Introducing Three Quick Questions

There’s a new feature coming to Apply with Sanity called Three Quick Questions. I send the same three questions to admissions representatives at colleges all over the country (the subject line of the e-mail is “Three quick questions”), and then I hope to hear back from them. When I do, I’ll post them on Apply with Sanity. It’s that simple.

I sent out a test batch of 10, just to see if I got any responses. One came back almost immediately, so I’m considering that an initial success. Let’s hope more come in soon.

The three questions are meant to probe some of the things that make a school unique and that aren’t easily captured as a stat to go in a book or web search.

Here’s the first response from Conner Green, Assistant Director of Admission at Ohio Wesleyan University.

1. What is a course, tradition, program or event that is unique to Ohio Wesleyan?

The one thing that is unique about Ohio Wesleyan is what we call The OWU Connection. This is a program of ours that helps to connect and intertwine every aspect of the students educational experience together. We know that learning doesn't stop when a student leaves the classroom and that it continues into everything a student gets involved with. The main three points of the OWU Connection are Think Big, Go Global, and Get Real. Through this program students are able to find research opportunities, travel abroad, and internships that will help them to not only have a successful career, but a successful life.

2. Naturally every college wants to recruit the perfect student--high grades, high test scores, involved in their community, leadership...everything. But what kinds of imperfect students tend to flourish at Ohio Wesleyan?

This is an interesting question, something we consistently tell anyone interested in OWU is that there is no typical OWU student. So to say a certain type of "imperfect" student flourishes is difficult because every student at OWU is both "perfect" and "imperfect" in different ways. What I will say, is that the students who seem to thrive and enjoy their time the most at Ohio Wesleyan, are the students who take advantage of all of the different opportunities offered their way. Built into every student's four-year plan is the opportunity to travel, conduct research, participate in an internship and have multiple majors. The students who take advantage of just one of these during their time here seem to thrive and love their experience at OWU.

3. When people come to visit, what's a place off campus that you recommend they check out while they're there?

There are so many great parts of our campus, but just down the street is Downtown Delaware, OH. A quaint little hometown that is growing everyday and is only a 5 minute walk from campus. Full of restaurants like Hamburger Inn, Buns, and Amato's Pizza, as well as different businesses and coffee shops. Every Wednesday and Saturday there is a large Farmer's Market with tons of local vendors. The first Friday of every month is the First Friday Festival where the entire main street is blocked off and filled with vendors, food trucks, music and more. If someone is coming to visit Ohio Wesleyan University, they should extend their tour to see the beautiful town that allows us to call home.

Thanks for reading! And thanks to Conner for taking some time from his super-busy recruiting schedule to send these thoughtful responses. Is there a school you want to answer the three quick questions? Let me know which one, and I’ll make sure they get them from me. 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 Angela Elisabeth.

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

What to think of college rankings

High school students: if you haven’t already, please spend about three minutes to take a survey. Your responses are completely anonymous. The survey is open until the end of September, and then I’ll publish results. Thanks!

Last week US News and World Report released their annual college rankings. Just the fact that the list is out was news in itself, and I’ve also received a number of emails from individual colleges touting their rankings. US News isn’t the only publication that ranks universities, but it’s probably the most well known.

For those of us who follow admissions and advise students, there are two appropriate responses to the rankings. One is to do a deep dive into the data. Look at who moved up and who moved down. Look at changes in the factors that go into the rankings and how they’re calculated. Look for value and opportunities for clients (“common wisdom” is that numbers 26, 51, and 101 will be desperate for top applicants to boost their ranking into the higher tier). I don’t do any of this. I haven’t checked out the new rankings, and I never just look at the list to analyze it.

The other appropriate response is to loudly ignore rankings. Most college admissions counselors, at least publicly, will tell you that the rankings are worthless, that they’re one of the main villains ruining college, and that the world would be better off without the rankings. I don’t do this either. Honestly, I’m glad that the rankings are out there. There are several things that rankings are good for.

For one, rankings provide students and families a third-party, “objective” sense of a college’s reputation and strength. While some high school students are obsessed with knowing about all the “good” colleges, most are too busy being high school students to do a lot of research before their senior year. About a quarter of my clients, when we’re putting together a chart for comparing schools on their list, will want a column on the chart for reputation and esteem, ie rankings. I don’t chastise the clients for this. I believe that if it’s important to you to go to a school that has a good reputation and is one that “people have heard of,” then we should be honest about that and take it into account. I help people find schools that have what they want; I’m not in the business of telling people what they should and should not want.

