Dr. Jane S. Gabin
Dr. Jane S. Gabin is an independent college counselor in New York City. She has worked at several private schools in the metro area, including the Frisch School, Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, and the United Nations International School. She was an admissions officer for 10 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an English teacher at Chapel Hill High School and at her alma mater, Queens College of the City University of New York. She is a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling and its New York and New Jersey chapters.
Q: I AM SO LOST!! I am a high school sophomore and I am really starting to think about the whole college thing. Generally I'm shy and uncomfortable, but this year I joined Key Club (volunteering) and French Club (which consists of 3 people including myself). I want to find something in school that I can devote a lot of time to, because apparently that's what colleges are looking for, but none of the other clubs interest me. When it comes to French Club, I am even less involved because there are so few people in it. I would try asking friends to come, but they are all in Spanish. One of my friends and I spent the first three meetings or so talking with the advisor about ideas, but none of them ever worked out. I am not much of a leader either, so I don't think I could start my own club. Also I'm not very athletic, so I've just about run out of options. I don't know what to do!!
A: Take it easy! Please do not feel you have run out of options. First of all, the major thing that "colleges are looking for" is a solid transcript. Courses and grades always come first. Yes, extra-curricular activity does play a role in the admissions decision, but there is no hidden agenda. Colleges are not "looking" to see if you are athletic or creative. But they DO want to see if you are looking past yourself.
Q: My two sons applied to the same college Early Action, and they have both been accepted. Since they were EA applicants, they are not obligated to enroll at that college, and they have also applied to other schools. They don't know yet where they want to go, and will probably take a while to decide, before the May 1st deadline.
But I am concerned about the amount of merit aid they have been awarded. For some reason, one of my sons received an award of $40,000 merit aid, while the other one, who had a slightly higher GPA and slightly higher SATs, received $0. Unfortunately, it's this second son who is more interested in the school. At what point do I approach the school, and ask them if they will review their merit aid? Do I wait until he's sure he wants to go there? If it's in April, will that be too late?
A: I don't have enough information to know why one of your sons was made a generous offer, while the other has been offered nothing. It sounds like you have no idea, either. Does one son have stronger courses than the other? Or a special talent – such as in athletics or music -- that has been rewarded? You deserve to know the answer.
Q: A lot of my friends spent almost all winter break working on college applications that were due January 1. But I am applying to several schools that have "rolling" decisions, and some of them say they will take applications as late as April. So am I right to take it easy and get my applications in later? What's the big hurry?
A: You may not be in a hurry, but colleges are eager to know if they will enroll a full first-year class. On the one hand, "rolling" policies seem flexible – you apply when you want, as long as it's before the deadline, and you get a response as soon as it's ready. But on the other hand, this also means that a college may fill all its available spots earlier than expected. When that happens, the last students who submit their applications may find themselves on a "wait list." That is not a pleasant situation.
A couple of years ago this happened with a CUNY - LaGuardia Community College. Students who thought they'd have no trouble being admitted learned that more people than anticipated had applied, filling the class early. Those students had to wait to see if they could get into a different CUNY school instead.
Q: My daughter is interested in graduating from her high school in 3 years rather than 4 years, but the school counselor is discouraging it. What do you think? How hard should I push the school to assist in the process?
A: The school counselor is correct.
Graduating early is a misguided idea. Unless there is a truly compelling reason – such as the student's health and safety – to leave high school early, this should be avoided. Perhaps your daughter is bored with the high school scene, and wants to get a head start on college. But she really will not be at an advantage. I'll tell you why.
Q: Help! I am having trouble logging on to my Common Application account. Some of my friends are also having trouble with Common App. It's almost November 1, and I am worried that problems at Common App are going to make my application late. What can I do? Should I write to my colleges and explain?
A: The Common Application staff is aware of some technical glitches that are occurring, and so are the colleges. This is not your worry. Just keep working on your application and supplements, and remember to do "print preview" so you have a physical record of what you have written.
The Common Application started out with just a few colleges using its forms, and now there are hundreds. The organization recently increased the size of their staff from 10 to 65. They are initiating a 24/7 help center as well. But they are also experiencing unprecedented high usage. This is putting a lot of pressure on their system.
Just as you are frustrated, so are the colleges. Some of them cannot download or access the information they need. As a result, many colleges have already said that they are prepared to be a bit flexible with the Nov. 1 deadline for Early Decision. However, please do not wait until late on Oct, 31 to test the system. Prepare your materials so that you can hit "submit" on Oct. 29 or 30.
Do your part in ample time, and college counselors and admissions offices will handle the rest. Try not to worry—you are not alone!
Q: I am a sophomore in high school, but I am already looking at colleges and think I want to transfer between several campuses. I was wondering if that is even possible – to attend not just one or two, but even three colleges without adding any extra years. If so, would I be able to transfer between any school I like, or would a certain school's transfer program limit my choices?
A: Not only are you thinking ahead, you are thinking TOO far ahead! Generally, I tell sophomores that it really is too early to start planning for college (other than being open-minded and making academics their #1 priority). But your question about transferring is something that concerns many students.
I’ve heard that . . .
When I hear that phrase, I know what follows: a rumor. Sometimes the rumors are new, sometimes they have been around the block before, but they usually have one thing in common – they are not true.
While the rumor mill becomes a little quieter over the summer, when it’s back-to-school time it grinds louder. And for some reason, there are so many rumors about the college process! Here are some of the “I’ve heard” stories concerning standardized testing, namely about the SAT and ACT.
I’ve heard that the ACT is easier than the SAT.
No, they are both challenging tests. They are different tests, but they assess the same skills.
Q: I took the SAT in March and got a 2190 and then took the ACT in June and got a 35. I would be happy with the 35 if I didn’t think that I could score a 36, and I also feel strongly that I could improve on my SAT score. Is it worth it to retake either test? Would it look bad if I retook both? Does a high score on the SAT look better than a high score on the ACT?
A: I’d be happy with a 35, too! Congratulations --your scores are enviable indeed, and I am sure that many readers of this column wish they could do as well on their tests. But yes – I would try for a 36, just because you are so close to it. What do you have to lose?
Your query has several parts to it, and I need to provide several answers – not just for you but for everyone facing standardized tests for college admissions:
Q: Even though my daughter is just going into 9th grade, I feel like we're already behind in the college process. Some of my friends have started their kids on SAT prep now, in 8th grade. Will my daughter have an advantage in also starting early on this? What else can I do to help her be ready for college?
A: It is NOT a good idea to start prepping for standardized tests this early. Junior year – 11th grade – is the appropriate time. First of all, test scores are NOT the most important part of a student's college application. Emphasizing test scores sends the wrong message. Students who start on test prep too early will be absolutely sick of the test before 11th grade, and they may also sour on the whole topic of college if you start stressing it too early.
Q: So we all read the article in the New York Times last week about waiting lists and the extreme things some applicants do to get noticed and maybe picked. This seems to create an unnecessary amount of stress, since so few colleges take students who are waitlisted. And by May 1, we’re enrolled somewhere anyway. So what’s the point? Why don’t colleges either accept or reject people and get it over with?
A: Over the years, colleges have found the use of a waiting list to be quite helpful – well, helpful to them. On the other side of the question, just ask a student who has enrolled at her #2 college if she’d like a chance to go to her #1 school – most would be thrilled!
As colleges have become increasingly conscious of how their acceptance and enrollment rates are perceived, and how these affect the all-holy rankings, they have come to use the waiting list in a variety of ways. In general, applicants are wailtlisted for one of three reasons: