PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 189 | Important FAQs Answered

Learn the answers to 16 important FAQs about the college admissions process

Show Notes:

In this episode, I review a bunch of commonly asked questions that I hear from PrepWellers, parents, online, and audiences I speak to:

  1. Which is better, a selective private high school or a public high school?
  2. How important are AP classes these days? 
  3. How important is my "intended major"?
  4. What's the most important part of my application?
  5. Is college even worth it?
  6. Why are college admissions so unpredictable?
  7. Which AP scores should I send to colleges?
  8. What is the best extracurricular activity?
  9. How many AP classes should I take?
  10. If I want to get recruited to play sports in college, when should I start?
  11. Should I get a tutor to help me with the SAT?
  12. Is it worth it to apply to the Ivy League?
  13. How much debt should I be willing to take on?
  14. Which sports give full-ride athletic scholarships?
  15. How hard is it to get merit scholarships?
  16. Which is the best Ivy League school?

Get up-to-speed on answers to these common questions.

Show Transcript:

[00:00:25] Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. In today's episode, I want to answer a bunch of questions that I hear often from students and parents in the online comments, at presentations that I give over and over again. And when they're asked so many times, there's a good chance that more people have that same question but have not had the time or the opportunity to ask. So let's get through some of them. Question number one. Which is better? A selective private high school or a public high school? I would strongly consider the selective private high school if money is no object. If you love academic challenge, if you enjoy a lot of peer competition within your school, i.e. in sports and clubs of course, and academics, and if you'll be okay if you don't end up at the top of your class and or you don't end up at the most prestigious colleges because that's a hard thing to pull off at some of these highly competitive private schools. Question number two How important are AP classes these days? I would say more important than ever, because these days everyone seems to have a four point something GPA, and it sure is nice to have a well-known, tried and true academic metric that proves that you actually know what you're doing in any particular subject. Instead of letting the admissions officer wonder whether your classroom grade was inflated or not.

[00:02:02] AP exams are big time differentiators. It's hard to cheat. The exam scores are compared across the country, and there's a long history and track record. Question number three How important is my intended major on my college application? Depending on the college, it could be very important. For one, colleges have a target number of spots that need to be filled for each major theoretically, which means they can't have too many students in some majors, but they also can't have too few students in other majors. Colleges would not survive if 97% of the students majored in psychology. So you need to be careful when selecting a major. If it's a super popular one, like computer science or psychology or business, if you're going to do that, you need to have a very compelling reason why that's the case. If you opt for a very esoteric major like Egyptian architecture, you also need a compelling reason and ideally some evidence as to why you want to study such a specific field. Question number four. What's the single most important aspect of a college application? I would say that your story, quote unquote, is the most important aspect of your college application. If you can tie together or align very tightly and coherently your grades, classes, test scores, extracurriculars like any jobs or internships or sports that you played. Your upbringing, your values, your intended major, your vision for the future. You could have a shot at almost any college, with some exceptions, based on SAT and expected minimums, if you will. Question number five Is college even worth it? 10 to 15 years ago, I would have said yes for most people. Going to college was the standard path and for the most part, worth it. Today, I'm not as convinced.

[00:04:18] It really depends on how motivated you are, what type of college you want to attend, how competitive your application will be, what you want to major in, what career you're considering, and how much debt you'll have to take on for your trouble. Now, if you're a one percenter and you're going to get into Wharton and even take on $100,000 in student loans, but you're laser focused on a career in corporate finance, then it might make sense. But if you're not a one percenter and you're going to Middlebury for $90,000 a year and taking on $100,000 in school debt and majoring in Spanish literature with the goal of becoming an art teacher, then it's probably not worth it. I think it's more important than ever to consider junior colleges, community colleges, trade schools, service academies, ROTC programs, as well as just straight work experience, mostly because of the outrageous costs associated with colleges these days. If you can somehow figure out a way to attend college without incurring a lot of debt because your parents can pay for it, maybe you have a 529 plan or you get scholarship money or ROTC money, then by all means, it's probably worth it no matter what you majored in. But to blindly plunge forward to any college at any cost without considering the downstream impact of your major and earning potential and career ambitions is, in my view, a mistake, unfortunately, one that many unwitting students are making every single year. Question six Why is there so much unpredictability in the admissions process? For one, there are far more applications than there used to be, so the admissions office is completely swamped and often can't give every application its due, which means some highly qualified applicants may slip through the cracks through no fault of their own.