That being said, I’m careful about how I include rankings in my charts for clients. I only include rankings if the student asks for it, and it’s always the last column to the right. I also include rankings from more than one source, to make it clear that there’s no universal agreement on how to measure the quality of colleges or how to sort them. Back before smart phones with gps and maps, people often had to ask strangers for directions. Smart travelers knew to ask several people for directions to a place and not rely on a single person’s instructions. The same rule goes for rankings.

Plus, you’ve got to start somewhere. If you’re sitting down in front of a blank search page wondering where to begin, “best liberal arts colleges in California” seems like a much more reasonable search than “where should I go to college?

Please don’t get too caught up in the rankings. They’re arbitrary, easily manipulated, and based on measurements and objectives that may not be important to you in the least. On the other hand, don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong if you do look at the lists. US News is not, in fact, ruining college.

If you’re going to check the ranking lists, keep a few things in mind:

Never rely on a single list. Look at several to cross-reference and notice patterns. Is it significant if a school is #23 on a particular list? No, not really. Is it significant if that school is in the top 25 of multiple lists? Yeah, that seems legitimate. The three ranking sites I look at most often are US News, MONEY best colleges for your money, and Niche. For more specific types of rankings, there are lots of other lists out there.

And the more specific, the better. A search for a single major or specialty within a major is good. A search for a single geographic area is good, or schools of a certain size. Looking through the rankings for important-but-intangible things like “party schools” or “happiest students” is fine, but remember that every college has parties and happy students. Searching for something vague like “best college” is really useless. Don’t bother.

The most important thing to remember is that the numbers don’t matter. Number two is not significantly better than number three, or number 20, or possibly even number 120. Being on the list counts—it tells you that a school is recognized in the larger community for being good at something. But where on the list doesn’t really matter. A school or program can move around from number 1 to 11 to 6 to 27…without anything changing. Think about the person in your high school class who is ranked three places ahead of you, and the person ranked three places behind you. Are you really a much better student than the one behind you? Are you really a much worse student than the one ahead? Nope.

(Quick, without looking: what’s the number one university in America? Maybe you didn’t guess Princeton—which is #1 on US News. Or MIT, #1 on Niche. Or UC Irvine—#1 in MONEY. But whatever you did guess is probably in the top 25. And you’re not wrong, even if it’s not technically #1.)

College rankings are not all that different from student class rankings. #1 is probably not that much better of a student than #10. I’ve made the case for ranking students the way they mark time in the Tour de France, giving riders the same time if there’s no gap in between them, and the same is true of college rankings.

One more thing: it’s ok to have fun if you’re lucky to end up at a top-ranked school. I worked at a high school that was often in the top 25 of most national rankings, and I graduated from one (a long time ago) that’s often in the top 25. When the rankings come out, I brag on social media like everyone else. It feels good. But it’s not real, and I keep that in mind. If you enroll at Princeton or MIT or Stanford, enjoy the reputation and impressed faces. But don’t believe the hype that you’re really smarter than all the others out there.

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.

Rethinking Legacy

Last week the New York Times published an editorial calling to “End Legacy College Admissions.” Legacy admissions, in which universities give an admissions boost to applicants with relatives who also went to the university, the paper argues

“is anti-meritocratic, inhibits social mobility and helps perpetuate a de facto class system. In short, it is an engine of inequity. Little wonder that it is unpopular with most Americans, yet supported by the affluent who both oversee the college admissions process and are its primary beneficiaries.”

I’m on the record as being fine with Legacy. I ran a blog post two years ago called “What’s wrong with Legacy admissions?” and I still stand by it. In fact, I’d like to reiterate why I’m not as bothered by Legacy as the New York Times editorial board. It’s not that I think it’s a perfect policy that needs to be defended at all costs; I’m just not nearly as bothered by it as the Times.

First, I’ll just quote myself from that older post:

Given my support for Affirmative Action, you may be surprised to know that I also support Legacy, but I do. And I support Legacy for the same reason I support Affirmative Action: universities are not simply honor societies that recognize high-performing high school students. Universities are communities trying to find good matches for their community, and they should have the freedom to do that.

Colleges are looking for students who can graduate and will be a good fit for the present or desired culture of the school. Legacy students make sense as a good bet for colleges. Legacy students aren't just applying blindly--they know about the college. If their parents are active alumni, then the students may already be a small part of the college community through visits.

When you let go of the idea of "deserve" and instead think of college admissions like a relationship, then Legacy seems no more--but certainly no less--a legitimate factor than SAT scores, demonstrated interest, or athletic ability. 

