Empowering students and guiding families


College visits and demonstrated interest

If you are a high school student who is planning to hit the road this summer and visit colleges, or if you are just thinking about colleges, learning about demonstrated interest is important.

What is demonstrated interest and why should you care? Both are good questions. Many colleges have a system to track your interest in them. This could be a result of the Commonapp. Colleges were starting to see what they called stealth applications. These applications were from students who had, prior to the submission of their application, shown no interest in the school.

These stealth applications proved problematic for colleges because colleges really only want to admit students who will at least consider attending. Colleges are very careful to track their numbers and if a large number of students who are accepted decide to attend than this is very, very good for the school. A very qualified student who applies, but hasn’t demonstrated any interest is a bit of a risk for colleges because they have no idea how interested, (probably not very if he hasn’t even signed up for mailings), this student is and how likely he is to attend if accepted. Colleges don’t want to mess up their numbers!

Demonstrating interest is easy and can be done in several ways. In some cases it might even tip the scales in your favor. If you are vying for a spot and are as equally qualified as a student who hasn’t demonstrated any interest the spot may go to you!

Visiting is the first and obvious choice for demonstrating interest. Make sure to register in advance and sign in when you get to admissions. Sometimes you will get a business card from your student tour guide at the end of the tour. If you have questions for them feel free to contact them.  That is another touch point and sign of demonstrated interest. Please don’t contact them just to demonstrate interest-everyone is busy!

Social media is an easy an easy way to demonstrate interest. Like the school on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, Instagram and even Pinterest. If the school is in snow country you will see lots of pretty pics of the first snowfall. Also, if you are into sports do the same with the sports team that you are interested in. If you hate basketball, but love women’s hockey then follow the women’s hockey team and skip men’s basketball unless you want to see promotional posts before every game. In other words, just follow what you are interested in.

You can also get on a mailing list by going online and telling the college a bit about yourself. You will get mail-email, regular mail and probably both. Some schools have virtual tours on their websites where you can actually demonstrate your interest as you tour the college from your bedroom. You will need to register for the virtual tour and this will put you on a marketing list so make sure it’s a school that you won’t mind hearing from.

Even emails to admissions to ask a quick question are often documented, but don’t overdo it here. Emails to professors could count as well.

If you are at a college fair and fill out the info card you will be put on a mailing list and this will show interest. Be careful how many ways you contact the school to get on their mailing lists and make sure that you use the same name every time. I have gotten duplicate mailings from colleges under both Ellie Duley and Eleanor Duley and it’s really frustrating. Especially if you care about the health of the planet!

If you take a business card from the admissions rep at a college fair and email her later this is also a form of demonstrated interest. If you have a burning question for the rep and don’t hear back immediately it may because she is on the road doing other fairs so be patient.

When college reps come to your school you will most likely sign up in guidance. You may even have a chance to talk with the rep one-on-one if other students can’t make it to the meeting.

No matter how you demonstrate interest you will most likely end up on a marketing or mailing list. This is one reason to be careful and deliberate about where you demonstrate your interest. You could get mailings and emails from colleges for years so don’t just contact a bunch of schools that you aren’t really interested in and ask for more info. On the other hand, if you even think you might be interested go on and demonstrate some interest. Colleges love to feel the love.

“Would not have wanted to be on this journey without Ellie.

She was the neutral, objective professional that got to know the strengths and differences between my children and guided accordingly.

She helped with deadlines and advised us of issues we would not have been aware of otherwise.

This was some of the best college money spent!”


college selection and application

Duley College Counseling has been such a great help with the college selection and application process.  Ellie has given unlimited advice, recommendations, and personal attention to my son throughout what could be an overwhelming and time consuming process.  She has kept him on task, found answers to pressing questions and even made direct contacts on his behalf.  She took the time to talk with him about the things that he likes to do and how his mind works and enabled him to use this to capture a real glimpse of who he is in his college essay.  I have been extremely happy with all of her services and will be contracting with DCC again for my daughter.

Beth Pelletier

University of Maine Honors College

Walk through the bears mouth into the Collins Center for the Arts

Walk through the bears mouth into the Collins Center for the Arts

Honors Colleges have been getting a lot of press lately because they can be a more affordable way for academically excellent students to have the experience of a small liberal arts college at a large public university (with in-state or significantly lower tuition).  Honors Colleges are not a new thing, in fact the Honors College at the University of Maine has been around since the 1930′s! Some have set criteria for admission or even a separate application with additional essay. This blog will explore how the Honors College works at the University of Maine in Orono, Maine, specifically. If you are interested in other Honors Colleges, I’m sure that you can find info on their websites or on a visit to the school.

