How to use Naviance

If you don’t use Naviance, the college search and application software that around 40% of US high school students use through their schools, then this one may not be for you. But if your high school does use Naviance, or if you use similar software to help you get personalized college information, please keep reading.

Some research on Naviance has just been released that gives us some good insight into how students use it to make college choices. Christine Mulhern’s paper, titled “Changing College Choices with Personalized Admissions Information at Scale: Evidence on Naviance,” is currently under peer review for publication. (You can see the full paper here. I found it through this report and summary from EdSurge. All quotations are from the introduction of the paper, pages 1-5.) Mulhern details four conclusions.

Seeing is applying. High schools using Naviance can decide when a college’s scattergrams become visible and accessible. Many set it up so that you can’t see a scattergram until at least five or ten students from that school have applied. This makes sense, because a scattergram with only one or two data points isn’t very useful. It also means that some colleges have visible scattergrams, while many do not.

Sample, fictional scattergram from Mulhern’s paper

Sample, fictional scattergram from Mulhern’s paper

Mulhern found that whether or not a college has a visible scattergram makes a huge difference. High school students are 20% more likely to apply to schools with scattergrams available, “especially for students with a high probability of admission.” Students who historically have not had good access to this kind of information—“Black, Hispanic, and free or reduced-price lunch students”—are 55% more likely to apply to a college when they can see the college’s scattergram. The effect is also huge for in-state public colleges: “students are 53% more likely to apply to an in-state public college if they can see its scattergram and more than twice as likely to enroll in it.”

Essentially, when students can see a chart that compares their own GPA and test scores with others who have been admitted in the past, it’s easier for the student to say “hey, I can do this!” and apply. When students don’t have the scattergram for a particular college, they are less likely to have that confidence and apply.

Students apply to schools that accept students like them. The scattergrams show the self-reported admits and denies from that high school at colleges, and it also shows that average GPA and SAT/ACT scores for the college. High school students seem to pay a lot of attention to those green and red dots, applying to “colleges where they are most similar to previous admits.” Mulhern found a trend that students whose GPA and test scores were below average would still apply if there were more admits with similar numbers, and students who were above average were less likely to apply the further above the admits they were.

Students put a lot of weight into the average GPA line. We have to use some shortcuts to help us narrow down the thousands of available colleges into the handful (or several handsful) that we apply to. Mulhern saw that students using Naviance concentrate on schools for which there is a scattergram available, and she also finds that students use the average GPA line within those scattergrams as a quick way to decide if they’re likely to get in and if they apply: “students just below the GPA line are 8% less likely to apply to a college than students just above it.” She did not, however, find a similar trend with SAT scores, and suspects that’s possibly “because there are many sources of information on SAT admissions criteria.”

All these other things add up. If students are more likely to apply to schools that have visible scattergrams, and scattergrams become visible after a number of people have applied there, then students are therefore morel likely to apply to schools that are popular for their high school. And this keeps building up as more students end up applying to the same schools just because there’s available graphs. A student’s—an entire high school’s—portfolio of colleges get caught in this trend. Says Mulhern:

“Students who see more relevant scattergrams for colleges which are a good academic fit are more likely to attend a match college, while those who see more safety colleges are more likely to attend a safety college….This approach improves the quality of where some students attend, but deters others from attending highly selective or match colleges. This can impact students’ college degree attainment, future employment and earnings.”

What can current high school students do with these insights?

The first thing I’d say is not to stop using scattergrams. They’re very useful. People need some shortcuts to narrow down their search, and if scattergrams help you confidently apply to four universities instead of haphazardly applying to 16, then that’s a good thing. I’m also very encouraged by the positive effects of scattergrams on historically underserved and undermatched groups.

However, the findings really remind us to be very aware of the inherent blindspots involved with using scattergrams. To only apply to schools where you can see scattergrams is the same as deciding you only want to apply to colleges where a large number of former students at your high school applied. That’s a really unwise and unhelpful criteria—it has nothing to do with you.

You also want to understand what’s not included in the scattergrams. They only show data for your high school, not the college as a whole. That can make for some warped data. Also, the acceptances and denials you see on the scattergrams are self-reported by the students. While high schools have ways to encourage and/or coerce that information out of students, we can be pretty sure that denials are under-reported—people just don’t like to talk about them. What’s really key, though, is that the scattergrams only show GPA and test scores. Any university that uses holistic admissions—and that’s most of them—take a lot more factors into account. So you’re getting a very small estimate of the whole.

So by all means use those scattergrams and find places that seem to want students like you. But please, please, please do not rely on them, and don’t forget to pay attention to schools that may be looking for students exactly like you who don’t currently have a scattergram available.

Thanks for reading! Please send this to someone who would like to read it, or share it on your social networks. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the monthly newsletter. 

Apply with Sanity doesn’t have ads or annoying pop-ups. It doesn’t share user data, sell user data, or even track personal data. It doesn’t do anything to “monetize” you. You’re nothing but a reader to me, and that means everything to me.

Photo by Zoe Herring.

Naviance is a registered trademark of Hobsons, who does not endorse this website.

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The two things you need for success in college and beyond

Today’s post isn’t strictly about college admissions, though it can help you immensely with the college application journey. It can also help you be a better college student, and a calmer person after college. Today’s post is about two things you need for success in high school, college, and beyond: a meditation routine and a time management system. Maybe need is a strong word. You can get by without either of these things—many people do. But I promise that a meditation routine and time management system will never be a waste of your time or effort.

