps in my state every year from all of the privates and all the publics. And I say, 'Okay, what are you looking for? What are your new programs? What type of students are you trying to find?' So therefore, I can help find those kids and make those matches. So they do talk about it. The super selective schools are never going to tell you what they want. They're very hush hush, keep it close to the vest. Because they get so many applications that they will find what they want in their application pools. It's the colleges that are less selective, that need more applications or need a particular certain type of applications that are out there telling high school counselors and independent counselors, 'Hey, this is what we're looking for.'
Right. And I think from the financial side, another important consideration is, there's typically, and again, depending on scholarships, and we're gonna get into this in a future episode, but just to understand that there's two lines that you may want to cross as far as your application. One is, do I have what it takes to get accepted? And then the next line would be, do I have what it takes to get accepted and earn some sort of scholarship in the merit realm? And again, sometimes there's multiple lines, because there might be a merit scholarship, that's small, medium, and large merit scholarship. So, I earned the small but I didn't make it to the medium or the large, or I made it all the way to the large merit scholarship. And again, three, some colleges, there's three, sometimes, it's a very, very nuanced, and there's one at 12,000, one at 14, one at 18, one at 22, one at 24. So it can get pretty complicated. But the bottom line is, for many families, they not only need to get accepted, especially at these expensive private schools, but they need to get accepted and earn a scholarship or it's just not going to work.
Right, yeah, as a quick example, a student with a 37 and let's say a 28 ACT, they could apply to a very selective school, and they probably won't get admitted. They might get on the waitlist unless they have some type of connection and fill one of those institutional needs. At a less selective school, they will get admitted but they might not get a scholarship. And then a lower selective schools, they would get admitted and probably receive a high level scholarship or even an honors college-type scholarship that could be more than half tuition. So the same academic kid can get very different admission offers and scholarship offers, depending on what type of colleges they apply to.
Right, absolutely. So money is part of the puzzle, and even in the admissions and what the student is doing as a freshman and sophomore, unfortunately, can have an impact on ultimately how much you're going to pay at a particular school. All right, let's change subjects a little bit. Again, we mentioned academic GPA and rigor as very important at almost every college. So that leads us and you mentioned it where we talked about AP courses as part of the rigor. So what is an AP course? And how does it help with the rigor at a particular school?
Sure, AP stands for advanced placement. This is another product of the College Board. These are courses that are designed by college faculty, believe it or not, and the curriculum is then used in high schools at a higher level of rigor and a higher level of challenge. And if you sign up for an AP class at the end of the AP class, almost always in May, if you want, sit for an exam about that AP class, and you can score a 1,2,3,4 or 5. A 3 is considered a passing score, a score of 4 or 5 is considered to be more exceptional. Well, almost every college will use the AP scores to see if you'd actually get college credit at their campus. For a score of 5 or 4, almost every college would give college credit for that one. And some colleges, we even get credit for 3, depending upon which AP test it is. So this is a way for students in high school to get a taste of what college classes are like because they are taught in a college style. Now, there are some high schools that do not offer AP classes at all. And then students get nervous saying, 'Oh, I'm not going to get admitted to college because I haven't taken any AP classes.' The colleges look at the context of the high school. If the high school does not offer AP classes, they don't expect you to take any because they're not being offered. So they are going to look at your application within the context of your high school situation and what type of classes are offered at your high school.
Right? So you can get credit at some colleges, but if they're available, and you don't take them at the higher level of selectivity, and the more challenging colleges will look at that and say, 'Well, the typical applicant that we have takes these courses and does well on them and if you are afraid to take the courses as high school junior and senior, we may not much less likely to consider you, especially if they get applicants that have taken those courses at that same height.
Yeah, I 100% agree with that comment. And I've warned students of this, especially if they're applying for selective majors. So if a student's going into aerospace engineering, and they would like to apply to a highly selective school that offers aerospace engineering, that student really should be at BC Calculus or advanced placement, Calculus BC, and AP Physics C. There are courses that the colleges are going to say, 'We are a rigorous collegem, and we expect to see some rigor from you in high school, if you would like to come to our college.' If you don't take the classes, you're probably not going to get in.
