Category Archives: Eligible College Student

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:

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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:

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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  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

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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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Tracking Your Applications

Tracking Your Applications is important, because while Colleges will likely contact you if part of your application is missing, you never know when there will be a hard deadline that you will miss due to an incomplete application. Remember that with every interaction, you are being evaluated and that you always want to make a good impression.

Appearing to not have your act together, as demonstrated by an incomplete application, is not a good idea. Furthermore, you may have met the minimum applications requirements, but planned to add an optional piece, such as a flowing Letter of Recommendation from your Music Teacher or Coach, beyond the standard LORs. That LOR is filed by the Music Teacher or Coach directly to the Common Application, so unless you are tracking your application closely, you may not realize that they had not gotten around to filing that LOR.

A large part of stress is worry. Do I know what needs to be done? What are the deadlines? Did I get it done? Do I need to follow-up? These are the types of questions that keep us awake at night. Organizing, documenting and tracking are skills that enable busy people to fall asleep at night – they have an organized a process which determines what needs to be done when, and they document and follow that process. These are important life skills, that help you beyond this one, important process. Below is a sample spreadsheet for tracking the Application Process, by College.

Pixabay SpreadsheetApplication Checklist

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Admissions Interview Preparation

Pixabay Job Interview

Initial Impressions During an Interview are Important

You are a rising Senior or Senior in High School. You have scheduled an interview with an Admissions Officer or Alumni. Even if they tell you that the Interview is not highly considered, a very weak or very strong impression can still have a major impact on your chances of being admitted. Some Colleges highly consider your interview. Interviews are your opportunity to share your narrative, explaining apparent weaknesses in your resume and highlight your strengths. It’s time to make an impression, which means it’s time to prepare!

If you want to know a College’s general policy regarding the importance of interviews, go to Go to and type in <College name> in the enter College name box. Choose the Admission tab and scroll down to Selection of Students. Many factors that can impact admission are listed, including Interview. These variables are categorized as either Very ImportantImportantConsidered or Not Considered.

College Interview Advice Resources:

My general advice:

  1. Check out the Admissions webpage, their marketing materials and and any interactions you have had with the College. What personality comes out in these materials? It’s a quality they are likely actively trying to exude and encourage. Quirky, offbeat? Probably don’t want to sit through the interview stone-faced and without demonstrating your personality (although even if their tone is not quirky and offbeat, please don’t sit through the interview stone-faced!). Aggressive, intense? Better demonstrate your confidence and high goals.
  2. Even if you have read and retained a lot of information about the College, your memory may let you down at a time of stress, such as during your interview. To help you retain what you learned about a College, and to have notes to refer to during the interview if your memory lets you down,
    Pixabay Spreadsheet

    College Summary Pages

    I suggest creating College Summary Pages. These pages include basic College information you should know for your Admissions Interview, as well as your notes on why you love this College and questions you would like to ask about the College. Whoever is interviewing you will be impressed by your organized, thoughtful approach to the interview when you ask relevant questions that can’t be easily answered on the College’s website.

How Important is Interview Prep?

Sometimes you feel too busy to do all this prep. Here’s my why you prep story:

My daughter had an interview with a Connector, set up with the aid of another Connector (see the bottom of my Word of Mouth post if you don’t know what a Connector is). The Connector had the ability to impact my daughter’s visibility at a College she loved. In fact, during the meeting with the Connector, he set up a meeting for her at that College (for the NEXT MORNING, because he was so well connected and respected). Here’s the deal about this Connector – he was INTENSE! High energy, kept company with high-profile CEO’s, non-stop varied interests and activities. This was a successful and powerful person, doing our friend who connected us a favor by sharing some of his time with us to give advice and assistance.


Review Sample Interview Questions and Rehearse Your Answers

On the way to the meeting, I suggested to my daughter that she go through some sample interview questions and advice, which she did half-heartedly. During the meeting, this Connector asked her several direct, probing questions – “What did you learn from your experience traveling abroad?” “If you love this school, why aren’t you considering that school?”, etc. etc. At first, my daughter did just an OK job of answering these questions, and this Connector immediately called her on it – “That’s not a good answer!”. I could tell my daughter was intimidated, but she started thinking better on her feet. BOOM! He quickly made her understand something I had been trying to teach her, but the impact was much greater with this high-profile Connector calling it like it is. After the interview, we got in the car and she immediately pulled up some sample interview questions and advice, and spent 2 hours reading and rehearsing answers in her mind, so she could be better prepared for next morning’s campus meeting that this Connector had set up for her.

This experience also led to a great discussion about a new concern for that College. “Are all the graduates that intense?”, she wondered. “Do I want to go to school with a lot of students with that personality?” “Will I be able to hold my own?” We agreed that not all graduates from this College were likely to be as intense as this Connector, but she was going to spend time while on campus scrutinizing the students’ personalities.

