Tag Archives: university

So you want to be a CS major – How to build a Strong high school narrative

Do you know what it takes to get into college as a Computer Science major? Join us online at 5:00pm (PT) on Wednesday, September 28 to learn what you can do to build a powerful narrative!

This FREE webinar is perfect for 9th – 11th graders and their families!

CLICK HERE to Get Your FREE Tickets Today!

 

About this event 

It’s no secret that Computer Science is one of the hottest (and hardest to get into!) majors, so you need a powerful narrative if you are interested in applying as a CS major. In our webinar, Insight Co-Founder Ajit Jain and Senior College Admissions Counselor Zach Pava will share their advice on

  • The college admissions landscapes for a Computer Science major
  • What you can do academically to stand out
  • Which criteria you should consider in selecting your extracurricular activities
  • How to build a powerful personal narrative in your college application
  • and much much more!

Seats are limited! Hurry to RSVP your FREE tickets today!

 

Looking forward to meeting you!

Team Insight

How to Write the “Why Major” or “Why College” Essays?

During the college admissions process, you may come across many supplement essays. The most challenging one is the “why” essay. Generally, these college essay prompt asks, “Why do you want to attend our school” or “why do you want to study this specific major?”

 

(Rather watch a video instead? Check out Senior College Admissions Counselor Zach’s video on How to Write the “Why Major” and “Why College” Essays!)

 

What Do College Admissions Officers Want to See in a “Why College” Essays?

It depends on the specific college or the specific program you are applying to. When you respond to the “why college” essay, you want to address the reasons that you’re drawn to that college. Essentially, you’d share what you find unique and different about that particular university.

 

Think of the “why college” essay like a love letter. There are thousands of colleges out there you can apply to, but what makes this college THE ONE? A good “why college” essay is based on in-depth research. You really have to do your homework! Don’t just jot down the first few things you see on the college’s website. Dig deep. What are some of the opportunities that this university offers that draw you in? How do you find yourself fitting perfectly into the campus culture? Why is this college the best fit for you academically or socially? What are some of your personal goals and values that can only be achieved at this school?

 

Just like any love letter, you want the reader to feel special. The why essay should not feel generic. The easiest way to check if your why essay is too general is to substitute the name. If you can replace “College A” with “College B” in your essay and it still reads fine, then you need to rewrite and be more specific.

 

What about a “Why Major” Essay?

The “why major” essay is specific to what you are hoping to accomplish or what career path you hope to be on in the future. Not every high school student knows exactly what they want to do. That’s perfectly normal. For those who are undecided or those who have several interests, be as clear as possible on what you are trying to achieve. What drives you to this set of majors? What do you hope to explore within this particular program?

 

For those who have a better idea of what they want to do, you’d want to research the resources that this major (or program) offers. What classes are available? Why do you find them intriguing? What research opportunities are offered? What facilities and labs will you be able to utilize? What professors would you study or research under? You want to demonstrate that you’ve really looked into this program, and only this major/program at this school can offer you the unique chance to achieve your goals.

 

How to Write a Good Why Essay?

Be specific! The more focused you are on expressing what attracts you, the better. The why essay is as much about you as it is about the school (or program or major). Don’t rely on samples or templates that are out there. You may want to talk to friends or alum who went to this college, but what they tell you to write might not make good content.

 

This really needs to be about you. Think about it from the admissions officer’s perspective. They are reviewing thousands and thousands of applications. You don’t want to sound like just any average joe. You don’t want your love letter to this school/program/major to sound generic. You want it to be unique. You want it to be authentic and specific. You want your own voice to come out. Most importantly, you want your why essay to supplement your personal statement.

 

A good why essay should provide another dimension to who you are. You shouldn’t repeat information that’s already in the activity section or your personal statement. Ultimately, a good why essay shares why this college is a good fit for you while allowing the college admissions officers to get to know more about you.

 

Sounds Great! How Do I Get Started?

One way to get started on your why essay is to ask – “What did you enjoy doing?” You want to reflect on what you’ve done thus far. Think back on your high school years and what you have accomplished so far. What are the ways you can continue excelling at the college level? How can this college help you grow?

 

For example, if you have been involved in certain charity work and you love it, look for opportunities on this college campus that will allow you to explore this. What are the ways this college or program will help you expand this experience? If you have started a particular research at the high school level, you will have access to more resources, better tools, and professors that can help you to further your research. It may lead to jobs and future career paths.

 

Another way is to visit the college. Check out research opportunities online. Walk around the campus. Join a virtual information session. Schedule informational interviews with alumni. Essentially, use all the possible resources to learn more about this college. This can help you convey why you are drawn to this school with detailed examples and reasons.

