Summer Programs for High School Students: An FAQ

  Dave Bergman   Jan 12, 2017   Navigating the Admissions Process   0 Comment

leadIn the 1990s, while the rest of society was busy squirting each other with Super Soakers, listening to the Gin Blossoms, and carving Nike swooshes into their hair, colleges apparently realized for the first time their campuses were deserted during the summer. Then, in a Copernican moment, an administrator at a prestigious university had a revolutionary notion, “What if we filled up our dorms with high school students whose parents are caught up in the admissions hysteria and charged triple our normal tuition rate for the privilege?” Hence, the college summer program for high school sophomores and juniors was born.

Cynical pseudo-historical accounts aside, the merit of summer programs varies greatly from campus-to-campus and it is important to do your homework before reaching for that Visa card. The following Q & A seeks to address the most frequent queries we receive from parents on the topic.

How much do they cost?

Most elite schools charge between $2,000 and $3,000 per week for the privilege of sleeping in their dorms, sitting in their classrooms, and having a few idle faculty members impart wisdom about the transition to college life. Programs abroad can be even pricier. On the other hand, some programs are actually free-of-charge, and can be far more valuable both in the experiential and admissions sense (more on this in a moment).

Will they help my child’s chance at admission?

In most cases, no. A summer spent strutting around a storied college campus in a borrowed tweed jacket will be viewed by an admissions committee as equal in merit to spending your break restocking Horsey Sauce packets at an Arby’s in a mall food court. Admissions officers know that very few students have the resources to drop ten grand on a four-week equivalent to summer camp and will not grant favor to those who attend. Doing so would be as absurd as NASA deciding to send a group of Space Camp attendees into orbit. Never mind that this scenario actually occurs, albeit by accident, in the 1986 Hollywood mega-flop, Space Camp.

Do they have any admissions-related value?

Indirectly, perhaps. As with any experience a young person undertakes, a high-cost summer program could indirectly have a positive impact on a future application. For example, a summer program attendee might work on a project that ignites a passion which becomes ideal fodder for a future application essay. In some cases a student may impress a faculty member to the point where they are willing to write a glowing, committee-swaying letter of recommendation.

Yet, it is critical to be aware that the programs with the highest admissions-related value are actually the ones that are cost-free and highly selective. Identifying the programs that are competitive, rewarding, and will actually impress an admissions committee can be tough—fortunately, we can help…

Competitive Summer Programs for 2017

Students interested in STEM have a bevy of excellent choices including Michigan State’s HSHPP Program, the RSI Program at MIT, or the PROMYS Program at Boston University.

Those pursuing study in the field of economics or business would do well to check out Wharton’s Leadership in the Business World Program, Economics for Leaders which is hosted by a number of different schools, or MIT Launch.

Excellent opportunities also abound in the disciplines of journalism, global studies, and mathematics. For those unsure about their exact area of future study, programs like Notre Dame’s Summer Scholars offer a wide array of topics from 1960’s Activism to Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

Click here for a comprehensive list of College Transitions’ Best Summer Programs for 2017, and be sure to also visit the Build Your College Knowledge section of our Dataverse to access additional college lists.

College Transitions’ Bottom Line:

If you have unlimited resources and your son or daughter feels they would benefit from the experience, there is absolutely no harm in attending a high-end summer program. However, it is important to be realistic about what you’re paying for. Some “elite” programs accept as many as 80% of applicants. Again, we recommend first exploring more selective, cost-free programs that are merit-based and geared toward a discipline of genuine interest. And, if all else fails, don’t underestimate the value of a normal teenage summer experience. After all, you have to admit, the Sisyphean task of Horsey Sauce packet replenishment would make for an original essay topic.

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Dealing with deferral: A few tips for applicants

  Dave Bergman   Jan 05, 2017   Application Strategies, Navigating the Admissions Process   0 Comment

football-player3You shed any Prufrockian paralysis and boldly confess your undying love to the college of your dreams. By applying early decision you’ve offered them 100% commitment and devotion with no guarantees in return. Your heart is all in their hands now. After a nervous, lengthy wait to find out if your feelings are requited, a decision has arrived. Will it be the ecstasy of acceptance or the crushing blow of rejection? You’ve been…


Okay, so in one sense your worst fears were averted—your number one choice didn’t laugh in your face or say that they would rather be friends. Of course, they didn’t say “yes” either. While better than an outright rejection, being deferred can leave students feeling helpless and lacking further agency in the quest to win acceptance. This is simply not the case. Below are 6 things that you can do to improve your chances of being admitted in the regular admissions round.