In college admissions we talk all the time about “good fit.” Don’t just look at rankings, we say, but think about fit. Knowing that you’re interested in a particular college because one or both of your parents went there seems like something schools would want to know. It tells them about your fit.

It helps to think not just about elite schools in the Northeast like Harvard and Yale. The schools with the biggest Legacy populations? Notre Dame and Baylor. I live in Houston, and I know a handful of people who are second- or third-generation students at UT Austin, Texas A&M, or LSU. Their parents went to football games, wore school t-shirts, and took them to Homecoming. They felt a part of UT (or A&M or LSU) long before they actually applied there. Their family background, their legacy, made them a good fit for the school. Universities should not have to ignore this family history if it’s there.

Legacy is often described as “Affirmative Action for rich people.” In practice, that certainly seems the case. But I’d still like to point out that Legacy is need-blind. If you’re a legacy applicant who is wealthy, you get the Legacy boost. If you’re a legacy applicant who is going to need full financial aid, you get the Legacy boost. And whether you’re wealthy or not, once you graduate, your children will also get the Legacy boost, no matter how much or how little financial aid they will need. If you want to go after an admissions policy that favors the rich, I’d ask you to have a look at Early Decision.

When it comes to defending Legacy, I’m usually not thinking about the current generation of college applicants. I’m thinking about the next. For the past 20 years or so, more and more universities are beginning to understand the value of diversity and inclusion. And, as bad as many of our elite universities have actually been at promoting diversity and inclusion, there’s already a backlash. You probably already know someone who says that colleges are too focused on diversity. If the inclusion trend doesn’t hold, and colleges are forced—through politics, funding, public opinion, or some combination—to make diversity less of a focus, Legacy helps insure that the project can’t be abandoned completely.

Also please keep in mind that Legacy is a small factor in admissions, not a guarantee. People point out that Harvard has a Legacy admissions rate of around 33%, and at Penn it’s closer to 40%. That’s definitely a lot higher than their overall acceptance rate, but it still means that the majority of Legacy applicants aren’t accepted. And the graduation rates at these universities are in the high 90s, so nobody—Legacy or not—is getting accepted who can’t cut it.

How does a “small factor” get one group an acceptance rate of 33% when the overall rate is 6%? Because any small factor is going to have an outsized effect. The quality of the applicant pool is that high. Say you’ve got 30,000 people applying for 2,000 spots at a university. The university is going to accept around 3,500 people in order to fill those seats (because some of the people they accept will go elsewhere). So 30,000 applicants for 3,500 acceptances. The thing is, if you throw out the applicants that have low test scores, low grades, or poorly written essays, you’re still going to have around 20,000 qualified applicants for the 3,500 acceptances. From those 20,000 throw out the ones who didn’t do an impressive project or have leadership positions in high school…and you’ve still got about 17,000 applicants for those 3,500 acceptances. It’s when you get into the small factors, like Legacy, or being an elite athlete or artist, or being a public figure, that some of those other applicants start to get left behind. Small factors make a big difference, because so many people already meet the requirements for the big factors.

I’m probably going to lose this argument, and that’s fine. I won’t be hurt or upset if Legacy admissions goes away. I don’t think it will harm any individual school or the educational system at large. It will be fine.

But I have to warn that getting rid of Legacy isn’t going to fix everything, or a lot of things, or perhaps anything. What the opponents of Legacy want, which is the same thing I want, is for college admissions—especially at the elite schools that educate a disproportionate amount of our political, corporate, and social leaders—to be a fair meritocracy instead of based on wealth. But there’s no single policy change that’s going to make that happen. As I’ve argued before, the wealthy don’t dominate higher education because of a single trick—not Legacy, not Early Decision, not donations, not bribes. Likewise, there’s no single trick that’s going to solve the problem.

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 Angela Elisabeth.

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

Please take a quick college admissions survey

Around this time last year, I gave a short survey to a group of high school seniors I was talking with. Their answers were insightful and helped our discussion.

This year, I’d like to open up the survey to all high school students.

Please click here to take the survey. It should only take about five minutes, and it’s completely anonymous.

I’ll add parent and educator surveys soon, but for now this one is only for high school students. I’ll share the responses in October.

Thanks! Please send this to someone who would like to take the survey, 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.

Meet Diana

Meet the Class is back for a third 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. Below you’ll meet Diana. Diana is stressed and feels like she’s at the very beginning of the process. Read her full first 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. 

Diana ATTENDS A Public HIGH SCHOOL IN Texas

Tell me about your high school. Is it a "normal," comprehensive high school, or a magnet or charter? How many students does it have? Have you been there for all your high school years, or have you moved there?

