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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 trying to decide if I should apply to college Early Decision. I visited a few colleges over the summer, and saw three that I really like. I have a GPA of about 91, pretty decent SATs, and Regents scores in the 90s. My counselor says I have a good shot at several SUNY colleges, maybe even honor programs, and some other schools. My question is, will applying Early Decision to the private colleges give me a better chance of admission? A lot of my friends are saying that applying early shows interest, so you have a better shot at getting in.
A: Filing an Early Decision application is a huge commitment. You should do so ONLY if 1) you are absolutely, completely, 100% in love with a particular school, and 2) financial aid is not a priority.
Early Decision acceptances are binding, and under the terms of the decision you will not be allowed to wait and see if you are admitted elsewhere. Neither will you have the opportunity to weigh different financial aid offers. If you are accepted to a school under Early Decision, you are committed to enrolling there.
Q. I am the mom of an 11th grader. I grew up and went to school outside of the United States, so it is very challenging for me to understand the whole U.S. higher education system. Would you please explain to me what the SAT and ACT are? What is the difference between those two? Which one does my daughter need to take in order to apply to a 4-year college?
A: Most colleges and universities in the United States require either the SAT or ACT (with writing) for admission as a first-year student. These are nationally administered examinations, each one about three hours long, which provide a general assessment of a student’s skills in mathematics, reading and vocabulary, and writing. The tests are structured differently and scored differently.
The SAT comes from the Educational Testing Service, headquartered in New Jersey, while the ACT comes from a company in Iowa. Originally, most students on the East Coast took the SAT, while in the Midwest and West the ACT was the preferred exam. It was merely a matter of geographic preference. But now that all information is online, students in all areas are trying both tests.
There are numerous differences between the tests. The ACT includes a section of questions related to science, but it is really about interpreting data. The ACT is also more straightforward in its knowledge-based approach. I suggest that you and your daughter look at the websites of each exam and try the sample questions. Some students simply feel more comfortable with one format than the other. Your daughter could also take both tests, and then compare her results. Colleges truly do not care which test an applicant takes! You can find complete information, plus practice questions, at the SAT and ACT websites.
Q: I am a senior in high school and I feel like I am way behind when it comes to applying to college. What should I do?
A: If you are just beginning your senior year, you have already been told how busy you are going to be. Do not get stressed! As far as the college planning part of your schedule goes, you have plenty of time -- you just need to prioritize your tasks and get going.
Here is my suggested “to-do” list for the next few weeks:
Q: Are college admissions people really going to judge me on the type of e-mail address I have?
A: Yes! Often little things in a college application can create an impression, and it might not be the kind of impression you ought to give. Your e-mail address is one of these. An address you set up for yourself when you were 10 or 12 might be perceived as childish, such as: carebear26@gmail.
Likewise, e-mail addresses that reflect a devotion to any one band or TV show will also create an impression that could color a reader's impression of you. Avoid such monikers as "9inchnails@yahoo" or "jerseyshoregirl@hotmail." Clearly you shouldn't have any address that refers to sex, violence, politics or religion.
And no, you will not win points if your address reflects a devotion to a college's team, e.g. "DukeBlueDevilsRule@yahoo" -- this falls into the category of "trying too hard."
In my last column I suggested that rising seniors try to visit some colleges over the summer. If you do visit, you won’t be alone – hosting summer visitors has been the norm at most U.S. colleges and universities for the past 20 years. The number of visitors will usually correlate with the size of the campus – the larger the school, the larger the information sessions and tour groups.
Most colleges will have a “visit us” feature on their website (usually in the Admissions section). If you have to reserve a place on a tour, you can do so online or by calling the Admissions office. If you show up without a reservation, will they let you visit? Of course! The whole point of the college visit – from their perspective -- is to inspire students to become applicants. You are a prospective customer so they will be happy to see you.
And from your perspective, the point of the visit is for you to visualize yourself on this campus. Do you think you’d enjoy being here for four years? Does it seem like a friendly, hospitable place?
