It's ok to relax about the new "adversity score"

There’s been a lot of talk this week about the College Board’s new Environmental Context Dashboard and “Adversity Score.” If you haven’t read about it yet, here are the basics: the College Board, which among other things administers the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams, has a new tool for colleges. Along with test scores, they’ll also tell colleges about your “environmental context.” They use 31 data points about your high school—things like the average SAT score, the percentage of students who take AP exams, and the percent who qualify for free or reduced lunch—and your neighborhood—things like median family income and percentage of residents living in poverty—to get a rough estimate of your learning background.

None of the data is personal or individual. It doesn’t say whether you yourself live in poverty or a single-parent household. But it uses the data about your school and your neighborhood to give you an “adversity score” in a range of 1-100, 50 being average. The idea is that the adversity score will give colleges a quick idea of your background and what’s “normal” in your environment. If you want to read more about the program, here are good summaries from the New York Times and Inside Higher Ed.

There’s been a lot of discussion about it this week, and a lot of people don’t like the new program. Some want it to do more, some want it to do less. Some don’t want it to exist at all. And here’s my take on the program:

We can all just relax about the “adversity score.” I don’t think this will be a big deal, nor do I think it should be. Let’s look at some key ideas.

It probably has a lot to do with Affirmative Action and diversity. Whether or not you believe they should be, a lot of universities are very interested in a diverse campus. As the federal law stands right now, colleges can use race as a factor in admissions, but they have to use a non-race-based method to try to achieve diversity first, before they can consider race. With the current lawsuits against Harvard, UNC, and UT-Austin, many believe that the Supreme Court is going to make it even harder, if not illegal, to use race as a factor. Some states already have laws against universities using race as a factor for admission. The Environmental Context Dashboard does not include race. It will tell you the percent of families in an area who are poor, but not give racial proportions. The College Board seems to be offering colleges a non-race-based way to work towards diversity by considering Adversity Scores. That may come in very handy.

It doesn’t say a whole lot, but everyone knows that. The score only includes some kinds of adversity, and it doesn’t speak to your particular adversity. It gives a broad background to your school and neighborhood, but says nothing about you and how you fit into that school and neighborhood. It doesn’t explain how many people live in your household, how often you have been seriously ill, how much you have to take care of other people in the family. It claims to speak to your adversity, but only makes a guess. I can see how that might be a problem. But please remember that the college admissions professionals know that just as well as you and I do. There’s no reason for them to put too much emphasis on an adversity score. It’s just another data point in a file with a lot of data points.

There’s nothing new about it. The Environmental Context Dashboard doesn’t really offer any new information. If an admissions counselor knows your zip code, they can look up median household income for that zip code. Most colleges know what classes most high schools offer, because high schools submit a school profile at the same time they submit your transcript. Most, if not every bit, of the information in the dashboard is already available somewhere else. Schools can look it up, and you submit a lot of it yourself. What the dashboard and the Adversity Score do is provide colleges with a single source for all that data, in a standardized form, that’s easy to compare with others.

That makes sense. Think about it from your own perspective. You can look up all kinds of information about colleges by looking at the brochures they send you and browsing their websites. But each of those is different, so you probably also like going to a book or website that has a lot of information for a lot of schools, all in a standard format that’s easy to compare—like Big Future or the Fiske Guide. What the College Board is doing is providing the same kind of uniform, easy-to-find data for colleges. Colleges have your high school profile, your financial aid application, your transcript, and your essays and other application material. No Adversity Score is going to replace those. But it may help admissions offices put them into a greater context a little faster. And for any college using holistic admissions, context is really important.

Remember that schools are moving away from the SAT and other standardized tests, anyway. A cynical, but common, view is that the College Board is feeling scared that fewer universities require SAT scores, and so they’re coming up with this new measure to make themselves more relevant and stay in business (non-profit business, for the record). I guess I don’t really see a problem with an organization changing what they offer to keep themselves relevant. That seems fine to me. The College Board is so much more than the SAT—or the Adversity Score. They have accumulated so much data over the decades, and if colleges now want different things from that data, then I’m kind of glad that the College Board is able to provide it. After a few years, schools may find the adversity score useless, and it will quietly disappear. Maybe schools will really like it (it seems to have got good enough reviews from the 50 schools who used it this year as a pilot program.) Maybe, like the SAT, it will keep changing and shifting to try to stay useful.