[00:06:26] Second. Colleges work under different parameters when it comes to their institutional needs. In other words, colleges are looking to build classes with unique mixes of students not always based on merit. So if you have a similar application to other applicants. Grades, SAT scores, AP scores, activities. Maybe it's your best friend, but you're in the same demographic category. Don't be surprised if you both don't get in because you're not adding to the diversity requirements, if you will. Third, some colleges are quote unquote need aware, which means that you may get rejected because your family applied for financial aid while a similarly credentialed student gets accepted because their family could pay full freight. Fourth. Even though on the surface you may seem like you have a similar profile to someone else. Again, maybe your friend from the same school. You can't really account for the variability in the actual applications themselves. Someone else's essays and activities and letters of recommendation. Their intended major may just be a lot better than yours or the reverse. The bottom line is don't get too hung up on wondering why one student got into college X and you didn't, or why you got into this college but didn't get into that college. That will turn into a big waste of time and energy. Question number seven Which app scores should I show to colleges? I would only report AP exam scores of a four or five. A three is technically passing, but it's the equivalent of a C as a grade. And depending on what schools you're applying to, I'd probably keep that to myself. Question number eight What's the best extracurricular activity? There are a lot of criteria that I could list here, but if I had to pick one theme in particular, it would be an extracurricular activity that best ties together your college major interest and your career interest.

[00:08:34] For example, if you knew you wanted to be a biology major, you are pre-med with the ultimate goal of becoming a heart surgeon. Going to a two week intensive surgery camp at Stanford would probably be a good bet. Presumably this camp would have immersed you in what it might be like to be a surgeon someday, and that you'd have a lot to talk about from this experience. Similarly, if you wanted to go into the military, either through ROTC or one of the service academies earning the Eagle Scout Award from Boy Scouts would be a great and well aligned extracurricular activity. It incorporates many of the elements needed to be a good military officer. Leadership, presentation skills, outdoor aptitude, discipline, dealing with uncomfortable environments all wrapped up in one extracurricular activity. That would be the gold standard. Question number nine How many AP classes should I take? I would say take as many AP classes as you will do well in, and that are consistent with the number of AP classes expected at the colleges you want to consider applying to. If you want to go to a junior college, there's probably no need to take any AP classes unless you're super motivated to do so because those schools won't be expecting that you've taken too many, if any. If you want to go to a medium selective college, then you should probably take a few AP classes because they'll expect a few. If you want to go to a Princeton or Yale, you should probably max out on every AP opportunity you can get your hands on. Again, assuming that you can be successful in them and not suffer from some mental health issue along the way. This is why it's important to get an idea of how high you want to reach by the time you're in about 10th grade.

[00:10:29] When these course selection questions actually become an issue. Question number ten If I want to get recruited to play sports in college. When should I decide? It will depend on whether you're a boy or a girl and what specific sport you're referring to. But as a general rule, I would say that you should decide by ninth grade whether or not you're serious about becoming a recruited athlete for college earlier is probably better. Fifth. Sixth. Seventh grade. Eighth grade. Later, 10th and 11th grade is possible, but improbable. Question number 11 Should I get a tutor to help me with my S.A.T.? It depends on the type of colleges you're shooting for and where you're starting from. If you want to go to a local state university that doesn't even accept SAT scores, then it's probably not worth it. Paying for a tutor. If you want to go to a college with a 1400 average SAT and you got a 1210 on a legitimate diagnostic S.A.T. or the PSAT, then a tutor would likely help you close that gap. If you want to go to an Ivy League school and you're relatively average in all other areas, you probably want to get a tutor that will help you get into the high 1500s. Even if you started with a 1500 on the PSAT, for example, because at those schools, the upper upper end scores can matter. Question number 12. Is it worth my time and effort to apply to an Ivy League school? Maybe I would think through the following mental checklist. Do I have nearly flawless grades, if not flawless grades? Did I take the most rigorous classes in my high school? AP classes Honors I.B. classes? Do I have a high SAT or ACT score? I'm talking 1500s on the S.A.T.

[00:12:24] 34 plus on the ACT. Did I get all fours and fives on my AP exams? Are my extracurricular activities strong, unique? And do they align with my intended major and my career ambitions? Will my letters of recommendation be extremely strong? Are my essays memorable and well-crafted? If the answer to these questions are all yes across the board with very little daylight, then no, I would not apply to an Ivy League school because you will be among thousands and thousands of others just like you. And it's probably too much of a long shot to spend the time and the energy needed to make these applications perfect. Chances are you will get rejected not because you do not deserve it or you're not worthy, but because there's just not enough room for everyone who would thrive there. However, if you are economically disadvantaged, if you are a first gen college student, if you are a diversity equity and inclusion case, if you claim to be in the LGBTQ eye, a plus community, if you're the child of a faculty member, if you're a recruited athlete, if you're applying to ROTC, if your parents donated $20 million to the school, if you come from a state or a country or a territory with very little representation on that college's campus, for example, South Dakota, and you're even remotely close to any of those previous criteria, then yes, it's probably worth applying. These applications typically go to the front of the line and you'll have a much better chance of getting in. Question number 13 How much should I be willing to go into debt to go to a four year college? Well, it depends on the college, Princeton or Pace University. Your major computer science or comparative racial studies, your target occupation.