1. If you haven’t already done so, draft a letter addressed to the Dean of Admission and to the admissions counselor assigned to your area, which (1) reiterates your intentions to enroll if admitted, and (2) restates why you believe the college is most suited to your interests and goals.  Be sure to reference specific courses, extracurricular activities, and/or research opportunities that you plan to pursue. Also make sure that your letter strikes an upbeat and appreciative tone; doing so shows resilience and demonstrates your continued interest.

2. Solicit a letter of recommendation from someone who is able to offer a different and fresh perspective on your candidacy.  For example, if you’ve only submitted teacher recommendations thus far, consider sending a letter of recommendation from an extracurricular sponsor or work supervisor, who can attest to your abilities and work ethic outside of the classroom.

3. If your SAT, ACT and/or SAT Subject Tests constitute a relative weakness of your application, consider registering for an additional test or two. As evidenced in our prior posts, standardized test scores still matter and improved results can go a long way toward improving your admission prospects. If you decide to take an additional exam, do so in January or February, before your prospective colleges finalize their admission decisions.

4. Seek opportunities to earn additional recognition. If you’re a writer, send an article to your local newspaper; if you’re an artist, explore opportunities to exhibit your work; if you excel in math, enter a competition. Securing a competitive scholarship, distinguished award, or similar honor can often aid borderline applicants.

5. If you have not yet visited your first-choice college, consider doing so. A campus visit offers you an opportunity to talk with students and current staff, meet face-to-face with your admissions counselor, and further acquaint yourself with the offerings of a particular college. It may also improve your admissions prospects.

6. Study hard. First-semester grades are extremely important for deferred applicants and provide you with one last opportunity to exhibit scholastic promise and a trend of academic improvement. It is also important to note that a number of competitive colleges are willing to review January SAT and/or February ACT scores in their regular admissions processes, so if you’re not satisfied with your currents scores and believe improvement is possible, consider registering for one final test.

Staying Realistic

Even if you dutifully adhere to the above advice, it’s important to remember that your first-choice school may still reject you in the regular admissions cycle. It only takes a quick glance at the sobering numbers to assess the reality of the situation:

In the 15-16 admissions cycle MIT deferred 4,776 applicants and later accepted just 208 in the regular round. UPenn tapped a similar number of deferred students for admission in 2015—171 to be exact. Brown gave a thumbs up to a slightly more encouraging 7% of those who had previously been deferred. Some schools, Harvard being one, rejects very few applicants in the early action round and defers the vast majority of non-accepted applicants. Therefore, those who are not basking in Crimson glory early will face extraordinarily long odds in the spring.

The intent of sharing these stats is not to deflate your spirits. Rather, we simply advise that deferred applicants must quickly adopt a reality-based mindset versus a pollyannaish one. The worst thing one can do is continue to obsess over the “love-interest” that already gave you a tepid, disappointing response. Continue to respectfully let your number one choice know that you still have an interest in them but also play the field. Trust us, neither Cornell, UVA, or Middlebury will be swayed by a pledge to attend their school or skip college altogether.

There are countless institutions that can offer you a top-notch education. If your deferral turns into an acceptance later on, that’s fantastic. If not, make sure that you are set-up to pursue a wonderful relationship with one of the many excellent schools that is just as excited about you as you are about them.

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Top 5 College Application Mistakes to Avoid

  Dave Bergman   Dec 28, 2016   Application Strategies   0 Comment

monopolyWith the majority of college application deadlines just days away, it’s important to perform a thorough review of your applications to help avoid making obvious mistakes that can negatively impact your chances for admission. When you’re done with that, do it again and then have a second and third set of eyes do the same. Serious colleges want serious applicants, and a short-sighted error can spell disaster for your admission prospects. Below is College Transitions’ list of top 5 college application mistakes that we frequently see applicants make.

1. Typos

Let’s start with the most obvious mistake—the dreaded typo. In life, they happen. Autocorrected texts can turn your “dear friend” into your “dead friend” and bad grammar can mean the difference between knowing your crap and knowing you’re crap.