No, it’s not a sign of the Affirmative Action apocalypse. Some of the fiercest voices against affirmative action have also come out against using adversity scores. Even though adversity scores are not based on race and have no race data in them, opponents see this as a non-race to actually consider race or as another attack on meritocracy. Again, it’s okay to relax. This one number on a report with a bunch of numbers is not going to turn universities into Minority Wonderlands where smart white kids just can’t get accepted.

In one piece I’ve seen cited several times, Heather Mac Donald claims

At present, thanks to racial preferences, many black high school students know that they don’t need to put in as much scholarly effort as non-“students of color” to be admitted to highly competitive colleges. The adversity score will only reinforce that knowledge. That is not a reality conducive to life achievement.

I’m a white man, and I don’t want to speak for African Americans or pretend to know what it’s like to be African American. But I can say with utmost confidence that I’ve never talked to a person of color, or read anything by a person of color, who said, basically, “I don’t need to take those AP classes white people do, because I know the colleges have got me covered. Our American system sure makes things easy for non-white people!” That’s just not a reality that I’ve ever come across.

We’re probably going to forget about this soon. It’s not going to be a big deal. And we can all relax about that.

Thanks for reading! Please send this to someone who would like to read it, or share it on your social networks. I’m going to my summer schedule, which means I’ll only have posts on Thursday for a while. I’ll be back next week.

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.

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A reminder about social media

I'm sure you've heard a thousand times that college admissions officers sometimes check on the social media posts of applicants. You've heard that you should be careful what you say--writers tell you not to post anything you wouldn't want your grandmother to see--but also that you should be sure to make your accomplishments clear and easy to find. You've been told that colleges don't want to see photos of you with booze in your hand, but that they do want to see you're a well-rounded person with a social life. They want to see that you're engaged with your community, but that you don't get into hateful arguments or use poor judgement. You've been told all this already, and you don't need me to tell you again.

Likewise, I don't think you need me to repeat the standard advice: un-tag yourself from photos you don't want colleges to see, make sure you have your school-friendly photos and résumé-building awards on public settings for the world to see, avoid anything that hints at academic imperfection.

The problem with this sort of advice, practical and accurate as it is, is that the overall message and tone of the advice is to consider yourself always watched and always performing. Never say or do anything that colleges don't like, as if all colleges "like" the same things. I advise against doing anything, no matter how productive or good on the surface, simply because colleges want to see you do it. Instead, I advise to be a person, not a résumé. And I think that applies to your online life as well. 

With this in mind, here are some reminders about your online social life as it relates to your college admissions…and the rest of your off-line life.

Get a good look. You really can't know how to think about what colleges see about you online until you actually know what colleges see. Don't just trust what you think you know about your privacy settings. Large companies regularly hire outside security experts to go and find holes in their protection before the hackers do. You can employ a similar approach. Find someone you trust and ask them to pretend to be a college officer trying to get a sense of who you are. Ask them to do online searches and detective work to try to find stuff about you. Get them to report what they find, both positive and negative. Offer to do the same for them. You may find that things you thought were private are more easily found than you hoped. You might also find that the good things you put out there for college recruiters to see aren't found as easily as you hoped. Once you have a sense of what your online profile really looks like, then decide what, if anything, to do.

Remember that it's not always the strangers you're worried about. If you have things inside your security settings that you don't want outsiders to see, whether those outsiders are college recruiters or anyone else, make sure you really trust the insiders. They are the ones most likely to pass along the material to strangers, not Google or Facebook. If you are trying to hide certain things from college admissions departments (and I'll let you decide if you really should or not), then think carefully before becoming friends with students at the same colleges. Think carefully about remaining friends with someone who sees you as competition and may be looking for a way to knock you down.

