The Edge Our college admission blog

The Times They Are A-Changin’…

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 13, 2015


It was Dylan who sang:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown

Who would have guessed that those words, which date back to 1964, would still resonate so clearly today, and even in regards to college admissions?  Dylan speaks truth!  The college admissions times are a-changin’, and from both the student and college side of the fence.  Regarding the former, prospective students are, on average, applying to more schools than ever before.  This is fueled, in part, by The Common Application, which allows students to complete one application that they can then send to any of the member colleges (although keep in mind that supplements are often required for specific schools).  The data from Inside Higher Ed is revealing:

  • Since 1997, the majority of colleges have reported receiving more applications than the year before.
  • The percentage of students who apply to seven or more colleges has been steadily rising.
  • The average admissions officer was responsible for reading 359 applications in 2005 and that number had jumped up to 622 applications per average admissions officer by 2011 (imagine reading over 600 applications?!)!

What this translates to is the admissions process becoming more selective – if there are the same number of available places in a freshman class (limited supply) but more applications coming in (increasing demand), then fewer applicants will be accepted.  At the same time, the yield rate (the number of students who accept their offer and show up to move into their dorm room at the start of the academic year) is on the decline, which complicates matters for colleges as well, in terms of what their ideal admission numbers should be.  It’s a classic chicken/egg situation, and a vicious cycle – colleges are becoming more selective so students apply to more in order to improve their chances of admission and, because more students are applying, colleges are becoming more selective, so students are applying to more colleges…and around and around we go!

Furthermore, though it varies greatly by state (see The Pew Charitable Trusts report for specific state information), the number of international students studying at American colleges is currently at “an all-time high and more than double the number of foreign students 20 years ago”.  In short, Dylan hit the nail on the head – the waters around you have definitely grown, as the number of applications for coveted spots continues to flood admissions offices around the country.  We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on these admissions trends – more to come!

Finding Diamonds In The Rough

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 12, 2015


As you well know, there are a TON of resources out there that are designed to help you in your reflections on where you should apply to college.  However, not all are created equally – some should be pursued with gusto while others are better off shunned!  To begin with, there is word-of-mouth.  If your friend’s uncle’s co-worker’s cousin’s daughter’s friend attends Neverland College and you hear back through that grapevine that it’s a great school, you may want to consider that you’re likely in the midst of a game of broken telephone – hang up!  However, when you receive that same feedback from your best friend’s older sister, who you’ve known since you were three years old, the words should carry more weight.

The same goes for books, and there are countless paperbacks and hardcovers out there just waiting to jump off bookstore shelves (or out of online shopping carts) and onto your bedside table!  Again, you should proceed with caution.  When trying to distinguish between the gems and the duds of the paper world, one place to drop anchor is the Admitster Bookstore.  Here you’ll find a wealth of information on excellent books focused on college admissions, and you will also be steered clear of the mediocre reads.  For instance, when thinking about where to apply you should consider what you might like to declare as your major, and take a look at this book, which earned five stars from our insightful book reviewer, Jeff.  As he noted in his review, “Majors are to college what rides are to an amusement park: they’re what truly make the experience worthwhile.”  On the other hand, don’t bother opening your wallet for books such as this and this.  That money could be much better spent elsewhere, like on ice cream cones celebrating the start of summer vacation!

Finally, virtual resources.  There is so, so, so much out there in the world of http://www that it’s hard to know where to begin.  Allow me to direct your attention to one site that I think shines brightly, namely the College Board’s BigFuture.  The site provides information on specific colleges (if you already have some in mind), can help you out if you’re really not sure where to begin, can narrow your search down using location as a starting point, can help you search by prospective majors, and has information available on financial aid options.  It really is a tremendous resource for those of you thinking about where to apply to college, and the list of potential schools that you’ll have in your pocket when you leave the site is a great starting point.  Next, visit us at Admitster and experiment with our College Finder tool, comparing it to your list from BigFuture – you may, on further reflection, find that you’ll want to add or delete schools from your first-draft list.  We’ll then ensure that you have a nice portfolio of reach, target, and safety schools.  For instance:

June 12

Finally, using our ‘What If?’ Engine, you can work out your best strategy for admission to those schools.  The amount of information out there is truly vast, but if you know where to look you’ll find diamonds!

An Exercise In Emotional Management

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 11, 2015


Reading the words “an exercise in emotional management”, a number of different scenarios may come to mind.  Perhaps it’s the bottom of the of the 9th, bases loaded, two outs, two strikes, your team down by three runs, and your star batter at the plate.  Maybe you’ve been following life on the bald eagle live cam and one of the little guys has just had his first successful flight.  Or perhaps what you immediately think of – and there’s no shame in this – is that scene from Titanic, the lifeboat being slowly lowered into the icy waves, that sad flute melody the icing on your emotional cake.  But no.  In this case, “an exercise in emotional management” refers to one mother’s description of visiting colleges with her daughter.

The Boston Globe recently published an article on the topic of campus visits, discussing the many reasons (both practical and irrational) that prospective students may, after a tour of the place, say “yes” or “no” to a potential college or university.  During my days of working in admissions, when I would interview prospective students, one of the questions I found myself asking over and over again was what their gut reaction had been when they first arrived on campus.  In some cases, their eyes would light up and they would describe to me how they could just picture themselves sitting in class or joining a club, falling right in-step with the current students, who were going happily about their respective days.  For others, the response was a bit less enthusiastic.  This was telling! Remember, campus visits and interviews are meant to be two-way streets – are we a good fit for each other, this student and this college?  I strongly believe that one’s gut feelings about a place are worth tuning into (even if, as was described in the article, that reaction seems mundane, e.g. red lights blinking – there isn’t an abundance of bananas in the cafeteria!  It’s one of the primary reasons why a campus tour can be so helpful in trying to decide where to apply.  After all, you can only glean so much information from a college’s website.