The University of Maine at Orono, or UMaine as it will be referred to here, has had an Honors College for years. Currently, there are about 800 students involved in the program. Each of these students is also studying in one of the other colleges at the university (liberal arts & sciences, engineering, business-you get the picture). Honors College at UMaine is a 24-27 credit program that is an inter-disciplinary approach that enriches the learning that is happening within a students major.

So how do you get into this program that offers access to professors, fellowship opportunities, study abroad programs, honors housing and the opportunity to do a senior thesis or Capstone? At UMaine, the top 20% of the incoming class are invited to join the Honors College. It’s completely up to the student whether she takes advantage of this opportunity. There is not a  separate application (no additional essays) and there aren’t clear criteria for admission to the Honors College. The top 20% takes into account SAT/ACT scores and high school GPA and these variables change every year based on the make-up of the admitted class.

Students typically take one honors class per semester. These classes often count toward the students general education requirements for graduation so these aren’t ‘extra’ classes. Honors classes will be more discussion based due to the small size (typically between 8-14 students). To graduate with honors a student must complete the requirements of the program and have a 3.3 GPA. For more information check out: https://honors.umaine.edu

I was at UMaine on Monday for an open house and applications are already pouring in so if you intend to apply to the university I would encourage you to consider the 12/1 early action (non-binding) deadline. New this year and something I’ve mentioned in the past-12/1 is a hard deadline for certain majors like mechanical engineering and nursing. Be sure to check out your intended major so you don’t miss the boat!

Commonapp activities- a necessary evil?

The activities section of the Commonapp might be more important than you think. Why do colleges care about your activities? It’s simple, really. They want to know what you are up to when you aren’t in the classroom. Why? Because colleges want students who will get involved in their college community. They also want to make sure that you aren’t spending all your time playing video games!

So, back to the activities section  of the Commonapp. There is room to list up to ten activities. Whether you have two activities or ten, you should prioritize them in order of importance to you. If you have more than ten that are really important then you might want to attach a resume, but that’s another blog.

After you prioritize them you can fill out the section like this:

  • There will be two drop down boxes-these are self-explanatory
  • Position/Leadership line-this is limited to 50 characters. If your activity is a club then you will name the club. If you hold an office you will name that office. Get as much info into these 50 characters as possible.
  • The next box asks you to describe the activity. Here you have 150 characters. Yes, I wrote characters and not words, but you need to write words so choose them carefully.
  • Next is which grades that you participated in this activity. If it’s in the summer that will be added to the year following that summer.
  • Timing of participation is a dropdown and your choices are during the school year, break or all year.
  • The next line is hours/week. If it’s a sport count practice time and games.
  • Next is weeks/year. Do your best here. Don’t forget pre-season or any summer camps where you are involved with that activity.
  • Do you intend to participate in this activity in college? It’s OK if you don’t!
  • Lather, rinse, repeat and move on to the next activity.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lather,_rinse,_repeat

So what goes into the activities section? Here are some options:

  • Clubs
  • Sports
  • Drama
  • Band or youth orchestra
  • Volunteering
  • Summer job
  • School year job
  • Babysitting younger siblings
  • Religious involvement other than just attending service
  • Hobbies

Some things to think about as you prioritize:

  • A sport that you played varsity in 9th grade and never continued probably isn’t as important as one that you played for four years-even if you never started!
  • Paid volunteer (one time) humanitarian trips are fine, but they really just show colleges that your parents can afford to send you. This alone does not show that you are passionate about saving the world!
  • Not having a lot of activities because you either work to contribute to the family income or babysit younger sibs so parents can work is a very worthy use of your time.
  • Working a part-time job so that you can have gas money and pay for car insurance shows maturity and money skills and there may be an opportunity to show leadership depending on the job.
  • Did you start a dog walking business?  There is so much good stuff here…
  • Rebuilding an antique car? Think of all you’ve learned during this process.
  • Helping elderly neighbors rake leaves every year? One time is probably not enough-especially if your parents made you do it.
  • Do you write songs? Draw  caricatures? Colleges want to know.

The activities section is definitely a way to differentiate yourself from others so spend some quality time here.


You have a college list-now what?

You know that you need a balanced college list. You’ve done the research and visited the schools. You feel that you’d be happy at all of your schools, (if not then why bother applying, right?). You’ve started your Common App (www.commonapp.org) and even finished the main essay. Now what?