 

The key point to remember as you write your why essay: you want this college (or major) to do as much for you as you can for it.

Need professional guidance for your college essays? Schedule a personalized one-hour consultation with our College Admissions Counselor


Written by Zach Pava

This article is inspired by an interview by Insight Senior Counselor Zach Pava.

Zach has guided hundreds of students throughout the college admissions process. His extensive writing background includes essay contributions online and in print, a sports blog, screenplays, and film reviews. Contact Insight Education today to schedule an initial consultation with Zach. Read his full bio here.

Recommendation Letters: the Great vs. the Not-So-Good

Letters of recommendation can play a key role in the college admissions process. Many colleges, especially private universities, view their applicants holistically. They want to know who you are as a “whole person,” rather than focusing on only your academics or test scores. That’s why your college essays and your recommendation letters are important to college admissions offices. They share who you are, what your values are, and where you aspire to be.

 

In this article, we will share five sample letters: some stellar and some not so great. The first letter is from a Biology teacher, the second from an AP Chemistry teacher, the third from a mentor, the fourth from an AP Computer Science teacher, and the fifth from an AP English teacher. After each letter, we will also provide insights into what makes an amazing letter of recommendation and what pitfalls you should avoid.

 

Sample Recommendation Letter #1: Brian

Dear Office of Undergraduate Admissions,

I first met Brian in his freshman year of high school. He was a student in my ninth-grade biology class. From the beginning, he contributed to class discussions and always had a positive approach to new material. During our unit on plants, he did unassigned research on his own time away from school and approached me during open office hours to discuss his findings. I was always impressed with his initiative and enthusiasm for the subject.

Since that time, I have transitioned to teaching AP Biology, and I was fortune to have Brian in my class again during his junior year. He consistently excelled with labs and achieved consistently high marks throughout the year. He brings energy to every discussion. That spring, he began to tutor other students who needed support as well. His willingness to help his peers was admirable, especially during the busiest stretch of the year when he was preparing for multiple AP exams. Currently, he is helping me as a teaching assistant during his senior year, while maintaining a full course schedule and applying to college.

Last summer, Brian volunteered at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose. During his time there, he was able to shadow doctors and nurses and interact with patients. He regularly communicated questions to those with more experience and has already expressed interest in continuing to volunteer his time next summer before he heads off to college. His desire for knowledge and the care he shows to other people leaves no doubt that he has a wonderful future ahead, not only as a biology major in college, but also as a young man who will make valuable contributions to society.

Please reach out to me at rcarson@insight.education should you need more information.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Carson

Insights to this letter of recommendation

This is a great letter of recommendation from Mrs. Carson. From this recommendation letter, we can tell that she knows Brian well and has high opinions of him. Mrs. Carson shares specific anecdotes of Brian, showing that he made a powerful impression. She doesn’t describe Brian as “a good student;” she shares examples of his unassigned research and his willingness to help others.

You could argue that Mrs. Carson remembers Brian because he was her student for two years and later her teaching assistant. You wouldn’t be wrong. It’s important to whom you ask for recommendation letters. Your interactions and relationships with the recommenders are far more important than your grades in the class. From her letter of recommendation, you can tell Brian exhausted his resources to learn everything he could about biology. He asked Mrs. Carson for help in his independent research in ninth grade. He actively participated in her AP Biology class discussions. He devoted his time to become her teaching assistant. While Brian did all these activities to pursue his interest in biology, no doubt he made a strong impression for Mrs. Carson to take her time and energy to craft together a glowing recommendation letter.

 

It’s important to whom you ask for a recommendation letter. Your interactions and relationships with the recommenders are far more important than your grades in the class.

 

What does this recommendation letter tell the admissions office?

private colleges may require recommendation letters as part of the admissions process

The college admissions officers could have already seen Brian’s courses and his AP Biology test score. They may even know Brian is a strong student with an interest in biology. Ms. Carson’s recommendation letter confirms Brian’s enthusiasm for biology. In addition to his academic interests and grades, Ms. Carson shared that Brian loves to help others, even if he must squeeze time out of his busy schedule.

From her letter of recommendation, Ms. Carson paints a picture of an overachiever who is not only intellectually curious but also compassionate. Her belief that Brian will “make valuable contributions to society” really helps to add weight to his college application.

 

Sample Recommendation Letter #2: Catherine

Dear Admissions Committee,

I am writing this letter of recommendation in support of Catherine’s application for undergraduate admission in the chemistry program at Insight University.

