Category Archives: College Search

Student Athletes

Pixabay Swimming PoolStudent Athletes need to be strategic when they are applying to College. If you can afford to hire a counselor who has counseled several student athletes or specializes in student athletes, you may find that is money well spent. On the other hand, sometimes Counselors who specialize in student athletes may be weak in the many other facets of College Admissions. The best way to assess a Counselor is to ask other clients about their experience. In the meantime, here are some articles addressing the issues specific to student athletes:

http://www.nacacnet.org/research/PublicationsResources/Marketplace/student/Pages/GetInTheGame.aspx

http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/professors-guide/2010/03/24/8-tips-for-the-student-athlete

http://college.usatoday.com/2011/11/21/seven-tips-to-help-student-athletes-improve-their-game-grades-and-relationships/

https://www.recruitingrealities.com/2012/10/10-success-tips-for-the-student-athlete/

https://exactsports.com/blog/academics-athletes-tips-on-how-to-succeed-in-college/2011/04/28/

http://www.athleticaid.com/Parents.html

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Prepare for College – Shortcut

While I have tried hard to not overwhelm you, I know that if you are short on time, sometimes you just want a short checklist to help you prepare for College. I have resisted making a checklist, because it’s hard to sum up a complex process with a short list. Having said that, there are many resources that have prepared a list or brief article about the steps necessary to be prepared for College. Why should I re-create the wheel? Here are just a few:

http://www.nacacnet.org/studentinfo/articles/Pages/Preparing-for-College-Junior-Checklist.aspx

http://www.nacacnet.org/studentinfo/articles/Pages/Preparing-for-College-Senior-Checklist.aspx

https://www.petersons.com/college-search/planning-list-students-parents.aspx

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2013/09/23/create-a-to-do-list-for-your-college-search

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/make-a-plan

http://www.act.org/content/act/en/education-and-career-planning/college-planning.html

https://www.nasafcu.com/pdf/CollegePrepChecklist.pdf

https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/college-prep-checklist.pdf

http://www.collegeprep101.com/checklists.html

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Finding Colleges with Generous Financial and/or Merit Money

If money is an important variable in your College search and you have read Choosing Where to Apply Based On Your Financial Situation, you know that a) a strong academic resume is important b) the the amount of financial and merit aid can vary widely by school, particularly whether or not they are a highly selective College and c) that you should read this post to figure out how to find Colleges with generous aid.

Is it a College or University?

Elite Colleges Offer Generous Financial Aid

Type in the words “Colleges with Generous Financial Aid” or “Colleges with Generous Merit Aid” and you will find many websites to help you in your search. Many websites intended to help you with your College Search will include a searchable database of Colleges, where you can specify all sorts of criteria, whether it’s location, weather, specific course offerings, housing, or even whether a Freshman can have a car on campus. While basic criteria will likely be the same across these websites, you may find that some of the more unique search criteria will vary widely, so it’s worth your time to spend a few minutes comparing criteria to find the best search database for your needs.

While I have not spent a lot of time comparing these websites, I believe a good College Search database can be found on College Boards’s website. Once you are on College Board’s website, click on College Search in the main menu. Here you can specify criteria that is important to you, including Paying, which allows you specify schools that meet a large percentage of financial aid of their students, the tuition, and other variables that will affect your bottom line. If you want to save your search, you can create a log-in account. If you will be soon or have already taken the PSAT, SAT or Subject Tests, you will already have a College Board log-in account.

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Share Your Experience

If you have found a College Search database you really like, please comment on this post and indicate why.

 

 

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Choosing Where to Apply Based On Your Financial Situation

If money is in shortage in your household, you need to be strategic on where you choose to apply to College. That’s a simple sentence for a complex process, but I will break it down.

Pixabay JugglingOne thing that you may have had drilled into your head (certainly something I drilled into my kids’ heads) is that you need to get good grades in High School so you can go to a good College. This may be a double-edged sword, if your family can’t afford to pay for your College education, which is why you must consider your financial situation. I will repeat once again, DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN to avoid paying for College with student loans. Those payments will haunt you for YEARS after you graduate and may reek havoc with your credit rating. Students loans now exceed credit card debt in the US, and those loans have an incredibly high default rate, meaning a lot of students are unable to pay back their loans, which is very stressful and hurts their credit rating. A bad credit rating makes it hard to buy your first home or maybe even get a job, as many businesses are now checking applicants’ credit ratings. The double-edged sword is that DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU APPLY, good grades may qualify you for more financial aid and more merit money, but then again, it might qualify you for more financial aid but no merit money, or more merit money, but little-to-no financial aid. In this post, I refer to highly selective Colleges, which is a generic term. When I say highly selective, I mean Colleges who generally accept less than 15% of it’s applicants.

Colleges with Large Endowments

Colleges with Large Endowments

  1. Financial Aid – highly selective Colleges
    1. Highly selective Colleges have large endowments which often mean more generous financial aid.  Many selective Colleges will also emphasize that they consider their applicants “need-blind”. This means that while your application goes to the Admissions Office for consideration, your financial forms are sent to the College’s financial aid office, so that Admissions can decide whether to admit you regardless of your financial need. Here’s the catch – those highly selective Colleges are extremely hard to get into – better grades and test scores help your case, but even exceptional students who apply to a highly selective college have a low chance of acceptance.
      1. The Colleges with Large Endowments spreadsheet illustrates how large endowments often mean not only that more students qualify for financial aid (for example, Stanford University states that most students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year will likely qualify for free tuition), but also that all or most of your financial need will be met. Note that the spreadsheet is ranked in the order of the Endowment Per Student, because large universities may have substantial endowments that don’t add up to much, if you compare the size of the endowment to the number of students. My methodology for finding these Colleges means there may be other Colleges with a large endowment per student that is not included in this spreadsheet.
      2. The consequence of both financial and merit money is that a) some private Colleges may cost you less than public Colleges and b) many students with financial need AND good grades and test scores apply to highly selective Colleges. While it may be hard to get in, if you do get in, you are in a very good financial position. But you have fierce competition.
  2. Financial Aid – less selective Colleges
    1. Pixabay Gold Bars

      Some Colleges Run Out of Financial Aid Money

      Colleges with less money in their coffers often can’t afford to meet all of a student’s financial need; they often make up the difference with student loans.

    2. Their standards for who qualifies for financial aid are often more stringent than more selective Colleges.
    3. This is why it is important to apply as early as you are ready, because as Colleges use up their financial aid budget, they will be less generous with their financial aid. The early bird is more likely to get the worm!
  3. Merit Money – highly Selective Colleges
    Good grades and test scores often mean more merit money, but that is often not the case at highly selective colleges. Merit money is generally used by Colleges to woo exceptional applicants. But if you are a highly selective/desirable College such as Princeton, Yale or Columbia, for example, you don’t need to woo those applicants – they come to you in great numbers. That’s why you will see many selective Colleges offer little to no merit money.
  4. Merit Money – less selective Colleges
    This is where you can really make an impact on the amount of tuition you pay. All students should be considering a wide-range of Colleges, in terms of selectivity. The so-called “Safety” “Target” and “Reach” schools. If you have a strong academic resume, some of those schools will likely be generous in their merit money. They are wooing you to increase their perceived selectivity. How do you find those schools? Check out the post Finding Colleges with Generous Financial and/or Merit Money.
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Summarizing Important Variables

Defining and then summarizing important variables is a great tool for comparing options. In the College search, this process begins with deciding what should be included on the list of important variables to compare, but is refined as you realize you are willing to compromise when a College comes short on one of your variables but remains on the potentials list. Here is an example:

As you compare Colleges, you realize that a College you really like doesn’t offer both degrees you are interested in pursuing. Attending this College would mean either passing on one of those degrees or possibly lengthening your time in College, as you have to earn the degrees from two different Colleges. On the other hand, the College you really like has a strong music program and has both intramural and club swimming. The other Colleges that offer both degrees either don’t have much of a music program or don’t offer club swimming. You decide to leave that College on your potentials list, which leaves you pondering what is most important to you. If the College that doesn’t have a double degree isn’t eliminated, are there other Colleges you should re-consider, that you eliminated because they don’t offer the double degree? Does not having a strong music and swimming program a deal breaker?