Unless you plan to have all your applications (and supplemental essays) done by October 15, you will need to prioritize your list by deadline. This blog is not addressing Early Decision at all-that would be another post!

If you are exclusively using the Common App then you can have all your deadlines right on your dashboard. These will not show up until you go into each school and click on the ‘add your term or admission plan’ . Once you do this you will be directed to answer a few questions including the most important ‘preferred admission term’. This may vary by school. Some will have Early Decision (which I’m not addressing), Early Action, Restricted Early Action (I’m not addressing this, either), and Regular Decision. You will either click on Early Action or Regular Decision for the sake of this post. As a side note, your ‘preferred start term’ will most likely be Fall 2017 unless you are a current college student who is applying as a transfer. This seems perfectly logical, and it is, but it’s tripped up many anxious applicants and it’s embarrassing to have to call the college to change the date.

So, you have all your deadlines on your dashboard. Why did you do this in August? It’s a great idea to know when your first deadline is. This is the date that you will give to your school counselor and other recommenders. One thing that you don’t want to do is to drop this deadline on them two days prior. I like students to give at least two weeks notice so that recommenders can plan the order in which they need to write their letters for you and other students. More notice is better!

Another reason to get all your admission deadlines in front of you is so that can plan which applications need to be done first. You may have several schools that have supplemental essays (I’m looking at you, Boston College) and you may not have time to get them all done before the deadlines. This is where you prioritize which schools make sense to apply early. If you have a school that has it’s own application, (I’m looking at you, MIT) then you need to keep this deadline info somewhere where you won’t lose track of it.

So, why would you apply early, anyway? Good question. You might choose to apply in the fall to get the stressful job over with. You might also apply early to have a chance at more merit money, (note that this varies by school). Applying under an early action plan will also mean that you should have a decision sooner.

Also, in my opinion, it’s worth keeping in mind that ‘optional’ supplemental essays really aren’t optional :)

So, why would you wait? It may make sense to wait for regular decision if you feel that you don’t have your very best application. You may want to submit first quarter or first semester grades or you may plan to take the December SAT.  The beauty is that you can choose which way to apply to all your schools.

To summarize-knowing your deadlines helps recommenders plan and helps you plan your college application strategy.

While we are talking deadlines I can’t help but mention that financial aid deadlines are all over the place and need to be managed as well!

FSA ID for college financial aid

You may have heard that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is opening early this year… and from now on. What does this mean? To receive need-based financial aid for college all students will need to fill out the FAFSA. Students who may not be eligible for need-based aid, but want to take advantage of Federal loans, and in some cases, merit aid, will also need to fill out the FAFSA. Beginning this year, the FAFSA will open on October 1. This is three months earlier than in the past. What will this mean? It’s hard to say. Will students get their financial aid reports from schools earlier? Time will tell. So, what do you need to do? You can’t file for the FAFSA until October 1, but you can make sure that your, (and your parents) 2015 tax returns are all done and filed. You can also get your FSA ID.

What is this FSA ID that you speak of? Good question. The FSA ID is a way to electronically sign your FAFSA and also a way to gain access to other important financial aid forms, (think loans). Every student who is applying for financial aid for college should have a FSA ID….and they will need one of their parents to have this FSA ID as well. If you plan to file your first FAFSA this fall you need to wait until October 1st, but there is something that you can do now. You, and a parent, can get your FSA ID by going to www.fsaid.ed.gov . You will need social security numbers and birth dates to get an ID. It is recommended for parents, and really necessary for students, to use an email address, one for each of you,  that you will have access to until your student loans are paid. This is a great time to come up with a gmail address that you can use for college applications and shouldn’t be anything that is ridiculous like partygrl@gmail.com. I don’t know if this is taken, but just don’t go there! Students and parents cannot share an email address when there are setting up separate FSA IDs.

If your parents have older kids who have gone through the financial aid process, they may already have a PIN number. If they remember what it is, they can merge it with the new FSA ID  system. If the PIN number system means nothing to you then just focus on the FSA ID. This is what you need to have in 2016 and beyond.

So, why would you get your ID now if you don’t need to file until October? Good question. The answer is because whatever you can do now you won’t have to do later when you are worried about college applications. It is also something that needs to be done correctly so if you have more time and concentration now then you might have two hours before a financial aid deadline then I would suggest that you take advantage of that. When applying for your FSA ID be sure to read the instructions and make sure that all the info is correct. You only have one SS# so make sure that you are accurate in entering it!

