We are back in the college application process in our house this fall. Our daughter Annie is a senior and just last night she was cranking out some supplemental essays a few of her colleges have asked for. No matter how many times I’ve gone through this process with my kids, each time feels a little different than the last.
Last month, I was lucky enough to get a call from Mary O’Malley, Co-Head at Union Hall Advising in Chicago. While we’ve never worked with a college counselor outside of the one our kids have been assigned to at our high school, I do see the value in them. Their insight into the ever-changing landscape of college admissions is incredible–especially with colleges looking less at GPA and test scores and more at activities and essays.
While Union Hall Advising is available to help you in whatever capacity you need, Mary shared these tips for your senior to keep in mind as they’re applying to college this fall:
Connect with the colleges you are interested in. Mary stresses that “demonstrated interest” is more important than ever. If a college is going to accept a student, they want to be confident that they are going to come. Demonstrated interest can be as simple as an email to the admissions person, attending a session a college may be holding at your high school, or taking an official tour at the college. This extra effort matters. At the end of the day, colleges are businesses and want to make decisions that are also in their best interest. They want to bet on sure things. The more a student can convince them that they’re a good fit for their institution, the more likely they will extend an acceptance.
Figure out what your story is and how you are going to tell it. With essays getting more attention, students have to find a way to share who they are in a unique way. Mary emphasizes that students have the opportunity to create a map for admissions officers with their writing and activities so they should take advantage of highlighting what is important to them. The pieces of an application must all work together to create a comprehensive story.
Curate your activity list. Again…back to the roadmap. While a listing of a student’s high school activities should be complete, it needs to tell a story, too, and why it’s leading the student to this particular college. What a student shares should support what his/her ultimate goals are for the future. For example, my daughter Annie is very interested in medical school so the activities that she has participated in that have lead her to this goal need to be listed to make her story compelling.
Apply early action or early decision to your top choice if you can. The most insightful thing Mary shared is that most colleges build their freshmen classes from the early action and early decision pools. They then fill in what they’re missing from the regular admission applicants. The example Mary gave me was that if Notre Dame doesn’t get enough redheads from Ohio during the early action phase, they will go back and find these redheads from Ohio in the regular admissions pool.
Standardized scores still matter. For the current senior class, most colleges are still test optional and Mary doesn’t see this changing anytime soon. But this doesn’t mean the score doesn’t matter. Colleges do care about these tests–especially if your student has high scores.
While the college application process has become more automated with the Common App, it’s also made it much more competitive. It’s nice to know there are people like Mary O’Malley who can help us get our arms around it. You can reach Mary by email or calling 312.520.4035.
If you have any tips or tricks for helping our kids successfully apply to college, please feel free to share.