Correct, especially if they're available. Again, we'll give you a pass if you can't take it, because it doesn't exist at your high school. But most larger suburban and urban high schools do offer some versions of AP these days. It's the smaller high schools that struggle with they don't have enough students to fill those types of classes.
Correct. And thanks to the corona virus in COVID-19, many APs are offered also online. So even in rural high schools, you can sign up and take an AP online, and then you would just need to find a testing center to be able to take the AP exam in May when the course is over. So even rural students are able to take that but maybe a rural student instead could go to a local community college or take a community college course online. Colleges will look at that as well. So they're saying 'Oh, wow, you challenged yourself in a different way; you didn't have a piece, but you found a different way to challenge yourself.
Right. Okay. So there's another program out there that I've heard a little bit about, but I don't know a whole bunch about, the IB Program or International Baccalaureate Program. Just did a quick research, there's about 1200 colleges or 1200 high schools across the US that offer some form of IB Curriculum? What is that? And how does that compare or contrast with the AP system?
Sure, the International Baccalaureate System is an international system. This is a very rigorous college prep curriculum that is used throughout the globe. In fact, it came to the United States from outside, from Europe, I believe, and this is a ramped up version of a high school curriculum. It is challenging, you can graduate with an IB diploma, you can graduate with an IB certificate, you can do research as part of an IB program. But as you said, there are very few high schools that offer the IB diploma. I really encourage students, if you're looking to go to a very academically challenging place, and you really are wanting an academic challenge in high school, that IB Curriculum will push you it is very much preparing a student to go to an academically challenging rigorous college. So it's a great experience. It does have some limitations. The IB Curriculum is extremely prescriptive. There aren't a lot of opportunities to take elective courses. It is very prescribed as to what you take freshman, sophomore, junior, senior year.
Right. Yeah. So I think the IB Curriculum, in some of the larger urban schools, whether they have 10 or 12 high schools, then sometimes they'll have an IB high school available. And then you choose to go to that high school or within that high school to get the IB Curriculum. And it's available for the sharp students that want to really jump into that.
And there are certain states that offer it?
Yeah. And there are certain states in the country that are have way more IB high schools, for example, Minnesota has a very large number of IB high schools, whereas in Wisconsin, we don't have as many IB high schools. I'm not sure why that is. But there are certain regions of the country that offer IB Curriculum more. So we have the AP curriculum, advanced placement, IB Curriculum, International Baccalaureate, we also have high schools that are college prep, or honors high schools. As I said, the college will look at the context in which you are going to high school. So if you're going to a small charter, a small magnet high school or a rural country school, the college is going to look at what are you doing in the context of your high school situation?
Right. Okay, new question, new topic. And one more time, because another big part of the application process that I think makes students and maybe parents nervous as well is the concept of the essay, the college essay. So do all colleges require essays? And how do the essays generally work these days?
No, not all colleges require essays, I would say just less than half of the colleges out there require some version of an essay, the essay, what's great about an essay, though, and I encourage students that if you have the opportunity to write one to do it, it is the only part of the college application that the student has 100% control over. The rest of the application is going to be demographic information, where do you go to school, where do you live, what high school did you attend, your academic record, your activities that you've already done and completed at the time of application, your teacher recommendations if needed, and then there's the essay which is the blank page. Blank slate that you get to create your story and tell your story. All of the highly selective schools require essays. And most of them require multiple essays that could be, if you look at Stanford, Stanford requires 10 essays as part of their application. So a student wants to apply to Stanford get ready to write, because they are 10. And they're very different. They're very interesting. The twist is, though, is that not every college requires it. If they do require it, they will make it known in their application process. And you can see that on their admissions page. Most students use the Common App to apply to colleges. Common App allows you to apply to hundreds of colleges utilizing one web-based system. There's also the Coalition App that's out there. And then many of the states have state system apps that you can use as well. And that's where you submit the essay. So you fill out all your information. If the college requires an essay, you would fill it out on those apps, and you would upload it to the app, and then the app itself will send it to the colleges. For Common App, you're writing one essay that typically goes to all of your colleges, and then the supplemental essays on top of that.