I was Catherine’s teacher for AP Chemistry last year. She is a strong honors student, who received excellent grades on all classwork and exams. Catherine submits her work on time and gets along well with her classmates. Aside from getting an A+ in my class, Catherine also received a 5 on her AP Chemistry exam at the end of the year.

She is involved in a number of school clubs and summer research programs pertaining to Chemistry. Catherine’s dedication to her interest in the subject matter has impressed me, and I am confident that she will continue to demonstrate the same commitment in college. I look forward to seeing her future pursuit of her interests at your institution and offer my endorsement of her.

Sincerely,
Mr. Pauling

 

Insights to this letter of recommendation

Compared this letter to the first letter, the length is shorter, and the language is vague. We can tell that Catherine did really well in AP Chemistry, but her grade and AP scores can be easily found on her application. Mr. Pauling did not offer any specifics about Catherine’s clubs and summer research programs, which shows his lack of personal knowledge of Catherine.

However, this could be prevented had Catherine provided a resume when she asked for the letter of recommendation. School teachers work with hundreds of students per year. They may remember anecdotes of your behavior in their classes, but teachers will have a hard time recalling which specific summer research program you participated in. Thus, it’s a good idea to provide them with relevant details when you ask for the recommendation letters.

a resume or a list of your achievements can help your teachers with the letter of recommendation

 

It could be helpful for your recommender if you prepare a resume or a short list of your achievements.

 

 

What does this recommendation letter tell the college admissions office?

This letter is unlikely to add any positive value to Catherine’s application. Compared with her application, this recommendation letter arguably offers less information. We don’t even know the name of the school clubs Catherine was in.

A good letter of recommendation provides additional facets or dimensions of “you” in the college application. From this letter, we know Catherine was a good student. College admissions offices need more than that; they want to know your character traits and what your values are. It is one thing to learn your traits from your personal statement, but it speaks volumes when those same traits are observable by others around you as well.

 

Sample Recommendation Letter #3: Kyle

To whom it may concern,

I am writing this letter in support of Kyle. I have been Kyle’s tennis coach for the last two years at Insight High School and I look forward to this season, when he will be one of three co-captains on the varsity team.

Kyle only joined the tennis team during his sophomore year, and as such he had to catch up with peers who had been playing longer. However, Kyle led by example from the beginning. He was always on time and prepared for practice. Additionally, he was always willing to take constructive feedback. Despite a meticulous approach to developing his skills and being hard on himself after the occasional mistake, he has always remained approachable. He has excellent communication skills and has never shied away from a challenge.

Now a stronger player than he has ever been, teammates turn to his for support. This is especially true of younger teammates who want to challenge themselves by competing with those more advanced. As a mentor, Kyle has really hit his stride and showcased exceptional leadership ability. In fact, he even set up a private meeting with a teammate who was considering leaving the team after a poor performance. Kyle inspired his teammate and motivated her to continue. The only reason I know about this meeting is because the younger student who needed support told me how great Kyle has been in helping her through a tough time.

People gravitate to Kyle, and I think that will be evident as he continues to compete at the next level.

If you have further questions, you may contact me at (xxx) xxx-xxxx.

Regards,
Coach Roger

 

Insights to this recommendation letter

Unlike the previous three examples, this one is from a mentor. Depending on the college’s admissions requirement, you may need to find letters of recommendation outside of the classroom. You want to pick someone with whom you have a good rapport, work closely with, and have known for some time. For example, a mentor from your year-long volunteering experience or a manager from your part-time job.

Always double-check the college admissions requirement on letter of recommendation before you make your selection. Some high schools also have rules on who/when you can ask for recommendation letters, too. 

In this case, Coach Roger was Kyle’s tennis team coach for more than two years. In two simple examples, Coach Roger explained in detail what sets Kyle apart. Kyle is hardworking, disciplined, and motivating. We may not know what Kyle’s grades looked like or how challenging his academic curriculum was, but that doesn’t make Kyle any less of an appealing candidate. We admire his courage in the face of challenging times and his thoughtfulness when helping his teammates.

 

What does this recommendation letter tell the college admissions officers?

From Coach Roger’s letter, we can see who Kyle is beyond his grades and GPA. Kyle has the qualities that allow him to succeed in school, and more importantly, those qualities will help him excel in life. These qualities, also known as non-cognitive factors, are essential in holistic admissions. They are related to motivation, integrity, temperament, attitude, and interpersonal skills. College admissions officers seek out students who possess these non-cognitive factors because these students are likely to continue to thrive and grow.