Reread your application, then reread it again, then ask everyone you know to read it. Because when it comes to grammar or dandruff in your 1980s perm, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

2. Be professional

Okay, we know that your account has served you well ever since 8th grade. While others in your social group traded in their hotmail accounts for gmail eons ago, you’ve held steady. You’re not partystud 2, 34, or 79—you’re partystud1. We encourage you to keep your goofy/offensive/nonsensical email accounts and use them without shame…except when you are emailing prospective colleges.

Your best bet is to open a new account that is as close to your legal name as possible: If your name is Mike Jones you might have to add a 6 digit number after your name but that’s okay. And don’t worry, partystud1 may have to lie dormant for a few months, but he’ll entertain himself—he’s partystud1!

3. Beating a dead horse

Of course, we’re using a cliché here and not referring to the actual postmortem equine abuse (tip: that wouldn’t look good on an app either). Admissions officers do not like to read the same thing over and over. In other words, don’t weave the same tale of overcoming adversity through field hockey into every essay topic.

Real estate on an application is as valuable as Park Place. Don’t treat it like Baltic or Mediterranean Avenue (even if hotels are cheaper to build and it’s all part of your grand plan to be a Monopoly slumlord). Use every open space on an application to reveal something new and important about who you are. That’s what it’s there for.

4. The never-ending activity page

“Oh, you organized a potato sack race at your family reunion when you were ten? Welcome to Stanford, young man!” says the man in the tweed jacket as he hands a teenage boy a celebratory cigar.

Perhaps this absurd, never-gonna-happen scenario is the fantasy driving applicants who submit activity pages and resumes longer than that of the average head of state. Keep your resumes/activity pages short but sweet, which also happens to be the title of a delightful episode of Different Strokes where Arnold Drummond searches for love. Colleges know that no matter how accomplished an 18-year-old you may be, you’re still a teenager. The great majority of your resume-worthy achievements lie ahead.

5. Keep mom and dad on a leash

Speak to any group of college admissions officials and tales of overly-involved parents abound and make no mistake, excessive parental intervention can harm your admissions chances. E-mails and phone calls to the admissions office should come exclusively from you, the applicant, not your parents. Your application should not show any traces of mom or dad’s handwriting or middle-aged writing styles.

For a further explanation of an appropriate role for parents in the admissions process, revisit our previous blog on the subject.

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What are my chances of getting an MBA scholarship?

  Sarah DeGraaf   Dec 26, 2016   MBA Admissions   0 Comment

One of the biggest hurdles to confront when considering an MBA is the cost. Most full-time programs publicize significant scholarships offerings, but applicants should know that earning one of these awards is extremely competitive and certainly not the norm for most MBA candidates.

The main reason for this is that top business schools use large scholarships to attract applicants who might otherwise choose a competitor program, or a better ranked school, over their own. In other words, scholarships are a yield tool that business schools use to secure top talent. MBA programs make their universities a lot of money, and investments in recruiting the best possible students pay off by improving class profile statistics, diversity, and other metrics that impact rankings and help attract high-quality candidates in future admissions cycles.

If you are looking for a sizable scholarship to help you pay for business school, you will need to be what that program considers a truly exceptional candidate. This isn’t always straightforward however; an 800 on the GMAT may not cut it if you don’t also add bring some element of diversity to the student population. But figuring out exactly what schools are looking for can be tricky and depends largely on institutional priorities. These could be around increasing diversity along any number of measures including underrepresented minorities, women, LGBTQ, geography, profession or industry, as well as growing new academic programs or institutional initiatives. For example, if a school is trying to build up a real estate program or specialization, there may be more scholarship opportunities that year for students who want to specialize and go into real estate after the MBA.

This is where the research you put into learning about various programs can pay off. Before you apply, learn as much about a program as possible. How might you add to the program’s diversity? What is your differentiating factor as a candidate? You might have to think long and hard, and dig deep. Even if it doesn’t earn you a scholarship, at the very least, thinking through these points will help you to approach your application and essays with a stronger sense of self (some might say “personal brand”) and how you will benefit and align with the programs to which you apply.

