Tagged: college applications

Self Reported Academic Records: New and Time Consuming

Some seniors will find that college applications are asking the student to fill in a form with details of all of the courses they have taken and will take over 4 years of high school, including the final grade.  According to one admissions office, this is because while high school transcripts have pretty much the same information the format is different on each one.  Figuring out the location of the material the admission officer is hunting is time consuming. Students are asked to use the form so information is presented in a standardized  manner making comparisons among applications much easier.

Now is the time to take a look at the applications you will be using to see if any prefer SRAR.  Another avenue to get this information is to email your admissions rep at each college and ask about self reporting grades and scores.

If  at least one college uses this form, check online to see if your entire high school transcript is available to you.  Should only the last year’s curriculum and grades appear, contact guidance for an unofficial copy of your entire history.  Perhaps in 8th grade you took Algebra I or a year of foreign language that counts toward fulfilling a foreign language requirement; you may need to access your 8th grade record, too.

Once you have the transcript in front of you, make notes.  Start with 9th grade and write down your courses, final grade and a description of what the course covered.  If your high school has an electronic course book from which you choose your classes, consult this tool to help with course descriptions.  Avoid guessing.

Why should you do this now?  The SRAR is a convenience for the admissions office and a nuisance for students.  Filling out the form is time consuming.  Do it now as the school year winds down and you have fewer pressing assignments so that when you are ready to apply you won’t need to invest a couple of hours tracking down the information.

Be assured that if you are accepted you will be required to submit official test scores and an official transcript from each high school you have attended.

If you’re ready for a consult on your list or to begin writing essays, filling out your apps, lets make an appointment! stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679

Tips On Getting Letters of Recommendation


All college applications request a letter from your guidance counselor and usually expect 1 or more teacher recommendations.  Your counselor is predetermined but you get to choose who will write the teacher recs.  Please read to the end of this post to learn what to do if you are asked to write your own recommendation.

1. Most schools prefer that students ask for recommendations at the end of junior year so that teachers can take time to write thoughtfully over the summer.  If you school has other policies, be certain to follow them.

2. Who should you choose?  Ideally, the persons you approach should know you well.  Perhaps you’ve taken  more than one class with a favorite teacher or one of your current teachers is the advisor for a club or organization you belong to.  The more interaction  you’ve had, the more detailed the letter from the teacher can be.

3. Its helpful to write a note asking for the recommendation and to present the note to the teacher during a free period, before or after school.  If you have copies of assignments from the class you took with this teacher, you could offer them along with the note, or continue the conversation by mentioning how much you enjoyed, or struggled, or learned from the work.

4. Also give the teacher a list of colleges to which you are applying.  Know if there are special requirements for submitting the letters via Naviance, if you high school uses this tool.  If the letters will be submitted by mail, attach any forms and addressed, stamped envelopes.

5. Before school begins for senior year, check with the guidance office to make certain that all recommendations have been turned in.  Then write a thank you note to each person who wrote a recommendation.

What Should You Do If Asked To Write Your Own Recommendation?

I’m learning that self-written letters are becoming a common practice, particularly at large high schools.  Unfortunately, many counselors don’t know all the students in their cohort and use the self-written recommendations as guides (or just turn in the student’s work).  If you are asked to write such a letter here’s what to do.

1. Special circumstances.   Counselor recommendations are used to explain circumstances not in evidence elsewhere in the documentation.  When a family experienced trauma, death, financial hardship, student academic problems, learning challenges or any other factor affecting the student’s performance, it is usually the counselor who offers the information.   If this applies to you, write this part of your story.  First, the circumstance (what happened); next, how you were affected; the current state of your recovery or accommodation.

For instance, in 11th grade you were found to have dyslexia; what treatment has occurred and how have your grades improved?  Ex 2, Your parents experienced a messy divorce and you were unable to focus on academics; what has changed and how are you coping?

2. Your Achievements.  Take out your resume and activity lists.  The format you should have used to create both is: List the organization, dates participated, what you did and how it benefited the club.  Ex. French Club, 3 years, As program chair started a French club at an elementary school; increased membership by 20%.  Ex. International Club, 3 years.  Facilitated the smooth running of meetings by setting up, arranging refreshments, cleaning up.