 

Sample Recommendation Letter #4: Aaron

To whom it concerns,

This letter is for Aaron. I met him in August when he joined my AP Computer Science class. He previously took Java and has begun to demonstrate more interest in the field. Despite not having a long relationship with Aaron, he has been a good student this year and typically earns As and Bs on tests. He wants to get involved in more CS-related activities and recently took part in his first hackathon.

I told Aaron how competitive CS is, and we have discussed related fields such as data science. His goal is to work at a tech startup in the Bay Area. I think that with hard work and more focus on his chosen major, he will find success as an undergraduate student.

Aaron is a good kid with a bright future ahead of him.

Best,
Mrs. Turring

 

Insights to this letter of recommendation

building a genuine relationship is the best way to a strong recommendation letterMrs. Turring’s description of Aaron is generic. It lacks passion. The specific details she was able to share are information already listed in Aaron’s application, such as his grades and activities. In this case, Aaron could help himself by sharing why he wanted to learn Java or what his hackathon experience was. Strike up small talk with your teachers, even simple things like asking about their day and sharing something meaningful to you. This is not just about getting a good letter of recommendation; you’re learning to build an important skill, which is fostering relationships with people from different backgrounds and age groups.

Read more: Tips for Strong Letters of Recommendation

 

What does this recommendation letter tell the admissions office?

This recommendation letter tells colleges that Aaron is interested in CS, which is a very competitive major. If he is interested in a career path pertaining to computer science, we would expect more interactions with his AP Computer Science teacher. Actually, this letter causes a slight concern because Mrs. Turring thought Aaron needs “more focus on his chosen major.”

 

Sample Letter of Recommendation #5: Edie

Dear Admissions Office,

I proudly write on behalf of Edie and her ambition to attend your university. I am fortunate to have Edie as a student in our school’s AP English Language course, a two-year class tailored for the most creative and rhetorically gifted students on our campus. Though amongst the elite, Edie represents the best of the students I am honored to teach based on her intelligence, creativity, broad scope of talents and contributions to our school and community, and leadership. However, atop her catalog of attributes, Edie is one of the most kind, respectful, and outgoing students I have ever had in my twenty-seven years of teaching. I hope my following words of praise improve Edie’s opportunity for admittance.

Last year, Edie instantly proved her willingness to contribute to the classroom. Though many times exhausted from her litany of extracurricular demands or her taxing AP schedule, Edie arrived to class smiling and beyond any definition of simply participating in class. Her genuine positive energy cascaded throughout the classroom each day making everyone in the room smile, including me. Edie also shattered the expectations I had on every assignment whether academic or creative. To link with Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Edie creatively illustrated her own A Streetcar Named Life, using images and quotes encapsulating life’s challenges and inspirations. Her command of language equally impressed on both AP timed writings and other rhetorical tasks. Below is a brief excerpt from Edie’s own apocalyptic tale imitating the fragmented style of Cormac McCarthy after reading The Road.

Papa felt weak. He felt it overcome him like the shadows during Lights Out, mother says. So papa left. into the dark. Mother says papa left us fighting the dark alone. I don’t think we should fight the dark. The dark is my best friend the only friend I have ever known. The dark lets me feel, lets me feel weak.

People gravitate to Kyle, and I think that will be evident as he continues to compete at the next level.

Yet, Edie’s most impressive effort was her year-long independent study project. For the TAG curriculum, students are encouraged to choose a passion of theirs to explore, create, and practice beyond the traditional bounds of a research paper. Edie chose human experiences. Of her eight installments, Edie proved the elasticity of her mind and heart. She wrote random notes of kindness to strangers, friends, family, and even our entire class. She paid it forward in our community, wrote beautiful, humanistic poetry, conquered a few of her fears, and provided insight on many of life’s most inspirational quotes. I particularly liked how one of her favorite quotes is also mine by Bruce Lee. Do not pray for an easy life; pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.

Without reciting Edie’s entire resume, her accomplishments and leadership are many. With all these achievements, you might expect an overzealous, arrogant student to walk through your doors. Edie is not. she smiles more than anyone and exudes the utmost respect for everyone in the room. It is refreshing to be around such a talented and accomplished student who also has such a great sense of humor and modesty. I offer Edie my highest recommendation as she is a student for even adults to emulate. She works so hard on every assignment that I almost feel guilty assigning it. Almost.

There are many more examples and anecdotes of Edie’s efforts. If what I stated above served not as acknowledgment enough, I hope my own daughter becomes the same type of student and person Edie represents. I know she will make an excellent contribution to your campus and lives. She has mine. If there is anything additional I can offer to help Edie’s opportunity, please do not hesitate to request.