One other thing to think about. You will have an opportunity to have your email verified. This can be very helpful later if you don’t remember your user name and password (do you have a system to keep track of usernames and passwords? This might be a good time to start). By verifying your email….and this is the basic gmail that doesn’t suggest to colleges anything about your social life, it will be a lot easier to get into your account should you forget your user name, password, or choose to change your security questions. To get your email verified, you will need to put in your email and then retrieve a code from said email, within ten minutes or so, and enter this code. Once this is done you are all good. Your social security # will be linked with this email and you will have easy access to your information for years to come.

It may not seem like much, but believe me, you will be happy that you have done this later. Fall of senior year is incredibly busy with applications, AP classes, and leadership obligations. By doing this now it will be so very easy to apply for financial aid and complete the FAFSA come Oct. 1. One last word on financial aid-check all your deadlines. Know when your first deadline is and make sure that you file for maximum considerations for aid. Also, know if you need to file the Profile. This separate financial aid application (owned by Collegeboard) often has different deadlines. Preparing now will save you lots of angst (SAT word?) later!

Some thoughts and tips on the college essay

So, junior year is behind you. AP tests are over and you’ve had at least one go at the redesigned SAT. There is nothing more that you could possibly be doing to get ready for the college application season, right? Um, no. That’s not right at all. How about working on your college essay? Yes, that’s a fantastic idea and a great way to stay engaged in the whole college process over the summer.

About the essay-what do you need to know? Since the majority of my clients use the common application I will start there. There are five prompts for the common app and you can find them here. You should read through all of the questions to see what jumps out at you as a possible topic. You only need to pick one topic from this list. The common app recently came out and reported that 47% of students submit topic #1. This is something that you’d like colleges to know about you. You know, what makes you unique. Basically, you can make many ideas fit into this topic.

So now that you’ve seen the questions how about some tips?

  • Words. I have 2 things to say about words:
  1. You have between 250-650 words. Plan on writing between 600-625 words-it’s harder than you might think to be this concise and your essay will be chopped off at 650 words if you exceed the limit. Don’t leave your readers (aka admission officers) hanging by ignoring this detail. I advise going a bit short of 650-just in case.
  2. Choose your words carefully. Not only is it hard to craft a memorable essay in 650 words or less-this means that every word counts-it’s also important to choose words that aren’t strange, scary or sound too much like you went to the Thesaurus. Believe it or not, many years ago I read an essay with the word nihilistic in it 3 times. I can’t think of an essay that I want to see that has this word once, but 3 times. Like, what’s your point, dude? And yes, I did have to look it up to make sure that I knew the definition because, frankly, it’s not a word I use every day and it wasn’t clear in context…any of the 3 times. I’m not making this up!
  • First person. I know that you don’t write in first person in school, like, ever, but you need to figure it out for your college essay. That’s all. You just need to figure it out.
  • Go deep. This tip is tied in with first person. You don’t want to write a bunch of sentences like, I did this and I did that and aren’t I great. You will need to do some reflection and examine what you did, why you did it, and what you learned from it. It all depends on your essay which questions you will address (preferably all 3) and how you will address them. Just make sure to spend some time reflecting. This is a big part of what I do when I work with students. We spend a lot of time trying to draw the good stuff out. It’s also better to go deep on 1 thing rather than trying to cover every detail in your 17 years.
  • A moment in time. This relates to going deep. A great college essay doesn’t start with the day you were born or the day you started Kindergarten and declared that you would someday be a doctor. Sometimes a great essay can be just a moment in time. It’s how you describe and relate to this moment that will make the essay memorable.
  • Set the scene. I’m really loving essays that start by setting the scene-just be careful to not spend too much time (or too many words) leading up to what you really want your readers to take away from your essay.

I could go on and on because college essays are a very geeky kind of fun for me, but I’m over 650 words and my goal was to keep it in that realm as an example.

OK-you’ve got this. Sit down, read the questions, bounce some ideas off your parents and get cracking. Wouldn’t it be great to have the essay behind you before you walk into pre-calc in late August?

Prior-Prior Year, Financial Aid and the College Application Process…

So, what’s new for the current crop of college bound high school juniors besides the redesigned SAT and the Universal Application?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will now be available to students and parents as early as October 1, 2016. This is being called prior-prior year because families will use their 2015 taxes. In the past, families used just the prior year tax returns to fill our the FAFSA,  and they would do this beginning on January 1 of the year that their student would be attending college-this was often an estimate on taxes that had not yet been filed. Prior-prior year should make filing the FAFSA easier because, assuming that your taxes are done, they can be pulled right from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. It’s still unknown if students and families will receive student aid packages any earlier than in the past, but I think that is one of the end goals here.