Don’t just copy your Resume or Activities List, choose a few items and amplify what you’ve written, including the importance to you of this activity or event, something you particularly enjoyed or learned, leadership role, how the experience might impact your college experience. Ex. Environmental Club.  I worked with local organizations and officials to clean up a trash from a creek.  I’ve learned about the world-wide clean water shortage and hope to take a trip to Africa where I can participate in a clean water project as well as taking courses in hydrologly in the geology department to learn more about water.

3. Executive functioning.  These skills include persistence, organization, time management, and so on.  You want to present the skills with supporting evidence. Ex. Persistent: failed 2 tests Algebra 2, got help from teacher and secured a tutor from National Honor Society.  Brought grade up to a C+.   If you are unclear on what to say, try asking teachers and classmates to describe you in 1 word, or in 3 words.  Use their comments to develop this section.

4. Goals.  What do you want to get out of your college experience?  Are you planning your coursework so you can study abroad?  Do you have plans to take specific courses to learn about a special interest?

When you’ve completed your recommendation, have several people you trust read it over.  Discuss it with your guidance counselor.

Asking for your letters of recommendation is good practice for getting a job.  You will need to know your strengths and who can best describe them to others.  Don’t gamble on getting winning testimonials, prepare the path for the people whom you will ask.  Be professional in your approach and show your appreciation generously.

Questions?  Call/text  me at 610-212-6679 or email stephanie@accessguidance.com


Student Over 18? Your Need to Know Isn’t Your right To Know

As a parent, you may be familiar with FERPA, the Federal Education and Right  To Privacy Act.  This piece of legislation ensures that parents have the right to see their student’s school records and have explained to them anything in the records.  It also prevents schools from disseminating information about your child without your permission.

When the student applies to colleges, she will find a question on each application asking if she waives her FERPA rights.  Checking the box permits the high school to send her transcript and other identifying information about the student.  Every student must waive their rights in order to complete the application.

So, you’ve delivered your newly eighteen year old to college.  You’re paying the bills, even borrowing money.  Can  you see the grades?  No.  Can you find out if the student is attending class?  No.  Can you ask if he has paid the tuition from the account you’ve set up? No.

College related issues can be addressed by having your child sign a waiver to FERPA upon arriving on campus.  With a couple of phone calls before orientation you can learn whom your child should speak to and where the waiver will be held in case you need access to the signed document later. (see final paragraph)

Signing the waiver is something to consider.  Teens handle some of their own money but rely on parents to take care of the major transactions.  They may not be punctual in paying rent, college bills, recognizing overdrafts on accounts or understanding credit card bills.  If, among other issues,  you think that your help may be needed in financial matters or in persisting in a college environment, the waiver is probably a good idea.

Your student has been taken to the hospital.  What information can you get?  None.

HIPAA prevents anyone in the college medical center or a hospital from talking to you without the patient’s permission, even in a medical emergency.

There are a few things you can do to have permission in place to participate in your student’s medical care.

A signed HIPAA Authorization form, which can be found on the internet, doesn’t need to be notarized.  The student can place limitations on the type of information they wish to keep private.  Parents will gain permission to talk to treating physicians, and understand the nature of the medical problems.

Medical Power of Attorney  (POA)  This is the same authorization most of us have given to someone to make decisions for us if we are unable to make them for ourselves.  You could be called upon to evaluate treatment options or give permission for surgery.  Laws governing POAs vary by state; some require a witness and notarization.  Some include the HIPAA Authorization within the POA.

Consider also a Durable Power of Attorney.  This POA appoints someone to act on the individual’s behalf; it can be granted with a specific time limit.  If the student plans to study abroad this might be a good document to have.  It can give access to bank accounts so the bills can be paid, tax forms or leases signed, college and scholarship forms submitted.   A durable power of attorney grants more power to the holder; be certain everyone is comfortable with the arrangement.

In some states the medical power of attorney can be rolled into a durable power of attorney.  As each state defines its own processes, check with your own state and the state where your student will be in school.

If your child attends college out of state, fill out all forms in both states so that there is no confusion about the legitimacy of the documentation.

When you have chosen the options that meet your needs and have the signed, notarized (if needed) documents in hand, scan them into your phone so that they will be available if ever needed.




