Admissions

Ask the Dean Live Event Recap: Part 1

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Last weekend, College Confidential hosted a live "Ask the Dean" event, in which I answered questions submitted by community members during a one-hour period. We'll be highlighting the answers in a series of articles, beginning with today's. Stay tuned for the remainder of the questions (and answers) from the event.


Will Colleges Rescind Offer?

I just sent my mid-year reports to the colleges I got into and the ones that I still haven't heard from yet. I'm really nervous because my senior year grades are not as good as the grades that were on my transcript when I applied. Should I contact schools and point this out or should I just wait and see if they rescind my offer based on my grades?

Colleges say that they expect your senior grades to be as good as the earlier ones you applied with. But in reality, they will usually give you some wiggle room for a downturn. They realize that seniors have a lot on their plates with applications et al, and that senior classes are often the most challenging. In addition, unless mid-year downturns are so egregious that they raise red flags (e.g., all A's plummet to only C's and D's), the college folks are only going to concern themselves with your FINAL grades. So if a course is still in progress but you're struggling, you have a few more months to right the ship.

If your GPA has slipped a decimal point, I wouldn't worry. But if the drop is more than that and it won't improve by June, then you'd be wise to contact admission officials NOW to explain why you aren't doing as well as you had been (tougher classes? family problems?). If you're doing poorly in one particular class, you should tell the colleges that you're receiving tutoring or extra help from the teacher (but get it FIRST so that you can report this honestly.) You DO want to send a message to colleges that you care, and you DON'T want the college folks to suspect you're suffering from senioritis. Many seniors think that, by pointing out a downturn, they'll just call attention to it. But, trust me, the college folks WILL notice, and it's better that you explain it first, yourself, rather than ending up with a rescinded acceptance in July and no place to go in September.

Colleges Not Viewing Portfolio Submissions

If colleges don't seem to be viewing the student's YouTube videos submitted for a portfolio on Slideroom, does that mean the school is not interested?

Not necessarily. If these submissions are optional, the college folks may not have time for them. When I worked at Smith College (many moons ago and in a far less high-tech era), we had to stack art portfolios, slides, music CDs and similar unsolicited submissions in a bathroom (!) because there was no room for them anywhere else. There would be a note on the application that said, euphemistically, "Slides on shelf" (it didn't say WHERE the shelf was!) Typically, if an applicant was very strong academically— or very weak — we wouldn't even glance at the slides et al. A verdict could be reached without them. But when the applicant was borderline, we might go as far as sending them to an appropriate academic department to evaluate.

If these materials are REQUIRED at the student's target colleges, the fact that they haven't yet been viewed may just mean that the admission folks are swamped and haven't gotten to them yet. Mid-February is still early in the evaluation process at many schools.

Why Was I Wait-Listed?

I was wait-listed by a school with a 65 percent acceptance rate despite having a 1570 SAT, strong extracurriculars, good essays, etc. Why could this be? Am I going to be denied from my other far more selective schools?

While I can't say for sure why you got this unexpected bad news, my best guess is that your "safety" school wait-listed you because the admission officials there didn't think there was much of a prayer that you'd actually enroll. This is definitely the era of "Demonstrated Interest," and colleges, more than ever before, seem focused on admitting not necessarily the very strongest candidates but those who are not only solid but who are likely to show up in September. (Check out this recent College Confidential article on how to "How to Think Like an Admissions Officer").

Of course, this message has gotten out to students and parents loud and clear, so now the admission folks are bombarded with a barrage of suck-up emails and phone calls from prospective students determined to show their love. The upshot is that admission committees have to read the tea leaves to try to determine which students are genuinely interested and which are playing the demonstrating-interest game while actually hoping for an acceptance from elsewhere. And even if you did indeed act enthused about enrolling at this school that wait-listed you, the savvy admission officials may have sniffed out "safety" anyway, based on your above-par profile.

It's not an easy dance for anyone. But — unless your recommendation letters called you "the class stoner" or "a future axe-murderer" — chances are good that this explains your waitlist status. But this status does NOT mean you won't be accepted at more selective colleges on your list. Hopefully you've shown some interest in them, since you ARE truly interested. But if you get more bad news, and Safety U. becomes a front-runner, be sure to write to your admission rep there and proclaim, "I will definitely come if admitted from the waitlist." If the college takes students from the waitlist at all this year, the odds are very decent that you'll be one of them. Good luck!

How Can I Tell If a College Is Financially Strong?

I am interested in a liberal arts college (LAC), but many LACs seem to be going through a transition and some colleges are closing. How can I tell the college I am interested in is financially strong?

This is a hot and timely topic ... so much so that there are dozens of recent articles that can answer you more effectively than I can. (And tossing a few links at you won't take up all the time we have today.)

Here are a few places to start:

While it can certainly be stressful to enroll at a college that shutters before you've graduated, the silver lining is that students at these about-to-close colleges are often invited to enroll elsewhere, and it's not unusual for the new host college to be one that's more selective than the original school ... a place where these students might not have been admitted had they applied straight from high school.

Of course, choosing a college isn't all about selectivity. Students who attend colleges that close often must say goodbye to friends and faculty, to their favorite bookstores or pizza parlors, and maybe even to the majors they'd initially pursued. It can be a very unsettling time for many and perhaps exciting only for a few.

Students also worry that, if they graduated from a college that closed, their diplomas then become worthless. But that really isn't true at all. So those who already hold degrees from about-to-be-extinct institutions shouldn't fear that these degrees won't hold value, but they might want to buy a few collectors-item sweatshirts while there's still time.

Financial Aid Without Parents' Information

If I need financial aid and my parents don't want to put their financial information online, what can I do? They refused to give my brother their info for his financial aid applications and he got a full scholarship so it didn't matter, but I think I will need financial aid.

The vast majority of merit scholarships do not require your parents' financial information or even any completed financial aid forms at all. So presumably your brother received a merit award and not a need-based one. If you aim for colleges where your GPA and test scores put you well above the medians, you could be in the running for big merit grants as well. When you research colleges, make sure you aim for those that offer significant merit money.

Occasionally, there are extenuating circumstances that allow a student to apply for need-based aid without submitting parental information. But these instances are few and far between and usually pertain only to applicants whose parents have little or no presence in their lives.

If your parents are willing to play with the Net Price Calculators provided online by your front-runner colleges to estimate your Expected Family Contribution, they may learn that you don't qualify for need-based aid anyway, or conversely, that you could be missing out on some major dough. They might be unwilling to do this, even in the privacy of home, for fear that their financial information will somehow leak to colleges. But it wouldn't. Even so, it sounds like they don't want to pursue need-based aid at all. Thus, your best bet is to look for merit aid.

Do Middle School Grades Matter?

I took Algebra 1 and Geometry in middle school. My semester grades for Algebra 1 were B, A. For Geometry, I had B, B. These letter grades show up in my transcript in the middle school section, but are not counted in my high school GPA. I got 800 on the SAT Math section and 800 SAT Math 2, with A's in all math classes after that, including Multivariable Calculus. Will my middle school grades be overlooked in admissions?

Yes, those middle-school grades will be overlooked. Except in rare situations, middle school grades NEVER matter in the college admission process. Certain classes taken in middle school (typically math and foreign language) are counted for credit and toward the number of years that a student has studied that subject. But the grades themselves are NOT considered.

Colleges will view you as a very strong math student, and — if you should go on to a math-related career — you may one day chuckle about those long-ago B's!

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean, please send it along here.

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