Meditation. Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation are very popular at the moment, and for good reason. I’ve been falling in and out of my own mindfulness meditation habit for 20 years, so I’m obviously a fan. But it’s not the only type of meditation that you might consider. I’m using the broadest possible meaning of meditation: any repeated activity that allows a person to focus their mind for the purpose of relaxation and/or awareness.

There’s mindfulness meditation, mantra meditation, loving kindness meditation, body scan meditation, and many more. Meditation is commonly associated with Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Many meditation practices are completely secular, even if they originated in Hindu or Buddhist religions. There are also Christian, Jewish, and Muslim contemplative prayer traditions. There’s a meditation routine to fit any body, any belief, and any community. There are ways to meditate sitting, standing, walking, even running.

The important part is to completely disconnect on a regular basis. Disconnect from the noise and activity around you. Disconnect from your critical inner voice. Disconnect from all the thinking about the past and the future. Disconnect from everything that prevents you from relaxing and and raising your self-awareness. Sleep also helps you disconnect, and sleep is essential. But sleep isn’t focused, and many of us don’t experience sleep as a way to get away from stress or anxiety. Meditation, however, is focused and intentional. So don’t assume that sleep is all the relaxation and disconnecting you need. (You’re probably not getting enough sleep anyway.)

Meditation works best when it’s a regular routine. Daily is better than occasional. Five minutes, twice a day is better than an intense weeklong retreat every few years.

What’s so great about meditation? It helps control stress and anxiety. It promotes the ability to focus. It may make you healthier. If you’re a spiritual believer, it helps you attain spiritual awareness. It makes different people more focused and happier in different ways, but a meditation routine, once you find the right one for you, will make you more focused and happier.

Recommendations. There are an overwhelming number of meditation books, meditation classes, guided meditations, and websites exploring meditation of all sorts. If you need a place to begin, try the Calm app or Andrew Weiss’s book Beginning Mindfulness: Learning the Way of Awareness. I think it’s better to start any meditation routine while you search for the best fit rather than wait until you find the best fit before you begin.

Time management system. Ours is a culture with too much. Too much stuff, too much to do, too many choices, too many distractions, too many solutions that never quite solve the problems. That’s a blessing; I’d rather be in a place with too much than not enough, and too many people within our culture still don’t have enough of the things that are important. But our abundant culture also has challenges—lack of sleep, lack of direction, anxiety, missing out on important things and people, self-destructive habits. This is why we need a time management system. As a high school teacher I told countless classes that the secret to doing well in college is time management. It’s something a lot of people say. But that doesn’t mean that we’re good at teaching time management.

Like meditation, there are so many ways to go about it. There are programs and systems for managing your time, and they often contradict each other. There’s not a single solution that fits everyone. The different systems use some combination of to-do lists, calendars, inboxes, notepads, routines, rewards and notes, but there are two main ideas almost universal to productivity management.

The first main idea is that you have to get your organization outside of your brain. Get your thoughts onto paper, or a note on your phone, or a calendar. But get these things, literally, outside of your body. The more you’re asking your brain to keep up with all your commitments, all the things you have to do, all the things you want to do, and all the things you hope to do, the less energy is left for your brain to focus on the thinking that it needs to do at the moment.

Imagine you’re very, very rich, and you can hire people to do most things for you. A personal shopper buys your clothes, and a helper has them ready for you each morning. A chef makes all your meals, housekeepers keep your home clean and looking good, a secretary takes care of all your planning, and someone drives you everywhere. You literally have no decisions to make or things to do that you don’t choose for yourself. Imagine how much time and energy you can focus on the projects you want to focus on! Very few of us have that much money, but the time management systems we put in place serve the same purpose. By spending 30 minutes each day reviewing what you need to do the next day and making a plan, you can maximize the time you spend on what you want to do, minimize the on-the-spot decisions you have to make, and make it less likely you’ll be unprepared for whatever is in front of you. But if you’re constantly trying to remember what you need to do, where you need to be, and what you should have done to be ready for it, you’re always behind and not spending much mental energy on what’s important to you in the moment. Any routine that gives you more time doing what you want to do and less time trying to keep up with what you need to do is a good thing. Explore your options.

The second main idea is that you have to use your system consistently. A time management system that you only use some days doesn’t work. A way to keep track of your assignments and appointments that you only check sometimes doesn’t work. You have to be consistent, or the organization doesn’t actually get out of your brain—you’re still trying to keep track of everything in your head when you could be focused on other things.

Take, as a simple example, my car keys. My car keys are always in one of only two places. They’re either in my left pants pocket, or they’re in the top drawer of my bedroom dresser. I never set them down anywhere else. It took some self-training to get myself to that point, but I did it. And now I never lose my keys or waste time looking for my keys. I also spend exactly zero mental energy thinking about where my keys are—it’s just a habit. But it wouldn’t work if I only put my keys in the same place half the time. Even if I mostly put my keys in my dresser, but sometimes left them on the kitchen table or in the bathroom, then I would either end up spending some time looking for my keys or a lot of mental energy trying to keep myself aware of where my keys are.