With Sincerity,
Edward Insight

 

Insights to this letter of recommendation

While Mr. Edward Insight focused his entire letter on Edie’s performance in his class, this letter is significantly different from Catherine’s recommendation letter. Mr. Insight phrased his letter of recommendation carefully to deliver his respect for Edie. From the first paragraph, we already learn that he thought of Edie as the best of the best because of her academic performance and her characteristics. Mr. Insight listed many anecdotes to support his view of Edie, and he even shared a piece of her work for the college admissions office to experience her creative writing.

From this recommendation letter, you can almost picture what Edie looks like, and she sounds like a very charming, open-minded, and compassionate person. That’s what makes this so powerful. A well-written letter of recommendation makes the student come to life for the college admissions officers.

 

What does this recommendation letter tell the college admissions office?

This recommendation letter shouts, “Pick her!” It makes us want to meet Edie and get to know her more. This is the kind of letter you want to have: specific, passionate, and well-crafted. Mr. Insight hopes for the best for Edie, and he wants to help her achieve her dream. This is not a letter that you can write in five minutes or half an hour. He spent the time choosing his words and examples to make a strong impression on the college admissions officers.

 

Final Thoughts

Recommendation letters can make or break a college admissions decision. It’s important whom you ask and how you ask. At Insight, our counselors encourage and help students build relationships with their teachers. Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Don’t stress! We are here to help. Schedule your 1-hour personalized college planning session with an Insight Counselor today!

 

Best of Luck,

Team Insight

College Facts Friday: Lehigh University

It’s another #CollegeFactsFriday! This week, we are heading to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to learn more about Lehigh University.

 

 

 1. Lehigh University’s Taylor Stadium was the third concrete stadium in the United States. It was built in 1914. The final game at the Taylor Stadium was on a frigid day where the temperature was in the mid-20s and the wind chill factor was somewhere between minus-10 and minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit.

 2. Their former mascot was the Engineers. Since 1995, Lehigh’s teams are officially known as the Mountain Hawks.

 3. The Rivalry between Lehigh University and Lafayette College went as far back as 1884.

 4. An interesting tradition until the 70s, freshmen wore “dinks,” which were small brown hats with their class years, from the beginning of fall to the first football game with Lafeyette.

 5. Hate taking the stairs? Thanks to Lehigh alumnus, Jesse W. Reno, we now have escalators. He was Class of 1883.

 6. For those of you from the Bay Area, the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed by two Lehigh alumni, Howard McClintic and Charles Marshall.

 7. The week before the first Lehigh-Lafeyette Rivalry game, Lehigh’s Marching 97 band would make a campus tour, called the Eco Flame. During Eco Flame, the marching band storms into different classrooms while playing its spirit tunes in drum cadence.

 8. One of the oldest traditions of Lehigh’s Spirit Week is their annual Turkey Trot. Students would dress up to join this 2.6-mile running and fun walk through campus.

 9. After the death of Lehigh’s founder, businessman Asa Packer, Founder’s Weekend has become an annual tradition. This weekend celebration includes a lawn party, tailgate, fun run, and more!

 10. Want to learn more about Lehigh University? Check out their social media (Twitter @LehighU, Instagram @LehighU, TikTok @lehighadmissions)

 

What are College Admissions Officers Looking for?

insight into college admissions interview

An Interview with Santa Clara University’s Claire Kreeft, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions

I conducted an interview via email with Ms. Claire Kreeft, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission at Santa Clara University (SCU).  Ms. Kreeft provides invaluable insights into the admissions process at SCU.

 

Please note that this interview was conducted shortly before SCU announced that it will be going test-optional for the next two years (meaning SAT or ACT scores will not be required to apply to SCU for the next two years), so please keep that in mind when you are digesting Ms. Kreeft’s responses.

 

Insight counselor Jason:  What are the most important factors in a student’s application?  Why?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  At Santa Clara University we have a holistic application review process. What we mean by that is that we consider all parts of the application to paint a larger picture for each student. We do not have a minimum GPA or test scores (although those are still important factors in the application), so we balance those hard data points with the student’s story they share with us through the personal statement, involvement, and supplemental questions.

The different parts of the application are indicators of different things and are thus all-important. GPA, test scores, and transcript help us determine if the student is academically ready for SCU. The personal statement, extracurriculars, and service work help us determine if a student would be a good fit for our campus and if we can support what that student wants to do.

That being said, if a student is well below the average in both GPA and test scores, it is tough to make a case for a positive admission decision. 