Pixabay Spreadsheet

Breakdown of Important Variables

Here is a sample Breakdown of Important Variables Whenever possible, I try to make these breakdowns in Spreadsheet format, to make them both more sortable and for ease of comparison. But sometimes a spreadsheet won’t do, as in this case. Here is an explanation of what made it onto this sample breakdown.

  • The first four items all have to do with money:
  1. Tuition, Room & Board
  2. Scholarships
  3. Graduation Rate
  4. AP Credit

The first 2 items have to do with how much the College costs on an annual basis, the next 2 items are identifying how long you might attend the College. Notes are included about guaranteed housing or minimal required years on campus, in case how long you can/must stay on campus is an important variable for you. Knowing how many years you may be staying on campus can be important, because room and board may be less or more expensive off campus. If it’s difficult to graduate in 4 years and/or you are receiving very little AP credit, then you will likely spend more time on campus getting your degree, which increases the amount of tuition you will pay.

  • Campus Size

You may decide either the physical size of a campus, number of enrolled students and/or average class size is an important consideration for you. The person who made this breakdown was concerned mainly about the average class size, but wanted to consider the number of students, because even in a large school with small classes, the campus dynamic usually changes when there are many students on campus. They also wanted to consider whether graduate students were on campus, because that might mean graduate student teachers, less research opportunities for undergraduate students or possibly access to graduate level classes as an undergraduate. They chose to add campus size, because they felt it would be a consideration if the campus was unusually large, which might mean long walks to get to some classes, or unusually dense, in terms of the number of students compared to the campus size. In this case, there was one College that was unusually dense and another College that was unusually large. This might not be an important variable, but it may become one if it varies widely from the norm. I suggest looking not merely at average class size, but also how many classes have less than 20 students, more than 50 students, etc. You may choose to not list all of that information in this Breakdown, but you would add a comment if a College was unusual in the way the Class Size broke down.

  • Activities

The last 3 items have to do with activities that are important to the prospective student. Note that these items are not listed as a yes or no. The activities summary include factors the student has discovered that are relevant to their particular situation. For example, this student is interested in performing in a College Orchestra. They’ve learned that some Colleges give priority to music majors, which is important if this student is not planning on being a music major but hopes to play in the Orchestra.

Note that none of the items in this Sample Breakdown include any emotional/gut feedback. That information is compared separately. This breakdown is a logical summary to help you be practical about your potential Colleges. If the student fell in love with a College that did not show favorably in this Sample Breakdown, they will have to spend time either a) justifying why this College should remain on the potential College list, b) reconsidering what are the most important variables, or c) eliminating this College from the potential list.

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Be a Strategic College Applicant

After deciding WHERE to apply, a strategic College applicant must decide WHEN and HOW to apply to your potential Colleges.

Deadlines & Timelines helps you track what needs to happen before you can apply as well as follow deadlines. Early Decision, Early Action, Regular Decision, Rolling Admission and Restrictive Early Action help you determine the pros and cons of each application plan and identify which application plan may be best for your situation.

Pixabay Spreadsheet

Analysis of Application Plans Acceptance Rates

But that is a lot of information, so you need to create tools to help you evaluate how/when you will apply to each potential College – you need to be a Strategic College Applicant. For example, make a spreadsheet that breaks down acceptance rates by Application Plan for each of your potential Colleges. The spreadsheet will quickly help you identify clear advantages and disadvantages, in terms of acceptance rates.

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Share Your Experience

Please leave a comment and share how you made your decision on WHEN and HOW to apply to your potential Colleges.

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College Criteria

If you are working with a College Counselor, they will guide you through the process of searching for Colleges, which will include creating a list of College criteria, to help you narrow the 4,000+  Colleges to a shortened list of Potentials, which are you best match Colleges.

Pixabay Magnifying GlassMaybe you are ahead of the game and are thinking about Colleges before you meet with a College Counselor, or you won’t be hiring a College Counselor or you/your parents want to visit some Colleges while on vacation the summer after Freshman year of High School. Where to begin? I believe one of the most overwhelming aspects of the College Application Process is the College Search. For more advice on the early College Search, see Setting Realistic Expectations with Limited Knowledge – The Early Search and Choosing Where to Apply Based On Your Financial Situation.