My high school is.. different. It’s a normal public school, but it’s very different from other public schools (I think). We’re very technology oriented, every classroom has a promethean board, literally everything is done digitally. We have around 3,000 students now, however my senior class only has about 550 because we are the first graduating class and half of the kids stayed at the school I went to my freshman year.

What is your sense of how many of the graduates of your high school go on to college? I don't need the official numbers, just your estimate of the percentage. What kinds of colleges do they go to? When it comes to going off to college, what's "normal" for your high school?

Since my class is the first graduating class, I don’t really know how many kids usually go off to college. But I do know that most kids in the area go to college after high school, or stay at the local community college to do their basics.

Is college preparation a big deal in your high school? Do people talk about college a lot? Is it assumed that you will go to college?

College prep isn’t talked about at all. Like seriously, nothing.

How much direct instruction about college applications or choosing a college have you got from your school, either from teachers or counselors?

I have NO earthly idea what I’m supposed to do or how to even start, so I have been putting it off. Nothing about essays. Nothing about how to apply. I had to do research on my own but it’s so overwhelming that I just don’t even want to look at it.

Can you think of any good advice you've received about college applications from anyone at your school?

I can’t think of any advice because I’ve seriously been told nothing by anyone.

Are there any colleges that you're already sure you'll apply to? If so, what are they? Is one of them your "dream school"?

I really want to apply to the University of Oklahoma. I don’t know why. I visited there in May and I LOVED it. It’s a beautiful campus, I really liked the vibe, and I liked the amount of support that they give every student and the resources available to help them succeed.

What other colleges are you thinking about applying to, even if you're not sure you'll actually apply?

I will probably also apply to a lot of Texas public schools because I know that they will for sure take my dual credit hours, whereas Oklahoma may not.

What colleges, if any, have you visited or toured? Did any of these tours stand out as being especially good or especially bad?

Like I said before, I visited Oklahoma in May. I’ve also visited Baylor and UT Arlington. I haven’t really done many college visits because it’s difficult to make time to go and visit places. None of the visits were bad, but I definitely enjoyed Oklahoma the most because it felt more like home than the other two.

What are the main things you're looking for in a college?

I really just want to go to a college where I feel like I could thrive and be supported by everyone around me instead of being just another number.

How involved is your family in the process? Do you have people in your household who went to college, or are you the first?

My family really isn’t that involved, but that’s probably because I haven’t really started anything. I will be the first in my household to go to college which is probably why this is so difficult and confusing.

Have you talked with your family about money? Do you know how much you can afford to pay per year? Do you know how college will be paid for?

I’ve talked to my parents about the money and they told me I will be on my own. They said they’ll cosign loans (what does that even mean) but they will not be opening their wallets to help a girl out. All I know is I am majorly stressed about it.

How are you feeling about college applications? Anxious? Confident? Confused? Explain what you're thinking and feeling as you get ready for this endeavor.

I am STRESSED. That’s all. I’m sure it will work out but I’m really just putting it off because I don’t want to deal with it. Which is super unhealthy and will actually end up making this significantly worse for me.

What do you not know about this process that you wish you did? What would you change about the past few years to be more prepared for this?

I don’t know anything about this process because my school has not told us ANYTHING and I just haven’t asked anyone any questions. That is all.

Thanks for reading! If you have college admissions questions for Diana, leave a comment or email me. You can find other Meet the Class responses here. 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 Angela Elisabeth.

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

Meet Jenna

Meet the Class is back for a third 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. Below you’ll meet Jenna. Like a lot of seniors, she has some strong ideas about what she wants, but isn’t as sure about how to get it. Read her full first 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. 

Jenna ATTENDS A Public HIGH SCHOOL IN Michigan

Tell me about your high school. Is it a "normal," comprehensive high school, or a magnet or charter? How many students does it have? Have you been there for all your high school years, or have you moved there?

I go to a public school in a relatively small city. We don't have many students at our school mainly because there are other bigger and more well known schools around us. We have roughly maybe 800 students, which is fairly small compared to schools who have thousands. I have also been attending this school for all four years of my high school career.

What is your sense of how many of the graduates of your high school go on to college? I don't need the official numbers, just your estimate of the percentage. What kinds of colleges do they go to? When it comes to going off to college, what's "normal" for your high school?

I would honestly say about maybe 80% of the students here end up going to college while the other 20% maybe join the military, go to a trade school instead, etc. The students who go to college are pretty split between community colleges and universities. The "normal" here when it comes to going off to college is that usually a lot of students stay in Michigan. I only know a handful of students who have gone out of state and come home for the holidays.