Decide if it's really you. Ultimately, this isn't about college admissions. This is about having an honest look at your online presence in the world and deciding if it's really what you want to be projecting and spending your time with. Don't stop being a troll because colleges might find out; stop being a troll because it's rude and hurtful and a waste of your time. Don't just delete photos of you doing crazy stupid things when you're drunk because colleges might see them; reconsider how dangerous and not-really-very-fun those stupid crazy things are. Don't un-friend racist jerks because colleges might associate their racist jerkiness with you; un-friend racist jerks because you don't need racist jerks in your life. Focus on the causes, not just the effects.

Be ready to talk about it. Whatever is in your social media feed, whether public or private, positive or negative, helpful or problematic, be prepared to talk about it. Don't be caught off guard, don't be defensive, don't make things up. Nobody has a perfect life or a perfect past. Nobody only projects what they want to project. Everybody is asked about things they would rather not be asked about. Having an online record of everything you've ever written or posted certainly exacerbates the problem, but it didn't create the problem. When confronted about something you've said or done, in any context, remember to be calm, be kind, and be honest. That's what will get you through.

Thanks for reading! Please send this to someone who would like to read it, or share it on your social networks.

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.

Apply with Sanity is a registered trademark of Apply with Sanity, LLC. All rights reserved.

What should current 10th and 9th graders do this summer?

What should sophomores do this summer to be better prepared for college?

Train. You're like a professional athlete during the off-season. You get a lot more flexibility with your schedule and a lot fewer people watching you as you work, but you've got to spend this time productively. Does this mean to fill up your day with summer school classes and be a constant student? No. Like pro athletes, find another way to enhance the skills you have.

Think about your notable skills and talents, the things that you may want to emphasize on college applications. Now find interesting ways to hone those skills and talents. How can you best prove and improve your resilience, passion, intellectual curiosity, initiative, talent, creativity, empathy, or leadership? The more unlike another high school class or program the activity is, the better.

So, for example, going to a weeklong camp for debaters is good, but volunteering to do door-to-door canvasing for a local political campaign is better. Reading books ahead of time for your 11th grade English class is good, but starting a book club that focuses on foreign or obscure books is better. Taking a class for adults at the local community college is good, but teaching younger kids in a summer program is better. The most important thing is that you focus on yourself and the qualities you want to improve, not focus on a vague sense of "looks good to colleges." Do everything you can with your summer time--in any setting, be it a summer job, summer camp, traveling, or staying close to home--to be a become a better person, not have a better résumé. 

Push yourself. If you need to work or want a job, that's great. As far as college is concerned it really doesn't matter what that job is so long as you work hard at it and are reflective about what you learn from the job. As you go to work, remind yourself to work as hard as you can. And when you're done, ask yourself what you learned from that day's work. Those two things matter so much more to everyone than the job title or name of the company. 

If you don't need to work, then make other plans. And here's the trick: treat it like a job, in the sense that you decide to do your best and be reflective. Even if you have the cushiest summer imaginable--maybe you're going to spend two months as a VIP on a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean--you can still get a lot out of this. Just begin each day reminding yourself to make the most of the day, and end each day reflecting about what you learned. Whatever is you do, it can be useful for your college applications and useful for your productive and interesting life.

Go someplace new. Choose someplace you've never been that you can visit this summer. Geographically, it doesn't matter how close or far the place is, so long as it's new to you. It can be another country, another state, or another neighborhood. Try to get a sense of how people unlike yourself spend their days, and do it with an open and empathetic mind.

Goal of 20. Another way you can make the most of your summer is to give yourself a goal of 20. Make 20 visits to local museums or parks. Have 20 intentional interactions with older members of your family asking them about their experiences. Read 20 books. Watch 20 of the best movies of all time. Find 20 items to donate to charity. Run 20 miles, spread out over as many days as you need. The number 20 is arbitrary, but an arbitrary number helps make a vague idea an achievable goal. Every time you knock out one of your 20, remind yourself to be deliberate and reflective.

What should freshmen do this summer to be better prepared for college?

Anything! You can do just about anything, I mean it. In terms of preparing for the next three years of high school, preparing for college, and preparing for productive adulthood, there's no magical activity that you really must do to get ready. Do your thing, no matter what it is (within reason--if your current thing is chaotic or self-destructive then take care of that first).

