Revel in the Process

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As the new school year approaches, many high school students, especially seniors, are starting to seriously think about applying to college. They are starting their applications, thinking about essays and wondering what colleges are looking for and if they have it. Colleges, according to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), consider the following, in order of importance:

1) Grades—especially in college prep courses
2) Rigor of high school curriculum
3) Standardized test scores
4) Grades in remainder of classes
5) Essays
6) Demonstrated interest
7) Letters of recommendation
8) Interviews
9) Committed involvement
10) Other factors including diversity, legacy status, development and ability to pay1

Portrait of successful female student showing exam result with A+ grade on university campus. Horizontal shot.

Grades: That’s pretty self-explanatory—the better the grades, the higher the chance of getting accepted into the colleges of the student’s choice. Grades in the college prep classes (maths, sciences, history, English, languages) are the first thing college admissions offices look at in an application. (Of course, the colleges do care about all your grades— so don’t blow off music or art thinking it doesn’t matter—but the non-prep classes are less concerning to the schools). What many students—and their parents—tend to forget, however, is that their grades start counting as soon as they start taking high school classes. Some students may be taking advanced math or languages (or other courses) while in middle school. Presumably those students are gifted and serious students. What is important for those students to remember is that those grades count on their high school transcript. Many students don’t really contemplate going to college and all that is required until their sophomore or junior year in high school. The problem is that the grades start to “count” as early as eighth grade, but no later than ninth grade. It is essential that students do their best early on. It’s a lot harder to bring up a GPA from a low starting point, especially when the student doesn’t start until their junior year.

Rigor of Curriculum: Colleges tend to be more interested in students who extend themselves academically, students who find the most exacting curriculum offered by their school. If a student’s school offers AP, IB or Honors courses, students should challenge themselves, take chances, demonstrate growth. Obviously if a school doesn’t offer advanced classes2, then it is not an option, but the more a student demonstrates his or her willingness to challenge and extend themselves, the more attractive that student is to prospective colleges and universities.

Standardized Test Scores: There is a lot of confusion here. But, the bottom line is—colleges and universities care about these—enough to make them the third most important thing they consider on an application. Students can take either the ACTs or SATs, either of which is acceptable to the colleges and universities. There are even a number of schools that understand some students do not test well, despite being good students. Most of those schools require the applicants to submit a portfolio of additional work. Generally, however, most schools still favor and rely upon the test scores to assist in the admissions decision. Testing can and should start early. Most high schools start the testing process with the PSAT in 10th grade. Although it is a good idea to take the PSAT in 10th grade for the practice, it is not mandatory and is not considered for National Merit Scholarships. In 11th grade the PSAT is usually mandatory. While the colleges and universities don’t consider PSAT scores for admission, it is a guide for college readiness.

The PSAT scores are also used to determine scholarship awards. As a second semester junior (preferably after spring break) and first semester senior, it is important to take these tests so that the students have their scores available for their college applications. There are practice tests online and courses available to help students prepare for these tests. Although not required, it’s a good idea for the student to take practice tests to know what to expect.

The Rest of The Considerations: Since colleges receive thousands of applications, some students think the college admissions officers don’t have time to really read the essays. NOT TRUE! Don’t short-change the essays. Don’t leave them for the last minute. The essays are an integral part of the application. They are the thing that differentiates people with the same statistics. They are the thing that tells the admissions officers who the student REALLY is. The essays should be written by the student (parents, you don’t help your students if you write the essay for them—yes, the admissions officers can tell, and you cheat the student out of truly expressing themselves) and they should be authentic, from the heart.3 The essays are also a good way of showing demonstrated interest. What is demonstrated interest and why is it important? Demonstrated interest is anything the student does to evidence his/her genuine interest in the school to which they are applying. It can include visiting a booth at a college fair, visiting the school’s website and signing up for information, liking the school on Facebook, making contact with the admissions office, attending information sessions offered by the school and/or visiting the school in person (if the student does this, they need to go by the admissions office so the school knows they have come). In a numbers game, this is important because the schools don’t want to offer positions to students who have no genuine interest in attending the college/university. Demonstrating interest lets them know you are serious.