The same is true of your homework assignments or deadlines for college application materials. If every time you get an assignment or a deadline you write it down in your calendar, and you check your calendar daily, then you never miss a due date or deadline. And you don’t have to spend any mental energy keeping track of them, because you know they’re in your calendar. But if you only get your assignments and to-do items written down half the time, then it’s not much better than writing them down never.

Recommendations. All of my recommendations for time management systems are books: Daniel J. Levitin’s The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload; David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity; Laura Vanderkam’s Juliet’s School of Possibilities: A Little Story about the Power of Priorities; James Clear’s Atomic Habits; and Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Also: watch this.

People often ask me for tricks and tips for getting into the college of their choice. I usually have to tell them that college admissions doesn’t work that way, and I definitely don’t work that way. The best way to get into a good college is to be a good high school student. But forming a meditation routine and using a time management system will definitely help you be a better high school student and get into college. They’ll also help you be a better college student. And a better employee and a better leader. So, you know, put that on your to-do list.

Thanks for reading! Please send this to someone who would like to read it, or share it on your social networks. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the monthly newsletter. 

Apply with Sanity doesn’t have ads or annoying pop-ups. It doesn’t share user data, sell user data, or even track personal data. It doesn’t do anything to “monetize” you. You’re nothing but a reader to me, and that means everything to me.

Photo by Zoe Herring.

Still making a last-minute decision?

Last week I wrote to seniors about making your final decision before the May 1st deadline.

You may have already made that decision a while ago. If so, congratulations! But if you're still struggling to choose between two schools, or three schools, or seven schools or however many, then you may be looking for some help. 

At this point, I'm assuming that money probably isn't the issue. If you're stuck choosing between a school you can afford and a school you can’t afford, then you're not really struggling to're just procrastinating.  I'm also guessing that if you're still struggling to decide, then a simple "make a list of pros and cons for each school" is something you've already thought of and found unhelpful. Still, if you haven't checked a school's vital stats lately--graduation rate, rate of sophomore return, student-faculty ratio--then go back and look those over.

(If you've been waitlisted at your top-choice school, read my advice here.)

If you’re having trouble, go back over your college mission statement carefully. Decide how many separate factors are a part of it, and then see how many of those factors are met by each school. The one that comes closest to meeting all your factors is where you should go. If you haven't yet made a mission statement, it's not too late.

Maybe there's a school that you would like to consider, but it's a little outside your comfort zone. Perhaps it's farther away than you want to be, or larger than you'd want. Maybe it's an all-girls school, or a military school, or will make it your first time being in a minority. Go to that school. You like it well enough that you applied, and they like you well enough that they accepted you. The fact that it's a little outside the norm for you is exactly why you should go there. This isn't the time to play it safe or delay pushing yourself.

I'd like to throw out a few other things you should research before choosing a school. I seriously doubt any of these factors are going to be The Deciding Factor. However, if you end up just "going with your gut feeling" on April 30, these are some things that may end up affecting your gut feeling.

What is the average daily temperature on September 5, January 10, March 15, and May 30? We all know, in general, that it's colder up north and warmer down south. But you'll want something more specific than that. What is the weather likely to be on your first day of class in fall, the first day of class in the spring, Spring Break, and the last day of class?

How much it will cost to get there and back? How long will it take? If you will be driving from home to college, how long is the drive? Will you need to stop overnight? How much gas is that going to take? (More on gas soon.) If you fly, how long is the flight? Are there non-stops, or do you take multiple flights? How expensive is that? How likely--and possible, even--is it for you to visit home during the year? How important is that to you?

The only ranking that matters at this point: is the school on the list of Top Party Schools? Every year Princeton Review ranks the top party schools. They also rank "Stone Cold Sober Schools," which is the opposite. Party sounds fun and positive, but keep in mind the way that these schools are ranked:

Schools on the "Party Schools" list are those at which surveyed students' answers indicated a combination of low personal daily study hours (outside of class), high usages of alcohol and drugs on campus and high popularity on campus for frats/sororities.

If they were to re-title the list "schools with the most drunks who don't study" would it sound so fun and exciting?

Compare the size of the campus to the size of its home town. For example, Boston University, University of Southern California, and University of Louisiana at Lafayette have similar numbers of undergrad students. B.U. is in a city of almost 700,000, U.S.C. is in a city of almost 4 million, and Lafayette has around 127,000 people. Those are very different contexts. Unless you want to spend all your time on campus, that context matters.

How diverse is the school? What's the racial/ethnic breakdown? How much of the student body comes from out of state? How much of it is international? How important is it to you to have a chance to study and learn with people who are different than you and have different backgrounds? Don’t just look at the student stats, either. Peruse the university websites to see the professors in your likely major.

What will your tie-breaker be? If you just cannot decide between two schools, what will you use to make a decision? Most people would use price, but what if they both cost the same? Will you choose the closer school? The larger school? The one whose basketball team has a better record? Seriously, thinking now about how to break a tie can help you understand a little better what your priorities are, and that can go a long way.

However you decide, once you've decided, really commit. Donate all your free college t-shirts you got on visits and college fairs--even of the school you chose. Buy yourself a new t-shirt (or sweatshirt or bumper sticker or keychain) to make the symbol more meaningful. If you're still a member of any discussion boards or online groups for schools other than the one you choose, get off them. Throw away or recycle all the marketing materials you've collected. Delete all the marketing emails. You’ve made your choice. It’s a good choice. Now own it and enjoy.

Thanks for reading! There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the monthly newsletter. I love mail: comments and questions are welcome and appreciated.

