Thursday, May 08, 2014

Make self-evaluation work for you

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Sarah Lawrence has a new evaluation rubric -- but it's not only useful for teachers.  You can use it to review your application.

By Ben Feuer
Sarah Lawrence, a liberal arts school whose primary distinction is being the most expensive school in the United States, has "invented", or at least revived, a system of evaluation that serves as an alternative to grades.  They have chosen six categories they feel cover the most important qualities a liberal arts education provides. 

 The good news is, these six categories aren’t just useful for assessing students currently in school — they’re also top qualities employers look for in employees and admissions committees look for in prospective students, and therefore, they are great things to think about when you are trying to distinguish yourself from a pool of candidates in (for instance) a school application.  So take a look over these six criteria and see whether you can find instances of them in your own life — then think about whether you can pull stories from that. 

1.  Thinking analytically.   This is the bread and butter of a liberal arts education — basically, it just means that you don't accept things at face value -- that you turn them over, examine them from a range of perspectives and (hopefully) come to inventive and informed decisions.  You can certainly demonstrate strength in this area by choosing stories that highlight this ability, but you can also show your ability to analyze yourself by explaining, in a clear headed and sensible manner, why you chose to pursue certain courses of action or make certain choices.  Essays about your favorite XYZ or a major dilemma you faced are great for this kind of thing. 

 2.  Communicating effectively in writing.  You can demonstrate this simply by writing your essays well and presenting strong, well thought out, persuasive arguments — but you can also look to your recommenders to bolster this aspect of your candidacy. 

 3.  Exchanging ideas effectively orally.  With the rise of video essays and the continuing importance of in-person interviews, your ability to confidently and persuasively make a case for yourself without being brash or overbearing (or fading into the furniture) is definitely worth a couple of practice sessions with a Forster Thomas interview coach. 

 4.  Bringing innovation in your work.  This has (fairly) obvious ramifications for talking about leadership, volunteering — it might play into peer recommenders as well (remember that these qualities may be qualities your peers see in you and can use to recommend you!).  Put simply, you have to first explain the situation, then the typical way it was addressed before you showed up, and then explain how you altered the pattern or broke the cycle.  And it doesn’t have to be a huge change like revolutionizing the way your internship office handled its workflow.  It can be about how you found a more effective way for your family to have Thanksgiving together too.  Innovation is innovation. 

 5.  Thinking independently.  When everybody went one way, I went the other.  That kind of action takes courage.  Again, this can be in the context of leadership, but it doesn’t have to be.  Sometimes simply expressing yourself — artistically, socially, intellecutally — constitutes independence, especially if no one else is speaking up.  Sometimes it’s going to bat for someone else, someone in trouble like a brother or a best friend, someone you care deeply about.  You may see their actions in a different light than everybody else does. 

 6.  Taking and acting upon criticism.  This is a natural fit for a failure or setback essay or prompt, but it can also work in the context of leadership, or even diversity.  The key is to understand that in order to make good use of criticism, you first have to hear it in a useful way, and then figure out how to translate it into something you can take action on.  In other words, you need #1 to do a good job of #6.  But if you are sitting on a great story about how you impressed a person you had previously disappointed or offended, or if you have an example of when you let a colleague down but were able to come through for another colleague (or the same one!) in a different situation, it could definitely speak to your ability to take criticism and make good use of it. ---- Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.

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Did you ever wonder what criteria admissions committees employ in making their decisions?  Here is your answer.

By Evan Forster and David Thomas


College applicants are obsessed with the alphabet soup of standardized tests—SATs, ACTs, APs, etc.—and their impact on admissions. Next come extracurriculars and essays as focal points for college candidates. But these are just a few of many, many factors that count in the decision-making process of admissions committees. Not all universities put the same weight on the same factors: one school may care much more about GPA weighting while another wants strong writing skills even in science applicants.

But we love this comprehensive list of data points considered by admissions officers, which came out of a discussion of our colleagues at IECA. And please note that these are NOT in any sort of order (after all, each college would rank this list differently). Look it over and evaluate which are your strong suits, your weak spots, and which you’ve never even thought about! If you don’t even know what some of these are, shoot us an email!