In thinking about campus visits, I’m reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2005 book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  As Donna Seaman wrote in her editorial review on, the book “brilliantly illuminates an aspect of our mental lives that we utterly rely on yet rarely analyze, namely our ability to make snap decisions or quick judgments.”  These quick judgments are sometimes accurate and sometimes not, but they are always an important piece of information to consider when trying to make a decision, such as “Is this a good-fit school for me?”  As Gladwell himself wrote, “There are lots of situations…when our snap judgments and first impressions offer a much better means (than spending as much time as possible in deliberation) of making sense of the world.”  So book those campus visits, sign up for those tours, schedule those interviews, and start making sense of your undergraduate world.


(Early) Enough To Make Your Head Spin!

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 10, 2015


time3Early action, early decision, rolling admissions, regular admissions – it’s enough to make your head spin! Like so many things in life, success in the college admissions process depends, at least in part, on timing. Not only do you have to ensure that you don’t miss deadlines along the way (e.g. for standardized testing or deadlines related to financing your college education), but you also need to give thought to your college admissions strategy as it relates to the timing of your applications.

Here is a very brief run-down of your options:

Early Action – Students applying to a school using the early action option will usually submit their completed applications by mid-November and hear back from colleges by January. However, being accepted via early action does not commit the applicant to that particular college or university, and students usually don’t need to inform the college of whether to expect them at orientation or not until May 1st. It’s also nice to know that you can apply via early action to more than one school.

Early Decision – As is the case with early action, an early decision applicant applies to his/her dream college in the fall. However, there are crucial differences to note between early action and early decision! To begin with, you can only apply to one school using the early decision option, and you should only apply to this one school if you really, and I mean really, want to go there, because if you’re accepted then you’ve already committed yourself to attending. In short, if you’ve gotten down on one knee, proposed, and the school responded (usually by December) saying, “Yes! Yes!  A thousand times, yes!“, then it’s time to plan the wedding.

Rolling Admissions – A college with a rolling admissions policy will accept applications at any time, up until a final deadline. An advantage for students of applying via rolling admissions is that they should hear soon after submitting their application whether they’ve been accepted, and won’t have to wait until March or April for a response.

Regular Admissions – With this option, you decide to apply to a college by meeting its regular, normal, good ol’ fashioned admissions deadline.

A future post will consider the pros and cons of these different strategies, but for now know that not every college offers these options, so do your research. “Where should I begin?”, you may ask, perhaps feeling a bit overwhelmed. An excellent starting point would be to take a closer look at the colleges (and there are over 500 of them) that accept the Common Application. Check out this page for a list of schools, which types of admissions options they offer, and what their specific deadlines are. Yes, your head may be spinning but there’s a simple way to calm the vertigo and get your feet more firmly planted on the ground – plan ahead! I suggest the following:

Buy a calendar.  Write important deadlines on that calendar.  Update that calendar frequently.

Whatever your strategy turns out to be (early action, early decision, regular admissions), the deadlines are crucial. Put them on your shiny, new calendar.  Use red ink.

Whether you are a natural planner or need to force yourself to go out and buy that calendar, being as organized as possible throughout the process is truly the best way to keep yourself from feeling completely overwhelmed, to keep your head from spinning.

In This Day and Age

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 9, 2015


2Yesterday’s blog post discussed things that you may have done in the past that have unfortunately ended up on your permanent record, that is, on a school or police report.  However, there’s also another type of record out there that you should be thinking about during these whirlwind days of college admissions activity, namely, your social media presence.  Facebook!  Twitter!  Instagram! When you sign up for an account with any of these types of social networking services, you have an online presence, and whether that version of yourself reflects the real you or not is irrelevant when it comes to college admissions.  When we post photos or messages on Facebook, we’re often thinking about our audience as being our family and friends…but pulling up chairs in that virtual audience, eager for the lights to dim and the show starring you to begin, may be college admissions officers.  If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at some of the numbers.

Kaplan Test Prep carries out an annual survey of college admissions officers and in 2013 one of the focuses of the survey was what admissions officers had to say about their use of social media in the college admissions process.  Results showed the following (where the numbers in parentheses “reflect the findings of identically-worded questions from Kaplan’s 2012 survey of college admissions officers”):

June 9th

Let this sink in for a moment, especially the results for that last question – around 1 in 3 of the surveyed admissions officers have come across information on an applicant’s social networking page that has negatively impacted their application!  Social media is also used for college recruiting (and remember, a large part of the process from the admissions officers’ point of view is recruitment).  In short, the use of social media in college admissions is becoming more the norm, so be prepared:

  • Double check that for each of your various online accounts, your privacy settings are set to a level of privacy that you feel comfortable with.
  • Don’t post offensive, embarrassing or asinine messages, and steer clear of sharing with the world photos of yourself that you wouldn’t be happy for your grandparents to see.
  • In this day and age, having no online presence may also strike admissions officers as being odd, so keep on using Facebook and Twitter and all of your social networking tools – just be sure to use them responsibly!
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