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Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Monday, March 28, 2016
The Downside of Early Decision in College Admissions
When I first started blogging about college admissions, I had to practically create a flow-chart to tease apart the differences between "early decision", "early action", and, well, "regular decision".

Put simply? Early decision students apply to college early-usually in October or November of the admissions cycle-and they get a decision on acceptance typically in December. ED students are only allowed to apply "ED" to one school, and are obliged to accept the admission, if it is forthcoming.

Early action students follow a similar pattern, although admissions notifications usually come in January or February. EA students are not restricted to applying for a single school. This means that EA students can apply early to several schools, and pick their favorite-much like regular decision.

The between the lines difference is a pretty big one: cost. If you're throwing all your eggs into one basket—ED-you need to be pretty certain that you can commit to that college. The reality is that most students applying ED know they (or their parents) can afford to send them there.

Because EA isn't as stark or binding, it's a better road for students who may need the ability to shop around for the best price.

At base, all candidates are still evaluated on their merits. But the cards are already stacked in favor of wealthier students, and ED is just another mechanism to catapult rich families to the front of the line.

The thing is-applying ED and EA is popular because the acceptance rates amongst these early applicants are exponentially higher than the overall regular decision acceptance rates. It's a good business decision for the colleges-grab all the best students you can at the outset, make them commit to your school, and be assured that you'll get paid.

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Monday, March 21, 2016
Note to College Hopefuls: Use Spring Break Wisely
By the time you're a grown-up, you'll forget that Spring Break was ever a thing. Until you have kids, and have to figure out childcare. Trust me on this: like velcro shoes and rent-free living, Spring Break is a part of your youth that you'll never get back.

Which is why it might sound strange when I suggest that you give up junior year Spring Break. Stay with me.

For high school juniors, Spring Break is the last feasible vacation time to squeeze in some college campus visits. By summer's end, you'll already be knee-deep in college applications. You may be able to take a weekend off for visits in Fall, but by then, application deadlines are looming. You may be putting yourself under unnecessary pressure to make a quick decision.

By getting your visits in on the early side, you are in a better position to narrow your field. You might hit one campus that just doesn't feel right. Another might feel like a perfect fit. Depending on the Spring Break schedule of the college itself, you may be able to sit in on some classes-an option less likely during the summers. Being on campus when classes are actually in session will give you a far better feel for the rhythm of the place.

Doing a Spring Break visit might also offer some psychological relief. It's one more thing checked off a list that will become more and more daunting as the year wears on. Think of it as paying in a bit time at the front-end that will allow you to enjoy the back-end of your high school years.

If you're feeling ripped off at the thought of it, remember this: you still have at least five Spring Breaks left before hitting the real world.

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Monday, March 14, 2016
College Scholarships: Getting Weirder?
The first time I did a story on odd college scholarships, I was flabbergasted. I always thought scholarships were reserved for very specific pockets, based on merit, race, sex, or field of interest. But duct tape? Naaah.

It turns out that Duck Tape (the popular brand of duct tape) is pretty charitably minded-or at least marketing savvy. For years, the brand has offered scholarship money to the high school students that craft the winning prom outfits out of duct tape. No, seriously. Historically, they've offered $10,000 each to the top winners.

If you're not into duct tape clothing, there are still other options. Niche.com offers a no-essay scholarship of $2,000. There are scholarships for tall people, vegetarians, twins, and even clowns. No, I'm not making this stuff up.

Even the incentives behind some of these scholarships are a mystery, their existence is real. It doesn't cost anything to apply, and most scholarships ask only for a brief essay. The quirkier the scholarship, the better the creative writing opportunity. Even if writing isn't your thing, you're virtually guaranteed to find something suited to you.

Of course, the searching process requires a level of independent resourcefulness that students haven't always needed to have. It may mean extending the runway to your college lift-off. Applying for things is always tedious, as is rejection. But college tuition these days runs nearly $50,000-even in public schools. Scholarships have the potential for filling shortfalls that grants and loans cannot.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Micro-Scholarships: Solution to the Financial Squeeze of College?
Scholarships are one of the great untapped resources of college financing. There are lots of them. Even better-we now have the internet-so it's far easier to find them. (My next post is going to include a list of the quirkiest scholarships available-you'd be surprised). Still, many students don't consider pursuing scholarships until junior year or later. And, of course, most students don't even know what their budget will be until they've received their acceptances in late Spring.

Enter programs like raise.me. Colleges and universities register with the site, and provide a number of minimum metrics required for admission (like GPA). The program itself is funded largely by endowments from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Facebook, amongst others. Students signing up with raise.me can expect to get paid money for various achievements, such as taking an AP class, and earning a high grade in that class.

Students can thus log achievements with the site during high school and rack up credit towards scholarship money-up to $80,000. The site is both financial and merit based. The lower the income of the applying student, the greater the scholarship.

The students are locked into the schools registered with raise.me, and they must substantiate their achievements in order to receive the scholarship money. Last year, the program distributed an average of $20,000 scholarship money to each student involved.

In addition to incentivizing academic and community performance during the high school years, raise.me helps students cultivate more meaningful relationships with colleges during the lead-up years. Increasing the engagement between student and university is a symbiotic benefit that will hopefully lead to improved student-college compatibility.

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Thursday, March 3, 2016
How Early is Too Early to Prepare for College?
I'll admit it, the title was pure, unadulterated click-bait: "The Poisonous Reach of the College Admissions Process"—a piece by Matt Feeney that appeared in The New Yorker in late January of this year. It turns out the author and I had less in common than I'd hoped, but his theory was an interesting one. The admissions process has become a virus that starts to permeate our lives at an ever-earlier age. And as the process continues to mutate, the world around it simply shifts in its seat, giving the virus more leg room.

The spread appears to happen under the guise of casting a wider net. In other words, college admissions has gotten so competitive, they've just kept changing the metrics. Feeney points out that "extracurriculars" weren't a thing until more recently. They were added to the consideration process in an effort to add soft factors to grades and test scores.

And now look at them.

They're one more thing that wealthy kids can buy in order to pad their application. There's no way of telling whether or not kids are actually charitable or whether they're just good at pretending to be. Extracurriculars were supposed to be helpful, and now they're a burden. One.More.Thing.

Feeney attacks the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, a conglomeration of 90 universities that are pouring resources into a "streamlined" on-line portal that helps college hopefuls organize all their preparatory materials. Or something like that. It's free—which is great. But by encouraging students to start the process of marshalling their college prep materials in 9th grade, aren't we just expanding the already tangled web?

My first grader missed a word last week on his spelling test. For the first time. It was "special". And for a millisecond, I worried that I hadn't spent enough time helping him with his homework. You see where I'm going with this….

Maybe Feeney has a point. What neither of us has is a solution. I'll leave that to time.

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