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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: My son is going into his senior year. This summer he is supposed to return as a counselor to the camp upstate where he has gone for several years. However, my brother, who is a lawyer, can arrange for him to have an internship at his law firm in Manhattan. Wouldn't that look better on his resume? Aren't colleges looking for internships? I would think that working at a prestigious law firm would help my son's college applications more than working at a summer camp.
A: Colleges aren't "looking" for internships any more than they are looking for sports, community service, or participation in performing arts. They are indeed looking for academic promise. And they are looking for commitment. But there is no magic checklist of "must have" extra-curricular involvement.
Admissions officers are very adept at spotting themes and patterns in applications. As an example, they would notice a student who excels consistently in English classes, has had a poem published in the school literary journal, and has been involved in the school newspaper. If that student had a summer job at a local newspaper or radio station, they would see a pattern involving communications and would note the consistency of the student's interests. (But there would be no requirement that this student had to have this kind of summer work.) Likewise, if your son had taken a history course that awakened his sense of social fairness, and this had inspired him to join or support an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union or Amnesty International, we could see a pattern developing that indicates your son's interest in law and justice. In that case, a summer working in an office where he could learn some of the nuts and bolts of a law practice would be a terrific thing.
But in itself is this internship part of a pattern? Something that has come out of the student's own initiative? Or will it be seen - because admissions officers can spot this as well - as a "resume builder" activity engineered by a parent or friend of the family? It is kind of your brother to want to help his nephew. But without knowing exactly what your son would be doing at the law firm, or even whether he wants to be there, I cannot say if the internship will ultimately make a difference.
What does your son want to do with his summer? You mention that he has gone to this camp for some time. I am assuming that if he is going into his senior year, then last year he was a junior counselor or CIT (counselor-in-training). Your son has established a relationship with this camp over the years, and the camp's administrators like and trust him enough to give him a position of responsibility with young children. That is a pattern that will be noticed, showing the kind of commitment that ought to impress!
Q: My son is going into his senior year of high school and we are starting to look at different colleges. Thinking about where he can get in, academically, is just one part of the story. My son is gay. How do we figure out where he will be welcome -- where will he be safe? I don't see this issue dealt with in the brochures they hand out at college fairs. How do we deal with this?
A: Nothing is more important to parents than the safety of our children. If your son wants to study chemistry, for example, he can do that at nearly any college. But where will he find a campus environment that where he can learn as well as be happy and safe? There will be no discrimination against him in the application process; colleges may ask for ethnic information on their application form (this is often optional), but they are not going to ask about sexual orientation. So how do you know where to apply?
Your son's sexual identity is an integral part of who he is, and therefore you both need to do research to find appropriate colleges, where he can be himself and be safe from harassment. You and he have to find out which colleges are gay-friendly before he applies. There are many ways to determine this:
1. Does a college have a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation?
2. Is there a gay student association on campus? Or a gay-straight alliance? Or an LGBT organization?
3. If so, how often do they meet? Are these active organizations? See if you can contact some of the leaders of these groups and ask them frankly about the climate on campus for gay students.
4. Is there a gay studies program or classes on gay history/literature? See if you can contact the professors who teach these classes and ask them about campus life
5. Does the campus newspaper or other publications discuss gay issues? If so, what is the tone of these articles?
6. When you walk around the campus, what sorts of messages do you see on bumper stickers, posters, and T-shirts? These can be revealing about the political climate of the school
A gay-friendly college is, of course, more than a place where your son will be physically safe. It ought to be a place where he can flourish as the complete human being he is -- and this will take research and investigation and personal visits. I suggest you check www.campusclimateindex.org -- a website which offers an assessment and "report card" on LGBT concerns at over 200 campuses nationwide. You will find a lot of helpful information there!
Q: My son's high school college counselor was very negative about his chances of acceptance into college. He is a junior, and has an average in the low to mid 80's. He doesn't test well so his SATs aren't that strong either, but he is a good writer and very articulate. The counselor told him to apply to CUNY community colleges and then to transfer to a 4-year college. That was it. I would like him to go away to college to get the full campus experience, but this counselor was very discouraging.
A: While you feel disappointed that your son's counselor seemed to crush his expectations, there's another way to look at the situation. Perhaps the counselor was trying to suggest cost-efficient alternatives to high-priced private colleges? Nationwide, more and more students are looking to community colleges for beginning their college education. In New York City, CUNY provides superb value for your education dollar, and each year thousands of its community college graduates transfer successfully to CUNY, SUNY, and many other state and private 4-year colleges and universities. (In fact, this year, CUNY schools are so popular that they are no longer accepting freshman applications for next fall!)
