Monday, February 11, 2019

College Panel Highlights

by Amanda Padden

Last Thursday, the Guidance Department hosted a college panel where juniors and their parents heard about the admissions process from Bentley University, Boston College, Hobart and William Smith, UMASS Amherst, The University of New Hampshire, and Westfield State University. Here are a few highlights for those who were unable to make it:

Academic Supports at the College Level
  • The Banacos program at Westfield State offers support for students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD. Students who are accepted into the program are placed in classes with professors who are a good match for their learning style, get priority course registration for the first two years, and are assigned a program advisor who is a point person for any accommodations they may need. Students must submit cognitive and achievement testing, have a minimum GPA of 2.5, and interview with the program staff.
  • There are many different academic supports offered to all students at the college level including resources like tutoring and writing centers and peer tutors. Check with the colleges on your list to make sure that they offer the kinds of supports you will need to access. 
How colleges view students who apply undecided as a major
  • All six colleges say that being undecided is ok. Hobart said that they love undecided students. Students take an academic survey over the summer that help the deans place students with an advisor who is a good match and select freshman year classes that will be of interest to them.
  • Although being undecided is ok, there are certain majors that students cannot transfer into later. Often times these majors are Engineering, Nursing, and sometimes Business. BC for example says that students can’t transfer into the school of management, so they should apply to that academic division first and transfer out later.
  • UMASS made the point that if a student selects a competitive first choice major (like Nursing, Management, Engineering, or Computer Science) that they should pick a second choice major outside of that competitive college so they still have a chance to be admitted to the university if not admitted to their top choice major.
  • Students will want to check with their colleges to see if there are any majors or academic divisions that they can’t transfer into later
Is it better to have a high grade in a C1 or C2 course or a lower grade in an Honors or AP course?
  • UMASS and Westfield ad a .5 bump to the GPA for an Honors course and a 1.0 bump to the gpa for an AP course. 
  • In general the admissions counselors agreed that students should take courses that are an appropriate challenge for them. If you have all As in C1 classes and never take an honors course, that’s not a good thing. If a student earns all Cs in all Honors and AP courses then that’s not helping them either. Students should get feedback from their teachers, guidance counselor, and parents, and think about balance. 
  • Some colleges recalculate their own GPA. BC looks at the average grades in core subjects for every grade level. Hobart doesn’t recalculate, they take note of the rigor of the high school, strength of courses, and standardized tests if submitted. 
The college essay
  • Admissions counselors read the same stories over and over again like, “the day i got cut from the basketball team” or “the time I scored the last goal at my soccer game”. One of the most memorable stories was an essay about a pair of sneakers that a student loved.
  • Remember, this is not a writing assignment. It’s a chance to get to know you as a person. Write in your own voice and write about something important to you. Ask yourself “what do I want the essay to achieve and how will I do that?” or “What quality about myself do I want admissions to know about and how will I illustrate that quality?”
  • If you have a first choice college make sure you reach out and ask if there’s an opportunity for an interview. For Hobart, it’s a red flag if a Medfield student hasn’t met with her because she lives locally and is very accessible.
  • If interviews are optional, it’s important to ask how important it is. Are they simply informational for the student or are they part of the admissions process?
  • Make sure you ask about the deadline to have an interview. Summer or fall of senior year is typically a good time. 
Volunteering vs. working?
  • No activity is more valuable than another. Admissions counselors simply want to know how each student spends their time outside of the classroom. Make sure to list any hobbies, jobs, or family responsibilities!
  • If a student is working 30 hours a week to support their family and takes no advanced classes because of that, they will take note of that in the admissions process.
  • There is a minimum standard set by board of higher ed for Westfield. SATs can be waived if the student has a documented disability. Admission decisions based on GPA and SAT.
  • Most schools agree that the SAT score can’t replace a student’s courses and grades. They also said that test prep can be a helpful resource, but it’s not essential or expected.
  • Admission deadlines and rates vary per college. For some colleges there’s a slightly higher admissions rate for Early Decision (binding) candidates. ED can help students who would be on the fence during regular admission get accepted. 
  • The colleges agreed that if it’s important to compare financial aid packages hat the student should not apply ED.
  • An advantage for regular decision is that admissions can see the first semester of senior year grades, so if students are unhappy with their 9th-11th grade grades, they may want to apply regular decision. 
Letters of recommendation
  • Ask a teacher from a core subject area. It doesn’t have to be the teacher who gave you the best grade. Oftentimes a teacher letter isn’t the “game changer”, but instead confirms what the admissions counselor is already perceiving from the application. Teacher letters can help make decisions about special invitations to honors programs (UMASS)
  • Counselor letters can be really helpful to give context or explain a transcript. Be sure you get to know your counselor so they can write a detailed letter for you
Pieces of advice for students and families:
  • Westfield- make sure you visit! Go to college fairs, see if junior visit days are offered, see if far away colleges have a regional rep you can talk to if you can’t get to campus. 
  • Bentley- Make an effort to know admissions counselor who is reading for your territory
  • UMASS- there’s no one school for you that you have to get into and all is lost. Keep an open mind. It’s all about what you make of it, the opportunities and the people you meet. 
  • BC- trust the process and just focus on what you’re doing in school. Don’t worry too much about the admissions process and how decisions are made.
  • Hobart- let the student be the driver. We want to hear from students not parents. Set aside one day a week to talk about college and not have it be a constant conversation. 

As you can see, there are different policies for every school, so be sure you are asking questions as you narrow down your list. The Guidance Department believes that there is a school for everyone and we will be here to individualize the process for every student and their family. Please reach out to us if you need anything and we hope that those of you who attended enjoyed the event!

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