Remember that someone who is interviewing you is taking time out of their day to spend time with you – respect them for doing that, and make the interview worth their while! Last bit of advice: you may be running around on campus attending tours, information sessions, meeting with Admissions Officers and maybe a few other people. Track your appointments, so that you make sure you are where you are supposed to be at the right time, but also to help you remember what you did and with whom on each campus.

Pixabay Sharing Information

Share Your Experience

Do you have other advice for Admissions Interviews? Please leave a Comment.

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Grades and Test Scores – How Do I Fix This?

If you feel that your grades and/or test scores are not as good as you would like them to be, there are things you can do to help. Even if you think it’s too late, read on for advice on how to deal with this problem.


Underclassmen (Freshman, Sophomore years)

  • If for whatever reason your grades as an underclassmen are not great, it is not a deal-breaker for a lot of Colleges.
  • Some Colleges don’t even consider Freshman year grades, because they realize that students are adjusting to the rigor of High School.
  • If you can pull up your grades as an upperclassmen, you can compensate for a low GPA. It also make a good story, demonstrating how you overcame obstacles.
  • On the other hand, Freshman year is often the easiest academic High School year. Try to get the best grades you can at the time when it’s easiest to do so, because low grades will have a big impact on your GPA.

Upperclassmen (Junior, Senior years)

  • You should avoid having your grades take a major drop as an upperclassmen.

    C Please Come See Me

    Colleges want you to demonstrate that you can adjust to increased academic rigor with more effort, and hopefully with academic success.

  • Your academic rigor may increase as an upperclassmen, so Colleges won’t be shocked to see a slight drop in your GPA.  But they want to see that “As the going gets tough, the tough get going.” and that you are able to adapt to the challenge of added rigor.
  • Colleges also want to see you maintain your grades after you have applied and even been accepted into a College, so don’t think the last half of your senior year is time to let it all go.


Report Card

Explain any blemishes in your academic record, otherwise the Admissions Officer may incorrectly infer why those blemishes took place.

It’s important to create (not imagine) a narrative that describes your academic journey in High School, particularly if there are blemishes in your academic record.  Did your parents divorce your Sophomore year, making your 2nd semester grades tank?  Did you start working 20+ hours a week starting your Junior year? Did your parent take an evening job, which meant you became your younger siblings’ babysitter from 3-8 each day? If the only thing an Admissions Officer has to review your files is your transcripts, they imagine their own narrative for why your grades were less than stellar.  Even if you don’t have a great reason, be honest and hope they will understand. Try to demonstrate that you have grown from your High School experience.

Check out  Class Rank – Don’t Be Worried!  and Get Good Grades for more information.

Test Scores

Pixabay Test

Explain why your grades and test scores are disparate

The narrative is even more important if you have amazing test scores and weak grades. Most people will assume you didn’t apply yourself in school and/or were lazy about homework. But they will be wondering about your smarts, if you could still manage to pull off high test scores.

Colleges realize that some people are better at taking tests than others. Lots of students have test anxiety, for example. But if you have high grades and low test scores, they will wonder if your school handed out easy A’s, but lacked educational depth.  Don’t let these holes in your academic resume go unexplained.

See Standardized Tests for more information.

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Word of Mouth

Word of Mouth breeds knowledge (and knowledge is POWER).

You Never Know When You Will Learn Something New, Sometimes From an Unexpected Source

You Never Know When You Will Learn Something New, Sometimes From an Unexpected Source

I know, I know, you get what you pay for. But word-of-mouth is invaluable in both preparing for College and The College Search, in the same way that this website is valuable to students and parents, because you are getting advice from a parent who has recently helped their child in The College Search and who understands the need for specific, organized, pertinent information about The Search. Effective word-of-mouth, by my definition, means that people are sharing information they think is valuable to each other. Word-of-mouth information can be inaccurate or incomplete, but it often provides a bigger picture, and a different perspective.

Do you need examples?

1. My kid wants to take a class not offered at her school (Advanced French, for example), and is debating whether to take that class at another High School, a Community College or on-line. She asks her counselor, who suggests she take the class on-line, because its hard to line up her class schedule at her High School with when that class is offered at another High School or Community College.  She is proactive, and asks a few friends who have taken off-campus courses for advice. One of them warns her that their school allows only 2 classes be taken on-line. My kid wanted to take Health and Creative Writing through on-line courses, and realizes that if she takes Advanced French on-line, that will preclude her plans for Health and Creative Writing. She can now make a more informed decision, some of that information coming from word-of-mouth, which is more complete information than she discovered merely by talking to her counselor.

