Kati is juggling

You’ve got automatic acceptance into your top-choice school. Life is easy, right? Not if you’re also in the choir and the lead in the school play. And you’re having second thoughts about your major. And you want to do some more campus visits. And you’ve completely shifted your college list from what it was just a month ago. And you have a bit of writer’s block. And your top-choice school may not be your top-choice school in another month. Kati’s got a lot going on right now. Read below for the full scoop.

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. 

Kati attends a comprehensive public high school in Texas

Do you have any deadlines coming up soon? What about any visits or college-related activities? What does your October look like in terms of college admissions?

So, besides trying to get all my applications sent in before Thanksgiving break, my big deadline is November 15th. This is when all applicants who wish to receive priority scholarships must submit their apps. A few days later, on the eighteenth, I’ll be participating in another round of auditions in the greater Houston area. Before November, though, October is a busy month! I want to finish all of my essays and short answers over the week (and over this GREAT three-day weekend we have!) so I can go to my local writing center for revisions before the end of October. There’re a few colleges I still want to visit, and I’m trying to pencil in dates to go view the campuses this month as well. Besides that, I’ve filled out all of my information on my applications, so I just need to finish the essays, submit my test scores, and send my transcripts.

The FAFSA just opened up. How soon do you plan to submit yours? Do you have all the information you need?

My school has a FAFSA night on October 16th, and so I plan to use that to help me fill out my application.

How much money do you anticipate spending on college admissions? In terms of application fees and other expenses, how much is this going to cost your family?

I’m really trying to narrow down my list so I don’t have to pay more than about five or so application fees. On top of the average $50 per app, it’s also another $15 to send my SAT scores to each school. So, bare minimum, I believe I’ll be paying nearly $400 on applications alone.

Other than college applications, what else is going on for you at school? What kinds of things are you involved with at school?

I am involved with my school’s theatre program, our choir, and am a fairly regular member in student council. The week of October 8th, we have our first choir concert of the year, and then the week of the 22nd, I’m playing Dorothy in the theatre’s production of the Wizard of Oz. Between auditions, school, and rehearsals, it’s become a lot to juggle. I really enjoy doing it though, and I’ve gotten so much more effective at managing my time wisely because of the activities I participate in.

How are you feeling about college applications right now? What's your current mood as far as college goes?

I’m nervous about applications! Due to a Texas law, because I’m in my top 6%, I’ll get automatic acceptance into any public Texas university. The thing is, I still have to actually apply, and it’s become a real procrastinator’s struggle to get me to even think about my admissions essays because I feel as though they’re meaningless to an extent. Despite this, I have every intention to make my essays perfect, and so that’s why I’ve been pushing off starting them. I have made my bed, now I get to lie in it.

What's the general mood of your senior class? You say that only a third to a half are applying to college--is that something that gets talked about a lot? Are most of your classes with other college-bound students?

So the mood of my senior class varies greatly. Many of my classes are with college bound kids, and I’m assuming all of them have at the very least begun their applications. About half of those have actually submitted applications, so depending on what part of the process they’re at, it’s on a scale of extremely stressed to enjoying post-application bliss.

Last month you mentioned your major a few times, and I get the sense it's STEM related. You also mention auditioning for theater scholarships. What's your intended major? 

Originally, I planned to only major in Biomedical Engineering. All the schools I first liked had very good programs for it. However, after auditioning last week, I’ve been looking at double majoring or having a minor in theatre. Currently, I’m looking into schools that have both a biomedical engineering degree or something very similar and offer a BA in Theatre.

Let's do our monthly checkup on "The List." Last month your list was:

  Johns Hopkins

  Carnegie Mellon

  U.T. Austin (top choice)




  U.C. San Diego

It’s crazy, but my list has changed a lot in the past few weeks! I’ve decided I only want to apply to one out of state college, and that is Carnegie Mellon because I really like their Biomedical and Theatre programs. University of Texas at Austin is still my top school, but I’m looking into other schools in-state that are more affordable and also feature a nice Theatre program.