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Early Decision II: An FAQ and list of participating colleges

  Andrew Belasco   Dec 21, 2016   Application Strategies, Navigating the Admissions Process   0 Comment


Early Decision is quickly becoming a misnomer.  An increasing number of highly selective institutions have initiated a second round of binding admission programs, giving students another chance to commit to a college before acceptance and possibly reap admissions-related benefits in the process. Unlike traditional Early Decision (ED I) programs with deadlines in October or November, Early Decision II allows students to wait until later in the admissions cycle to claim their allegiance to a particular school. Most of these deadlines typically fall in early or mid-January and admissions decisions are typically rendered in early-to-mid February.

Why do colleges offer Early Decision II?

Colleges offer an ED II option primarily as means to improve their yield rates (i.e. the percentage of admitted students who attend)—an important indicator of desirability and one that can have significant influence on a college’s ranking. Effectively, ED II offers institutions a second chance to grab guaranteed enrollees.    

Why would a student apply Early Decision II?

Two reasons, in particular. First, a student may be denied at her first choice college—to which she applied Early Decision—but has a clear second favorite and wants to improve her odds of admission at that institution (see our previous blog post to learn where ED applicants receive the greatest boost). Bowdoin College, for example, admits 43% of their freshman class through the ED I & II cycles. They, like thousands of other schools, show extra love to applicants who pledge attendance.

Second, a student may apply ED to take advantage of the flexibility that a later deadline offers. For example, ED II applicants have more time to improve their standardized test scores, solidify their college preferences and assess their financial need. Students applying ED II also have an opportunity to submit strong grades earned during their senior year, whereas ED I applicants are usually evaluated on the basis of their academic performance through junior year only. Connecticut College explicitly states on their website that standardized tests taken in December of a student’s senior year will be considered in the ED II process.

When exactly is Early Decision II?

Most application deadlines for ED II fall on January 1, at or around the same time as Regular Decision deadlines. ED II applicants usually receive a decision in mid-February. Of course, exact deadlines and policies vary by school. For example, Boston University ED II apps are due by January 3rd, NYU’s are due on New Year’s Day, while Lafayette College offers a deadline of January 15th with the option to convert a regular application into an ED II app all the way until February 1st. Lafayette outwardly tells students on their website that those who choose the ED II option will be given special consideration for admission.

Aside from timing, what other differences exist between Early Decision I and Early Decision II?

None, really. Both offer potential advantages in the admissions process. However, both plans are also binding, meaning that you must attend if admitted.

So which institutions offer Early Decision II?

Plenty. Below, please find a list of selective colleges and universities offering an ED II option:

  • American University
  • Bates College
  • Bennington College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Brandeis University
  • Bryant University
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Bucknell University
  • Carleton College
  • Claremont McKenna Colleges
  • Colby College
  • Colgate University
  • College of the Atlantic
  • College of Wooster
  • Colorado College
  • Connecticut College
  • Davidson College
  • Denison College
  • Dickinson College
  • Emory University
  • Franklin & Marshall College
  • George Washington University
  • Gettysburg College
  • Grinnell College
  • Hamilton College
  • Hampshire College
  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Juniata College
  • Kenyon College
  • Lehigh University
  • Macalester College
  • Middlebury College
  • New York University
  • Oberlin College
  • Occidental College
  • Pomona College
  • Reed College
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Rhodes College
  • Saint Olaf College
  • Sarah Lawrence College
  • Scripps College
  • Sewanee: The University of the South
  • Skidmore College
  • Smith College
  • Swarthmore College
  • Tufts University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Richmond
  • University of Rochester
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Vassar College
  • Washington and Lee University
  • Wesleyan University
  • Whitman College


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Maximizing your eligibility for need-based aid

  Dave Bergman   Dec 15, 2016   Costs & Financial Aid   0 Comment

student_in_libraryYou likely vowed to start planning for your son or daughter’s education back when he/she was only a baby. Your intention was to open up a 529 Plan and stash away a little extra cash each month until it matured into six-figures. With that money plus an athletic scholarship—I mean, your kid was a peewee soccer MVP at the time—you would be sitting pretty by the time it came to pay that first tuition bill. Unfortunately, life got in the way of these best laid plans, and now you’re scrambling for practical short-term advice on how to finance the education of their dreams.