Is college preparation a big deal in your high school? Do people talk about college a lot? Is it assumed that you will go to college?

The students here talk a bit about college but not a ton. It really just depends who it is because some will talk a ton about the subject and some will briefly touch on it. Most people assume I will be attending college which I do plan on doing come the fall after I graduate.

Here at my school, I would say that we have some guidance regarding college preparations but it is primarily limited to only juniors and seniors. My school offers the options to only 11th and 12th grade students to take an AP course that we might not offer but a nearby school does. These two grades are also allowed to begin meeting with college admissions officers that come to our school to give more information and answer any questions we have.

How much direct instruction about college applications or choosing a college have you got from your school, either from teachers or counselors?

I haven't received much direct instruction about college applications or choosing a college from my counselors who are typically in charge of that. Although I go back on September 3rd and within the following week the 2020 class is set to have a meeting with the schools counselors to receive more information.

Can you think of any good advice you've received about college applications from anyone at your school?

The only advice I can think of that I have received about college applications from anyone is to be open and honest but also apply as early as I can.

Are there any colleges that you're already sure you'll apply to? If so, what are they? Is one of them your "dream school"?

There are a couple colleges I am planning on applying to. They are U of M Ann Arbor, U of M Dearborn, Henry Ford Community College, Central, Michigan State, Madonna University and a few more I can't think of off the top of my head. My dream school is actually Stanford but it’s not exactly an easy choice. Where I come from, there aren't many who get accepted into an Ivy League, I wouldn't be able to afford to attend a University like that, my test scores aren't exactly where I wanted them to be and I’m not sure how I would feel about leaving home. I'm still very unsure of whether or not I should apply but it’s something worth trying still because the worst they can do is say no.

What other colleges are you thinking about applying to, even if you're not sure you'll actually apply?

I have visited a college in Toledo but I don't remember what it was called because I wasn't interested in applying.

What colleges, if any, have you visited or toured? Did any of these tours stand out as being especially good or especially bad?

I have also visited U of M Dearborn a couple of times because I helped a student there with a project that required me to visit every weekend but also I went on an official tour a couple of times.

Because I haven't been on a ton of tours, the ones I have been on were relatively okay. I didn't get that feeling that I absolutely needed to go there but it was just more of a oh okay type of thing,

What are the main things you're looking for in a college?

The main things I look for in a college is definitely prices because I won't attend a college I cannot afford, location is important because I prefer the city and being in busy areas, size of the school as well since I don't want to go to a huge school but also not a small one, what classes they offer in case I change my major, student to facility ratio is important too because I like to kinda get to know my teachers but also being in a bigger class makes it a bit tough to ask questions about whats going on, clubs offered also due to the fact I am in multiple different clubs now and I’d like to join some in college too, academic support services such as tutors etc. and campus safety too in case I'm in a dangerous situation, I know who I can contact.

How involved is your family in the process? Do you have people in your household who went to college, or are you the first?

I live with my mom, and she tries to be involved in the process which I appreciate because this does definitely get overwhelming but sometimes she gets over bearing with the questions that I don't know. For instance, FAFSA. I haven't filled out anything for it yet because I haven't started school for my counselors to talk about it with me and obviously this is the first time I have had to do this so i don't know the process and she expects me to have answers to it all.

As far as the rest of my family goes, none of them have gone to college or have dropped out. I do plan on going and being the first in the family to graduate.

Have you talked with your family about money? Do you know how much you can afford to pay per year? Do you know how college will be paid for?

My mom and I have briefly talked about money. I'm kept up to date always on our expenses so I have a relative idea how much a year we can spend a year. The plan to pay for it besides scholarships is my mom would have to help me and i'd need to get a job. I currently don't work because my mom wants me to focus on my studies for now.

How are you feeling about college applications? Anxious? Confident? Confused? Explain what you're thinking and feeling as you get ready for this endeavor.

As of right now, I'm honestly feeling a bit anxious about the application process. There's so many factors that play in that I have to consider and finding a happy medium will be hard. I'm undecided on what I plan on majoring in which makes things a bit harder. I'm glad I have many doors open right now but it’s also a lot to take in and where to start. I feel like as long as I focus on one thing at a time, it will definitely help ease my nerves during all of this rather than all of it at once and getting overwhelmed.

What do you not know about this process that you wish you did? What would you change about the past few years to be more prepared for this?