Thanks for reading! If you have college admissions questions for Kati, leave a comment or email me. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

Thinking about scholarships, part two

Last week I wrote about scholarships and a few big-picture guidelines to use when searching for funding. Think like a donor to understand why the big money is probably going to be at the college itself. Look to the organizations you already belong to. Understand how much you need and what you’re willing and able to do. This week I’d like to give three specific examples of what I’m talking about to see how this works.

The KU Excellence scholarship

Who is it for? Out-of-state students applying to the University of Kansas as freshmen. They also have a set of scholarships for Kansas residents.

How much is it worth? It lowers your tuition to be the same as in-state students. That’s currently a discount of $16,210 per year, or $64,840 total. That’s a lot of money.

What do you have to do to qualify? Have a 30 ACT score or a 1360 SAT score, and also have a GPA of 3.75 or higher. If your scores or grades don’t meet that standard, they also have some smaller scholarships with a lower score/grade threshold. There’s no extra work to qualify—no essays or interviews—and every out-of-state student who qualifies gets the scholarship.

How did I find it? I just went to the University of Kansas website, clicked on Admissions, and then clicked on Tuition and Scholarships. Whatever schools you’re thinking about apply to, you should do the same. They’re not hiding their big scholarships, because they’re trying to use them to entice you to apply and enroll. Ironically, it’s often the biggest scholarships, like this $64,000 one, that have the least amount of extra work or luck involved. Don’t pass up these opportunities.

 Screenshot from  KU website

Screenshot from KU website

The Stephanie G. Hoffman Scholarship Fund

Who is it for? Jewish college students from the San Francisco area.

How much is it worth? $2,000-$5,000.

What do you have to do to qualify? “Major in library science, English literature, or related field, with the intention of working with underserved children to excite them through reading to pursue higher education.” This is quite specific.

How did I find it? I wanted to show that religious organizations are a great place to check for scholarships, and that they are often regional instead of national. So I Googled “scholarships for Jews in San Francisco.” Sure enough, the top hit is the website for the Jewish Community Federation & Endowment fund of San Francisco, The Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. They list the Hoffman Scholarship fund as well as 10 other scholarships specifically for Jewish students in the San Francisco area. Whatever your religious affiliation and geographic region, there’s probably a similar site for you.

 Screenshot from  JCF website

Screenshot from JCF website

MyProjectorLamps.com Scholarship

Who is it for? High school or college students. Must be at least 14 years old to apply.

How much is it worth? $500.

What do you have to do to qualify? You must have at least a 3.0 GPA, like or follow MyProjectorLamps.com on Facebook, and write an essay on “your ideas about the use of multimedia and data visualization in K-12 classrooms.”

How did I find it? Just out of curiosity, I Googled “scholarships for average students.” That led me to a whole section on FastWeb for scholarships for average students. The one from MyProjectorLamps.com is a great example of the corporate scholarships I talked about last week. They give away $500 a year, and they gain Facebook followers and consumer research about how to keep projectors useful in classrooms. One essay for a possible $500 doesn’t seem like much, but imagine you’re trying to win a dozen of these to really make a dent in your tuition bill—it will take a lot of writing, and there’s no guarantee with any of them.

 Screenshot from  FastWeb.com

Screenshot from FastWeb.com

Thanks for reading! Please share this with everyone you know, or at least with someone you think will find it helpful. Next week, I’ll have two more Meet the Class updates. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

Grace is keeping up the pace

Grace is preparing for two November 1st Early Action deadlines, and she’s already got her FAFSA submitted. As much as she’s keeping ahead with college applications, you might think she has plenty of spare time to work on things. Not quite. Read the October interview below, and read her September interview here.

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. 


Do you have any deadlines coming up soon? What about any visits or college-related activities? What does your October look like in terms of college admissions?