So the Common App, then would be similar to like a job application or whatever, where you put in your name and address one time, and you put in all this stuff one time, and then you can send it to multiple schools. And they all take it in the same format, essentially?
Yeah, so 80% of the Common App is exactly the same for every school. What's different is that colleges can offer supplemental questions or supplemental essays that are in addition to the Common App. And there are many colleges that just take the common app as is. And that's your application. So this is when you hear those new stories where kids says, 'I've applied to 100 colleges, and I got admitted to 95 of them.' They went on to the Common App, and they literally just submitted their application to a bunch of colleges, probably many of which they didn't even know where they were. So that's the danger of the Common App. And that's what's also driving the selectivity thing that we talked about at the beginning of this episode is a ton of new applications have happened this last year, we saw colleges increase applications 10, 20, 30, 40%, because it is now easier to apply utilizing a web based form like the Common App.
Right, absolutely. So then they saw the Common App, is where the essays go, and all that type of thing. How do parents interact with the common app? Is it really just the students in there doing all that stuff? Or is there a parent section? Or tell us a little more on how the Common App works.
Sure, there's a demographic portion of the Common App called the 'family section,' and that's where the colleges want to learn about the family household situation. So who do you live with, who's involved in your household, what other siblings do you have, do you have other relatives living with you? Parents should help their students fill this section out to make sure that it is accurate and complete. Students should also load their parents' email addresses into this section. So then the parents will also receive updates from Common App mostly connected to financial aid. Because the parents' job in the application part is really helping with the financial aid application part of it. The Common App itself, the rules state that the student needs to be filling out the Common App. The parent can help, but this is the student applying to college, not the parent. And I know parents want to jump in sometimes because their student isn't getting it done. But you're better off sitting down with your student and helping them walk through all the questions or contacting someone like me that does that. But really, the student needs to be filling out the application, not the parent.
Right. So the parents again, they're there to assist, hopefully, and you were an admissions officer once. Have you ever rejected an application because you felt like maybe the parents did most of the work or wrote the essays and that kind of stuff?
Oh, yes. 100%. There have been applications where the roles are incorrect. So the essay would literally say something like, 'When my son was 15, my son was involved with...' and I was going, 'You're writing this in the third person, this is a parent writing about their child.' And I was like, 'That's not good.' And they've literally been applications where the parent has typed into the application. 'I am completing this for my child, because my child is refusing to finish it.' They'll put that in one of the comment sections. And I'm just going, 'Yeah, that doesn't work. You can't do that.' Or there's just, especially with essays, there are words that teenagers, most of them don't know, and it just doesn't work. So it looks like somebody else has written this, or the student has really doctored up their essay and is not using normal teenage language. So yeah, there's some red flags that we see when parents get overly involved in the application process. This is your child's time to shine and show everything that she or he has done over the last few years. So please encourage your child to shine, and just step back a little bit.
Yes, absolutely. So if we're doing the Common App, and it's relatively easy, once it's done, we can send it to 5 schools, or 25 schools, or 50 schools. I mean, why wouldn't we do that and what is the right number of schools to apply to?
Why would you want to apply to a bunch of colleges, because you're going to get a ton of email a ton of mail, you're going to have all these colleges recruiting you. And that can be awesome. But I'll give you an example, I had a student several years ago that applied to 40 schools. Forty, four zero. She was in thinking that this would really weed her out, and she would not get admitted. These were all less selective colleges, these were not the ultra selective colleges, universities were right around the 50% acceptance rate. She was admitted to 38 out of the 40, which just gave her more anxiety, try and figure out where to go to next. So for my students and the families that I work with, I really shoot for five to eight colleges, depending upon how rigorous the kid wants to apply, or how selective the kid wants to apply. So typically, there's one or two schools that might be a little challenging to be admitted to, one or two that are, maybe three that are a solid fit for the student. And sometimes the student wants a quote, unquote, 'safety school,' I don't really believe in safety schools, because if they're truly safety, you can apply to them at any point in time, and you'll get admitted. So I really focus on target schools, and maybe one or two 'shoot for the moon' type schools.