I wish I knew more about "The Common App." I'm not exactly sure what it is but I keep hearing a lot about it. I wish I got to know more upperclassmen that were going through this process so I could have a better understanding while watching them go through it all but also doing more research. I feel like through the years I wish I dug deeper into the college search and started doing internships at younger age possibly to have a better understanding.

Is there anything else you want to tell people that I didn't ask?

Something else I would like to tell people is genuinely explore your interests regarding classes in high school or at least start. I took a Mechanical Drafting class as a Junior thinking I'd enjoy it and could possibly be a career option in the future. Honestly the class overall was good but I would not consider it as an occupation after I took it BUT I am glad i figured that out now so I can try something new.

Thanks for reading! If you have college admissions questions for Jenna, leave a comment or email me. You can find other Meet the Class responses here. 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 Angela Elisabeth.

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

Meet Katie

Meet the Class is back for a third 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. Below you’ll meet Katie, who is quite ambitious—she plans to apply to around 25 schools. Read her full first 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. 

Katie ATTENDS A Private Christian HIGH SCHOOL IN Ohio

Tell me about your high school. Is it a "normal," comprehensive high school, or a magnet or charter? How many students does it have? Have you been there for all your high school years, or have you moved there?

I go to a private Christian school with about 200 students in the high school. I have been there since the beginning of sophomore year. Before that, I went to an even smaller private Christian school with about 60 students in the high school.

What is your sense of how many of the graduates of your high school go on to college? I don't need the official numbers, just your estimate of the percentage. What kinds of colleges do they go to? When it comes to going off to college, what's "normal" for your high school?

Probably over 90 percent of students who graduate from my high school go to college. Almost everyone goes to 4-year universities. Most people stay at home and commute to school after graduating, but there are always a few who go away either to Christian colleges or public universities a little bit further away.

Is college preparation a big deal in your high school? Do people talk about college a lot? Is it assumed that you will go to college?

I wouldn't say that college prep is a big part of my school. It is expected for pretty much everyone to go to college though. There is always immense pressure to become a doctor or an engineer, and I am constantly told that I should follow those fields. College is talked about a moderate amount, but not too much because it generally stresses people out.

How much direct instruction about college applications or choosing a college have you got from your school, either from teachers or counselors?

I would say that there is pretty much no direct instruction on college. It is something that everyone is expected to know everything about, and there is very minimal help given on it.

Can you think of any good advice you've received about college applications from anyone at your school?

I feel like I am usually the person who is giving others advice on college, so I can't think of anything at the moment.

Are there any colleges that you're already sure you'll apply to? If so, what are they? Is one of them your "dream school"?

Yes! There are a lot of schools I'm pretty sure I'll apply to. I solidified my college list near the beginning of the summer, and nothing has really changed about it. I'm planning on applying to like 25 schools which is pretty insane, but that is just how I am as a human being. My "dream schools" are probably Penn State and University of Hartford. The other schools I'm planning on applying to are Ball State, Central Washington University, Columbia College Chicago, Indiana University Bloomington, Minnesota State Mankato, Montclair State, North Dakota State, Roosevelt, University of Buffalo, Temple, University of Central Missouri, University of Montana, University of Minnesota—Duluth and Twin Cities, University of Oklahoma, University of Rhode Island, University of South Dakota, University of the Arts, Western Michigan, and Wichita State.

What other colleges are you thinking about applying to, even if you're not sure you'll actually apply?

The schools I am currently considering but not sure about are The American Musical and Drama Academy and Hofstra.

What colleges, if any, have you visited or toured? Did any of these tours stand out as being especially good or especially bad?

I have toured Cedarville, Grove City, Malone, and Kent State. The first three are all my family's choices, and I really didn't enjoy them. I am looking for a new experience after I graduate, and they were just more of the same. Kent State is a school that I really love, and if it was further away, I would definitely want to go. I want to feel like I feel on that campus and is kinda the bar I want every school I consider to meet.

What are the main things you're looking for in a college?

I am looking for a stellar Musical Theatre BFA program with an equal focus on acting, music, and dance. If a school is unable to deliver something like that, then it is definitely not for me. I want to be out of state for personal reasons that I would rather not go into. A progressive place would be ideal. Scholarship money is a concern, but it has not been an immediate concern.

How involved is your family in the process? Do you have people in your household who went to college, or are you the first?

My family has not been involved in the process at all. They have shared their concerns and such, but I am doing this basically on my own. My mom went to college, but it was very much different than how my experience has gone thus far.

Have you talked with your family about money? Do you know how much you can afford to pay per year? Do you know how college will be paid for?