Apply with Sanity doesn’t have ads or annoying pop-ups. It doesn’t share user data, sell user data, or even track personal data. It doesn’t do anything to “monetize” you. A like, follow, or share mean the world to me. Thank you!

Photo by Zoe Herring.

The Glossary: the basics

I want to go over the basic terminology necessary to understand college applications. So many of us—college consultants, high school counselors, teachers, parents, university admissions departments—take it for granted that our students are completely aware of all the terms and lingo, even though the terms are rarely actually taught. If you’re trying to be a first-generation college student, came to this country recently and are new to the system, and/or go to a high school that doesn’t emphasize college preparedness, then some (or a lot) if this may be understandably new.

There are also lots of students who don’t fit that description but still have questions and are embarrassed to ask. So here are the basics, with brief descriptions. Leave a comment if there are other terms you’d like to see covered in The Glossary.

College/University. When we’re dealing with admissions, everyone uses “college” and “university” interchangeably. They mean the same thing.

GPA. Stands for “Grade Point Average.” As it sounds, this is simply the average of all your grades in high school. Except it’s often not so simple at all, since the way your classes are graded look different than how your GPA is expressed. What exactly does a 3.8 GPA mean if your high school grades are letter grades, or on a 1-100 scale?

Let’s start with the most common, college-style GPA. It takes letter grades, like A and C, and converts them into a number. An A is worth four points, a B is worth three points, a C is worth two points, and a D is worth one point. You convert the grades into those points, and then you average them, giving you a GPA between zero and four. A student with a 4.0 has all As. A 3.4 indicates mostly As and Bs.

Not everyone uses letter grades, or a four-point scale. I’ve seen high schools use a four-point scale, a five-point scale, a six-point scale, or a twelve-point scale. Lots of schools also give extra weight to more rigorous classes. They don’t want to encourage you to take too many “easy classes” to keep up a high GPA, so they’ll give an extra point for upper-level classes. These classes with extra weight then lead to a Weighted GPA, where it’s possible to get over a 4.0 on a four-point scale or use a five-point scale that reflects the extra weight.

When colleges get applications from all over the country, they get high school transcripts (the official list of all your classes and the grades you got in those classes) with GPAs on different scales. One of the first things they do is convert all those different GPAs into a common scale they use. Not all colleges do this the same way, and they don’t tell us how they do it.

Class rank. This shows how your GPA compares to the other students in your high school class. If your rank is 47, then 46 people have a higher GPA than you. Of course, being number 47 in a class of 500 means something very different than being number 47 in a class of 50. So a transcript that includes your class rank will also say how many students there are total. It will read #47 out of 500, or #47 out of 50.

Not every high school ranks their students. Some do rank, but don’t give your exact place in the rankings. Instead, they say which quartile you’re in (as in top 25%, top 50%, bottom 50%, or bottom 25%). They may say which quintile your in (divided into five groups instead of four) or which decile (10% groups). Some schools are doing quirky things like naming every high-achieving student as the top student.

Honors classes. Many, but not all, high schools designate some classes as “Honors.” What does this mean? That depends on the school district. There’s no national standard or definition for “honors,” except that it’s supposed to designate a higher-level class for higher-achieving students. Some give honors classes more weight in a GPA, some don’t. Honors is one of those things that sounds good…but may not mean a lot.

For example, I taught several years at a high school where every junior took English III. However, I had four different types of English III: the “sheltered” class had the same curriculum as a regular English III class, but had extra support for English Language Learners. The “honors” class had the same curriculum as the regular class, but had an extra major reading assignment and an extra major writing assignment each six weeks. The “honors” class gave you up to five points on the four-point GPA scale. If you didn’t keep up high grades in the honors class, you were kicked out and went back to the regular English III class. The AP class followed a completely different curriculum to prepare students for the AP English Language exam. It was also a five-point class, and students also had to maintain a B to stay in the class. So the honors class was seen as more difficult and more rewarding, but not as difficult as the AP class. The honors class was a lot more popular: hundreds of juniors took Honors English III, but only about 50 took AP English. There were lots of reasons for this, but a popular reason was “I can get the same weighted grade in an easier class.”

Strength of schedule. Colleges look at your grades, and they also take into account the context of those grades. If you have a really high GPA, but took regular-level classes at a school that offers Honors, AP or IB classes, they’ll notice that and give your GPA less importance than someone who took the more challenging classes—even if they got lower grades. On the other hand, colleges also notice if your school doesn’t offer the more challenging classes. If you didn’t take any AP classes at a school that doesn’t offer AP classes, then the fact that you didn’t take AP classes isn’t held against you. Selective colleges want to see that you took the most rigorous classes available to you, and "strength of schedule” is a way of assessing that. They know that successful college students are the ones who challenge themselves and push themselves to achieve, so they look for high school students who have already done this. But they also recognize that not every student has the same opportunities, and they account for that.

Letter of Recommendation, often called rec letters. Many, but not all, universities will ask you to submit letters of recommendation. Typically they ask you to get a recommendation from your school counselor and at least one teacher. This is a chance for someone who knows you and has worked with you to tell the school more about you as a person and as a student. You’ll need to ask them to write a letter for you, and you’ll probably never see the letter—they send it directly to the colleges.