FERPA HPPA and medical emergencies



Applying To College In An Electronic Age

The article below was written by a fellow admissions consultant and summarizes some of the details you need to know about electronic submissions.  I’ve added the photos.


by Lisa Bleich

Written by Lisa Bleich

When I submitted my applications to college in the mid-eighties, I filled out my application on a typewriter, put in in an envelope and mailed it to my prospective colleges.  My guidance counselor gathered my letters of recommendations, transcripts, and SAT scores, put them into a manila envelope and mailed them to the schools.  Then I waited and assumed that the post office would deliver my applications in good faith.

For current high schools seniors, those same pieces still need to get to the colleges, but with transition to electronic applications, score choice, digital portfolios, and eDocs the process has become in some ways easier, but in many other ways more confusing.

Here are some resources to help make the process go smoother.


Common Application  

With over 500 members, the Common Application is the dominant electronic site for submitting applications to colleges.  The benefit is that students can fill out one application and submit it to all participating schools. Several state schools also participate including the University of Michigan, UMASS Amherst, UNC Chapel Hill, and University of Delaware.  Here is a video that demonstrates how to submit your CommonApp application.

The Coalition Application  

Several state schools, e.g. University of Maryland and University of Florida, have started using the The Coalition Application exclusively for students to submit their applications.  If you scroll down to the bottom of this link, you’ll find some videos that show you how to start a an application, manage document uploads, and submit an application using the Coalition.  If you’d like to do a preview of the entire application before you submit, you can do that after you have paid, but before you actually submit.  After you submit the payment, click on the Expand All button in the top right hand corner and that will allow you to see the full application before you submit.

State and School Specific Electronic Applications

Many large state schools such as UCLA and Berkeley, along with Georgetown and MIT have their own applications that can be found on their website. Several universities also you to input their transcript, eliminating the need to send a transcript from their high school.


Many high schools are using eDocs through Naviance to send the transcripts electronically to the schools, but many high school guidance departments still require that students fill out a paper form with all the information so they can send the transcripts by mail.

It is important to understand the process at your high school and allow at least three weeks before the deadline to make the request.


Students must request that test scores be sent to all of their colleges by the appropriate deadline. Your application will not be read until the colleges receive the scores.

Request SAT scores

Request ACT scores


Colleges like to receive your financial aid forms along with your application so they can provide financial information when they notify you about their decision. Here is a great article on how to fill out the FAFSA.


Consistency the name of the game. When you sign up for the ACTs or SATs using your full legal name and e-mail, use that same name and e-mail for all subsequent application materials.

“The biggest problem is that various pieces can get lost and the easiest way to avoid mistakes is to have the same name and e-mail on everything. So if your legal name is Jonathan Brett Silver, but your nickname is JB, make sure to use Jonathan Brett on anything related to college.” Said J. Scott Myers from Susquehanna University. 

Key identity markers are

1)    Legal name (does not include nicknames)

2)    Email

Electronic does not mean immediateEven though you are used to text messages and e-mails being delivered immediately, it doesn’t work like that when submitting applications.  The applications go to a processing room and from there the application gets “input” into the college’s own proprietary system either by electronically populating the fields, scanning documents, or printing them for colleges that do not yet read electronically.

1)    Every school uses a different system to input data.

2)    “Some colleges receive testing information by mail and then enter scores into the student’s file.  Others receive test scores electronically and automatically integrate them into their system.” Nancy Rehling, a Director from ACT.

Follow up is key!   Once you submit your application, most schools will send you a unique school ID and login information to check on your application status.  “Do this immediately and keep track of what pieces are missing” advises Deryn Pomeroy from Syracuse University.  Here is a link to an article about how to tracking your applications.

1)    Assume it will take from 2-4 weeks for your application to be processed. The closer to the deadline you submit, the longer it will take.

2)    If you do not get the green light within in four weeks of submission, call to follow up on the missing pieces.

Somehow the manila envelope that we all complained about does not seem so bad (just kidding!)

Submitting Graded Papers on College Applications

You may have noticed that some of the colleges on your application list request or have opportunities to upload a graded paper.

Submitting work that you produced after thoughtful consideration and without time constraints is likely to show your ability to think critically and to write proficiently.  The writing portions of standardized tests put the writer under pressure which often doesn’t result in one’s best work.