I have talked about my family with money. I am going to be totally responsible for my costs after I graduate, and with pursuing a career in the arts, money is something that will definitely go into my college decision. The schools I am applying to all seem to be reasonable after scholarships and financial aid. Right now, I have just been applying to every scholarship that I possibly can because I need all the money I can get for college.

How are you feeling about college applications? Anxious? Confident? Confused? Explain what you're thinking and feeling as you get ready for this endeavor.

I am so excited actually be able to submit the applications I have been working so hard on! College is a major sore spot in my family, so it has come with a lot of unnecessary stress. I can't wait for this crazy adventure to begin. I just hope that I have enough time in the day to get everything done as well I as I possibly can. I am a bit nervous that I won't be able to get into a single program, but I try not to dwell on that and just put everything into all my application materials.

What do you not know about this process that you wish you did? What would you change about the past few years to be more prepared for this?

I wish I would have known how much time the actual applications were going to take. I have like 450 other things to be worrying about, and the applications are just so painstaking and meticulous. I was expecting them be something easy to just get out of the way before the real battle began, which I know is how it is going to go, but they are just so time-consuming. I am hoping to have them done as soon as possible. I feel like I have been as prepared as I possibly could have been for this year. I feel like I do have a good idea what I am doing, and I am as ahead as I could have been. Time is my biggest problem right now.

Is there anything else you want to tell people that I didn't ask?

The reason I am so stressed out about time is that musical theatre applications are all due earlier, and I also have additional supplements and performance elements that are due during application season. I have auditions for pretty much every school that I am applying to. Most of them are in January and February, but they are from November to March.

Thanks for reading! If you have college admissions questions for Katie, leave a comment or email me. You can find other Meet the Class responses here. 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 Angela Elisabeth.

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

To do better at school, think of studying like bathing

High school students have to study. (I’m using “study” to mean all the academic work that has to be done outside of class: reading, homework, working on a project, preparing for a test…all the stuff.) There’s lots of advice out there about different techniques of studying. How to take notes. How to read quickly but effectively. How to review before a test. But I don’t like to recommend certain study techniques. Different techniques work for different people; what works great for me may be disastrous for you. It takes trial and error.

What I’m more concerned with are the routines and habits behind those techniques, the background. I’m much more interested in recommending the culture of studying. And the more I think about the culture of studying, the more I realize students should think about studying the same way they think about bathing.

Studying, it turns out, is a lot like showering.

If you wait until you absolutely need to and the people around you can tell, then you’ve waited too long. Don’t wait until there’s a crisis to take a shower; don’t wait until there’s a crisis to study. Don’t wait until the last minute to shower; don’t wait until the last minute to study. Don’t go so long without showering that adults tell you there’s a problem and you need to shower; don’t go so long without studying that adults tell you there’s a problem and you need to study. Be pro-active. Do it before you know you need to. Because, after all, you know you’re going to need to do it.

People who think they don’t need to are fooling themselves. Studying, like showering, isn’t always a reaction. You’re not always responding to an urgent need. You also do it out of habit, to make sure that a strong need doesn’t actually arise. Some people may give themselves a little sniff every day and think they don’t need to bather—they’re fine. But what happens is they don’t notice the slowly-but-surely increase in their funkiness until it’s too late. Studying works the same way. To “get by fine without studying” is only “getting by” in the short term. When the time comes for real study—later in high school, in college, or in the working world—you won’t know how to do it best, and you’ll be at a disadvantage.

Daily is best. For cleaning yourself. For studying. Maybe not a long, extravagant shower each day. Or a long, intense study session. But still, daily.

There are only a few places you should do it. Sure, you can study just about anywhere. And you know what? You can clean yourself anywhere, too. You can say to yourself “I don’t really have time to shower. So I’m just going to wash my face real quick here at home. Then, when I have some time at school, I’ll use the bathroom sink to wash up a little more. And there’s a water fountain between the school exit and the bus, so I can maybe wash a little more there.” But that would be ridiculous. And gross. Studying is the same. Sure, you can squeeze in a little bit here and there throughout your day. But you should have one or two designated study areas, preferably one at home and one at school. They should be places you visit regularly, because you study regularly. And they should be places you don’t use for anything but studying. Train your brain that when you get to your study space, you get in the study frame of mind. Don’t leave your brain wondering if it’s study time or not. This is why you should especially avoid studying in your bed.

