A knowledgeable college consultant can help high school students find good school matches, assist in getting admitted, and offer critical advice students and parents may not be able to find elsewhere, such as these insider tips from consultants throughout the States.
What should I know before deciding what schools to apply to?
Carolyn Mulligan, Insiders Network to College, Summit, New Jersey (HECA IECA, NACAC, NJACAC): Many college guidebooks don’t have the most recent admissions statistics. Often a student will consult one of these guides with information a year or more out of date and get a false sense of security about his/her chances. To build a better targeted, realistic college list, consult the school’s website for the most up-to-date details on average GPA, class rank, median SAT/ACT scores, and the Freshman Class Profile for the college’s most recent incoming class. The real people a prospective student needs to compare himself/herself to are the students sitting in the college’s classrooms right now.
Betsy F. Woolf, Woolf College Consulting, Mamaroneck, New York (HECA, IECA, NACAC, NYSACAC): Make sure you know a college’s policy regarding standardized tests, as procedures do differ. Some schools will choose the higher of two SAT (or ACT) scores in full—a 1300 score, say, rather than a 1200. Other colleges will select the higher subscores—the better critical reading subscore from one test and better math subscore from another.
Jane C. Hoffman, College Advice 101, Larchmont, NY (IECA, NACAC, HECA, WPRCA): Make it a priority to visit the school. College research shows that applicants who visit are more likely to enroll, so many colleges treat the visit as proxy for “likely to enroll” and as a positive indication of “demonstrated interest” in their admissions deliberations. Many colleges say that if the first time they hear about an applicant is with an application, they may conclude that he/she wasn’t very thoughtful about the process in general or about their school in particular.
If conducting a visit is not logistically or financially feasible, be sure to visit the college’s website and follow prompts on the admissions or visitor pages to sign in and receive information. That will put you on the college’s radar as demonstrating preliminary interest.
How will social networking impact my admissions chances?
Janet Rosier, Janet Rosier’s Educational Resources, Woodbridge, Connecticut (HECA, IECA, NACAC): You need to be very careful here. Your Facebook is not so private, and what you say can come back and bite you. Admissions personnel do not look kindly on photos of underage drinking or text that “disses” any universities. My rule is this: If Bubbe would plotz if she read what is on your wall, take it down.
How should I research the right Jewish community for me?
Wendy Kahn, Kahn College Consulting, Highland Park, Illinois (HECA, NACAC): What constitutes a dynamic Jewish community and an adequate Jewish presence on campus will differ from student to student. To assess whether a college meets your needs:
- Review Reform Judaism magazine's listings, "The Top 60 Schools Jews Choose" and "The Top 20 Schools by Percentage of Jews" to see the numbers, percentages, and Jewish features on more than 60 campuses.
- To learn about Jewish life on these and other campuses, enter the college’s name on the “College Search” section of Hillel.org, then click on the links to the school’s Jewish organization websites.
- To find out the “real story” behind the numbers and websites (sometimes at schools with small Jewish populations, the websites portray a too-optimistic picture of Jewish campus life), email a Hillel student leader (the chapter president or recruitment chair), the Hillel rabbi, and/or a professional outreach staff member (such as a JSCS fellow). Continue the dialogue during your campus visit.
Paul Levitch, Levitch Associates, Louisville, Kentucky (IECA, AICEP): Often it is assumed a Hillel chapter on campus indicates a strong Jewish presence, but this is not always true. It could be a new chapter with very few members, created in part to recruit more Jews to the college because of its lack of diversity. Additionally, over two years ago Hillel intentionally became open to students of all religions; therefore, it is possible for a chapter to have a “good” number of members and relatively few Jewish members at the same time.
For a better measure, talk to the University Chaplain or Director of Religious Life. If that person is unsure of the college’s Jewish population or unaware of what most Jews are looking for in a college (opportunities to hang out with other Jews rather than a cultural education or religious services), then the college probably does not have much of a Jewish presence.
What Jewish questions should I ask—and not ask?
Janet Rosier: Avoid making assumptions and ask what you need to know. Very few colleges cancel classes on the High Holidays, so if this is an issue, ask about school policies regarding missing classes on those days. If kashrut is important to you, find out its availability on or near campus.
Tina Heiman, CollegeChoice, Wilmington, Delaware (IECA, NACAC, HECA, AICEP): When you are looking for a Jewish fit in a college, no question of concern to you about your Jewish identity should be off the table. If you do not feel comfortable asking the questions, the college is not likely to be a good fit.