Unless you happen to stumble upon a 1985 Delorean fully-loaded with a flux capacitor (in which case you should pull a Biff, bet on future sports events, and not even worry about financial aid), you’re not going to be able to go back in time and execute that long-term savings plan. But that certainly doesn’t mean that all is lost. Space-time continuum transcending scenarios aside, here are some essential short-term strategies for maximizing your federal aid.

1. Fill out the FAFSA!  

For those with significant financial need, the federal government continues to be the largest source of student aid. Each year the government awards upwards of 70 billion dollars, money that comes in the form of Pell Grants, work-study programs, and educational tax breaks. Additionally, the feds loan out 110 billion with far more favorable terms than private lenders. That’s 180 billion dollars handed out each year for higher education, a sum greater than the Gross National Product of all but 60 countries in the world. The bottom line is that there is a substantial amount of federal money available for college and it is worth your time to at least fill out the FAFSA.

This seems like obvious enough advice, yet each year over one million families fail to file a FAFSA solely because they do not believe that they would meet the income requirements for aid (hundreds of thousands of others fail to fill out the FAFSA for other reasons). This includes many middle-class families who, due to the funky, almost nonsensical formula for awarding aid, may have actually received an award had they simply taken the time to complete the form.

2. Understand how “income” is calculated

Under the new FAFSA process (instituted October, 2016), your income will be based upon your tax records from two years prior to the year your child sets foot on a university campus. If your teen will be entering college in 2017-18, your reported income will be for the calendar year 2015. While it’s too late to adjust already reported income, those with current high schoolers who are still two to three years away from the process can still take steps to minimize their taxable income for the calendar year upon which the calculation will be based.

Certainly, it would not make any financial sense to go to extreme measures to reduce your income such as quitting your job or refusing a raise. However, if you are due to receive a lump sum payment during that timeframe such as a company bonus or retirement/pension account withdrawal, you may want to look into deferring the receipt of that money until you are outside the aforementioned window of time.

If your net income falls below the $50,000 mark, money that you have in the bank or a brokerage account will not be held against you. If you’re income is below the 40k mark, you’ll have a great chance to qualify for federal grant money regardless of your assets, liquid or otherwise.

3. Move assets out of your child’s name and into your own

Now, we’re not advocating going all Macaulay Culkin’s dad on your kids and spending their summer job earnings on a bedroom Jacuzzi. This one actually comes down to simple math. Within the EFC formula, your assets are calculated at 5.65% while your child’s assets come in at a far heftier 20%. In other words, for every $1,000 in your son or daughter’s bank account, your EFC will increase by $200. If that same $1,000 was in your name your EFC would only increase by a little more than 50 bucks.

4. Use savings to pay down debt

Now that you have a better understanding of the EFC, you can imagine why it would be beneficial to take any money that you have in savings and use it to pay off credit card debts, auto loans, or even to prepay your mortgage. The world of financial aid punishes you for having large stacks of available cash and does not reward you for having a massive, high-interest credit card debt. Thus, paying off debt before submitting the FAFSA can kill two birds and greatly improve your chances of getting more aid. It may just be the most lucrative shifting of funds you can do not involving the Cayman Islands and a banker in sunglasses and a white suit.

5. Be the earliest bird you can be

Finally, we recommend submitting your FAFSA forms as soon as possible after October 1st—to maximize your eligibility for federal, state and institutional aid—so if you considering any of the above financial moves, move as quickly as possible.

You may be 1.21 jigawatts short of turning back the future, but if you heed our short-term advice, there is still time to see if Uncle Sam can help cover the cost of your child’s college education.

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Mastering the “Why this College?” Essay

  Dave Bergman   Dec 02, 2016   College Essay   0 Comment

writing_deskAfter pouring their heart and soul into the Common App essay, students are sometimes out of gas by the time they encounter any remaining supplemental essays. While supplemental essays may ask you anything from “What makes you happy? (Tufts)” to analyzing a Kermit the Frog quote (Dartmouth…seriously), the most important question in this section will, in some form, ask you to explain why this school is the perfect fit for you. Quite often, we observe that the “Why this college?” essay, in whatever permutation, lulls students into spewing clichés, empty hyperbolic proclamations, and other vapid, “let me just fill up this space” commentary.

