A word on the recent college admissions scandal.

The recent college admissions scandal has sparked an important debate around ethical access to higher education. Some sectors are calling for a de-emphasis on test scores, claiming the scandal is yet another indication of testing’s inherent biases. Others argue that scores are in fact the most “objective” criteria in the process. 

At the end of the day, nearly everyone agrees that scores themselves are beside the point. High schoolers need to be prepared for college coursework; the tests are helpful tools to the extent that they accurately assess this preparation and give colleges a basis for comparing a wide array of applicants. To the extent that the SAT and ACT produce the opposite effect (e.g., debilitating stress), they are a scourge and worthy of criticism.

North Avenue is a holistic tutoring firm. We don’t focus on test scores to the exclusion of academic skills building – rather, we design test prep lessons to supplement and enhance students’ overall academic maturity. Standardized tests will likely remain a hallmark of education in the United States for years to come. Our mission is to make sure these tests also provide an occasion for deep engagement and authentic learning. 

If the admissions scandal has you confused about what to do or who to trust, give us a call. We’d love to unpack our unique approach to SAT/ACT prep and academic tutoring, as well as equip you and your child with resources for growth at home and at school.


Additions to the College Admissions Landscape

As college-bound seniors finish up their applications and await their college decisions, juniors should be considering what factors will be important to them in choosing a college, as well as researching what each college considers and requires of students when they apply.  For both juniors and seniors, there are a few relatively new factors to be aware of in the college admission process.

Demonstrated Interest

Demonstrated interest has become an increasingly important tool to help colleges with enrollment management. Colleges are businesses charged with filling just the right about of beds and seats each year and trying to offer just enough financial aid (no more, no less) to entice students to attend. To help determine who is likely to accept an offer of admission, and at what price, colleges track a student’s behavior to gauge their interest level.  The very first time a student engages with a college (via responding to an email or mailing, visiting a college, or connecting with an admissions staff member) a file is started in the student’s name and points can be given. In some cases, showing demonstrated interest (and applying early) can be the equivalent of a 100-point increase in SAT score and a .25 boost in GPA. Students should research whether or not a school tracks demonstrated interest and what tools are available to demonstrate interest for that college.  Two specific things to look out for are Admission Interviews and Early Admission (Early Action or Early Decision).

Applying Early Decision (ED) signifies that one school is your top choice, and if you are accepted, it is a binding agreement that you will attend and withdraw all other applications. With Early Action (EA), you apply early, find out if you will be offered admission early (usually by winter break), yet still have time to compare other offers and wait to make a decision until May 1.

Applying ED or EA can often increase your chances of admission (statistically) if you are a strong applicant (an applicant within the middle or upper range of the school’s average statistics). It is a benefit to the college to accept applicants ED because they are guaranteed to fill a certain number of their spots with strong applicants. Even with EA, the likelihood that students will accept offers of admission are higher (especially if they’ve shown demonstrated interest in other ways). Therefore, some colleges take a greater percentage of students in the early rounds. Before applying early (especially ED) you should review the downsides to applying early, and make sure to do your research or consult an advisor before deciding when to apply.  Each school has different early application policies and restrictions, so you must do the research to understand if you are a strong enough candidate to apply early and what applying early means at that institution.

Not all colleges offer interviews to college applicants, but it is a great way to show interest in a school when interviews are available. Some colleges offer informational (vs. evaluative) interviews when students visit their campuses. This is a great opportunity to get to know a college and its offerings, and to ask an admission representative specific questions about programs you are considering. These are not considered in admissions decisions. Other colleges offer admission interviews, either by admissions representatives or alumni. Students should research if interviews are offered, if they are evaluative, where they are offered (on campus, locally, or via Skype), and schedule them early, as availability is not guaranteed.

Spring Admission

A trend that I am increasingly seeing is students being admitted to schools as Spring Admits instead of being admitted in the fall. More and more selective colleges and universities are offering students who are not quite as strong as other admitted applicants, but who have shown demonstrated interest and are otherwise a great fit for the school, can be offered delayed admission in the form of spring term admission. Other colleges state that students being offered spring admission are just as strong as fall admits, but the college just doesn’t have space.  Offering spring admission to students allows colleges to offer more students admission and helps fill spaces vacated on campuses due to attrition, mid-year graduation and study abroad programs. This can come as a shock to students while they contemplate attending the college of their dreams but having to give up their image of what heading off to college should look like.

Some colleges are upfront about the possibility of spring admission and offer this as an option during the application process. Middlebury College has been offering a portion of first-year students spring admission for 40 years.  Others offer it as a “take it or leave it” admission decision. Once the initial shock and disappointment wears off, students should evaluate their other offers and compare them to the spring admission program.

When considering a Spring Admission offer, it is important that your fall semester be busy and productive, even if you won’t be on campus.  This can be a great opportunity to work and save money for college, travel abroad, or potentially get a jump start on college courses. Pay attention to what will happen once you arrive on campus.  How will the school welcome and integrate you in January? Where will you live? Does the Spring Admit program offer an established travel abroad option for fall semester?  Can you take college courses elsewhere during the fall? And if so, how many credits? What courses will transfer? Will you be able to participate in Sorority or Fraternity rush as a freshman when you get to campus in the spring?

Try to connect with other Spring/January Admits for support and to establish friendships prior to arriving on campus.  I recently worked with a very resourceful high school senior admitted to Tulane as a spring admit. She connected with other spring admits on Facebook to coordinate a semester abroad together at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy.  Not only will she arrive in New Orleans in January with a group of friends, but she has also negotiated the ability to take 9 credits abroad, bring with her from high school three IB credits, and qualify to participate in rush at the start of the 2nd semester. Oh, and have a fabulous semester in Italy, to boot.  That’s what I call making lemonade!

ZeeMee and Resumes

A recent trend to the application process is ZeeMee.com as well as the increasing number of colleges prompting students with the option of attaching their resume. ZeeMee is a free video app that was originally designed as an online, visual resume with options to attach a short video. In August 2017, they changed to be solely for use on iOS or Android phones. Students have the option of adding short (26-second) videos to their college applications to help colleges get to know them in a quick, visual manner, as well as highlight a talent, skill, or passion that doesn’t come across strongly on paper. How applications are read, and how much time is spent reviewing an application varies greatly depending on the college and the strength of the applicant (time spent can range from 5-30 minutes). Adding a visual component can help an applicant stand out. The example an Elon University admissions representative recently shared was a student who made her own Halloween costumes. Listing “Handmade Halloween costumes” on an activity list might not come across as impressive, but showing videos of the many creative, and complicated costumes she designed over the years emphasized her creativity, passion and dedication.

While the change in ZeeMee’s platform has gotten mixed reviews, more counselors and students seem to be in favor of the growing number of colleges allowing students to attach their activity resumes to college applications. The numbers have been grown steadily, with this year’s applicants (2019 high school graduates) seeing almost 1/3 of all colleges on the Common Application allowing this option. College applications often offer very limited space for students to explain what they contributed and/or gained from participating in an activity (i.e. the Common App only allows 150 characters to do so). For students that have more activities to share than the 10 allowed on the Common Application, or for students with details they would like to share about their involvement, and for students with links to articles or videos they would like to share with colleges, this is a great opportunity to elaborate on what makes the student unique.

All of the above are optional components of the college application process. However, if a student starts the college admissions process early enough to research, plan and create strong work, the tools mentioned here can increase a student’s chance of being accepted to their school of choice.

Kristen Miller is an independent college counselor in Portland, Oregon. She is the founder and owner of College Bound & Ready and offers free consultations to 8th-11th grade students and parents.


Supporting Students with Learning Differences

On Tuesday, October 9th, North Avenue was thrilled to partner with Amy Romm Lockard, Founder and President of Dovetail College Consulting. Amy is a college admissions expert with over a decade of combined college consulting and high school counseling experience. In her presentation, she discussed how to approach college admissions for teens with a learning difference, mental health condition, or physical disability – and how to find success after admission as well.

Before introducing Amy, I spoke briefly around how my experience working with students with learning differences has informed the teaching philosophy of North Avenue. This blog post is adapted from my presentation.

North Avenue Education’s tutoring method aims to build a community of learners by cultivating critical thinking skills that are relevant not only to success on tests, but to all academic pursuits as students prepare for college. The path students with learning differences take to build these skills might look slightly different, but doing so is just as important. If anything, I’ve observed that students with learning differences are much more self-aware and cognizant of their learning needs than their peers. This academic maturity ought to be paired with a mentor or tutor relationship for best outcomes.

Here are a few key methods we employ when working with students with learning differences.

By first watching students complete problems in their instinctive way, tutors will better understand each student’s unique reasoning process. In a typical test prep lesson, most of the time is devoted to teaching new topics and test-taking strategies, with less time devoted to practicing these strategies – because students can conduct this reinforcement at home. However, students with learning differences often benefit from more in-session collaboration. By conducting practice problems with a student during the lesson, tutors are in a better position to adapt their lessons and techniques to the specific student’s reasoning style.

Replicating the procedures learned in a tutoring session on a real, timed test is a key component of test prep. Students who receive accommodations on the SAT or ACT – often 50% extra time or even 100% extra time on an already long exam – will be susceptible to both mental exhaustion and decision fatigue. Ensuring multiple opportunities to practice taking the test under these conditions will help develop stamina and anticipate related issues that need to be addressed in preparation. (Additionally, there are some tech solutions: North Avenue gives all our students an SAT or ACT watch. Practicing self-timing with these watches can help students self-pace to not run out of time or energy.)

Parents and tutors must recognize that even with accommodations, standardized tests may not be the best way to showcase a student’s academic competencies. North Avenue encourages families to evaluate a student’s profile holistically so as to mentor them through not only test prep but all aspects of college readiness. Students would do well to remember that keeping their GPA high, writing a killer application essay, and learning self-advocacy, organization, and other beneficial study habits are just as important as achieving strong test scores!

At North Avenue Education, we invite all new students to our office for a free, 30-minute consult with me. During the consult, we can discuss a personalized approach to supporting your student with their individualized goals. If you’d like to discuss how North Avenue can guide your student’s unique reasoning processes to success on standardized tests and beyond, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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