At this point, what you do isn't nearly as important as how you do it. Whether you're doing amazing, once-in-a-lifetime things like volunteering with veterinarians at a wildlife refuge in Botswana or mundane things like babysitting your little brother, you can make the most of it. Be reflective. Ask yourself "how did today go, and what can I do tomorrow that will be interesting?" Every day. Read something that relates to what you're doing. Even if all you're doing is walking aimlessly around the neighborhood trying to find someone to hang out with, stop at the local library and learn about the history of your neighborhood and go inside shops you've never been in before. Take photos of weird things you notice around the neighborhood. Be engaged with your world and your mind, whatever you're doing in the world. 

Write about your experiences. Writing about what you do on a regular basis serves several goals. For one, any college-bound person has got to be very comfortable with a lot of writing, so practicing on your own with your own assignments helps build up your discipline in a way that's more palatable to you. It will also help you maintain and deepen your self-reflection that's so vital for your off time. If nothing else, journal-keeping now will give you plenty of material to laugh at yourself later. I know that may not seem like a good thing, but nothing helps you feel more grown-up later than being able to laugh at your younger self.

Make a product. Toward the end of the summer, make some sort of product. Select some journal entries to make into full-on essays. Select and edit some photos to make a narrative photo essay. Make an interactive map of the places you visited. Make a book of advice for someone starting the job that you worked. Again, you can do almost anything. The idea is to curate and edit your experience into something that you can share. That's kind of a definition of education, isn't it?

Meet someone new. Right, of course you're going to meet new people over the summer. But what I'm talking about is to pro-actively and intentionally introduce yourself to new people that you've chosen to meet. Circumstance, coincidence, serendipity, and providence bring all sorts of people into our lives. That doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't work to bring others into our lives.

Practice some form of meditation and contemplation. There's probably no better gift you can give yourself than to start the habit of meditation and contemplation. There are dozens of different traditions and techniques to fit any religious, cultural, and personal background. Here is a pretty solid introduction to 23 of them. Choose one and try it. It doesn't have to be a religious or spiritual exercise. It can just be good relaxation. 

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.

Apply with Sanity is a registered trademark of Apply with Sanity, LLC. All rights reserved.

What should current juniors do this summer?

Last week I listed four things juniors should do before the end of the school year. But there’s more after that! Here are things that juniors should be doing this summer to prepare for next year.

Go on college visits. Go visit some colleges. Any colleges. I know some families will plan a summer vacation around doing some college visits, and that's great if you have that opportunity. But even if you don't, just get yourself to a few colleges and visit. Take one of their tours for prospective students--even if you don't plan on applying there--or even just walk around by yourself. The point is to get familiar with a few schools so you'll have a better eye for knowing what you're looking at when you tour schools you're really interested in. If you've got an afternoon free, and you probably will, and there's a university near you, and there probably is, then go get familiar.

Think about going to a new type of restaurant, one where you're really unfamiliar with the type of food. Maybe Indian, or Thai, or Israeli, or Ethiopian, or anything. When faced with a menu of things that you've never heard of, you've got to ask a lot of questions or just pick blindly and hope for the best. If college campuses are unfamiliar to you, then you have the same problem when you don't go on many visits. The first one you visit may seem really impressive and become your dream school...just because it has some basic things that most schools have, but you don't realize that. Or maybe the first few are completely overwhelming and you don't realize what questions you have until a week after you've left. You have to ask a lot of questions or just hope for luck. It's better to get these experiences over with before you start doing the tours that really count. Make yourself as familiar with college campuses and tours as you can. That way you'll know when to really be impressed, and you'll know when something is common.

Put together a game plan. You don't need to start on your applications yet, but it helps to have a plan for how you will go about finishing your applications. Here are some questions to ask yourself to get an outline ready for your next semester:

What personal qualities do you want to project in your application? Example of the kind of qualities I'm talking about include resilience, passion, intellectual curiosity, initiative, talent, creativity, empathy, and leadership. Think of one or two of your strongest qualities that will be the focal point of your applications. Your essay will center on these qualities, and you'll try your best to arrange for your recommendation letters to center on them.