My main deadline is November 1st.  I am applying early action to Fordham University and Hofstra University and I must have my Common App in by then.  I completed most of my college visits in April of Junior year, so I feel comfortable with that.  Also, the FAFSA just opened and my parents already completed and filed it.  The only other deadline is for the CSS profile, which some, but not all, of the colleges on my list require.

The FAFSA just opened up. How soon do you plan to submit yours? Do you have all the information you need?

My parents realized how important it was to me to get that done early, so they started it on October 1st and finished on October 2nd.  Now, they just have to complete the CSS profile, which will be done and filed by Columbus Day.  They gathered all the information they needed before it opened, so that their stress level would be lower.

How much money do you anticipate spending on college admissions? In terms of application fees and other expenses, how much is this going to cost your family?

I am applying to 10 schools at $70-$75 per application, so that would normally cost around $750, however, 2 schools gave me an application fee waiver.  I am very grateful for that.

Other than college applications, what else is going on for you at school? What kinds of things are you involved with at school?

I am very involved in my school’s Theater Club and our Fall play is opening November 1st also.  I have a major role in the play and we are rehearsing every school day for hours.  I also am taking 3 AP classes, which have quite a bit of homework. 

What other types of groups or activities are you involved with outside of school? How busy do you feel on a day-to-day basis?

As I explained above, Theater Club is pretty intense right now!  I also am a  Co-Captain for the Dance Team at my school, and we are practicing for Pep Rally which takes place the day before Thanksgiving.  In addition, I rehearse once a week for my school’s A Cappella group.  As for my outside dance classes, I take 4 a week.  I have very little down time, so time management is very important for me.

How are you feeling about college applications right now? What's your current mood as far as college goes?

Some days I feel so excited to apply and I get excited when I think about starting a new life in New York.  Other days, I feel stressed and the prospect of leaving home.

What's the general mood of your senior class? You say that almost all your classmates will be going on to a four-year college. Does that help bond the class together, or does it get competitive? Do people talk about their college applications a lot?

People talk about their college applications constantly.  It does not feel competitive at all, my class is comprised of some very nice people!  The general mood swings between happiness to end high school, and stress about getting the information filed in a timely manner.  

Last month you mentioned a Theater minor. What's your intended major? Do you have one in mind?

I intend to start with a Biology major, because I want to do something with Science, specifically animals.  However, I also will see where it goes from there.  Communications interests me too.

Let's do our monthly checkup on "The List." Last month your list was:



Boston University


Six unnamed others

What are the other six? Are there any changes to your list?

I am also applying to NYU, Adelphi University, Marymount Manhattan College, SUNY Purchase, SUNY Stony Brook.  I just recently added Rutgers University to my list. 

Thanks for reading! If you have college admissions questions for Grace, leave a comment or email me. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

Thinking about scholarships, part one

The whole college admissions process—choosing which colleges to apply to, completing the applications, waiting for responses, and making your final choice—is often overwhelming. Figuring out how to pay for college is even more overwhelming. We’re aware that there are scholarships available, but we don’t always know how to find them, how to evaluate them, how to apply for them, and even if they’re actually worth it. There’s a lot of complexity, and each individual’s situation is different, so it’s difficult to make a few simple rules for everyone to follow. So today I’d like to do some thinking about scholarships in general, and next week I’ll choose three or four individual scholarships to look at using the framework I explain today.

To understand scholarships, think like a donor.

