NS College Consulting Blog

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Up Close with College Applications


Time to Apply: Most applications are available to submit sometime between August and December of senior year. It is typically advantageous to apply earlier rather than later, and students should become familiar with the different deadline options available at each school.    Read more

In the final installment of our multipart blog series, we are focusing on helping answer a question we have been asked repeatedly throughout the years. How much academic rigor is enough? How many honors and AP classes are enough? For colleges practicing holistic admissions which focuses on the whole applicant rather than just strict numbers, the answer is always going to be, “It depends.” However, to add some context to what needs to be taken into consideration, North Shore College Consulting took time after this last application season to speak to admissions officers from around the country.. 


When pressed to answer these questions, admissions officers stated that the amount of rigor they want to see will first depend upon the high school the student is attending and what classes are offered there. In most cases, applications are read by territory reps who are well versed in each school they are assigned to and can evaluate the student within the context of the opportunities available to them. Some high schools offer 20+ AP options, while others may not offer any.


In a high school where AP courses are available, a student needs to find a load that allows them to balance their life. The student needs to drill down into who they are and what their goals are to determine what they should do.  More specifically, taking every possible AP course, but letting grades slip because the student cannot possibly get all of the work done can cause a low GPA that can be worrisome to an admissions officer. Similarly, overloading on rigorous courses, but not being able to get involved in activities outside the classroom is not displaying a favorable balance either. In addition to wanting to admit students who will be active in and out of the classroom, colleges are increasingly concerned with the mental health of their incoming students. They want students on their campus who are happy and secure.


This brings us to the next question. If a student is going to cut back on academic rigor, which courses should they cut back on?  Again, the ultimate answer will be, “It depends.” For instance, a student looking to major in a math or science field should probably focus on adding rigor in these subject areas.


Beyond the benefits that a student may see in the admissions process, parents are pushing students to take more and more AP classes because they think this will save them money in tuition. Unfortunately, this is not usually an accurate assumption. Each college and even each major within a college will have different rules about the score needed to award credit, the number of classes that can be skipped due to AP credits and even which AP credits they will accept at all. In addition, co-op programs, study abroad programs, and the all-too-common change in major may also create a need to take additional courses or stay on campus for semesters beyond the traditional four years.


The take away for the students applying to schools that practice holistic admissions is that the colleges want you to take the most rigorous courseload you can take to be successful while still allowing you to be active outside the classroom.  Schools want students who are both academically and personally successful.


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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Declared major, or not?

As parents, we can get very worried about the major our son or daughter chooses. This worry is not without merit: what major your son or daughter picks, and whether or not your child sticks with it, may impact not only his or her college experience, but also your wallet, as longer extended college experiences lead to extended tuition payments. However, there is no need to panic: if your child doesn’t know what she wants to do, she is not alone. Going in undecided is hardly an uncommon phenomenon.  

Several years ago, in an issue of Black Issues In Higher Education E. St. John suggested that, “There is, perhaps, no college decision that is more thought-provoking, gut wrenching and rest-of-your-life oriented—or disoriented—than the choice of a major” (St. John, 2000, p. 22). While this may seem slightly hyperbolic, there is some truth in it: choosing a major is a choice that should be intentional and based on knowledge of one’s self, and when the wrong choice is made, the implications can be harsh. From the perspective of parents footing the bill for a four year institution the key to graduating in four years may be picking a major early and sticking with it. College and university administrators have begun implementing various types of institutional resources to assist undecided students when choosing a major, however, not all students are likely to come to college prepared to choose a major. An estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as “undecided”.  In fact, a new report suggests students who change their major as late as senior year are more likely to graduate from college than students who settle on one the second they set foot on campus.

The report, published by the Education Advisory Board, a research and consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., questions the suggestion that changing majors is keeping students in college past their intended graduation date and driving up their debt. Instead of looking at when students first declared a major, the EAB's study explored the connection between students' final declaration and how it affected their time to degree and graduation rates. Most students -- as many as 80 percent in some surveys -- will switch majors at one point during their time in college. According to the report, students who made a final decision as late as the fifth term they were enrolled did not see their time to graduation increase. Even one-quarter of the students who landed on a final major during senior year graduated in four years, the EAB found. Settling on a final major during the second through eighth terms of enrollment did not influence students’ graduation rates, either. Students who declared a new major during any of those terms posted a graduation rate of between 82 and 84 percent.

A better explanation of these numbers can be found by looking at the College Student Journal survey.  More than 800 students who were asked to elaborate on their major decision-making process. Factors that played a role included a (1) general interest the student had in the subject he or she chose, (2) family and peer influence,  and (3) assumptions about introductory courses, potential job characteristics, and characteristics of the major. While these may seem like valid reasons at first glance, the study ultimately implied that students are choosing a major based on external influence and unfounded assumption rather than a thorough understanding of their own personal goals and values.

It might be worthwhile to acknowledge that most students will not be developmentally ready to make effective decisions such as choosing a major. If choosing a major actually means choosing one’s goals, values, and interests based on intentional self-reflection and understanding of one’s self, then first-year students may simply not be ready.

Fortunately, it is not all bad news; there are practical solutions to address this inherent disconnect. The simplest is to take some summer school classes at a local community college or apply for an internship in the area of prospective interest. Both of these will immerse the student in the course work or career in which they anticipate interests and allow for an accurate assessment of actual fit.  Prospective freshmen, be they ready or not to choose a major before or in the first year of school will still benefit from undergoing a structured period of self-reflection. Ultimately, a student who makes an informed decision based on personal goals and values will be more engaged in the college experience and more successful academically, personally, and professionally.


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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Beware of the High School Whirlpool


Friday, June 09, 2017

College Reflection (Guest Blog)

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Summer Strategies for Rising Seniors



Sunday, January 04, 2015

THE FIRST SEMESTER: IN REVIEW

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