Advanced Placement. Usually just called AP. Advanced Placement (which I’m supposed to tell you “is a trademark owned by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.” Same goes for Pre-AP, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests) is a program of exams and courses that are nationally recognized. The exams are given each spring, and they’re the same exam at the same time no matter where you are.

AP courses at high schools are supposed to be college-level classes, and many colleges will give you college credit for high scores on AP exams. Even if a university doesn’t give you college credit, they still want you to take AP classes if they’re available, because of the strength of schedule context. So here’s the annoying part: the more elite and prestigious a university is, the less likely they are to give you credit for high AP scores…and the more important it is for you to take AP exams in order to get accepted.

Pre-AP. Lower-level courses meant to prepare you for AP courses. Some people take Pre-AP Chemistry before taking AP Chemistry, as an example, but some don’t.

International Baccalaureate. Usually just called IB. International Baccalaureate is a world-wide organization and curriculum offered by some schools. IB classes, like AP classes, are generally recognized as rigorous, and there are also IB exams you can take in high school for credit, much like AP exams. Unlike AP, though, IB is rarely available on a class-by-class basis. You’re either in the program (if it’s available) or you’re not.

SAT. SAT is one of the two major college entrance exams. It’s a standardized test, given around the world several times a year. Although many colleges are now making it optional to send test scores, you’ll probably want to take the SAT or the ACT (or both). The SAT has several components: reading, writing & language, math , and an essay. SAT used to stand for “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” but they dropped that and now SAT just means…SAT. It joins KFC, IBM, and ESPN as brands that hope you’ll just forget about what they initially stood for.

SAT Subject Tests. On top of the general SAT, there are also 20 specific subject tests. 12 of them are language tests, like Spanish and Korean. Few colleges require you take any, but you should look that up for any school you’re considering.

ACT. The ACT (which also dropped its original meaning a long time ago) is the other major college entrance exam. Colleges will accept SAT or ACT—or neither. Which is the more popular test mostly depends on what geographic area you live in. It’s becoming more normal for students to take both the ACT and the SAT, which is sad.

Test Prep. Test prep refers to a course of study mean to help you get higher scores on the SAT or ACT test. You can do test prep by yourself using a book or online program. You can hire a private tutor. There are test prep classes available. Pro: almost everyone gets higher scores after spending time doing test prep, and almost all college-bound students do at least some test prep. Ignore test prep at your own peril. Con: your SAT or ACT scores have absolutely zero use or meaning once you’re in college, so it’s a lot of preparation for a benefit that doesn’t last long.

TOEFL. Test of English as a Foreign Language. Virtually every student outside the US or Canada applying to a college in the US or Canada will be asked to take this test. Virtually no student within the US or Canada apply to a college in the US or Canada will be asked to take this test.

CEEB Code. This is a code that you have to put on a lot of standardized test registration forms and college applications. It’s the unique ID number for your high school. You’ll probably never memorize it, because you have to use it so rarely. Your school counselor, on the other hand, probably knows it as well as their middle name. So if you need it in a setting where it’s not provided, ask your counselor or look it up.

Common Application. The Common Application, or Common App, is a single college application accepted by over 800 colleges. The Common App makes it much easier to manage your applications and apply to more schools. Watch out, though: most schools still charge an application fee too apply. So it’ snot like you can use the Common App to just mass-apply to 800 universities at once.

Coalition Application. Like the Common App, the Coalition Application is accepted by a lot of schools. They’re only up to around 140 right now, but it’s growing. The Coalition App is much more focused on increasing college access, and it has a lot of college search tools along with the application itself.

State (public) college or university. A state or public university is one owned by the state government with some government oversight. They’re usually much less expensive than private colleges, because state tax money is used to help pay the cost. Because state universities are supported by the taxpayers of a single state, applicants from other states usually have a much higher price. You can’t really tell if a university is public or private by the name alone, so you have to look carefully. Texas State University: public. University of Texas: public. Penn State University: public. University of Pennsylvania: private. See what I mean?

Private, non-profit college or university. A private university, usually a non-profit organization, may be independent or affiliated with a religious organization. Being affiliated with a religious organization doesn’t necessarily mean that the religious aspect of the school is prominent, and none discriminate on the basis of religion. But you may want to check out how religiously-oriented a school is if that’s important to you one way or another. Religious affiliations are also not always clear from the name. Southern Methodist University is obviously associated with the United Methodist church, but so are Duke, Boston University, and around 80 other colleges.

Private, for-profit college or university. These schools are private businesses. They are usually associated with technical training and trade schools. Be extremely careful looking at for-profit schools. They rely a lot on students taking out loans, and tend to have small graduation rates. Nobody is going to say that every single for-profit school is shady, but your odds of getting what you want without debt trouble is low.

Community college. Like state colleges and universities, community colleges are usually supported, more-affordable schools. They tend to be run at the county or city level rather than the state level. Most community colleges are two-year programs, meant to give you an Associate Degree, which can help secure a better job or get you into a four-year university for a Bachelor’s Degree. The median pay for someone with an Associate degree is higher than for those without it, it’s not until you get to a Bachelor degree that the big jump in pay and job security comes.

Selectivity. Selectivity just means how many people who apply to go to the college are actually accepted. While most colleges accept most applicants, most of the news and fame goes to schools that accept very few applicants. Schools get more selective not because they accept fewer people, but because more and more people apply for the same number of available spots.