Right? I would agree with that. From the financial side, I always talk with parents, there's a couple of different reasons to apply to maybe a couple more schools. So as an example, I almost always encourage people to apply to their state flagship school, even if they're not that interested in attending just to put, again, we know what the price is going to be. So you're University of Illinois, or University of Wisconsin or whatever you might have in your state, the soonies and coonies in New York, we know those are going to be relatively low cost options. And once you have one of those on the list, everybody knows that they're a low cost option, it helps keep some of the other schools a little more honest to notice that you're applying to these types of schools as well. And then another thing we would want to do, potentially, is make sure that we're applying to, and if we're doing our good fit process, right, then we're going to do this automatically. But if you're applying to a relatively, let's say, a medium selective, prestigious school, and now we're trying to get into the financial side of things, it's going to be really tough to go back to them and say, 'Well, I can go to the local tech college, two-year degree cut type college for much less than what it cost to go to your institution.' And they're gonna say, 'Well, yes, you can, but it's not a fair comparison.' So I encourage families, where you're adding those types of schools where maybe you're gonna need two or three of those schools that are a fair comparison. So that you can keep them honest. Just like when you buy a car, you look at the Ford or Toyota, and you look at the four-door Honda and the four-door Ford. And that gives you an idea what a fair price for a four door car is these days. It's the same thing. But again, if you went to Harvard and said, ['Well, my local state school cost different,' they're going to, first of all, Harvard doesn't care about money at all. But on top of that, they're gonna say, 'But there's no comparison. We're Harvard, they're not.' So you want to make sure that you have a, from a financial standpoint, maybe a couple of state schools so that you know what the price is going to be. And especially if price is going to be an issue, because there are situations where I've had family say, 'Well, these three or four private schools only work if they come in at a price that's near what the state schools cost. We can guesstimate, but we don't know for certain that that's going to happen. So we need to have a couple of state schools, just in case.' And other families they can afford to pay, but they don't want to. So they're just saying, 'Well, we're gonna apply to these three schools. And if one of them comes in at a good price that may sway us to which one we ultimately like the best. They're all great schools. This one's 10,000, 20,000 cheaper. I think we like this one better.' And that would be a deal, of course.
Yeah, I think that's a very solid strategy. This past year, I noticed that colleges were all coming in relatively close to each other. So we're only talking a difference of maybe 1000 or $2,000. Because right now, students are a commodity, there are fewer and fewer teenagers out there. And there are still basically the same number of colleges, a couple colleges have closed, but not that many. So colleges are trying to throw their money around and get the students. So this is a great time to apply to college. But I'm just saying don't apply to a million schools. Or if you apply to more than 10, your email is going to hate you, your mail delivery person is going to hate you. You're going to get bombarded with text messages, phone calls, it's going to be overwhelming. So that's why I said is more is not always better when applying to colleges. I can't stress that enough.
Right. So let's talk about one last concept which is called 'demonstrating interest.' You see this in the press occasionally and certainly a lot of admissions people out there talk about demonstrating interest as part of the process of getting accepted to school. What does demonstrating interest actually mean?