Let’s start with the big money. Imagine I’m a wealthy person who has decided to spend a million dollars giving back to the community by funding college scholarships. With that kind of money, I can start my own scholarship fund. I’ll need to hire some lawyers to set up the non-profit organization. I’ll need to hire an accountant. I’ll need to hire at least one or two administrators who will process all the applications, put together a panel of judges, make sure the money actually makes it to the winner’s account at college, and coordinate with the lawyers and accountants and bankers. I’ll need a marketing company to help me advertise the scholarship to make sure that I get a good applicant pool every year. I’m going to easily spend five to 20 percent of my million just getting the fund set up and working, leaving me with less money for actual scholarships. Or…

I can call up a university, probably the one I graduated from, one that my children graduated from, or perhaps a local one in my community. I tell them I want to donate a million dollars for scholarships. Hooray! They’ll send someone from their development office (“development” means fundraising) to me, and they’ll treat me to a nice dinner. They’ll lay out several options for how to structure or limit the scholarships. They’ll offer to make more options if I don’t like those. They’ll ask me—politely and subtly—if maybe what I really want to do is donate two million? They’ll write an article about my big donation for their alumni magazine, and they’ll invite me to campus to be celebrated for my contribution. I’ll get lovely thank-you notes from the college president and development office. They can arrange for me to meet the recipients of my donation. What’s even better, virtually all the money will actually go to scholarships. They’ve already got the lawyers, accountants, administrators, and marketers, so I don’t need to bother with that. It’s easier, more fun, and more cost-efficient to donate directly to the school. There’s a drawback that the funds will only be used at that school, but that’s probably not a big deal to me. If they’re accepting good and worthy students, then I’m ok with that.

Which route to do you think I’m going to choose? Giving to the college. This is why almost all the big money for scholarships and financial aid is already at the colleges, and this is why you’re going to get most—or all—of your scholarship money from the college you attend, whether it’s in the form of need-based aid, merit aid, or both. That’s simply where the money is, because that’s where it makes sense for the donors to give. There’s also the power of interest and investment to help their big pile of money become an even bigger pile of money over time. There’s around half a trillion dollars of college endowment funds in the United States.

If it’s efficient for a million-dollar donor to simply donate to an institution, then it’s even more efficient for smaller donors. If I’ve only got a hundred thousand dollars to give away in scholarships, or a thousand dollars, or a hundred dollars, or twenty dollars, then I’m not doing this myself. I’m going to give to a larger institution that already has a scholarship fund set up. It may be directly to a college like the big donors, or it may go to my church, employer, union, social club, or a local charitable organization. The first place you look for scholarships outside of the college you’re attending is among the organizations you’re already involved with. See if any of your family’s employers have a scholarship fund. Check your church, temple, or mosque. Check any clubs, professional organizations or social organizations your family belongs to. Check any national organizations you belong to through school, like the National Honor Society. They probably have some kind of education fund, and you’re likely to qualify if you’re part of their group. These scholarships tend to be smaller, but they are also usually limited to members of the group, so there may be less competition. They’re also not usually limited to a particular college.

That covers individual donors and organizations. What about businesses? Do they have scholarship funds for people who don’t work for the business? Sure, though this is pretty limited. For one, they might get a lot of hurt feelings and opposition from their employees if they give more money to outsiders than they do to their own people. Also, very large businesses may give to education in ways other than individual scholarships. A pharmaceutical company, for example, may decide to sponsor a chemistry lab and endow a biochemistry professorship rather than give undergraduate scholarships. A big company may sponsor the school theater or student center to bolster their reputation as generous patrons.

But small companies do often sponsor small scholarships. They often, though not always, want something in return. Yesterday I scrolled through a wide assortment of scholarship listings, and a huge number of them are sponsored by a small company that requires students to write an essay or make a presentation about how important that particular industry is. Some want you to take a survey or send photos. Not to be too cynical, but many of these scholarships are just basic prize drawings to entice people to their business, only you get a tax write-off if the prize is a “scholarship.” I’ve known tons of students who begin their senior year thinking they’re going to apply for as many of these small scholarships as possible, and then decide that they’re just not worth the time and effort. There can be a lot of work and risk involved.

That’s a run-down of how the donors think. How should you think about scholarships? There a a few questions to ask yourself to guide you.