What concrete evidence do you have--other than grades and test scores--of those qualities? What stories can you tell that exemplify those qualities?

What are the primary qualities of a college that will be a good place for you? How, other than by looking at someone else's rankings or comments, will you know when a school is right for you? It helps to have idea about this before you start looking too closely at individual schools. Knowing if a school has what you want can prove difficult if you don't know what you want. 

Is there a school for which you think you should apply early? Why?

What are the major application deadlines? How do those fit with the rest of your schedule, both at school and outside of school?

What are the gaps in your understanding that you need to fill in? It can be quite difficult to know what it is that you don't know, but make sure you've thought through the application as best as you can and don't find any major holes in your timeline or knowledge.

Talk to your family about money. By the end of the year, you're going to need to send away forms with very detailed and personal financial information, including your parents' tax forms. You're going to decide where the line is between "affordable" and "unaffordable." You're going to to decide how much you and/or your family is willing to borrow for your education. The sooner you begin these difficult conversations, the better. They rarely go well the first time around, so you don't want to wait until the deadline to have the first time around.

Draft some essays. At this point, don't worry about the prompts or the guidelines. Simply ask yourself "what qualities do I want to show colleges, and how can I best write about those qualities?" Start to put together your story that you want to tell. What is there about you that is important and can't be seen on your transcript? This is what you want to show in your essays, so go ahead and get going on those.

Narrow down your list of colleges. There are around four thousand colleges and universities in the US to choose from. By then end of your junior year, you want to have that narrowed down to about 100. By the beginning of your senior year, you want to have that narrowed down again to about 25. By application time, it will be narrowed down to between four and twelve (for most people), and by May 1st, 2020 it will need to be narrowed down to one.

Take care of yourself. The junior year is the most difficult for many high school students. You've just finished yours. You need to prepare for your senior year and college applications, but you don't need to neglect your immediate well-being. Get rest. Read something for pleasure. Have a long talk with an interesting person. Ask some good questions instead of always being the one called on to answer questions. Be a person, and be the healthiest one you can.


Thanks for reading! Look for summer advice for current 10th and 9th graders soon. 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.

Apply with Sanity is a registered trademark of Apply with Sanity, LLC. All rights reserved.

Four things juniors should do before the end of the school year

It’s been a week since most college-bound seniors made their final decision and commitment about where they will be next year. (Most. Because some are still hoping for a waitlist opening. Some are still navigating financial aid and aren’t sure they’ll end up where they plan to go. Some are deciding late that they want to go to college and are grabbing rolling admissions spots or checking out community college offerings.) That means the clock is really ticking for current juniors, who have another 51 weeks to complete their own admissions process. An entire year from now may seem like a long time to get it all done. It may seem like a really short time. Both are true: it’s still plenty of time, but it will go by really quick.

Some juniors are already far along the path, having already done some campus visits and worked on a list of schools to follow up with. Others are just beginning. Wherever you are in the process, there are four things you should do before the end of this school year.

Do your best at school and finish with the best grades possible. Some people will tell you that your junior-year grades are the last ones that count. They’re not right: colleges will ask for grade updates, and it will be conspicuous if you suddenly have less rigorous classes or are getting worse grades. Colleges can and sometimes do take back your acceptance if they think you’ve let yourself become too much of a slacker. But they’re not completely wrong, either: senior-year grades will get checked on, but they won’t be scrutinized like your transcript for 9th-11th grade. Your GPA and rank at the end of this year are much more likely to be your “official” ones for college admissions purposes, so finish this year as strongly as possible.

Register to take the SAT and/or ACT. If you haven’t taken either of these yet, it’s time to sign up. If you have and would like to take it again, then go ahead and sign up soon. There’s an SAT on June 1st, but the regular registration deadline has already passed. You can still register late by May 22, but there will be additional fees. There’s another SAT August 24, and the regular registration is still open.

The next ACT is June 8, but registration also closed May 3. You can register late—which costs more—up to May 20. There’s also an ACT July 13.