So demonstrated interest goes back to that middle school idea of when you used to make a note and say, 'Do you like me, circle yes or no?' And then you'd pass it off to somebody. So that's the basic concept of how demonstrated interest works for when looking at colleges. It's the student saying to the college, 'Hey, I'm interested in you. And this is how I'm showing you that I'm interested in you. Will you, also be interested in me, in other words, accept me?' So how does the student show interest? This is when they are going to college fairs either virtually or in person, they're meeting with college reps when they come to the high schools or signing up for admissions presentations, either online or doing a campus visit, where a student is sending an email to their admissions counselor asking really great questions that they can't find on the website, about the experience at the college. So you're demonstrating interest in the school by reaching out filling out interest forms on the athletics page or contacting another faculty person. But it only really is justified if the student is truly being honest and demonstrated interest. Colleges can tell when students are just firing off a bunch of random emails to try and act like they're showing interest when they're really not. So it should be heartfelt, truthful, demonstrated interest. Now, the most selective schools, that top 12% of colleges that are the super selective schools, they're not gonna care. They don't care if you show interest or not, because they have so many applications that they don't need to factor in demonstrated interest schools that are a little bit lower in selectivity than the super, super selective places, they may pay attention. And if they have two kids that are of equal academic strength and equal interest or equal profiles, they may go to the demonstrated interest and say, 'Wow, this student has interacted with us, they've come to programs, they've sent us emails, they've filled out our webform, save, open their emails, this other student hasn't done anything they've just applied.' A college may pay more attention to the student who's done demonstrated interest versus a kid who has just applied and has not done anything,
Right. I mean, if you look at it from the college's perspective, I've got to work hard and figure out a good financial package, or I figure out which of these students get my time and attention. And it just makes sense for the typical college admissions person to say, 'Well, this kid sent in an application, but I've never heard from him other than getting the application, as far as I can tell, mom made him apply, and he has no interest in coming. There's just no communication, no indication of any interest. Whereas this one, this kid over here, he visited the campus, he's written a couple of emails, maybe I actually met the student, because I went out to the high school. And while I was there, the student took the time to come and visit with me for a few minutes.' It's pretty obvious when you look at it from a person to person kind thing versus just a cold application that all the people that are seem interested in are asking good questions are more likely to come and than someone that doesn't seem to even know anything about the college because they haven't done any research as far as you can tell. So it's just human nature, that they're going to spend more time put more effort into the students that have reached out and are demonstrating interest. So I think it's important that, I had a student A while ago that had this very elaborate spreadsheet of like, 15, schools, and all kinds of data and information on it. And I was like, 'Wow, really had done his homework.' I asked him where all the information came and, and it all came from the internet and third party sources. He had not talked with any of the schools, none of the schools knew that he was interested in. And I said, 'All right, well, this is great. But you really do need to interact with the schools as well, as you may love these schools and have all the information you need to make decisions, but they don't know you're interested. They don't know that your top schools and how hard you've worked to figure this all out. I mean, they need to see your spreadsheet, or they need to get some questions from you, or you need to visit them or somehow they need to understand that you're as excited about them, so that they can get excited about you.'
Yeah, it's like dating. If you have a crush on someone, you got to tell them that you have a crush in order to see if they like you back. That's really the fundamental of it.
Absolutely. All right. Well, I think we've covered how to get accepted at a school in pretty great detail here. So let's wrap things up. And we're getting together next week, and we're going to be doing scholarships. So we're gonna talk more about how to pursue scholarships, not just from the colleges themselves, but we will talk about all the different types of scholarships, so tune in next week.
All right, that was a great discussion about getting accepted. Hopefully you learned as much as I did. As always, again, you can get your show notes at tamingthehighcostofcollege/125. We will have links to all the things that we talked about. And next ,we're going to jump into Brad Recommends, we're going to talk about a book, Who Gets In and Why by Jeffrey Selingo.
The latest tips, tricks and tools you can use today. This is Brad Recommends on Taming The High Cost of College.