How much do I need? A lot! All of it! That’s the response you’re going to get from your parents, and they’re not wrong. But you want a more specific idea of how much you need, because the scope of the need determines your approach. If your EFC is small—from zero to a few thousand dollars—then you’re going to need the Big Money, and you know where to find that. Every hour scoping out colleges that meet all or most of determined need is better spent than every hour applying to $500 scholarships. If your need is smaller, or zero, and what you’re trying to do is fill in smaller gaps in your financial aid package or make extra spending money for a better meal plan, then the smaller prizes may be a better fit for you—you’re not going to get much of the sympathy vote for need-based aid, and that’s fine.

There’s also the very real but fairly rare problem of getting a lot of outside scholarships, and then having your college deduct that from your need-based aid. If they’ve determined you need $20,000 to attend and they can provide it, when you submit the check from your $10,000 scholarship you won, they can (legally and ethically) say you no longer need that $10,000 from them…and reduce your need-based aid by $10,000. You’ve done the work to get the extra ten thousand, but you end up not getting anything extra from it. Most universities have a line at which they don’t bother with this—$5,000 is a number I’ve heard a few times. Get less than $5,000 extra, and they don’t worry about it. Cross that line, though, and they’ll reconsider your need-based package. They don’t publicize the line, and it may be more of a grey area than a solid line, but this is something you should ask about when you receive a need-based aid offer.

What communities do I and my family belong to? Start close to you. What local, regional, or national organizations do you and your family belong to, and do they offer help? Money is often easier to get if you’re an insider, so begin with these. For example, I was pretty involved in my Methodist church when I was in high school. I chose to go to a Methodist-affiliated college. This was just luck; I didn’t choose them because they were Methodist. But I did get a really nice scholarship from my regional Methodist Council, and I also got a low-interest student loan through the Methodist church. The Baptists next door didn’t have access to these, but they probably had Baptist help available that I didn’t.

How big a fish am I and how small is my pond? You’ve got to be honest about yourself and your aspirations to find the right kind of merit aid. It helps to think of athletic scholarships. Only about two percent of high school athletes get athletic scholarships, and not all of those are full rides. The people who are going to get the big scholarships to the big schools are the ones who have already been identified as being the best in the country—or the world. It’s okay to be proud of being the third-best runner on your school’s cross-country team, but don’t expect that to pay for your college. However, if you’re not looking for a big scholarship to a big school, then there are probably Division III schools (who don’t have athletic scholarships) who would like to see you on their cross-country team and may be able to find a little extra academic merit aid for you.

Now translate that same idea to academics. If you’re valedictorian and president of the NHS, that’s fantastic! But every school has a valedictorian, so there are hundreds of thousands of you. It’s going to help you get into a great college, but that alone is probably not going to get you a full ride for academic excellence. There’s too much competition. If your ACT scores fit the mid-range of the prestigious college you’re applying to, they’re probably not going to offer you merit scholarships to entice you. But a less-known school where your ACT scores would be in their top 10% might be willing to shell out a lot more money to allure you. You have to decide how badly you want to go to the more well-known school, and if you can pay the extra price.

What am I willing and able to do? Are you willing to go to your fourth-choice school if they offer you thousands more dollars than your top-choice school? Are you willing to take out thousands of dollars in loans without knowing what job you’ll have after college? Are you willing to spend 100 hours applying to scholarships, knowing you may not win any of them? Are you able and willing to work part-time, or even full-time, to pay for the bill yourself? Can you save now for the extra things you’ll want to do in college, like studying abroad or joining a sorority? It’s best for everyone involved if you work on honest answers to these questions before you start applications or receiving financial aid offers. These are discussion to have with your family as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading! Please share this with everyone you know, or at least with someone you think will find it helpful. Next week, we’ll look at several different actual scholarships to analyze them and see how we might think about them. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

Revisiting Affirmative Action

Friday a judged cleared the lawsuit against Harvard to go forward, and the trial is set to begin October 15. The case, brought by Students for Fair Admissions, alleges that Harvard discriminates against Asian-Americans in its admissions. They point to some of the softer, more subjective parts of admissions that are meant to provide a broader look at students for holistic admissions as the way that they are kept out of the school. There are things like notes and ratings for likability and friendliness that can be open to bias. Edward Blum, the political activist behind SFFA, was also instrumental in Abigail Fisher’s Supreme Court case against U.T. Austin.