Pixabay Spreadsheet

General College Criteria

A good place to start is to consider General College Criteria that is important to you. This sheet can get you started in thinking about what matters and what doesn’t. Do you have other ideas for what should be added to this list? Please leave a reply.

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Share Your Experience

Did you make a great spreadsheet with your College Criteria? If you found a creative variable to consider, please share it by leaving a Comment.

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Do I Fit the Adjusted Student Profile?

Pixabay A Different BirdAs you look at Colleges’ stats, you should begin to recognize variations from the norm. These variations are important in understanding both the nuances/personality of that College and how those nuances might affect your chances of being admitted. Once you know these nuances, you can assess how you feel about them and determine if you fit the typical student profile, after adjusting for something that does or does not apply to you (varsity athlete, or first generation to attend College, for example). Here are some examples.

Student Athletes – Chances of Being Admitted
Are you looking primarily at smaller, Division 3 private Colleges? Maybe you’ve checked out the 6 Colleges you are interested in, and noticed that typically 7-15% of males and 3-10% of females at those Colleges are varsity athletes. But then you notice that nearly 30% of a particular College’s male students are varsity athletes. It would be a good idea to determine why there are so many male student athletes at this College, and to adjust the typically admitted student profile to adjust for male athletes only (if you are a male athlete) or non-male athletes only (if you are not a male athlete), to get a better sense of your chances of being accepted at that College. Admissions Offices may have different Admissions standards, depending on whether you fit into a particular category. This will likely require asking current or recent students about their understanding of the reasons for the variation from the norm, as well as a frank discussion with an Admissions Officer, as Colleges don’t readily publish this sort of information.

Pixabay Swimming PoolStudent Athletes – Nuances
I found this example to be very interesting. The Claremont Colleges are a Consortium of 5 Colleges. The Consortium groups their varsity athletes onto combined teams. One team is comprised of students from Harvey Mudd (one of the country’s top math, science and engineering undergraduate Colleges), Scripps (an all womens’ College) and Claremont McKenna. The other team is comprised of students from Pomona and Pitzer. Here is a breakdown of the percentage of student athletes from the Harvey Mudd, Scripps and Claremont McKenna team:

COLLEGE % Male Athletes % Female Athletes
Harvey Mudd 16% 13%
Scripps 0% 15%
Claremont McKenna 40% 37%

One thing that makes these variations in athletics participation even more remarkable is that Claremont McKenna has 34% and 62% more undergraduate students than Scripps and Harvey Mudd, respectively. As I asked about these significant variations in varsity student participation, I learned some important information. Harvey Mudd, typically a very technical school, tends to have less athletically-orientated students (shall I say nerds?). Scripps, being an all womens College, has no male athletes and for some reason has less female athletes. So Claremont McKenna fills out the team with a lot of student athletes. That leads to the question, do more athletes apply to Claremont McKenna because they want to be a student athlete and/or to socialize with other athletes, or because they believe (or in fact are) more likely to be accepted into Claremont McKenna? Either way, I would certainly be considering whether my being or not being an athlete at one of these Claremont Colleges impacts my chances of Admission. But these athlete stats might also tell you something about these College’s atmosphere. Whether accurate or not, I’ve been told Claremont McKenna is more of a jocks College, and Harvey Mudd is more of a non-jocks/nerdy College. Beyond academics at these Colleges, you may have an opinion on which atmosphere appeals to your personality.

Cappex provides a fair amount of athletics information, including how many male and female students participate in a particular sport. College Niche actually provides what percentage of students are varsity athletes.

First Generation College Student

Likewise, determining if a College accepts a larger number of first generation College students might tell you something about that college. Do they have a mission to encourage all students to become College graduates, so they accept more first generation applicants? Did they realize that as they became more selective, they had a less diverse student body (which often but not always goes hand in hand), so have made it a policy to accept more first generation College students? Maybe they live in a more socio-economic diverse region, so they encounter more first-generation College applicants? Maybe their need-blind (they consider the applicant separate from their financial need) admissions policy translates to more students with parents who did not attend College and therefore require more financial aid to apply to that College? Time to find out more about why they have a larger number of first generation College students and ponder what that means, in terms of both the campus atmosphere and your chances of being admitted.