Today I'm recommending a book by Jeffrey Selingo called Who Gets In and Why. Now this is a book that Jeffrey researched around the high end colleges, and what it's like to apply, and how do you get actually get into these high end colleges. So again, the Harvard's and Yale's and other challenging high end schools. Now what he did was he did a couple of different things over the course of a year or two, he followed three students through the process. He actually followed more than three, but he wrote quite extensively about three test cases, so to speak. So he worked with students, and follow them as they applied to colleges and talk with them along the way, as they apply early decision, or early action, and then talk to them, and then ultimately followed up all the way to the end and figured out what college they ended up at. Then he also worked at it from the college's perspective. So he also got involved in in the admissions offices of three colleges, and learned how they work and how they choose the students they choose to accept. Now, the book is well-written and very interesting. And I think the key takeaways that come from this are, he divides students and families into drivers and passengers. So student drivers are students that take charge, they work really hard towards getting to their college goals. And then passengers are all the students out there that maybe their parents are going to push them through college, or they're not real concerned about it. And they'll end up where they end up in that real concerned or worried about college. And then he also divides the colleges themselves into what he calls buyers and sellers. So a buyer is a college out there that is essentially willing to offer scholarships and discounts in order to attract more students. And sellers are the high end schools, where they don't really need to worry too much about attracting students. They're in the position where they get to pick from among many, many applicants and build a class. And a lot of students are concerned and excited about trying to get into these schools. If you look at the top schools, like Harvard, and Yale and University of Chicago, and there's about 25, to maybe 50 of these schools, that very much are in the driver's seat, and they get plenty of applicants. And they're struggling with how to pick the right students, and working through some of that. Whereas the rest of the schools out there are constantly trying to make sure that they attract enough students that they can continue to run their institution. And of course, some colleges are actually not able to attract enough students and they're struggling. So again, this book was really eye opening as far as how the colleges work and how they pick their class. Alright, so the key takeaway there is, for most colleges, they're not necessarily comparing two applicants and trying to figure out which one is better. They're more likely building a class or shaping a class, as they call it, where they're trying to get enough leaders and followers. They're trying to build a class with enough musicians to fill the symphony orchestra and marching band. They're trying to get enough political leaders, enough athletes to fill all their teams, enough people to fill all the majors. And then once they do all that, again, they try and find the best students they can, that will fill each of those different niches. Or, again, some students might fill multiple niches. But the challenge for a college again, is they might need history majors, or they might need tuba players. And therefore, they're not necessarily looking for the best student; they're looking for the best student that plays the tuba. So that changes how things work out. There's also a lot of discussion about early decision, early action and how that works. Many families that are concerned about getting accepted to these high end schools really want to understand if it's better to apply early decision, early action, he gets into some of those details. It isn't necessarily one is better than the other. It's a changing landscape as well. In the end, I think it's a great read for anybody that really wants to understand how the sausage is made, so to speak at the high end schools. For many families, it may not be worthwhile because again, you're not necessarily looking at those high end schools because they are relatively selective if you're thinking more along the lines of the local states schools or are a less selective private then this book wouldn't apply to your situation. And even if this book does apply to your situation, it doesn't have a lot of how to, it's not going to teach you how to work the system, or it's just going to help you understand how the system works. There isn't necessarily a magic bullet that's going to help you get accepted at a school that you're after. But it'll explain a little bit more about how most schools build their class and what you're up against. Now, there's another book out there, and then we'll review this book in more detail at some future point, but it's Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be. That's the book about should you even be pursuing these high end schools? Or is it that important that you get into a particular school? Or will any school do for your student? Again, there's a lot of pressure for a lot of families that are really trying to get to the high end schools. My personal opinion is that for many families, that's not really warranted. Strong students can do well at many different colleges. They don't have to be in the Ivy League. They don't have to get into a particular school. There's many schools where they could excel. And the pressure to get into a particular school, again, may just be adding stress on top of stress where it's not needed. All right, well, let's go ahead and wrap things up here. I appreciate you listening. Again, show notes are available on our website. And there's also links to the books we've talked about and all the other show notes and other interesting information. That's all for today. We'll see you next week.
Thank you for listening to the Taming The High Cost of College Podcast. Now it's time for you to take action. Head to tamingthehighcostofcollege.com for show notes, bonus content and to leave feedback for Brad. The next step on your college journey starts now. Brad Baldridge is a registered representative of Cambridge Investment Research and an investment advisor representative of Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, a registered investment advisor. Securities are offered through Cambridge Investment Research Incorporated, a broker dealer and member of FINRA and SIPC. Brad owns two companies: Baldridge Wealth Management and Baldrige College Solutions. The Baldrige companies are not affiliated with Cambridge Investment Research.
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