Last week we learned that Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown are also under Department of Justice scrutiny for discrimination against Asian-American applicants.

As the legal arguments around affirmative action make it toward the top of the national news feed, it seems like a good time to re-post my piece from this time last year, “What’s wrong with affirmative action?”.

If you're involved in college admissions from any angle, then you've given some thought to Affirmative Action, which means using race as a factor in deciding who gets admitted to a college or university. I want to talk about that.

First, let's get some common misperceptions out of the way real quick. Affirmative Action in college admissions does not mean using a quota system. A school cannot decide beforehand that they're going to end up with a class that's, for example, about 30% white, 30% Asian American, 20% Hispanic and 20% African American. Quotas were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1978. The Supreme Court has also said that schools must consider "race-neutral alternatives" before implementing race as a factor for admission. Even if a school has racial diversity as a goal, which many do and is constitutional, it must first try race-neutral ways to achieve that goal. You can read more about this here.

There are two recent cases that have received a lot of headlines and discussion. (We have to use "recent" in relative terms. In Constitutional Law world, a decade is pretty recent. These cases move slowly through the system.) One is a complaint filed with the Department of Justice in 2015 against Harvard by a group of 64 groups representing Asian Americans. That complaint--and a similar lawsuit--are about groups, not any particular individual. They claim that Asian Americans, on average, need to have higher SAT scores to get admitted to Harvard and other elite schools than students, on average, of other races. They also claim that the racial make-up of Harvard is pretty consistent over the years despite fluctuations in the racial make-up of applicants. All this points, they say, to Harvard essentially using a quota system, which is not legal.

The other recent high-profile case was Abigail Fisher's 2008 suit against UT-Austin, which got all the way to the Supreme Court in 2016. When Fisher was not admitted to UT-Austin, she sued them, claiming that she had been discriminated against because of her race. UT-Austin does use race as one of several factors in their admissions decisions, and Fisher had a higher G.P.A. and test scores than some other students who were accepted but are not white. The case went to the Supreme Court (twice, actually), and the Court ruled in favor of the university, not Fisher. They upheld the law that race is constitutional as a factor in admissions, and they said that UT followed the rules and stayed within the law.

Fisher, and other individuals who challenge their rejection because of possible race factors, thought that she deserved to be accepted to UT based on grades and past performance. She says so in this video: "It should come down to, you know, your grades and your activities, and whether or not you deserve to get in, and it should be based on merit, and it shouldn't be based on any other external factors."

The conflict over Affirmative Action is really about this notion of deserve. Who deserves to go to college, and what makes them deserving? Fisher's and other similar complaints--even, to a lesser degree, the Harvard complaints--have a past-centered view of deserve. They point to past achievements like grades and test scores to show that they deserve admission more than people with lower grades or test scores. This definition of deserving, which is so common it's often thought of as common sense, is the root of the "Am I Worthy" mindset. Students, parents, and schools worry a lot about grades and test scores, because GPA and scores are thought to indicate individual and group worth.

Universities surely share this mindset--they spend time worrying about numbers and rankings, too--but they temper this with a more future-centered view of deserve. Importantly, universities acknowledge that the supposedly fair and objective measures of worthiness aren't necessarily fair. Universities understand that SAT scores correlate strongly to the income and education level of a student's parents. They understand that grade inflation is higher at wealthier schools. So virtually every college in America looks at GPA and test scores, but they also make sure to look at other things. Most ask for essays or examples of student work. Many ask for interviews. Some take "demonstrated interest" into account. Some take "legacy" status into account. And some, but certainly not all or even most, also take race and socio-economic status into account. 