So, what does this mean? According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), colleges may not set any application deadlines before October 15, 2016 for fall 2017 entrance. Colleges can, however, move deadlines up for application admission as long as it’s not before 10/15. Will they do this? It’s hard to say, but I did hear one admissions rep say that it would be nice to balance the load of applications that need to be read so they aren’t so crunched for time in late winter/early spring.

What does that have to do with prior-prior year? October 1 is a full three months earlier than when students have been able to file the FAFSA in the past. To file the FAFSA a student must list at least one college. The student doesn’t have to be accepted by this college at filing time, but it should be a college to which the student is planning to apply. Will students be working on their college list earlier? Quite possibly.

What is the advantage to the student for filing in October? As always, financial aid is first come, first served. There are some types of aid, such as work study, that are available in limited amounts and a student who may qualify for work study could possibly not receive this type of aid if the FAFSA is filed even a few months later. It will be easier to file because the 2015 taxes should be done as mentioned above.  And finally, the hope is that students will get their aid reports back sooner from colleges and have more time to compare packages and make a smart financial decision. This will be specific to each college and remains to be seen at this point for many. As with any big change, it may take some time to work out the bugs.

So, what is the bottom line here? After traveling to many schools and talking with admission and financial aid professionals this spring, it’s my thought that students might be pushing the whole timeline for college applications up and applying sooner in the fall. This may be tied to the new FAFSA date or it may be because colleges have moved some deadlines. It may even be because the Common Application is now open to current juniors. In the past it was customary for the Common Application to shut down for a few months and officially open on August 1 for the application season. This year, yet another change for the class of 2017, the Common Application has been available to juniors to create accounts for months now.

What your take-away should be-if you are a current high school junior and you think you will be applying to colleges as early as October or November then PLEASE ask your school counselor and teachers and other recommenders early, giving them plenty of time to write a thoughtful letter of rec for you.  Colleges are still figuring out how they will respond to all this change so don’t let fall come and be surprised by all sorts of deadlines that you didn’t expect. Hang on-it’s going to be a wild ride!

The College Essay-a few questions answered

The college essay can seem both daunting and mysterious. Is it just a rite of passage or do colleges really read these creative masterpieces? Following, are a few questions that might have been keeping you up at night.

How do I know if I need to write an essay?

Typically, you will know if you need to write an essay (or more than one) when you look at the application. The Common Application (www.commonapp.org) has partnered with over 600 colleges and universities. This application has five questions of which you must answer one. Depending on where you apply, you may be asked to answer one or more supplemental essay questions as well as the main one. These are typically more specific to that school and are generally shorter. If a college or university uses their own application, they may have no essay requirements or a question different from the choices on the Common Application. You should be able to get all this information from college websites or by calling the admissions office.

How long should the essay be?

The essay for the Common Application has to be between 250-650 words. Anything less will be rejected and anything more will be cut off at 650 words.  Individual college applications should have word counts on the application and on the website.

Why do colleges want an essay?

Typically, the essay is both evaluative, to see how well you write and express your thoughts, and used as a way to get to know more about you as an applicant. The essay is your chance to tell admission counselors something about you that they can’t find anywhere else in your application file.

How long should it take to write the essay?

This depends! Most high school students don’t regularly write in first person for school assignments. It may take some time to get used to this style of writing. In my experience, most students write at least four drafts of their essay. It’s not unheard of to scrap an essay altogether and pick a new topic. Also, many 17 year-olds don’t regularly think deeply about ‘what makes them tick’ or why they make the decisions that they do. This type of thinking is vital to the essay and may take some time to get comfortable with. The essay is definitely not something that should be started on the day before the deadline!

Can my parents help me?

Parents can be a great resource for helping students brainstorm for the essay. They can also be very useful in helping the student determine if the essay accurately reflects him/her. Does the essay sound like you wrote it? Parents should never write the essay. Don’t laugh; it happens. Parents should also be very careful with any proofreading as they may interject a word or phrase that a 17 year-old just wouldn’t ever say. Admissions counselors have read thousands of essays and they know when something doesn’t ring true.

So now that the mysteries of the college essay are unraveled, you can take this long weekend and get cracking. Early decision deadlines are just around the corner!

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