Financial Aid. College is expensive, and most colleges have an office of financial aid to help you afford college. Aid primarily consists of need aid, merit aid (scholarships), and loans.

Price. Also known as full price or sticker price. This is the full price of tuition and fees that a university charges to attend. Even at more-affordable state schools, it’s usually a large number. But remember that not all, or even most, of the students actually pay that full price. Most people get some kind of financial aid.

Net Price. This is the price you actually pay. It’s the full price minus your financial aid. A few things to keep in mind: you never know what a school’s net price will be for you until after you apply and are accepted; schools are required to provide a Net Price Calculator, which gives you an estimate of what your net price will be, but they’re often not very good estimated; you should never assume you can’t afford a school until you apply and they tell you.

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Apply with Sanity doesn’t have ads or annoying pop-ups. It doesn’t share user data, sell user data, or even track personal data. It doesn’t do anything to “monetize” you. A like, follow, or share mean the world to me. Thank you!

Making your decision

High school seniors applying to college have, for most universities, until May 1st to choose a school and make their commitment. If you have competing offers and aid packages, then it may be difficult to decide. I can’t make the decision for you, but I can offer some advice for how to get yourself in the right frame of mind to make a wise choice.

Know how much input you want from your family, and let them know. This is your decision about your future. If your family is helping to pay for it, it’s also their decision. There’s plenty of room for conflict between you and your family over how to make the best choice. Some students really want the final say to be a communal decision, and some students really want their parents to just stay out of it and let them decide for themselves. Think about how much help you want from your family and then tell them that as clearly as possible. This may be a statement like “This is a really important decision, and I’d love to know what you think I should do and why.” Or “I know we’re all in this together, but for the next week I’d really like to think about things on my own and not talk about college with you.” Making these kinds of statements of your intentions now can make it easier in two weeks if you find yourself needing to say “I know this isn’t your top choice, but I really believe this is the best choice for me and I’d appreciate your support.” There’s of course no guarantee that your family is going to go along with what you request, but beginning with a short and concise statement about what you need is the best way to keep control over your situation.

While you’re at it, think about all your influences. You probably have people you trust, and whose opinions you value, other than your family. Ask those people their thoughts on your final choice. Explain the colleges you’re choosing between, and explain the benefits and risks of each of them. You may get good advice from them, and even if you don’t get good advice, you get the clarifying exercise of being able to articulate the benefits and risks of the contenders. Be careful, though, not to put too much stock in a single person’s opinion. Most people give advice based on their own experiences, which is great. But their experiences may not match yours, and their outlook may not be as pertinent to your situation as they believe. A person who had an exceptionally good or exceptionally bad college experience themselves may give advice that only works if your choices are also exceptional.

Your best friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend is not a good enough reason to choose a school. Of course you love them and want to be with them, and it will be difficult to be away. But college is one of your most significant life decisions, and it has to be based on your life—not just being near someone else while they pursue their own life. Would you let your friend tell you what city to live in, what job to take, who else you can be friends with? If not, then don’t let them dictate what college you go to.

Go back to your mission statement. Take a good look at your most recent College Mission Statement. Give the different schools you’re choosing from a detailed and accurate score based on what you decided you want. Do not change your College Mission Statement now just to make it favor one school over another! If one university has a higher score than the others, then that is the one that best matches what you decided you want for yourself. Don’t ignore that. If you have some sort of tie, then there are three things to think about: 1) this decision is going to be really difficult, 2) you’re not going to make a bad choice, so take comfort in that, and 3) at this point the smart thing to do is go with the one that costs less.

Think about the Wise Mind. I had a discussion one, about 20 years ago, that I never forgot. I was talking to a woman—I don’t remember her name or where we talked—who was a therapist, and she told me a rule to consider: always make decisions with the Adult Brain. The Child Brain thinks “I want.” It is impulsive, emotional, selfish, and ungrounded. It just wants what it thinks will be pleasurable. The Parent Brain thinks “I must.” It is consumed by obligation, sacrifice, and service. It defers its own needs to help someone dependent. But the Adult Brain thinks “I will.” It takes both desire and obligation into consideration, and tries to make a reasonable, productive decision. So, the therapist told me, it’s important to recognize that you have a Child Brain and a Parent Brain, but you should always make decisions—especially important decisions—with the Adult Brain.

The more up-to-date terminology for a similar idea is Wise Mind. Wise Mind doesn’t ignore rational thinking or emotion, but considers them both to make wise decisions. Here’s a short video about Wise Mind. To make your college decision using the Wise Mind is to avoid being overly influenced by pure emotion—I want to go to the college that my friend is going to; this college may not be as good a fit, but it’s well-known and people will be impressed when I tell them I go there; how can I pass up that amazing new student activity center? I can avoid an argument with my dad if I just go where he wants me to go. It will also avoid being overly influenced by pure reason—the estimated return on investment is higher at this school, so it would be stupid to pick the other one; this school has 5% more classes in my major than the other one; I’ve known about this school longer, so there must be a good reason for that. The Wise Mind will balance emotion and reason to make the most productive decision.

Practice explaining your decision. You’re going to need to tell people—friends, family, teachers, counselors—what you’ve decided. Practice saying this aloud as clearly as possible—not just where, but why. Make it into a single sentence. You don’t have to wait until you’ve chosen, either. If you’ve narrowed your choices down to two or three, then practice your explanations for all of them. That may make the decision a bit easier.