Universities look at all these other factors because they're just as interested in shaping the future as rewarding the past. They want a larger and more diverse talent pool than just the people who did well in the past. They think future success is built differently. The traditional notions of deserve just aren't as important to them. Because colleges know they are often the gateway to individual and social success, inclusion, diversity, and long-term justice may be as important to them--or more important--than the short-term common sense of taking the already-acknowledged success stories and moving them forward. Universities are reaching for ways--not always successfully--to balance past performance with future potential. This is, in the big picture, a good thing. A society cannot be robust or innovative or a world leader if it only rewards past success. It must also create future success. We need our universities to help us do this.

I'm sympathetic to individual students like Fisher who do what they're told to do for college admission success but then don't get what they were promised. None of us like being denied something we think we deserve, and we shouldn't expect Fisher or others like her to feel differently. Many people said some pretty ugly things about Fisher, and I wish they hadn't. For what it's worth, Fisher graduated from L.S.U. years ago and works in finance. She seems to be doing just fine.

But still, ultimately the colleges are right. Almost everyone wants to see more equity and equality in the world, but people are individuals who can only do so much to fix it. Large institutions like universities, though far from perfect, really can help with this problem if we'll work with them. Universities are big places where big things happen. Changing the way the world works is literally what they're there for. They need some room to try things out and experiment with outcomes as much as we individuals do. They're not just honor societies to recognize top high school students.

So what does this mean for high school students? In this world where Affirmative Action exists and race is sometimes a factor, what can you do? What should you do?

Believe schools when they say they use a holistic process for admissions. It's really common to act as though GPA, rank, and test scores are what really matter, and things like essays and background are just marginal add-ons. Please understand that schools are looking at the whole you, and do the very best you can with that.

Change what you can, accept what you can't. There are some things you can't do much about. Like your race, your geographical location, and your family's background. At least when it comes to college admissions, don't spend much time thinking about those things. There are things that you have more control over, like your grades and extracurricular activities. There are also things that seem pretty integral but that you can change with time and effort, like your motivations and reactions to setbacks. But these things, from your GPA to your attitude about life, are more difficult to change as time goes on. If you have a lower GPA than you want your 9th grade year, you can turn things around--if you have a low GPA your senior year then there's not much time to fix it. And there are some things that you can change quickly and drastically, right now. You don't have to finish your college essays until moments before you send them out, so there's time to keep improving them. Focus on the things you can still control at the moment. 

Never, under any circumstances, accuse another person of having what they have or getting what they get only because of their race. Do not assume that people of color are admitted to universities only because of their race. Yes, race may sometimes be a small factor, but it is never the only factor. Never assume a white person is admitted to a school only because they're white. Yes, white privilege is real, but even the most privileged white people still have much more to them than their privilege. Even if you want to fight racial injustice--in whatever way you want to define that--keep the big picture in mind and respect in your heart. Don't be nasty to people.

And whatever you do, don't let your college admission success define you as a person. You're much bigger than that, much more important. 

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Increase productivity by going low-tech

Increase productivity by going low-tech

There are several theories about what’s going on, but the one that seems to feel right to a lot of people is that the computers that are so good at helping us save time are just as good—or better—at helping us waste time. This seems especially true since the advent of the smart phone. The tools we have to help us be productive are filled with distractions that kill productivity.

Apply with Sanity conducts student workshops

Last week I conducted a 90-minute workshop with students at Carnegie Vanguard. If you have a group of students—anywhere from 5 to 200—who would benefit from Apply with Sanity, I can do the same for you! Contact me and let me know what you’re looking for. Every workshop and presentation is completely customized to your needs and your group.

Results from my student survey

Results from my student survey

Last week I spent two days talking to seniors at Carnegie Vanguard High School during their English class. We talked about what colleges are looking for in applicants, how the different parts of an application work together, and how colleges actually process all those applications. The students also had tons of really great questions.