To help you avoid this fate, we offer three simple tips for composing an answer to this question that will actually help your admissions prospects:

1. Avoid empty superlatives

Imagine an admissions officer, at the end of a long day’s work, getting ready to digest his or her 37th “why this college?” answer of the day. Picking up your essay, the officer learns that you want to attend their school because it is “great” and “has a stellar reputation.” Yawns ensue.  After being reminded for the 37th time today of their school’s U.S. News and World Report ranking, they take another sip of coffee and move on to the next file.

Heaping generic praise on your school is not going to sway anyone. If you’re going to shower a college with flattery, make it as specific and genuine as you possibly can.

2. Show that you did your homework

Let’s amend our uninspired example from the previous paragraph: University X is “great” because Professor Anderson’s research on the human genome inspired you to study biology and you are impressed by the “stellar reputation” of their one-of-kind undergraduate research initiatives. You go on to lavish praise on their state-of-the-art laboratories that were completely revamped in 2015, with further renovations scheduled for 2018. In expressing your individual passion for biology, you paint a picture of how attending University X would tie in to your academic and career aims.

Now, you have gotten the admission officer’s attention. Remember, admissions officers want to see that you have done your homework on their institution and have demonstrated serious interest in actually attending their school.

3. Say more about your passions

In addition to highlighting elements of a school that appeal to you, this essay also provides a venue to further explain what makes you tick and why this particular college is the ideal place to cultivate your unique passions. What clubs, activities, or study abroad locales appeal to you? Are there unique degree programs or undergraduate research opportunities that will enhance your learning experience?

If you can’t come up with a sincere answer to this, or either of the previous questions, you might want to rethink why a given school is even on your college list in the first place.

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How high does my GMAT/GRE need to be?

  Sarah DeGraaf   Nov 21, 2016   MBA Admissions   0 Comment

MBA_GRE_GMATAdmissions officers will often tell you to go ahead and apply to their programs, even when your test score is at the low end of their GMAT range. To some degree this is worthwhile advice; you can’t get in if you don’t apply. But applying is time consuming, expensive, and sometimes even emotionally taxing, so you also want to be level-headed when assessing which schools will be a “reach” versus a “target” or “safety” school in the context of your admissibility. Here are some things to consider when you’re trying to figure out where your GMAT/GRE score needs to be to get into a program:

The Good News

Most top MBA admissions offices use some form of holistic assessment when considering admissibility. This means that your test score is only one of many considerations in the process, so a lower score might be offset by your professional track record, letters of recommendation, knockout interview, or superior academic performance in undergrad. It also means that typically schools do not have a minimum or threshold score that must be hit in order for your application to be assessed. Somewhat frustratingly to many candidates, this holistic approach also makes it impossible to state the exact weight of the test score in the admissions process.

Be Realistic

Whether we like it or not, test scores do matter. To have a stronger chance for admission at a given school, your test scores need to be at or above the program’s average, or in the top half of their score range. This is a very general rule that often varies for individuals depending on personal and professional background and can be tricky to assess. We recommend speaking with an admissions professional to better assess how the test score impacts your specific candidacy.

Also keep in mind that at some of the most competitive, top-ranked programs, where the acceptance rates are as low as 7%, a high test score is not enough. Based on the extremely high quality and volume of applications, for your app to get serious consideration at one of these schools, you have to have a great score AND have done something truly exceptional prior to business school. Bottom line: an 800 GMAT is not guaranteed admission anywhere.

Quant Counts

One aspect of the test that deserves special focus and attention is your score in the quantitative section, whether you take the GMAT or GRE. Business school is very quantitatively rigorous and programs want to make sure you will be able to handle the content and workload once you enroll. This is especially true if your undergraduate major was not in a quantitatively demanding field (e.g. English, History, Fine Arts, etc.). As a general rule, if your GMAT/GRE quant score is near or below the 50th percentile, you might want to take a prep course and then retake your test.

Remember that Testing Is an Indicator

Test biases aside, GMAT or GRE scores help MBA admissions officers compare candidates’ academic aptitude along one, single measure. Clearly, testing is not the only, or necessarily best, way to measure academic ability; academic records from undergrad and previous graduate programs are critical too. But test scores do give admissions officers a lens through which to somewhat more clearly size up thousands of candidates alongside one another.