Set up test prep if you think you need it or want it. Don’t sign up for test prep if you’re not really sure you need it. Test prep can help, but not if you’re passive about it. If you’re not going to really work at test prep, then it can be a waste. There are all kinds of ways to get help preparing for the entrance tests. There are classes through the big companies like Princeton Review, Kaplan, and Test Masters. Lots of school districts and local colleges offer test prep. There are private tutors and smaller companies that offer personalized programs. Khan Academy offers free prep, and you can also work independently with a test prep book.

Line up rec letters. Teachers who may write you a letter of recommendation have a long time before they’re due. But don’t wait until the last minute. Don’t even wait until the last month! Find time to have a quick conversation with the teachers who know you best. Let them know that you’ll be requesting an official recommendation from them, and ask them if they have any questions or suggestions. It’s a much easier conversation to have when there’s a lot more time for it. This year is the right time, even if they tell you they won’t have it written until the beginning of next year.

Dome some large-sweep online college searches. Even if you think you have a preliminary list ready, spend time reading through lists and descriptions in case you’ve missed something. Just looking at a list of “Best Colleges” is worthless. Don’t waste your time with that. But doing some searches for more narrow topics can be useful. Look for rankings of top colleges for several majors you’re interested in. Search for best colleges in the geographic areas you’re interested in. Look for colleges that have other qualities you’re interested in. Be sure, though, to look at multiple sources and cross-reference the lists. Never trust a single source. Also, don’t put too much weight on the actual rankings: the difference between number 12 and number 28 may be minimal. And never stop at just the top five or 10.

So, for example, imagine you think you’d like to major in biology or environmental science. You like the mid-west. You want a school with a strong sense of school spirit. I’d recommend you search: best colleges for biology, best colleges for environmental science, best colleges in mid-west, best colleges for school spirit, most underrated colleges in mid-west, best colleges for your money in mid-west, best colleges for your money biology, and best colleges for your money environmental science. For each, try to find several different lists or rankings, and look at the top 100 if they go that deep. Look for patterns and what campuses show up on multiple lists. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them, and don’t take time to stop and do research on individual schools as you go. Just look at lots of lists and look for patterns and repeating names. This takes time, but it’s also pretty low-key. Do this before you start asking counselors and teachers for more specific help or doing deeper research.

I know you’re busy. AP exams are going on this week and next. You’ve got final exams. You have projects and competitions. But you’ve also got 51 weeks left. The heavy lifting is going to happen this summer and fall, but you can set yourself up to have a much easier time if you’ll take care of these things in the next four to five weeks.

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.

Apply with Sanity is a registered trademark of Apply with Sanity, LLC. All rights reserved.

Grace has chosen!

Who doesn’t love it when a great plan comes together for success? Grace’s admissions season is complete, and she’s very happy about where she’s going next fall. Read all about it below, and read each month’s interview since September 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. 


It's finally May 1st! When I last checked in, you were trying to decide between Fordham and Hofstra. Which did you pick? Or did you go a completely different direction and choose someplace else? (That happens all the time.)

I picked Hofstra!

How did you make your decision? What were the factors, and what was the deciding factor?

My mother and I traveled to New York for 4 days and spent Admitted Students’ Day and a regular school day at each school. I talked with students and looked over the clubs and extra-curricular activities and I could just “feel” that Hofstra was a better fit for me. I was surprised, because when I started looking I was sure I wanted a school right in NYC. The only thing I can say is that you can tell when it feels right.

How does it feel to be finished with college admissions season?

It feels surreal. I cannot believe that I have spent the last 10 months on this and it is over.

If a current high school junior asked you for a single piece of advice about college applications, what would you tell them?

My advice is twofold. As for the SAT: Don’t get down if your test scores are not what you hoped for -you are so much more than just a test score. As for financing school: Ask for more money after you get your Financial Aid award. I asked both colleges and they each gave me more.

I know you have AP exams coming up--good luck with them!--and a summer job at the YMCA. Do you have any other big plans between now and the start of college?

I am going to relax and have a homework free Summer. The first time since Kindergarten!

What do you plan on doing to prepare for the first day? Is there an orientation in the summer, or is it right before the beginning of school? What else do you get to do to prepare?