[00:14:24] Are you thinking about engineer or environmental activist? But generally speaking, unless it's a wimpy MIT Stanford type, being Harvard, Yale, Princeton, I would be very reluctant to go more than, say, $25,000 in debt total for a four year education. That's about $6,000 a year in student loans. Now, understandably, this is completely unrealistic for many students, given that many private liberal arts colleges today cost $90,000 a year. So if you don't have $300,000 in cash sitting around or a 529 plan, then chances are you'll be loading up with 50,000 100,000, 150,000 student loans, which I would not do under nearly any circumstances, with some small exceptions. Sadly, millions and millions of students are doing this every year. Question number 14 Which sports give full ride athletic scholarships for men? Basketball and football are the only two sports called headcount sports that offer full ride athletic scholarships. That is one scholarship is assigned per student athlete or one per head. That's why they call it head count. This is what is known as the proverbial full ride scholarship for women. It's a little bit different. They have more sports included here. It's basketball, volleyball, tennis and gymnastics are the only head count sports that technically offer full ride athletic scholarships. Now, you may be scratching your head and wondering, wait a second, my sisters, friends, brothers, aunts, cousins, sister in law specifically told me that her daughter's friend just got a full scholarship to Penn State for women's crew. Are you saying that this isn't true? Now there's a chance that that's a true story, but it's more likely than not that there's been some slippage in the language, in the terminology here. Women's crew, along with every other non head count, sport, water polo, baseball, swimming, lacrosse, these are known as equivalency sports, which means that a coach gets a lump sum of money, the quote unquote, equivalent of, say, 6.5 full scholarships.

[00:16:58] And they then divide that lump sum of money up among their roster of athletes. That roster of athletes could be 20, 30, 40 athletes. So obviously with the monetary equivalent of 6.5 full scholarships to go around, not every player is going to be on full scholarship. It's possible that one super athlete got the lion's share of that money. That's the coach's decision, maybe even approximating a full scholarship. But it also means that some athletes get no money and some athletes get partial scholarships or maybe they get their books paid for. So be careful about who you believe, what you hear and what's really happening. Because discussing how much money your child is getting as an equivalency sport athlete is not really a thing that people talk about in polite conversation. It's the equivalent of asking, What's your salary? You could probably ask it if you want to risk sounding rude and overly intrusive, but most people simply don't bring it up. The moral of the story here is that you shouldn't get caught up in the notion that every sport dishes out full ride scholarships to every student in every sport. They're actually quite rare in the big scheme of things. So don't be surprised. After dedicating ten years of your life to baseball or field hockey to find out that those sports don't offer full ride scholarships to college. And while we're on the topic of full ride scholarships, you should also know that every student who attends a service academy, the Naval Academy, Air Force Academy, West Point, Coast Guard Academy, Merchant Marine Academy is automatically on a full ride scholarship, whether or not they are a recruited athlete. And sorry. One more notable thing on this topic, because it comes up all the time.

[00:18:54] Ivy League colleges are prohibited from giving any type of athletic scholarship, not full scholarships, not partial scholarships, not any sports related scholarships to any Ivy League school. Question number 15 How difficult is it to get a merit scholarship? For those of you who may have forgotten the terminology, a merit scholarship, sometimes known as an academic scholarship, typically comes in the form of a rebate on the full cost of tuition based on a student's academic achievements during high school. It could be triggered by an SAT score or an active score or GPA or a combination of these things. It could be based on a broad based criteria or a very narrowly defined criteria. For example, Fordham might offer you a $25,000 merit scholarship to attend their school. That is, instead of paying the tuition of $75,000 a year. For you, it's only going to be $50,000 a year. And by the way, that wouldn't include room and board, which is probably another $20,000. How hard is it to get one of these merit scholarships? Well, it depends on what school is offering it, how much they want you, and how impressive your academics are. Typically, merit scholarships are offered by schools slightly below the top tier academic schools as a recruitment tool to entice the academic hotshots who would otherwise go to an Ivy League school. But they're drawn to a school like Fordham to save the $25,000 a year in tuition. Because remember, Ivy League schools and most of the top tier academic schools do not offer merit scholarships. In their minds, they don't have to offer incentives to entice students to go to their schools. They have enough students clamoring to pay full freight that they don't have to offer these discounts. So depending on how low on the totem pole of selectivity you want to go, it might be relatively easy to get a merit scholarship.

[00:21:03] If you're an academic superstar, your presence in their class will help to boost their classes. Average GPA, S.A.T., AP scores, presumably, which helps them move up in the rankings. You're essentially being used as a statistical booster to help them look more like the Ivy League schools. If you're interested in these types of schools and they offer merit scholarships, then it's essentially free money for you and you should take it. Ironically, these days, a $25,000 tuition rebate sounds great on the surface until you realize that it still costs $50,000 a year in tuition after the rebate and another $20,000 to live and eat on campus, that can still be a lot to swallow. And lastly, question number 16, which is the best Ivy League school. I'm not sure there's such thing as the best Ivy League school. Depends on what you're looking for. Some schools are easier to get into than others. Each school has its own personality, campus vibe, eccentricities, favored majors, areas of academic emphasis facilities. I think there is probably a general consensus that Harvard, Yale, Princeton wipe sit somewhat by themselves, slightly above the others in terms of prestige and reputation and selectivity. But this is a very subjective area. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions questions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in PrepWell Academy, which is awesome. If you don't yet, please consider enrolling them.

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