 

Jason: What sets accepted applicants apart from the rest of the pack?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  A student that can articulate what they want to do, how they have practiced this so far, and why they want to continue it on my campus stands out. What makes an applicant memorable is when they can show us how they have maximized their opportunities so far and how they plan to take advantage of what we offer at SCU, it is not one magic factor like the right number of APs. At one high school taking 10 APs before you graduate may be rare, whereas at another high school it may be the norm.

What we want to see is how a student pursues their interests and passions.

If you want to be an engineer, what projects or clubs have you invested yourself in to further explore this? If you want to partake in undergraduate research, have you looked into what ongoing projects we have and if professors on our campus are engaged in your topics of interest? 

 

Jason:  What is the best advice you could give to prospective applicants?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  The best advice I can give to prospective applicants is to think about your non-negotiables.

What will you need on a college campus to feel comfortable and successful? Size and location are two of the most impactful features of a college campus that the individual student cannot change, so think carefully about the type of environment you want when crafting your list of schools to apply to.

When you have that list, be sure to communicate to those colleges why they are on your list. Don’t just regurgitate the school’s mission statement, be intentional and specific. I can tell pretty quickly when reading a student’s application if they are truly considering SCU or if we were just another college to apply to. 

 

college application advice from undergrad admissions office

 

Jason:  Other than grades and standardized test scores, what is the most important part of the application?  Why?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  In holistic admissions, this is a difficult question to answer (and one that doesn’t really have one answer), because the whole point is that the elements of the application complement each other to give depth to a student.

One factor that is often overlooked, but is very important, is rigor (or strength of schedule). When we see your high school transcript we see what your choices were for classes. Especially in a college landscape with increasing test-optional application routes, a student still needs to demonstrate the strength of their academic career. Rigor becomes especially important for students seeking admission to our more specialized programs in Business and Engineering.

Just taking a standard college prep course load will not be enough. Also, a student is more than just the things they study and the tests they took. Use the story part of your application (essay, involvement, supplements) to give life to your file. 

 

 Jason:  How much does an applicant’s choice of major factor into whether they are accepted or not?  Are there certain majors that affect admissions decisions more than others, and if so, which majors?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  At Santa Clara University, it is actually the choice of school that matters more than the choice of major when it comes to selectivity. When you apply to SCU, you will choose to apply to the College of Arts and Sciences (about 55% of the undergraduate population), the Leavey School of Business (about 30% of the undergraduate population), or the School of Engineering (about 15% of the undergraduate population).

While it is the same application process for each of the three schools, the way we read the applications is a bit different. With our more specialized (and smaller) programs of Business and Engineering, we take a closer look at a student’s academic history in certain areas.

For Business that would be in math, specifically looking for calculus. For Engineering that would be math and science, specifically looking for calculus and physics. The one major that has the greatest impact on an application, and is our most selective, is Computer Science in the School of Engineering. Students admitted to this major tend to have our highest average GPAs/test scores as well as having demonstrated a prior interest in and commitment to this field.

 

 Jason:  What advice can you offer regarding application essays?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  The biggest piece of advice I offer students regarding application essays is to centralize your experiences in your own voice.

No matter what the prompt says, an admission office is trying to learn more about who you are and how you will be in their community.

I have read some beautiful essays about how influential a student’s grandmother has been in their life, and then by the end of the essay I want to admit the grandmother and I have learned very little about the student. My first big tip is this: after you write your essay, highlight every sentence that has to do with you (the student) making a decision, reacting to experience, learning a lesson, etc. If this isn’t at least 50% of your essay you need to rewrite it.

My second tip is this: have a few people close to you read over and give you feedback on your essay.

Sometimes we think we know how we sound, but having a fresh set of eyes review your work can make sure you communicate the message and story that you intend to. 

Another important thing to consider, use the additional information section to give more context! This is an optional section in the common application that is essentially bonus free words. There is no prompt; it is not an additional essay. It is simply space for a student to give us more context. If you have something you need to explain, like a poor grade in a class or a personal situation that has impacted your high school career, this is the place to tell us about it. Save your personal statement for the story of who you are and what you care about.

 


Written by Jason Katz

This interview article was conducted and written by Insight Counselor Jason Katz.

Jason has helped hundreds of students gain admission to their best-fit universities. In addition, he wrote more than 170 college admissions/college life columns for the Palo Alto Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News.

How to find your college match if you have learning challenges

Finding Your College Match If You Have Learning Challenges

Have you ever wondered how to find a good college match if you have learning challenges?  In order to answer that question and provide insight, I conducted interviews via email and phone with Gabrielle E. Miller, Ed.D., Assistant Vice Provost, Learning Services and Executive Director of the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center at the University of Arizona and Julie Yindra, Director of Student Access Services at Hofstra University.  Both of these women are experts in the field of university services for students with learning challenges at two of the most highly rated and respected university programs for students with learning challenges.  Dr. Miller and Ms. Yindra provide invaluable insights into how to choose a college if you have learning challenges and offer details about their university’s programs for students with learning challenges.