2. A Senior in High School is debating whether to apply to a “reach” school, thinking it’s unlikely he will be accepted. He mentions this school to a friend, who happens to be friends with a College Junior (Sherry) attending that College. This friend tells him that Sherry struggled with her grades when she attended their same High School. He mentions this news to a teacher, who knows Sherry. The teacher offers to connect the students over Skype. During their discussion, Sherry admits that she did not have a great cumulative GPA due to some missteps early in her High School years, which makes the boy hopeful, as his GPA is also not stellar. She said that based on conversations with the school and her classmates after she attended the College, she understood more about what got her “in”: a) the College valued that she got consistently better grades starting her Junior year, b) she had spectacular test scores, and c) the school emphasizes sports, and she was a star varsity volleyball player. At this point, he feels less hopeful, as he has not been successful in raising his grades his Junior and Senior years, his test scores are average and he doesn’t play a sport. Can he find more information that might might make him think he can get in? Yes, but he knows a lot more after the conversation with Sherry than if he had only been told that there’s a kid from their high school who wasn’t a great student that got in. That doesn’t mean he can’t apply, but now he knows his chances of acceptance are not high. Maybe that conversation gets him thinking about how Sherry’s talents helped her gain acceptance, and that he should look for another desirable “reach” school that emphasizes music, because he was a finalist in the State Competition, playing the oboe. Knowledge is power!

The key to word-of-mouth is you have to be talking to someone who has experienced the same issue or know someone who has, and that this person became very knowledgeable about that issue. That is why a College Counselor can be invaluable, because they know the intimate details of many students’ experiences, and therefore will be more likely to provide relevant information. But even their experiences are limited, so you should still be trying to procure word-of-mouth information, censoring it for inaccuracies. Seek knowledge through many resources, but don’t discount the value of word-of-mouth.

Pixabay Playmobile Figures Talking

Great things can come from talking to others about your College Search

When I am with a group of parents with High-School aged children, it is invariable that a discussion about Colleges results. These can be GREAT discussions, because someone is sharing a story or insight, and if there are others in the group with similar experiences, they can elaborate or disagree, based on their knowledge. That story leads to more questions, and I am leaving that gathering with new things to think about.


Word-of-Mouth Breeds Success

Another reason to get in the habit of promoting these discussions? Most people agree that success in life often comes from who you know. But you need to FIGURE OUT who you know. Do you know where your friends went to College? Their current employer and position, as well as previous employer and positions? Where they used to live? Their sports and favorite past-times? Knowing who you know means you can take advantage of their experiences when the need arises.

If you are a connectoror know a connector, good things result.

Connecting Can Be Fulfilling

Connecting Can Be Fulfilling

connector knows about their friends, co-workers, etc. and connects people. If their cousin wants to be a Financial Advisor, they connect her with their son’s best friend’s father, who is a Financial Advisor. When their babysitter is moving to Oregon for a position at Nike, they connect him to their co-worker, who used to live in Oregon and has friends who work at Nike.

Word-of-Mouth can be awesome!

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Class Rank – Don’t be Worried!

Pixabay Bored Student

Class Rank Should Not Be Really High On Your List of Worries

Class Rank is important, it’s just not really important. It’s also complicated. For example, my children attend a High School that does not weight GPA’s. Nor, like some schools, does their school weight GPA solely for the calculation of class rank. If you are a student who takes a rigorous workload (Honors, AP or Baccalaureate courses), unweighted GPA’s can work against you. A student who chooses to take a less rigorous workload will likely find it easier to maintain a high GPA. But….

I read with concern that many selective holistic schools rank class rank as a “Very Important” consideration for admission, and that a large percentage (70, 80 or even 90%) of a selective school’s incoming Freshman were in the top 10% of the class. I became worried that my child with a high, but not perfect GPA, did not rank in the top 10% of their class, would be denied admission because they could not manage to maintain a 4.0 with their rigorous workload. I reminded myself that Academic Rigour is also usually often ranked as a “Very Important” consideration for admission, and that Admissions Officers will closely scrutinize and value my student’s workload. But it still bothered me.

Then I learned about the Common Data Set (CDS). It wasn’t until I read the CDS for some of the selective schools that I realized that while yes, a very high percentage of students were ranked highly, conversely a very low percentage of students reported their class rank!  For example, one school listed the percentage of students in the top 10% of their class at nearly 75%, while just over 20% of students had reported their class rank.  This taught me not only that class rank was less likely to hurt my children’s admission chances, but also, that they DID NOT NEED to report class rank if they felt it would work against them. On the other hand, your High School has chosen whether to include your class rank along with your transcript and other relevant information they submit to Colleges where you apply. If you are worried about your class rank, ask your High School Counselor about your school’s policy regarding submitting class rank.

