Prep Talk Blog > August 2010

When choosing a college or university, different students are looking for different qualities. Some people want schools that celebrate diversity, others want a school where religion is just not part of the experience, and so on. 

The Princeton Review’s college rankings include a section on demographics (free login required to read), and here are the number-one schools based on each classification with links for more information: 

Lots of Race/Class Interaction: University of Miami 

Little Race/Class Interaction: Trinity College

Most Religious Students: Brigham Young University 

Least Religious Students: Sarah Lawrence College

LGBT-Friendly: Emerson College

LGBT-Unfriendly: Grove City College 

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Should You Openly Share Your Interest in ‘iCarly’ or a Specific College?For those of you who haven't gotten the chance to read my bio, I'm a dad. For parents like me, the opportunity to embarrass our kids is one of the greatest joys we can experience. Through the miracle of technology, I can do so on a vastly wider scale than was possible for my parents. For instance, I can tell you my 8-year-old son loves the show “iCarly.” Apparently, this is a huge secret that could permanently destroy his street cred if it were ever to be accidentally revealed, and he feigns disinterest when our friends' daughters insist on watching the show.


Pretending interest/disinterest, it turns out, is an important talent well beyond your elementary years. While it’s unlikely to impact your popularity in high school, the level of interest you show in a college or university has a surprising impact on college admissions decisions. 


Surveys from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (motto: “We're a pretty big deal even though you've never heard of us”) show that demonstrated interest is an increasingly important factor in the college admissions process. That means colleges and universities, especially the most competitive ones, will look at how many times you visit, call, email and tweet about your unmatched desire to attend their precious institutions. They will also look at how early you apply as well as whether you bother to mention in your essay that you believe your life (and possibly existence as you know it) may come to an end (or at least be shattered in some way) if you are not admitted to their schools.


This often leads to madcap situations worthy of a reality show, in which students attempt to show their passion for institutions. Many end up rapidly crossing that thin line from “I'm really interested” to “I'm a crazy stalker.”


Much like being an “iCarly” fan, however, there is a dark side to demonstrated interest. Many of those schools that make the most use of demonstrated interest in college admissions decisions use it in exactly the opposite way when awarding financial aid and scholarships. In other words, if the school thinks you want to go there badly enough, then they assume you'll still come even if they give you less money.


Fortunately, we don't play those games at my school. You can feel free to shamelessly admit that we are the best school EVER and that your life will only be complete if you attend.


In the end, my advice is that it's probably best to just be honest. Speaking of honesty, my son has asked me to formally announce that he does NOT like “iCarly” and that I was really referring to his friend Logan from across the street -- no, really. I don’t watch it either. Although Sam is hilarious.

Be seeing you.

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Earlier this week, The Princeton Review released its college rankings. The survey ranks schools on a number of factors from academics and demographics to politics and the social scene. Over the coming weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the best in these categories and offer you links to learn more about the schools. 

This Week: College Academics and Administration 

Here is a look at some of the best colleges and universities when it comes to academics and administration: 

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I made it back safely from my vacay in Wildwood, N.J., where I narrowly resisted the urge to join the crowd and get a tattoo. Sadly, my wife vetoed the massive Mason logo I planned to get across my back.


Before I left last week, I spoke at Mason’s Washington Youth Summit on the Environment and gave my incredibly entertaining rant that gives the inside scoop on college admissions.  Once again, I got the usual question: How does my high school influence the college admissions process?


This age-old question is normally prefaced by some of the following excuses:

  • My high school is so huge, and so incredibly good, and it’s nearly impossible to rank in the top because everyone is above average.
  • My high school has a tough grading policy, so that makes me look worse than kids in easier schools.
  • My school is lousy. I have bad teachers, awful facilities, and even worse courses. I can't get a challenging courseload and had rotten preparation for high school.  Few students even graduate, so just getting through my high school is harder than getting perfect grades at schools with more support.
  • I know University X hates my high school and/or loves other schools way more.
  • My high school is so small that just being ranked number 2 in the class keeps me out of the top 10 percent; in fact, I have to duck just to get through the tiny, wee doors.

Remember all those times nice teachers told you there are no stupid questions?  They may have been wrong.  Even with all the explanations above, the question isn’t a great one, because:

  • College admissions officers know high schools pretty well, and even if we don't know your school (we probably do), we get a profile that explains the context of your school. Admissions officers understand how to balance the impact of different schools -- largely by looking to see if you challenged yourself given what was offered and are competitive in the wider context of the admissions pool as a result.
  • And even if we didn't balance different schools, you'd never know the significance of your specific school. A college admissions officer might prefer bigger schools, smaller schools, or even average-sized schools that happen to have great curling teams.
  • And even if we didn’t balance schools and you knew our preferences, college admissions officers wouldn’t be any more consistent with evaluating you in the context of your high school’s status than they are with any other admissions factors. Therefore, it would always differ from year to year and reader to reader. 
  • And even if we didn't balance schools, you knew our preferences, and we were 100 percent consistent, you still wouldn't know how your high school was viewed by any particular college admissions officer and how that affected you in the long-run.

DISCLAIMER: There is one exception. If everyone from your high school applies to the same college or university, that institution will often be tougher on admissions decisions.  Not fair, but that's the reality.


And the biggest reason that this is PRETTY MUCH A NUTTY QUESTION (drum roll, please): You probably can’t do anything about it!


Are you really going to move schools on the chance that you could possibly get into some specific college or university?  Of course not.


Here’s my advice: Just stay in your school, do the best you can, and remember that you don't need to settle on just one college or university.  If some institution doesn't want you because of your school (however unlikely that is) you'll find plenty more that DO. And there are probably WAY better things to stress over, like how much it would  cost to have a large Mason tattoo removed.


Be seeing you.

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Do you think it's fair if college admissions professionals "google" you or look at your Facebook profile during the admissions process?
Yes. If it's out there, it's fair game.
No. If it's not part of my official application package, it shouldn't be considered.
I don't know.
The poll is closed.


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Don Munce