 

What are some tips to find a good college match for students with learning challenges? 

Dr. Miller:  With thousands of colleges to choose from, finding the right fit can feel like an overwhelming task, especially if you don’t know where to start or what to ask. That’s why, even before diving into the college search process, I recommend that students with learning challenges spend some time asking themselves some questions to ensure they have a good sense of what they will need from a college.

As students reflect on their past educational experiences, they might start by asking themselves questions like: What types of academic support and adjustments have I found to be helpful thus far? Do I need extra test time, tutoring, study apps, regular meetings with an advisor? Do my parents or teachers have anything else to add? Write down the responses and start organizing them making special note of those things which are most important to you. Also, ask yourself about the type of college experience you would like to have. For example: Do I want to attend a school near my family or go out-of-state? Do I want to attend a school specifically for students with LDs or would I be more comfortable at a traditional college?

This self-reflection exercise will help form the basis of an individualized checklist that you can use to narrow down your selection and then take to colleges to make sure that their level of support matches up with your unique needs.

After having asked themselves some tough questions, the next step I recommend is for students to turn around and start asking probing questions of the colleges they are considering. These days, a lot of information can be gathered quickly online or with the help of college guidebooks. Other insightful details you’ll need to contact the colleges to get. You can use a spreadsheet or notebook to keep your findings organized.

knowing your needs and asking universities the right questions can help

Here are some additional questions you might find useful while remembering to adapt them to your personal circumstances.

        • How often do students meet with support staff or tutors?
        • Are the staff and tutors specifically trained or experienced in working with students with learning and attention challenges?
        • What percentage of students graduate within 6 years?
        • How many students attend this school?
        • What kind of sports and extracurricular activities are available?
        • Is support available for online classes?
        • How long has the school or support program been around?
        • What degrees does the school offer?
        • Is the school well known or ranked for my major?
        • How do you help students as they prepare to transition into the workplace or graduate school?
        • What is the average starting salary of recent graduates?
        • What is the surrounding community like?
        • Can I come and tour the campus and different programs?
        • Can I talk to students enrolled in the program or alumni to get their perspective?

Ms. Yindra:  Go visit the campus, ask to meet students, ask to meet with the office that provides accommodations—the manner in which they offer accommodations, and how, makes a big difference.  If they begrudgingly hand you a form to fill out or if they are truly interested in helping and getting to know you, makes a big difference. 

Many communities have private K-12 schools for students with learning challenges.  Take advantage of these schools as resources and ask them where they’re sending their students to college.

In addition to visiting campuses, use the Click Test. 

The Click Test is going on a university’s website and figuring out how many clicks it takes to get to the learning challenges part of the school’s website.  This can be very telling.  Is the learning challenges page of the website front and center or does it take many clicks to find it?

how many click does it take you to the information you need

Also, search for colleges that are looking for students with learning challenges.  Reach out to someone who works in the learning challenges program and they should get back to you.  The speed with which they get back to you can also be very telling.

What specifically does the SALT Center offer for students with learning challenges?

Dr. Miller:  The SALT Center offers a suite of comprehensive services designed to maximize student engagement and success at the University of Arizona.

For most of our students, this success grows out of a close relationship with their specific Student Support Specialist, an experienced professional that meets with them every week to implement an individualized learning plan, help them explore study strategies, stay organized, and navigate the complex college environment.

Students also benefit from our robust array of tutoring services. With around 100 peer tutors on staff, we’re able to offer one-on-one and small group tutoring appointments for almost any undergraduate class at convenient times throughout the week. Students can also visit our drop-in tutoring labs for help with most reading, writing, math, science, and business courses. Our CRLA certified tutors are specifically trained to help students with learning and attention challenges and endeavor to create a learning environment that facilitates independent and lifelong learning.

know what support the university can offer you

Another popular service that we offer is our educational technology support. Students can consult with a student Tech Coach or the Educational Technology Coordinator for help with a specific tech concern or explore different apps and tech tools to get better organized or study more effectively.

For students experiencing significant emotional health concerns, we’re able to offer our in-house psychological services. Generally, our psychological team assists with issues related to anxiety, depression, stress, grief and loss, substance abuse, sleep disorders, and managing life in college. These confidential meetings with qualified staff provide students with a clinical assessment, treatment plan, additional supportive strategies, and if deemed necessary, referral for outside resources.