Pixabay SpreadsheetAs discussed in Organize Your College Data, it’s helpful to create a spreadsheet with a quick breakdown of the typically admitted student and related information, including number of applicants, acceptance rate, test scores, financial aid, endowment and your thoughts on whether a College is a Target (or Match), Reach or Safety school. It’s important to modify the criteria in this spreadsheet to target your special interests/situation.

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Finding Colleges With Strong Programs in Your Intended Degree

Pixabay Undecided

You may have no idea what you want to study. But even if you think you know what you want to study, you might change your mind

I’ve read articles stating that 80% of College students change their major at least once. Therefore, picking a College solely because of their reputation in a field of study you are interested in is probably not a great idea. On the other hand, if you think you want to be an Engineer, you might as well pick a College with a strong Engineering program. The question is, how do you find Colleges with strong programs in your intended degree?

If you are already keen to do a particular thing, you should certainly consider Colleges’ reputations in that field, but not as the only variable when considering a College’s Academic qualities. Maybe you start out in Engineering and then decide you would prefer to be a Surgeon. If the College you chose for Engineering has a good Science/Pre-Med program, then great. Otherwise you will be wondering if you should transfer Colleges. But keep in mind that if you are looking at years of post-undergraduate schooling to obtain a Masters or higher degree, maybe a College with a pretty good Science program is all you need for undergraduate school.

How do you figure out which Colleges have a strong program? 

  • Check to see where accomplished Professionals in that field of study attended College.
  • Ask those accomplished Professionals which College programs they hear good things about. You may hear that Professionals in that field went to a mixed-bag of undergraduate Colleges, but generally attended 1 of 5 strong Graduate schools.
  • Research options on the internet, in articles, publications for that field of study and various College-Search resources.
  • Clarify your research with an Admission Officer or with a knowledgeable Professional: is the specialty at this particular College more research-based when you are more interested in tangible applications? Is this particular College, which is listed in many articles as strong in writing, really strong in creative writing, while you are interested in non-fiction?
Pixabay Spreadsheet

Colleges With Strong Writing Programs

As you find potential Colleges with strong programs in your field of interest, add them to a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet tracks Colleges with Strong Writing Program, as an example.

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Share Your Experience

Have you found a great resource for learning about strong College programs? Please share it by adding a Comment.

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Teachers’ Letters of Recommendation

Many Colleges request two Letters of Recommendation (LOR) from Teachers who have  recently taught you an Academic Core Subject (English, Foreign Language, Math, Science or Social Studies).

The Teachers you choose will write one letter each that goes to all of the Colleges you apply to, often via The Common Application.

Unrestricted Stock Small Blue Peacock

What makes you stand out from the crowd?

An easy way to estimate how highly a College considers those LOR is to check Collegedata.com.  Type in the name of a school, choose the Admission tab and scroll down to Selection of Students. Many Factors that can impact admission are listed, including Recommendations.  Factors are categorized as either Very ImportantImportantConsidered or Not Considered.  Generally speaking, selective schools will heavily weight the LOR – they are overwhelmed by applicants with amazing academic qualifications, so hearing from your Teacher what makes you remarkable can make a big impact (and an underwhelming LOR also makes a big impact).

Even if your College of choice lists LOR as Considered, it is a smart practice to procure the best possible LOR, because a) you never know what might put you over the edge from rejected to accepted, or b) it may put you in the running for a Scholarship and c) LOR are one of the few opportunities for someone besides yourself to write about what makes you special (see Establish a Relationship With Your Counselor for the other opportunity).  When Admissions Officers are reviewing hundreds if not thousands of files for many students with good grades, test scores and extracurricular activities, your essays and LOR are your opportunity to stand out from the crowd. If you don’t have good grades, test scores and extracurricular activities, the LOR can help to explain why – Mary is a diligent student who applies herself despite working many hours after school to help pay her family’s medical bills, for example.