But first, I had some questions for them. Before our talk, I asked them to fill out a quick questionnaire. Here are the questions I asked and some comments on their responses. If you’re working with college-bound students—either in a school setting, as a parent, or because you are a college-bound student yourself—this may be useful for you.

Should you apply Early Decision?

Should you apply Early Decision?

As I’ve been talking to clients and other 12th-grade students lately, Early Decision keeps coming up. Whether or not to apply E.D. is a difficult choice for a lot of people. While I’m generally more “pro-E.D.” than a lot of other advisors, that enthusiasm is tempered with a number of reservations. So let’s go over some of the reasons to apply Early Decision, and also some of the reasons not to. (Remember, E.D. is the “binding” early application process. You can read more about it, including why schools even offer E.D., here.)

Meet the Class of 2019, Grace and Faulkner

Meet the Class of 2019, Grace and Faulkner

Meet the Class is back for another school year! It’s an opportunity for parents, educators, and admissions professionals to get a look at individual seniors and what they go through to find their school. This year I’m following four students. Today we’ll meet Grace and Faulkner.

The Glossary: expected family contribution

The Glossary: expected family contribution

Your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, is the amount of money you and/or your family are expected to pay for your college education per year. The U.S. Department of Education, using the financial information submitted on your FAFSA, runs the numbers though a complicated formula and determines the "official" amount of money you can afford to pay for college. The formula they use is publicly available, and it is not negotiable. 

What movies should you watch before going to college?

What movies should you watch before going to college?

Talking to some people over dinner this weekend, I got into a conversation about what movies a student should see before going to college. A couple were debating whether Animal House does or doesn't count as a "must-see" movie.

It's hard to even know what we mean when we talk about "movies a high school student should see." Do we mean movies you should see so you'll get the references that have become part of normal educated conversation? Movies that are somehow instructive about the transition to college? Movies that are "iconic" and so good they should be seen by as many people as possible?

The server came around with our beef tenderloin, and the conversation moved on before we reached any conclusions.

I got curious, so I did a basic search for "movies to watch before going to college." There were a lot of lists, and they had different approaches. But a few movies showed up again and again:

What should seniors and juniors be doing right now?

What should seniors and juniors be doing right now?

This is a tough line to walk, senior year. On one hand, you really ought to be shifting your focus to next year. You have a lot of big decisions to make, and you need to allocate time and resources to working on strong applications and making informed decisions. Your daily high school homework isn’t quite as compelling as it was a year ago. On the other hand, you also need to be preparing yourself to be a good college student, and the best way to prepare for college is to be a good high school student.

The end is near!

The end is near!

My children go back to school on August 27th. Depending on how your school calendar works, you probably have somewhere between one and three weeks of summer left. Or perhaps you've already begun. If your house is anything like mine, you're beginning to run out of planned activities and good ideas. So I thought I'd give some suggestions to smart and ambitious high school students for wrapping up the summer.

Set goals for the new school year

Set goals for the new school year

As the new school year looms closer--or has already begun--it's time to think about your goals for the upcoming year. One mistake many students make is waiting until later in the year, often when something is going wrong, to think about their goals and aspirations. Of course you think about your goals and aspirations, but I mean thinking in a deliberate and analytical way. To do this, you're going to need to write your goals down. Let's take three typical goals for smart, ambitious high school students: make good grades, get a leadership position, and have less stress.

Don't forget your summer reading!

Don't forget your summer reading!

I was an AP Lit teacher for nine years, so I have fond memories of summer reading. I always read everything I assigned to my students, every year. So I did the summer reading along with them (or at least a few of them. I'm not naive, most of them didn't do the summer reading). 

You've got, more or less, a month left of summer. If you haven't completed your assigned summer reading yet, now is the time. You must read your summer reading assignments.