Throughout the semester we also put on a variety of workshops designed to give students the opportunity to learn new skills and academic strategies, provide a better understanding of their learning challenges, and explore ways to adapt learning strategies to best suit their individual learning styles.

In addition to our core offerings, students are also provided with various opportunities to develop their social and leadership skills in both formal and informal settings. These include regular outings with a member of the university faculty, career readiness events provided with assistance from SALT Center alumni, small-group social skills workshops for students needing additional focused support, and opportunities for employment as a SALT Center Ambassador, Peer Tutor or Tech Coach.

What specifically does the Program for Academic Learning Skills (PALS) offer for students with learning challenges?

Ms. Yindra:  PALS is a comprehensive fee-based program.  PALS pairs students with a Learning Specialist.  Students have regular one on one meetings with their Learning Specialist to discuss better ways to write a paper, better ways to study for a test, etc.  They really do a deep dive into the student and get to know the student well.  Learning Specialists do not necessarily tutor in a particular subject per se, but it is the job of the Learning Specialist to make sure the student gets connected with a tutor from whatever particular subject the student is struggling with.  The Learning Specialist helps with learning skills and acts as the student’s caseworker and helps them coordinate all of their support team.  Learning Specialists help students organize and manage their daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules, etc.

What sets the SALT Center apart from other universities’ support services for students with learning challenges?

Dr. Miller:  Since our founding in 1980, our approach has been widely recognized as one of the most effective in helping undergraduates thrive in higher education. I feel that much of this success is a result of our unique position as one of the world’s only comprehensive academic support programs housed within a top tier research university.

As an integral part of the university community, we have long been at the forefront of developing and pioneering research-informed interventions. We have strong national and international research partnerships and a history of collaborating with researchers from around the globe. Bartlett Labs, our in-house research division, orchestrates these efforts and strives to ensure that our students are benefitting from the resulting discoveries.

As part of our commitment to providing students with the highest quality support, we also make it a priority to invest heavily in the professional development and continuing education of our staff. We work closely with our campus community of educational and wellness practitioners to provide relevant training and opportunities for collaboration and exchange. Additionally, we are continually evaluating our approach and processes adjusting them to ensure that we are not only in compliance with best practices but setting a new standard for excellence.

Lessons gleaned from decades of LD research inform everything we do all the way down to the design and construction of our award-winning, 21,000 square ft., building. Our center was custom built to meet the unique needs of our staff and students and integrates the latest in educational technology systems, collaborative work areas, and modular learning spaces spread over three different levels.

SALT is a program by university of arizona

Students at the SALT Center also have the benefit of attending a university filled with some of education’s brightest minds from across the academic spectrum. Most professors are keenly aware of our efforts and are eager to learn how they can enhance their instruction to better work with students who learn differently. To amplify our impact and raise awareness of our mission, we regularly meet with instructors and advisors from across campus, holding training and forging partnerships that open doors for our students to be better understood and valued as important members of the learning community.

The last thing that I would say sets our program apart is the degree to which we partner with students to foster their self-awareness, confidence, resilience, and growth.

Many of our students view the SALT Center as their second home and spend several hours a week with us where they are taught to embrace their hardships and learn from their failures. A growth mindset is at the heart of everything we do, and we often hear from alumni that their time at the SALT Center altered the trajectory of their lives giving them the self-confidence and attitude to thrive as adults.

Click Here to Learn More About SALT.

What sets PALS apart from other universities’ support services for students with learning challenges?

Ms. Yindra:  The way that PALS is structured—it is a very long-term commitment.  Many students meet with their Learning Specialist all four years, while others attend regular meetings for the first year and then feel confident enough to tackle the rest of college on their own. 

However, PALS is always there for students with learning challenges.  When you’re a junior or senior and applying for an internship or a graduate program, PALS Learning Specialists will write recommendations for students, etc.

Another thing that sets PALS apart is that it is embedded in the campus community at Hofstra, where we communicate and collaborate across all departments at Hofstra.  The Learning Specialist is not only in close communication with the student but also with tutors and all across campus.  This sets PALS apart from other programs.  Our PALS program generates an 85% success rate in terms of freshman to sophomore year retention.  The graduation rate of students in the PALS program is the same as, or sometimes slightly higher than, the graduation rate of the general population at Hofstra.

Click Here to Learn More About PALS.


Written by Jason Katz

This interview article was conducted and written by Insight Counselor Jason Katz.

Jason has helped hundreds of students gain admission to their best-fit universities. In addition, he wrote more than 170 college admissions/college life columns for the Palo Alto Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News.