Prep Talk Blog > April 2009

If you're singing the thin envelope blues, it might be time to change your tune. A rejection letter isn't always the end of the road. For students who play their transfer cards right, what seems like an absolute NO can be turned into a not right now. But if you want to trade up and attend a better college later, then you are going to have to step it up for the next few years.

Lately, the New York Times has been chock full of great college admissions advice so let me share yet another must read article that gives you great strategies for getting a second shot at your dream school:  

Make sure future transfer is an option. At some elite colleges like Harvard, Princeton and Stanford, students admitted as freshmen typically don't leave the school, so there are very few openings for transfers to fill their seats.  Check into the transfer opportunities at the colleges that you are considering and make sure that your goals are realistic. Transfer admissions, just like freshmen college admissions, can be super competitive. Think of it like the Olympic tryouts: if you didn’t make the team in 2009, you need to continue to train and perform better the next time around. You need a stellar GPA and relevant courses in order to successfully transfer. Hint: Bowling 101 might not be your ticket to your dream college.

Colleges often hope their transfer students will bring diversity, maturity and experience to their campus culture. As you are deciding how you are going to build a competitive transfer application for admission, keep in mind that you are more than a great GPA and course transcript. Colleges will want you for your work and character inside and outside of the classroom. Chances are your dream college has enrolled students who know how to party and maintain a good GPA. As a transfer candidate, you need to show that you are going to bring qualities that the college values to the table.

If you want to jumpstart your transfer plan, check out for awesome tools that will help you determine if your dream college is transfer-friendly and how to choose courses that will be a good fit for transfer credit.
My advice: There are many paths to success in all facets of life. The key to finding the right path is a commitment to personal progress and defined goals. If you thought that an acceptance or rejection letter was a final verdict, you are delightfully mistaken. You will succeed with either if you are determined to set and achieve your goals.

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This week in the digest, here are a few helpful links for those of you who are trying to make up your minds:
  • Educated Nation warns against relying too much on rankings when making your big decision.
  • Professor's Guide lists ten things you should find out before committing to a college.
  • MyUSearch gives high school seniors advice on what to do this summer to prepare for their first year of college.
  • FiLife offers some starting points for an online scholarship search.

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Good news! According to a recent article in The New York Times, determined student applicants have a significant advantage this year in gaining admission to historically picky colleges. Why? Simply put, the economy stinks and many colleges are worried that you won’t choose to spend your tuition dollars with them.

Here's how this works to your advantage:
  • Colleges are changing the way that they consider who to accept by paying more attention to signs that students are likely to enroll. In other words, the ball that they used to control is now in your court.
  • Colleges are nervous that many of the students who have applied will turn them down for colleges that are closer to home. They are worried about whether you will accept their offer in April or May and enroll in classes in the fall.
  • Colleges used to be able to charge more because there was more demand from applicants for limited spots and families were more financially confident (i.e. willing to pay for higher tuition with less aid). This year, financial aid offers from private colleges, especially, are expected to be more generous to turn student applications into “bargain hunter” enrollments.
  • Show your top college choices that you are genuinely interested. Because many of us are spending less money on travel, you may have not been able to make a campus visit. Contact an admissions officer to let them know you are seriously interested in enrolling, so you can be added to their “most likely to enroll” list.
Remember my previous blog post about how getting accepted begins with getting noticed? The article in The New York Times reminds us that admissions officers do pay attention to students who pay attention to them. Here are a few signs that show you are enrollment material:
  • How many times did you call?
  • How many times did you visit their college website?
  • Did you visit the campus once, multiple times, at all?
  • Did you apply early?
  • My advice: Run with this ball- hard! You have a unique advantage. For the first time in a long time, the rules of admission decisions are bending in favor of the students who show that they are most likely to enroll. If you show you are serious about achieving your college goals, you will find that the college admissions officers

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If you find yourself posting on Facebook instead of finishing your practice test, then you need to check out Kaplan's new online game. The test prep company has found a way to turn everyone's favorite time-waster into a useful study tool. Get competitive with your Facebook friends on Kaplan's SAT QuizBank Challenge. Here you will find a free application that allows you to compete against each other on 3-question challenges everyday. With a 3:45 minute time limit, the game mimics the real SAT, in which test-takers have approximately 75 seconds to answer each question.

It's an effective method if you want to get in some studying every day, but it's in no way a comprehensive preparation. According to college admissions columnist Lauren Starkey, the game "won’t help with reading comprehension, math grid-ins, or essay writing, but ... it does keep you nimble and familiar" with multiple-choice questions in math, critical reading, and writing. You'll also get to read explanations of answers once you're done.

For those after more, Kaplan also offers Spitcabulary, a vocabulary game that helps you bone up on SAT words through an online spitball game involving synonyms and antonyms. For both QuizBank and Spitcabulary, you can compete against other users on Facebook for the highest scores or go solo. Social networking is still mostly time wasted, but at least now, even procrastinators can use Facebook to their academic advantage.

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Congratulations, you’ve been accepted by your first-choice college! What’s the only thing that could possibly rain on your parade? The sobering fact that some of your friends just got rejected from their own dream schools. 

In the working world, they call it survivor’s guilt—the emotion people feel when they get to keep their jobs as colleagues are laid off from theirs. Acceptance guilt is quite similar—you may indeed feel uncomfortable or even downright guilty that your hard work paid off while your friends must now scramble for Plan B.

Although it might be hard to celebrate your own good news when your friends are feeling so lousy, it is easier to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on. Here are some ways that you can be a sympathetic friend:

1. Be a good listener. Once the initial shock of rejection wears off, your friend might be ready to vent. Let him or her guide the conversation. Remember, although you can sympathize, you can’t empathize—you’ve got your plans mapped out already. You know all too well how much time and energy you’ve focused on college lately, and it turned out well for you. It’s the flip side for your friend, so be sensitive. Don’t offer advice, just listen. 

2. Be supportive of other college options. There are many people whose so-called “safety schools” turned into their dream schools in the end. College will be what you and your friends make of it, no matter where that happens to be. Not getting into a first-choice school is not the shattering of a life dream, although it certainly must feel like that for your friends at this point in time. Keep in mind that this is a setback, but not a failure. Your friends will still go on to become the doctors, lawyers, actors, politicians, etc. that they want to be because of their hard work and discipline, not because of where they will spend the next four years. Help them to focus on aspects of college that will be the same no matter where they go, like living in dorms, choosing classes, and making new friends. 

3. Pick a new topic of conversation. Your friend might very well prefer to talk about anything else but college. Surely there’s something else you can talk about; after all, you were friends long before you went on your first campus tour, right? Whether it’s gossiping about celebrities, discussing starting lineups, or simply commenting on the weather, a new conversation topic will allow your friend’s brain a much needed break from the question, “What do I do now?”

This is not to say that you should stifle your own inclination to rejoice in your college acceptance. If perhaps this is a better time to celebrate with your family, then hold off on a festivity with friends until your circle has a better handle on their plans for the fall.

Image by Carlo Nicora and used under a Creative Commons license.

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Don Munce