Sometimes you need a little extra. Even if you have a very regular and thorough shower routine at a specific time, sometimes you need a little more. You get extra muddy or sweaty or stinky, and you take an extra shower, even if it’s not part of your routine. You don’t whine about this or procrastinate, because you need the shower. Similarly, sometimes you have a big test or project and need to set aside extra time to study. You shouldn’t whine or procrastinate, because you need the studying.

Faking it is a waste of time. There are kids who don’t want to take a bath, and so they fake it. They’ll go into the bathroom, run some water, splash it every few seconds for a while, get their hair a little wet, and then drain the tub. They didn’t save any time; they didn’t get to do anything else. But they faked their way out of taking a bath. There are high school students who do the same with studying. They sit down, open their book and their laptop, and pretend to study while they’re actually zoning out or wasting time on the internet. They don’t save any time; they aren’t prepared for the future. Don’t be one of these students.

You need the right amount of self-assessment. If every time you get out of the shower you look in the mirror for a few seconds and are sure that you look horrible and the shower isn’t worth the effort, you’ve got a problem. You’re not giving yourself credit; you’re being too self-critical. If every time you get out of the shower you spend half an hour looking in the mirror to preen, pose, and pride yourself on how awesome you look, you’ve got a problem. You’re being a little too full of yourself. Studying’s no different. Be honest with yourself about what’s working, what’s not working, and what you need to do differently next time. Don’t feel like a failure; don’t feel like the smartest person in the world. Moderate.

It’s best to be alone. Otherwise you’ll get distracted. Like showering, it’s best to study alone if you want to avoid distraction, social anxiety, or discomfort. Yes, sometimes study groups can be effective, just as sometimes a group—usually an athletic team—can all shower at the same time. But if your study group isn’t making the best use of your time and improving your knowledge and skills, then it’s best to go it alone.

Take time to be grateful. There are many places in the world—including here in the United States— where water and bathing are not common resources. There are places in the world—including here in the United States—where books and a good, free education are not common. Remember to be grateful for your homework and studying, even when you’re not enjoying it.

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 9th graders need to do this fall

What 9th graders need to do this fall

This has an academic side—take the most rigorous classes you can, get the best grades you can, be involved in your education. But just as important at this point are the social and emotional sides. You’re easing your way into a new and exciting (and challenging) place. You’re going to have missteps, and you’re going to change your mind about things. That’s normal, and that’s fine.

What seniors need to do this fall

What seniors need to do this fall

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.

Are your test scores good?

Are your test scores good?

It’s a question I hear all the time: “I got _____ on the SAT. Is that good?” Everyone would like to know that their test scores are good. That they’re valuable, that they’re going to help a student get what she wants, like admission to a top-choice college or a scholarship. The problem, of course, is that none of us are quite sure what makes a test score “good.”

What I’d like to do today is go over all the ways I can think to answer that question, from the fairly objective to the completely dysfunctional. There are a lot of ways to think about your test scores.

It's time to set goals for the new school year

It's time to set goals for the new school year

As the new school year looms closer, 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.

College-bound students do their summer reading

College-bound students do their 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. 

Put together your own writing workshop

Put together your own writing workshop

Last week I was inspired and energized, though. I was invited to be one of the instructors at a week-long college admissions essay writing workshop. Even though I was brought on as an admissions coach and gave talks about things like test scores and how to understand holistic admissions, the organizers still let me lead a workshop group of six students as they took a college application essay from planning to a third draft. It was exciting to see people get real help from peer review, and all week I kept thinking to myself “people can do this at home.”

So today I’d like to share what made the workshop successful, and how a small group of students could set up their own workshop of peers.

Why I do what I do

Why I do what I do

Last weekend I was fortunate to be one of the presenters at a college access workshop presented by Wonderworks, an enrichment program sponsored by Rice and the University of Houston. The pre-written text of my talk, called “Temporary Insanity: College Admission, American Style” is below. I welcome your comments and questions!

Summer homework

Summer homework

A few years ago The Atlantic published this article by Joe Pinsker titled "Rich Kids Study English." It's a really fascinating piece that I hope you'll take the time to read, but here's the main idea: "the amount of money a college student’s parents make does correlate with what that person studies. Kids from lower-income families tend toward 'useful' majors, such as computer science, math, and physics. Those whose parents make more money flock to history, English, and performing arts." Hence the title. Pinsker looks at several explanations and unanswered questions about this connection with having wealthier parents and choosing lower-paying career paths. "It’s speculative," he says, "but richer students might be going on to take lower-paying jobs because they have the knowledge that their parents’ money will arrive eventually."

While the premise makes sense--if your family has more money and support then you can afford not to worry about paychecks as much when choosing your college classes--it's not the full picture.