 This leads to another discussion about why some selective schools boast a holistic admission process but state that test scores, grades, class rank and the like are Very Important  – I call it the College Admissions’ Publisher Rankings Anxiety.

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Early Decision, Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Regular Decision, Rolling Admission

It’s time to figure out some application strategy, in terms of when and how to apply to a College. You have options for how you apply to a particular College. Those options may include Early Decision, Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Regular Decision and/or Rolling Admission Application Plans, depending on the College. Before we get into the details, it’s important for you to understand an important factor in the Admissions game, which is Yield.

When and how you apply to College can have a big impact on outcome.  In general, there are five ways (or plans) to apply to College:

  1. Early Decision (ED) – sometimes there is ED1 and ED2

    Applying Early Can be a Good Thing... Unless it's Not

    Applying Early Can be a Good Thing… Unless it’s Not

  2. Early Action (EA) – sometimes there is EA1 and EA2
  3. Restrictive Early Action (REA) – AKA Single-Choice Early Action
  4. Regular Decision (RD)
  5. Rolling Admission (RA)

Colleges don’t offer all of these options; typically they offer RD plus one other application plan, unless they offer RA.

A College’s policy regarding offering financial and/or merit aid for different admission plans (ED vs. RD, for example) are important considerations that should be discussed with the College’s Admission Officer. It is also important to research and discuss admission rates for the different application plans. Finally, ask about early application plans acceptance rates, adjusted for athletes and legacies.

About 450 Colleges have Early Decision or Early Action plans.  To determine which application plans are offered at a particular College, type <school name> undergraduate admissions deadlines in your search engine. Again, a College Counselor can be invaluable in navigating this complex process.

Checkout Deadlines and Timelines for related information.

Pixabay Spreadsheet

Application Plans, Deadlines by College & By Date

See the spreadsheets below for ideas on how to track application deadlines for each Application Plan they offer. You will want to track this information by College and by due date.

Application Plans, Deadlines, by College

Application Deadlines, by Date

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Important Tip When Registering for Standardized Tests

Openclipart Pencil

When you register for the PSAT and SAT, there is optional information you can input on your registration form, such as your date of graduation, GPA, intended major, family income and much more. The College Board, which operates the SAT, sells that information along with your test scores (I believe it is a score range, not your specific score) to interested Colleges. Per their website, over 1200 Colleges purchase this information.  Colleges can then target their marketing to a particular profile of student.

Unrestricted Stock Robot

College Board’s Student Search Service can be helpful for prospective College Students

The College Board calls this process the Student Search Service. My first reaction was that I did not want my daughter to hand out personal information to help Colleges target their marketing. On the other hand, it makes sense for MIT, a very selective College that specializes in programs like Engineering, Computer and Natural Sciences, to not send catalogs to a below average student who is interested in Psychology. While you may become sick of all the mail and wasted paper, registering for the Student Search Service is a good idea for many reasons:

  • You are put on potential Colleges’ radar, which is important to the College. Mary Smith is applying, but does not appear to have ever visited the school or made contact with an Admissions Officer. But I do see that Mary was on our mailing list, so maybe she made an informed decision and is truly interested in our College, which means she might enroll if she is accepted into our school. (Although I would not recommend applying to a College without having even had a phone conversation with an Admissions Officer, to demonstrate your interest.)
  • You learn what sorts of Colleges are interested in your credentials (GPA, Test Score) and that offer the majors you are interested in.  You may have your heart set on going to College in Washington, DC, but not have heard of Goucher, because it is nearby but not in Washington, DC.  On reading the brochure, you find out that Goucher is known for its environmental initiatives and has a nuclear magnetic resonance spectometer, which for some reason, makes you excited. BTW, that example was completely made up, although for all I know Goucher does have a NMRS (an acronym I also made up!). Keep in mind that some Colleges have extensive mail marketing programs, to increase their annual applications, which decreases their acceptance rate, thereby becoming a more selective College. A brochure from University of Chicago doesn’t mean that you are qualified to enroll at University of Chicago or that U of Chicago has programs that match your interests.
  • The marketing materials will include offers (some may offer you Scholarships, based on your credentials) and opportunities (a special campus visitors day, for example).
  • The brochures and other marketing materials can help you learn more about a College (maybe one you have never even heard of), to determine if it might suit you.
  • Those brochures can also be helpful when you are writing an essay in your application about “Why you want to attend this College?”. Lots of the same information is available online, but there often is material not seen on-line, which gives you an advantage over other students who have only gained knowledge about the College through their website.

Pixabay TestIt’s interesting to note that even Colleges that are test-optional purchase this information. This 2011 Bloomberg article discusses this practice.

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