But I certainly understand your point about wanting your son to have the complete college experience, and that includes being in a new environment and living in a dorm. Are there colleges that will look seriously at a student with a GPA in the B to B+ range with SATs that are not the strongest? Yes -- and that is why so many schools require not just an essay, but information about school and community activities, and recommendations. They are interested in the whole picture. No college makes its total decision based upon SATs alone!
A growing number of colleges are "test optional" -- they do not require SATs or ACTs, but give students the choice of submitting other information instead. You can find a list of these schools at fairtest.org. The downside is that many of them tend to be expensive. The only other colleges that do not require standardized test scores are community colleges.
You and your son have to be realistic. Colleges will ask themselves two questions while they read an application: 1) can this student handle our academic program successfully? and 2) what will this student contribute to our campus community?
What are your son's strengths? What are the qualities he will share with his campus community? What special skills or demonstrated interests does he have? Those will be important facts to consider as he selects colleges that might be a good fit. And he should definitely play up these attributes in his college essays and applications.
Q: My son will be applying to colleges in the fall. My question is about college interviews. Are college interviews given randomly or are they primarily given if the college is not quite sure about accepting the applicant? Is it just Ivy League schools who interview students or do many colleges request them?
A: As one admissions staff member told me, "An application is two-dimensional, but an interview is in 3-D." The college interview is a positive thing -- another way for an admissions committee to gain information about the applicant, another opportunity for an applicant to shine. There are different types of interviews, and not every college will have them as part of the admissions process.
While most Ivy League colleges do have interviews, not every applicant is offered one. And interviews are definitely not limited to the Ivy league. Many colleges want to interview candidates, but in general these are smaller schools. Large universities -- for instance, state universities -- do not offer interviews because there are too many candidates and the process would become unwieldy.
Some interviews are held on-campus by members of the admissions staff. If your son is planning any campus visits he ought to see if he can arrange in advance for an interview while he is there. In some cases, admissions staff have current college students do the interviewing. it would be a mistake to see this as not a "real" interview -- these students will take notes and report back to the admissions staff. And having a chat with a current student is also a positive opportunity -- your son could ask questions, too. This is a chance for him to interview the college. What does the student like best about being at the college? What is one thing he might wish to improve? What is a typical weekend like? How accessible are the professors?
Then there are the off-campus interviews. These are generally arranged by the admissions office with a network of alumni representatives around the country. These alumni are happy to do something to help their alma mater and they usually truly enjoy meeting prospective applicants. They, also, will send notes back to the colleges. Again, it would be a mistake to think that because the interview is not with an admissions officer that it is unimportant. No opportunity to make a positive impression is wasted.
But do all these interviews really count? Some are more valuable than others. Having a wonderful interview where the student and the interviewer really hit it off and have a sparkling friendly conversation is no guarantee of admission. Can a fantastic interview make up for a weak GPA? No. Being nervous at an interview and fumbling a couple of questions does not mean a student has just killed his chances at admission. Will a less-than-perfect interview -- or no interview at all -- negate an otherwise powerful application? No.
Bottom line:Your son should try to arrange for an interview with each college he is serious about.
Q: My son is so stressed out with senior year and college applications that he's actually lost his enthusiasm for going to college. He says he wants to take a year off. Is this a good idea? Will universities look down on him if he graduates a year late or starts college a year late?
A: There is no law stating that students must go to college right away after graduating from high school. (Just as there is not law saying that everyone must be compelled to attend college, either; but that's another column.)
In England it has been a common practice for decades that students take what is called a "gap year" between the end of secondary school and the beginning of university studies. Students might work, perform national service, travel, or participate in a program for which they had no time during their regular high school years. Other countries require its young people to serve in the military before they can go on to advanced academic study.
In recent years, the "gap year" concept has grown in popularity in the United States. While this has led to a proliferation of companies that connect students with programs (just Google "gap year programs" and see), there is no need to pay for arranging a year off.
It is very important, however, that the year off is not truly "off." Colleges do not mind if a student has a gap between high school graduation and starting college -- as long as the time has been spent with a purpose.
Here are some examples of "gap year" activities that are seen as valid, worthy reasons for putting off the start of college:
• doing volunteer work with a religious or civic organization
• helping to care for an ill or recovering family member
• serving in the military
• accompanying a parent who has been given a work assignment in a new city, state, or nation for a year
• being offered an internship opportunity
• doing a postgraduate year of study at a religious institution or other program for no college credit
• getting a job to try out one's work skills and interests
It is important to document these activities, keep records and notes, or write a journal in order to show college admissions offices that the year has been an important experience that has supplemented a student's knowledge. It should be clear that the year's experience has been valuable, making the student more mature and an even stronger candidate for college.
If your son has already applied to college, and been accepted, he can ask the college for a one-year "deferment" or postponement -- that is, explaining his plans for a gap year and asking permission to delay his matriculation, or entering college, for one year. If there is a solid plan in place, the deferment request is usually granted.
Q: My daughter has a 3.70 GPA and has not been accepted to any of the colleges of her choice. She is on a waitlist but this does not make us feel safe. Should she be applying to more colleges, even at this late date?
A: This is not an unheard-of situation. When I was an admissions officer, a student phoned us in a panic -- we had waitlisted her, but she had either been denied or waitlisted by every college to which she had applied. She basically had nowhere to go. She had not opted to apply to any "safety schools" because, with her high grades, she assumed she didn't have to. Unfortunately, she had underestimated the competitiveness of the admissions process.
I told her that her absolutely first stop should be her college counselor's office, to find out which colleges were still accepting applications. I told her that where she begam her college education was much less important than where she completed it.
And that's the same advice I will give to you and your daughter. Do not panic!
While I cannot speak to the specifics of your daughter's situation because all I know is her GPA (and not the types of courses she took, her test scores, activities, essays, or recommendations), I can say that the door to college acceptance is not yet closed!
Your daughter's first stop should be her counselor's office, where she should ask about schools that have "rolling" deadlines. These are the ones most likely to be taking applications. This is true of both private and public colleges. In the New York metro area alone, there are numerous schools with rolling deadlines. She and her counselor should come up with a list of five or six, and then phone their offices to make sure that they are still accepting applications.
She ought to apply to two or three schools, because she cannot count on a waitlist place to come through. In the worst case scenario, she will begin her college studies at a place she did not anticipate applying to, but if she does well in her freshman year, she will be in a good place from which to apply next year as a transfer student. Please let me know how this works out!
Q: I've just been waitlisted by my first-choice college. Or, as they put it, they are "offering" me a "spot" on the waiting list. Does this really mean anything, or is it just another way of their saying "no"?
A: Many students report that they would actually prefer to be told "no" straight out than to have the possibility of a "maybe" dangled in front of them. And that's what being on a waitlist is -- it's a maybe. Many colleges maintain waiting lists when they are unsure of how many accepted students will actually enroll. They know that the chance of every admitted student paying the enrollment deposit and showing up for classes in August is zero. That's why colleges always accept more students than the number in the freshman class.
Depending upon what has happened in previous years, they can predict how many students will enroll. For instance, if a college plans on a freshman class of 1000, and they have been getting an enrollment rate (or "yield") of 50%, they can safely admit around 2000 students. If for some reason this year the enrollment rate is only 45%, they will have 900 enrolling. Where will the 100 students come from who will fill the rest of the freshman class? From the waitlist.
Q: I will be applying to universities in the U.S. from France. My English is fluent and I lived in the U.S. as a child. My father is American, my mom is Colombian, and I have an American passport. We have been living in France for the past four years. Will this allow me to apply as an "international student" or would I be considered an American applicant? If I stress my international side, could my application be rejected as an "international student" when colleges see that I am an American citizen?
A: Being an "international student" is, strictly speaking, a matter of citizenship rather than residency. In other words, what counts is the legal citizenship of the applicant and not where he or she lives or goes to school. As an American citizen, you are an American wherever you live, whether it's in France, Colombia, England, or the U.S. On the other hand, a student who is German -- for example -- a German citizen whose parents work for an German company with an office in Chicago, and who has lived in the U.S. and attends an American high school, must apply as an international student.
But there is more to consider. You will bring a real international perspective to the U.S. college you attend. Your life as a dual citizen and your experiences abroad count for something! Your viewpoint will enrich your classroom life in the U.S. While the German student living in Chicago will also bring an international viewpoint to the college he attends, so will you! Your combined experiences have created the person you are, and it's the whole person you are who will be considered for admission.
Another advantage: As a United States citizen, you are entitled to applied for financial aid at U.S. colleges and universities. You are eligible to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Most American schools offer no financial support for international students.
American colleges and universities welcome students from around the world, but some of them have a limited number of spots for non-U.S. citizens. This is especially true of publicly-funded schools (state or city universities). You will fall into the larger applicant pool.
When you apply, you must, of course, tell the truth. You will apply as a U.S. citizen, even though you are currently living abroad. But your life as a citizen of the world will become evident to admissions officers as soon as they start reading your application. It sounds like you will have a most interesting story to tell. Now tell it!
Q: My son is a junior and I thought that later this spring, and over the summer, we'd start driving to see some college campuses. Now he is saying, why bother, no one gets in anyway. He is friends with a number of seniors, and some of them have already gotten rejection letters from colleges. Their disappointment is affecting him and making him think very negatively. How do I build up his interest?
A: You can't prevent your son from hearing negative information from some of his friends, but you also need to get him to hear the positive as well. He needs to see the big picture, and the big picture shows us that pretty much every high school student who takes academics seriously and plans his/her college applications carefully will indeed get in. They may not get into their #1 choice, but they will find a college, in many cases more than one, which will accept them.
Of course, if your son's friends are talking about Ivy League schools, where the acceptance rate is usually less than 10%, most applicants are going to be disappointed. But freshman places at Ivy league institutions account for a very small percentage of freshman places nationally. The vast majority of admissions decisions for this year's seniors have yet to be made. I am confident that by the end of this academic year, all of your son's friends will have been accepted to colleges where they will be happy.
In the meantime, you and your son can do several things to help keep that big picture in focus. Ask the college guidance counselor at your son's school for a list of the colleges and universities where last year's graduates are attending. Pick a few of these schools which are close by, in the NYC metro area, upstate, in New England, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania. See if you can obtain the e-mail addresses of recent graduates of your son's high school who are currently attending (the high school can contact them to see if they are OK with this). When you visit your son could meet with them on campus. If he sees actual students who had similar high school experience to his own, who went through the process, and who are now pleased with where they are, he'll get a tremendous amount of positive reinforcement.
In a recent column I mentioned Wagner College on Staten Island as a "hidden gem." There are many colleges like that -- really interesting places, both public and private, that have so much to offer students in terms of both learning and living environments. They just don't get as much press as some more well-known schools. You and your son have to get out there and discover them! Your son might also looking at these books: "Cool Colleges," "Colleges That Change Lives," "Harvard Schmarvard," and "Looking Beyond the Ivy League".
This "no one gets in" business is nonsense! Naturally, some of his friends who applied early and were not successful are going to be upset right now. But he -- and they -- need to look at the large numbers of college students who are flourishing. Drag your son to see some colleges -- ones that typically accept many more than 10% of their applicant pool! Once he sees these campuses, and learns some more encouraging admissions statistics, and speaks with people who are thriving at wonderful (though perhaps not headline-making) schools, his interest ought to be renewed!
Q: How difficult is it to transfer to another college? Is it easier or harder than getting admitted as a freshman? Also, does the college you are applying to look at your high school record or just your college record?
A: The basic answer to all your questions above is: It depends.
Openings for transfer students are made possible by other students leaving the college. A school with a high retention rate will have fewer openings. In general, the more selective a college, the fewer places it will have. On the other hand, a less selective school which is also more affordable, may be experiencing a higher demand for places -- so it may be harder to be admitted as a transfer student there this year than it was last year.
In sum, the "it depends" factors are these:
- the selectivity of the colleges
- the number of openings they have
- the strength of your academic record, both high school and college
- the individual requirements of the colleges
Look for "transfer admissions" on a college's website. You will see that one school requires a minimum college GPA of 2.70 and another may require a 3.00. Having this GPA is no guarantee of acceptance. Another school may simply require you to be "in good academic standing" at your current college. You may also notice that some schools accept all of the credits you've already earned, while others may not. There is no one rule that fits all!
In general, your high school record will be looked at carefully if you are applying to transfer during your first year of college. Because you have actually not completed that much college work, the emphasis will be upon your high school transcript and test scores, plus any college work. If you apply to transfer during your second year, you will have completed a year and a half of college, so it will be your college transcript that is emphasized, and high school/test scores fade into the background. (You will still need to submit an official high school transcript so they can see you are a bona fide graduate).
If your high school record was not as strong as your college record, you will have a better chance applying to transfer as a college junior, rather than as a sophomore. People change and mature, and so do academic records. If high school was not your strongest time, do well at your first college, and you will have a better possibility of transferring. If you apply to graduate school or for employment, it's not where you began your college education that counts. It's where you complete your degree.
The best strategy is to make a list of the schools to which you are considering a transfer, examine their individual transfer requirements, and call the transfer admission counselors with questions. If the schools are nearby, it's best to set up appointments for personal meetings.