Finally, committed involvement is very important. These days, parents run around taking their students from activity to activity. In the application process, the number of activities a student has been involved in is far less important than the commitment the student has exhibited to chosen activities. “Sustained interest in a few select activities shows discipline and commitment.”4 While the application process doesn’t officially begin until the junior year in high school, students (and their parents) should start thinking about what they want and where they want to go at the beginning of high school. BUT…it’s important for students (AND THEIR PARENTS) to stay sane and not go crazy worrying about the process. The best thing younger students can do is to get good grades and figure out which activities feel worthy of the student’s precious time. High school is time for exploration, and if students explore their interests and appropriately challenge themselves, they will end up being the best candidates for college.

1 www.nacac.net; Other sources for important college information include www.collegedata.com; https:// bigfuture.collegeboard.org
2 When students apply to a college or university, their high school college counselors or guidance counselors provide a report to that school detailing the high school’s offerings, among other things. The students will also have the opportunity to explain in their essays.
3 Karen Herbst, president, Admission Intuition, admissionintuition.com
4 Henry DelAngelo, www.yourkeytocollege.com

SmartAsset recently released its second annual Best Value Colleges study. Vanderbilt leads for Tennessee this year, a repeat of the school’s performance in 2015. Top performing schools ranked as a result of their performance in categories including scholarships provided, starting salary, tuition, living costs and retention rate. Here are the top schools in Tennessee.

{1} Vanderbilt University (Nashville)
Tuition: $42,978
Avg. Scholarships/Grants: $38,207
Avg. Starting Salary: $57,300
Student Living Costs: $18,134
Student Retention Rate: 97%
College Education Value Index: 69.19

{2} Tennessee Technological University (Cookeville)
Tuition: $7,063
Avg. Scholarships/Grants: $8,553
Avg. Starting Salary: $50,800
Student Living Costs: $15,900
Student Retention Rate: 76%
College Education Value Index: 57.22

{3} Christian Brothers University (Memphis)
Tuition: $28,210
Avg. Scholarships/Grants: $23,553
Avg. Starting Salary: $42,400
Student Living Costs: $9.903
Student Retention Rate: 84%
College Education Value Index: 48.13

{4} The University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Tuition: $11,194
Avg. Scholarships/Grants: $7,644
Avg. Starting Salary: $45,300
Student Living Costs: $16,256
Student Retention Rate: 87%
College Education Value Index: 47.23

{5} Tennessee State University (Nashville)
Tuition: $6,498
Avg. Scholarships/Grants: $8,090
Avg. Starting Salary: $45,100
Student Living Costs: $11,195
Student Retention Rate: 62%
College Education Value Index: 47.22

{6} University of Memphis
Tuition: $8,312
Avg. Scholarships/Grants: $6,758
Avg. Starting Salary: $43,900
Student Living Costs: $15,223
Student Retention Rate: 78%
College Education Value Index: 43.96

{7} Carson-Newman University (Jefferson City)
Tuition: $23,696
Avg. Scholarships/Grants: $17,278
Avg. Starting Salary: $44,500
Student Living Costs: $10,404
Student Retention Rate: 71%
College Education Value Index: 43.73

{8} Southern Adventist (Collegedale)
Tuition: $19,790
Avg. Scholarships/Grants: $7,528
Avg. Starting Salary: $45,000
Student Living Costs: $11,084
Student Retention Rate: 78%
College Education Value Index: 41.44

{9} MiddleTennesseeStateUniversity(Murfreesboro)
Tuition: $7,546
Avg. Scholarships/Grants: $7,157
Avg. Starting Salary: $41,600
Student Living Costs: $13,272
Student Retention Rate: 71%
College Education Value Index: 40.43

{10} University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Tuition: $7,554
Avg. Scholarships/Grants: $7,008
Avg. Starting Salary: $41,000
Student Living Costs: $12,976
Student Retention Rate: 70%
College Education Value Index: 39.17

More details on the study, including the methodology and interactive map can be found here: https://smartasset.com/student-loans/student-loan-calculator?year=2016#Tennessee

Story by Hallie McFadden

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Full-time lawyer and full-time Independent College Counselor – helping students find the right college and scholarships to help pay for it at College Admissions Guru (www.collegeadmissionsguru.com)

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