I signed up for the Class of 2023 Hofstra Face Book page and already met a number of people in my class. I registered my class preferences online. I signed up for June orientation which is 3 days. Finally, I am going to participate in a community service week that the college holds in August, the week before school starts. I can’t wait to start this next chapter!

Thanks for reading! If you are a current high school junior who may be interested in letting us follow your admissions experiences next year, leave a comment or email me. You can get regular Apply with Sanity updates on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up for the monthly newsletter below. 

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The college you're going to has what you want

It's the first week of May, which means that if you're a college-bound senior you've chosen your school by now.

Everything may have gone exactly as you hoped, and you’re getting ready to go to your dream school. If so, congratulations! But there’s a really good chance it didn’t work that way, and you’re not going to a dream school. That's very normal; it has a lot more to do with the economics and logistics of admissions than you as a person. If you find an unhappy or unproductive adult and ask them what caused their problems, I guarantee they won’t say “I didn’t get into Stanford and my life has been miserable since that day. I only got a normal college degree, and my life is a waste.” It just doesn’t work that way. You’re going to be fine.

But there's a way to make sure you're going to be better than fine, that you’ll be great. The trick is to remind yourself that whatever it is you were looking for is available where you're going.

When you strip away the names and specifics but instead focus on the qualities that you were looking for, you can almost certainly find those qualities at the school you're going to attend.

Prestige? Wherever you're going, they'll have a Dean's List, honor societies, and awards. Go for it.

Social connections? Unless you accidentally applied to a monastery instead of a university, there will be people who want to do fun things with other people. There will be clubs, there will be friendships, there will be parties. The people you bond with will go on to do interesting things after college, and some of those bonds will extend for years and decades after college.

Career Opportunities? Your school will have some version of a Career Services office. Start going to that office your first semester of college. Look for advice, internships, and opportunities. Go back to that office on a regular basis.

Leadership roles? If the school has more than a handful of people, then they need leaders. There are places for you to sharpen and show off your skills. You've probably heard a quotation from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: "some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em." If you're upset that you didn't get into your top-choice school, you may be feeling like you definitely weren't born great. But you can still achieve greatness, or maybe be lucky enough to have it thrust upon you. You've got this.

School spirit and community? So maybe you're not going to be cheering on your team with 30,000 or more other fans. But there will still be a team, and they still want your support, and they sell face paint at smaller schools, too.

Personal fulfillment? That happens independent of where you go to school. And 95% of the work is actively done by you, not something you receive from teachers or opportunities. This short-term disappointment may be exactly what your personal fulfillment needs.

A strong program in your major? The majority of college students change their major. And even if you don't, you're still going to be exposed to experts in your field, even if it's not a big-name program.

Maybe you were really hoping to impress people—friends, family, or even strangers—with the prestigious, big-name college you go to, and maybe that’s not going to happen now.  Yes, that stings. But now you can focus on impressing them with more important things, like your work ethic and success and leadership.

Now that you've finished the application process, go back and spend a little time on the first steps of the process, this time specifically geared toward your future school. What kind of person are you? In what types of situations do you thrive, and in what types of situations do you want to thrive? What qualities are you looking for in a college? Taking some time on these things will get you focused on the right things, like your personal goals and not just your resume

To be fair, there are some people who will find that they truly are at the wrong school. They may legitimately not find a way to get what they want where they are. When that happens, it’s almost never because they didn’t end up at a high school high enough on their list. It’s because they end up at a school that shouldn’t have been on their list. They didn’t pay enough attention to their safety schools and applied to a bad-fitting school because they assumed they wouldn’t actually have to go there. Or they felt pressured by family or friends to apply to schools that aren’t actually a good fit. Or they’ve gone through a major personal transformation that shifts what makes a good place for them. Or they took too big a financial risk and realize that they picked the wrong place at the wrong price. But if you put together a good list of schools, then you know you’re at a good place, even if it’s not where you hoped you’d ultimately end up.

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.

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The two things you need for success in college and beyond

The two things you need for success in college and beyond

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.

Still making a last-minute decision?

Still making a last-minute decision?

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.

The Glossary: the basics

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.

Grace is getting close

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.

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!