1.            Grades in high-school courses

2.            Cumulative GPA

3.            Class Rank

4.            Rigor of courses (degree to which the student challenged herself within the context of available courses)

5.            SAT/ACT/Subject Test Scores

6.            AP/IB scores

7.            Recommendations (Teacher, School Counselor, Other)

8.            Awards/Honors/Recognition

9.            Activities

10.          Re-computation of GPA (weighting, unweighting, use of core courses only, etc.)

11.          Special Talents (music, athletics, etc.)

12.          Relative who is an alum

13.          Profile of the applicant’s high school

14.          Family’s ability to pay

15.          Essays

16.          Extenuating circumstances (illness, etc.)

17.          Member of an underrepresented group

18.          Choice of major

19.          International applicant

20.          Socioeconomic background/level of parent’s education

21.          Character (suspensions, criminal history, etc.)

22.          Demonstrated interest

23.          Personal interview

24.          Early Decision vs. Regular Decision

25.          Upward/Downward trend in grades throughout high school

26.          Volunteerism

27.          Portfolio (for art, architecture, interior design, etc.)

27.          After-school/summer employment

28.          Audition (music, performing arts, etc.)

29.          Comes from a “famous” family, or the student him/herself is famous

30.          Development case: Family is able to make/has made a very significant financial contribution to the college

31.          Geographic/regional desirability

32.          Number of students applying to that institution from a given high school in that particular year

33.          Applicant comes from a high school that has historically been a “feeder” high school for that college

34.          Gap Year experience

35.          Intellectual curiosity/Enthusiasm for learning

36.          Has taken the initiative to seek-out outside courses, in cases where the student’s high school might not offer “high-level” courses such as APs

37.          Participation in a rigorous academic summer program offered by a college

38.          Demonstrated leadership

39.          How early/late application was submitted in cases where rolling admission is used

40.          State of residence (State-supported institutions must adhere to legislated limits on the number of out-of-state students who can enroll.  On the other hand, if a state college is looking to bring in additional tuition dollars, filling the class with a particular percentage of out-of-state students is beneficial because they pay higher tuition.)

41.          Documented learning disability

42.          Essay in response to the question: “Have you ever been suspended or dismissed from a school?”

43.          Child of that college’s administration, faculty or staff

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Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.


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Just as social profiles are becoming key tools for employers, your target schools are also considering your online presence when you apply.  Here's how to manage what they see.

by Ben Feuer

It's a weird new world -- just a few short years ago, a resume was the be all and end all of your professional life.  Now, nearly anything is fair game, and not just for employers, either.  Surveys show 30 percent of admissions officers are checking up on what you do online, and that number will only grow.  So here are a few Forster-Thomas-style tips to help you manage your online presence.

1.  Don't whitewash.  White's NOT your color.  In all seriousness, though, one of the first things you'll read online is to delete all sorts of pertinent, identifying information like your religious and social convictions and causes.  Well, don't.  Remember -- you WANT admissions to get to know you better, and seeing what you stand for is a great way to make that happen.  Of course, use your best judgement -- that keg stand you pulled off last week might NOT look quite so impressive to Harvard.

2.  Be logical, be consistent.  Wherever possible, purge irrelevant or misleading details or elements of style -- they may lead a reader who does not know you well down a rabbit hole you'll have trouble getting out of.  Consider what your TOP links on Google are -- are they representative?  If not, can you try to push up some content that is, by updating it or refreshing it?  Are your social media presences well managed -- do you have outdated or inaccurate information in some old profile setting you forgot about?

3.  Be lovable.  Love is a greater motivator than fear, and ultimately this process is about falling in love -- you with the school, and hopefully, them with you.  So don't post a lot of negative, flaming comments (especially if they're true), and don't get a rep as a can't-do person or a naysayer.  Project your best self -- an image that is active, engaged, thoughtful and caring.

4.  Friend means friend.  The last thing you want is to content with ridiculous wall posts or junk Zynga game invites all over your profile because you friended someone who doesn't get tha interwebz.  Keep your friends close and unfriend your enemies.

Don't wait until you apply -- start taking action NOW.  Some of this stuff may take time to filter out of internet search caches and the like.

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Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.



This series looks at the world of admissions consulting through everybody's favorite lens – the list!


1. Men's Bobsled

A bunch of sweaty guys crammed way too close together, trying to move ahead as fast as possible without actually doing that much work.

Degree Awarded = MBA (Masters in Business Administration)


2. Ice Dance

A coterie of graceful, touchy feely people judged on seemingly arbitrary criteria, while simultaneously feeling ever so slightly inferior to their more famous sister discipline.

Degree Awarded = MSW (Masters in Social Work)


3. Curling

A stilted, deliberately confusing pastime that was once cutting edge, but now is performed only by rich people in obscure places.

Degree Awarded = PHM (Masters of Philosophy)


4. Ice Hockey

A group of men or women banding together by country and attempting to outrank everybody else.

Degree Awarded = MPP or MPA (Masters in Public Administration or Policy)


5. Cross Country Skiing

An exhausting, seemingly endless, shockingly repetitive activity resulting in a skill that is impressive, but ultimately not that interesting and not worth that much money.

Degree Awarded = Ph.D (Doctor of Philosophy) 

Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.

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