Q: I want to take my son to visit some colleges this summer, but he says it's pointless to go since there are no classes and he won't be able to judge what the school is really like. But I have more time off in the summer than in the fall when he wants to go – and anyway, won't that be too late? He will be a senior this fall. What do you suggest?
A: Both you and your son have valid points. There is more time to see several colleges now, although it is true that you won't see them under typical conditions. But at least you could get an idea of where they are, what the surrounding neighborhood or town is like, and the conditions of the campus facilities. Colleges know that for many families, summer is the only time they can travel to distant places. Most admissions offices are open all summer, and they are prepared for visitors with tours and information sessions. Depending upon the size of the campus, libraries will be open, summer classes will be in session, and the neighborhood will be as busy as it is during the rest of the year. But other schools will be nearly deserted. The most lively locations be will be schools that are in, or near, urban centers. Ask before you go.
Q. My first year of college, ten years ago, was pretty bad – I ended up with a 1.9 GPA. Then I went into the military, and took some courses during this time. I did well, and got a B+ average. Now I want to transfer into nursing school, but with the low grades from that first year, my average is still only a 2.87. Could I simply not send that earlier transcript?
A: You are not the same person you were ten years ago. A decade in military service has given you experience, knowledge, and perspective. You are obviously more focused now, and most colleges and universities will be happy to give you another chance at earning your baccalaureate degree.
However, both the credits you may receive and the admissions decision will depend upon the institution and the program to which you apply. Even if you have a solid B+ average, I cannot guarantee that a specific nursing school will accept you. Ultimately, the ball is in their court. Here is what you ought to do:
I am a new immigrant living in New York City. I graduated from high school in Bangladesh in 2010, and now I want to apply to a college here. Is there any time limit about applying to college in the US after finishing high school?
A: Don't worry! You are in good company in New York City. A large percentage of high school graduates here are from outside the United States. The last time I taught a course at a CUNY college, 50% of my students had come from other countries, and this diversity lent a very exciting aspect to our class discussions!
It does not matter whether you graduated from high school two years ago or 20 years ago. As long as you meet the admissions requirements, you are qualified to apply. CUNY schools do have requirements. For example, applicants must have a certain number of years of mathematics, science, social studies, and so forth. You will also need to present test scores from the SAT or ACT.
My advice is to make an appointment with an admissions office staff member at your closest CUNY branch and ask if your credentials will meet the requirements. Bring not only your diploma but also your transcript or any other listing of the academic courses you took. If you do not meet all the requirements for one of the four-year CUNY colleges, you could start at one of the two-year community colleges, and then later transfer to a four-year school.
There are deadlines for applying to colleges in the U.S., and these usually range from January to March, for studies beginning the following fall season. So most schools in NYC are already fully enrolled for the fall. But you may be able to begin your studies in the spring semester, starting next January. Again, speaking to someone at a CUNY admissions office will give you this information.
New York City provides many opportunities to anyone who wishes to pursue higher education. The best of luck to you in your quest!
Q: I’m still in high school but I am wondering what I should major in. I would like to be a therapist or researcher or something along those lines I'm not sure which one. I really like helping people and definitely want to pursue this in college. But I don't know which job I specifically want to do. My question is what route should I take in college, like which majors should I go after?
A: While it’s terrific that you seem to have found a career focus, it is way too early even to think about a major. That fact that you want to work in a helping profession is highly commendable. And you can do this in more ways than you currently may think possible. Therapists come in a wide variety: psychologists, psychotherapists, physical or occupational therapists. Additionally, there are art, music, and play therapists. Activities often thought of as recreational are therapeutic in a clinical setting, such as a pediatric playroom in a hospital.
Q: My son applied to 7 colleges and was accepted at 3, waitlisted at one. He is now in a dilemma because he can't decide where to enroll, and he has to commit himself by May 1. Naturally, the school he likes best is the one where he is on the waiting list! We have visited only one of the other colleges, and he is not crazy about it. What should he do?
A: It actually sounds like your son has some good options! He has been accepted to two colleges he has not seen yet, and now is the time he ought to visit, if the distance and cost of travel are not too great.