Beyond giving you a chance to choose the writing sample you share, if graded, the paper tells the admissions office much about your high school’s grading process.  With grade inflation on the minds of those charged with choosing the next class, there is an interest in comparing your work and its grade to standard college freshman writing.  The questions your paper answers is this: What grade would this paper receive in a freshman comp class?  Is the argument set forth clear?  The writing competent?

Set aside papers from various classes or use your portfolio if your high school saves your writing through 4 years.  When you’re ready to apply you will have several samples to choose among.

The invitation to add a graded paper may be on the application but the best place to confirm the opportunity is on the college website.  Look carefully at test-optional colleges as many use this extra chance to see how good a student you are.

Good luck and happy writing!

Write winning application essays and create applications that show off your best qualities.  stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679

Restrictive Early Action – Will Colleges Know If I Cheat?

Restrictive Early Action is an application plan that is growing in popularity with colleges of more than average selectivity.  Every college needs to fill seats and beds.  To do so they calculate their yield: the per cent of admitted students who will send a deposit and show up as a member of the next entering class.

Early Decision students are admitted in larger numbers than regular decision applicants because they have committed to coming if admitted.  Early Action applicants have a definite interest in the school although they still have a choice to attend  or not.  Students typically apply Early Action to schools at the top of their list but also want the flexibility of deciding after they have heard from multiple admissions offices.

To reduce the number of admitted students who matriculate elsewhere, an increasing number of colleges have instituted REA, Restrictive Early Action.  An applicant choosing to apply  REA may not also apply to other colleges under any Early Action or Early Decision plan, although they may apply elsewhere as a Regular Decision candidate.

Do colleges know if you’ve violated the restriction?  If you use the Common App they can find out.  Applicants sign a confidentiality waiver meaning that you’ve released your application to the colleges you’ve applied to.  Each college has your name and ID number that they can run through the Common App to see where you’ve applied and under which decision protocol.

Keep in mind that Early Decision and Restrictive Early Action require you to sign a contract, one that is legally binding.  Violating the contract opens you to the possibility of legal action.  What is more likely to happen is denial of  admission by all affected colleges or having admission rescinded if you were admitted.

Plan carefully so that you apply in the most effective way to the colleges you want to attend.  Select the decision plan that optimizes your chances of admission without unduly inhibiting your ultimate choice of for enrollment.

Let me help you plan your application strategy! stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679


Self-Reporting Grades On and Off the Common App

Computers are great for reducing paper work  and organizing materials coherently.  In recent years some universities have asked students to self report courses and grades.  When the student is admitted, the high school sends a transcript to verify the self reported information.  Rutgers University uses this method but is not a Common App school.

Based on feedback from member colleges, The Common App has added a section for self-reported courses and grades.  In order to complete this section of the Common Application the student needs access to her/his high school transcript.   High schools include an official transcript with the School Profile.

Currently, 7 colleges have signed up for self-reporting via the Common App:

Chapman (CA)

George Washington (DC)

Ohio State University (OH)

Purdue University (IN)

University of Southern California (CA)

West Virginia University (WV)

Tuoro College in NYC (The New York School of Career and Applied Studies)

Students filing applications beginning in the fall of 2017 will use Courses and Grades for the schools listed above.  There are a couple of other restrictions: the student must be in a high school diploma program and a school that is on semesters, trimesters or using block scheduling.

Be aware of changes to all application types that apply to the colleges and universities on your application list so that you have at hand the material you need to complete each section.  There are half a dozen multi-college applications this year, each with its own features and options.  Read carefully and be prepared with all you need before you begin to fill out online forms.

For information on the various application types, give me a call. 610-212-6679 or stephanie@accessguidance.com.



Building a College Class or Why You Didn’t Get In

University of Alabama

Its almost spring and there are many disappointed college applicants wondering why Perfect College didn’t want them.  Rejection wasn’t about the applicant or the application they turned in: the decision really was all about the college.

Colleges have two goals in building a college class.  They admit students who they believe will choose to attend if admitted and to craft a well-rounded class.  Note that it is a well rounded class, not a class of well-rounded students.

Yield is the term applied to the per cent of admitted students who choose to enroll.  Ivies and Tier One colleges have a yield near 100%. Some colleges have a yield as low as 25%.  The number of admits has risen and yield has declined as students apply to increasing numbers of colleges.  More applications for the same number of seats means more students both denied and admitted to retain a steady yield.