Once you’ve decided, don’t look back. You can spend the rest of your life wondering what would have been had you chosen a different school. That’s not a good use of your time. Sooner or later you have to stop wondering “what if” and start living the life in front of you. So you might as well do that May 2nd.

Best of luck to all the seniors making these final decisions. Remember: if you’ve got several good options in front of you to choose from, you’ve done a number of things right along the way. Congratulations!

Thanks for reading! There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the monthly newsletter. I love mail: comments and questions are welcome and appreciated.

Apply with Sanity doesn’t have ads or annoying pop-ups. It doesn’t share user data, sell user data, or even track personal data. It doesn’t do anything to “monetize” you. A like, follow, or share mean the world to me. Thank you!

Grace is getting close

Now is the part of admissions season when we really get into horse racing analogies. Grace is in the final stretch before making a college decision before May 1st. Hofstra and Fordham are neck and neck, and it’s going to go down to the wire. Or will a dark horse longshot suddenly get her attention? Read the full interview below.

Meet the Class gets updated each month from September to May. Each installment features an interview about both the facts and the feelings of where the student is in the process.

Interviews may be edited lightly for clarity and grammar. Names may be changed to protect privacy. 


Have you got all your notifications? As of last month you were:

* accepted at Hofstra, with a scholarship

* accepted at Adelphi

* accepted at Marymount Manhattan

* accepted at SUNY Purchase

* accepted at SUNY Stony Brook

What news have you got from Fordham, Rutgers, NYU, and Boston University?

I have all my notifications. I was accepted at Fordham, rejected by NYU and Rutgers. I received a quasi acceptance at Boston University, meaning if I do 2 semesters at another accredited college and maintain a 3.0, then they guarantee me acceptance as a sophomore.

I received the acceptance from Fordham first and was so happy that I did not even open the e-mails/snail mail from the other schools until days after I had received them. I know how that sounds, but I got into the two schools I wanted most, Hofstra and Fordham, so the rest were not as meaningful to me.

Have you made a decision yet? If so, can you explain your thinking? If not, can you explain what questions you're pondering and what factors you're considering? Are you attempting to get any offers changed, either in terms of acceptance or financial aid packages?

I have not made a decision between Fordham and Hofstra. The merit scholarship from Fordham was not as much as I had hoped for, so Hofstra is more appealing. However, the location of Fordham (right in Manhattan) is equally more appealing. My mother and I are going to the accepted students’ days at both schools during April vacation and then I will make my decision. I wrote to Fordham and asked for more money, so I will follow that appeals process and see where it leads. Either way…..I have to make a decision by May 1st. I can’t go wrong with either school. From the very beginning of this journey, they were my two top schools. I feel so lucky to be in this position.

You're almost to the end of applications and decisions! How do you feel?

I am so happy this will be over. It has been a long stressful process. There were so many ups and downs. I am ready to start looking to the future.

What are your last few months of high school going to look like? Are things slowing down? Are you feeling stressed about exams or work? How's your life looking right now?

I am preparing for the AP exams and the teachers are still giving us a lot of homework. So things are not slowing down and the stress is still pretty high. I have a full time job for the summer, working at the local YMCA in the Theater Camp. I did it last year and had a lot of fun, so I am looking forward to that.

What's something you feel good about right now, either related to school or not?

I feel good about my upcoming visits to my two schools and the fact that my decision will be made soon.

Thanks for reading! If you have college admissions questions for Grace, leave a comment or email me. You can get regular updates on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up for the monthly newsletter below. 

Apply with Sanity doesn’t have ads or annoying pop-ups. It doesn’t share user data, sell user data, or even track user data. It doesn’t do anything to “monetize” you. But a like, follow, or share mean the world to me. Thank you!

Faulkner has several acceptances!

What feels better than getting accepted to college? Getting accepted to two colleges. That’s where Faulkner is right now, and there’s still time for more. Keep reading to learn why Faulkner prefers Tulane to Georgetown and how much she enjoys Youtube videos.

Meet the Class gets updated each month from September to May. Each installment features an interview about both the facts and the feelings of where the student is in the process.

Interviews may be edited lightly for clarity and grammar. Names may be changed to protect privacy. 


It looks like Tulane has become your top choice. What do you like about Tulane? All else (cost, etc.) being equal, would you choose Tulane over George Washington if they both accept your application?

I would choose Tulane University over George Washington University since Tulane actually has a zoology program.

Have you heard any news yet? Any acceptances and/or scholarships?

I have been accepted into Southern New Hampshire University and Kent State University.

Have you begun to feel more distant from your high school? Have you got "senioritis?" Is your relationship with school changing in the final months?

I am feeling more distant from my high school. 

Speaking of high school: what's the atmosphere like? You said that most students are applying to college and expect to go to college. Are people beginning to get acceptances? 

The atmosphere at my high school is stressful. I do not know if my classmates are beginning to get acceptances.

Your application list has hardly changed at all over the year. How long have you known these were the schools you'd apply to? What brought you to this particular set of schools? Are there any stories about any of them that help illustrate your connection to them?

I have known these were the schools I would apply to since I learned about these schools. I chose these schools because they have zoology programs. The only school I have a connection to is George Washington University because my mom is an alumnus

What's the one thing you most look forward to at college next semester? What are you most excited about?

I look forward to the time in between classes when I can sit down in a nice secluded area and watch YouTube videos. I'm excited to actually start learning zoology.