It’s an indicator for you too. If you’ve given the GMAT or GRE your best shot (or multiple shots) and just cannot get a competitive score for admission to your dream program, it may be an indicator that the program is not a good academic fit. And that’s okay! You want to go to a school where you will thrive and not struggle in the classroom. Of course you can still apply to your dream school, but you should do so with the expectation that admission will be a reach.

Certain Uncertainty

As we mentioned above, the application process is holistic and there are many considerations taken into account when assessing a candidacy. Additionally, every school has its own institutional priorities, which means sometimes schools have to turn down amazing candidates based on considerations completely outside the applicant’s control. This is all to say, don’t give up hope if your scores aren’t quite where you want them, and also don’t expect that an 800 is an automatic admit. There are so many factors at play in admissions, and your test score is just one of them.

If you have special considerations and/or want to get a firmer sense of how your test scores may impact your admissibility to particular programs, complete our free consultation today.

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Navigating the Transfer Admission Process

  Dave Bergman   Nov 16, 2016   College Search/Knowledge, Navigating the Admissions Process   0 Comment

transferTrying to calculate your chances of gaining acceptance through the transfer admissions process is about as easy as handicapping a cat race. Unlike the regular admissions process, there is enough fluctuation in admission-related variables from year-to-year to make even the best prognosticator about as accurate as Miss Cleo.

If you find yourself pining to gain acceptance as a transfer into an elite college or university, be prepared to enter an impossible-to-predict game. Dartmouth’s recent history demonstrates this truth quite well. In the last four years, the transfer admissions rate has bounced from 2.8% to as high as 8.3%. On average, a transfer applicant to a prestigious school will face poorer odds than a typical applicant for undergraduate admission. For example, Stanford accepts just 1% of transfers versus 5% of freshmen. The University of Chicago takes in 4% of transfer applicants compared to 9% of regular applicants. Washington and Lee, which admits 20% of freshman applicants, welcomes a mere 3% of would-be transfer students.

That being said, if you’re dead-set on exiting your current institution for greener pastures, there are three strategies you can employ to improve your likelihood of success:

Tip #1: Do your research

While it is impossible to predict the transfer process on any given admissions cycle, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that there are a fair number of selective schools known to be “transfer-friendly.” Wesleyan University typically enrolls approximately 60 transfers each fall and 15 each spring. Boston University sports a higher admission rate for transfers (39%) than regular applicants (35%). Many top-notch state universities including all schools in the University of California system, UNC—Chapel Hill, and UVA offer similarly generous rates to transfer applicants.

Tip #2: Craft a positive narrative

Make sure that the reasons that you communicate for wanting to transfer do not end up sounding like a nasty Yelp review of your present school. While you may want to leave College X because the professors are all centenarian windbags and your roommate is breeding rabid skunks to sell on Craigslist (is there really a market for that?), remember that the school to which you are applying wants to feel wanted. Think about it; would you rather listen to your girlfriend/boyfriend rant about their ex or hear them tell you what makes you awesome. Admissions officers considering a transfer student feel the same way.

Share with your prospective new academic home what makes them attractive and unique. Smaller class size, a particular academic program, a more diverse environment, or even proximity to home are just a sampling of the legitimate selling points you can offer.

Tip #3: Grades are king

Simply put, if you are looking to transfer to a competitive school, your college transcript, embryonic as it may be, needs to sparkle. If you are looking to transfer as a college freshman, your high school grades, especially those from senior year will take center stage. Candidates that had strong SATs but poor high school grades can no longer sell their “potential.” A 1490 SAT score and a 1.9 GPA your freshman year of college does not paint an appetizing student profile. Even if you are unhappy at your current school, put every ounce of effort into achieving stellar grades. It will be your best ticket onto the campus of your dreams.

For more info:

Here are a few colleges that typically admit a higher percentage of transfer applicants than they do freshman applicants:

Boston University
College of William and Mary
Cornell University
Emory University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Sewanee: The University of the South
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
University of Virginia
Vanderbilt University
Washington University in St. Louis

For a more complete listing of “transfer-friendly” colleges and to view transfer admission rates at the nation’s most selective schools, please visit our Dataverse page.

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Can I Establish Residency to Get In-State Tuition?