Here’s a look at some factors in building the well-rounded class.


  1. Increased admission of students living abroad
  2. Attracting students from all states or out of state for large state universities
  3. Minorities and under represented groups
  4. Gender.  Most colleges are 60% women so perhaps a guy might have a better chance


  1. Many students from the top of the applicant pool
  2. Students below the top of the applicant pool
  3. Intended major: filling seats in a new or under-subscribed major
  4. Recruiting women in male-dominated majors like engineering and men into nursing or education
  5. The rigor, challenge and academic risk-taking a prospect shows


  1. Legacies-applicants who have relatives who attended
  2. Recruits for music, sports
  3. Talent: concert musicians, published authors, science contestants, chess prodigies, research experience, celebrity kids
  4. Students who have overcome significant hurdles
  5. Applicant who surprised and delighted the reader beyond amazement

Priorities at a college can change from year to year.  No, we don’t know what they are and can’t predict what they will be next year.  Changing your application material or timing may not make any difference to the outcome.

Life is uncertain and this is just one, perhaps the first, roadblock that you will encounter.  Maturity is, in part, being able to live with uncertainty and using it to demonstrate your flexibility.  Grieve for the dis you’ve received and be happy that there are other choices that may prove to be more beneficial and fulfilling.

Let me show you how to maximize your chances of receiving a YES to your college applications.  stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679.

Who Wrote That Essay?

Essay Draft 9
Essay Draft 9

Its college application season and seniors are feeling the pressure.  Lots of home work, lots of social events and hours upon hours of filling out applications.    What looked like a once-and-done task of writing a 650 word essay for the Common Application then copying it onto the non-Common App forms turns out to be a much bigger effort.

Each college that has its own application asks questions that are different from the Common App or are phrased differently requiring the information or essay to take another tone.

Many applications, especially the Common Application have supplements that only appear after completing the app or in some cases, after the application has been received by the college.

The writing adds up quickly.  Some students write more than 20 short and long essays.

I’ve encountered some students who turn to their parents to write the all-important essay that will show a college just how wonderful, talented, valuable the student is. I’ve also run into a few parents who are convinced their essay will turn the tide in favor of admission when the student’s efforts are iffy.

STOP!  The admissions counselors and seasonal readers are very experienced.  It files-720612_640doesn’t take more than a paragraph for them to identify the writer as an adult.  If there is any doubt, the college can get the essay the student wrote for the ACT or SAT to compare with the application essay. They can also see if the supplemental essays are consistent.

Applications require students to affirm that the work submitted is completely theirs.  When the essay was written by someone else the student is branded as a liar and a cheat.  Is this what you want colleges and universities to know about you?

If you want constructive advice and feedback on you essays, make an appointment before you’re ready to submit your applications. stephanie@accessguidance.com; 610-212-6679.

Read more on submitting your application:   https://accessguidanceblog.com/2014/11/three-things-to-…you-click-submit




Common App Essay Prompts 2016

The folks at Common App have released the prompts for the coming application season along with some interesting  stats on frequency of use.

Among the more than 800,000 unique applicants who have submitted a Common App so far during the 2015-2016 application cycle, 47 percent have chosen to write about their background, identity, interest, or talent – making it the most frequently selected prompt; 22 percent have chosen to write about an accomplishment, 17 percent about a lesson or failure, 10 percent about a problem solved, and four percent about an idea challenged.


Essay Draft 9
Essay Draft 9far during the 2015-2016 application cycle, 47 percent have chosen to write about their background, identity, interest, or talent – making it the most frequently selected prompt; 22 percent have chosen to write about an accomplishment, 17 percent about a lesson or failure, 10 percent about a problem solved, and four percent about an idea challenged.

2016-2017 Essay Prompts
1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

The Common App goes live on August 1, 2016.

If you are a junior reading this post, your prompts will be different from these.  The last changes saw  2 prompts change entirely and the others were modified.  You can find prompts for other applications and private colleges on line.  The University of Chicago always has head-scratching topics to write about.

To write essays that stand out from the crowd, get individual help from Stephanie.           610-212-6679 or stephanie@accessguidance.com.  A great English essay may not be a good application essay.