Tips for LOR

Unrestricted Stock Graphic Calendar

If you apply ED or EA, your LORs will probably be due by 11/1

1. If you are applying to any Colleges Early Decision or Early Action, those letters will be due approximately 11/1.  Some Colleges also require an earlier application date (maybe 12/1) in order to be considered for Scholarships.  That means if you ask a teacher from your senior year to write that LOR, they will only have gotten to know you for 2-3 months, unless they also taught you in prior years.  You better make a big early impression, or ask a Teacher from your Junior year to write your LOR.  If you are reading this after your Junior year, you may be thinking uh oh, if you can’t think of 2 core subject Teachers from your Junior year who would be willing to write highly of you.  Time to quickly make impressions on your Senior Teachers! See Establish a Relationship With Your Teachers for advice.

Letter of Recommendation Image

Do some of your Teachers have a reputation for writing great LOR?

2. Talk to older students to see if they have learned anything about which Teachers write good LOR – often times students don’t really know, because the letters are submitted directly by the teacher onto the Common Application, with no copy going to the student.  STORY: An excellent student who was interested in writing asked their disorganized English Teacher to write them a LOR; they were worried about the outcome, but they felt it was important to have an English Teacher’s LOR, because they were indicating on their application that they wanted to be an English major.  The Teacher submitted the LOR and then apologized, admitting they waited until the last minute and didn’t do a very good job.

3. Ask Teachers who you think write well and will praise you highly.  Enough said.

4. Your Teachers are being inundated with requests to write LOR.  The longer you wait to ask them, the more frustrated/stressed the Teacher, which may not be good for your LOR.  Give your Teachers as much notice as possible that you would like them to write you a LOR.  If you plan to ask a Teacher from your Junior year, give them a heads up the end of your Junior year.  If they want to wait until the next academic year to write your LOR, remind them immediately in the fall.  Likewise, if you are asking your Senior Teachers, let them know as early into the year as possible.

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What qualities do you want to emphasize to prospective Colleges?

4. Make it easier for your Teacher to write a LOR and use this opportunity to highlight traits you think would impress the Colleges you are applying to, by creating a resume tailored to that Teacher.  Teachers usually want to help you get into your dream College, so you need to help them help you.  Specify in the beginning of your resume what traits or qualities you would like them to highlight in their LOR. What makes you an outstanding student?  The resume you hand your Science Teacher may indicate that you want to highlight your ingenuity and ability to solve problems in unusal ways.  The resume you hand your Language Teacher may indicate you want to highlight your willingness to spend time outside of class organizing activities for your French class that resulted in a more cohesive experience. Remember that these LOR will go to ALL prospective Colleges, so you want the message to be valuable for all of the Colleges you are considering.  These resumes are EXTREMELY important, so it’s important to spend time thinking about what you want to include in them. See Resume for more advice.

5. Your LOR resume should only briefly cover your accomplishments that are already listed on your academic record. It might be important for the letter-writer to know that you have taken 5 AP classes, but they don’t need to know which classes, so they can list them in the letter – your transcript will tell the College Admissions Officer those details, don’t waste that valuable space. But if you have taken 4 AP Science classes, for example, that is an important item to point out in your resume. Likewise, the Teacher writing your LOR should have access to your High School Academic Record, so they don’t need a list of classes you took and grades you received.

6. You might choose to ask a Teacher from a subject in which you have not necessarily excelled, if you have been diligent.  You might choose to ask your math Teacher to write you a LOR, because even though math is your weakest subject, that Teacher has recognized how you have persevered despite difficulties.

Handwritten thank you notes are the best. Make an effort at your verbiage.

Handwritten thank you notes are the best. Make an effort at your verbiage.

7. Send a hand-written thank you note to anyone who writes you a LOR, preferably along with a small gift.  Starbucks gift card?  Homemade cookies? During those long class hours, you’ve probably picked up a lot about a Teacher’s personal life.  They will appreciate that you gave them homemade cookies, because they LOVE homemade cookies, but never get them.

Do not underestimate the importance of Letters of Recommendation.  How well you handle this process has direct impact on your eligibility.

Does your High School have their own nuances to the LOR process? Better ask your Upperclassmen – time to acquire information via Word of Mouth!

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