  Dave Bergman   Nov 07, 2016   Costs & Financial Aid   0 Comment

South Building at the University of North CarolinaTo most of us, the concept of in-state tuition is a straightforward proposition—government subsidized public institutions offer a lower tuition price to residents of their state. Families can elect to take advantage of the in-state tuition or pay a sizable premium for an out-of-state public school. Pretty cut and dry, right?

Not anymore. Savvy parents have been going to great lengths in an attempt to exploit legal loopholes that allow their children to enjoy an in-state discount at an out-of-state school. We’ll explore if there is any merit to engaging in these high-stakes hijinks and will also present 100% legal and legit avenues one can pursue in the quest to obtain in-state prices.

What’s at stake?

It’s not hard to see why some parents end up desperately seeking out in-state status at their child’s prospective schools, even if they, well, don’t actually happen to be residents.

The total cost of attendance at UCLA is $34,000 per year for in-staters and over $60,000 for non-residents. Those hailing from Virginia can attend UVA for 28K per year, while out-of-staters must shell out 58k. At Oregon, the hometown discount amounts to $25,000 per year while non Oregonians pay $48,000. We could name a hundred more state schools and 99.9% of them would follow a similar pattern.

Establishing residency

Every state has unique rules and the loopholes that might open the door to being awarded in-state status. The most common strategy that crafty students employ involves trying to establish residency in the state where they hope to attend college and taking some form of a “gap year.” If you are going to go this route, you’ll need to show evidence that you weren’t just playing the system (even if that is precisely what you are doing). Get a driver’s license in your state, find a job, and pay income taxes. In most cases, awarding or withholding in-state status is still completely at the school’s discretion and they do not shy away from rejecting students whose profiles raises red flags.

Establishing independence from your parents is another huge hurdle. Many states require any student under a certain age (often 23 or 24) to prove that they have been financially independent from their parents for at least two years. Otherwise, your residency is viewed as reverting back to your parent’s home state, even if you have physically resided elsewhere for a long period of time.

Some applicants falsely believe that having a relative with an address in your prospective public institution’s state will automatically translate into residency. This is simply not the case. If you try to claim that you have been living with your grandmother, aunt, uncle, or cousin in your desired college’s state, you still need to prove that you are doing so for reasons beyond manipulating the cost of your higher education. Ample documentation is required.

Ultimately, the burden of proof in establishing residency falls on the applicant, not on the school/state. If you don’t have a legitimate claim to residency, then it is not advisable to pursue it through any of the above means. Yet, this doesn’t mean you don’t have valid options left to explore.

More legit avenues

If a student comes from a military family or is the child of a recently discharged veteran, he or she may qualify for in-state tuition as an out-of-state student. The recently passed Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 allows dependents of recently discharged veterans to claim in-state tuition at public schools in all 50 states. Individuals currently serving in the military (and their dependents) do not qualify for the nationwide tuition benefit, but due to other legislation, still qualify for lower rates. Virginia, Texas, Ohio, and dozens of other states have passed bills offering in-state tuition to out-of-state military families.

For non-military families, many states have arranged reciprocity agreements with each other, providing lower tuition to students residing in neighboring states. For example, member states of the Midwest Student Exchange Program allow out-of-state students to receive a tuition rate no higher than 150% of the in-state rate. The Western Undergraduate Exchange which includes the popular higher education destination points of Arizona, California, and Colorado have the same 150% cap, but require students to apply for consideration. In some instances, such pacts will allow students right on the border of one state to attend. The University of Louisville’s agreement with certain bordering Indiana counties is one such example.

Returning to the familial front, while trying to claim residence with Aunt Merle won’t hold water, having one parent residing in your school’s state can do the trick. For instance, if you live with your mom in New York but your father lives and works full-time in Wisconsin, you can submit an application to qualify for in-state tuition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The bottom line:

We believe that, in the absence of extenuating circumstances, the effort and/or money spent trying to procure out-of-state tuition through questionable means would be better spent researching other affordable public and private options and pursuing merit aid and scholarships. There are simply too many outstanding institutions across the United States to warrant engaging in a The Sting-style “long con.”

However, if you are part of a military family or if your state is part of one of the consortiums that offers discounts, then in-state or reduced tuition is a genuine option.

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