To help in making a college choice, consider asking:
- Are there dinners or other gatherings on Shabbat?
- What other activities exist that are sponsored by Hillel?
- What is the comfort level within Hillel, or other Jewish organizations on campus? Is a Reform Jew going to feel as comfortable as a Conservative, Traditional or Reconstructionist Jew? Will the Jewish student who identifies as Jewish culturally, but not so much by religious practice, feel welcomed at Hillel?
- Is there a provision for services on the High Holidays for students who cannot get home?
- Will there be an opportunity to participate in a Birthright trip to Israel?
- Are there vocal pro-Israel and anti-Israel constituencies on campus?
Betsy F. Woolf: Most families ask if there is a Hillel on campus, but the more paramount question is whether Jewish students are “engaged” in Jewish life on that campus. At some campuses with Jewish populations, students are not very involved in Jewish-related programming, so if you want to be Jewishly active, such schools may be the wrong places for you.
How can I make the most out of my campus visit?
Gael Casner, College Find, Greenbrae, California (HECA, NACAC): If you want to know the truth about a college, get specific. Instead of asking students on campus, “Are students around on weekends?” ask, “When was the last time you went home?” Instead of, “Have you enjoyed your professors?” ask, “Who is your favorite professor and why?” And if you feel your tour guide is not representing the college well, peel away from the tour. Don’t base your university decision on one person.
Jane C. Hoffman: Make it a priority to glean as much information and as many impressions as possible from your visit, not only to help you answer your own “is this school a good match for me?” question, but also to help you compose a more targeted, comprehensive answer to the possible supplemental question on the common application: “Why do you want to attend X college?”
Given the variability in college admissions practices, paying close attention at the information session may also provide you with clues to decode that school’s between-the-lines admission criteria. For example, at a session you might learn whether applying early decision versus regular decision affords an admissions advantage, whether merit aid is offered to students strong in their applicant pool, whether or not there are advantages to being a legacy applicant, and even how “legacy” is defined (if grandma graduated from the law school, is the applicant defined as a legacy?).
What should I do on my college essay to impress the admissions committee? Is it OK to talk about being Jewish?
Jon Tarrant, Jon W. Tarrant Associates, Carlisle, Pennsylvania (HECA): Don’t misconstrue the reader of your essay as some crusty old gatekeeper looking for a reason to deny your application. More likely he/she is a fairly recent college grad looking for a lively, interesting essay written by a person he/she would like to get to know. Be your lively, interesting self!
Wendy Kahn:Your essay should not be something that any one of a thousand other applicants could have written. A formulaic story about “my summer trip to Israel” is not likely to make a lasting impression on the reader; at schools with large Jewish populations, it may even put the reader to sleep. Also avoid tackling highly controversial religious issues, which can make a student come off as preachy or even intolerant.
On the other hand, a story about Jewish engagement that only you could tell can be a winner. For example, one student I know wrote his main essay about how the study of Talmud exemplifies who he is—someone with an affinity for logic and a deep commitment to Judaism. The essay told a unique story, and in so doing demonstrated two of his core characteristics. A shorter essay dealt with the student’s experiences in a chamber music ensemble. He is religiously observant, but with a little flexibility on his part and the other musicians’ willingness to accommodate his religious requirements, he learned that he could observe Judaism and still participate in the activities he loves. The student had outstanding admissions results, and is now a sophomore at Yale.
Tina Heiman: One’s level of Jewish practice or involvement in itself does not play a large role in getting into your top choice. It’s about portraying, honestly, who you are.
If your application’s “activity list” is primarily “Jewish,” then your essay should be about something else. If the activity list is more varied, then writing about Jewish engagement can be a positive choice: The college will know it has an applicant who is likely to be active in Hillel on campus.
Can what my parents do affect my chances of getting accepted?
Janet Rosier: Very often parents need to take a step back during this time, resisting the urge to call the admissions office and ask the questions a student should be asking. College admissions offices take note of this. Parents who start to refer to this as “our application” or constantly call the office raise red flags that hurt their child’s chances. You, the student, need to take ownership of this process.
A Guide to College Consultant Organizations
- Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) members possess a master’s degree or comparable training, have a minimum of three years’ experience, and have made at least 50 campus visits. www.IECAonline.com
- American Institute of Certified Educational Planners (AICEP) counselors must possess a master’s degree, demonstrate experience working in college admissions, and pass a written certification exam. www.aicep.org
- Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) members hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and have demonstrated experience as educational consultants. www.hecaonline.org