Faulkner’s current list:

Southern New Hampshire University (accepted!)

Kent State (accepted!)

Tulane (applied)

N.C. State (applied)

George Washington University (applied)

Thanks for reading! If you have college admissions questions for Faulkner, leave a comment or email me. You can get regular updates from Apply with Sanity by checking the website (new blog posts most Mondays and Thursdays), liking on Facebook or Twitter, and signing up for the monthly newsletter.

Apply with Sanity doesn’t have ads or annoying pop-ups. It doesn’t share user data, sell user data, or even track user data. It doesn’t do anything to “monetize” you. A like, follow, or share mean the world to me. Thank you!

Test-optional isn't going to last

Test-optional isn't going to last

Maybe required testing will make a come-back, maybe some new test will come to dominate SAT and ACT, or maybe (but less likely) standardized testing will disappear. But the middle ground of “send us scores if you want to” won’t be around for too long, because there’s no good reason for it to exist.

Don't pass up a full ride

Don't pass up a full ride

Let's be clear: getting a full scholarship is very rare. Fewer than one percent of college applicants end up getting to go for free. It takes more than just being a good student who wrote a good application essay. But still, one percent is still thousands of students a year, so you may want to do some thinking and planning, just in case.

Here's a simple rule to help you know how to think about full scholarships: you should not pass up a full ride. If you apply to a school and they offer you a full scholarship, go to that school.

How do wealthy kids get into elite colleges?

How do wealthy kids get into elite colleges?

Earlier this week I wrote down my thoughts about the admissions scandal as we know it right now. In that post I argue, among other things, that massive cheating and bribery are not normal. I also argue that major donations to colleges are not actually legal bribes to get sub-par kids into elite schools, despite popular perception. However, popular perception is absolutely correct that elite universities are largely populated by wealthy students. So how do wealthy kids get into elite colleges? Are they, as many people have written in the past two weeks, gaming the system and destroying meritocracy? They are…kind of. Let’s look at some of the ways that wealth plays into college admissions.

Looking for stories

If you are currently a student at an Ivy League or other elite university, or if you’re an adult who graduated from one, I’d love to hear about any of your classmates who were clearly not up to the task but well-connected enough to get in. (Best to leave their names out of it.) Hit the Contact Button or email me directly at

On the other hand, if you are/were at an elite university and never came across people who were sub-par but rich, I'd also love to hear that. Thanks!

About the admissions scandal

About the admissions scandal

An interesting thing happened last Tuesday. 50 people—including a college admissions consultant, SAT and ACT test proctors, university coaches, and wealthy parents—were charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, and racketeering. Here’s a good rundown of all the people involved. This has been big news this week, and I assume you already know about it.

All week, while I’ve been on family vacation for Spring Break, I’ve been reading and thinking about the scandal. What do I want to say to current and prospective clients? To their parents? To Apply with Sanity readers? I have several things I want to say.

What to do with all that mail you're getting

What to do with all that mail you're getting

n the past two weeks I’ve had several people ask me about all the mail they’re receiving from colleges. If you’re a senior who has already sent out all your applications, then be assured that the mail will dry up soon if it hasn't already. Universities know what year you graduate high school, so they know to stop sending you materials.

And for the rest of you, 9th through 11th grade? What are you supposed to do with all that mail?

Something to do over spring break

Something to do over spring break

Go on a practice college tour.

For many high school students, especially juniors, Spring Break is a popular time for college campus visits. I wouldn't necessarily call this "normal." Lots of students do it, yes. But lots of students don't do many--or any--visits until they're seniors and visit only schools they've already been admitted to. And plenty of students don't visit a college at all until they show up in the fall of their first year as students. What's "normal" is up to you and what you think is really best for you. While I don't recommend skipping college visits altogether, neither do I recommend going on big multi-campus trips just for the heck of it. 

The Glossary: liberal arts college

The Glossary: liberal arts college

In my own practice I tend to talk about three main types of colleges: “liberal arts colleges” (I say “liberal arts schools” just as often), “big state schools,” and “national private universities.” There are no clear lines between the three, there’s plenty of overlap, and I’m leaving out some (like trade schools, art schools, and other specialized schools). But those three get me through most of my conversations just fine.

One of the most commonly used terms is liberal arts college. What does that mean?

Asking for more financial aid

Asking for more financial aid

Now is the season when acceptance letters begin to arrive for a lot of seniors, and with acceptances come financial aid packages. (Remember: you never know how much a university is going to cost you until you apply and get accepted.)

The bad news is that very few students receive "full ride" scholarship or aid packages that cover everything. The most-quoted number I could find was about 20,000 per year, or 0.3% of applicants, though that number is possibly outdated. The NCAA says about 2% of high school athletes get college scholarships.

The good news is that around 88% of students do get some sort of discount. If you get an aid offer that isn’t a full ride, you probably want more. You may need more, but needing and wanting can be different. How do you ask for more money?

The Glossary: gap year

The Glossary: gap year

The first time I heard a student tell me he was taking a gap year, I got the completely wrong idea. Having never heard the term before, I thought he was trying to find a way to say that he didn’t finish college applications and was going to have to try again the next year. Kind of like “in between jobs” is sometimes a euphemism for “unemployed,” I thought “gap year” was a euphemism for “didn’t get into college.” But I was wrong. Very wrong.